washing away 2018 on beach

Here’s What Our Readers Liked in 2018

We’re kicking off 2019 with our periodic review of the most-read articles over the past year, based on the blog traffic tracked by Google Analytics.

Judging by the comments readers leave at the end of the blog posts, baby boomers are really diving into the nitty-gritty of preparing themselves mentally and financially for retirement. Financial advisers also frequently comment on Squared Away, and we hope some of our web traffic is because they’re sharing our blog with their clients.

Last year, Squared Away received recognition from other media. The Wall Street Journal recommended us to its readers for the blog’s “wonderful mix of topics.” The Los Angeles Times picked up our article, “Why Retirement Inequality is Rising.” MarketWatch published our posts about how pharmacists can help seniors reduce their prescription drug prices and about a Social Security reform to reduce elderly poverty.

The most popular blogs in 2018 fall into five categories:

The Big Picture

How Social Security Gets Fixed Matters

Future ‘Retirees’ Plan to Work

Just Half of Americans Enjoy Bull Market

Personality Influences Path to Retirement

How and When to Retire

Know About the 401(k) Surprise

How Retirees Can Negotiate Drug Prices

Work vs Save Options Quantified

What’s a Geriatric Care Manager Anyway?

Geriatric Help Eases Family Discord

Retirement Pitfalls

Retirees Get a 401(k) Withdrawal Headache

Social Security Mistakes Can Be CostlyLearn More

Car driving in snow

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Be safe during the holidays, whether you’re traveling across town or across the country to enjoy your family and friends.

We’re taking a break too at the Center for Retirement Research. This blog will return on Thursday Jan. 3 with a roundup of our readers’ favorite articles in 2018. …Learn More

Caregiver Guides Detail Financial Duties

The federal government has released online brochures to give people who are thrust into a caregiving role a better idea of what they’re getting into.

“It’s a big shock at first and a big adjustment,” an Episcopal priest says in the video above. He became his mother’s caregiver after she developed dementia.

But people who anticipate they will one day be a caregiver can soften the blow by studying up on their future responsibilities with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new guides to caring for a loved one.

The brochures are free and cover four financial responsibilities: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veterans Affairs beneficiary.

They can be downloaded in English or in Spanish at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website, or the agency will mail them.

CFPB has also posted brochures detailing the caregiver regulations and laws specific to six states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, and Virginia. The state guides each cover the same four topics: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veteran Affairs beneficiary.

Non-profit organizations in Michigan and Texas have also published their own brochures on caregiver issues in their states – links to these brochures are also on CFPB’s website. …Learn More

Pumpkins

Holiday is Time to Recognize Our Readers

It’s the time of year to appreciate our readers. Thank you for supporting our blog on Twitter and Facebook too.

Squared Away, a retirement and personal finance blog, is sponsored by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.  To stay current on our latest blog posts, sign up for our free, weekly email alert with links to that week’s two blog posts.

Have a lovely holiday. …Learn More

salesman

‘Retire Rich!’ Don’t Believe the Sales Pitch

If an alien were to drop in to study earthlings’ retirement, it would have to conclude that saving is either nearly hopeless or super easy.

Many Americans approach retirement planning with dread – hardly surprising, given that only about half of working-age adults are on track to have sufficient savings to retire in the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to while working.

But there purports to be an easier way – and it’s on YouTube. Googling “retirement” turns up all kinds of outlandish promises of nirvana for regular folks.  Examples of YouTube titles are: “Retire Young. Retire Rich.” “Guaranteed Ways to Retire Rich.” “How to Retire in 10 Years – Much Easier Than You Think.” You get the picture.

Don’t be fooled. In a 401(k) world, what workers need is determination, planning, and persistence to ensure they’ll be prepared for old age.  YouTube offers only magic bullets.

Many of these exploitative videos are targeted to 20-somethings new to the financial world, who may be more vulnerable and persuadable. But perhaps they are also able to attract hundreds or even thousands of viewers because they offer easy solutions to what may be our most anxiety-producing financial challenge: Will I ever be able to afford to retire?

Yes, one video claims. Retire at age 40! The self-appointed retirement expert in this video, who does not identify himself, hides behind cartoon illustrations on a white board to display his mathematical comparisons of workers who started saving at different ages. The point of this exercise is that people who start early will wind up with a better-funded retirement, due to compounding investment returns, than those who start in their 40s or 50s. So far so good.

But things quickly go downhill when he claims that it’s possible for a 23-year-old to retire in 17 years. You “don’t have to work another day in your life, and you’re still able to do the things you want to do,” he says, allowing this tantalizing prospect to sink in with the audience. But his retire-at-40 scheme has a catch – and it’s a big one. To achieve this goal, a 23-year-old would have to save half of his or her income. Young adults are trying to achieve independence – not move back in with their parents to follow his financial prescription. …Learn More

clutter

Americans’ Compulsion for Clutter

Anthropologists took a deep dive into Middle America’s clutter a few years ago, and here’s what they found:

A wall of shelves holding hundreds and hundreds of Beanie Babies and dolls. Giant packs of multiple paper towels, cleaning fluids, Gatorade, and Dixie cups piled high in the garage or laundry room. Frozen prepared foods jam-packed into twin refrigerators in the kitchen and garage – enough to feed a family for weeks.

I write frequently about the financial challenges facing the middle class today and their perception that the American Dream is slowly and inexorably eroding. This feeling is very real.

But surely hyper-consumerism has something to do with our financial stress. U.S. households have more possessions than in any other country, UCLA anthropologists said in this video:

Money spent unnecessarily to stock our own personal Big Box store in the garage leaves much less for long-term goals like savings, retirement, and college tuition – the same expenses middle class families struggle to afford.  “We buy stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have,” summed up one commenter on the video’s YouTube page.

The United States has long been a prosperous and material culture. But anthropologist Anthony Graesch argues that the magnitude of consumption has grown by leaps and bounds. This trend has probably been encouraged by the proliferation of inexpensive imports from countries with lower wages. Over a lifetime, these small expenses add up to boatloads of money.

“The sheer diversity and availability and fairly inexpensive array of objects that are out there – this has significantly changed over the years,” Graesch said. Toys are a prime example. “We’re perhaps spending more on kids’ material culture than ever before.”

Minimalism goes in and out of vogue, but there are few minimalists among us – this takes work, self-control, and a willingness to part ways with sentimentality. For the rest of us, there’s a personal finance lesson in this video. …
Learn More

Personal Finance Videos for Young Adults

PBS Digital Studios is producing an excellent video series to guide 20-somethings who are starting their careers and want to get a handle on their finances.

In “Two Cents,” financial planners Julia Lorenz-Olson and her husband, Philip Olson, will make you laugh as they convey their very solid advice about personal finance. “How to Ask for a Raise” is perhaps the most relevant video to young adults – especially the ladies. Only one in three women believe that their pay is negotiable. Nearly half of all men do.

The potential for pay raises is highest for employees when they are in their late 20s and early 30s. But the boss isn’t likely to volunteer to increase anyone’s pay, the hosts explain – you have to ask. This is a scary thing to do, and the couple eliminates some of the anxiety by explaining how to prepare for that meeting with the boss.

The “Love and Money” episode asks the questions that are crucial to a successful partnership: how much does he or she earn and how much does this person owe? In “How Cars Can Keep You Poor,” the Olsons advise against buying a new car, which depreciates 63 percent in just five years – they compare it to investing in an ice cream cone on a hot day. A used car is a much better deal and the only sensible option for someone who’s already juggling rent and student loan payments. And the answer to “Should I Buy Bitcoin?” is, uh, no. Nearly half of all bitcoin transactions are illegal, Olson says.

For future-minded young adults, “How Do You Actually Buy a House?” walks through the entire process, explaining why it’s critical to get preapproved for a mortgage, how to choose a realtor, and what to expect in the closing. “Insta-Everything lays out the few pros and many cons of paying for on-demand services such as Grub Hub, InstaCart, and Task Rabbit.

Lorenzo-Olsen explains that the goal of their “Two Cents” videos is not to help young adults get more money (though a raise would be nice), “but to be happy with the money you have.”Learn More

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