New TODAY Show Appearance: Talking Debt, Budgeting, Market Highs And Maintaining Motivation

What better way to start off the New Year than in New York with the TODAY Show?  Despite the 18 below windchill whipping through the city streets, I had a blast with Sheinelle Jones and Craig Melvin discussing the most damaging forms of debt, the top two budgeting apps, the best kinds of checking accounts, how you should respond to market highs–and lows–and how best to stay motivated to turn those financial resolutions into long-term habits!

Click HERE or on the box above to watch the segment.

The Key To Good Habits: The Perfect Smoothie?

In Charles Duhigg’s eye-opening book, The Power of Habit, we learn that we are, whether we like it or not, creatures of habit. For better and for worse.

In order to help us understand how habits work, how to identify them, and how to create good ones, Duhigg introduces us to the “Habit Loop,” a cycle that begins with an (often unknown) behavioral Cue that triggers a Routine resulting in a desired Reward.

Physical exercise is something that’s important to many people, myself included, so using Duhigg’s concepts, I’ve created a reward for this desired behavior that I submit to you as nothing short of the World’s Best Protein Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie.

Are You A Complainer, Consumer Or Contributor?

Are you a Complainer, Consumer or Contributor in the workplace? In Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, he differentiates between three types of people–Givers, Matchers and Takers–categorizations that have implications in both our personal and professional lives.

But as an educator–and student–in the realm of financial advisory development, it struck me that Grant’s triumvirate may have an analogous trio of traits that accurately describes our posture toward learning how to be better professionals. (And people.)



I’m sure you’re not a Complainer, but I’ll bet you know how to spot one, whether that person is a friend, colleague or client. Complainers tend to have an eye for the imperfection in everything, and they almost seem to enjoy pointing it out. They seek to disagree and magnify their discontent. They capitalize on opportunities to provide criticism, but it’s rarely constructive. And they also tend to be vocal about it, creating dissatisfaction for others where it may not have previously existed.

The Only Market Volatility Prediction You Can Count On

“As you can see, we’re experiencing rough air at the moment. But as a reminder, we can’t predict rough air,” said the Delta airline pilot ferrying me from St. Louis to Charleston (via Atlanta—always Atlanta), “so please keep your seatbelts on whenever you are seated.”

Thank you, sir, for giving me precisely the hint of inspiration I needed to frame this week’s note of encouragement while in the midst of one of the crazier market stretches we’ve seen in several years!


Of course, statistically speaking, this momentary bout of stock market extremism is more the norm than the exception.  No, it’s not particularly normal to have thousand-point-up or -down days for the Dow Jones Industrial Index.  But volatility—market ups and downs—is, indeed, more normal than, for example, what happened last year.

Did you know that 2017 was one of the least volatile market years in decades?  The U.S. stock market was not only up for the year—but for every month of the year—for the first time ever.  Who would’ve made that prediction late in 2016, in the middle of the craziest election cycle of my two-score-and-two-year lifespan?

When considering this aberration, I can say with confidence one of the very few market predictions I (or anybody, for that matter) can responsibly make:

The market is more likely to be volatile than not.

How To Avoid Being Victimized By Financial Deception

“I’m calling it — this is an Apple commercial,” said my 14-year-old son, about halfway into the visually stunning emotional appeal for educational experimentation that appeared on our TV while we were otherwise dedicating ourselves to one of the best college football games of the season.

Yes, it’s about that time again, when companies are rolling out new commercial campaigns in conjunction with some of the year’s most viewed sporting events–beginning with the college football playoff and culminating, of course, with the only spectator sporting event where no one wants to cede their seat during the commercials, the Super Bowl.


“I think you’re right,” I said to my son (especially gripped because the commercial featured a young man sharing a defining moment with his beloved parents via his smartphone), just as the musical crescendo sent a chill down my spine.

But then came the verdict.

It wasn’t Apple, after all, even though the tech company is known for its artistic commercial flair in imploring viewers to engage technology in the most relational ways. It was a mainstay financial company inviting us to bring the benefit of our long-term financial planning for the future into the present.


“Wait a minute, though,” I said to my boys, “These guys are notorious for hard-selling over-priced insurance policies for big commissions!”

“Whatever they are, it’s a great commercial,” my 12-year-old son concluded before the Oklahoma Sooners and the Georgia Bulldogs again filled the screen.

He was absolutely right. But as I reflected on the power of this particular message and medium, I’ve had this lingering sense that there’s a real danger present.

3 Books To Help You Be More Civil, Memorable And Inspired in 2018

I’m a sloooow reader–so I’m never going to impress anyone with the total number of books I read in a year (other than myself!).  But I do try to immerse myself in as much reading as possible each year.

In the past, I’d try to read a lot of specifically financial books considering my vocation as a financial advisor and writer, and I confess I even suffered guilt about reading anything other than non-fiction until more recently.  But because of my conviction that personal finance is more personal than it is finance, I’ve worked to broaden my base of reading.

This year in particular, I learned a lot about people (and therefore money) through biographies, historical non-fiction and fiction, books on charity and spirituality, and an increasing number of well-written novels, in addition to a couple financial books. (Otherwise, I’ve found that the world of financial planning is so ever-changing that I get the most current information I need from articles, white papers (zzzzzzzz), blog posts, podcasts and conferences.)

Below you’ll see my top three favorite books that I completed in 2017 with short reviews, followed by a list of the remaining books I read this year and links to my Goodreads reviews:

3. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

There’s not much more to say than, “Wow.” This book is a masterpiece, and it’s impossible not to leave it without concluding, again, that Lincoln was a mastermind.  His ability to be civil while strong, conciliatory while persuasive, articulate without condescension, and especially to be a friend to political foes whom he knew sought to undermine him–all at the unquestionable height of our country’s political division–seems so far from what is exhibited in our present.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is certainly among those precious few non-fiction writers who  craft a narrative out of lifeless facts that comes to life like a novel, without sacrificing any of its veracity.

To be clear, this book is neither new (it was published in 2006) nor short (944 pages–I “read” it on Audible), but it seems at no time more prescient–or necessary–than now.

Entrepreneur Shares ‘Life-Saving’ Career Change

This was given to me, because that was going to kill me,” entrepreneur Lee Janik told me.

“That” was the job of owning and running a construction company he started in Ohio in the mid-2000s.

“This” was the sacred experience of fly fishing, and ultimately building a multinational craft rod-making company.


“It’s like going to church.” That’s how Janik describes fly fishing, his passion, which nursed him through the Great Recession as his commercial real estate development and construction company hung on for dear life.  

The company survived, and ultimately thrived, but his therapeutic hobby grew into something more. At the moment, “this” has evolved into Clutch Fly Rods, the company Janik founded selling high-end fly rods that is fast becoming a disruptor in its space.

The Elephant In The Room: How The Financial Industry’s Shunning Of Emotions Fails Its Clients

I don’t think professor Richard Thaler is going to return my calls anymore. Sure, he was gracious enough to give me an interview after his most recent book, Misbehaving, a surprisingly readable history of the field of behavioral economics, was published. But now that he’s won a Nobel Prize, something tells me I’m not on the list for the celebration party.  

(Although, if that party hasn’t happened yet, professor, I humbly accept your invitation!)

But I’m still celebrating anyway, because Thaler is a hero of mine and I believe that the realm of behavioral economics–and behavioral science more broadly–can and should reframe the way we look at our interaction with money, personally and institutionally, as well as the business of financial advice.

Behavioral Economics In Action

The Elephant and the Rider

Of course, even if you’re meeting Thaler for the first time, his work likely has already played a role in your life in one or more of the following ways:

  • Historically, your 401(k) (or equivalent) retirement savings plan has been “opt-in,” meaning you proactively had to make the choice–among many others–to do what we all know is a good idea (save for the future). But our collective penchant for undervaluing that which we can’t enjoy for many years to come led most of us to default to inaction. Thanks largely to Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s observations in the book Nudge, more and more companies are moving to an “opt-out” election, automatically enrolling new employees in the plan with a modest annual contribution.  
  • Better yet, many auto-election clauses gradually increase an employee’s savings election annually. Because most receive some form of cost-of-living pay increase in concert with the auto-election bump, more people are saving more money without even feeling it!
  • Additional enhancements, like a Qualified Default Investment Alternative (QDIA), help ensure that these “invisible” contributions are automatically invested in an intelligently balanced portfolio or fund instead of the historical default, cash, which ensures a negative real rate return.  
  • Some credit card awards now automatically deposit your “points” in an investment account while some apps, like, “round up” your electronic purchases and throw the loose virtual change in a surprisingly sophisticated piggy bank.

No, you’re not likely to unknowingly pave your way to financial independence, but thanks to the work of professor Thaler and others, many are getting a great head start without making a single decision.

What is most shocking to me, however, is the lack of application–or the downright misapplication–of behavioral economics in the financial services industry.  

‘Someday Came’: How Our Vision Of The Future Shapes Our Saving In The Present

While on vacation recently in the Abaco Islands, on the outer rim of the Bahamas, I found myself on an important mission: taking the golf cart to the local market to restock our dwindling supply of the necessary ingredients for piña coladas.

I was stopped in my tracks en route by a welcome sign announcing a new resident’s beachside home. It read: “Someday Came.”

The obvious implication is that these folks decided to act on their “Yeah, I’m gonna do that someday” daydreams.

But it raises many questions, right?

Who are these people? What’s their story, financial and otherwise? Did they hammer this sign into the sand after scrimping and saving, finally realizing their retirement dream following a lifetime of toil? Or are they the professionally mobile couple with young kids you see on HGTV’s “Caribbean Life,” who decided they’d just had enough of the rat race?

I’m glad I don’t have the answers, because the big question for the rest of us is worthy of consideration:

How do we define our “someday”? How do you define yours?

Danica Patrick On Finding The Motivation For Financial Responsibility

I recently asked race car driver Danica Patrick if she thinks there is any validity to the adage that more money simply creates more problems, as the near epidemic documented in professional sports would seem to indicate.

I wanted to know whether she has seen this firsthand, and whether it has been a challenge for her.

Danica Patrick (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

“I can see how some would have difficulty managing the money they earn — especially if they do not have an existing mindset geared towards savings,” Patrick said.

“But for me, more money presents more responsibility,” she added.

We were talking because she’s advocating on behalf of Life Happens, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of life insurance. But to Patrick, it all flows from a mindset about personal responsibility and holistic self-care.  

“You have to take care of your body by working out and preparing for the future to make sure that it’s healthy,” she told me.

“Later, you do things to prepare yourself mentally, to make sure that you can handle all situations and have peace of mind and have perspective and know what’s important. So then why wouldn’t you also take that approach with what it takes to operate in the society that we live in–money?”

Good question, Danica. It seems so logical, yet year-after-year, I’ll bet two of the resolutions most often broken are related to maintaining health and finances.

So why do we have so much trouble doing these things that we all seem to agree we should?

Well, for one, we’ve learned through the fields of behavioral economics and finance that knowing what to do isn’t the issue. Knowing what to do is a System 2 process, as Daniel Kahneman teaches us. System 2 is our brain’s intellectual center that processes information.  

Doing what we know, however, is a System 1 process. This is our emotional processor, where the will resides. System 1 is notorious for resisting our well-conceived plans, but it can also be a powerful ally, as it’s where resiliency is fueled.

Jonathan Haidt gave us the analogy that System 1 is like an (emotional) Elephant while System 2 is the elephant’s (reflective) Rider. When the two are in conflict, we all know who wins; but when the team is aligned, they are a formidable force.

The Rider is in charge of what to do and how to do it, but the Elephant only cares why.  

The big challenge when it comes to getting and staying healthy, physically or financially, is that the vast majority of information out there is System 2 stuff–what and how. Think: “Lose 50 pounds!” or “Make a million dollars!”

But System 1 is the boss, the “decider,” and the source of resolve.  

When Patrick decided to become a race car driver, she chose the course her life would take with System 1. Then she used System 2 to chart that course.

When people said she was too small (read: a woman), she appealed to her System 1 to stay the course while plotting with her System 2 how she’d prove them wrong.

When it comes to your health, you know you should get more sleep, watch your diet and exercise, right?

When it comes to your financial life, you know you should spend less than you make, pay your bills and invest for the future, right?

But why?

Well, let’s start with an easy one, the one Danica Patrick is advocating for: life insurance.

Why do you need life insurance?

Well, maybe you don’t. If you’re independently wealthy and/or no one relies on you financially, then you don’t need life insurance. (There are a couple reasons why you might still want it, but they’re outliers and probably don’t apply to you.)

If, on the other hand, you’re like most of us–still on the path to financial independence  with people in your life who would suffer financially if you left this Earth tomorrow–you probably do need life insurance.

Patrick saw a twenty-something friend in racing lose his life on the track–that was more than enough motivation.

But perhaps you’ve heard some version of this “why” story, and it didn’t inspire the Elephant to apply for a life insurance policy. It’s likely because the very next thing that happened involved the Elephant getting spooked by all of the “whats” and “hows” of life insurance.

There are so many life insurance companies and so many more life insurance salespeople, all so highly motivated to sell you too many types of policies, that the end result is way too much information.The Rider might enjoy the mental gymnastics, but it simply tires the Elephant out.

So if you recognize the need for life insurance but you’re overwhelmed by the information overload, let me offer a simple life insurance plan that will take care of most:

Multiply your salary by 15 and buy that much 20-year term life insurance.  

Why? (Since I’ve argued that is the operative question…) Well, it’s likely your salary that needs to be replaced if you’re gone, and a multiple of 15 should create a sufficient pot of money that, conservatively invested, will replicate your income for a good while. 

Why term life? Because if you’re healthy, even though 15 times your income is a big life-changing number, the premiums tend to be small enough that they won’t change your lifestyle. That’s not the case with most forms of permanent life insurance.

And why 20-year term? Because for most, their need for life insurance will expire before they do (thankfully!). For most, 20 years in, the kids are out of the house and retirement is close. If you’re just starting a family, you might want to extend some of your coverage to 30-year term, and if you expect to retire in 10 years, get 10-year term.

And if you still need some additional motivation to get that Elephant moving, a final word from Danica Patrick:

There are only so many things in life that we can control – do everything you can to position yourself for success by being fit. When you’re taking care of yourself, whether it’s your health or what you eat or your finances, it’s about self-worth. Never doubt that you are worth it and invest in yourself and your future both physically and financially.”