Kiplinger’s magazine is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The economy and markets have gone through plenty of twists and turns since 1947. Booms and busts. Bull and bear markets. I called up Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger’s, to ask what struck her about personal finance through the eras.
Bodnar said her first reaction was “how similar the subject matter was” in 1947 and in 2017. Buying a home. Dealing with inflation. Tips on paying taxes. Easing into retirement. What has changed? “There are so many more products and services available to people to deal with the personal financial issues,” she said.
For example, in 1947 Kiplinger’s ran an article on no-load investment funds, an unusual option back then. No longer. There have been improvements, too. Bodnar noted that in 2017 as in 1947, the magazine recommended buying a used car rather than a new vehicle. The main reason: You avoid the depreciation hit that comes with driving a new car off the dealer lot. But in 1947, the used car market was synonymous with unscrupulous dealers. There is far more transparency to the used car market these days.
An even more striking shift, noted Bodnar, is the treatment of women and money. In 1947, Kiplinger’s reached out to women through the perspective of husbands. Bodnar’s Money Smart Women column is addressed directly to women and their finances. Yes, there is such a thing as progress.
Bodnar pointed me toward the section of the 70th anniversary issue that highlighted Knight Kiplinger’s insights about managing money over a lifetime. Born in 1948, he is the personal finance organization’s leader and conscience. His perceptions are an ode to simple living, high savings and a handful of strategies for limiting downside risk, such as diversification.
But for me the most important personal finance lesson he emphasizes is this: Give generously. “Sharing your wealth with others is more fun than spending it on yourself,” he wrote.
He’s spot on. I’d take it a step further. Generosity is rewarding on its own, but it’s also the key to managing money well over a lifetime.
For example, the other day I had a conversation with a couple about their tradition of tithing. At first, they said, it wasn’t easy. But with time they realized the act of tithing anchored their approach to money. They enjoy their money, but they also have a strong household balance sheet.
My guess is in another 70 years, when Kiplinger’s published its 140th anniversary issue giving will still hold primacy in personal finance.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio