Jerry J.: “I’m looking for a place to put around 15K for a year or two when I’ll most likely be using some of it for a down payment on real estate. My question is which would you recommend, the Series I bonds you recently touted in your column or an index mutual fund such as Janus Fund(JANSX) or Vanguard Index Trust 500(VFINX). I’m leaning toward the mutual fund option at this point but I wonder how aggressive I should be considering that I’ll most likely want access to some of the money within a relatively short time period.”

The stock market is (always) a bad place for money you will need in a year, or even in three. Of course, the less you’d be disappointed if you couldn’t buy the real estate you’re saving up for, the more risk you can afford to take.

You lose 3 months’ interest if you cash in Series I bonds before 5 years, but especially if you live in a high-tax state, they could make sense anyway.

Dana: “Should one calculate one’s net worth as the amount one would have if one liquidated all of one’s assets (minus one’s liabilities of course)? In other words, after the tax bite. Or for calculations of net worth, should one treat stock ownership as the present balance on one’s brokerage account without adjustment? Please don’t use my last name if you use this. It’s a dopey question.”

There are two ways to do this and I’d do both.

The first and more common is to count everything, with no provision for capital gains taxes. It’s a bigger number and thus more fun. And if you were hit by a car, there’d be no capital gains taxes, as your heirs could write the basis up to the value at the time of your demise.

The second, and more realistic, number would exclude both the taxes you’d have to pay to cash in your chips, and also the items you really couldn’t easily part with, like your house and your car and your clothes.

This latter number gives you a sense of your readily realizable net worth (although some of it might not be so readily realizable, if you own, say, some nonmarketable securities or a minority share in some business).

Of course, should you ever need to liquidate your assets, it might well be because things were rotten in Denmark — meaning, in this case, the economy — in which case the realizable market values of your assets might be lower than they are today.

But leaving all that aside, it’s fun to have a sense of your net worth — and the first step in making it grow.


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