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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

Money Roundup: Fidelity Joins the $0 Commission Crowd, A Closer Look at Commission-Free Trading, and More

Our latest picks for the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

And from the blogosphere…

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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Financial Regrets — We Have Probably All Had a Few

Are there any financial decisions you’ve made where you wish you could have a do-over? Are there steps you took — or didn’t take — that you would change if you could?

In a recent New York Life survey, 2,200 adults were asked about their financial regrets. Topping the list were:

  • Not starting to save for retirement early enough
  • Relying too much on credit cards
  • Not maintaining an adequate emergency fund
  • Not paying off credit card balances each month

In my early 20s, I ruined the engine of a perfectly fine car by not maintaining it. Today, my wife and I budget $75 per month per vehicle for maintenance and repairs and I’m ruthless about getting our vehicles maintained regularly.

That’s the value of making some mistakes, isn’t it? Learning from them. And especially, trusting God as we live through the consequences of them.

One of my favorite financial stories is the story of Scott and Karen. When they got married, Karen had $50,000 of non-mortgage debt. In the early days of their marriage, Karen often expressed regret over “my debt” and how it was preventing them from buying a home, especially as some of their friends were buying multi-unit rental properties.

Scott would always correct her, saying it was “our debt.” It took them seven years to pay off all the debt. Looking back, Karen saw God’s hand of protection in the debt. If they had bought a home when she most wanted to, it turned out that it would have been at the peak of the real estate bubble that sparked the Great Recession.

And the way they went about getting out of debt — pursuing the goal together, and giving generously along the way — built strong bonds in their marriage and in their relationship with Christ.

Another way to think about financial regrets is to try to anticipate regrets you might have in the future, and take steps to prevent them. Of course, we human beings are notoriously bad at envisioning what life might be like for us down the road. (Interestingly, researchers who are looking for ways to motivate people to save more for retirement have found success in using photo-enhancing software that shows people what they are likely to look like at age 65 or 70. Apparently, when people can actually see their future self, they’re more motivated to prepare for the future.)

Something I wrestle with is how to strike the proper balance between saving enough for the future and spending enough to make memories while our kids are still at home. I certainly don’t want the regret of having spent so much now that my wife and I are left with too little to live on in the future. But I also don’t want the regret of having saved so much that it prevented us from spending more to enjoy family experiences. At both ends of the spectrum, the dangers are clearly seen; finding the right mid-point isn’t so easy. (Dina Isola wrote a powerful post on this topic recently.)

What about you? What are some of your top financial regrets? What have you learned from them? How have you seen God at work in them? And what are you doing now to try to avoid looking back with financial regrets in the future?


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Money Roundup: Avoiding Higher Taxes in Retirement, Embracing Mistakes, and More

Our latest picks for the best investing and personal finance articles from around the web.

And from the blogosphere…

  • Embracing mistakes (Novel Investor). Diversification is “an implicit recognition of ignorance.” And that’s its strength.
     
  • The next recession (The Irrelevant Investor). Even a mild one could do some serious damage to the stock market.
     
  • The cost of waiting (Of Dollars and Data). For those with a lump sum to invest, a seldom talked about way to go all in.
     
  • What number? (Humble Dollar). There’s a lot more to retirement planning than knowing and hitting “your number.”
     
  • Tax-smart charitable giving strategies (Vanguard Blog). For some, the new tax laws may require a new approach to charitable giving.

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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Putting the Brakes on Car-Buying Costs

Ah, that new car smell! Ugh, that new car price.

According to Kelley Blue Book, the 2019 average selling price for a new car is $37,185. No wonder nearly 9 out of 10 new vehicles are financed (the average amount borrowed is $32,590). The length of a new-car loan? The average is just shy of six years.

Not surprisingly, having a monthly car payment is one of the most common roadblocks to achieving financial stability and progress. Here are nine keys to steering clear of car debt and controlling your overall auto expenses.

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Final Instructions

A well-drafted will can run to 10 pages; a trust can go on for more than 20. Given the thoroughness of these important estate-planning documents, you might think they cover every detail pertaining to the distribution of your assets after you die. But you would be wrong.

There’s a lot of other information that your executor, trustee, and heirs would benefit from knowing. For all of that, a letter of instruction (sometimes referred to as “a letter of intent”) can be invaluable. (Be sure to tell your executor, trustee, or heirs where to find your letter of instruction.)

You don’t need a lawyer to draft it, nor is it legally binding, but a letter of instruction can be very helpful to your heirs and those tasked with the responsibility of administering your estate. Think of it as an overview of your estate plan, along with your suggestions for the many decisions not covered by the formal documents.

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Don’t Wait Too Long, and Other Points to Ponder

Blinded by comfort

“In recent years, the U.S. has simultaneously experienced economic growth, low inflation, expanding deficits and debt, low interest rates and rising financial markets. It’s important to recognize that these things are essentially incompatible. They generally haven’t co-existed historically, and it’s not prudent to assume they will do so in the future…. I’ve seen times in the past when people believed such an ideal state would continue in perpetuity, but it has never worked out that way.”

– Howard Marks, co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management, in a client memo titled, “This Time It’s Different.” Read more

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Cultivating the Long View

From a practical perspective, adopting a long-term view is essential for successful investing. It helps us stay with our plan, despite the inevitable pain of many downturns along the way.

The Bible identifies patience as a fruit of the Spirit, which reminds us that, as Christ-followers, we have access to a uniquely powerful Source of help in staying patient while living in a very impatient world.

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Money Roundup: Talking Ourselves Into a Recession, The Go-Nowhere Market, and More

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

And from the blogosphere…

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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Responding to Disasters in Jesus’ Name

On my drive to work each weekday, I spend most of the time praying for family and friends. I often remind myself what a mistake it is to turn on the news during the last five minutes or so of my drive. It’s usually so negative that it just brings me down.

On Friday, I failed to heed my own warning and was greeted with horrific, heartbreaking reporting from the Bahamas, which took the brunt of Hurricane Dorian’s fury. While the destruction is still being assessed, at last count, 45 people were killed, hundreds are still missing, and 70,000 have been left homeless. There are endless needs — food, water, medicine, compassion.

In the midst of a beautiful weekend in Louisville, and with a full schedule of soccer games and other family commitments, it was almost possible to put such suffering out of mind. Almost. But, like many people reading this, I can’t. The suffering in the world demands a response, and I’m thankful for the many ministries that are working to meet the needs of people in the Bahamas and elsewhere who were impacted by Dorian, and who are doing that work in Jesus’ name.

We can play some small role in that work through our financial support. But where would our dollars be best invested?

The National Christian Foundation (NCF) put together a list of charities it knows of that are involved in the Dorian relief efforts.

In our household, we have a strong relationship with Cru, where my wife was on staff for about 10 years. Its affiliated ministry, GAiN, which is one of the ministries highlighted by the NCF, is at work in the Bahamas, providing food, water filters, and generators. (Some SMI members may recall that GAiN was the organization SMI Advisory Services partnered with to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East — an initiative that SMI members enthusiastically and generously supported.) Another ministry mentioned by the NCF, Convoy of Hope, which was recommended by our church, is also providing food, water, baby formula, generators, and more for those impacted by the hurricane. We plan to support both organizations.

Do you have a go-to ministry you support at times such as this?


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Money Roundup: Too Scared to Spend, The Biggest Financial Taboo, and More

Some of the better investing and personal finance articles from around the web — a day early this week because we'll have updates for our Dynamic Asset Allocation and Sector Rotation strategies tomorrow.

And from the blogosphere…

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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