Financial Literacy: Keep It Simple!

As a nation, we have been witnessing a tragedy of epic proportions. Debt, deficit spending, and credit card use have taken control of the lives of millions. The result has been skyrocketing bankruptcies and enormous stress on individuals and their families. How can we avoid this situation? One way is to AVOID the credit card trap altogether!


I grew up in a family with a very modest income. However, we were never financially strapped. My parents’ method of managing their finances was a simple one, but it worked. They stuffed with cash for key expenses and lived on what was inside. No credit cards, no loans, no overspending. No more money in the envelopes meant no more spending. Simple. I have adapted my parents’ conservative, simple approach through budgeting and banking and we’ve always lived financially stress-free.


The same is not true for the majority of Americans. The credit crisis is enormous on both a national and an individual level. Bankruptcies are at a record high and most families would say that they are experiencing at least some level of financial stress. How did this happen? A couple of things have caused it:


·      The widespread availability of credit cards, coupled with a lack of discipline to use them responsibly (studies show spending via credit cards is substantially greater than cash only)

·      Financial literacy is not a priority in many education institutions, despite the importance of budgeting and investing in daily life

·      The rise in consumerism and the strong focus on buying “things” in our culture


The long and short of it is that easy access to credit cards and loans has given consumers a false sense of financial security. This lures them into spending more than their income can support. The debt builds and accrues interest, making the monthly payment grow every month. Today’s average family has several credit cards with monthly balances well into the thousands? Eventually, there has to be a day of reckoning and these large balances and interest charges MUST be tackled.


Fortunately, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to live debt free. It’s easy—just be disciplined and abide by this basic principle: Use credit wisely and sparingly and resist making purchases if you can’t pay with cash. Keep it simple—avoid the credit trap and you’ll relieve your financial stress.

“Credit buying is much like being drunk.

The buzz happens immediately and gives you a lift. The hangover comes the day after.”

Joyce Brothers


Do you have some good strategies for (or questions about) avoiding or overcoming credit card spending and debt?  Do you keep it simple? What’s YOUR method? Jump into the conversation on my website and leave your comments. Then keep the conversation going: please forward this to friends and encourage them to sign up for our weekly email at


5 Tips for Getting SMART about Retirement

When you envision retirement, you probably don’t see yourself depending entirely on Social Security as your main source of income. Unfortunately, many people do, and are alarmed at how little money they have to live on in their golden years. Consequently, many seniors are heading back to work for some “financial supplements,” which is also affecting job opportunities for younger people.


It’s time to get SMART about retirement—and here’s a catchy acronym to get you started. The five tips in this acronym will help you develop an investment program now that will give you the financial freedom for later on in life: Start early and Make room in your budget, knowing the growth of your wealth is a function of the Amount you invest, the Rate of return you earn, and the Time period over which you invest.


S—Start early

It is never too early to begin strategically planning for your financial future! If you only take away one thing from this blog, may it be this: beginning your investment program as soon as you start your career should be a top priority. By investing early in a long-term program, you’ll have the best chances of building substantial wealth for your retirement. You might be thinking, “Why now…I’m not retiring for 30 years!” The answer is simple—the power of compounding your returns over many years is enormous. Here’s an example:


If Brad invests $2,000 per year at a 7% return from age 18 to 27 and lets it grow at that rate until he’s 65, he’ll have a much larger nest egg than Madison, who waits until age 31 to start investing $2,000 each year until age 65. That’s right! Brad’s $20,000 produced greater wealth than Madison’s $70,000! So, start investing ASAP!


M—Make room

With money, come choices and tradeoffs. Each time we buy now, we lose the opportunity to buy something of even greater value in the future. It takes self discipline to resist the now for the sake of the future. There’s no getting around that making room in your monthly budget to invest is the only way to build assets for your future.


A-the AMOUNT you invest (more is merrier)

The more you invest, the greater (and sooner) your wealth will grow. Strive to invest at least 15% of your income for your retirement, and take this amount into account for your monthly budgets (while considering your employer’s plan). By doing so, you’ll significantly supplement your Social Security income. If you want a retirement lifestyle similar to your career years, you simply have no choice.


R-the RATE of your return (higher is happier)

It’s not as intimidating as it sounds. The higher the percentage rate of return after expenses, the greater the wealth you’ll build. Develop a well-diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds that fits your risk profile and beats inflation. The earlier you start, the greater risk you can afford to take and the more wealth you’ll accumulate.


T-the TIME period over which you invest (longer is better)

Remember, it’s a snowball effect. The longer the time period that you invest, the more wealth you will accrue. A $10,000 investment with a 7% return grows to over $76,000 in 30 years. That same investment is worth only about $20,000 in 10 years. Make sure time is on your side!



Being SMART about your retirement takes discipline, but the impact is astounding!


In what ways have you begun planning for your retirement? Have you followed these SMART steps? What challenges or obstacles have your run into? We welcome all of your questions, comments, and suggestions!


8 Ways to Find Your Purpose

“Great minds have purposes; others have wishes.”

Washington Irving

           What in the world are you doing here?  Ever asked yourself that question?

            Your life purpose is an incredibly powerful force that will direct your life and determine the legacy you will leave behind you. Find a successful person who is content and fulfilled, and you’ll likely find a life guided by an inspired purpose or mission, and a person who has applied his or her unique talents to a worthy cause.

            Knowing your life purpose—what makes you tick, what motivates you, what you are alive on earth to do—is what ignites passion.

            What makes YOU tick … and if you don’t know, how can you find out?

            Passion inspires initiative and creativity. It’s what builds momentum and creates enthusiasm. It also sustains hope and perseverance in difficult times, and provides a reason (and enthusiasm!) for getting out of bed every morning. However, it’s not always easy to identify what your particular passion is.

            Life purposes can be cause-driven (e.g., curing a disease, educating disadvantaged youth, sheltering the homeless, cleaning the planet, protecting our country) or skill-driven (e.g., athletes, artists, mathematicians, designers).

            How can you discover your life purpose(s)? Here are eight questions to ask yourself that can help you figure it out:

1.     What causes (e.g., global or community needs, people, situations, organizations) am I most passionate about?

2.     What problems would I most like to solve?

3.      What needs or people tug at my heart?

4.     What inspires me the most?

5.     What brings me the greatest joy and sense of fulfillment?

6.     Whose lives would I most like to emulate and why?

7.     What are my special gifts and talents?

8.     Where can my skills have the greatest potential impact?

            Once you ponder these questions, see if a picture emerges about what inspires and motivates you. Then, as that picture solidifies into an identifiable sense of purpose, calling, and passion, start thinking about how you can live it out. Keep in mind that there may be more than one, and that it may evolve or change over your lifetime.

            Whatever you do, don’t set your life purpose on a shelf and forget about it. You are a unique individual with gifts, talents, and perspective only YOU can give to the world.  No amount of money, fame, or accomplishment can ever compete with that!

Someday, you’ll want to be able to look back on your life and say, “Mission accomplished!” What’s your mission? Are you living it out with purpose and passion? Please visit us on our website and share your comments;  we’d love to hear from you!




What’s on Your To-Do List?

Sometimes I wonder how we all survived before sticky notes. They sure come in handy for jotting down my daily reminders and holding myself accountable!


The discipline of writing out a daily prioritized task list (organized by importance and urgency) is a hallmark of a productive person. I begin each day with a to-do list, and it certainly has made me more focused and effective. (And, yes, when unexpected items arise, I add them to the list and cross them out after completion. There’s power in a sense of accomplishment!)


Here’s an idea. What if we took this concept beyond its daily application and take a “sticky pad” approach to planning our lives? After all, the most successful people begin with dreams and then establish goals and plans to make them come true.


How can the sticky note approach work for you?


Poor or random planning puts your dreams in jeopardy and, at best, makes it take that much longer to realize them. But, even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? Think of areas like your education, career, service opportunities, family, finances, health, experiences, passion areas, and interests.


Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some shorter-range goals that will help you achieve them. You can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture.


At the same time, don’t forget those daily to-do lists!  You’ll be amazed how much more you accomplish. It doesn’t have to be a fancy leather-bound day-timer to keep you on track.  Many times all you need is a vibrant-colored sticky note placed somewhere visible to remind you what you hope to accomplish that day! Oh, and once all your items are checked off the list, be sure to take some time to celebrate for a job well done. You deserve it.


“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Lawrence J. Peter


What kinds of goals have you established for the short-, intermediate-, and long-term? What strategies have you learned to help accomplish them?

We’d love to hear your ideas!




Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? Learn to Analyze Your Spending

When it comes to “budgeting,” many find it right up there with dieting and root canals in terms of the pleasure factor. However, tracking your spending and disciplining yourself to live within your means and save for the future is definitely worth the effort. If budgeting is not a natural bent for you, don’t give up on the idea altogether. You just need a willing attitude and some good resources to help you stay disciplined and on track with your finances.

How do you stay on top of your financial game?

The basic report you should complete (on at least a quarterly basis) is a cash flow statement. This report tallies your income and expenses in several key categories. It’s the surest way to see whether you’re living within your means and where your spending may be excessive. After subtracting all of your expenses from your income, you’ll see whether your net cash flow for that period is positive or negative. Remember, the goal is positive, positive, positive!

There are many online tools to help analyze your cash flow  (e.g., and In the past, analyzing cash flow was a lot more work—you had to save your receipts and organize them manually. But nowadays, if you use a debit card and checks for your purchases and bills, and you link your bank account to your online budgeting program, it will automatically categorize your spending and indicate where your money is going. It will even send you an email in the middle of a month to let you know if you’re over budget in a particular category (it knows if you’ve been bad or good)!

Even if it’s just a 75-cent daily newspaper or a $3 latte as you head to work each morning, make sure you account for every single dollar you spend. That’s how you can see exactly where your money is going. You may be surprised when you look at your spending after even just a couple of weeks. The nickels and dimes add up!

Analyzing spending and developing budgets are great skills to develop in the young people in your life. For young adults just starting out, tracking their spending will help determine how much they can afford for rent/housing and a car, significant expenses each month. How much should average living expenses cost? The following are typical expenditure categories and the rough percentages each should represent:

  • Housing/rent (includes utilities)    30-35%
  • Household/personal items                     20
  • Autos/transportation                              10
  • Charitable giving                                      10
  • Savings and investments                        10+ (not an expenditure per se)
  • Entertainment and leisure                       7
  • Debt/loans                                                  5
  • Insurance                                                    5
  • Miscellaneous                                             3

While the above percentages are ballpark figures (and they do change through life),  spending more than five percent above these levels is getting “up there,” with the exception of savings and investments and loans for new college grads. It’s also important to reflect periodic expenses like gifts and vacations in a budget. Holiday spending tends to spike in December, as does vacation spending in the summer. Therefore, it pays to update statements on a monthly or quarterly basis to avoid underestimating expenses. Compare actual spending to these ballpark figures, and you’ll have a good sense of whether you’re overspending in particular categories. And, take special precautions against buying too much house or car—these fixed expenses get many people in trouble.

Wise financial planning requires knowing where your money goes. You’ll make better financial choices, build a stronger credit rating, and develop good savings habits that help build wealth.

Do you track and analyze your spending?  How do you do it?  Have you trained and modeled this to the young adults in your life and, if so, how? We’d love to hear your insight and experiences!


Be the Only You

“Progress” can often be a two steps forward and one step backward proposition. The technological advances of the last two decades are a good case in point. We are so much more efficient and productive (albeit more distracted!) and, in many ways, connected. The access we have to information boggles my mind compared to what it was a mere 15 years ago.

This progress, however, has come at a cost. For one, our lives are not as private as they used to be. In some cases, it’s the result of information or images that wind up in places we didn’t expect (the most egregious example being “racey” photos). In other cases, identities are stolen and manipulated by shady characters. In this latter case, others can literally pretending to be you. This is real and no laughing matter.

Do you and your family know how to protect yourselves?

Identity theft is when an imposter uses your personal information without your permission. It’s a crime and can cause untold problems for the victim. Generally speaking, it’s caused by lost or stolen credit cards, careless disposal of investment/banking statements, providing personal information (Social Security Number and PINs) where you shouldn’t, and various viral and malware attacks. The perpetrator may open credit cards and accounts in your name, forge your signature, and even obtain a driver’s license in your name.

There is an ever-growing list of ways to avoid identity theft. Some of the key ones are:

  • Shredding your financial documents after their use
  • Keeping PINs (for debit cards) and passwords in a safe, private place and changing your passwords regularly
  • NEVER sharing your banking information, passwords, or PINs with anyone (an especially good reminder for young people, who are often used to  “sharing ” everything, to the point of too much!)
  • Signing credit cards immediately and destroying outdated ones promptly
  • Not keeping your Social Security Card in your wallet or purse
  • Not disclosing your Social Security Number unless it is absolutely required
  • Calling your financial institutions and credit card providers immediately if your wallet or purse is stolen
  • Never taking phone solicitations that seek your Social Security Number and never emailing your Social Security Number or PINs to anyone.
  • Only opening email attachments when you are certain as to their safety
  • Treating your personal information as personal and private!
  • Being extremely wary of phone solicitations. If offers sound too good to be true or the sales party is aggressive, steer clear! Personally, I just avoid solicitors altogether. Period.
  • Report suspicious behavior immediately
  • Use the best anti-virus and anti-malware software for your computers

Finally, there will be situations when you simply don’t know if it’s a safe bet. Here, you should consult with trusted people in the know before releasing any information that is private. Always err on the conservative.              

How careful are you with your personal, financial, and computer information? Have you discussed this with the young adults in your life—your children, students, or young adults you mentor? Share your tips and stories with us by commenting below; we’d love to hear from you!

Build and Maintain a Good Credit Rating

January is National Financial Wellness Month. It’s a great opportunity to do some assessing of our financial well being. It’s also an opportunity to think about how well we’re modeling and training the young people in our lives—our children, students, mentees, etc.

Here’s a good example. Can we be trusted to repay a debt? I hope the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

That’s what we want lending institutions to answer when we apply for a loan or home mortgage. They’re making a bet on us to repay our loans with interest on time, all the time. But, in order for them to conclude that we’re worth the risk, they’ll need to analyze our financial condition. In that evaluation process, one of the key measures they consider is our credit rating. It’s their way of getting independent advice on our creditworthiness.

Most young adults don’t think about this when they’re starting out, but it’s an important principle to instill at a young age—and to be reminded of throughout life. Do you know what it takes to have a good credit rating?

The most commonly used credit measure is your FICO score. Scores from 680-850 are considered good by lenders. Your keys to a favorable credit rating include:

  • Modest debt relative to your assets and income
  • Reputation for paying your bills fully and on time
  • Making regular deposits into your savings and investment accounts
  • Having a modest number of credit cards and preferably with low or zero outstanding balances
  • Paying off debt rather than replacing it with other debt
  • Not bouncing checks
  • Having a positive and growing net worth

When you have a good credit rating, you’ll receive better access to loans, larger available credit lines, and lower interest rates. It also affects your insurance rates and whether or not a landlord wants to take a risk on leasing a house or apartment to you. That’s why achieving a favorable credit rating should be a priority.

What if your credit rating isn’t so hot? You can turn it around. The sooner you start building—or repairing and RE-building, the better. It generally takes seven years for negative items to drop off your credit reports.

One thing to note if you are rebuilding your credit is that simply closing your revolving accounts to improve your credit score won’t necessarily work.  Closing credit accounts not only lowers the number of open revolving accounts (which generally will improve credit scores), but also decreases the total amount of available credit. That results in a higher “utilization rate,” also called the balance-to-limit ratio, which will actually lower your credit score! So, though it seems counter intuitive, just closing accounts is not the answer; rather, you want to pay them off and then wait patiently. When repairing bad credit, TIME is one of your greatest allies, along with PATIENCE and PRUDENCE.

How would a financial institution assess you as a credit risk? If the answer is “good,” then well done! If the answer is “not good,” what are the primary drivers? What specific steps can you take today that will turn it around?

New! Financial Literacy Posters

We have some exciting news to share! LifeSmart Publishing has partnered with the creative genius at Learning ZoneXpress to develop an innovative poster series: Secrets to Money Management.


This cleverly designed four-poster set shares financial wisdom from What I Wish I Knew at 18, equipping your students with these “real world” success principles:

·       Be a Skillful Earner (career choice and becoming a workplace MVP)

·       Be a Smart Spender and Disciplined Saver (allocating your money wisely)

·       Be a Trusted Borrower (living within your means and building positive net worth)

·       Be a Careful Planner (setting goals and investing early)


We think learning about money should be fun! So, adorn your business/personal finance/CTE/FCS/life skills classrooms with these witty and wise posters, and watch your students take these lessons to heart.  


Attractively priced at $49.95, the Secrets to Money Management poster set is just a click away!



Develop (and Stick to) Your Financial Goals Part 2

Last week we talked about the importance of setting (and sticking to) financial goals. One of the most common reasons many people DON’T is that they fail to take into account their need to save and invest each month. Why not? Poor planning. Lack of foresight and/or self-discipline. Ignorance. Overspending. To name just a few!
Goal-setting—and the discipline needed to accomplish those goals—is critically important in the area of finances. You’ll find that many of your goals involve substantial sums of money, and it takes planning to reach them. Among the most common financially-related goals are your: 1) education, 2) car, 3) down payment on your home, 4) children’s education, and 5) retirement. Some of these goals will come soon (short-term), some will be in the next five to10 years (intermediate-term), and some are much further down the road (long-term).
For each of these goals, you need to develop a financial plan that gets you there, and determine how much you’ll need to save and invest for each goal. This process  shouldn’t be intimidating. In fact, it’s actually pretty easy.      

  • Consider items requiring (your) major spending over the next one to five, five to 10, 20-30, and over 30 years.
  • Then, come up with an estimate of how much money you’ll need for each item.
  • Take the total for each item and divide it by the number of years you’ll need to save for it.
  • Finally, calculate the amount of savings you’ll need per year for each goal.

It adds up, doesn’t it? By doing this exercise beforehand, it will reinforce the importance of not spending all of your earnings on items you want now. Good planning requires the discipline of putting off spending now for the sake of important items you’ll need later.
When you look ahead over the next twenty years of your life, which things do you think you’ll need to save up for? How will you plan for them when there are so many things you may want to buy NOW? Share your experiences and questions with us by commenting below; we’d love to hear from you!

Develop (and Stick to) Your Financial Goals

“The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.”
– Cecil B. DeMille


I’m writing this blog on “Black Friday,” the proverbial biggest shopping day of the year. How many people, I wonder, are out there this very minute, frantically accumulating more “stuff” (for themselves and others), with little thought for the overall impact today’s purchases will make on their financial goals—if they even have their goals identified. Many, many people do not.
Are YOU a goal setter? If you are, and you’re a diligent planner and implementer, you’re probably a pretty successful person. If not, you can be!
Goal setting is a critically important discipline in every area of life but especially so in the area of finances. Many of your goals will involve substantial sums of money, and it takes planning to reach them. That’s why it’s so important to make a financial plan and set goals that stick.

For each of your goals, you need to develop a financial plan that gets you there. This means determining how much you’ll need to save and invest each month for each goal.  It also means exercising self-control (and avoiding the credit card trap) along the way so you don’t sabotage your own plan!
By developing financial plans, you’ll be in a much better position to reach your goals than if you go about it casually. All of this requires effort and discipline, but it’s not that tough once you start and stick to it. You’ll reach your goals sooner and more cost effectively if you become a dedicated planner, saver, and investor.
Looking ahead, which of your goals do you think will require significant sums of money? How have you planned for them? How do you stick to your plan when you’re tempted by “right now” wants? Share your ideas and questions with us; we’d love to hear your comments!