How to ruin your finances fast

Some financial disasters are a long time in the making. It typically takes years of unfortunate choices — minimum credit card payments, forgone savings opportunities — to create suffocating debt or a poverty-level retirement.

Other disasters you can trigger almost instantly. The decision itself costs money, or the clock starts ticking toward a consequence you might not have foreseen. In my latest for the Associated Press, three common ways to trash your finances fast, plus how you may be able to undo or limit the damage.

Q&A: How to protect an elderly widower from financial predators

Dear Liz: Our mother recently died after a long illness. Our father is in his 70s and is getting a lot of attention from ladies at his church and the senior center. We’re concerned because of a pattern we’ve seen in other families, where the widower remarries and the new wife convinces him that his kids are only after his money. When he dies, she gets everything. The kids and grandkids are left out in the cold. We love our dad and don’t want him to think we’re gold diggers. We also don’t want someone to take our father from us and take advantage of him. What can we do?

Answer: If your father is willing to consider it, an irrevocable trust could go a long way toward protecting his assets from avaricious future wives and any number of other financial predators, including scam artists and unethical financial advisors. The trust could continue to pay income to him while allowing the underlying assets to be transferred at his death to the heirs he chooses now, when his judgment is presumably not impaired.

This is not a do-it-yourself project. Transferring assets to an irrevocable trust could create a gift tax issue for your dad. An attorney who specializes in trusts will have to carefully craft the language to avoid that, Los Angeles estate planning attorney Burton Mitchell said.

The problem may be convincing your dad that he’s vulnerable to impaired judgment. Although our financial decision-making abilities peak in our 50s and our cognitive abilities decline fairly rapidly after age 70, our confidence in our abilities continues to rise as we get older.

Financial literacy expert Lewis Mandell likens it to driving ability. Other research has shown that older drivers often don’t perceive their driving skills as deteriorating, despite declines in sensory ability that come with aging, said Mandell, author of the book “What to Do When I Get Stupid: A Radically Safe Approach to a Difficult Financial Era.”

But the same research found that when the drivers took an objective test that demonstrated their decrease in skill, they were more willing to alter their driving behavior to reduce the probability of accidents.

It may help to have a third party, such as a fee-only financial planner or an estate planning attorney, talk to your dad about the importance of protecting his assets at this stage in his life.

If that effort fails and he marries the type of woman you fear, try to remain in his life, no matter what. She may try to pick fights with you and then demand he take her side as a way of isolating him. Avoid conflict where possible and maintain contact with regular calls, letters and visits. It will be harder for her to demonize you if you remain a constant, loving presence in his life.

Treat your marriage like a business

My artist husband likes to say that if I were in charge of our spending, we’d be sitting on milk crates instead of furniture and that if he were in charge, we’d have no retirement accounts.

The fact that we have both nice furniture and retirement funds is a testament to compromise — and the wealth-building power of marriage.

Married people are significantly wealthier than single people in every age group, and the gap tends to widen as people approach retirement age. Married couples age 55 to 64 had a median net worth, excluding home equity, of $108,607 in 2011, the latest available Census Bureau figures show. By contrast, single men in the same age bracket were worth a median $14,226 and single women $11,481.

Income and education also contribute heavily to wealth — and to the likelihood that people will marry. But a 15-year study of 9,000 people found that even after controlling for those and other factors, marriage itself contributed to a 4 percent annual increase in net worth. The same study found that wealth typically began to drop four years before a divorce, which ultimately reduced people’s wealth by 77 percent.

Since marital status is so powerfully associated with financial status, people would be smart to view marriage as a business arrangement in addition to a romantic one. Taking a few pages from the business world has certainly made our 19-year marriage stronger as well as wealthier.

In my latest for the Associated Press, a look at what works for us and how to apply it to your own marriage.

Secrets of next-door millionaires

The way most Americans build wealth is no secret: Save, invest, repeat. How average people keep their wealth, though, gets a lot less attention.

It boils down to how they handle risk. It’s hard to accumulate wealth without taking some risks, but there are perils that “next-door millionaires” seem to avoid.

Next-door millionaires weren’t born into wealth. They haven’t invented killer apps or won the lottery, exercised a pile of stock options or played professional sports. They’re the majority of millionaires, and they include teachers, small business owners and professionals who accumulate wealth gradually over time. They’re often in their 50s or 60s before their net worth ticks over to seven digits.

In my latest column for the Associated Press, how to apply the secrets of next-door millionaires to your own finances.

Three reasons not to simplify your financial life

January seems to beg for fresh starts, organizing binges and articles about simplifying your life. In some ways, though, a little complexity is a good thing.

Of course, paring and consolidating your financial accounts, for example, can help you better track your money. You may find it easier to coordinate your investments, save on account fees and spot fraud.

But there are times when less is not more. In my latest for Reuters, three reasons why you may not want to take simplification too far.

In my latest for DailyWorth, a look at seven smart ways to save for retirement.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: The 13 key numbers to understanding your finances. Also in the news: How to save on taxes, what to do with an unexpected inheritance, and the financial lies we tell ourselves.

These 13 Numbers Are the Keys to Understanding Your Finances
Understanding your potential.

Three Moves In December To Save Taxes Next April
Act now, save later.

5 Things to Do With an Unexpected Inheritance
Choose wisely.

12 Financial Lies We Tell Ourselves
Time for the truth.

New startup aims to ‘Trim’ the fat from your monthly spending
Eliminating recurring payments.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Stress Level Conceptual Meter Indicating MaximumToday’s top story: Passing the financial sleep test. Also in the news: How to tell if you have a good 401(k) match, how to tell if a purchase will truly make you happy, and the most tax-friendly states for retirement.

Does Your Financial Plan Pass the Sleep Test?
Are your finances causing you to lose sleep?

How to Tell if You Have a Good 401(k) Match
Is your employer generous enough?

Plot Your Purchases Along the Fulfillment Curve to Know When It’s Worth It
How to know before you buy.

These Are The 10 Most Tax-Friendly States For Retirees
Is yours on the list?

The magic of tidying up your money

ClutterFor the uninitiated, it probably seems weird that a book with the unlikely title “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” can be a New York Times bestseller–or that the introverted Japanese author Marie Kondo is now so famous she can no longer ride the Tokyo subway for fear of being mobbed.

Kondo contradicts a lot of the accepted wisdom about the best ways to organize, urging marathon sessions and encouraging people only to keep what “sparks joy.”

Here’s how the New York magazine writer Molly Young describes the appeal:

In theory, Kondo should translate poorly to American audiences. We don’t like being scolded, we don’t like foreigners telling us how to live, we don’t like our sloppily balled socks treaded on. We don’t like paying $16.99 for 224 pages of nagging. Our roommates and spouses do that for free.

But Kondo doesn’t nag. Instead, she urges a kind of animistic tenderness toward everyday belongings…Kondo’s thesis—that the world is filled with worthy recipients of mercy, including lightweight-microfiber ones—is as lovely as it is alien. It’s empathy as an extreme sport.

While reading the book, it struck me that while you may not want to apply all Kondo’s principles to your stuff, they actually work pretty well when applied to your money. For more, read my DailyWorth column, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Finances.”

 

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: A month-by-month guide to staying on financial track. Also in the news: How to avoid making a big financial mistake, why you should consider a “money diet”, and how to simplify your 2015 finances.

A month-by-month guide to staying on financial track in 2015
Taking it one month at a time.

Don’t Make This Big Personal Finance Mistake
Why not having a credit card could do more harm than good.

Spending Hangover? Time For A Financial Cleanse
Clearing the financial fog.

Consider a Month-Long “Money Diet” to See How Savings Add Up
No cheating.

5 Ways to Simplify Your Finances in 2015
How to make things easier.