Getting a Grip on Your Money was published in 2002 and had a good five-year run. It was featured on nationally syndicated talk shows, published overseas, and used for group discussions in a variety of settings. The book is still available from Amazon.com but now that its active promotion has ended, this page seeks to promote and extend the “plain money” theme of the book.
- My book adventure
Way back in 2002, I wrote a book and, as something of an experiment, tried out what it would be like to be an author — you know, more full-time. (Every professor is at least a part-time author.) My book, Getting a Grip on Your Money, was a faith-based approach to personal finance. It’s still available on Amazon and if you’re looking for the support files, I’ll email them to you. Here are a few lessons I picked up from this authoring experiment:
- People think books are a big deal. In economics, journal articles are highly valued and books not so much — but my friends and neighbors were impressed at knowing an author.
- Mass-market books are driven by marketing, not content. In working with my publisher, I was close to signing a contract — my editor told me things looked favorable — and he said he was soon going to get around to reading my manuscript. What? Reading the manuscript was an afterthought? Yes, he explained. The book would sell based on the marketing, not the content. He only wanted to read the book to ensure that the marketing wasn’t wildly inaccurate.
- It doesn’t take many sales at all to zoom up the Amazon ranks. Sell 12 books on a single day and you’ll go up thousands of ranks.
- Publicity sells. I did a talk radio show on a Chicago station and sold a few books that day — and zoomed up thousands of ranks. As the talk show was aired on a delayed basis around the country, I sold even more.
- Websites are difficult. I started a website at plainmoney.com to support the book. It worked well for a number of years but then became highly vulnerable to hacking. For some reason, hackers’ bots got in — nothing good there, no personal information, no credit card numbers. I have since restored some of the more recent posts, below.
- Summary of smart moves (or maybe just less stupid)
Smart things I did (or maybe just less stupid) in the personal finances of myself and my family (see footnotes):
- Abandoned the default 50-50 split between stocks and bonds in my long-term saving, going instead for the Stupid Financial Plan’s* default of my age in bonds — for example, 40 percent bonds when I turned 40, leaving 60 percent in stocks.
- Got blooom.com to manage my 401(k)-403(b) plans. I think I’m hundreds or thousands of dollars ahead by now, just from this.
- Put just enough money into my matching plan at work to get the match (as in your 403b plans), and stopped putting any more there. Instead I diverted the money to index funds at Vanguard.
- Got a local independent insurance agency to look for quotes for my auto, home and umbrella insurance, saving lots (!) compared with staying with my then-current insurer, a leading nationally advertised company.
- Dropped my extra life insurance (group insurance through work and one whole-life policy) after replacing it with term life insurance through zanderinsurance.com
- Stopped buying new cars (bad habit!) and instead went used with Carmax, where there’s no bargaining. I’m a bad bargainer.
- Cut the cable, replacing cable TV with an over-the-air antenna and streaming services.
- Dropped expensive cellphone, replacing it with a Moto X4 on the Fi wireless service. I use wifi wherever possible and my bill is now about $28 per month. The Moto cost me $149 to purchase after service credits. (Others have reported good results from prepaid carriers ranging from Cricket to TracFone.)
- I’m not endorsing any financial provider or service, just telling you what worked for me.
- In many cases, doing something is way better than doing nothing. So, if the only way you’ll save for your future is through your bad 403(b) plan at work, that’s better than not saving at all. Don’t cancel your 403(b) contributions until you have your new plan in place.
- I’ve heard that Fidelity and Schwab are just as good as Vanguard, maybe better for some customers. I’ve just always had good luck with Vanguard.
- SelectQuote and other services will get you life insurance quotes just the same way that Zander Insurance will. Do a search and you’ll find many possibilities. I had good luck with Zander. And, absolutely do not cancel your old life insurance until the new coverage is in place.
- I have since upgraded to a Pixel 4a that was $349. It has great performance and battery life, and a really nice camera. But if I were saving money big-time I’d get a refurbished Moto X4. My old one is still in the family and it’s a very capable phone.
*The Stupid Financial Plan is something I use with some adult groups, showing very basic steps toward financial security.
- About “Plain Money”
Getting a Grip on Your Money was published in 2002 and had a good five-year run. It was featured on nationally syndicated talk shows, published overseas, and used for group discussions in a variety of settings. The book is still available from Amazon.com and free leader resources are available but now that its active promotion has ended, this site seeks to promote and extend the “plain money” theme of the book.
- Can you automate good investing habits?
The Plain Money approach to investing isn’t fancy — it’s just developing some good habits: buy and hold index funds, keep costs low, keep things in balance. But in some 401(k) situations that’s not easy. You may have multiple accounts, some left over from earlier employers. To do the job right, you need to keep up with the available investment choices and make sure your portfolio doesn’t get out of line.
Or you could use a service like Blooom, which I’m currently testing. So far I’m impressed! I have some tax-advantaged accounts from a couple of earlier jobs and several others with my current employer. I signed up with Blooom and it took only a few clicks to get my accounts in much better shape. Here’s what Blooom did for me:
- Using only the assets available and keeping my balances with my current provider, found lower-cost alternatives with similar performance.
- By requesting rebalancing through my current provider, lined up my asset allocation with my investment goals.
- Set up future rebalancing to keep my asset allocation in line with my goals.
The cost is affordable: $10 a month for a single account. If you have multiple accounts (as I did), there are discounts. Quick chat support helped me get everything set up.
The one disadvantage was that Blooom could not manage all of my accounts with my provider — and those unmanaged accounts are heavily invested in bond equivalents. So I had to adjust my Blooom-managed accounts away from bonds to get my overall percentage of stocks and bonds right.
In my judgment, Blooom will repay its modest monthly fees many times over, just in finding ways to reduce investment fees. And it already has shown me some investment alternatives (low-cost passively managed assets, of course!) that I didn’t know were available in some of my older investment accounts.
You can even get your first month free at this link for Plain Money readers:
Try Out Blooom. If you do try it out, please let me know your experience. I’ll update this post from time to time and let you know how things are working out.
That link again: Try Out Blooom free for a month.
Full disclosure: If you do try out Blooom, I will receive an affiliate referral premium.
Finally, this obvious question: “Hey, you’re a Ph.D. in economics, can’t you figure out what Blooom does by yourself?” And the answer is yes, in principle, but I don’t have the time or patience to investigate everything about my old investment accounts. Blooom is essentially automating the principles that I advocate in Getting a Grip on Your Money.
- Beating the market?
Have a look at this financial institution’s commercial, especially the beginning:
Did you see that smart investor take a picture of that tech box and immediately get information on the stock of the company that made it? The implication is that the investor can now trade ahead of the market — for example, buying this promising tech company before others find out. Seriously? Do you think a tech startup can take a new device and actually deploy it before the smart money knows? If this app encourages you to make stock decisions based on random encounters with new products, you’d be better off (as an investor) taking a hammer to that smartphone. Instead, buy and hold index funds.
A final funny note: The title of the ad is “Where Smarter Investors Will Always Be.” The behavior depicted in the ad is “Where Ignorant Investors Underperform.”
- Radio show on special needs financial planning
Media Note: Not too long ago, William Wood was the guest on “Your Money Matters Today” with Cornerstone Wealth Advisors. With hosts Steve Campbell and Ryan Miracle, Dr. Wood talked about mistakes that special needs parents should avoid. Here is the podcast if you’d like to listen, and here’s a link to an article that includes most of the show content: 13 Mistakes for Special Needs Parents to Avoid.
- Trump-proofing your portfolio
With Donald Trump installed as president, what should you do with your portfolio? There are two answers:
- It’s too late; and
Here’s what I mean. Asset markets move very quickly on news. Whatever the latest dust-up is, by the time you hear about it, it’s too late to act on it. Buy more defense stocks because of additional military spending? Fine, but those stocks have already fully incorporated changes in defense policy. Sell technology shares because of immigration policy changes? Too late.
So that brings us to the second answer: do nothing. If you have a well-balanced portfolio, you haven’t placed a bet on any particular sector — and so it doesn’t matter which sectors gain and lose under Trump.
The best investment strategy to deal with political turmoil is (wait for it) buy and hold index funds.
- Luxury for less?
There’s a paid ad in my Facebook feed from the New Yorker (paidpost.newyorker.com) on “How to Live Luxuriously Right Now.” Here’s a sample: The New Yorker recommends used “Vintage Timepieces” like a classic Omega 3177 watch from the 1970s for only $4,695.
Right, that’s $4,695 as in almost $5,000. Notice that for this price, you don’t get better time-keeping than with say, a $90 Casio Wave Ceptor watch (my personal favorite). The Casio syncs with the mother clock once a day. Mine has never been more than two seconds off.
So what do you get for $4,695? A piece of jewelry, mostly. I do not know how to recognize such a fine watch, but I’m sure there are people who do, and who care, and who are impressed by someone who wears such a watch.
[I would not, as we say out here far from New York, “trade you even,” that Omega for my Casio — because then I’d have to worry about losing or damaging the thing. And nobody’s going to mug me for my Casio watch. I actually like the Casio’s dial better, too.]
If you want to spend almost $5,000 on a watch like that, fine. But don’t pretend there’s any thrift involved. And if you have friends who will be impressed by your show of wealth — uh, what kind of people are you hanging out with? [Don’t get mad; I’m just asking.]
- Good debate, same outcome
Here are two really smart people talking about asset markets — are they rational and efficient? In either case, individual investors are better off to buy and hold index funds. I’ll post the video below:
or you can read the transcript here.
- Prepaid phone plans are still the best
. . . and here are the details.