Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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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 email@example.com.
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?
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.
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...
“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.
Debt could be the topic every week. Every day, actually. Could get boring. Could get depressing. The good news is that blogging about debt is already quite popular, so I don't feel the need to join the party on a regular basis. Go ahead and Google “Blogs about debt”, you will get 191,00,000 hits. Sure, maybe only a million of those actually count – but that's still a lot of blogs about debt! Nevertheless, today, I will talk about debt. (click on the shopping man for a fun little video)
Here in the U.S.A., we borrow. We are prolific borrowers. In fact, we are addicted to borrowing, yet if we stopped borrowing, our economy would collapse (remember the credit market freeze in 2008-2009?). I hear your questions. What are we buying? Exactly how much debt do we hold? What are the trends? Does the Holy Donut take Visa?
The Latest Figures
Many statistics on debt are tracked, and it is debatable which are significant in terms of the economy as a whole. But looking at these in terms of trends can at the least give us a chance to see where we might be headed. Three of the more widely studied debt numbers are average credit card debt, average mortgage debt, and average student loan debt. These are hot off the press March 2014 figures courtesy of the Federal Reserve via the website nerdwallet.com.