Anthropologists took a deep dive into Middle America’s clutter a few years ago, and here’s what they found:
A wall of shelves holding hundreds and hundreds of Beanie Babies and dolls. Giant packs of multiple paper towels, cleaning fluids, Gatorade, and Dixie cups piled high in the garage or laundry room. Frozen prepared foods jam-packed into twin refrigerators in the kitchen and garage – enough to feed a family for weeks.
I write frequently about the financial challenges facing the middle class today and their perception that the American Dream is slowly and inexorably eroding. This feeling is very real.
But surely hyper-consumerism has something to do with our financial stress. U.S. households have more possessions than in any other country, UCLA anthropologists said in this video:
Money spent unnecessarily to stock our own personal Big Box store in the garage leaves much less for long-term goals like savings, retirement, and college tuition – the same expenses middle class families struggle to afford. “We buy stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have,” summed up one commenter on the video’s YouTube page.
The United States has long been a prosperous and material culture. But anthropologist Anthony Graesch argues that the magnitude of consumption has grown by leaps and bounds. This trend has probably been encouraged by the proliferation of inexpensive imports from countries with lower wages. Over a lifetime, these small expenses add up to boatloads of money.
“The sheer diversity and availability and fairly inexpensive array of objects that are out there – this has significantly changed over the years,” Graesch said. Toys are a prime example. “We’re perhaps spending more on kids’ material culture than ever before.”
Minimalism goes in and out of vogue, but there are few minimalists among us – this takes work, self-control, and a willingness to part ways with sentimentality. For the rest of us, there’s a personal finance lesson in this video. … Learn More
PBS Digital Studios is producing an excellent video series to guide 20-somethings who are starting their careers and want to get a handle on their finances.
In “Two Cents,” financial planners Julia Lorenz-Olson and her husband, Philip Olson, will make you laugh as they convey their very solid advice about personal finance. “How to Ask for a Raise” is perhaps the most relevant video to young adults – especially the ladies. Only one in three women believe that their pay is negotiable. Nearly half of all men do.
The potential for pay raises is highest for employees when they are in their late 20s and early 30s. But the boss isn’t likely to volunteer to increase anyone’s pay, the hosts explain – you have to ask. This is a scary thing to do, and the couple eliminates some of the anxiety by explaining how to prepare for that meeting with the boss.
The “Love and Money” episode asks the questions that are crucial to a successful partnership: how much does he or she earn and how much does this person owe? In “How Cars Can Keep You Poor,” the Olsons advise against buying a new car, which depreciates 63 percent in just five years – they compare it to investing in an ice cream cone on a hot day. A used car is a much better deal and the only sensible option for someone who’s already juggling rent and student loan payments. And the answer to “Should I Buy Bitcoin?” is, uh, no. Nearly half of all bitcoin transactions are illegal, Olson says.
For future-minded young adults, “How Do You Actually Buy a House?” walks through the entire process, explaining why it’s critical to get preapproved for a mortgage, how to choose a realtor, and what to expect in the closing. “Insta-Everything lays out the few pros and many cons of paying for on-demand services such as Grub Hub, InstaCart, and Task Rabbit.
Lorenzo-Olsen explains that the goal of their “Two Cents” videos is not to help young adults get more money (though a raise would be nice), “but to be happy with the money you have.”Learn More
This blog has spilled plenty of ink over the problem of so many workers having inadequate retirement savings.
One theory is that they don’t understand the urgency. But a new survey makes clear that they not only are fully aware of the problem but are very worried about it.
The vast majority of the 1,000-plus baby boomers and Generation-Xers who conceded to being behind on their saving wish they could save more – Allianz, which conducted the survey, calls them “chasers.”
These chasers recognize that if they don’t make adjustments, it’ll be too late to repair their finances. Two out of three fear the worst: they’ll run out of money at some point in old age and will be forced to eke out a living on their Social Security checks alone.
Their fears are warranted. The typical boomer household approaching retirement who has a 401(k) has saved just $135,000 in its 401(k) and any IRAs combined. At retirement, this amount equates to only about $600 in monthly income
Half of the workers put the blame on a single culprit: “too many other expenses right now.”
This sentiment dovetails with mounting evidence that many workers are overwhelmed by the increasing costs of health insurance, college, and housing, which are far outpacing their pay raises. Low-paid workers are especially hard hit, according to 2017 research. If they save at all, they set aside only 3 percent of their paychecks – half of what top-paid people are able to save. …Learn More
The student loan problem has gotten under our collective skin – so much so that a new game show revolves around it.
“Paid Off,” on TruTV, promises to pay off a share of the winning contestant’s student debt – 20 percent, 50 percent, or 100 percent – depending on how many answers he or she gets right in the final round of questioning.
“Paid Off” is as inane as any television game show. The format is more “Family Feud” than “Jeopardy,” with softball questions designed to spark as much faux competition as possible among the former students who compete. One example: name the most romantic date costing under $10: picnic, walk, Netflix movie, etc.
The show’s host, Michael Torpey, who also plays a corrections officer in “Orange is the New Black,” explains in the first episode of “Paid Off” that he created it because he and his wife struggled with student loans. He was only able to pay them off because he landed a long-shot acting job for a television commercial.
Torpey says his goal is to help debt-laden students “achieve their dreams by paying off their student loans.” He’s right that college debt is, indeed, standing between many Millennials and the adult milestones of buying a house,saving some money, or getting married.
The average amount of debt owed by college graduates increased again last year, to more than $39,000, according to Student Loan Hero.
Unfortunately, the weekly show won’t make a dent in this growing problem. … Learn More
One of Americans’ biggest financial challenges is proper planning to ensure that their standard of living doesn’t drop after they retire and the regular paychecks stop.
A new study has practical implications for baby boomers in urgent need of improving their retirement finances: working a few additional years carries a lot more financial punch than a last-ditch effort to save some extra money in a 401(k).
This point is made dramatically in a simple example in the study: if a head of household who is 10 years away from retiring increases his 401(k) contributions from 6 percent to 7 percent of pay (with a 3 percent employer match) for the next decade, he would get no more benefit than if he instead had decided to work just one additional month before retiring.
Of course, this estimate should be taken only as illustrative. To get their retirement finances into shape, many people should plan to work several more years than is typical today. Baby boomers tend to leave the labor force in their early- to mid-60s, even though more than four out of 10 boomers are on a path to a lower retirement standard of living. …Learn More
Despite the mounting pressures on Americans of all ages to save for retirement, our saving habits haven’t changed in 10 years.
The combined employer and employee contributions to 401(k)s consistently hover around 10 percent of workers’ pay, according to “How America Saves 2018,” an annual report by Vanguard, which administers thousands of employer 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans.
Retirement account balances aren’t going up either. The typical participant’s 401(k) balance is no larger than it was in 2007, even though accounts grew 7 percent last year, to $26,000, thanks to a strong stock market. The balances, when adjusted for inflation, are slightly smaller.
The growing adoption of 401(k) plans that automatically enroll their workers is having both negative and positive influences on the account balances. Employers tend to set employees’ contributions in these plans at a low 3 percent of their pay. This has had a depressing effect on balances, but it has been offset somewhat in recent years by a modification to auto-enrollment plans: more employers are automatically increasing their workers’ contribution rates periodically.
Baby boomers with a few short years left to save are particularly under pressure to increase their savings. The typical boomer has accumulated only $71,000 in his current employer’s retirement account, according to Vanguard. Total account balances are generally larger, however – though still often inadequate – because many baby boomers have rolled over savings from past employer 401(k)s into their personal IRA accounts.
Overall, the situation for all workers hasn’t really changed and neither has Vanguard’s message to future retirees.
“Going forward, we need to reach for higher contribution rates for more individuals,” Jean Young, senior research analyst says in the company’s video above. …Learn More
Two of our readers’ favorite articles so far this year connected difficult bread and butter issues – personal finance and retirement – with a far more pleasant topic: travel.
The most popular blog profiled a Houston couple scouting locations for a dream retirement home in South America, which has a lower cost of living. Another well-read blog was about Liz Patterson, a young carpenter in Colorado who built a $7,000 tiny house on a flat-bed trailer to radically reduce her expenses – so she could travel more.
The downsizing efforts of 27-year-old Patterson inspired several older readers to post comments to the blog about their own downsizing. “From children’s cribs and toys in the attic, to collectible things from my parents’ 70-year marriage!” Elaine wrote. “Purging has been heart wrenching and frustrating and long overdue!”
The following articles attracted the most interest from our readers in the first six months of 2018. Topics ranged from 401(k)s, income taxes, and Americans’ uneven participation in the stock market to geriatric care managers. Each headline includes a link to the blog. …Learn More