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.
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.”
I was at my alma mater, Tufts University, yesterday to serve on a panel of business practitioners tasked with evaluating the presentations of students in the engineering school’s entry-level entrepreneurs course. In between presentations, as I chit-chatted with my fellow panelists, one of them remarked on how challenging it must be to be a mother of three young children while working a full-time job.
It’s a comment I hear a lot, and while I appreciate the words of encouragement that often follow I always keep in mind, humbly, that I am just one of a sisterhood who each day faces the challenge of how to “balance” the different responsibilities that both roles require. “How do you do it?” people often ask. “Balance is not a day-to-day phenomenon,” I tell them. “Balance is found in the average over time; it’s a willingness to try things, fail and try again; and it takes lots of baby steps.”
When it comes to the personal side of personal finance, I’ve found that “balance” usually involves figuring out the time value of money. The traditional, purely financial, definition of the time value of money refers to the idea that money available now is worth more than the same amount in the future because of its potential earning capacity.
But in mommyhood, the time value of money is a little more varied, and in my opinion, complex: On a day-to-day level it often means weighing the time allocated to work vs. kids, and how that impacts the family budget vs. the individual emotional and physical health of each child. From a long-term perspective, it can mean weighing the investment of time and resources in a child, or in the family, now in order to help with their (often hoped-for) future growth and development.
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.
When it comes to making dinner, Thursdays are the bane of my existence. After a long week of work and juggling kids’ schedules, usually by that day I’m starting to look to the weekend and the chance to relax for a few minutes. The last thing I want to do is think about what to cook.FULL ENTRY