Basics of Retirement Investing

Seated Stock TradersFive years, on the first day of my first “real” job, the HR administrator of my company handed me a folder labeled XYZ Company Pension & Retirement Plan. Inside the folder was a description of the company’s pension and 401(k) package, two “things” that meant almost nothing to me. I knew what a pension was but had no clue was a 401(k) was, but the folder seemed to have enough information in it to help me start my own 401(k) company if I wanted to. I made some good decisions about my 401(k), mostly by luck (I put 40% of my money into emerging markets, which was a good choice but I did it for a bad reason – I had no reason!), but you shouldn’t have to.

Retirement investing is not rocket science, it’s just confusing with all the acronyms and the taxability and everything else. The basics, which we’ll cover in this Foundation series article, once you unravel the confusion, are fairly straightforward.

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Basics of Treasury Bonds & Securities Explained

Between the various bailouts, rescues, and spending packages, the United States Treasury has been working overtime issuing debt. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how this is even possible and how the government goes about doing it. During the First World War and World War Two, we went through a similar period where the government needed to borrow a lot of money to help fund the war effort. That gave rise to the patriotic posters that called for ordinary Americans to buy war bonds to support our soldiers fighting the enemy on foreign soil. That same mechanism, public debt, is what we use today to help fund many of our programs. This makes it a prime topic for the third installment of the Foundation Series.

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The Basics of Debit and Credit Cards Explained

Smiling Girl, Happy with Credit CardsWelcome to the second edition of the Foundation Series (learn more about the Foundation series), a series of posts that discusses the very basics of personal finance and hopes to set a “foundation” for a solid financial approach to life. This edition tackles a topic that so many of us are introduced to with little preparation, debit and credit cards.

Part of the reason why we don’t get a gentle introduction is because it’s not in the interests of credit card companies to educate its customers. They introduce cards when you’re most impressionable, like the first few days of college. They give you the terms and conditions in microprint and include dozens of pages, virtually assuring that you won’t read every word. They add in counterintuitive business practices, like universal default and double cycle billing, that appear to go against all conventional wisdom about borrowing. They do this not because they’re trying to screw you, they’re doing it because their responsibility is to the shareholders of their company and the almighty dollar. They’re not trying to bankrupt you, but many aren’t going to hold your hand and, let’s be honest, we’re all adults capable of making our own decisions.

I won’t hold your hand either (sorry! :)) but here’s a brief guide that should prepare you more than a hundred pages of 4 pt. font claiming to be terms and conditions!

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The Basics of Banking Explained

This is the first edition of our Personal Finance Foundation Series where I discuss the very basics of foundation-type personal finance topics. The topic of this post is Banking.

I was fortunate that my first real experience with banking was with a local credit union. Credit unions are really great about welcoming new members and educating them about everything. Commercials banks, while still cordial, simply don’t offer the same types of services that credit unions do. My mom and I opened a joint banking account a local credit union when I was fourteen and I was excited to even have a laminated blue card with my account number and credit union phone numbers! I still have the card in my desk drawer, I still have the account open, and it was a nice warm and welcoming introduction to the banking world.

That, however, seems to be atypical. Many people are introduced to the banking world either through the nastiness of credit cards or by walking into the antiseptic branch of a major bank. You open an account, direct deposit your paycheck, and feel like a number in a database. There is no education, no explanation, just an assumption that “you’ll figure it out eventually.” Well, unfortunately that isn’t enough because “figuring it out” usually results in you being dinged on fees so let’s start from the basics and go through what banking is.

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 Personal Finance 

Personal Finance Foundation Series

The Personal Finance Foundation Series will be a series of posts that will cover the foundations of personal finance. It will cover the various financial topics that each person should become familiar with and it’ll do so with nearly zero assumptions about your experience with money and managing money. My aim in doing so is to help you all understand the topics that many of us have learned through lessons from our family and friends, from books, and from, mostly, trial and error. As posts are written, I’ll link to them below.

The impetus for this series grew from talking to my friends. Many would very kindly recommend my site to their friends as a way to learn more about personal finance. The only problem was that their friends would become discouraged because the front page is subjected to my musings about personal finances. If you aren’t even sure about the difference between a checking account and a savings account isn’t going to find value in reading my experiences buying a house or what I thought about a bank account.

Starting this week, I’ll be posting posts as part of the Foundation Series, the first being on banking.

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