I’ll admit it: There are times that I think everything that needs to be said about personal finance has been said already, that all of the information is out there just waiting for people to find it. The problem is solved.
Perhaps this is technically true, but now and then — as this morning — I’m reminded that teaching people about money is a never-ending process. There aren’t a lot of new topics to write about, that’s true (this is something that even famous professional financial journalists grouse about in private), but there are tons of new people to reach, people who have never been exposed to these ideas. And, more importantly, there’s a constant stream of new misinformation polluting the pool of smart advice. (Sometimes this misinformation is well-meaning; sometimes it’s not.)
Here’s an example. This morning, I read a piece at Slate by Felix Salmon called “The Millionaire’s Mortgage”. Salmon’s argument is simple: “Paying off your house is saving for retirement.”
Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with this basic premise. I too believe that money you pay toward your mortgage principle is, in effect, money you’ve saved, just as if you’d put it in the bank or invested in a mutual fund. Many financial advisers say the same thing: Money you put toward debt reduction is the same as money you’ve invested. (Obviously, they’re not exactly the same but they’re close enough.)
So, yes, paying off your home is saving for retirement. Or, more precisely, it’s building your net worth.
But aside from a sound basic premise, the rest of Salmon’s article boils down to bullshit.