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Personal Finance for Engineers – What You Can Learn

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Just before the Twitter IPO, Adam Nash, the CEO of Wealthfront, gave a personal finance talk to Twitter’s engineers. While the presentation was geared toward young, tech-savvy high-earners, much of the advice it contained can be applied to anyone’s finances. Some of the best tips shared with Twitter’s engineers:

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Manage Emotions When Investing

Studies show that many people, especially those who work in STEM fields, consider themselves more rational than the average investor. People think that they can beat the averages. But, the truth is that very few people can beat the market. And, those who do are more often lucky than smart.

Instead of playing hunches, work from an investment strategy with an end goal in place. As Nash said in the presentation: smart investing is boring. But, where it lacks thrills and chills, it makes up for it all in financial security.

Have an Emergency Fund

The most basic building block for financial security is an emergency fund. You can’t build for the future if you are constantly being set back by emergencies. The ideal emergency fund should contain three to six months worth of living expenses. If that number is too daunting, start smaller. First build an emergency fund that can carry you through one week’s groceries; once you reach that number, aim for a month’s utilities; then, climb toward even larger goals.

Save for Retirement

The sooner you start, the better. One thousand dollars put into an interest bearing account when you are 25 will grow to several times the size of the same amount put into the same account when you are 40.

Retirement can seem like a very abstract goal when you have so many other things demanding your more immediate attention. But, even a few hundred dollars a year put into an IRA will make things easier on you when you get older.

Maintain a Balanced Portfolio

Never keep all your money in one investment or in one type of investment. The best portfolios mix stocks, bonds, CDs and other instruments. This way, you have a balance of safer but less lucrative investments and higher risk ones that generally pay more over time. You should also change where you invest based on when you will need the cash. As you get closer to retirement or another large financial goal, start putting your money into safer investments.

Most of us will never be high-paid employees of a big-name start-up. But, we can all live better, more exciting lives by managing our finances in ways that maximize the benefits of the money we do have.

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Teen finace

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Teen Finance Class’s SMART Financial Goals

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Many times, people fail to build large nest eggs because they do not have concrete goals or a plan to achieve them. One teen finance class in Oakland, Maryland is working to fix that for the next generation. In the Financial Management class at Southern Garrett High School, students are taught how to save using a simple mnemonic: SMART. Goals must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.Have you had trouble saving for goals like home ownership? Here are how each of these factors work:

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Specific

It’s easier for people to save if they have a specific goal in mind. For instance, you can save toward a large goal like a down payment for a home. Or, you can pick smaller ones like a new car or a one-week vacation in a faraway place. Being able to visualize your goal makes the sacrifices needed in the short term easier to make.

Measurable

Identify the number you will have to hit to meet your goal. Going back to the home ownership idea, start by researching prices for homes in your area. Then, decide how much you want to put down. If you are shopping for a $200,000 home and wish to have a 10% down payment, you will need to save $20,000.

Attainable

Do not set goals that are impossible for you to meet. For instance, if you earn $4,000 a month but have inelastic commitments like rent and loan payments that eat up $3,800 of that, you will be unable to save $500 a month. The money simply isn’t there. Instead of picking an arbitrary number, look over your finances and pick a number that is realistic. You will be more likely to succeed.

Relevant

If you have $20,000 in credit card debt, setting aside $5,000 for a Hawaiian vacation may not be the direction for your money. Choose goals that are most likely to strengthen your finances and improve your life. While fun goals can be motivating, you will not improve your situation if you do not target areas like debt reduction and building an emergency fund first.

Time-Bound

An open-ended goal gives you too much leeway to procrastinate. Instead, set a date by which you want to meet your savings goal. Knowing that you want the money to start house hunting in two years makes that outcome more real to you. Having an end date also helps you decide how much to put per month toward your savings goal.

The SMART program is just one helping kids make better financial decisions as adults. Other school districts are beginning to make financial literacy classes required for graduation. As David Nelms, CEO of Discover told USAToday, “This isn’t calculus… this is one [subject] that 100% of the students are going to need to apply.”

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Personal Finance Column – Celebrating the Founder’s 100th Birthday

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In 1934, when The New York Post hired a young newsletter publisher S. F. Porter to write a finance column three times a week, it was a new phenomenon. The author eschewed the complex jargon that investors and government usually hid behind, instead explaining concepts in plain English. By the time that The Post revealed that the respected S. F. Porter was, in fact, attractive 29-year-old Sylvia Porter, she had a following in the millions.

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Porter, born in 1913, started college right before The Depression. She grew interested in finance after her mother lost $30,000 in the stock market crash. Porter’s mother urged her to pursue career interests, and Sylvia switched her major from English to Economics. She gained an expertise in savings bonds and found a job at an investment firm, where she learned about gold prices, the bond market and currency fluctuations. She pursued an MBA and began publishing her bond newsletter before finally landing the job at The Post.

She published her money manual Sylvia Porter’s Money Book: How to Earn It, Spend It, Save It, Invest It, Borrow It and Use It to Better Your Life in 1975. The book has been periodically updated and remains a fantastic resource for demystifying money and getting a handle on your financial life. A few of Sylvia Porter’s best lessons:

It’s Your Responsibility to Use — And Enjoy — Money

Most financial advisors assumed that women did not understand finances because dealing with them was a man’s job. Sylvia Porter, on the other hand, felt that everyone should understand personal finance. She wrote in simple terms to avoid what she called “bafflegab” and educated millions. Never be scared off by jargon; the concepts behind money management can be grasped as long as you seek out the right teacher for you.

Money is a Tool — Don’t Let It Control You

Porter taught people to manage their money well because she felt it allowed them to enjoy their lives better. She advocated budgets and money management so that you were never at the mercy of your finances. Her sage advice is still of great value to those who are rebuilding after bankruptcy or other credit problems.

Diversify

It’s not enough to manage credit well. To take advantage of all of the opportunities available, you need to know how to budget, save and invest. Goals like home ownership and retirement become infinitely more attainable when you learn all of the ways to make your money work for you.

Sylvia Porter wrote on a wide range of financial topics throughout her life. She published a number of books and even ran a successful magazine, Sylvia Porter’s Personal Finance, during the mid-80s. A new biography of the financial pioneer is being published this year. It’s worth checking out if you feel you’d be inspired by the life of one of the last century’s great financial minds.

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