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Matt Bell

Matt Bell

Managing Editor

Matt joined SMI in 2012. He leads SMI’s content strategy — managing the company’s monthly editorial calendar, writing many of the articles, sourcing content from outside the company, and either writing or overseeing much of what appears on our website. He also represents SMI in various radio guest appearances.

Prior to joining SMI, Matt was an independent biblical money management writer and speaker. He is the author of four personal finance books that were published by NavPress, including Money and Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples and The Grad’s Guide to Money (written for high school seniors and college freshmen). He does some outside speaking as well at churches, universities, conferences, and retreats throughout the country. Matt has been involved in stewardship ministry since 1990 when he began serving in the Good $ense ministry at Willowcreek Community Church.

Matt earned an undergraduate degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University and a graduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from DePaul University, where he wrote a thesis about the history and influence of our consumer culture.

Matt and his wife Jude have three children at home. 

Most Recent Articles

How College Financial Aid Really Works

For many families with college-bound children, how to pay for college can become one of their greatest financial challenges, both in practical terms (coming up with the money) and emotional terms (deciding on the “right” schools). Making it more difficult is a lack of clarity about how much it will cost to attend a particular school and some misperceptions about the amount and type of aid that will be available.

We dealt with a lot of this in the March newsletter (see Navigating the College Admissions Process), which drew on the findings of Jeffrey Selingo in his helpful book, Who Gets In and Why. But there were a couple of important points that we didn’t have the space to cover.

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Will Your Beneficiaries Benefit as You Intend?

A wise steward plans for the future. That means not only setting aside money for your retirement years but also planning for what happens to that money — and your other assets — when you die.

Preparing a will (or a trust if applicable) can help protect the loved ones you leave behind from emotionally wrenching legal struggles and costly financial consequences. But don’t neglect another crucial estate-planning task: naming beneficiaries for your various investment and bank accounts.

Beneficiary designations, along with property titles, take precedence over a will. That means you can pass significant assets to your spouse or other beneficiaries without having to go through “probate” — the sometimes lengthy legal process for validating a will. Properly executed beneficiary and title decisions can keep assets away from creditors, reduce estate expenses, speed up distribution of assets, or even purposely slow down distribution for situations in which it would be beneficial to do so.

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Navigating the College Admissions Process

For parents of college-bound children, figuring out how to pay for college can be daunting enough. But there’s more to the equation than that. There are important decisions to be made about which schools to apply to and how — each of which comes with its own costs in terms of time, money, and stress.

In his recent book, Who Gets In and Why, veteran journalist Jeffrey Selingo pulled back the curtain on what can be a mysterious process. Selingo got a seat at the table as admissions officers at three universities made decisions about thousands of applicants. In addition, he talked with high school seniors and their parents as they moved through the application process.

He discovered that colleges aren’t the meritocracies you might envision.

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FOMO Is Not an Investment Strategy and Other Points to Ponder

The gamification of investing

“‘You are encouraging your customers to tap 1,000 times a day,’ said [Rep.] Ritchie Torres, Democrat of New York. Mr. [Vlad] Tenev responded, ‘We wanted to give our customers delightful features.’”

– Exchange between a member of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee and the CEO of investment trading app Robinhood. Torres took issue with Robinhood using virtual confetti to celebrate trades. The committee was investigating a recent controversy in which traders using the Reddit social media platform, many of whom trade stocks using Robinhood, dramatically bid up the price of GameStop and other heavily-shorted stocks. Read more in this 2/19/21 New York Times article: nyti.ms/3siqSNm.

FOMO is not an investment strategy

“There is nothing as disturbing to one’s wellbeing and judgment as to see a friend get rich.”

– Charles Kindleberger, author of Manias, Panics, and Crashes, quoted in a 2/5/21 Financial Times article. He cautioned investors not to let the “fear of missing out” sweep them up in the current wave of speculation. Read more at on.ft.com/3sgd6L4.

“Normal” investing

“If you’re flying on an airplane, normal means everything is smooth and calm. Investing is closer to whitewater rafting. You’re going to get wet and tossed around.... Many investing blunders occur when people expect ‘normal’ to be a period when nothing goes wrong when in fact it’s normal for things to constantly be breaking and falling apart.”

– Morgan Housel, in a 2/4/21 post about “unfortunate investing traits” on the Collaborative Fund blog. Read more at bit.ly/2ZLSu0R.

What’s true throughout the market cycle

“These businesses will continue to be run by hyper-intelligent management groups with the sole goal of enhancing the long-term value of the business for its ownership. That’s you. And they’ll do this while accounting for all of the unknowns that exist at any given moment, be they political, economic or any other scenario you can think up.... You literally have people working for you while you sleep, which is a core tenet of wealth accumulation.”

– Ashby Daniels, in a 2/18/21 post on his Retirement Field Guide blog about the essence of long-term investing. Read more at bit.ly/3aGVTnZ.

How supply and demand really works

“If you missed five haircuts due to the pandemic, a single haircut makes up for that loss.”

– Schwab Chief Investment Strategist Liz Ann Sonders, in a 2/22/21 post on the importance of managing expectations about the anticipated economic recovery. She pointed out that a pent-up demand for services is very different than a pent-up demand for goods. Read more at bit.ly/3aKKUu2.

Investing under the influence of inflation

“Most current investors have lived most of their lives in a low-inflation environment, so they have had no opportunity to learn the lessons that history teaches us about inflation and the stock market.”

– Richard Warr, a finance professor at North Carolina State University, quoted in a 2/20/21 MarketWatch article. While there are growing concerns about inflation, Warr’s research indicates that equities are a good long-term hedge against inflation. Still, he isn’t counting on investors to act rationally in the face of rising inflation. Read more at on.mktw.net/3skZYnM.
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Money Roundup: “Pockets of Froth,” The Real Goal of Tax Planning, and More

Some of the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

We’d love to hear your responses to any of the above. To weigh in, just meet us in the comments section.

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SPAC Attack — A Primer on One of Today’s Hottest Investment Ideas

If you’re a regular reader of business or investment news, you’ve probably noticed more and more articles about SPACs, or special purpose acquisition companies. What are they? And do they have any relevance for you and your investments?

Let’s take the second question first. SPACs are not used in any SMI strategies and we’re not recommending them for any investing you might do outside of SMI. That said, we want you to be an informed investor, so here’s what you need to know about SPACs.

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Financial Love and Respect

With 20 years of ministry experience, a PhD in family studies, a Master’s of Divinity degree, and a Master’s degree in communication, Emerson Eggerichs was a knowledgeable, experienced, and effective pastor. But one day, while rereading a passage of scripture he had preached on many times, he discovered what he calls “the key to any problem in marriage.”

So powerful was his aha moment that ever since then he has devoted his life to using this insight to help strengthen and even save people’s marriages. What was that passage? It’s one that is probably familiar to you, too: “So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33, NLT).

A powerful marriage strengthening insight

Eggerichs saw with fresh eyes that a woman’s primary need is love and a man’s primary need is respect. But here’s the added insight that makes such a simple sounding concept so difficult to put into practice in marriage: without feeling loved, a woman will naturally react to her husband without respect, and without respect, a man will naturally react to his wife without love. That gives rise to what Eggerichs calls “The Crazy Cycle.” 

How to break out of it? A husband is called to love his wife even when she’s being disrespectful and a wife is called to respect her husband even when he’s being unloving. That’s not easy, but it does have the advantage of being amazingly effective.

A key to financial unity

When I first read Eggerichs’ book, naturally titled Love and Respect, it made me wonder about the implications for how husbands and wives use money, especially since finances are often one of the most contentious issues in marriage. So, I decided to ask my wife, Jude, what I do financially that makes her feel loved. And then I thought about what she does financially that makes me feel respected. It led to an enjoyable and encouraging conversation.

She said knowing I’m managing some of the more detailed aspects of our budget, making sure we have adequate insurance, taking the initiative to think about and plan for future needs, and generally keeping an eye on our finances makes her feel loved. Okay, she also remembered feeling loved when I uncharacteristically gave her a present she knew exceeded our gift budget!

I said I feel respected when she reminds our kids in front of me how hard I work for our family.

When I asked some other couples to think about these questions, one person said she feels loved when her husband talks with her about large purchase decisions in advance. Doing so makes her feel like a partner in the decision, she explained, not an onlooker.

I believe this simple insight could help couples use money in a way that significantly strengthens their marriages. So, with Valentine’s Day just past, now would be a good time to take on the following assignment. Men, ask your wife what you do financially that makes her feel loved. Women, ask your husband what you do financially that makes him feel respected. And then both of you, do more of that! Use the comments section below to let us know what you learned.

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Money Roundup: Truth is Stranger Than Fiction, Unfortunate Investing Traits, and More

Some of the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

We’d love to hear your responses to any of the above. To weigh in, just meet us in the comments section.

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Game Changer?

By now you’ve probably heard plenty about WallStreetBets (WSB), the Reddit online community that’s been spurring wild trading of beaten-down stocks like GameStop (GME), whose price surged from $17.69 on January 8 to $347.51 on January 27. WSB member Keith Gill seems to have sparked that 1800% gain after posting about his successes trading the video game retailer’s stock, with screenshots from his brokerage account showing millions in gains, and losses.

WSB has spread like wildfire, with its counter-culture vibe and the prospect of quick riches generating a huge fear of missing out. Of the 6.3 million subscribers to WallStreetBets, half joined just since last Wednesday.

Apparently, most WSB members aren’t buying stock. Instead, they’re buying options on stocks that large hedge funds have shorted, with forum members aiming to profit at the expense of the “big guys.” (Mark had a succinct explanation of this risky type of trading in his Dynamic Asset Allocation update last Friday.)

The WSB group walks with plenty of “Okay, Boomer” swagger, seemingly just as intent on thumbing its nose at Wall Street as it is on making money. Jaime Rogozinski, the founder of WallStreetBets, was asked by CNN about all of this potentially ending badly for inexperienced traders who have piled into the GME bet. With a dismissive laugh, he said, “This whole ‘bubble popping’ is a Boomer mentality. What does a ‘bubble’ mean? It’s just this idea that stocks are going to change direction. You know what’s going to happen when this, quote, ‘bubble pops’? In other words, when the stock starts falling? These people are going to switch to buying puts, which is a bet that the price is going to go down. They’re going to make money on the way back down as well.”

Not surprisingly, it already has ended badly for some who tried to join the party. CNN profiled “Omar,” who used options trading to turn $6,000 into $15,000 and then lost it all. Then he did it again, scrounging up $22,000 from student loans, a stimulus check, and money he earned tutoring, only to lose all of that money, too.

How large will this “movement” grow and how far will it spread? No one knows for sure. Today brought news that WallStreetBets may have something to do with a recent surge in silver.

At the risk of showing my age, here are a few thoughts about all this.

Should you be concerned?

So far, WSB’s outsize trading has been limited to small segments of the market and even smaller segments of funds held by SMI investors. For example, VXF, the extended market fund used in Just-the-Basics, holds shares of GME and AMC, but each one accounts for just 0.01% of the fund’s $14.2 billion in assets.

In Fund Upgrading, neither of the recommended Russell 2000 funds, IWO and IWF, have any exposure to those stocks. DBC, the situational commodities fund currently recommended for use with Fund Upgrading, has about 3.3% of its $1.4 billion in assets in silver futures.

When you think about what percentage of each fund’s assets your investment amounts to, and what percentage of each fund’s assets are invested in the stocks in question, any WSB-induced volatility in those stocks is unlikely to have any meaningful impact on your portfolio. Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig (paywall) said the same is true for most long-term, diversified investors: “This latest upheaval will likely have a bigger impact on investors’ attention than on their portfolios.”

Zweig views the WallStreetBets phenomenon not as some new shock to the system, but as part of a trend set in motion five decades ago by Vanguard Founder Jack Bogle: the democratization of the stock market.

While Zweig thinks this is unlikely to disrupt markets overall, he added, “Still, this is a remarkable moment.”

An opportunity

For the most part, lower costs have democratized the stock market. Indeed, commissions have all but disappeared. But there’s more. Now there’s fractional share trading, which has lowered the minimum required investment amount to $1! And there are apps that have made trading simpler, more engaging, more enjoyable.

Some worry that it’s all turned the stock market into a video game. But I liken it to what happened with budgeting. For many years, all suggestions about the wisdom of using a budget were met with groans and eye rolls. But then something very unexpected happened. Budgeting apps like Mint emerged and they made budgeting something very close to cool. In fact, when I ask workshop participants how many people use a budget, very few hands go up. But when I ask how many people use Mint, a lot of hands go up.

If brokerage apps are making investing more interesting and easier, that could be a good thing. Some people worry that with less “friction” (commissions and minimum required investment amounts), people will be reckless. To be sure, some will. But for those who understand investing, the advent of commission-free and fractional share trading are welcome developments.

Besides, for Christ-followers, there should always be a healthy level of friction in our financial decisions. I was reminded of that through a recent conversation I had with our three children.

The helpful friction of financial stewardship

We’ve made a few changes to our kids’ accounts over the last couple of months, switching from Schwab to Fidelity (to take advantage of fractional share trading!) and opening Roth IRA accounts for each one since they had some earned income last year. As I went over their investments with them, I decided to talk with them individually instead of as a group. More and more, I want them to take ownership of their decisions and not allow group-think to take over.

In talking with our youngest, who’s 12, I was surprised at the hesitation I felt when we talked about what she’s investing in. I thought about that for several days afterward. Why did I feel so much weight in the decisions we were discussing?

Apparently, there was something about how young she is that gave me pause. I felt the need to be especially careful in the advice I was giving because I still felt mostly responsible and I didn’t want to steer her in any way that could harm the returns on her money.

That experience made me realize that I should feel that way more often. I should spend more time reflecting on the fact that I’m managing God’s money. I should feel the weight of that more often. It’s the friction we should all feel, especially in the commission-free world we’re living in.

Encouraging signs

I can’t begin to tell how heartening it was to read through the results of the recent survey we sent to our readers (full results coming in about three weeks). When we asked what helped you get through last year’s brutal 35% sell-off from mid-February to mid-March, 97% of you said, “Having faith that God would provide, no matter what happened in the market.” And when asked about any particular verses of Scripture that helped, 550 people named over 70 verses.

Reading through those verses vividly brought to mind a community of investors who have an incredible maturity of faith, people who clearly live by the Truths that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), the Lord is “my refuge and my fortress” (Psalm 91:2), and “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).

Such a community is unlikely to ever catch the attention of the Wall Street Journal, but it has incredible power.

Therefore, go

It’s tempting to worry that the WallStreetBets phenomenon is turning investing into a reality TV show. And it’s tempting to be discouraged that the millions of people being drawn to the WSB forum means our consumer culture is winning — that today’s young people are growing up thinking of investing as gambling.

But I’m not worried and I’m not discouraged. Instead, I’m renewed in my passion for discipleship.

I’m very thankful to be viewing today’s events through the filter of several recent discipleship experiences I’ve been through — a wonderful course developed by the financial ministry, Compass–Finances God’s Way, called One More; an excellent new book called Financial Discipleship, written by Compass European Director Peter Briscoe; and a sermon at our church called "One at a Time."

All three reminded me that Jesus changed the world one person at a time. He poured into His disciples and they, in turn, were sent out to pour into others.

What’s my take-away from the WallStreetBets phenomenon? It has reminded me that I’m a disciple. That means I’m to continue learning from my Teacher, reading, meditating on, and living out His Word. And that means I’m to go and make other disciples, pouring into people one at a time and encouraging them to then go and do likewise.

Financially, just think of what could happen if the only fear of missing out we lived with is that we might miss an opportunity to teach one more person a biblical approach to managing money.

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Upgrading in a 401(k) or 403(b) With Help From SMI’s Portfolio Tracker

If you’re new to SMI, you may be wondering if you can implement the Fund Upgrading strategy in your 401(k) or 403(b) workplace retirement plan. The answer is: “Yes” — although doing so likely will require the aid of our online tool, the Personal Portfolio Tracker.

Upgrading involves investing in funds demonstrating strong momentum, and then, when those funds begin to lag, replacing them with better performers. The strategy works best when an investor has access to enough funds to be able to replace laggards with leaders.

Almost all workplace plans present challenges for Upgraders. Most, for example, don’t provide access to exchange-traded funds (ETFs), even those plans that offer a wide range of investment options through a “brokerage window.” Other plans provide just a minimal menu of investment options, giving investors little to choose from. Fortunately, the Tracker offers help for would-be Upgraders in either situation.

Based on your risk tolerance and season of life, first determine how much of your Upgrading portfolio to allocate to stocks and how much to bonds. For Upgraders, this “asset allocation” decision is crucial. Use the guidelines in the “Start Here” section of the SMI website, along with the Fund Upgrading Calculator.

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