To Live Cheaply, See the World

U.S. dollars go a long way in Indonesia. Adam Shepard estimates that it cost him $19,420.68 to circumnavigate the globe from October 2011 through September 2012. It was a budget tour filled with simple pleasures and wild adventures for the failed professional basketball player and successful book author. He helped poor children in Honduras, hugged a koala in Perth, rode an elephant in Thailand, bungee jumped in Slovakia, and hung out in lots of places with Ivana, whom he met while traveling and later married (she brought only $12,000, so he paid for the food). If he’d kept his bartending job in Raleigh, North Carolina, his car, and apartment, he estimates he would’ve easily spent more than $20,000 during that…

April 18, 2013

Women “Reactive,” Not Planning Finances

What motivates women to get to work on their personal finances? Change. Emotions are also important motivators. But “the most compelling factor” spurring most of the women interviewed in a focus group to take action was a significant life change, Utah State University researchers write in the Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning. Since April is financial literacy month, Squared Away is again making an appeal to women, who continue to make strides professionally, yet lag men in understanding how to manage their money. “Major life changes like a premature death of a spouse or divorce are often the wake-up call to people to reassess their lives,” said Utah State researcher Jean Lown, who also teaches a workshop, Financial Planning…

April 16, 2013

Jobless Boomers: How They Survive

Squared Away wrote about three unemployed baby boomers on Tuesday – an arts administrator, a corporate executive, and a social-services professional – who are having to scrounge for income to sustain themselves. They are among the more than 1.5 million baby boomers caught in that painful limbo between a long and successful career and retirement – very possibly by default. All three want to get back into the labor force but may be forced to retire, because it’s more difficult for them to find employment than it is for younger workers. While nearly half of unemployed adults between the ages of 25 and 49 were able to find work within seven months during and after the Great Recession, it took…

April 11, 2013

Unemployed Boomers Resist Retirement

Brisk sales of Linda Novak’s crocheted scarves and baby blankets have subsidized the 62-year-old’s Manhattan rent since her 2012 layoff. Boston resident Marcus Queen, 58, receives food stamps while trying to reignite his beloved career: helping city kids get a leg up. Joseph Imperiale, 66, wants to get back into the business world, so he doesn’t have to tap his retirement savings yet. Nearly three years after the Great Recession officially ended, more than 900,000 baby boomers laid off several months or years ago are still pounding the pavement, unable to find employment in an economy that produced only 88,000 jobs in March. They simply are not ready to retire – financially or emotionally – but they often feel that…

April 9, 2013

Webinar to Explain Social Security

In a webinar next Thursday, an official from the Social Security Administration will explain the fundamentals of calculating and claiming benefits. Social Security represents the largest single financial resource for most baby boomers, so deciding when to file for benefits is their single biggest retirement decision. The value today of that future stream of monthly checks – $287,200 for the typical household aged 55-64 – far exceeds the value of home equity or 401(k)s for most people, according to 2010 data from the Federal Reserve Board.  And it often exceeds the value of their traditional defined benefit pension plan – if they even have one.  The lower one’s income, the more Social Security matters too. The webinar was organized by…

April 4, 2013

Video: Why Stock Investors Defy Logic

The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has climbed steadily and surpassed its 2007 peak last week, and even sluggish European markets are showing signs of life as investors rush back in. This interregnum between the collapse of global financial markets in 2008-09 and the next bubble – whenever and wherever that may occur – is a good time to reconsider investor behavior. In this video, Ben Jacobsen, a finance professor at Massey University in New Zealand, discusses behavioral economics, market panics, and “strange” and inexplicable behavior. “Most people,” Jacobsen concludes, “have a great difficulty assessing risk and what risk is.” Check out another blog post about research confirming that people tend to rush in when the market is rising…

April 2, 2013

Store, Online Browsing Can Be Dangerous

Impulse purchases – new spring clothes or an expensive dinner out – can create a rush. But a few minutes of pleasure can blow a hole in the budget for a month. If it’s chronic, it can eat into savings for a down payment or retirement. The reason for these rash decisions is obvious: see it, want it. But for people who want to better understand – and prevent – their impulse buys and remain on budget, FinCapDev, which is hosting an online competition for a financial literacy app, recently posted a reading list of three research papers that explain why we can’t resist buying stuff. One study has confirmed that store browsers actually are vulnerable to impulsive purchases, becaus…

March 28, 2013

Long-Term Care Needs Sneak Up On Us

As I sat in an orthopedist’s office last week watching the doctor poke and prod my mother’s legs – an irritated nerve may be causing her severe pain – this thought struck me: long-term care is often an unspoken topic but one of enormous magnitude. I’ve always taken for granted that my active mother, who plays a killer game of bridge, wouldn’t need much medical attention for another 15 years. I have evidence of this, I’d convince myself: her mother lived to age 92 and some uncles lived even longer. The pain makes it difficult for my mother to walk her dog, though she gamely hobbles through her day and even insists on league bowling on Wednesdays. It’s so muc…

March 26, 2013

White-Black Wealth Gap Nearly Triples

Over the past 25 years, the difference in wealth held by white and black households in the United States has nearly tripled, to $236,500. In December, Squared Away wrote about the difficulty that black families have in trying to accumulate wealth so they can pass it on to their children. New research out of Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy now finds that the gap between the median net worth for white and black households has widened to a chasm, as blacks have fallen farther behind. The study also quantified the reasons for the widening gap and found that the difficulty of building up housing equity is the largest factor. A house is usually the single largest asset…

March 21, 2013

2008-09: Investors Really Did Sell Low

Repeated loud warnings by financial advisers fail to reverse the human tendency to panic when the market plunges and to rush in after it’s gone up. Withdrawals from 401(k)s and IRAs surged between 2001 and 2003 after high-tech stocks declined, but the money went back in in 2005 through 2007 after the S&P500 index had soared nearly 27 percent in 2003 and 9 percent in 2004, according to new research by Thomas Bridges, a graduate student in economics, and Professor Frank Stafford, for the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center. “They think I have $500,000, and if I don’t take it out now it’s going to be $50,000. It’s a panic mentality,” said Stafford, who was surprised by what they found. Withdrawals increased…

March 19, 2013

Unemployment Lower for Older Workers

A few more jobs reports like February’s might put a dent in the nation’s still-high unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said U.S. employment surged by 236,000 last month, nudging the jobless rate down to 7.7 percent. But a summary of unemployment rates for various age groups, recently published online by the Urban Institute, showed variations in the rate, by age. Rates have been consistently lower over the past decade for older workers than for those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s – even during and after the Great Recession. In a still-sluggish economy, one might wonder: are older workers who remain on the job somehow depriving younger adults of work? There is “absolutely no evidence of such ‘crowding…

March 14, 2013

Feeling Poorer? Blame the House!

The American psyche gets a lot of credit for fueling the boom in U.S. home prices, which ended in 2006. As houses increased in value, homeowners felt richer, and they spent more. Similarly, falling house prices led to declines in consumer spending as households found themselves poorer and less able to access credit, according to a new paper, “Wealth Effects Revisited: 1975-2012,” by economists Karl Case, the late John Quigley and Robert Shiller. In this interview, Case explains this “wealth effect.” Q: Why were our spending decisions influenced by our psychology during the housing boom? Case: The increase in house prices was like magic. They went from the 1950s until 2006 without ever falling nationally. The numbers are astonishing. If…

March 12, 2013