Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
Extension Specialist, Consumer Economics
Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
June 14, 2011
Years and years ago when I was a little kid, my father read a newspaper article with a series of financial questions that indicated whether you were in danger of bankruptcy. My father commented that we were"right in the middle of it." That sobering statement made quite an impact on me.
We never filed bankruptcy. I have no idea whether we were truly at risk or not. But last week's article on Bankrate.com titled Eight Signs You're Flirting with Financial Ruin brought back those memories.
The Bankrate.com article focuses on financial behaviors that indicate you're already on the slippery slope, things like not paying bills on time, repeatedly overdrawing your checking account, or using home equity or your 401(k) like an emergency fund as signals that you're heading toward financial disaster.
I agree that these would indicate you're likely headed for (or already in) serious financial trouble. But I think there's an early warning signal that you can see before these things happen: whether or not the person has accessible savings - an emergency fund.
If you don't have an emergency fund, what happens when the brakes go out on the car? Or when your kid is sick? Or when the cost of heating your home is twice what you expected? You either go into debt, or you do one of the things described by Bankrate.com.
A participant in one of my debtor education classes (required of bankruptcy filers) a few years ago made a statement that stopped everyone in their tracks. She said simply, "If you can't afford to save, you can't afford to spend." For her, the consequence of not realizing that truth was eventually filing bankruptcy.
A small emergency fund won't be sufficient protection if you lose your job, have a serious illness, or lose your household's breadwinner through death or divorce. (And according to The Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt, a well-researched book by Teresa A. Sullivan, Elizabeth Warren, and Jay Westbrook published in 2001, the vast majority of bankruptcy filers have suffered a job loss, medical crisis, or divorce.) But it might keep you from starting on that path of paying one bill late because you had to use that $75 for an emergency, which leads to a late fee, which leads to being late on more bills, and so on and so on.
So I'd like to invoke another thing I learned from my father. Never spend your last dollar. Today, maybe that should be $10. But you get the point. Don't ever be completely broke. Always keep something in reserve. You might need it more tomorrow than you do today.
Save that dollar, or $10. Next week or next month, save another $10. Put it somewhere that you could get it in an emergency, but not too easily. Some people can't have cash around the house because they'll spend it. Others will spend every penny that's in their checking account. Figure out what works for your personality, where you can accumulate some savings without being tempted to use it. And start building up your emergency fund.
And when you start to think that you just don't have enough money to save any, remember what the bankruptcy filer said: If you don't have enough money to save, you don't have enough to spend.
June 4, 2011
Classes -- done! Finals – done! After too many hours studying, sleeping in and hanging with friends sounds grand. But, you need the money so off to work you go.
This summer a smaller percent of youth will work since World War II. Only 25-27% of teens will find a job, predicts Andrew Sum of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. As a comparison, in 2006 the teen summer employment rate was 37%, reports the Huffington Post. The unemployment rate is high for those adults 20-24 years old too – 14.7% in May according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lots of young people looking for summer (or full-time) work!
Do summer jobs have value to young people beyond the money they earn? Looking back I think having a summer job taught me valuable lessons:
What do you remember about your first summer job? Did you learn any life lessons?
I worked in the summer to help pay my expenses in college. Working meant that I would have the money I needed for personal expenses, books, and even a good percent of tuition the next school year. (Of course, college tuition was a lot less then!)
If you're beginning a summer job ask, "Why am I working?" "How do I plan to use this money?"
Set goals. Do you want a certain amount in savings when your summer job is finished? Do you plan to make a large purchase? What percent of your earnings are you planning to spend on summer entertainment? Will some of your earnings help pay for family expenses?
Write down your plans. If you decide now what you plan to do, at the end of the summer you are much more likely to be satisfied with how you managed your summer earnings. You don't want September to roll around and find yourself asking, "Where did all my money go?"
How do you feel about summer jobs? Do you have advice for others? Click on the comment link below and let me know. And, good luck staying awake as you start work on Monday – that was always my challenge!
June 1, 2011
Do you use your debit card daily? Do you check your bank balance online? Do you bank using a smart phone app? The pace of change in the financial world is dizzying. New isn't always better, but I do like learning new ways to simplify my financial life.
It can take awhile to adopt new habits, but often new technology can save time and help you manage your finances more easily. I'm comfortable using new technology to do the following tasks with money, Have you tried these?
The place I do most of my banking is a local institution. However, my college-age sons use an online bank that does not have a brick-and-mortar location; this works well for them. An online account can be very helpful to people who live in different locations during the year whether they are college students or snowbirds. Plus, it's available 24/7.
Recently I've added these new financial practices to my life. You might like to try these too.
Do you use the self-serve checkout at the grocery store? One of our local grocers has this option, but I still feel very uncomfortable using it. Every once in awhile, when I have just a few grocery items, I practice using the self-check system again. Financial habits, like most habits, take time to become accustomed to and require practice. Can you identify a financial habit or two that you'd like to add to your life? Here are a few more to consider.
Not all new ways of handling finances fit each person's needs. It's wise to evaluate both the pros and cons before adopting new practices. But you may find that newer ways of doings things pay dividends. For example, when you manage your financial accounts online, you're free to shop for better interest rates even if the bank is in another state. Having bills automatically debited from your checking account can assure that you never pay another late fee. In our complex daily lives, finding ways to simplify our financial "life" is a plus.
Use the Comment link below to share new financial habits you've developed and to suggest ones I might like to use too!