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
January 9, 2014
iPad Shoppers: More Likely to Buy?
A new study out of Boston College finds that e-shopping for products while grasping an iPad increases the feeling of ownership of that product – and may make you more likely to buy it.
The findings expand on a financial behavior issue explored in a popular Squared Away blog post about how the Internet has made it much easier to shop – and spend money. The new research distinguishes among the various technologies available to online shoppers and finds that the urge to buy may be even stronger when holding a touch screen device than when using a laptop or desktop computer.
The way this works is that the tactile experience of holding a product – whether taking it off the store rack or grasping the device that’s displaying it – imbues some sense of ownership, making it harder to give it up and resist buying it.
Here is an edited excerpt of an article explaining the research; the article appeared in Chronicle, a publication for Boston College faculty and staff. …Learn More
December 17, 2013
Spouses and Their Money: Getting in Sync
Money matters can get complicated for couples who may not see eye to eye. In a recent interview with Squared Away, Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, author of the new book, “How to Give Financial Advice to Couples,” shared her tips and insights for couples trying to meet in the middle.
Q: In a relationship, is money about more than just money?
Kingsbury: Money is often a reflection of our feelings about security, respect, love, power – it really symbolizes these things, whether we’re aware of it or not. So how a couple talks about money and manages their money is a reflection of how they relate to each other in other areas as well.
Q: Explain “money beliefs”?
Kingsbury: A money belief is a thought or attitude toward money that influences your savings, spending, investing and gifting every day. These beliefs tend to reside in our unconscious thought. Because we live in a society where money talk is taboo, we often don’t identify these attitudes. But money beliefs are formed between the ages of 5 and 15 by observing the financial behavior and attitudes of parents or people around us. And these money beliefs tend to be oversimplified, because they were formed in a child’s mind.
Q: Why is it important for husbands and wives to compare their beliefs?
Kingsbury: When couples are arguing about money, they may be arguing about which bills to pay or how to pay for a daughter’s college. But what’s really going on is they’re hitting up against their different money beliefs.
A: What’s an example? …Learn More
December 12, 2013
Navigating the Gift Card Thicket
Too many financial products are far too complex. The pre-loaded cards that people give as gifts during the holidays are a multi-billion-dollar example.
When buying these cards, it’s very hard to know what you’re getting and giving. The big things to watch out for are expiration dates and fees. This isn’t easy.
The federal CARD Act of 2009 covers cards issued by retailers for purchases in their stores and cards issued by banks for use in many places. The law bars these gift cards from expiring for five years after their purchase. They must also maintain their full value for a year. But after the first year, the CARD Act permits one fee per month, and a $5 monthly fee can chew up a $25 gift card’s value pretty fast.
It’s difficult to tell the difference between gift cards and prepaid cards, like Wal-Mart’s Bluebird or the RushCard, sold side by side on grocery store racks. But prepaid cards are not regulated at all by federal consumer protection law, while retail and bank cards are, said Christina Tetreault, an attorney for Consumers Union, the non-profit affiliated with Consumer Reports.
State regulations often offer further consumer protections – and add a layer of complexity for consumers. A card that works one way in a state with strong regulations, such as California, may have few protections if you mail it to a relative in Texas.
The following is just a sample of the intricacies of state regulations. …Learn More
August 29, 2013
Financially Mismatched Couples at Risk
Financial planners say it happens all the time: couples who don’t see eye to eye on money matters often break up or divorce.
One reason they run into trouble is that a financial mismatch makes it more difficult for them to achieve important goals, said financial adviser Bonnie Sewell of Leesburg, Virginia.
“They’re working against the tide. People who pick like-minded partners get there faster,” said Sewell, who’s written a book about money and divorce.
Her contention is backed up by the preliminary results of a study of more than 30,000 married and cohabiting couples between 1999 and 2012 by Federal Reserve Board researchers Jane Dokko and Geng Li. Their study compared the partners’ individual credit scores to gauge their financial compatibility and found that the larger the disparity between the two of them, the higher the incidence of break-ups.
The authors said credit scores are a proxy for financial behavior and also can measure trustworthiness. The link between poor financial matches and household dissolution, they wrote in their paper, was “quite strong.”
To prevent unhappy endings, Sewell, the financial planner, has three suggestions for new couples: …Learn More
June 4, 2013
Earnings Growth: Better at the Top
U.S. inequality can be measured two ways – by wealth or by earnings. Either way, most working Americans are losing out.
It’s the 1920s again for the richest 1 percent of Americans, and a recent analysis of the wealth gap illustrates why they’re able to live like the fictional Jay Gatsby, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the new movie, “The Great Gatsby.”
The value of their wealth rises and falls with the stock market. But since the 1960s, they have consistently held 33 percent to 39 percent of the wealth owned by all Americans, including their stock, mansions, commercial real estate, and businesses, according to economist Edward Wolff at New York University. In 2010, the last year examined by Wolff, the richest 1 percent’s share was 35 percent – that was before the Dow flew past 15,000.
The U.S. wealth gap is enormous, partly because most Americans have little wealth to speak of. Most people instead gauge their financial well-being by the size of their paychecks, and income inequality is rising sharply.
Between 1993 and 2011, the earnings of the top 1 percent of U.S. earners grew by nearly 58 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Earnings include salaries, bonuses, stock options, dividends, and capital gains on stock portfolios. That far outpaced the 6 percent rise for the rest of U.S. workers during the same 18-year period, according to a new analysis by economist Emmanuel Saez at the University of California, Berkeley. …Learn More