JUST PLAIN TALK: If I had known then what I know now

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

So far this year, Humble Dollar’s most popular post was Johnathan Clements’ “Nobody Told Me,” or things he wished he had known when he was in his 20s. Being honest, I would have blown it off in my 20s, but it’s never too late to do the right thing. Here are a few things no one told either of us.

Realtors and mortgage brokers may cringe, but buying a small home is a key to a large portfolio. When they were young, Clements and his wife could only afford a small house, but living in a tiny home for over 20 years allowed them to build substantial savings. A larger home means higher property taxes along with increased maintenance and utility costs; it’s a triple whammy.

Clements figured out earlier than me that debt was a negative bond. Paying off debt almost always beats high-quality bonds.

Watching the market doesn’t improve your performance; it’s a problem both Clements and I struggle to correct. Maybe we should take John Prine’s advice and blow up our TV. The purpose of financial news is to sell advertising; any information is ancillary.

It is possible to lose money over a five or 10 year period, but 30 years from now, you will wish you owned more stocks. Invest regularly over the years. Find a strategy you like and stick with it. Even at our advanced age, my wife and I have a 28-year life expectancy so I put a small amount into a balanced mutual fund monthly; I don’t care if the market is up or down. As a corollary, always put retirement first. The longer you wait to save, the more difficult retirement saving becomes. Saving allows you to defer spending to the future, and you live on less money today.

Spend money on experiences, not possessions. A 2014 paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (Gilovich, Kumar and Jampol) showed satisfaction with material purchases drops significantly compared with money spent on experiences. Millennials are way ahead of older generations; younger people are more likely to value experiences than stuff. I spend money on music, but listening to music is an experience, too, at least where I live. Clements says you won’t treasure most of your purchases; alternatively, that is the beauty of music. Plus LPs and CDs sound better than compressed files.

Think about the future. When you don’t save, you have to make it up in the future, likewise with debt.

It’s not limited to financial decisions; your future self will appreciate a proper diet and exercise today, perhaps that’s more important. You will make mistakes; I’ve had my share. The lessons you buy are the ones you remember. Work hard, save regularly, and don’t throw money away on too good to be true schemes or products. When you hit a rough spot, don’t fret; there is always tomorrow.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP, can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.