I was recently cleaning out some of my files and threw out some old conference programs from the early 2010s. Before I did, I reviewed notes that I had taken looking for some “timeless nuggets” that are still relevant in 2022.
Below are ten conference insights that stood out to me as still being relevant a decade later:
Future Mindedness- Things appear “closer” than they otherwise are if clarity is forced upon people. An example is using an age progression app that transforms faces from a young age to older age, so people can see their future self. Otherwise, our future selves are strangers. Studies have found that, when people identify with their future selves, they save more money for retirement. When people interact with their future selves, they are more willing to allocate resources for the future. A psychological connectedness to future selves informs present behavior.
Learned Helplessness- This is when experience teaches people that they don’t have any power. When someone feels powerless, a financial counselor might say “Tell me about a time that you felt in control over your finances.” Sometimes people need to be reminded about better times when they had power so they can think more positively and move forward.
Mental Bandwidth- Like how a bunch of browser windows open on a computer eat up computer processing power, when people are stressed out, their decision-making capability is reduced. According to one study, people under financial stress lose 13% of their IQ with a drop in cognitive function.
Financial Goal-Setting- Research conducted by Morningstar found that asking people to list their financial goals off the top of their head without any prompts is insufficient. Many people change their goals when presented with a master list of goals that forces them to think deeper about what they want. A simple menu of potential goals was recommended.
Money and Marriage- Money is the #2 stressor for U.S. couples. Recently, the top stressor has become politics. Research studies have found that, when women earn more than men, conflict increases, especially around household responsibilities. Studies have also found happier relationships among couples with joint accounts.
Cumulative Investment Outcomes- Asset allocation decisions that people make in young adulthood (or have made for them via automatic enrollment default options) have cumulative effects. This is especially true if inertia sets in and portfolios remain the same over time. Young adults who start off with a low equity weightings in their portfolio have much less saved at retirement than those who invest higher amounts in stocks.
Financial Exploitation- With the aging baby boom generation, financial exploitation is on the rise. Older adults have a hard time accepting they will not be the same people in the future that they are today. Inability to make financial decisions and judge risks is one of the first signs of cognitive decline. Impaired individuals also become more trusting of strangers.
Always Be Learning (ABL)- Lifelong learners seek out opportunities to learn new things about personal finance (or other topics). Methods include webinars, podcasts, blogs, television and radio shows, print media, websites, and more. When pressed for time to fit ABL into your day, consider “educational multi-tasking” (e.g., listening to podcasts while walking).
Health Savings Accounts- One study found that the tax savings on many employees’ contributions to a health savings account (HSA) increases wealth by more than an employer match on the same employees’ 401(k) contributions. A key take-away, especially for healthy individuals and their families, is that HSAs can be used as a quasi-retirement plan. The following savings hierarchy was suggested by the researcher: 1. maximum HSA contribution, 2. amount to earn maximum employer match, 3. pay off high-interest rate debt (e.g., credit cards), 4. 529 college savings account, 5. unmatched employer retirement savings, 6. pay off moderate interest debt, and 7. invest in taxable accounts.
Social Security Benefit Claiming- Delaying Social Security benefits to full retirement age (FRA) or beyond increases the odds of success (read: not running out of money during your lifetime) in retirement. Some people don’t want to wait until age 66, 67 or 70 to exit the workforce, however. In these situations, part-time work, savings withdrawals, bond ladders, and reverse mortgages can bridge a gap of up to eight years (e.g., from age 62 to age 70).
This post provides general personal finance information and does not address all the variables that apply to an individual’s unique situation. It does not endorse specific products or services and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.