Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spending money on what you value brings real happiness

By Carey Denman

My husband and I have a good life. We have flexible work schedules and a home in the country where we grow a large garden and keep a few chickens. We’ve been known to float homemade rafts and dangle our toes in the nearby creek with our four children, and to eat s’mores made in our fire pit for dinner.

In general, I’d say we live a slow, deliberate life. We don’t have television reception where we live, and we have no cable. And we have pay-as-we-go cell phone plans because we don’t get service in our area. Our two cars have a combined total of over 330,000 miles on them, and we do almost all of our shopping for clothes and other household needs at thrift stores.

Now, it’s quite possible that the idea of going without cable, weeding a garden and paying 10 cents a minute for cell phone calls might literally sound like torture to you. And that’s OK—because my definition of a good life cannot (and should not) be the same as yours.

Too often, people look around at what others are doing and buying, and decide that those things are necessary for a good life. And so begins a vicious (and often debt-ridden) cycle, where other people’s lives and possessions become the measure of our happiness. The result is that happiness becomes elusive, always just one purchase or activity out of reach.

This isn’t to say that material possessions don’t have the potential to improve your happiness quotient. In fact, I unequivocally believe they do—as long as the things you buy reflect what you sincerely value. My husband and I, for example, value nature and look for ways to spend more time outdoors.

Accordingly, we invested in a 1978 pop-up camper last summer. It’s got brown plaid seat covers, gold linoleum and a few dents here and there, but it suits our family well right now. We also saved for and built a screened porch last winter. We knew we wanted a room that, for three seasons of the year, would shelter us from the weather and keep us sequestered from mosquitos. Both the camper and the porch have improved the quality of our lives by giving us more ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Figuring out what you value isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort to do it. Begin by asking yourself a simple question: What is important to me? If you can, list at least five things. The things you list will be your unique values. When you identify them, and start making decisions based on them, you will be happier and more satisfied with your life.

My own list includes beauty, creativity, family, flexibility and, as I already mentioned, nature. With this list at the top of my mind, I am better equipped to make decisions about how I do and do not wish to spend my time and money. Sure, I may still admire a friend’s new car or the fashionable way she dresses, but I don’t value driving a new vehicle or wearing trendy clothing. I have learned that I get genuine satisfaction from spending my money to outfit our camper with the supplies we need for a weekend getaway, or to create a playhouse for our children.

When you understand what you value, you’re more prepared to create a budget that actually works. Your budget will help you focus on spending your money in ways that will help you achieve the good life that you – not your friends or neighbors – really desire.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Survey Reveals Definite Lack of Financial Skills

Washington, DC – As Father’s Day approaches, many dads begin reflecting on the life skills they’re teaching their children. Nice manners, discipline and a good work ethic top many lists. Not to be overlooked, however, are financial skills, because regardless of whether they are taught formally or by example, parents pass along their financial habits to their children.

This concept is confirmed by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s (NFCC) 2011 Financial Literacy Survey in which the majority of respondents, 42 percent, indicated that they learned the most about personal finance from their parents. At first glance, this appears to be a good thing, as the home should be the ideal place for children to learn skills and habits.

However, the same survey also revealed that 41 percent of adults gave themselves a grade of C, D or F regarding their knowledge of personal finance. This is a disturbing decline in financial literacy, as one short year ago “only” 34 percent of Americans gave themselves a low grade. Further, five percent of U.S. adults, or about 11.5 million people, indicated that the failing grade of F best represented them, marking a sharp increase from previous years when less than three percent of adults self-identified at this level.

Taken together, these results suggest that many parents are ill-prepared to teach their children sound financial principles.

“The good news is that Americans recognize and are willing to admit their financial deficiencies,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “Now it is up to them to do something about it, particularly if they have children who will invariably model their parent’s financial behavior.”

There are many resources available to consumers desiring to improve their level of proficiency in personal finance, including self-help books, the media, the Internet or financial professionals. Interestingly, the survey showed that while Caucasian and Hispanic adults are more likely to identify the home as the primary learning ground for personal finance, African-Americans are more than twice as likely as Caucasians to garner such information from self-help books, the media or friends.

Looking at gender, men were more than four times as likely as women to give themselves failing grades for their knowledge of personal finance, eight percent versus two percent, respectively.

“During these painful economic times, it can be argued that keen personal finance skills are more important than ever,” continued Cunningham. “The NFCC calls on parents to stop the cycle of financial illiteracy by improving their own level of financial expertise, thus enhancing the likelihood that their children will some day be able to give themselves a grade of A in this important life skills category.”

If you want to improve your level of personal financial skills, reach out to an NFCC Member Agency where you can meet with a counselor one-on-one, or participate in group workshops on a variety of financial topics. The services are free or low-cost and are open to the public. To be automatically connected to the NFCC Member Agency closest to you, dial (800) 388-2227, or go online to www.DebtAdvice.org. For assistance in Spanish, dial (800) 682-9832. OR, if you're in the Charleston Area contact Family Services, Inc at (843) 735-7802

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior and build capacity for its Members to deliver the highest quality financial education and counseling services. NFCC Members annually help over three million consumers through close to 800 community-based offices nationwide.