When I decide to start receiving benefits affects my monthly Social Security check for the rest of my life. That is, if I choose to collect checks prior to normal retirement, then the monthly amount is reduced; likewise, if I wait until I’m past regular retirement age, I receive a bigger monthly check. So, among the retirement decisions that I need to make, this one seems fairly significant.
When presented with general concepts or rules of thumb relating to personal finance, my brain resists automatic acceptance. My look-under-the-hood tendencies rebel when I hear a statement like “it’s always better to invest rather than pay off debt” or vice versa.
To truly understand an idea (and prove or disprove its claim), I love to design a spreadsheet. Using this tool, I can break down a concept and illustrate how it works or demonstrate where it falls apart.
In this article, I’ll explain the basics of setting up personal finance spreadsheets, including how to design formulas with financial functions like PMT (payment), FV (future value), and PV (present value).
Betterment’s investment services first came on my radar a couple of years ago. I invested $1,000 with the company as one of my investment experiments for the first Grow Your Dough Throwdown in January 2014. Later that year, I became an affiliate for the firm (gaining the opportunity for sales commissions on new accounts) and became a contributor to the firm’s online magazine.
Those in the financial industry refer to Betterment and similar companies as “robo advisors.” Robo references a robotic, rather than human, financial advisor. Advisor references the services the company provides as an SEC registered investment advisor (RIA), which involves the recommendation and management of a diversified investment portfolio for clients.
For many years, I have been resistant to the idea of setting financial goals; instead, I have opted to accumulate wealth so that I have the means to make purchases when needed. This wealth-building approach can be effective, and is certainly better than not saving, investing, and growing assets.
Still, there are at least a couple of shortcomings to general wealth building: 1) I’m not sure when my goal has been achieved; and 2) I’m reluctant to spend down the assets that I’ve worked so hard to accumulate, largely because I’m not clear about the purpose of my investments and the timing of withdrawals.
Goal setting can inspire me to save and invest, and make me feel happier and more secure about spending.
Last year, I set up a donor-advised fund through Schwab Charitable. I established this fund to streamline the process of donating to a charity using appreciated stock. After opening this account, I’ve discovered unanticipated benefits as well as a few drawbacks.
Here are some things to know about a donor-advised fund: