My Favorite Personal Finance Blogs: 2014
I believe in blogs. In a world where hidden agendas and conflicts of interest abound, personal finance blogs provide some of the most unbiased information available for managing your money wisely. The bulk of my weekly reading comes from blogs, not the mainstream media. The best blogs are written by smart people with actual experience reaching financial goals in their own lives. Their perspectives are often more practical and more realistic than what I find elsewhere.
Many of the larger blogs publish a weekly “roundup” of favorite articles from other blogs and media. Though I know it can be a service to readers and fellow bloggers, I’ve been resisting that routine because the regular commitment feels a bit like “work.” (I’m supposed to be retired after all!)
So, instead, I’ll take this end-of-the-year opportunity to share some of the excellent writing from my friends and colleagues in the blogging world. Here then, in alphabetical order, are some of my favorite blogs, bloggers, and articles of the past year. Consider this a primer on saving, investing, and retiring from some of the wisest voices in the business….
AARP: Allan Roth
Allan Roth, a CPA and CFP, was corporate finance officer of two multi-billion dollar companies. He is the author of How a Second Grader Beats Wall Street and writes regularly for AARP, The Wall Street Journal, and Financial Planning Magazine. Despite all that, he’s one of the least pretentious financial wizards you could meet — a true champion of safe, simple, low-cost investing.
In Two and a Half Inflation Myths, Allan dispels several misconceptions about inflation using simple facts. One misconception is that lifestyles must necessarily inflate over time. I loved the reprint of a 1991 Radio Shack ad: thirteen of 15 items can now be replicated using a smartphone, at a fraction of the cost. It’s an eloquent reminder that inflation is not inevitable and our personal rate may well differ from the government’s or our neighbor’s. Finally, Allan cautions against believing in predictions for any one version of the future, and suggests being prepared for either high or low inflation….
AssetBuilder: Scott Burns
Scott Burns has written a syndicated personal finance column for decades and is one of the most widely read personal finance writers in the country. He has authored a number of influential books, including Spend ‘Til the End, been instrumental in national policy discussion around retirement plans, and created the well-known “Couch Potato Portfolio” investment strategy — based on using a small number of low-cost index funds. Scott has long been a hero, role model, and mentor of mine.
In Living Larger, But Avoiding Ruin, Scott summarizes and explores the venerable 4% Rule for retirement withdrawals. Ironically this rule is under attack as not safe enough. Yet Scott takes us down the opposite path, exploring a number of “safety valves” that might actually let us spend more liberally in retirement. He touches on some potential retirement spending rules, the data for expected longevity, and research demonstrating that our living expenses will likely decline in retirement.
FinancialMentor: Todd Tresidder
Todd Tresidder is a serial entrepreneur who studied economics and went on to prove himself in the financial world. He managed a 20-million dollar hedge fund that actually made money, and retired at the enviable age of 35. Not content to coast, Todd returned to the working world on his own terms, started a financial coaching business, and now a blog and web site with a wide range of personal finance resources, including one of the most extensive collections of financial calculators on the web.
Todd is one of the leading interpreters of research demonstrating that the 4% Rule may not be safe enough for our economic times. He’s written several books on the topic, including How Much Money Do I Need to Retire? In his article Are Safe Withdrawal Rates Really Safe? Todd summarizes the history of safe withdrawal rate research as well as his latest thinking on the topic, including how it relates to today’s high market valuations. He maintains there are hidden dangers in the 4% Rule, and outlines an alternative process for deciding on retirement withdrawals that is more likely to keep your retirement savings safe.
Financing Life: Rick Van Ness
Rick Van Ness, an engineer and MBA, spent 30 years in the electronics industry and is now financially independent. Rick is generously spending his retirement engaged in not-for-profit activities intended to educate others on saving and investing wisely. He has a knack for making complex financial topics simple and friendly, especially in his extensive collection of how-to financial videos.
Rick’s latest book is Why Bother With Bonds? In it he covers all aspects of fixed-income investments such as CDs, bonds, and bond funds. He specifically addresses the critical matter of how to choose your bond allocation (possibly your most important investment decision), as well as how to manage risk/reward using bonds in these difficult times of low interest rates. His experience and insights into bonds are worth a listen right now, given today’s exceptional pressures on that asset class.
jlcollinsnh: James Collins
Jim Collins held a number of senior executive positions in several industries, before realizing that his relatively modest lifestyle, combined with the size of his savings, meant he could say goodbye to the rat race forever. Along that road to financial independence, and years before it was common knowledge, he learned why the odds favor passive index investing over active investing. In addition to being a self-taught master investor, Jim is a consultant, motivational speaker, trainer, and world traveler. His is one of the most unique and engaging voices in personal finance, in part because you’ll find much more than just finance on his blog….
I particularly like Jim’s post Why I Don’t Like Dollar Cost Averaging on the drawbacks to dollar cost averaging — the commonly recommended solution for how to invest a lump sum of money. The standard argument goes that you’ll reduce risk and increase the odds for buying low and selling high by investing periodically over time. But Jim argues with eloquence and facts that dollar cost averaging a lump sum is basically a bet that the market will go down. And, on the average, that is a losing bet. Instead, he recommends alternative approaches for those at different stages of life and investing.
Monevator is the smart, witty, and polished UK-based blog written by the “Accumulator” and the “Investor.” Though the blog explores many aspects of money and investing, its driving focus is to “Get Rich Slowly” with a passive index investing philosophy. Many of the articles have a UK focus, meaning you’ll have to parse through some new financial terminology if you’re U.S.-based. But all the articles on Monevator share a foundation in financial common sense, and the core principles are applicable no matter where you reside.
A Landlord is Someone Who Borrows Money on Your Behalf mirrors some of the arguments in my own post on Renting vs. Buying: The True Cost of Home Ownership. The Monevator article reviews the many expenses of home ownership, showing that owning is not that different from renting. If you have a mortgage, you’re just “renting” money from the bank. The bottom line of Monevator’s argument, as well as my own, is that, despite the sales pitches from banks and realtors, there is nothing inherently superior about the economics of owning a home. There are costs, just as for renting, including the opportunity cost of tying up capital in a property. Which is “best” — owning or renting? You have to run the numbers for your own situation and see.
Mr. Money Mustache
Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) is simply one of the most interesting and provocative blogs on the web. It also happens to be about personal finance. If you’re interested in saving money, retiring earlier, or living better in the deepest sense, ignore MMM at your own peril. In real-life MMM is an early-retired software engineer who lived self-sufficiently and saved enough that he could bail out of the full-time workforce at age 31. Yet, as he often must explain to onlookers, his quality of life has steadily increased ever since. (He has a penchant for good living, but does most of the required work himself.)
Admittedly, MMM has an agenda: he wants to save the human race from overconsumption. But his arguments are so strongly in your own self interest, that you may not care whether you’re “doing good” or not. Are You Giving the Shaft to your Future Self? is all about personal responsibility, and how it pays off over time. For most of us, most of the time, our fate is not a function of the economic “system” but rather of the choices we made years ago. MMM suggests looking at every financial transaction as a deal with your future self. The goal is to pile up rewards for that person down the road, without shortchanging your present life. As MMM and I will vouch — the payoff in personal freedom and control over your own happiness is huge….
Oblivious Investor: Mike Piper
Mike Piper is a licensed CPA, and was once a financial advisor for Edward Jones as well as a tax accountant for a large real estate company. But he now makes his living writing a series of excellent, concise personal finance books. Don’t miss out on his titles such as Can I Retire? and Social Security Made Simple, which explain complex personal finance topics in 100 pages or less. Mike’s blog covers a range of financial issues, focusing on low-cost investing, accounting, taxation, and retirement. He has a gift for answering complex questions in a few clear, concise paragraphs. In my opinion, Oblivious Investor is the go-to blog for getting precise answers to specific investing and tax questions.
Mike is also a master at cutting through the obfuscation spun by financial forces seeking to make money off your money. In Why Does Everybody Recommend Complex Portfolios?, he documents how simple passive approaches have taken over the investing landscape, and why complicated approaches still exist anyway. Yes, passive index investing has won the war, but the standing army of financial advisors still has to make a living. How do they convince investors they can add value comparable to their fees? By crafting complex, sophisticated-looking portfolios of passive index funds that supposedly enhance performance. Mike calls the bluff, in typically accurate and modest terms.
Retirement Researcher: Wade Pfau
Wade Pfau is one of the leading researchers into retirement planning strategies. He has a long list of credentials — including a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University, a CFA Charterholder, and professorship of Retirement Income at The American College — and an even longer list of publications, to his credit. More importantly, Wade continues to turn out practical research that will influence how you and I plan for retirement for years to come. Wade uses his blog for posting summaries of his latest work. All of us interested in retirement issues owe him a debt of gratitude for bridging between academia and the real world that retirees inhabit.
Wade has the wide-ranging perspective and the technical chops to actually drive the discussion on retirement income strategy. He does that in The Yin and Yang of Retirement Income Philosophies by giving us an easy-to-understand chart that categorizes potential retirement income strategies on the spectrum from probability-based (investing products) to safety-first (insurance products). Regardless of where you sit on this spectrum, good options are available. It’s often said that retirement distribution requires a different mindset from wealth accumulation. And Wade is one of the pioneers currently mapping that terrain….
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