Does More Money Lead To A Happier Relationship?

“Finances play a role in determining marital happiness, and conversely, marital happiness and stability influence a client’s long term financial plan.” This was part of the conclusion of a study on money and marital happiness published in the August 2015 Journal of Financial Planning (the JFP study). Marital happiness and money agreement, it shows, are linked to a degree that if one is doing well, the other is inclined to follow. Unfortunately, the reverse is true, too. Frequency of money arguments has been found in past studies to be a predictor of divorce.  This more recent study supports that conclusion, too.

According to another survey, published in June 2014’s Money magazine, of all age groups, couples in their 30s have the most arguments about money. Argument frequency declines as couples age; and moreso if they have no children, or no children at home.

Money Arguments have nothing to do with levels of income.

But interestingly, both studies show that money arguments have nothing to do with levels of income. Whether couples are barely scraping by, or living large, if the couple isn’t on the same page about money, more of it won’t make the relationship any better.

There are many tools and resources available for couples who want to work on a better relationship with money. One that I use in my practice are Money Habitudes(TM) cards, by Professor Syble Solomon. The cards help bring awareness to our money “scripts” and how they differ between partners. There are also too many books to mention here.  Email me at if you would like a resource list.

Sometimes Professional Help is Needed

Financial professionals can be of some help to couples struggling with money issues.  Sometimes a financial therapist or mental health professional is needed to work on other factors that contribute to marital happiness first – such as self-esteem; perceived control over one’s life; and agreement about chores and children – the two topics in the JFP study that beat out money in the top 3 for argument frequency.

There is no denying it – the relationship we have with money itself sets the tone for the relationships we have with significant others. It’s in everyone’s best interest to do what we can to improve it.

Continue ReadingDoes More Money Lead To A Happier Relationship?

Will This Be Your Year?

For several years before I started my own practice, I had an annual negative-self-talk ritual. It usually happened near Christmastime.

“Another Christmas has come, and I still haven’t started that business. Maybe this will be the year.” For the first few years this happened, I told myself it “wasn’t time.” After two or three more, I realized there was never going to be the “right time.” I would continue to justify my “need” for my corporate salary and benefits, until something more fundamental changed.

I would like to say that was the Christmas where the heavens opened, angels sang, a masculine voice boomed something about my destiny, and the next day I walked into my boss’s office with my resignation letter.

But no such thing happened that Christmas. What did happen was a metaphorical lightning bolt on my next summer vacation. I was sitting next to my sister on the beach (which to me might as well be heaven). There were no angels; only cackling seagulls. And there was no masculine booming voice, only my sister, saying out loud what I needed to hear.

“I don’t know when you’re going to stop talking about this business, and just DO IT.”

The magnitude of her right-ness was hard to take, but I didn’t question it. Two months later, my potential first client showed up. Two weeks after that, I resigned from a 20-year corporate career.

That was 11 years ago. In more ways than just business, 2017 was my best year ever. There is no doubt I could have quit sooner. Today I would be telling my 2003, -4. and -5 selves, “You think it won’t be ok. It will not only be ok, it will be fantastic. Don’t wait.”

Nowadays I have the honor of listening to others share their long-held dreams of starting something new – businesses, careers, retirements, families, and even a mission. Like me, many think it’s not the “right time.” As a financial professional, if I stuck strictly to the numbers, most of the time I’d simply agree. Yep, it’s easier to plan for the money we know is coming than the money we don’t.

Yet because I know that spirit of longing, instead I ask, “What would you be willing to give up in order to make that happen? What if life didn’t look so bad after your decision? What’s the worst that could result? And what could you do then?”

And finally, “But what if you succeeded beyond your wildest expectations?”

For those who don’t have an outspoken sibling, sometimes another outside party helps us remember both sides of the question.

Now, how about you? What would you like to start new? Will this be your year?

Continue ReadingWill This Be Your Year?

Retirement Life: More Than Money at Stake

I knew a man who couldn’t wait to retire from his government job. Because of decades of hard work and wise money decisions, he was able to call it quits at 55. Thrilled with his newfound freedom, he immediately took to cooking, golf, dating (he had divorced at 49), traveling, fishing, and having fun. For the first few years, every time I saw him, I could see the lack of work responsibilities had lightened his step and his heart. After about ten years, he moved to a Florida retirement community where the roofs and mailboxes are almost identical and one of the few ways to stand out is by the cover on your golf cart. It seemed to outsiders that everyone looked the same, dressed the same, exercised the same, but seemed happy with their life in the sunshine.

Yet one day on the phone he said, “Y’know, I really like talking with you. I don’t have anybody to talk to here.”

I was shocked. “What? Surely there are some retired CEOs, executives, people that think like you, that play golf, and that you have a lot in common with.”

“Nah,” he said, “I don’t have that much in common with anybody here.”

I thought that was crazy. He looked like all the rest of them, dressed like them, played golf and pickleball like them. He probably was just as well off, financially, as any of them. How could he not have someone to relate to? Unfortunately at that time, I was unfamiliar with the signs of depression. Five years later, it took his life.

Myths About The “Ideal” Retirement

According to writer Mitch Anthony,  there are three myths about the “ideal” retirement:

  1. “This part of my life is going to be about ME.”

Anthony says, “This is a formula for emptiness.”

  1. “I am going to surround myself with people like ME.”

Anthony’s reply: “This is a formula for stagnation.”

  1. “I am going to do nothing but relax.”

Anthony: “This is a formula for boredom.”

Emptiness, stagnation, and boredom. Doesn’t sound much like the ideal retirement. A Mayo Clinic gerontologist told Anthony, “A life of total ease is two steps removed from a life of total disease.The first step is that they get bored, the second step is that they grow pessimistic, and then they get ill.”

The “Dark Side” of retirement

This is what writer Robert Laura termed the “dark side” of retirement. For some who don’t think about how to bring meaning and purpose to their life after work, serious mental health maladies, like depression and addiction, await. Florida retirement communities have some of the highest suicide rates in the country, particularly among white males over 65 years old. Women seem to fare better. Anecdotally, several women I know have vibrant lives in retirement communities, filled with volunteering, teaching others, and various circles of friends.

South Dakota financial planner Rick Kahler responded to Laura’s article with several wise suggestions: Ask yourself how much of your identity is tied up in what you do, rather than who you are. Start creating a life to retire “to” rather than simply a job or business to retire “from.” Consider gradually reducing to part time and taking extended vacations, rather than showing up one day, and having nowhere to go the next. In your ideal week, how would you spend your time, and with whom? Have a diverse social network outside of work. Writer Douglas Bloch  complained his parents’ retirement community had no children, while his retired friends were finding fulfillment mentoring youngsters in math.

Want to take it further? Dori Mintzer, Ph.D. has a weekly live interview series – “Revolutionize Retirement,” where she interviews experts on retirement life. Sign up for free at

Retirement planning has far more at stake than planning how to invest your assets. For some people, a well-thought out investment plan for their time, more than their money, can be the difference between illness and premature death, and a long, fulfilling life.​

Continue ReadingRetirement Life: More Than Money at Stake

Tampa Book Signing – Dec. 8, 2013 – at Inkwood Books

How will you be prepared to navigate your own money decisions, and family money conversations, around the holidays? Holly Thomas will have her Tampa book signing at Inkwood Books, at the corner of Platt and Armenia, on Sunday, Dec. 8 from 7 – 8 p.m. She will discuss and share how to have healthy money conversations and make better money decisions this time of year. RSVP to ($5, wine and cheese served).

Continue ReadingTampa Book Signing – Dec. 8, 2013 – at Inkwood Books

The National Association of Really Ethical Dentists?

I am a behavioral economist. That means I study how monetary incentives drive decision making and behavior. Until I changed dentists about three years ago (due to a move), the dentist usually spent a few minutes looking around my mouth during my semiannual cleaning and then said, “Nice teeth!”

Now I am on my second dental office where I am told I need a rinse solution, or have three cavities (that I don’t feel yet, when I have only had one cavity before), or, the latest, I need gum grafts so my teeth don’t fall out. (The periodontist just joined the office, and he is the dentist’s dad. You do not have to be a behavioral economist to wonder if there are skewed incentives here.)

I am 46 years old. I walk every day, brush twice a day, floss and take my calcium citrate about three times a week (now I will every day, and I just bought an electric toothbrush). I like something sweet after dinner, but I am not overweight, don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol or soda, am not chronically ill, and have no family history of periodontal disease. For over 30 years I was told I have “nice teeth,” and now all of a sudden, I don’t?

In the financial industry, as you may be aware, there are powerful incentives for professionals to recommend and upsell products that are not always in the best interest of the consumer. For example, variable annuities tend to pay the highest commission of any financial product, therefore I am not surprised I get asked a lot of questions about them. People are hearing about their many benefits from those who are paid not to understand their downsides.

In response to conflicts of interest like this, an association of financial advisors who choose to be legally bound to “do the right thing” was formed in the 1980s. It is called NAPFA ( I am a member. We all agree to submit our own work for peer review, to sign a fiduciary oath, and to only accept compensation from clients, never from product vendors. There are approximately 1,000,000 people who call themselves “financial advisors” nationwide, and NAPFA membership is a whopping 2,500. With the amount of product compensation at stake, I am not surprised our group is so small.

My question, though, is, does the dental industry have an association of dental professionals who pledge to really, always, put the best interests of their patients ahead of their own? Who will actually tell a patient they have nice teeth? If that kind of dentist says I need rinses, crowns, grafts, or a lobotomy, fine. I will accept that my carefree dental visit days are over.

I guess with city water fluoridation and better dental habits, dentists don’t get as much routine work anymore, so it’s harder to make a living just filling cavities and doing root canals. One understandable result of this trend is the explosion in cosmetic dentistry. That’s fine by me. “Cosmetic” implies, “not necessary.” But, another result of this trend is the economic incentive for dentists and hygienists (their best sales agents, according to the dental practice blogs I found) to make mountains out of molehills in your mouth. To make the unnecessary seem more necessary. That’s not fine by me. In my research to find the ethical dentists, I found many blogs explaining how to upsell patients. There is even a firm called, “Big Case Marketing” which will help you, Dr. Dentist, sell more “big cases.”

As an uneducated dental services consumer, I have no reliable way to judge who the good guys and gals are. I thought there might be a group of dentists, like NAPFA financial advisers, who decided to band together and promise to keep the patient’s best interests first. If you know of such a group, I would like to know about them. Just in case I have a real cavity.

Continue ReadingThe National Association of Really Ethical Dentists?

Turning Japanese? I Don’t Think So

Some economists have been listening to the 80s song by The Vapors in their warnings about a decade of Japanese-style deflation.  While we do share similar predicaments,  there are vast differences between our two economies, based partly on our different cultures.  Deflation may be the Japanese story of the last lost decade, but it probably won’t be ours.

First, though, what do we have in common?   We both have massive government spending programs put in place to stimulate the economy and revive battered banking systems.   While our stimulus is relatively new, Japan’s is over a decade old.  Japanese government debt now exceeds 180% of GDP, according to a recent article in The Economist.  That’s the highest of any developed nation.  The U.S. is “only” at 56%  but rising fast.  Yet despite all that spending, Japan hasn’t seen inflation in over 20 years.  What gives?    Inflation comes from overspending, and overspending can only come from 3 places:  government, private sector (consumer spending and business investment), and foreigners (who buy exports).    Japan is a big export machine, enjoying global demand for consistently high quality products.    Government has also done its part.  However, both together were not enough to outweigh the drag created by Japanese consumers’ underspending.

Why do Japanese, on average, underspend?  First, they tend to have a higher work ethic.  Working longer hours, they simply have less time for shoppiong.  Second, after centuries of fires and earthquakes, Japanese families have a long history of saving to rebuild their house every 15 years.  So, they don’t spend on lavish home improvements like those that drove our last boom cycle in the U.S.  Third, their population is shrinking and aging.   Finally, Japanese culture doesn’t encourage borrowing.  For the average Japanese consumer, repayment is a lot more enjoyable than borrowing.

The end result of pumping a lot of dough into an economy with little spending and little borrowing is…nothing.    The money (in Japan’s case, the government’s stimulus money and our export money) just sits as reserves in the banking system, as cash on business balance sheets, or as savings for consumers.  It’s not in circulation helping the economy to grow. One possible answer for their problem lies in the overregulated small business and service sectors, where more economic freedoms could spark both business and consumer spending.

The Japanese are famous savers, and this has kept their economy from recovering for over 10 years.  Now Americans have entered an era of “New Frugality” – could we end up in the same boat?  I don’t see it. In contrast to the  average Japanese, average Americans are practically born and raised at the mall. Spending Saturdays “just browsing” is a national pastime.  While fewer of us may be doing so now, the cultural urge to splurge is as ingrained as Japan’s urge to save.  Further, the “American dream” of owning a home  isn’t a trend that will disappear in a decade.  Americans love owning their homes, love spending on them, and will continue to borrow profligately to buy and improve as much house as the bank tells us we can afford.   Repayment?  I’m not sure many Americans know what that is.  No, I don’t see American consumers  standing in the way of an eventual recovery like the Japanese have.

Does that mean inflation is on the horizon?  Not as long as we have a hobbled banking system and a trade deficit.  For at least 20 years, the Japanese have made products the world adores and demands.  They have collected foreigners’ (our) money and given up little of their own.  That’s called a trade surplus.  The last time the U.S. ran a trade surplus was 199?  One  possible way out of our troubles is to start making  more goods and services the world adores and demands than buying others’ goods and services that we adore and demand.  Not an easy task in a consumption-and-borrowing based culture.

Continue ReadingTurning Japanese? I Don’t Think So

Ordering your Credit Report

You are eligible to request a free credit report once per year from one of the three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. Approximately once every four months I will send out a reminder for you to obtain your free credit report. Below you will find instructions for Experian.

Note: all of those cute ads you see on the television are for an unnecessary service (for most people at least). The link below is where the truly free credit reports can be obtained. Here are the steps necessary:

1. go to
2. select your state and click “request report”
3. fill in your personal information, security characters from picture, and click “continue”
4. select Experian and click “next”
5. click “next” again
6. enter last four digits of your social security number and click “submit”
7. choose extras if you want to pay, I never do, click “annual credit report” at the bottom in gray.
8. check “I have read and agree to Experian’s Terms & Conditions, etc” if you accept them, click “Submit”
9. answer the “identity verification” questions and click continue.
10. click “print report” in upper right section of page.
11. print report

If you find there is something amiss, contact that agency immediately. You can contact Experian at 866-397-3742.  

If you are married, make sure your spouse obtains his/her report. Feel free to pass this reminder onto others.

If this message has been forwarded to you and you want to be added to our e-News list, please send me an e-mail request.
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