December 9, 2014
Fewer Still Paying Off Last Christmas
‘Tis the season to acknowledge progress!
The share of Americans who are still paying off credit card debts they ran up during the year-ago holiday has dropped for a second consecutive year.
According to an annual Consumer Reports survey, conducted during the first week in November,
7 percent of Americans still had unpaid Christmas bills left over from last year. That’s down from
10 percent in 2013 and 13 percent the year before.
One likely explanation is the drop in the U.S. unemployment rate, to 5.8 percent last month from
7 percent in November 2013. Plummeting gasoline prices have also left more cash in shoppers’ wallets. But did a lackluster Black Friday – retail sales were down a whopping 11 percent, despite the stronger job market and falling gas prices – mean something else? Are shoppers just delaying their purchases, or could this be a sign of restraint?
This holiday, the vast majority of people plan to spend the same or less than they did last year, says a poll by the Consumer Federation of America and the Credit Union National Association. And here’s a suggestion for the 2014 holidays that could also help: pay cash.Learn More
October 23, 2014
How Emotions Meddle with Money
Our 401(k) retirement system requires most workers to save for the future. But it’s difficult to reach this increasingly important goal, because our emotions – overconfidence, pleasure, fear of loss – get in the way.
“We believe our own nonsense,” is how Daylian Cane, a professor in the Yale School of Management, explains financial behavior in a new public television program, “Thinking Money: The Psychology Behind our Best and Worst Financial Decisions.” The short video above is taken from the program.
Further clouding our judgment are a vast array of consumer products, and the stress produced by how easy it is to purchase them with a credit card swipe and how hard it is to pay off the cards.
“Thinking Money,” a production of Maryland Public Television, covers many topics covered by this blog, including help for people trying to overcome their emotional obstacles.
“Thinking Money” is scheduled to air in its entirety on public television stations around the country in coming weeks. Click on “Learn More” for a list of broadcast dates in major cities. …Learn More
September 18, 2014
On Moms, Deadbeat Boomers, and Utopia
This blog has a single writer posting just two articles a week. So it’s impossible to keep up with all the news that crosses the transom.
But perhaps because the work world is gearing back up this fall, there have been a lot of interesting stories lately about financial behavior. Here are three worth noting:
Fatherhood adds to paychecks – motherhood, not so much. A new study estimates that women actually face about a 7 percent “wage penalty” for each child. So, having two children reduces a woman’s hourly wages by 14 percent, according to a new study out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. In contrast, annual earnings for fathers are about 8 percent higher than similarly situated men who have no children. This research sheds more light on the wage gap.
Baby boomers are having to pay off college loans they took out decades ago. Some 155,000 older Americans are now seeing deductions from their Social Security checks to pay their federal student loans – up from 31,000 a decade ago – according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Parents often co-sign loans for a child’s education, but the GAO report says that about three out of four dollars of boomers’ loan balances are for their “own education.” Baby boomers never borrowed the large amounts that today’s steep college tuitions demand. But what’s not discussed in the report is that the garnisheeing of Social Security benefits may be due to a cultural artifact of the 1960s and 1970s – when attitudes toward repaying student debt were, well, loose. Laws requiring repayment have become more stringent. …Learn More
August 28, 2014
Stark Differences in U.S. Cost of Living
The Squared Away Blog’s focus is on how informed financial decisions can improve one’s personal finances or retirement prospects. But much that impacts our standard of living is not in our control.
One example is the cost of consumer goods, healthcare, and renting or buying a home, which vary widely from one city or region to another. To highlight this variation, the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., used recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to create the cool interactive map below, which shows locations with the highest cost of living (bright orange) and the lowest (bright turquoise).
Running a cursor over the map displays metropolitan and rural areas and their comparative living costs, measured in terms of what $100 will purchase. In the Manhattan-New Jersey area, for example, $100 buys the equivalent of about $82 worth of goods, healthcare and housing, while it will buy $119 worth of the same stuff in central Kansas.
Source: The Tax Foundation.
The least expensive city is Danville, Illinois, where $100 buys $126 in consumer goods, followed by Jefferson City, Missouri; Jackson, Tenn.; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Rome, Georgia. The most expensive metropolitan areas are the usual suspects, in this order: Honolulu, Manhattan, Silicon Valley, the Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut, area outside Manhattan, and Santa Cruz, California, which is south of Silicon Valley.[A second map compares states.] …Learn More
July 10, 2014
In-Home Senior Care – a Lot to Learn
The first baby boomers will turn 80 in 2026. Arranging in-home care by nurses, home health aides, physical and occupational therapists, or social workers will become a pressing concern for growing numbers of Americans. To sketch out the home care landscape, Squared Away interviewed Carol Levine, director of the families and health care project at the United Hospital Fund, a New York non-profit. She’s written widely on long term care, from academic articles to her new book, “Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies.”
Is it logical that baby boomers will try to avoid nursing or assisted living facilities and will view home care as the way to go – at least for as long as possible?
You’re right. Most people, regardless of age, want to stay in their own homes. They think, “I don’t want to be in a nursing home. Therefore I’ll have home care” – as if they’ll both provide the same level of support or assistance. Home care may be even more complicated than nursing home care or assisted living, because it takes place in your own home, and because there are so many varieties.
Describe the two main types of care: skilled and personal.
The kind of care you need depends on your health condition and your abilities to manage your household – to get around, cook, shop. A medical condition that requires a nurse visit is one level of care. A lot of home care that is paid for by insurance comes after a health problem that lands you in the hospital. If you’re on Medicare, your doctor will have to document your need for skilled care, which means at least a nurse visit a few times a week. You may get a home health aide as well. If you just need someone to help out and monitor what’s going on, make lunch, do the laundry or do tasks like bathing, it’s called personal care. …Learn More
May 13, 2014
Spending Cut When Job Threats Rise
A new study provides important insights into American workers’ household budgets.
The study found that when workers sensed a growing likelihood they might lose their jobs, they quickly pared their spending on a large and diverse basket of discretionary consumer goods. These included both standard purchases and big-ticket items, from gardening supplies and vacations to cars and dishwashers.
The analysis was based on a survey of some 2,500 workers who were asked about their spending patterns and also asked to estimate their own chances of becoming unemployed over the coming year. The survey was conducted between 2009 and 2013, when the U.S. jobless rate at one point approached 10 percent. …Learn More
February 6, 2014
Lottery-like Prizes Spur Saving
Jessica Smith, mother of four, was never much of a saver. But a credit union that dispenses prizes has changed all that.
She now saves $150 every month out of her pay and bonus as a restaurant buffet manager. Each $25 deposited into her account gives her one more entry in a monthly drawing for cash prizes at the Communicating Arts Credit Union in Detroit.
Jessica Smith and her winnings.
By coincidence, she won three times last fall – a total of $100 in prizes. But in contrast to throwing money away on a lottery ticket with bad odds, she earns a little interest on her credit union account.
These so-called prize-linked accounts aren’t a new concept: one of the first appeared in 1694 in the United Kingdom to help people pay off war debts. Today in this country, nearly 18,000 individuals like Jessica participate in Save to Win programs. Launched in 2009, they’re offered at more than 60 credit unions in four states.
Michigan handed out $100,000 in prizes last year, including six $10,000 grand prizes; Nebraska, North Carolina, and Washington each gave out between $25,000 and $50,000 in a year. …Learn More