Raising Financially Savvy Kids-Part 1

April 6, 2011

Some of the inherent responsibilities of parents include protecting their children and preparing them to be responsible adults in our society. Teaching children the proper management of their financial resources helps to accomplish both of these goals.

If the children in your family are similar to my own (and I would bet there are far more similarities than there are differences), they probably do not enjoy being lectured by their parents, nor do they learn much thereby. So how else are they supposed to learn to be financially fluent if they don’t listen to what we tell them? Well, we show them.

Further suggestions will follow today’s blog, but here’s an easy, fun and effective way to teach children that money does NOT grow on trees and that it must be properly managed and controlled:

  1. Pull out the game of Monopoly or any other board game that has play money in real denominations. If you don’t have such a game, you can print some play money from www.printableplaymoney.net.
  2. Gather the kids around the table to “play” a game. Count on spending anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes for this activity. This game is best for children 8 or 9 years old or older, since they’re getting to the point of being able to grasp abstract concepts. You can tell them you’re going to play a game to show them how Mom and/or Dad makes and spends money every month.
  3. Explain the rules, such as, “We’re going to count out how much money Mom and/or Dad make every month and put it in the middle of the table. Our goal is to spend it on everything we need and then on things we want without running out of money.”
    At this point, you may choose to explain your feelings that you are sharing information that is only meant for your family, and that you are trusting the children not to talk to their friends or to extended family about how much money Mom and/or Dad make.
  4. Teaching children the realities and the value of household budgetingEnthusiastically and dramatically count out of the bills how much money your household makes every month. This should be gross income (before taxes and other deductions). Enjoy the look of astonishment on the children’s faces while it lasts. For many, any amount over $100 might lead them to think that the family is RICH!!!
  5. Explain that the first thing that comes out of the monthly income is Taxes. Remove from the pile of money in the middle of the table the amount of taxes you pay each month. To raise a financially responsible child, you should explain the benefits that come from paying taxes, including security provided internationally by our armed forces, security provided locally by the police and/or sheriff,  transportation infrastructure, schools, laws, health and human services, public transportation, and more. Avoid complaining bitterly about taxes, though it may be educational to explain how we have the right and responsibility to vote for representatives in our government who we hope feel the same way we do about how taxes should or should not be used.
  6. Next, explain that other amounts come out of your paycheck before you receive any money, including Medicare and Social Security (FICA), in addition, possibly, to insurance premiums and retirement account contributions. Remove the amount of your monthly deductions from the pile of money in the middle of the table.
  7. Teach children the importance of committing to saving for emergenciesNext, explain to the children that you have committed to paying yourself first, in case of emergencies, so that there is a specific amount that you put into your savings plan right off the bat. Let them know that this amount is non-negotiable, and that as they grow up, you expect them to do the same. Many children, even fairly young ones, may take comfort in knowing that their parents have a plan in place in case anything unexpected happens. Remove your monthly savings contributions from the pile.
  8. Then, ask the children if they think you should next pay for things you need or want? Explain what your survival needs are and remove that money from the pile. Typically, needs include shelter and security (rent/mortgage and their corresponding insurance and utilities), food and water (NOT including dining out), protective clothing (the very basics), and possibly medications or medical procedures.
  9. The next expenses to come out usually include things that make life comfortable and convenient, like transportation costs, child care, additional clothing, school activities, air conditioning in the summer,  etc. You may also include other obligations and loan repayments (credit card, student loan, signature loan, etc.).
  10. Continue to remove money from the pile until you’re left with “extra” money (usually pretty scarce). Remember to calculate the monthly amounts to set aside in order to take care of periodic expenses like vacations, car and home repair, holiday and birthday gift giving, etc. You may also consider including the children’s allowance or amounts they can earn through chores.

Going through this exercise every couple of years or so will help your children to realize that money is not an infinite resource, that it doesn’t grow on trees, and that their parents are in control of their finances. It generally has the added benefit of stemming the continual flow of the “gimmees” and the “buymees.” “Give me this” and “buy me that.”

Finally, letting our children “see” how important budgeting is to us will lead them to value it as well.

Have fun with this activity, and let me know how it goes.

Todd

Todd Christensen
Director of Education
www.NationalFinancialEducationCenter.org
Facebook: MoneyDay2Day
Twitter: Day2DayMoney

Perpetuating Myths about Poverty

March 28, 2011

I’ve said it before, I was not the brightest financial light in the bunch when I was younger. Oddly enough, I come from a wonderful upbringing in a home where financial responsibility was expected and demonstrated, if not discussed openly. So, according to the philosophy that well-to-do and financially savvy parents beget children with the same financial smarts, I should have known better. But I didn’t.

Yes, balancing a checkbook and making a dollar stretch were two skills I was taught and which I have carried with me ever since. However, the wise usage of credit what not taught, most likely because I came of age at about the same time as the explosion of the consumer credit card in the 1980s. Before that, receiving a credit card while in college was not only uncommon, it was next to impossible.

So, when I pulled my first credit card offer from my apartment’s mailbox, the only thing I saw was the $2,000 credit limit. To me, that was like shouting, $2,000 of “free money.” WMaxing Out Credit Card was NOT Goodithin 36 hours of receiving that card in the mail, I had maxed it out and would, for a decade thereafter, carry a balance and pay interest (initially to the tune of 19% APR or more).

It took years to dig out of the credit card hole. In the meantime, I dabbled in a couple of payday loans, bounced a number of checks, and continually treated my savings account as a “deferred spending” account rather than an emergency fund.

I share this lengthy history to make the point that my troubles where not actually from a lack of education or from ignorance. I quickly learned how credit cards worked, but I continued to rely heavily upon them to subsidize the lifestyle I felt I deserved. What kept me in the cycle of consumer debt was my attitude, what I termed PovertyThink in a recent blog. I had conditioned myself to believe that this was the only way to look at my finances.

So here is a synopsis of a few of the myths that lead many of us to subsidize our unsustainable lifestyles through credit, thus keeping us from building true financial net worth (aka wealth):

  1. We prefer to blame others rather than take responsibility for our own financial mistakes. Banks and creditors, in particular, are the major targets of our frustration. They, after all, charge ridiculous fees for bounced checks and late payments, right?
  2. We seem to believe that lifestyles, income and effort should all be fair and proportional. That is to say, the harder we work, the more money we should earn and/or the more money we “deserve” to spend. We compare our efforts and lifestyles to those of our friends, neighbors and acquaintances, and say to ourselves, “I work just as hard as they do, so I deserve to live as well as they do.” For example, I saw friends and classmates back in college driving new(er) cars, purchasing season ski lift passes, and living in expensive condos. Some might call it impatience, but I felt I worked just as hard as they did (harder, I would argue, since I was an early-morning janitor at my school’s science center), and that I was consequently entitled to anything they had just as much as they were. Credit cards allowed me to initially satisfy that feeling but lead to long-term troubles.
  3. We choose immediate gratification over long-term security. “Living in the now” may be a popular catch phrase in movies and among a few philosopher wannabes, but it’s a terrible idea for financial security. Of course we can enjoy life each day, but this catch phrase ignores the absolute necessity to prepare ourselves for long-term financial survival. Spending money now that should be going toward savings and investments means we’re spending tomorrow’s security for today’s gratification.

Taking Personal Responsibility for Our Finances MUST Be Our First StepUntil we take personal financial responsibility for our own choices, stop expecting life (and especially financial affairs) to be perfectly fair, and we learn to delay gratification, we are destined for financial insignificance. We do not find long-term satisfaction in living paycheck-to-paycheck. We’ll find no honor in unearned positions or possessions. We’ll find no lasting peace of mind in expenditures for the pleasures of today.

In summary, for those who continue to blame others, demand financial equality (which is not the same as opportunity), and live only for today, the future may only bring more disappointment, greater financial inequality, and the dreariness of debt and financial ruin.

If you or someone you know is stuck in this rut of PovertyThink, it’s time to reconsider your situation. Do some reading about how financially successful people accomplished their goals, and follow their examples. Here’s a nice site to see read some real life financial success stories (without all the blinding glitz and false glamour of the lottery and get-rich-quick sites): Get Rich Slowly.

Have a fantastic day!

Todd

Todd Christensen
Director of Education
www.NationalFinancialEducationCenter.org
Facebook: MoneyDay2Day
Twitter: Day2DayMoney

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Defining PovertyThink

January 7, 2010

I read this past week of efforts in many countries to eradicate poverty by, as some have phrased it, “paying the poor.” The generic term for such programs is “conditional cash transfers” (CCTs), meaning that the government essentially pays cash to families in poverty that meet certain criteria, such as keeping their children in school, having regular preventative medical check ups, and attending workshops on financial skills and disease prevention.

Reportedly, the CCTs can have a widespread positive impact on reducing the income gap between the wealthiest and the poorest in that country. Today’s topic, though, is not about the pros and cons of CCTs or whether we should implement one in the US. Rather, I’d like to address the less tangible side of poverty: PovertyThink, if you will.

Financial Evolution and PovertyThink-National Financial Education Center at Debt Reduction Services IncI would describe PovertyThink as a set of beliefs, attitudes, and accepted presumptions held by individuals of ALL  income levels that prohibit them from implementing, or cause them to  take action contrary to, wisely money management behaviors, particularly with regards to building a satisfactory positive financial net worth in a capital-base economy.

Please do not misunderstand my statement. I am not referring to poverty (deficiency of money, goods or means of support) as being a choice. I am talking about people of ANY income level that subscribe (usually subconciously) to PovertyThink as a view of the financial world and, consequently, who fail to achieve financial success or independence.

Following are possible indicators of the presence of PovertyThink:

  1. Blaming others, particularly banks and creditors, for your financial woes. After all, you reason, they are the ones who have sabotaged your finances by charging ridiculously high penalty fees for bounced checks, late payments, and/or other mistakes.
  2. A strong distaste for the rich. In your mind, being rich is driving luxury vehicles; vacationing at luxury resorts; living in large homes; having mountain retreats or ocean-side cabins; having a garage full of motorcycles, ATVs, or snowmobiles; dressing in designer outfits and suits; and be able to buy just about anything else you want. You feel that those who are rich probably don’t deserve, and certainly don’t appreciate, what they have.
  3. Obsessing over the lifestyles of the rich. In spite of your feelings about the rich, you are often prone to obsess about their lifestyles and dream about what you would do if you were “rich.”
  4. PovertyThinkers play the lottery, mistakenly believing it to be their best shot at wealthPlaying the lottery. You play the lottery because it offers you the best chance of becoming rich. You feel that  the lottery is a way to become rich without having to financially injure anyone else on your way to the top, as the rich often do.
  5. Believing that finances should be fair. You hold to the belief that life should be fair for everyone and that the riches of the world should be equally available to, in not downright divided among, everyone. It galls you as completely unfair to think that the “rich” have it all and you don’t. After all, you believe that the harder a person works, the more they deserve to be rich, regardless of what they do for a living or what they contribute to society. And since you work harder than the wealthy you see on television, you feel you are just as deserving of riches as anyone.

On the surface, these beliefs seem harmless enough. In fact, #3 and maybe even #4 seem to you to be attitudes that should actually motivate someone towards financial success. So how do these points above, collectively identified as PovertyThink, actually do more financial harm than good? Let’s address them one at a time:

  1. Blaming others gets us no where. Blaming the umpire or referee for a bad call, in fact, can get you thrown out of the game.  Blaming others for our financial woes just means that we’re throwing ourselves out of the financial game. What should we do, by contrast? Accept responsibility for (and the consequences of) our mistakes. This may mean additional fees, high interest rates, and more work for us in the short term. However, once we recognize that we often get ourselves into financial troubles, we also recognize that we are responsible (and capable) of getting ourselves out of them. No one else wants us to succeed like we do. It’s time to hunker down and approach our financial challenges with more focus, patience and wisdom. Lashing out only turns would-be friends to long-term foes.
  2. Beware of misconceptions regarding what it means to be rich and what it means to be wealthyThose who dislike the rich the most are often those who want to become rich the most themselves. Unfortunately, they also usually have a warped sense of what it means to be rich. For those in the grips of PovertyThink, being rich is a lifestyle or a certain amount of income. If someone earns, say, $100,000 a year, well, they may be defined by a PovertyThinker as rich. It’s considered whether the same person earning $100,000 a year is spending $110,000 a year, is deep in credit card debt, or is staring foreclosure in the face because they can’t take care of their mortgage payment. The same could be said (and often is true) for a large percentage of people who drive the fancy cars, live in the opulent neighborhoods, and dress and accessorize themselves in the most expensive fashions. PovertyThinkers assume that the rich are greedy and have oppressed others while they earned their riches. The irony is that those who live the luxurious lifestyles tend to have noticeably smaller net worths as a percentage of their income than most millionaires, who buy used, American-made cars and live in modest homes. This PovertyThink tenant is, therefore, based upon inaccurate assumptions.
  3. PovertyThinkers are often seen buying or reading magazines about celebrity lifestyles. They know what brands of clothing celebrities wear, what types of vehicles they drive, where they vacation, which celebrities have their children in a private school and where that school is located, etc. Because many of the truly wealthy typically shun the spotlight, there is no magazine that gives an accurate description of what a real millionaire’s lifestyle is like. So, PovertyThinkers use transitive arguments to equate celebrities (who tend to earn large sums of money) with millionaires (who, outside of their primary residence, have a net worth of $1M or more in assets such as investments, accounts, business ownership, and real estate). Unfortunately, not all celebrities are (or stay) millionaires, and only a very small percentage of millionaires ascribe much importance to the extravagant lifestyles of many celebrities.
  4. Every week, we can read of or watch on television the report of the latest multi-million dollar lottery winner somewhere in the US. PovertyThinkers will see a dream come true for the winner, because they think in terms of amounts and dollars. In reality, many lottery winners (even some of the multi-million dollar jackpot winners) end up spending and/or giving away ALL of their winnings within a few years. Some huge jackpot winners have notoriously ended up living in trailer parks or with family members because they did not have a true appreciation of how much money they had won. They figured that since they were millionaires, they could give away or spend whatever amount they chose. They soon learn, though, that even a million dollars is a finite sum.
  5. The idea that reward should be directly tied to effort is not new, though it is pervasive. “Johnny got an A for effort.” However, it is a fundamental reality that effort is only one of several factors that our society rewards financially. Others include competence, creativity, productivity, personal affinity, loyalty, and on and on. To base someone’s financial compensation solely upon effort is to deny the importance of the other factors. Such an inflexible practice would lead to stagnation in productivity and innovation. Unfortunately, PovertyThinkers who fixate on the importance of effort tend to shun or ignore opportunities around them to solve problems and create solutions that could otherwise lead them toward greater compensation and reward. Developing an entrepreneurial work ethic or style, even if one works as an employee for someone else, creates an entirely new way of considering the value of work as it relates to their income.

So what’s the answer for PovertyThinkers? Since becoming a financial educator, I’ve always felt that the formula for personal finance success has more to do with motivation than with numbers, math, or school grades.  PovertyThinkers, if left to themselves, often have to hit rock bottom or experience some other sort of life changing event before taking the decision to make changes. Otherwise, not surprisingly since this is coming from a financial educator, I believe education is key. Whether through workshops, webinars, conversations, or reading materials, learning about others who have broken the PovertyThink cycle and learning how they did so can provide the hope and belief that makes such individual progress possible.

Such stories are not hard to find. Most of us just don’t look for them or don’t recognize them in the context of breaking the PovertyThink cycle. A large percentage of rags-to-riches stories (excluding lottery winners and those who inherit their money) are case studies in overcoming PovertyThink.

Have a fantastic day!

Todd

Todd Christensen
Director of Education
www.NationalFinancialEducationCenter.org
Facebook: MoneyDay2Day
Twitter: Day2DayMoney

Published in: on January 13, 2011 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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What It Means to Be Rich

August 23, 2010

Today, I read a good blog post about the 3 Ps of True Wealth (http://bit.ly/9WxV8l) and felt to add some of our own insight into the concept of wealth and riches.  People, Passion and Purpose make up Jason’s 3 Ps, though all of them revolve around building relationships and the people with whom we interact day to day.

What it means to be richI added a comment regarding what we teach about being rich. In a way similar to the 3 Ps standing for true wealth, being rich involves setting personal goals that require money and then making your money work for you in order to reach those goals.

Being rich is not an amount, an income, or a lifestyle. It’s not about showing off. It’s not about envying and wishing. It’s about doing what’s important to you. Accumulating money, unfortunately, serves as a pseudo-goal for too many people.

“I want to be rich” is a phrase we hear far too frequently. Having a lot of money is a relative concept. For someone living in poverty, a few hundred dollars could be a lot of money. For a recent college graduate, a lot of money might be a $40,000 annual income. For others, it might be $1,000,000 lottery ticket (Please!!! Don’t get me started about the lottery unless you’re truly willing to listen).

The reality, though, is that if we were to set a financial goal to have or earn a certain amount of money, we would find that amount insufficient to satisfy us once we reach it. It’s not how much money you earn or have that counts so much as how much you keep. By “keep,” I mean hold onto in order to reach your own truly satisfying personal goals.

A goal needs to be specific (in outcome, time frame, and amount of money needed), but it needs to be, most of all, motivating. What is it that truly inspires you? Relationships? Accomplishments? Charitable work? Respect? Admiration? Knowledge? Time with family or friends? Experiences? Ask yourself, “When all is said and done and my time on this earth is over, what do I want others to remember me for?” How’s that for a question to get you thinking?

Whatever your goal may be, write it down and keep that goal on top of any spending plan (budget) you every work on. Post it on your fridge. Tape it to your bathroom mirror. Carry it in your purse or wallet. Look at it regularly and recommit to it every day. You’ll soon find that you have little care for spending your money on “stuff” that you’ll now see as frivolous. Saving for an important goal will become fun and exciting.

Once you have your motivating goals in place, it’s then time to act like you’re rich already. But remember that the rich don’t work for money (duh!). Act like the rich by making your money work for you (savings, investments, lending). You may not have hundreds of thousands of dollars to act like the rich, but first of all, you have to get rid of the Hollywood stereotypes of the rich. Most millionaires do NOT drive luxury vehicles, don’t live in mansions, don’t have butlers and maids, don’t take vacations every month, don’t fly in personal jets, don’t frequent trendy boutique shops, and don’t call attention to themselves with what they wear, drive, or live in. That sort of ridiculous spending is targeted at members of the middle class who think that they can spend their way into the upper class. Seriously? How can you spend your way up the wealth ladder?

Most millionaires earn their own wealth through running their own business or being careful with their own money and investments. They are conscientious about and control their own finances. They make they’re money work for them, not the other way around. When they do spend, they spend with purpose. And that purpose is what we’re talking about today.

What’s your purpose? What do you want to accomplish and do in life? How much money will that require? Does it really involve a $500/month car payment and designer clothing? Does it require the biggest home mortgage you could possibly qualify for?

Goals goals?

Goals are the Key to Financial Success and Personal SatisfactionWrite them down! Write them down!  Write them down!

Goals that are not written down are just wishes, and except in fairy tales and the movies, wishes are earned, not granted.

Best wishes for financial success in reaching your own goals!

Todd Christensen
Director of Education
www.NationalFinancialEducationCenter.org
Education@NationalFinancialEducationCenter.org
Facebook: MoneyDay2Day
Twitter: Day2DayMoney