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Financial Perils of the Single Woman

Being a single woman is serious stuff – financially that is.

One website recently published a humorous list of the advantages of being a single woman today.  “You don’t have to be worried about not getting a special gift from Him on your special day because there is no Him.”  Or: “There is no argument about where or when to go on vacation.”  Toilet seats were also mentioned.

This may not amuse 30-something women with serious concerns about whether they’ll marry and have children.  But face it: single women of all ages have more difficult money issues than their married friends.  When two incomes are coming into the household, a couple shares the rent or mortgage.  Fixed expenses can add up over a single woman’s life or during long bouts after, say, divorce.

“Single women are far more at risk,” said Wendy Weiss, a former financial adviser who writes a blog on her website, Hot Flash Financial.  “If we make 77 cents on every dollar [men earn], men have 23 percent more discretionary income, and that’s usually the amount we advisers recommend you put away,” she said.  Women also live longer and need more money to get through retirement, she said.

Prior to retirement, the rule of thumb is that single people need well more than half, possibly as much as 70 percent, of a childless couple’s combined income to afford the same lifestyle.  It is higher for the poor (whose fixed expenses consume more of their total income) and for single mothers (for obvious reasons). …Learn More

Mysterious Math Fuels Financial Markets

The stock market is on a downward jag, reminding us that financial events and products not in our control often determine our well-being. Thriller writer Robert Harris calls the markets an “alien force that slips human control.”

In today’s featured video, a California entrepreneur discusses how complex math, beyond our ability to comprehend, increasingly shapes the financial markets. He’s referring to various developments on Wall Street: the rise of computerized trading; Wall Street firms hiring math and engineering PhDs to design investing strategies; and institutional investors that use formulas to break multibillion-dollar stock trades into smaller transactions to evade detection by their competitors.

These are accomplished using “algorithms,” which are a bit like formulas but are far more complex mathematical progressions. Nobody really understands it, including narrator, Kevin Slavin, an independent tech consultant. And that’s the point.

He explains the mysteries of Wall Street’s “black box” in an simplified and elegant way that will wow viewers as he educates them.

“We’re writing these things we can no longer read,” Slavin said. “We’ve lost the sense of what’s actually happening in this world that we’ve made.” He adds, we are “only starting to make our way” to understanding it.Learn More

Graduating in Era of Low Opportunity

Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the washed-up salesman, Willy Loman, in “Death of a Salesman,” is all the rage on Broadway. But when I saw the play recently, it was Biff who got me thinking about young adults today.

In the Arthur Miller classic, Willy anguishes over son Biff’s failure to hold down a job in the city. But the irony is that Biff, played by Andrew Garfield, probably did very well for himself after leaving Brooklyn for Texas. I imagine he became an oil baron or wound up owning substantial real estate in downtown Houston.

Young people graduating from high school or college today don’t have the virtually unlimited opportunity that existed in the 1940s when Miller wrote the play: the personal drive to find a job and establish a career is not enough anymore. Young graduates who sign up for unpaid internships and double up on college degrees are well aware of this.

Last year, 54 percent of adults ages 18 to 24 were employed – that was the lowest level since the government started tracking the data, in 1948 – according to a February report by the Pew Research Center. Despite an improving job market, it was only 55 percent in March. Job creation – 115,000 were added in April – is below the pace that will open up meaningful opportunity for young people. …Learn More

Read That Social Security Statement!

This week, the federal government put every worker’s Social Security statement online. But while most people look at their statements, research shows that more than one in three misses this major point: the longer one waits to file, the larger the monthly retirement check will be.

We’re talking big numbers: someone eligible to receive $1,000 a month at the popular retirement age of 62 can get $1,333 by waiting until 66 and $1,760 by waiting until 70. Of course, one’s health, financial resources, and life events may make filing later difficult or impossible. But getting the information is critical to making a smart decision, which plays a major role in one’s financial well-being in retirement.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) put the statements online after creating a minor news flap last year when it stopped sending them via snail mail to workers. In February, SSA resumed the mailings to Americans age 60 and older. (Full disclosure: SSA funds this blog through the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.)

Back to the point: The statements are now easily available on ssa.gov to individuals willing to provide some personal data – the site verifies the personal data they enter online against information held by the credit scoring company, Experian.

Here are a few other things about Social Security that might surprise you. According to various research papers that seek to understand how Americans view their benefits: …Learn More

Academics Question Stock Investing

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has soared 27 percent since October! These times of strong market gains are the brass ring for a large swath of well-educated, well-off Americans.

But recent academic research on three topics – value investing, the record of individual investors, and the usefulness of investment advisers – raises serious questions about buying individual stocks or actively invested stock funds.

The upshot of this research, it seems, was neatly summed up by Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s bestseller, “Thinking, Fast and Slow:” stock picking “is more like rolling the dice than like playing poker.”

The papers are complex (though not difficult to read), so here are synopses and links to them: …Learn More

Pennsylvania Strong in Fin Ed – For Now

Talking to teenagers taking personal finance at Panther Valley High School in Pennsylvania made me wonder why these classes aren’t a top priority everywhere.

These kids are even teaching their parents a thing or two about money. Jordan Kulp saved her mother $30 by finding a scooter for a cousin’s baby that her mother had wanted to buy on a shopping channel. Now that Jake Gulla’s mother sits in on his personal finance class, she is “spending [money] a little more wisely.”

And William Digiglio’s father wanted to sell a shield for $100 that Chris Evans apparently carried in the “Captain America” movie. William put it up for sale on eBay and snared $20,000 for the shield, which his father had won in a contest. For class projects, “we had to research rather than taking them for face value,” he explained.

statesThese Panther Valley students have helped make Pennsylvania, for a third year running, the state with the highest number of students scoring in the top 20 percent on the federal government’s 2012 test for the National Financial Capability Challenge (NFCC), according to Mary Rosenkrans, financial education director for the state’s Department of Banking.

Pennsylvania also had the highest number of students who took the test (7,404) and the highest number of participating schools (123). (Oregon had the highest average test score: 79.5 percent, compared with 69 percent nationwide.)Learn More

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Marriage Negotiation: Of Chimp and Man

We human beings are close evolutionary cousins of the apes, closest of all to the chimpanzee and the bonobo. But economist Paul Seabright explains in his new book, “The War of the Sexes,” that male-female relationships differ from ape relationships. Squared Away asked Seabright to explain how evolution shapes financial negotiations between marriage or other partners. It all comes down to competition and cooperation, he says.

Q: Human behavior is determined by evolution?
Seabright: Yes. When Charles Darwin wrote “Origin of Species,” he was very, very cautious about saying too much about human behavior, because it was such a big thing to get people to swallow [that] we’d descended from animals. To talk about how human behavior was physically shaped, he didn’t do that until he wrote “The Descent of Man.” My book takes up the question of how much relations between men and women in modern society are shaped by our great ape inheritance.

Q: What is our evolutionary connection to the chimpanzee?

Seabright: The chimpanzee and the bonobo are like our two cousins. We share grandparents with them, a species that no longer exists, and all of us share great grandparents with gorillas. But we [humans] did this funny thing, which is we went into having kids who took much longer to raise. That’s relevant to financial behavior, because we have to look out for the future including the future of our kids, and there’s something especially human about that. Other species look after their kids, of course, but it’s a much bigger deal for us. …
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