At Thanksgiving dinner, avoid politics — and discuss these 5 timely financial questions instead

Don’t get mad at Thanksgiving dinner. Get tips on how to navigate inflation.

The midterms are over, so perhaps it’s time to shelve political talk — especially if your dinner table is composed of family members from opposite sides of the political aisle. Democrats have held onto control of the Senate, while Republicans have regained control of the House of Representatives. And Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, resigned as Speaker of the House on Thursday after two decades. But there are other, more pressing issues to debate than politics. 

People will understandably be reeling from the split Congress — whether or not there are Republicans, Democrats or both sitting around the table. But there are a lot of other financial issues to be concerned about. Inflation hit 7.7% in October year-over-year, which is down from 8.2% the previous month. Food inflation, meanwhile, was 10.9%. The Federal Reserve hiked interest rates six times thus far in 2022, and the 30-year mortgage rate hovers at 7%.

Is it time to cut down on gifts and splurging on new TVs this holiday season? A record-breaking 166.3 million people are planning to shop in person and online between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s nearly 8 million more people than last year’s projections for the days after Thanksgiving. Two-thirds of the estimated 115 million Thanksgiving shoppers are planning to do it in person, which is up slightly from the 64%.

Evan Potash, senior wealth management adviser at insurance company TIAA, says it could be a good time to get put some some outstanding domestic issues on the table. They include: “Asking parents what they want done with their money in the future, and making sure that a solid estate plan is documented [including] the suggested payout timeline for future inherited annuities, and the benefits of annuity payouts over collecting a lump-sum.”

That may be a lot to bring up between the pumpkin soup and dessert. But it would certainly be a good idea to avoid talk of inheritance — that might be one way to guarantee a bust-up over the potatoes and gravy, especially if your siblings have an acrimonious history. For those who want to brush up on their finances during Thanksgiving dinner, take the MarketWatch Financial Literacy Quiz. And you could do worse than to discuss these 5 timely questions over the turkey:

-Quentin Fottrell and Andrew Keshner 

How can I save money on my food bill?

Expect this year’s Thanksgiving dinner to be 20% more expensive than last year as most ingredients — everything from pumpkin-pie mix and whipping cream to frozen peas and frozen pie crusts — have seen a spike in prices. You might also see fewer side dishes on the table as some cash-strapped hosts cut costs to save money. Consider buying generic brands, cut down on eating in restaurants and buying nonessential items, and shop at cheaper supermarkets. 

Most families could use some neat tricks to inflation-proof their meals. While a majority of Americans look for deals and buy in bulk to cut costs, others are getting more creative, switching to vegetarian “meatloaf” instead of turkey. Take a page out of this mother-daughter duo’s book in Harrisburg, Pa. who started experimenting with recipes under $5. In fact, their discount cooking sessions turned into a regular event that the family videotaped for posterity. 

-Zoe Han

Pass the dip. Should I also buy the tip? 

Older family members who are closer to retirement may be groaning — with some justification — about their 401(k). After all, younger family members have longer before they retire, and can afford to weather the peaks and valleys of the stock market, which has yielded depressing returns thus far in 2022. The Dow Jones Industrial Index
is down 7.4% so far this year, while the Nasdaq
is off 25.4% and the S&P 500
has fallen by 15.6%. So far, so depressing.

As millions of Americans count their losses over their investments in cryptocurrencies — including those burned by the bankruptcy of the cryptocurrency exchange FTXsome risk-taking family members might be tempted to time the stock market. Take a lesson from Nick Maggiulli, the author of the blog “Of Dollars and Data.” He says, “Buying the dip can’t beat dollar-cost averaging, even if you were God.” And he gives you these charts to prove it.

-Quentin Fottrell

What are smart ways to boost my savings?

The personal saving rate — personal saving as a percentage of disposable income, or the share of income left after paying taxes and spending money — fell to 3.3% in the third quarter from 3.4% in the prior quarter, the government said last month. Some immediate changes to boost your own cashflow: automate your drafts from checking accounts into high-interest savings accounts, and think about a good 401(k) plan with a company match, plus low-cost investment options and low fees.

Cut down on your monthly recurring expenses. Do you need Netflix
TCM, Criterion, Disney+
and all the rest? Or could you do without a few of them for a while? Prioritize paying off high-interest debt; keep track of spending; and if you need help paying off debts look to a nonprofit organization like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling over for-profit debt-settlement companies.

-Quentin Fottrell

How often should I go into the office?

The return-to-office debate continues, and it’s bound to cause some lively debate at Thanksgiving dinner. Tesla-founder
Elon Musk recently told Twitter staff to physically get back to work, or consider their “resignation accepted.” Employer demands might not be so stark elsewhere, but questions still swirl on productivity, worker-boss relations and job security as they all pertain to remote work, the five-day-per-week in-person job or a hybrid mix.

Of course, be sensitive to others who may not have the luxury of a hybrid schedule. It’s a debate largely pegged with white-collar work. An estimated 92 million people can work remotely for at least part of their jobs, according to McKinsey & Co. But these researchers estimate there are also 66 million workers who can’t show up for work remotely. So be sure to ask relatives with strictly in-person jobs how they are dealing with gas prices and commutes.

-Andrew Keshner

Is this a good time to look for another job?

Whatever your industry, it may become harder to avoid being given your marching orders due to a slowing economy or, worse, a recession in 2023. If you have job security, think twice about moving because of a situation at work that you can live with or know will pass. True, workers often jump ship as a way to bump up their salary. But tech companies — from Twitter to Meta
— have laid off thousands of staff in recent weeks. It could be a portentous sign of what may come.

Given the economic outlook, workers may have limited options, Anuj Nayar, LendingClub’s financial health officer, warned last month. “With inflationary pressures not expected to subside anytime soon, living paycheck-to-paycheck has become the norm,” Nayar said. “Many are pessimistic about their odds of increasing their paycheck by switching jobs, and some households will become more vulnerable to swings in labor-market conditions.”

-Quentin Fottrell

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