Seven years ago this month, this personal finance and retirement blog debuted. How things have changed.
For one thing, back in 2011, a lot more people were reading blogs and newspapers on their clunky desktop computers. In recognition of the now-ubiquitous smart phone – more accurately, a computer that happens to have a phone – we just redesigned how Squared Away looks on phones to enlarge the type and make the articles easier to read. Our older readers will appreciate this update.
Year 7 is also an opportunity to restate the blog’s mission, which, frankly, was not fully refined in the early years. In some ways, our mission has not changed: we continue to emphasize retirement security and personal finance, with a bent toward the evidence-based research that provides a clearer understanding of the financial, economic, and behavioral issues that are critical to a high quality of life.
We regularly report on research by scholars around the country, including studies produced by members of the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Retirement Research Consortium: the NBER Retirement Research Center in Cambridge, Mass., the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which also is the blog’s home.
But it’s natural for a new publication to find its sweet spot over time, and Squared Away is no different. One theme that has emerged very clearly is that the threads of retirement saving are shot through the fabric of our financial lives.
The predicament of Millennials is an obvious example. Immediately after beginning their careers, 20- and 30-somethings – so much more than their parents and grandparents – are under the gun to save for retirements that no longer are likely to include a pension. …Learn More
It’s a simple concept. Deposit retirees’ Social Security checks right before their big-ticket bills come, especially rent.
The U.S. Social Security Administration’s current schedule for depositing pension checks in bank accounts is based on each retiree’s birth date– it can be the second, third, or fourth Wednesday of each month.
The problem is that cash-strapped, low-income seniors receiving the earlier checks, on the second or third Wednesdays, can fall into a common behavioral trap: they spend the money soon after it comes in and then can’t cover the rent, mortgages or credit cards due at the beginning of the following month.
According to a clever new study, people who get these early monthly checks are at greater risk of resorting to desperate measures like payday loans than are seniors receiving them on the fourth Wednesday.
Such measures of financial distress are occurring “even though the pay schedule is known in advance,” write researchers Brian Baugh and Jialan Wang.
The advantage of Social Security deposits made on the fourth Wednesday is that retirees can get the big expenses out of the way first, forcing them to make do for the rest of the month with the money they have left. Indeed, people with fourth-Wednesday deposits had fewer bounced checks, account overdrafts, and payday loans, the researchers found. …Learn More
Cash-strapped workers understandably are tempted to spend their tax refunds, a sort of financial lifeboat that floats by once a year.
Financial experts see the windfall as something more: an ideal opportunity to sock money away. Yet only about 10 percent of low-income workers save their refunds, even though doing so could prevent the financial dominoes – past due bills, late rent payments, or delayed car repairs – from falling. These are common outcomes when their spending gets out of whack.
Past experiments that tried to encourage cash-strapped low earners to save had modest success. A novel research study looks for clues to what motivates them by examining who spends the refund versus who saves it. The central finding in a Journal of Consumer Affairs article: the people who saved had put some thought into predicting the size of their refunds at the time they filed their taxes. This held true whether their estimates were accurate or not.
The act of estimating in advance “appears to be a form of planning,” said the researchers, University of Rhode Island professor Nilton Porto and Michael Collins, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Financial Security.
Porto said they don’t know the reason estimating leads to saving, but he had one idea. The connection between the two could stem partly from the taxpayer having some advantage, such as financial skill or superior knowledge – in short, they might have higher financial literacy. …Learn More
About 15 percent of Americans age 65 and over are poor, according to the federal government’s alternative definition of poverty, known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure, a yardstick that takes into account seniors’ out-of-pocket medical expenses, as well as income and tax effects not included in the standard measure of poverty.
A compelling new video profiles poor older Americans who live in Baltimore, rural West Virginia, and Los Angeles. In the video, produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit research and policy organization focused on health care, the seniors identify rising rents and medical expenses as major explanations of financial hardship, which can mean lacking enough money for food.
Squared Away also has interviewed seniors living in a Boston housing complex for low-income seniors. To hear their stories, click here. Learn More
A new game on the Web – Spent – is a compelling way to experience the impossible choices the poor must make every day about money.
Spent was created by Urban Ministries of Durham in North Carolina, which operates a food pantry, clothing closet, and homeless shelter; and a local advertising firm, McKinney. The game gets its point across so well because McKinney interviewed the ministry’s clients and translated their real-world predicaments.
The challenge: players must get to the end of the month without depleting their small paychecks on routine bills and unexpected expenses. So, your child is invited to a birthday party, but you cannot afford the $5 gift. Do you send your child to the party without a gift, make her stay home, or buy the gift anyway – and risk running out of money? …Learn More