How to Talk with Your Parents About Their Finances

Talking to your parents about their finances probably seems like one of the most awkward you conversations you could ever have. I'll bet it ranks right up there with the sex talk your parents gave you when you were a kid — or that you’ve had with your own children.

I grew up in the South, where we don’t talk about money or sex. So when I asked my mom where babies came from, she told me a man and woman "make love". That’s it. That was the extent of the conversation.

I have three kids, so clearly I figured out where babies come from. When my oldest was 10, she asked me where babies came from. I didn’t say something vague like, “A man and woman make love.” I simply told her the basics. She then looked at me – and remember, I have three kids – and said, “Ooh, you did that three times.”

I decided to be upfront with my kids because I wanted them to know they could feel comfortable talking to me about a topic that many people consider taboo. Like the money talk with parents, it’s only as awkward as you make it.

However, unlike the birds and the bees talk, you cannot figure out your parents’ finances unless you actually get the details.

I learned this the hard way.

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Great lessons from great men

Because I write a personal finance blog, I read a lot of books about money. I'll be honest: they're usually pretty boring. Sure, they can tell you how to invest in bonds or how to find the latest loophole in the tax code. But most of them lack a certain something: the human element.

Over the years, I've found that it's fun to read a different kind of money book in my spare time. I've discovered the joy of classic biographies and success manuals, especially those written by (or about) wealthy and/or successful men. When I read about Benjamin Franklin or Booker T. Washington or J.C. Penney, I learn a lot — not just about money, but about how to be a better person.

Here are some of the most important lessons that these books, written by and about great men of years gone by, have taught me.

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What is a robo-advisor? An introduction to automated investment tools

One of the joys of writing a money blog like Get Rich Slowly is the continuing self-education. I'm always reading and learning about personal finance. A lot of the times -- as in the past month -- this education is about esoteric topics. I'm currently diving deep into the history of personal finance, a subject that's interesting to me but admittedly not of much practical use in the modern world. (Today in the mail, I got a book about advertising and the use of credit during the 1920s. How's that for esoteric?)

But sometimes, this self-education does have practical uses, and it's stuff that I can share with you folks so that you too can become better educated.

For instance, I have a huge blind spot when it comes to so-called "robo-advisors". When I stopped writing here in 2012, robo-advisors existed but they hadn't yet become a Big Deal. By the time I re-purchased this site in 2017, things had changed. Robo-advisors had become a major force in the investment industry -- and I was clueless about what they were.

I've remained (mostly) clueless for almost three years now. I have a general idea of what robo-advisors are and how they operate, but only in the broadest sense. During our weekly planning call on Monday, I mentioned this blind spot to my business partner, Tom.

"You should write about robo-advisors," Tom said. "If you don't know what they are, I'll bet there are plenty of readers who don't know either. Do some research, write it up, and then everybody benefits."

Tom is a smart man.

Here then is my research into the world of robo-advisors. What are they? How do they work? And who should use them? Let's find out.

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“Saving rate” vs. “savings rate” — What’s the difference?

Those who know me well will tell you that I'm something of a pedant. I'm not proud of it.

Left to my own devices, I'm one of those who'd go around correcting everybody's grammar. It grates on my nerves when people mangle their usage of "me" and "I", for instance. (It's never okay to say, "She gave that to my wife and I." And you can't make "I" possessive: "My wife and I's house is big." Blarg!)

That said, I've learned to let things go in my old age.

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GRS Insider #92: Racism is not a political issue. Racism is a MORAL issue.

Yesterday, as I do most Fridays, I sent the GRS Insider to folks who subscribe to the Get Rich Slowly email list.

The email was unusual. It was more like a blog post than a simple summary of recent articles. I've had several people request a version they can share with other people, so -- this one time only -- I've created a stand-alone web version.

Parts of this have been edited slightly to account for the transition from email to web.

If you've been reading me for any length of time — or if you know me in person — you know that I hate conflict. I hate hate hate it. Some people seem to thrive on it. Not me. I shirk from it.

This is one reason I've steadfastly kept my financial writing politically neutral. I don't want conflict.

It helps that I'm neither liberal nor conservative. I'm some strange mix of the two. But mostly it's because I think financial advice is important for everyone regardless of political persuasion. It's rare that I take a stand on something political.

Because of who I am and what I believe, Get Rich Slowly will never become a political platform. (It'll touch on politics occasionally, but politics will never be a driving force at the site.)

That said, I'm mad as hell about not only the recent bout of racism in the U.S., but also the long history of racism that underpins our society. Something's gotta give. The current protests are 100% justified and they're not acts of terrorism. They're a call for action. What sort of action? I have no idea. I don't have solutions. But the problem is plain as day and it must be addressed. We, as a nation, must — at long last — deal with our history instead of sweeping it under the rug.

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A lesson in economic violence

J.D.'s note: Last September, I wrote that I didn't believe the world of personal finance needed more politics. I acknowledged that there were vast systemic issues that hold people back, but I argued that personal finance is personal.

While I still believe that individual action is (and always will be) the primary driver of financial success, my "no politics" stance has softened. No, that doesn't mean that Get Rich Slowly is suddenly going to change into a politics blog. That's not who I am. But it does mean that I'm willing to address political issues that affect our finances. (And, to be clear, I'm open to addressing these from both liberal and conservative perspectives.)

Right now, at this moment in time, it's important to talk about the issues black Americans face. It's important to talk about why there's so much anger -- and how a huge portion of our population has been disadvantaged for so long. (And continues to be disadvantaged!)

To that end, here's the amazing Lynnette Khalfani-Cox -- The Money Coach -- with a lesson on economic violence in the United States. (This originally appeared as a post in Lynnette's Facebook feed.)

The tragic murder of George Floyd highlighted the heinous reality of racism, police brutality, and the legacy of racial violence in America. But if we're going to truly address this country's ills, we must name, condemn and fix economic violence too.

First, a definition.

Economic violence occurs when one party disenfranchises, subjugates, or financially abuses another party. Any person or entity in power can commit economic violence. This includes individuals, companies, organizations, governments, institutions, or systems.

Clearly, many individuals and groups may be subjected to economic violence, such as LGBTQ people, immigrants, or women.

But today I want to talk specifically about the economic violence that African-Americans have endured for more than 400 years in these United States.

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A candid conversation about race in America

Minneapolis, Denver, NYC, Oakland, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Louisville, San Jose, Des Moines, Detroit. The list goes on. These are just some of the cities that have experienced protests in the past week.

George Floyd's murder (and murder-porn video) was one of the catalysts for these protests. But let's be clear: Sooner or later, this was going to happen. Things are not okay in America. America's continuing issue with race, inequality, and the routine acceptance of the mistreatment of black people and other people of color came to a head in the last couple of days.

Then, we had Amy Cooper in New York City calling the police on Christian Cooper unecessarily during a normal incident that plays out all the time - annoying people with their dogs off leash. That one call could have resulted in Christian Cooper's death.

In this episode of Michelle is Money Hungry, I'm going to get candid about race in America, money and opportunity, and what's next.

This is a very difficult show for me to do because I have so many thoughts racing through my mind. The goal of this episode is to give a better perspective of what people are angry about and to leave with ideas of how we collective can do better. And, honestly, I have to say something about this. And just so you know, this is not the first time that I've talked about race and wealth in America on my website and podcast. (But it's the first time J.D. has shared my work here at Get Rich Slowly.)

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Who invented the index fund? A brief (true) history of index funds

Pop quiz! If I asked you, "Who invented the index fund?" what would your answer be? I'll bet most of you don't know and don't care. But those who do care would probably answer, "John Bogle, founder of The Vanguard Group." And that's what I would have answered too until a few weeks ago.

But, it turns out, this answer is false.

Yes, Bogle founded the first publicly-available index fund. And yes, Bogle is responsible for popularizing and promoting index funds as the "common sense" investment answer for the average person. For this, he deserves much praise.

But Bogle did not invent index funds. In fact, for a long time he was opposed to the very idea of them!

John Bogle did not invent index funds

Recently, while writing the investing lesson for my upcoming Audible course about the basics of financial independence, I found myself deep down a rabbit hole. What started as a simple Google search to verify that Bogle was indeed the creator of index funds led me to a "secret history" of which I'd been completely unaware.

In this article, I've done my best to assemble the bits and pieces I discovered while tracking down the origins of index funds. I'm sure I've made some mistakes here. (If you spot an error or know of additional info that should be included, drop me a line.)

Here then, is a brief history of index funds.

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Great lessons from great women

A decade ago, J.D. shared some great lessons from great men. He had a wealth of material to draw from: biographies of historical figures from centuries ago, classic business texts, and the earliest self-help books.

If you want to compile lessons from great women, however, you don’t have the same sources, because women have not been considered “great” for much of history, and thus they’ve not been asked for their opinions on most things — certainly not financial matters! Multiply that times ten for women of color.

Today, I'd like to share some great lessons from great women. But the wisdom I’ve collected here comes primarily from media sources and speeches. It’s no less wise than the wisdom from books written by great men, and it applies to everyone of all genders, although it’s informed in many cases by much tougher life circumstances than the white men who lent their thoughts to this post’s counterpart.

Here are t

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What’s the best long-term investment?

What's the best long-term investment? Because you're a money nerd (and a GRS reader), I hope your answer to this question was, "Stocks!" If the future is anything like the past, that's the correct answer. History has shown that stocks are the best long-term investment -- and by a wide margin.

Unfortunately, most Americans believe otherwise.

As a part of its annual Economy and Personal Finance survey (conducted during the first two weeks of April), Gallup News asked 1017 American adults, "Which of the following do you think is the best long-term investment: bonds, real estate, savings accounts or CDs, stocks or mutual funds, or gold?"

Here's how people answered:

  • 35% of respondents said that real estate is the best-long term investment
  • 21% said that stocks or mutual funds are the best long-term investment
  • 17% said that savings accounts or certificates of deposit are the best long-term investment
  • 16% said gold is the best long-term investment
  • 8% said bonds are the best long-term investment

Americans' views on the best long-term investment

While acknowledging that past results are no guarantee of future performance -- let's take a look at why I think Americans haven't got a clue when it comes to figuring out the best long-term investment strategy.

The Rate of Return on Everything

The August 2019 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Economics included a paper entitled "The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870-2015". Over an astounding 74 pages of discussion, the authors attempt to analyze the long-term (145-year) rate of return on a variety of assets around the world.

The paper examines four popular investment vehicles:

  • Bills, by which the authors mean Treasury bills, are short-term government bonds. At present, these are a good proxy for the rates you can earn with a high-yield savings account. (I don't think this is always the case, though.)
  • Bonds, which in this case refers to ten-year government bonds (such as a 10-year Treasury note).
  • Equity, which is another way to describe common stock. Here, the authors are measuring overall stock market performance.
  • Housing, including rental properties.

We'll look at each of these in greater detail in a moment (and we'll look at gold too), but for now let's look at this paper's overall findings. While the authors looked at data for many countries, I'm only going to share results for the U.S. The following table shows the rates of return for these different asset classes over three different time periods. (Remember that, for our purposes, Bills are a stand-in for savings accounts.)

Long-term returns on certain asset classes

From this table, it's clear that equities (i.e., stocks) have been the highest return investments over long periods of time. Nothing else comes close. (Outside the U.S., this isn't always true.)

Now, while stocks provide the best long-term returns, they also come with the greatest volatility. Here's a a chart (Figure VII) from the paper that shows just how crazy the ride with stocks can be. (Also note how closely equities and real estate tracked each other until the Great Depression.)

Equity returns vs. real-estate returns

It's this volatility that scares so many people away from the stock market. They're afraid that a sharp decline can come at any time. And that's true. But what's also true is that a prolonged bull market can occur at anytime, as we experienced from March 2009 to February 2020! If you're a long-term investor, you don't give a fig about short-term market movement.

Let's dive deeper into the long-term investment returns provided by the asset classes in the Gallup poll: real estate, stocks, savings accounts, gold, and bonds.

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