Breakthroughs that are helping us save, spend, invest, and retire smarter. By Janet Bodnar, Editor-at-Large June 7, 2011 When we decided to bestow awards for the top innovations in personal finance (see Financial Game Changers), we set ourselves a major challenge. At our brainstorming session, I scribbled down more than 50 ideas, and I couldn't write fast enough. How to whittle the field down to size? First, we wanted to highlight where possible the game-changers themselves, to tell their personal stories and give a hint as to what they're up to next. Next, we wanted to concentrate on the areas of personal finance we cover -- investing, money management, spending, retirement and leisure. That left out some obvious heavy hitters -- think Steve Jobs at Apple and Sergey Brin at Google -- who have had a broad impact on our lives (and no Al Gore and the Internet, as one of our staff wags suggested). Finally, we wanted to focus on relatively recent breakthroughs that have radically changed our financial habits. So we eliminated classics such as the ATM, the index mutual fund, the 401(k) and the credit card (look for them on an expanded list of innovations in our slideshow about the 15 Greatest Financial Innovations of the 20th Century). Advertisement Robert Pozen, a former official at Fidelity and MFS, dropped by our offices and tossed in a couple more nominees: check-writing on money market funds, which made those funds viable places to keep cash, and charitable gift funds, "the middle-class person's own foundation." We narrowed the list to a manageable 20, but had to leave off some staff favorites: TreasuryDirect, real estate investment trusts, the FICO credit score and the E-ZPass among them. And we eliminated a number of innovators who specialize in ideas rather than products and services -- for example, author Michael Lewis, who has shed light on Wall Street, and architect Sarah Susanka, whose theory of the "not-so-big house" touts the virtues of good design over size. Also among those innovators not on our list is Marc Freedman, who has changed our way of thinking about what constitutes retirement. But you can read about Freedman in senior editor Mary Beth Franklin's inaugural retirement-planning column. And we'd like to think that one milestone in our panoply of innovations came in 1947, the year that the Kiplinger magazine made its debut as the pioneer publication in personal finance. In fact, we might go back even further, to 1923, when Willard M. Kiplinger first published The Kiplinger Washington Letter, described by contemporaries as noted for its "emphatic words, short sentences and punchy, almost telegraphic brevity of thought" -- sort of a forerunner of today's tweets. Advertisement If you'd like to nominate your own financial game-changers, we'd love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. Investment outlook In a recent survey by Franklin Templeton, fully half of the respondents said that the U.S. stock market was either down or flat in 2010. Investors would have known better had they been reading our magazine. Readers who followed our advice not to bail out of stocks during the depths of the bear market have seen a doubling of share prices since the market bottom in March 2009. This year, the market was up 7% through early May, and in our midyear investment outlook, we predict it could rise another 5%. Of course, with tsunamis, political unrest and sovereign-debt woes, it's a perilous world we live in. As always, we show you how to balance risk and opportunity. Plus: Is a graduate degree worth the cost? See our eye-opening stats.