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Managing your finances should be pretty straightforward.

Mark Levitt
By Mark Levitt

This article appeared originally in the March 2016 Levitt Letter.

Managing your finances should be pretty straightforward, but that doesn’t make the task easy. Columnist Ron Lieber recently wrote “A New Take on Old Tips” for the NY Times Money Management section. Below are excerpts from his article that draws wisdom from several financial experts. —Mark

A popular list of financial instructions fits on a 4”x6” notecard, the foundation of the book The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated. At the back of his Money Guide 2016, Jonathan Clements includes 18 steps. Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams offers a third list.

These experts agree on four concepts:

  • You must have an emergency fund.
  • Index funds should make up most of your investment portfolio.
  • Buy a home, but only one that you can afford.
  • Remember life insurance. Basic term insurance is the answer for most people.
Saving.
Many of us are plagued by the infinite availability of shiny consumer goods coupled with too little willpower to say “no.” Excessive spending leaves less for long-term goals. Instead, we should set up automatic account transfers. Unless you automate saving for tomorrow, it’s not going to happen.
Investing.
Fortunately, Americans are putting progressively more money into index funds that don’t pick individual stocks. These do better, on average, than others.
Buying a modest home.
Most experts agree that buying a home is smart, but only an affordable one. Too many of us are delusional about exactly what that means. Consumers can’t predict their financial future, but they can be cautious in the present. Less is often more.
Investing in term life insurance.
Nobody likes planning for possibly dying young. Term insurance is often the best. You might pay $50 to $100 per month for 20 years and be eligible for $500,000 or $1 million of coverage if you die (and nothing if you don’t).

Sales agents too often push more complex forms of insurance with investments and large, hidden fees, and mumbo jumbo riders. You should ask for term insurance by name. Supply a urine sample and submit to a nurse’s exam. Then hand over the money. It is a moral responsibility for any parent of young children, unless in possession of substantial financial assets.

All of these tasks require some discipline, and discussing your financial goals with others can be helpful. So be honest with yourself, consult with someone who knows your weaknesses, and come up with your own financial priorities.

The ongoing goal of this semimonthly Serpent column is to strengthen the Church by enhancing its members’ financial stewardship. “…be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Matt. 10:16

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