In other instances, prosecutors may not say exactly what they’re investigating when they ask for transaction records. In that case, it’s up to the financial institution to request more information or try to figure it out on its own.

Paying for abortion services with cash is one possible way to avoid detection, even if it isn’t possible for people ordering pills online. Many abortion funds pay on behalf of people who need financial help.

But cash and electronic transfers of money are not entirely foolproof.

“Even if you are paying with cash, the amount of residual information that can be used to reveal health status and pregnancy status is fairly significant,” said Ms. Stepanovich, referring to potential bread crumbs such as the use of a retailer’s loyalty program or location tracking on a mobile phone when making a cash purchase.

In some cases, users may inadvertently give up sensitive information themselves through apps that track and share their financial behavior.

“The purchase of a pregnancy test on an app where financial history is public is probably the biggest red flag,” Ms. Stepanovich said.

Other advocates mentioned the possibility of using prepaid cards in fixed amounts, like the kinds that people can buy off a rack in a drugstore. Cryptocurrency, they added, usually does leave enough of a trail that achieving anonymity is challenging.

One thing that every expert emphasized is the lack of certainty. But there is an emerging gut feeling that corporations will be in the spotlight at least as much as judges.

“Now, these payment companies are going to be front and center in the fight,” Ms. Caraballo said.

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Amateur Investors Rode the Bull Up. Now the Bear Looms.

Millions of amateur investors got into the stock market during the pandemic — some gingerly, some aggressively, some determined to teach Wall Street bigwigs a lesson — and almost couldn’t help but make money, riding a bull market for the better part of two years.

Now they may have to wrestle with a bear.

“It definitely isn’t as easy to trade in this market,” said Shelley Hellmann, a 47-year-old former optometrist in Texas who began actively investing in April 2020 while isolating from her family.

Tracking stock movements on an iPad Mini in her bedroom, she banked big gains as the market soared. Within a couple of months, she was considering making day trading a full-time gig. But since the S&P 500 peaked on Jan. 3, profits have been harder to come by.

“Sometimes I am glad to not be red for the year,” she said.

Five months of bumpy declines have put the S&P 500 on the precipice of a bear market — a drop of 20 percent or more from its most recent high, which is considered a psychological marker of investors’ dimmed view of the economy. Including a tumble of 4 percent on Wednesday, the index is down more than 18 percent from its peak on Jan. 3.

bored sports bettors or meme-stock aficionados who piled into GameStop — have tapped the brakes, or scrambled to shuffle their portfolios into more defensive positions.

grim reaper slaying low interest rates and stock market bulls.

bid-ask spread — the small difference between the highest price a buyer is willing to pay and the lowest a seller is willing to accept — kept costing him fractions that added up.

By January, some of his classes had resumed in person, and with them his onerous commute from the Bronx. Instead of trading for an hour every morning, he cut back to twice a week. The market was also becoming a lot choppier, and it was increasingly difficult to hold his positions. He had always used stop-loss orders — instructions to sell when a stock dropped to a certain price — to prevent disastrous declines. But with constant drops, he kept getting pushed out of his trades.

which measures retail investors’ behavior and sentiment, based on a sample of accounts that completed trades in the past month. Their interests have been shifting toward less volatile names and more stable holdings like shorter-term bonds, the firm said.

Ms. Hellmann, who started actively trading in the early days of the pandemic, said she was sticking with it, learning more and refining her approach as she goes along.

She often rises at 3 a.m. and turns on CNBC to begin plotting her strategy for the day, which involves studying stocks’ price movements, a process she compared to learning to catch a softball — watching its arc, then trying to figure out the physics of where it will land. “That is what I’m doing with price and volume,” she said.

Long a buy-and-hold investor, she began with roughly $50,000 — money that came from shares of ConocoPhillips that she inherited in 2014 after the death of her grandfather, who had been a propane salesman. Her approach has grown increasingly complex over the past two years: Last fall, she took a large position in an exchange-traded fund that bets against the price of natural gas — which has gone up as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roiled energy markets.

“The war causing natural gas to spike up at a time when it seasonally comes down did not help me much,” she said.

Even so, she’s more than quintupled her money since early 2020, riding the strength of a rally that has the S&P 500 up nearly 80 percent since it bottomed out in March 2020, even with its recent fall.

Experiencing losses after a period of gains can be instructive, said Dan Egan, vice president of behavioral finance and investing at Betterment, which builds and manages diversified portfolios of low-cost funds and provides financial planning services.

“If you have a good initial experience with investing, you see this is part of it, it will be OK,” he said. “We get bumps and bruises that you need to learn what pain feels like,” he said.

Eric Lipchus, 40, has felt plenty of pain in his nearly two decades of full-time day trading — he owned options on Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that imploded during the financial crisis of 2008-9. Before that, he had watched his older brother and father dabble in the markets during the dot-com boom and bust.

“I have been on a roller coaster,” he said. “I am making OK money this year but it’s been up and it’s been down. It seems like it could be a tough year — not as much upside as in previous years.”

Challenging conditions like investors are now facing can get stressful in a hurry, Mr. Lipchus said. Right now, he’s keeping half his portfolio in cash — and is taking a fishing trip to the Thousand Islands in a couple of weeks to clear his head.

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Will President Biden Forgive Student Loan Debt?

Justin Nelson’s letter, one of the thousands that arrived at the White House this month, said he was proud to vote for President Biden back in 2020. Now he had a request: Would the president please honor a campaign promise and use the enclosed pen to wipe out thousands of dollars he owes in student loans?

The letter-writing campaign — #PensForBiden — is the latest attempt to sway Mr. Biden on a high-stakes dilemma as the midterm elections approach and much of his domestic agenda remains stalled: What to do about the $1.6 trillion that more than 45 million people owe the government?

So far, Mr. Biden has extended the pandemic pause on student loan payments four times, most recently until Aug. 31. Payments have now been on hold for more than two years, over two presidential administrations.

But all that time poses problems. Many of the issues that have long bedeviled the loan system have only grown more complicated during the pause, and receiving bills again will infuriate and frustrate millions of people who feel trapped by a broken system and crushing debt.

progressive wing of his Democratic Party. He backed the idea on the campaign trail in 2020. “I’m going to make sure that everybody in this generation gets $10,000 knocked off of their student debt as we try to get out of this God-awful pandemic,” he told an audience in Miami.

Senate Democrats lack the votes to help make good on that promise, leaving executive action as the only possible pathway. But close allies say some influential members of Mr. Biden’s team have been reluctant for him to do it — some because they disagree with the idea of forgiveness and some because they don’t believe he has the authority.

“He’s got lawyers telling him he shouldn’t,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat and a key supporter of Mr. Biden. But Mr. Clyburn, the most senior Black lawmaker in Congress, said presidential actions had brought sweeping changes before, including Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Harry Truman’s order banning segregation in the military.

“If executive orders can free slaves and integrate the armed services, it can eliminate debt,” Mr. Clyburn said.

analysis released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last week. A separate study by the bank found that surveyed borrowers reported a 16 percent chance of quickly missing a payment if the moratorium ended.

Mr. Nelson, a 32-year-old bank operations associate in Minneapolis, said the pause had freed up $120 a month for home repairs and other expenses.

recent Morning Consult poll found that more than 60 percent of registered voters were in favor of some level of student debt cancellation. But despite Mr. Biden’s campaign promise, his advisers have been divided, three people with knowledge of the discussions said.

Some view debt cancellation as relief for critical constituencies, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Others oppose it as bad policy or because they fear the economic effects of putting more money in consumers’ pockets when inflation is soaring.

But the pressure on Mr. Biden to act has only grown.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whose pledge to cancel up to $50,000 per borrower was a centerpiece of her 2020 presidential primary bid, and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, led more than 90 congressional Democrats in sending Mr. Biden a letter last month asking him to “provide meaningful student debt cancellation.”

voting rights protections and Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, as reason for the president to take matters into his own hands.

The New Georgia Project, a group focusing on voter registration founded by the gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, has cast debt relief as an action that would serve Mr. Biden’s pledge to put racial equity at the forefront of his presidency.

“Much of your administration’s legislative priorities have been stymied by obstructionist legislators,” the group wrote in a joint letter with the advocacy group the Debt Collective that was reviewed by The New York Times. “Student debt cancellation is a popular campaign promise that you, President Biden, have the executive power to deliver on your own.”

announcing the latest pause extension last month, Mr. Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said he “hasn’t ruled out” the idea.

But Mr. Biden’s power to act unilaterally remains an open legal question.

Last April, at Mr. Biden’s request, the Education Department’s acting general counsel wrote an analysis of the legality of canceling debt via executive action. The analysis has not been released; a version provided in response to public records requests was fully redacted.

Proponents of forgiveness say the education secretary has broad powers to modify or cancel debt, which both the Trump and Biden administrations have leaned on to carry out the payment freeze that started in March 2020.

Legal challenges would be likely, although who would have standing is unclear. A Virginia Law Review article this month argued that the answer might be no one: States, for example, have little say in the operation of a federal loan system.

scathing criticism from government auditors and watchdogs, with even basic functions sometimes breaking down.

Some problems are being addressed. The Biden administration has wiped out $17 billion in debt for 725,000 borrowers by expanding and streamlining forgiveness programs for public servants and those who were defrauded by their schools, among others. Last week, it offered millions of borrowers added credit toward forgiveness because of previous payment-counting problems.

But there’s much still to do. The Education Department was deluged by applicants after it expanded eligibility for millions of public servants. And settlement talks in a class-action suit by nearly 200,000 borrowers who say they were defrauded by their schools recently broke down, setting up a trial this summer.

will be restored to good standing.

Canceling debt could make addressing all this easier, advocates say. Forgiving $10,000 per borrower would wipe out the debts of 10 million or more people, according to different analyses, which would free up resources to deal with structural flaws, proponents argue.

“We’ve known for years that the system is broken,” said Sarah Sattelmeyer, a higher-education project director at New America, a think tank. “Having an opportunity, during this timeout, to start fixing some of those major issues feels like a place where the Education Department should be focusing its attention.”

Voters like Ashleigh A. Mosley will be watching. Ms. Mosley, 21, a political science major at Albany State University in Georgia, said she had been swayed to vote for Mr. Biden because of his support for debt cancellation.

Ms. Mosley, who also attended Alabama A&M University, has already borrowed $52,000 and expects her balance to grow to $100,000 by the time she graduates. The debt already hangs over her head.

“I don’t think I’m going to even have enough money to start a family or buy a house because of the loans,” she said. “It’s just not designed for us to win.”

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Your Inflation Questions, Answered

Inflation is high and has been for months. It’s weighing on consumer confidence, making policymakers nervous and threatening to eat away at household paychecks well into 2022.

This is the first time many adults have experienced meaningful inflation: Price gains had been largely quiescent since the late 1980s. When the Consumer Price Index climbed 7 percent in the year through December, it was the fastest pace since 1982.

Naturally, people have questions about what this will mean for their pocketbooks, their finances and their economic futures.

Closely intertwined with price worries are concerns about interest rates: The Federal Reserve is poised to raise borrowing costs to try to slow down demand and keep the situation under control.

furniture and camping gear.

That rapid consumption is running up against constrained supply. Factories shut down early in the pandemic, and in parts of Asia, they continue to do so as Omicron cases surge. There aren’t enough containers to ship all of the goods people want to buy, and ports have become clogged trying to process so many imports.

expanding their profits.

In theory, competition should eat away at extra earnings over time. New firms should jump into the market to sell that same products for less and steal away the customer. Existing competitors should ramp up production to meet demand.

But this may be a unappealing time for new firms to enter the market. Established companies may be hesitant to expand production if doing so involved a lot of investment, because it is not clear how long today’s strong demand will last.

“It is a very uncertain environment,” said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. “A new firm stepping in is a lot of investment, with a lot of financial risk.”

Until companies can produce and transport enough of a given product to go around — as long as shortages remain — companies will be able to raise prices without running much risk of losing customers to a competitor.

In past periods of inflation, do employers typically increase wages or award higher-than-average yearly increases to help employees offset inflation? If so, in what industries is this practice most common? — Annmarie Kutz, Erie, Pa.

There is no standard historical experience with wages and inflation, Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said during an interview with The New York Times on Twitter Spaces last week.

lower-wage service industries have been competing mightily for workers in recent months, and pay is climbing faster there.

“The history isn’t so clear that cost of living translates into higher wages, but that’s largely because inflation has been low and stable for a very long time,” Ms. Daly said.

in December projected that price gains will drop back below 3 percent by the end of the year, and will level off to normal levels over the longer term.

are adjusted for inflation, so those should keep pace with price gains. Bonds that pay back fixed rates do less well during periods of inflation, while stock investments — though riskier — tend to rise more quickly than consumer prices. Ms. Benz recommends holding assets across an array of securities, potentially including inflation-protected securities such as some exchange-traded funds or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, commonly called TIPS.

“It argues against having too much in cash,” Ms. Benz said. “That’s too much dead money.”

We currently have low unemployment, strong wage growth (largely through attrition / voluntary retirements), easy monetary policy and now rising inflation. What are other periods of time when the United States had these conditions? How did things work out then? — Harshal Patel, Moorestown, N.J.

Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, pointed to the post-World War II period as a reference point for the present moment.

“Demand was strong, and supply was constrained,” he said in an interview. “That’s a very instructive path for us.”

The good news about that example is that supply eventually caught up, and prices came down without spurring any greater crisis.

Other, more worried commentators have drawn parallels between now and the 1970s, when the Fed was slow to raise rates as unemployment fell and prices rose — and inflation jumped out of control. But many economists have argued that important differences separate that period from this one: Workers were more heavily unionized and may have had more bargaining power to push for higher wages back then, and the Fed was slow to react for years on end. This time, it’s already gearing up to respond.

about price controls in a recent article, and vocal minority think the 1970s experience unfairly tarnished the idea and that it might be worthwhile to reopen the debate.

“This is a great suppressed topic,” said James K. Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas. “It was absolutely mainstream from the start of World War II until the Reagan administration.”

If inflation is being caused by supply chain problems, how will raising interest rates help? — Larry Harris, Ventura, Calif.

Kristin J. Forbes, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that a big part of today’s inflation ties to roiled supply chains, which monetary policy can’t do much to fix.

But trade is actually happening at elevated levels even amid the disruptions. Factories are producing, ships are shipping, and consumers are buying at a rapid clip. It is just that supply is not keeping up with that booming demand. Higher interest rates can relieve pressure on demand, making it more expensive to buy a boat or a car, cooling off the housing market and slowing business investment.

“A good part of the supply chain problems, you can’t do anything about,” Ms. Forbes said. “But you can affect demand. And it is the combination of the two which determines inflation.”

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Many Pandemic Retirees Weren’t Ready. How to Cope if You’re One of Them.

Andrea Jones hadn’t yet settled on a date to retire from her customer service job at United Airlines when Newark airport started looking like a ghost town in March 2020. After 28 years with the carrier, she still loved her work. But by the end of that month, she had hung up her blue uniform for the last time. She is still struggling with a sense of loss.

“I wasn’t at all ready to leave,” she said. “It hit me right between the eyes.”

Ms. Jones, 68, of East Windsor, N.J., retired to protect the health of her husband, George, who has multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. Fortunately, the Joneses had a nest egg, and United offered a retirement package that enabled her to keep their health insurance.

Patricia Scott has not been so lucky. Ms. Scott, a special-education teacher in Stockton, Calif., retired in January to preserve her own health. A grandmother of 10, she survived breast cancer in 2016; her oncologist told her she couldn’t risk catching Covid-19 by returning to the classroom. Now, at age 66, she is on financial quicksand. “My income is half what it was,” she said. She is single and in debt. “I’m stressed, I’m depressed and I’m terrified.”

For many of the nearly three million workers ages 55 to 70 who have left their jobs since March 2020, retiring during the pandemic has inflicted two traumas. Like Ms. Jones and Ms. Scott, most felt they were forced out of work before they wanted to go, said Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics and policy analysis at the New School for Social Research. Among that subset, the majority, like Ms. Scott, were financially unprepared, Ms. Ghilarducci said.

research from the New School, far more older workers retired during the pandemic than during other recessions. After the 2008 financial crisis, for example, 1.9 million older workers left the labor force in the first three months of the recession. In the first three months of the pandemic last year, 2.9 million left the work force. The latest data shows that 1.7 million of the newer wave of retirees left despite financial uncertainty, Ms. Ghilarducci said.

Their departures generally were not a bid for a few extra years of bird-watching. “A lot of people were pushed out of their jobs,” Ms. Ghilarducci said; she attributed that push partly to age discrimination. “It used to be that employers would let the ones they just hired go first in a recession, but this time older people who have been in their jobs the longest have been hit hardest.”

Lack of enforcement of anti-discrimination laws was a factor, she said. So was what some employers saw as a rare opportunity created by the pandemic to get rid of older workers, who are perceived to be less productive and more expensive.

Regardless of the reason, the new army of reluctant retirees, disproportionately made up of Black workers and those who lack a college degree, according to June data from the New School, is in trouble. One key reason: Debt rates among Americans 65 and older are the highest they’ve ever been, Ms. Ghilarducci said. And they are likely to rise as more people are forced to draw down their assets to make ends meet. Collecting Social Security earlier than anticipated will add to their vulnerability, since claiming earlier will permanently reduce their benefits.

Even for people with a financial safety net, the hurdles can be significant. “There’s a lot of stress that comes with having retirement forced on you,” said Malcolm Ethridge, a financial adviser in Washington who has several newly out-of-work older clients. “It takes time to get past the disruption.”

Jovan Johnson, a certified financial planner in Atlanta, said Ms. Scott and others in her situation should start looking for a pro bono financial adviser who can help make sense of their money. “There are a lot of us out there who will help people out for free during a crisis,” he said. He recommends searching sites like the XY Planning Network.

The primary benefit of sitting down with a professional may be relief from panic, he said. But the 15 new retirees who have contacted him for pro bono help since the pandemic started, among them nurses and teachers, have also gained a better understanding of how to manage limited funds. “Everybody deserves to have a plan,” he said.

Pen and Brush after 23 years as executive director, the stress started last year, when she contracted Covid-19 and spent several weeks in an intensive care unit. She was not psychologically ready to retire, but because she has still not fully recovered, she felt she had to. “I was one of those people who was going to have to be wheeled out of there, I loved it so much,” she said.

Now she is adjusting to what she said was a more limited routine. Sunday nights and Mondays flummox her the most. “It’s like when you have that dream where you have a final exam and you’ve never been to class, or you forget your locker combination. I keep thinking, I have to go to work.” Instead, she takes walks with her husband, Wallace Munro, a retired actor, and visits the grocery store more than she thought she would ever want to.

“It’s something to do,” she said. “You have to restructure your life when something like this happens to you. It’s so easy to get depressed.”

Mr. Johnson, the financial planner, offered tips on juggling your income and expenses when you’re thrust into joblessness with little warning.

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Child Tax Credit Payments Have Begun. Should You Opt Out?

“The advance of the credit reduces the total amount of taxes paid,” said Rob Seltzer, an accountant in Los Angeles. “So there could be a problem with an estimated tax penalty,” depending on how much the taxpayer earns this year compared with last. It may make sense to run a tax projection with a professional to see if it makes sense to opt out.

You need to live in the United States for more than half of 2021 to be eligible for the advanced payments, but expatriate taxpayers can still claim the expanded credit on their return, according to the I.R.S. (The refundable portion of the credit, however, will be curtailed to the prior $1,400 limit.) Military members stationed abroad are still eligible for the advanced payments.

Some households are simply accustomed to getting a large refund when they file, using it as a forced savings plan. If you have come to depend on a big refund, you can opt out of all future payments and receive the full value of the credit when you file your return next year.

“Opting out or making changes to the payment comes down to personal preference of when and how you want to receive the money,” said Andy Phillips, the director of the Tax Institute at H&R Block. “If you prefer monthly payments of smaller amounts, no need to make changes.”

Sheila Taylor-Clark, a certified public accountant and secretary of the National Society of Black C.P.A.s, has practical advice for clients who don’t necessarily want to opt out but who may be uncertain on where they stand: “Drop that money into an interest-bearing account, so if you owe money you can just send that back next April,” she said.

To opt out of receiving the payments, taxpayers should visit the Child Tax Credit Update Portal. If you don’t already have an account, you’ll need to create one. And if you’re married and file a joint return, both spouses will need to create accounts and opt out; spouses who don’t opt out will continue to receive half of the advance monthly payment.

Besides stopping the checks, the portal can be used to check the status of your payments; change the bank account receiving them; or to switch your payments to direct deposit from paper checks.

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The Coronavirus Pandemic Safety Net Is Coming Apart. Now What?

Distressed homeowners with loans owned by private banks or investors should contact their mortgage servicer to see what options they’re offering. Some of them have followed a framework similar to federally backed loans, but others’ terms may be murkier.

No matter what type of loan you have, the most important action to take now is to reach out to your mortgage servicer to find out when your payments will resume and how much they will be. If you cannot afford them, the servicer can lay out your options. For more guidance, you can also seek out a housing counselor.

The changes made to food stamps — now largely known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — during the pandemic were complicated.

But one significant change, a 15 percent bump in benefits for all recipients, runs only through Sept. 30. So if you currently receive SNAP benefits, they may go down then. (Congress is considering an extension, SNAP policy experts said, and other changes unrelated to the pandemic — including a regular inflation adjustment, along with a potential change to the basket of food that benefits are based on — could also help offset any potential cuts.)

A number of other temporary changes will remain in many states for several more months.

Those changes increased benefits for the program, which is federally funded but run through the states. Beneficiaries have received emergency allotments, which increased their monthly benefits to the maximum amounts permitted or higher. All told, the average daily benefit per person rose to $7 from $4 by April of this year, according to Ellen Vollinger, legal director at the Food Research & Action Center.

Access to the program also became somewhat easier: Certain college students became eligible, unemployed people under 50 without children weren’t subject to time limits and there were fewer administrative hurdles to remaining enrolled, experts said.

The extra allotments can continue to be paid as long as the federal government has declared a public health emergency, which is likely to remain for at least the rest of the year. But the state administering the benefits must also have an emergency declaration in place, and at least six states — Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and South Carolina — have either ended or will soon begin to pull back that extra amount, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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From the Heart to Higher Education: The 2021 College Essays on Money

Despite the loud busking music, arcade lights and swarms of people, it was hard to be distracted from the corner street stall serving steaming cupfuls of tteokbokki — a medley of rice cake and fish cake covered in a concoction of hot sweet sauce. I gulped when I felt my friend tugging on the sleeve of my jacket, anticipating that he wanted to try it. After all, I promised to treat him out if he visited me in Korea over winter break.

The cups of tteokbokki, garnished with sesame leaves and tempura, was a high-end variant of the street food, nothing like the kind from my childhood. Its price of 3,500 Korean won was also nothing like I recalled, either, simply charged more for being sold on a busy street. If I denied the purchase, I could console my friend and brother by purchasing more substantial meals elsewhere. Or we could spend on overpriced food now to indulge in the immediate gratification of a convenient but ephemeral snack.

At every seemingly inconsequential expenditure, I weigh the pros and cons of possible purchases as if I held my entire fate in my hands. To be generously hospitable, but recklessly drain the travel allowance we needed to stretch across two weeks? Or to be budgetarily shrewd, but possibly risk being classified as stingy? That is the question, and a calculus I so dearly detest.

Unable to secure subsequent employment and saddled by alimony complications, there was no room in my dad’s household to be embarrassed by austerity or scraping for crumbs. Ever since I was taught to dilute shampoo with water, I’ve revised my formula to reduce irritation to the eye. Every visit to a fast-food chain included asking for a sheet of discount coupons — the parameters of all future menu choice — and a past receipt containing the code of a completed survey to redeem for a free cheeseburger. Exploiting combinations of multiple promotions to maximize savings at such establishments felt as thrilling as cracking war cryptography, critical for minimizing cash casualties.

However, while disciplined restriction of expenses may be virtuous in private, at outings, even those amongst friends, spending less — when it comes to status — paradoxically costs more. In Asian family-style eating customs, a dish ordered is typically available to everyone, and the total bill, regardless of what you did or did not consume, is divided evenly. Too ashamed to ask for myself to be excluded from paying for dishes I did not order or partake in, I’ve opted out of invitations to meals altogether. I am wary even of meals where the inviting host has offered to treat everyone, fearful that if I only attended “free meals” I would be pinned as a parasite.

Although I can now conduct t-tests to extract correlations between multiple variables, calculate marginal propensities to import and assess whether a developing country elsewhere in the world is at risk of becoming stuck in the middle-income trap, my day-to-day decisions still revolve around elementary arithmetic. I feel haunted, cursed by the compulsion to diligently subtract pennies from purchases hoping it will eventually pile up into a mere dollar, as if the slightest misjudgment in a single buy would tip my family’s balance sheet into irrecoverable poverty.

Will I ever stop stressing over overspending?

I’m not sure I ever will.

But I do know this. As I handed over 7,000 won in exchange for two cups of tteokbokki to share amongst the three of us — my friend, my brother and myself — I am reminded that even if we are not swimming in splendor, we can still uphold our dignity through the generosity of sharing. Restricting one’s conscience only around ruminating which roads will lead to riches risks blindness toward rarer wealth: friends and family who do not measure one’s worth based on their net worth. Maybe one day, such rigorous monitoring of financial activity won’t be necessary, but even if not, this is still enough.

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In the Market for a 529 College Savings Plan? Shop Around

The outcome could have been different, however, if the error had occurred during a downturn, said Madeline Hume, a Morningstar analyst. She advised being familiar with your plan’s performance, so you can gauge if returns seem out of the ordinary, and paying attention when your plan notifies you of changes. “It’s important to keep aware of what communications are coming out,” she said.

The firm rates 529 plans on factors like fees, investment options and plan oversight, and most are rated gold, silver or bronze, indicating they offer a net benefit to investors. However, eight plans received “negative” ratings, mostly because of excessive fees.

Here are some questions and answers about 529 saving plans:

What college expenses can 529 funds be used for?

Savings in a 529 can be used to pay college costs including tuition, room and board, mandatory fees, books, supplies and required equipment.

Can I use 529 funds to pay student loans?

Yes. Under a law passed in 2019, up to $10,000 from a 529 account can be used to repay a beneficiary’s student loans. Another $10,000 each can be used to repay student loans borrowed by the beneficiary’s siblings.

Can grandparents save in a 529 account for a grandchild?

Yes — and an upcoming change to an important financial aid form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, should help to make that more attractive. Currently, contributions from grandparent-owned 529 plans are reported on the FAFSA as untaxed cash support to the student, which can reduce eligibility for financial aid, said the financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. An updated FAFSA, however, will eliminate the question about cash support, he said, so distributions from grandparent-owned 529s will no longer be included on the form. The change is expected to take place with the FAFSA available in late 2022, for the 2023-24 academic year.

The change, however, does not affect a different student aid form, the CSS Profile, which is required by many higher-cost private colleges, Mr. Kantrowitz said.

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How the Pandemic Has Changed Attitudes Toward Wealth

Several key metrics of defining wealth had fallen in the past three years. In 2018, 65 percent of respondents felt that wealth gave them peace of mind, but that number had fallen to 53 percent by this spring. Half of the respondents equated wealth with happiness, four percentage points lower than in 2018.

In another shift, more people said wealth meant success in life — that was up to 50 percent, from 40 percent last time.

“A big component of success is still making money, but it’s just not making money to increase your financial capital,” Mr. Baker said. “It’s accomplishing something in the process, to build other things, to take some of that financial capital and put it into something else.”

Mr. Norton said his priorities had shifted to focusing more on the people around him, so he decided to pay the first half of his company’s Christmas bonus to employees in May. “I did it just to make sure they were OK,” he said. “I focused less on my net worth and income and more on making sure we’re doing the right thing for our clients but also making sure my staff and my family was OK.”

For others, though, the mandated isolation focused their mind. Douglas Swets, an angel investor in early-stage start-ups, said the pandemic brought greater clarity and focus to the investments he and his partners were making.

“After a year of Zoom meetings, I can have a lot more meetings and it’s improved our due diligence,” he said. “We can have more people doing reference calls. You get all the questions answered.”

At the same time, Mr. Swets, who is married with two adult children, said the investments that he reviewed were not necessarily better given the extra time. If anything, they were actually riskier, but the pandemic gave him a different view on investing.

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