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How to Save for the Future When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing – A Review of Betterment


Financial stewardship matters to God. How are we wisely investing the funds the Lord has entrusted to us? I’ve written before on budgeting, and the best budgeting software for Christians. But I want to share yet another service I use to wisely manage my funds, despite the fact that when it comes to money I’m a total rube.

Maybe you’re like me. I didn’t really think about money all that much until my late 20’s—mostly because I didn’t have any money to be thinking about. I also had an all-too noble idea about the fact that I would never retire. John Piper’s tale from his book Don’t Waste Your Life of retired folks wasting their golden years collecting sea shells on the beach burned a little too deeply into my psyche. For years I even (like a smug idiot) opted out of the matching contributions to the retirement plan at my first big-boy job. Because Christians don’t retire!

Now, listen, I know that the Scriptures warn of the deceitfulness of money. Money lies. So, the last thing I want is for someone to read this post, plan their future, retire, and say to their soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12:16–21). But we can be wise with our money without idolizing it. That’s what I eventually realized.

It finally dawned on my developing brain that planning to live my whole life to God’s glory was not incompatible with planning for my financial future. I realized that by not planning for my future I was arrogantly thrusting the burden upon others. If I couldn’t keep working when I’m older, or if I fell ill, who would be stiffed with that pecuniary millstone? Was I gonna send my sweet old granny wife back into the work force to pay for my pills?

And the big thing that hit me was that with the rate of inflation far outstripping the return my bank’s checking or savings account produced by just leaving all my money in my checking account I was almost literally doing what the wicked servant did in the parable of the talents. I was burying the Lord’s money in a hole. It was losing value when it was my responsibility to use His resources wisely. As I wrote recently, It’s really not our treasure to bury.

No. I needed a retirement plan. Even if I had no intention of “retiring” in the traditional sense.

I’m no financial expert—not by a long-shot—but I’ve been using this online financial planning service called Betterment to manage my money for a number of years now. I want to tell you what I like about it and recommend it to you as a starting place for financial planning.

Image result for betterment logo

The Betterment Bread-and-Butter

The idea behind Betterment is that you tell it what your goals are and it creates a plan to get you there. So, for example with a retirement account, you can give it your age, some info about your other retirement accounts, the age you’d like to retire, and how much you will need at that point. Betterment then recommends a portfolio with risk balanced between stocks and bonds in accordance with your age.

As you get older the balance between stocks and bonds will automatically shift to fewer stocks and more bonds to lower your risk. It will also automatically reinvest your dividends and seek ways to lower your taxes.

It’s also educational. So even if you don’t know a Roth IRA from a rottweiler, like a good boy Betterment guides you to the investment bone that’s right for you.

Advice from an Algorithm

The other thing that Betterment does is give general financial advice, even across accounts which aren’t housed within Betterment. I recently gave Betterment view access to track both mine and Kim’s 403(b) work retirement funds as well as my other savings accounts. The result is that it can tell me if I’m on track for the target amount I want to have at retirement age, and if not it makes suggestions on how to get back on track.

There are arguments about the value of robo-advisors versus human financial advisors, and perhaps someday there will be a war between humans and suspender-wearing robots in green visors, but for my part I’m not really doing much fancy stuff with my money. If things get more complicated I may someday go to a human financial planner, but I’ll just say this: having a robo-advisor is better than having no financial advisor at all and it’s also cheaper.

If you’ve been waiting around saying “Someday I’ll figure this all out,” I would say to you, at some point you just need to jump in and start learning as you go. Betterment is a good safe place to start learning. And with how affordable it is, it’s kind of a no-brainer. And the peace of mind knowing you are being wise with your future is worth more than the nominal fees (more about those fees in a moment).

Betterment retirement advice on screen

Before Betterment I would ask the wind, “am I on track for retirement?” I simply had no idea. I’d heard a lot of random financial tips over the years, but what was right? Was I supposed to be saving 10% or 20%? And where? In a savings account? I knew I was supposed to be “investing” but in what? Learning about personal finance is a life long job, but at least now I have more confidence in planning for my family’s financial future. I believe Betterment has helped me be a wiser steward of my financial resources.

Try It Yourself

Betterment is really quite affordable. For their digital plan its just a 0.25% annual fee of how much you have invested. So if you have $10,000 invested with them that’s just $25 a year. That’s peanuts for what you get.

If you want to give it a shot, this referral link gets you 90 days free and it also helps support the blog. And listen, I don’t recommend this stuff unless I really use it and think it will be helpful.

A Book Recommendation

One final note.

I’ve found a lot of friends are in a similar position to me financially (absolutely clueless). Especially guys that have pursued ministry for most of their young adult lives. If you’re in that position, there’s one book with a very lame title I would commend to you. Check out I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. It’s not a Christian book and you’ll have to filter out the libations to Mammon sprinkled throughout, but it really gives you a good run down on the basics of personal finances.

I would love to hear your thoughts on planning for your financial future as a Christian. Have you ever struggled with how to think that through biblically?

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Slave of Jesus Christ, husband, father, and Director of Digital Platforms at Grace to You. I also blog for The Master's Seminary.

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