The Economist Who Asked Me for Financial Advice

Sometimes it is all about the little things. One of my morning podcasts on the way to work (“Freakonomics Radio”) had a title that hooked me like chicken liver on a fishing line catches catfish. It read “Are Personal Finance Gurus Giving You Bad Advice?” However, what made me cheer was not the title.

The host, Steven Dubner, mentioned hiring a CFP as a means of finding decent financial advice! Apart from a brief commercial on Hulu once that brought me to my feet, this was the first time I had seen the term CFP in mainstream media. In my strange little world, it made me cheer in my car with a little unbridled glee, not unlike the typical Washingtonian might cheer when they realized the Mariners were finally making the playoffs again. My apologies to the woman in the minivan who probably thought I was shaking my fist and yelling at her.


The dollar you have right now has more time than any dollar you will ever have. Put another way, that dollar is the most powerful dollar you will own for the rest of your life. Like Spiderman’s uncle would say, that dollar arguably has the most responsibility too. Yet, especially with people who are young, you hear things like “I have the rest of my life to make money.” 8.2 million people in the US as of 2021 with severe enough disabilities to receive government assistance might disagree with that statement. But for most, it is technically true.

That said, people can become wealthy by casting aside the idea of having the rest of their life to invest. If they simply start to invest, incredible things can happen. And it does not have to be mutual funds, stocks, real estate, or even a bank account. Investing can mean investing in oneself. Committing to a degree, a new skill, the extra time to get a promotion, exercising, developing better relationships, starting a new business…they are all forms of investment.


The Cliff You Don’t Actually Care About

When we need the answer to a question, the first stop today is the internet. We ask and our search engine of choice opens us to a world full of people ready to help. The problem: the help is contradictory. For example, a client asked this recently:

“Can I take money out of my 401(k) penalty-free?”

As a financial planner, it made me smile. I have seen dozens of answers to this question over the years. The answers could almost be organized from worst to best on a sliding scale. Here are a few of them:

The To-Do List that Will Save Your Life

I was sitting in a beautiful theater watching a broadway production of Frozen. A woman with the voice of an angel-meets-songbird plays Anna, a young princess ecstatically looking forward to the day she can be free to start the rest of her life after years of drudgery and loneliness:

“It'll be totally strange
But wow, am I so ready for this change!

'Cause for the first time in forever
There'll be music, there'll be light
For the first time in forever
I'll be dancing through the night”

Most people would think of romance. 


“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I will move the world.” –Archimedes

On my sixteenth birthday, my grandmother kindly gifted me her old Saturn. As a teenager who worked for gas money and drove most Saturdays around the state to compete in wrestling tournaments, gas was a prized commodity. I would squeak over hills without hitting the gas pedal, go exactly the speed limit (except when I rocketed downhill), drive with the windows rolled up, keep almost nothing in the car, and generally try to optimize how far my tank would take me.

Today, it seems a little overkill. 


Ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand. They lay their eggs underground, and will occasionally rearrange the eggs with their beak to regulate the temperature of the eggs. The idea that an ostrich buries its head in the sand to hide or ignore its surroundings is actually a common misnomer, and a good thing for the ostrich and the survival of the species.

The same cannot be said of the common investor.

The Whetherman

With geopolitical tension, inflation, cryptocurrency, rising interest rates, and market volatility all in the headlines lately, we hear the same question from clients every day.

“What is going to happen?”

It is a fair question, and one that takes many different shapes and sizes, too.

“What is inflation going to be next year? What do you see happening with Ukraine and Russia? China? Albania?” (Okay, Albania is a stretch.)

“Are markets going to fall soon?” “What will this administration do next?”

“Is bitcoin going to bounce back? Is Tesla stock a great choice? Is buying gold going to pan out this year?” (Yes, my punny jokes have come alive since becoming a dad.)


There was no room left for thought. I jumped over the bar for the last time. People were screaming and yelling, but tunnel vision apparently applies to the ears too; everything was muffled. I noticed a moment later that my legs had stopped working, and I had correspondingly collapsed on my back. Lying in a rapidly growing pool of sweat, my lungs felt like they were graciously hosting a bonfire. Dearly departed homeostasis aside, I felt grateful.


Meaning in Motion

“We often live with a forward momentum, an inertia, if you will. This pushing forward, pushing forward. And when you suddenly stop, here’s a mixed metaphor, it can feel like musical chairs, and the music has just stopped, and you’re standing there and you don’t have a chair. And that’s really disconcerting. Because part of what we do, which I think leads to a significant amount of burnout and existential struggle, is we take meaning from motion…And then when I take away the motion, what happens to my meaning?”

The $1500 Sandwich

“I’ll do it myself.”

It is a beautiful statement. It speaks to human ingenuity, determination, and bravery. It underscores a belief in oneself, either to be or become what you need to succeed. The sentence can be rooted in frustration when others fail to complete the task at hand. We even hear it in more sinister tones when the villain of a story intends to carry out a nefarious deed.