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About the Author

Steve Kautz teaches math and personal finance at Waynflete School in Portland, where he is also advisor to the Finance Club, the LifeSmarts Team and the JA Titan Challenge Team. He serves on the board for Maine Jump$tart and was named Jump$tart Maine’s Financial Educator of the Year for 2012.

From 1995-98 Steve served as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in the Czech Republic where he helped his Czech counterparts learn to adapt to life in a market-based economy. There he was a small business advisor with a local chamber of commerce and taught English, marketing and management at the high school and college levels.

Before the Peace Corps Steve worked in the business world for 10 years in the areas of retail, accounting, insurance, marketing, and management.

Contact Steve at steve_kautz@waynflete.org.

Previous entries

Sunday April 20, 2014 | 09:38 PM

A few months ago I agreed to do this blog because I see it as one small way that I can contribute to the cause of promoting financial literacy. I'm not an expert. I'm not sitting on a big bank account talking down, telling people to save, invest, and be smart with money while I rake in the cash from that very activity. I'm just a guy who is in the process of learning from the mistakes I've made with money, and who is willing to share what I've learned with whomever is interested. That is where the title came from: Making Cents - Conversations on Personal Finance.

In the course of my teaching, blogging, and other work related to the topic I research trends, analyze statistics, and try to think of ways to help the cause. Last week, while doing some personal banking research, I came across a statistic that made me do something equivalent to LOL without the laughing. Is there a texting shortcut that captured my reaction? I found a list but honestly I couldn't even get through the A's – too many!  I found one that will work for now.  So...where was I?  Oh yeah...After reading the statistic I thought, ADM! (Aye, dios mio! Get's the point across and should score me some points around mi casa).

Here Comes the $33 Billion Reasons Thing

The other day I asked my finance students to fill in the blank: In 2103 the banking industry earned $33 billion from ________.  Their initial answers were solid: interest, mortgages, stocks, illegal activity (LOL). But only one got the right answer: overdraft fees. Way to go, Isaac! That statistic deserves it's own paragraph - in bold italics with an exclamation point.

Sunday April 13, 2014 | 10:02 PM

Did you get to Lowes or Home Depot this weekend?  Or even the Christmas Tree Shops?  If you did then you know for sure that spring has arrived.  We've finally shed the last clumps of snow, the crocuses (croci?) are blooming, and 60 degrees feels like beach weather.  For me, it's a time of the year when I think a lot about whether I enjoy being homeowner, or whether I'd rather be renting.  As much as I love seeing those first blooms come up out of the ground, I really hate seeing what the winter did to my house, my grass, my trees, shrubs, and to my nerves. 

"Home is the place, where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."  - Robert Frost

After a furious internet search, I found an endless supply of quotes about house or home.  But not one among them mentioned any distinction between renting or owning.  Home ownership is a big part of what we call "The American Dream", and while there are clear economic and social benefits associated with people owning their own home, home ownership is also a risky venture, one that can be the straw that breaks the financial back of many individuals and families.  Deciding whether to rent or buy is a major component of personal finance, and the conventional advice on the topic seems to change every few years.  Throughout the 80's and 90's the big phrase was  "renting is a waste...don't throw your money away on rent when you could be building equity in a home."  There was some truth to that at that time, and many of us did go out and buy.  We built equity.  We borrowed against that equity.  We participated in the creation of a devastating housing bubble.  We saw the market collapse and found ourselves renting again.  So what's the word in 2014?  Is it better to rent or buy?

Sunday April 06, 2014 | 07:34 PM

This week at school I was lucky enough to attend an upper school assembly celebrating National Poetry Month.  Led by Upper School Poet Laureate, senior Emily Wasserman, students and faculty took turns reading works penned by famous poets, by friends, or by themselves.  I found the time to be intimate, funny, uplifting, thought provoking, and peaceful.

Not 30 minutes after the assembly ended I received an email reminding me that April is National Financial Literacy Month

Well, well, well.  Two ideas, completely unconnected, both using the innocent month of April for self-promotion.  The solution is obvious: combine the two and create National Financial Poetry Month.  I'll get the ball rolling in this blog.  I've put together an assortment of poems to help soothe the mind and feed your soul, while at the same time inspiring thoughts of solid financial decisions and a comfortable retirement. 

Sunday March 30, 2014 | 08:09 PM

Personal finance is a serious topic. Whether living paycheck to paycheck or putting the final touches on a retirement portfolio, managing money can be emotional, exciting, stressful, and even downright scary. It doesn't mean we can't have some laughs as we learn, however. I've learned some pretty tough money lessons by making mistakes, and it's easy to get mad at myself when I think of opportunities lost. But, I prefer to have some laughs at my own expense, and to try to use humor to help teach. My last few entries have been focused on the serious business of dealing with significant obstacles to our collective financial independence, so today is a day to let off some steam and to introduce a whole new way of working on our financial literacy.

Maybe it's the promise of spring, maybe it's the thought of going to fiddle camp, maybe it's my son's obsession with Elmo's Song, maybe it's that the treble clef looks too much like the dollar sign...whatever it is, I'm inspired to connect music with personal finance. Here are 7 songs which don't appear to be about money, economics, or finance but actually are.

The Rules/How I Chose

I've been working on this for a while (actually got the idea while driving to Connecticut back in January) and I decided on the following parameters: 1) the word money cannot appear it the title and 2) I couldn't research the songs - they just had to come to me naturally, or if I heard the song I added to the list of contenders. In no particular order...

Thursday March 27, 2014 | 01:17 PM

“She chose a college that costs $13,000/year.  I quickly asked if she was going to be the only student.” – Bill Cosby

Buzzing around me this week: Student loan debt is growing at a rate of 11% per year; total student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt; NPR’s latest eye-opening reports; all day long I am surrounded by upper school students who are in right in the middle of the mess; the USM situation has been all over the news.  I can't take it - something's gotta give!

This is a crisis (an overused word which, BTW, I employ carefully, but I must use it here).  Let me toss a few not totally random facts at the fan just to stink up the room.

~According to finaid.org, the cost of college is increasing at around an 8% clip.  Is that a lot?  Make sure you are sitting down.  Really, I'm serious.  Sit down, move any beverages or pets aside, and brace for impact.  If the 8% rate holds, schools that cost $15,000 per year in 2014 will cost around $58,000 per year in 2034.  That's $232,000 for four years.  I don't know why I am laughing, but I am.  Uncontrollably!  I've got to calm down.  There is something wrong with me.  Clearly, I do not find those numbers funny, yet, I chuckle.  I need to go apologize to my son for two things.  First, I'm sorry I laughed.  Second, I'm sorry but there is no way I can pay your tuition.