Quentin Fottrell is an Irish columnist, author, agony uncle, journalist and critic. He was the Irish correspondent for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal from 2003 to 2011 and is currently working as a journalist in New York City.
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I'm Quentin Fottrell, the personal finance editor at MarketWatch and the Moneyist advice columnist. And I’m here to answer all your questions about the ethics and etiquette of your financial affairs — from tipping and relationships to wills and inheritance.
The intersection of money and relationships has always fascinated me. I was the Irish correspondent for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal from 2003 to 2011. During that time, I wrote a book,” Love in a Damp Climate,” about how a booming economy impacts our relationships. Today, I live in New York writing about the stickiest of personal finance situations. Are you caring for an ageing parent? Are you siblings trying to cut you out of your inheritance? Did your parents get swindled by rogue advisers or friends? You’ve come to the right place.
You have the best socks and overall style!!! Where do you buy your socks?
I'm not a fan of socks subscription boxes. Men are traditionally more conservative (that is, boring) dressers. Socks are a way of making a statement and there is no shortage of companies selling brightly colored socks that are also overpriced.
Who knew I had so many opinions about socks? But that socks theory applies to anything that makes us feel anxious, insecure or uncertain. There will be a company that will offer us convenience at an inflated price.
Sorry for the detour. To answer you question: Century 21.
Hi! Thanks for doing an AMA!
I’m in the mortgage industry and have been since 2000. After seeing the market crash and so many banks and consumers lose their shirts on the domino affect fraud and foreclosures had, it’s understandable that everyone is a bit wary of another rapidly growing housing market.
What is your opinion that something like that could repeat itself? With all the talk about repealing TRID and some of the other regulations put in place to safeguard against a repeat, what is your stance on that possibility?
Thank you for your time!
They call them economic cycles for a reason ...but some property markets (eg: Manhattan) have been more robust than others. In theory, TRID should provide more transparency for homeowners and, inevitably, has caused delays in closing. I don't have an opinion on your political question, except to say do your due diligence, keeping asking questions and take all the time you need before making what will likely be the biggest investment/purchase of your life.
What do you think is the biggest financial mistake you can make with a partner that should be avoided? Thanks!
Not discussing your financial goals before you get married.
Paying $30,000 on a wedding instead of a down payment.
My husband is retiring in 4 months under the Federal Government's old pension system (no social security) at age 59 and a half. We have no debt and have about 2 million in savings. Our expenses are low, only about 2K/month. Our one big splurge is on travel with a budget of about 10K/year. His pension (with survivor's benefits for me) will be about $3000/mth. I anticipate retiring in 24 months at age 60. I have maximized my social security. We are both in good health and health insurance will be provided through his pension. My question is: When should I start to draw social security? I come from a long lived family and anticipate reaching 100 years old.
I admire both your optimism and your longevity genes!
If you can wait until after your full retirement age, do it.
You're in great shape financially, but there's no magic number.
Question: Does bitcoin and other cryptocurrency change the math on how we equate morals and ethics to money since by its very nature, it is meant to facilitate private transactions regardless of the intent of the person? I hope my question hasn't confused you and that it came out okay.
That's actually a great question. And a big question.
On the one hand, bitcoin does give consumers back more power in that it removes people from relying on banks and the financial system to make certain transactions. There was a house for sale in London recently and the agent was accepting bitcoin. (They didn't get any bitcoin offers, likely because the price has soared in recent weeks and any investor/buyer who got in early want to hold onto his/her gains.)
On the other hand, some of those early adopters — I’m not including e-commerce and genuine cryptocurrency enthusiasts who see this as a new era for trading — had good reason to remain outside of the financial system. The U.K. and European Union area already planning to regulate bitcoin. They’re afraid about the potential for money laundering and ability for nefarious forces to use digital currency to fund terrorist activities. There’s got to be a middle ground.
At the moment, it’s the Crypto Wild West.
What's the best way to negotiate a salary for a first-ever job? My friends and I always wondered about this, since it's hard to be choosy when you feel like you'll take anything. How do you psyche yourself up to negotiate when you have a thin resume?
More states are making it illegal to ask what you were paid in your last job. That doesn't help first-time workers. But it does provide an important principle when job hunting, whether you're a first-time job seeker, you're reentering the labor force or you're making a mid-career move.
You would fall backwards out of your shoes if I told you how much I was paid in my first job. It was a pittance by 2017 standards. But I figured the opportunity to get a foot in the door in the media, I loved it and I am still in touch with those colleagues. For those 2.5 years, it was worth it.
My advice? Call other staffers. Ask them to look at the market rate for people with less than, say, 3 years experience using the "Know Your Worth" service on sites like Glassdoor. Give them an estimate. That way, people can give you an honest answer without having to disclose their own salary.
Of course, the more transparency there is around salaries, the less likely people will be underpaid based on gender or visa status or color or... whatever reason people decide to underpay. It could even be a bad/nervous interview.
We should never make such an important decision when we are stressed. Two tips for the actual negotiations: (i) Don't walk out of a meeting without actually saying, "Let me think about that." And (ii) know what you want from the negotiations. That brings us back to the "Know Your Worth" and conversations with current staffers or people in that industry. Also, call the company to ask about the work culture ...and find out what problems need solving.
You need to show your worth before you get to the salary negotiation part. What are your biggest achievements? What would you do differently? What solutions could you offer? You may not have experience as a first-time job hunter, but let your ideas for the job be your own private cryptocurrency in the interview. A good idea is worth a lot more than many lines on a resume.
What’s the best way to divide my income towards rent/car/savings/etc in form of percentages?
General rule of thumb: don't spend more than 30% of your income on housing. A car* should not be more than 15% or thereabouts. Saving works on a sliding scale, according to your age. By the time you're in your 50s, for example, you should have saved at least four times your annual salary.
*Disclaimer: I have never owned a car! I am a pushbike enthusiast.
What's your advice for an engaged couple when it comes to combining finances, bank accounts, etc.? How should they approach that?
Without shame and without shyness. It's tough if one partner is wealthier than the other or has made better decisions than the other. Some couples might suggest a joint bank account for a down payment or a rainy day, so they have X amount they believe they should be saving every month. If you are responsible for the other person's well-being, you should definitely be on the same page when it comes to lifestyle and goals. I like that your question is about an engaged couple. Better to have this conversation before you say "I do." So many marriages collapse under financial stress.
Thanks for all of your questions and for participating in the AMA. You can find me on MarketWatch or join the Moneyist Facebook Group. Have a great day!
Hi Quentin: Thank you for your time! Is there one area where you continue to get similar questions about money. Put another way, is there a particular issue that seems to keep tripping people up? Keep up the great work!
Hi Mark. Thanks for the question. Hmmm... Not knowing their legal rights. So many financial decisions require the help of attorneys rather than CPAs. Also, people get bamboozled by bullies or complex financial mumbo jumbo. I try to cut through all of that...
I love your column on Marketwatch and you always seem to have the right answers. What goes into answering the questions? Do you always have an answer or are there questions that stump you? Do you ask other people to weigh in on answers? Do you do research to come to the right answer? Do you just know? if you just know, then do you always know your right? Have you ever felt like your advice may be wrong?
That's a great question.
Sometimes, the clue is in the question. And the letter writer is really asking how to navigate a personal or professional relationship. They need affirmation and objective advice. Maybe permission to say no or to pull the plug on a toxic relationship.
Often times, they don't have the information. It's my job to empower the letter writer by giving them the resources to make the right decision for them, whether it's challenging a power of attorney with an inheritance or dividing assets when getting divorced.
I'm not a CPA or a lawyer, but I hope I am humble enough to ask for a second opinion or third opinion when I have to. That's my job as a journalist. Find the right sources and, in the context of the Moneyist column, give my own two cents. Sometimes, I disagree with the letter writer and tell them that maybe their wife/husband/sibling/child/parent isn't the entitled one.
I will never tell someone where to invest their money or buy a certain stock. That's not my job and I would never want that kind of responsibility. The best thing about the column now: We have a vibrant Facebook group who weigh in and there's often passionate disagreement. And, sometimes, almost unanimous agreement.
What's your take on saving money for your kids' college? To me, it seems like a nice to have, but only if you have enough left over at the end of the month. Some people I know put it at the top of their priority list, while I tend to believe the kids just might have to figure it out for themselves when the time comes. Thoughts?
When you're starting out in life:
Education. Education. Education.
If you can afford it, please do it.
529 plans have great tax benefits.
It's far better to have options.
A lot of the questions you get are about dysfunctional situations involving families/friends. But do you have any thoughts about being proactive about money to prevent these types of dysfunctional situations?
Anything you can do to be (a) financially independent and not have to rely on your family for favors or money (they rarely come without a "gift tax) and (b) have strong boundaries when it comes to mixing family and finance.
Polonius from "Hamlet" gave that advice long before me.
Hi there!! My husband and I have all our money in cash (upwards of $200k) since we are extremely disorganized people and fearful of the stock market. I once talked with a financial advisor but balked at paying her fee and got overwhelmed about the documents I'd have to procure and hand it to her. I guess we are just really bad about money although we are savers and have no debt. Any advice on how to get over the feeling of being overwhelmed about our finances/investing?
Finding the right financial adviser is like dating. You need to find someone who you feel good and they should have enough advice in your first meeting to put you at ease.
One letter writer inherited $15 million from his father and felt like he was being treated like a spoiled child by his father's advisers. Whether it's $200,000 or $15 million, no one should be made feel that way.
But keeping such a large amount of money in cash with almost no growth is not the answer. If you are cautious or nervous, find someone who will give you options on how to invest conservatively.
Don't let one adviser represent an industry. It's natural to feel overwhelmed or nervous. You're currently staring into the abyss. Once you have options and rates of return, and have planned out how much money you need for retirement and emergencies, you will start to feel so much better.
What is the most elegant sibling swindle you've seen? Do your fellow journalists ever come to you for money advice?
The most elegant swindle? A sister who had her elderly father give her co-ownership of his accounts. As soon as he passed away, she emptied them. It was probably more seamless than elegant. Yes, I've been asked advice about problem roommates in the past. Fellow journalists rarely ask me for financial advice and I would be very reluctant to give it.
Do you have any suggestions for talking to your friends about money? Aside from just saying no to an outing, I mean! Thank you!
Let them know your expectations ahead of time. Once they know your attitude to money and spending, they will be less likely to put pressure on you to do stuff that's beyond your budget. It's like telling a host or hostess: "I'll be the first to arrive and I will have to leave by 10 p.m." Once people are put on notice, no one will be disappointed.
Dear Mr. Moneyist, What do I do if I find out a coworker who has less experience than me and the same job duties is making more money than me? Thanks!
This tricky. In theory, it's never good to open a negotiation or sensitive conversation about money with "X gets paid more than me" or "this isn't fair." While it may be true, and it may NOT be fair, lead with what YOU do that's different and adds value, and add your accomplishments. People are paid differently for different reasons (the length of time at a company, for instance).
If you feel like this salary difference is based on gender or any kind of discrimination, that's a horse of a different color. Talk to your manager and, if necessary, HR. Many companies are doubling down on their efforts to address pay discrimination and increase diversity in the workplace, but this will be a long and sometimes painful process for those who continue to be left behind.
Do you have advice for navigating financial disparities in a new relationship? For example, if someone makes significantly more than their partner, how do you decide on dates? Where do you go to dinner if one partner prefers higher-end spots and the other can't afford them? I've discussed this issue with fellow millennials and how it arises especially going out with the friends and family of more wealthy partners. People may expect you to buy a round at the bar or evenly split a dinner check that is out of your price range. Any tips?
Have a stock answer for everyone who suggests events that are out of your price range. That way, no one will take it personally. Or almost no one. And people will soon get an idea of how often you like to eat out and/or where you like to go. It doesn't hurt to suggest a Plan B to people who live high off the hog. If that doesn't suit other folks, then they can be the one to say no.