I feel like every January, most personal finance columns encourage us to kick off the New Year with a fresh set of financial resolutions that involve finding ways to streamline our budget and save more. At the top of almost every list: give up that daily Starbucks latte.
I’m kind of tired of hearing that same tip, and feel that if at this point people haven’t gotten the message then writing it one more time isn’t going to persuade them to change their habits.
So let’s assume that we all know it’s not the smartest move to spend several dollars on that higher-priced cup of Joe every day when you can brew a less expensive version at home and put it in a go cup. This year, what else can we do to get our financial house in shape?
Bob Stammers, who heads up investor education for CFA (Chartered Financial Analysts) Institute, offered a few other ideas that I found pretty helpful:
Last year, my New Year’s Resolution was to go paperless. I succeeded, but not in the way that I expected.
I began the year trying several new online applications that aimed to help me organize tasks ranging from setting up a snapshot of all my bills and reminders to pay them, to creating a family system that would allow my kids to track their allowances and chores.
As I often discover (and re-discover) when I embark on an effort to create new habits, starting simple is best. As such, I found that a lot of these applications fell by the wayside, probably because I tried to integrate too many of them into my busy routine at once. Collectively they were too new, and therefore too difficult to master, in an efficient amount of time.
I ended up laying the foundation for my paperless life – and eliminating literally bags upon bags of clutter - with three simple steps:
1. Assign one email address as my contact for reminders from banks and bill companies, and then sign up for paperless statements.
2. Create a filing system on my computer to organize all documents, back it up twice with an external hard drive and a cloud-based storage system, and set quarterly reminders on my calendar to download statements.
3. Buy a desktop scanner that’s also portable for when I travel. As silly as this may sound, having the big all-in-one printer/scanner/fax machine that sits at the opposite end of the room was simply too much effort when I could more easily throw a piece of paper into the scanner to file online while talking on the phone or finishing an email.
2013 is going to be another good year for borrowers, and a lousy year for savers, as interest rates remain low amidst a slow-growth economy, Bankrate Senior Financial Analyst Greg McBride said in an interview.
McBride forecasts that the U.S. economy will expand by about 2 percent this year, tempered by an unemployment rate that will decline very slowly and gains in wages that will be “nothing to write home about.”
Those consumers looking to purchase or improve their homes or upgrade the cars will have a window of opportunity as borrowing costs remain low. Auto loans, for one, are at record lows and are still falling, making 2013 a favorable year from a financial standpoint for anyone looking to buy either a new or used car, McBride said
A few years before my mom passed away, she had knee replacement surgery and needed some help in the weeks immediately following her operation. It was always tricky figuring out the best arrangement at times like these – she lived across the country, which meant we had to put together a patchwork of support for her care during those times when immediate family weren’t in town.
She was fortunate to have a strong network in her hometown, and the kindness of her friends at these times of need was heartwarming. But in one unfortunate incident my mom learned the troubling lesson of how even those who have the best of intentions can sometimes succumb to their own life stresses and take advantage of someone who is disabled.
She had hired a friend who had recently lost their job to be her nurse for a week. Longstanding confidence, built on years of friendship, led my mom to trust this individual with her debit card to make some grocery purchases. Unfortunately, the friend did more with the card than just buy groceries. A couple of weeks later, my mom happened to check her bank statement and discovered several other amounts that she had not authorized.
The friend, who was feeling the pinch from her own financial strain, had used my mom’s bank account to take her children on some excursions. My mom speculated that the friend had thought she would get away with it because my mom was distracted from most paperwork and the chances were slim that she would check her account closely.
Expecting an inheritance? Apparently so, if you’re a member of Gen Z. And that youthful optimism may deter these individuals from taking retirement savings seriously – with potentially damaging consequences.TD Ameritrade interviewed about 1,000 members of Gen Z (young people ages 13-22) and a similar number of parents, and found that almost 40 percent of Gen Z respondents believed that they will have an inheritance and therefore won’t need to worry about saving for retirement. In contrast, just 16 percent of parents thought as much.
That result was surprising, said Carrie Braxdale, managing director, investor services, TD Ameritrade, Inc., because this group of young people was generally pretty savvy about articulating the current challenges in the economy and job market. And with the majority of them already actively using some kind of investment or savings account, they also clearly had been taught about the importance of saving and thinking about a financial plan.
Still, they are focusing mainly on “savings needs that are more near-term,” Braxdale said. “Many explicitly said they are saving for college or current expenses.”
Whenever I write anything about affluent Americans, inevitably I hear from some readers about how journalists are “out of touch” and not understanding the issues. I find these emails striking because they reflect a lot of the uncertainty and frustration most people are feeling in today’s job market and economy. And while I am often just reporting the results of someone else’s study, I understand that even doing that simple act can rub people who are struggling the wrong way.
So when I was told about a recent “Affluent Insights Survey” that Merrill Lynch conducted, I found myself wondering how we might think about its results so that it can be useful information for a variety of individuals, of varying incomes, and not just for those who happen to have $250,000 or more of investable assets. To me, these surveys are helpful if we can find even just one or two nuggets of new information that might serve as potentially interesting solutions when applied to our own lives.
Let’s start by laying out some of the context for the results uncovered by the survey. Among the 1,000+ individuals that Merrill Lynch interviewed, close to half view today’s economic uncertainty as a “new normal,” with rising healthcare costs, the care of aging parents, and the extended financial support being given to adult-age children weighing on their minds. Four out of five, or about 80 percent, of those surveyed worry that they won’t be able to achieve their financial goals before they retire.
Some of these “affluent” individuals are drawing a harder line on funding college. About 48 percent told Merrill Lynch that they were willing to support adult-age children for as long as they need. But some are trying to use the expense as a way to teach a financial lesson. About 38 percent of parents today paid for, or plan to pay for, the full cost of their children’s college education, down from 48 percent a year ago, the survey said. And when asked about their ability to fund higher learning, 19 percent said they chose not to pay for the full amount so that their kids would appreciate their education more.
Increasingly, “families are getting together, with their college-age kids, to talk about how they will pay for college, even in this group where the cost was traditionally paid for by parents,” said Merril Pyes, a managing director in Boston with Merrill Lynch. “Parents are talking with their kids about how to pay for it, what they’ll get out of college, and what their kids will do when they get out.”
Having more conversations as a family about finances seems to be one of the bigger lessons we can learn from this survey, which provided other examples of how people are trying to communicate, and work together, more to solve concerns and challenges.
Earlier this week a study by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) showed that the number of American households opting out of the banking system grew steadily from 2009 to 2011.
About 17 million adults don’t have a checking or savings account at all, representing about 8.2 percent of U.S. households. Another 51 million are so-called “underbanked” adults, which means they have a bank account but may also consistently frequent higher-risk services such as pawnshops and payday lenders. The FDIC said it partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct the survey in June 2011, collecting responses from almost 45,000 households.
The purpose of the report was to assess the inclusiveness of the banking system since, as the FDIC said, “public confidence in the banking system derives in part from how effectively banks serve the needs of the nation’s diverse population.”
Think about creating a family financial album, and other tips, from Boston’s Top Woman Financial Advisor, Mary Mullin
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Merrill Lynch wealth management advisor Mary Mullin, a resident of Sudbury who was recognized this summer as one of America’s Top 100 Women Advisors by Barron’s Magazine – and the top Woman Financial Advisor in Boston.
Ms. Mullin’s group of clients consists largely of women and couples, and after more than three decades working at Merrill, she has seen the impact that the sharing of financial duties can have on an individual’s understanding of a family’s financial condition.
Having raised four kids as a single, working mom, she also intimately understands the challenges of juggling the management of a household budget with the need for long-term financial planning.
I asked her to identify the top three lessons she’s learned from her experiences, and would like to share with women as they organize their finances, either alone or with a partner. She came up with more than that. Looking at all of her comments, though, I think you’ll agree that her insights can be universally applied:
Youthful engagement: CSB and the Youth Underground Railway Theater teach money skills through a new production, “Money Matters”
I was invited to attend a play at Somerville High School yesterday called, "Money Matters." Produced by the Underground Railway Theater, the theater-in-residence at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, the production was written by its 16 youth members as part of a Cambridge Savings Bank-sponsored financial education initiative.
The young actors and actresses took part in CSB’s Smart Financial Education Program to help them understand some money managing basics, and then went out and interviewed at least 80 individuals of various ages, ethnicities and professions to get their thoughts on key money issues.
The students took actual quotes from the interviews and wove them together into a series of conversations that talked about everything from spending one’s paycheck every week ("I love the feeling of having made a purchase, but I hate the feeling of having no money ...") to the fiscal inequities that people sometimes face when they go to college. ("Economic diversity is something that I have to learn to live with … I’m at college and I care about community, but where does caring about community end?")
The storylines were linked together by one central character – the tooth fairy – who was prompting the conversations by engaging in a “tooth fairy stimulus package.” Each character received $100 per tooth and then the tooth fairy watched their responses and actions to having the money.
Why the tooth fairy? According to the organizers it was because across the board, people who were interviewed said that their first memory of dealing with money was when the tooth fairy paid them a visit. The tooth fairy was also apparently the cause of a lot of discussion about money and equity since many people had different opinions, and experiences, about the value of a tooth.
While the play was interesting, what really caught my attention was the Q&A period after. The kids in the audience needed a little prompting to talk about the topics brought forward, but it was interesting to hear what had made an impression on them. One student said that she had never really understood the difference between a debit and a credit card, and the impact that interest can have on one’s budget.
“The world of credit is a mysterious world to kids of this age,” said Evan Diamond, an assistant vice president and Financial Education Program Manager for Cambridge Savings Bank. “They need to understand that every time you get a credit card you are taking out a loan. Showing them how much interest you will pay if you fall into the trap of minimum payments is a real wake up call.”
Several other students said they were struck by a monologue about a student who went to Haiti and learned the meaning of money for survival’s sake as opposed to just pure spending.
“We try to connect the emotions with the action” through the community program, Diamond said.
CSB started its Smart Financial Education Program in 2010 in response to the financial crisis, Diamond said. The bank has a team of educators who visit schools as well as a variety of community centers to provide an overview on a core curriculum of four modules: Budgeting and Saving; Managing a Checking Account; Credit Smarts; Fraud Smarts. They also customize their classes to fit a particular area, for example they might discuss finance to students interested in entrepreneurship and business, or they might discuss interest rates and mathematics concepts in a math class.
The team has taught more than 300 sessions, reaching 4,6000 participants at high schools in towns including Lexington, Arlington, Belmont and Concord, as well as non-profit groups such as the Community Learning Center in Cambridge and the Somerville Homeless Coalition. This spring they’ll be reaching out to kindergartners at a variety of schools in order to encourage kids to think about saving starting at a young age. Diamond emphasized that the group does not provide promotional materials on CSB at these events since “we don’t do this to sell accounts.”
“Managing money is tricky,” Diamond said. “It’s nice to be able to give them good advice.
As a follow up to my post yesterday, I received this infographic from DoughMain.com that illustrates some of the key statistics they uncovered from a survey conducted last month to learn more about how kids are interacting with money in their daily lives.FULL ENTRY