This article is by editor Linda Vergon.

It used to be part of everyone’s existence, like going to the grocery store once a week. You’d stand in a teller’s line and hope everyone in front of you had uncomplicated transactions. Then you’d hand over your cash and the teller would stamp your passbook to record your deposit. It all felt very solid and respectable, even sort of fun knowing you were adding to your savings.

When we moved to rural Washington, the nearest branch for the big bank where I had my accounts was 70 miles away, so I opened an account at the local bank too. It was an entirely new experience for me, going to the bank in our little town. I’m certain that the tellers were on a first-name basis with all their customers, and it didn’t take long for us to fit in and enjoy the social interaction at the branch too. In fact, we still have the branch manager’s mobile number on our cell phones.

Now that we live in the big city again, it’s actually been five months since I stepped foot in a bank. The last time was in March, and I only went because I needed to give the bank my new address – for my safe deposit box that is housed in another city. Apparently client information for safe deposit boxes at my bank is still handled the old-fashioned way. Otherwise, I could say I almost never go into a branch.

In this environment, I much prefer to conduct my banking online – day or night, from my computer. When I went in March, I actually thought I’d have to take off work to conduct my business; so I checked online for the location and hours to plan my visit. I was surprised to find that they were open even though it was 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday. (Definitely not the bankers’ hours I remember.) I decided I would just go to the bank on my way to the grocery store that day so I didn’t have to take time off from work.

We talk a lot about the convenience of online banking at Get Rich Slowly. And I get that not everyone has a computer. (Heck, not everyone has a bank account!) But I have to admit to being surprised that there were actually people at the branch. I mean, it’s not like I had to fight for a parking space – and the customers were outnumbered four to one – but that’s not where we go for social interaction in the big city, so were they all dealing with their safe deposit boxes? I think not.

It’s obvious that some of us still need to visit a branch every so often. But when I live in a large metropolitan area, there’s virtually no reason for me to visit a branch when I can transact all my business and even open a new account online. I think, overall, that we’re moving away from needing brick-and-mortar institutions, but I also think we’re sort of just at one point along a continuum.

If you look back at how other banking products like automated teller machines (ATMs) and debit cards were introduced to the public, there was a tipping point beyond which you could say, yep, this is the new norm. Where do you think we are with online banking? Is it now the norm? How long has it been since you went to the bank? Is there another way to measure the tipping point?

This article is about Ask the Readers, Banking

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Former GRS staff writer Donna Freedman has been researching the importance of teaching children about money, and she asked if she could share some things she’s learned. This is the first of two articles on the subject. Donna writes for Money Talks News and blogs about money and midlife at DonnaFreedman.com.

While researching a magazine article on “raising money-smart kids,” I felt sorry for parents and terribly worried about their children. (Also greatly relieved that I am not raising kids today.)

The article, for Consumers Digest, ran to a few thousand words. Short form: Our children face serious money temptations and pressures, and generally receive very little useful info either from parents or schools.

They also face consequences more serious than their parents ever did. We’re not talking about a few bounced checks or some other financial oopsie that you remember from your own early adulthood. An 18-year-old without sufficient financial savvy could within five years find himself:

  • Saddled with several decades’ worth of student debt
  • Paying double-digit interest on an auto loan
  • A victim of identity theft
  • Unable to get a mortgage
  • Looking at seriously underfunded retirement

Sound grim? It could be, but it doesn’t have to be. You can help your kids avoid years of financial struggle by consistently modeling certain basic money principles.

Today’s tykes are affected by a consumerism-drenched culture, and keeping up with the junior Joneses is a battle that gets more fraught every year. Even if your child doesn’t know someone who gives out $150 birthday favors or rents a limo for the junior-high dance, he’ll see similar excesses on social media or shows like “The Rich Kids of Instagram.”

Prepaid debit cards are marketed to impressionable tweens who then develop a taste for plastic a decade earlier than the previous generation. (One is actually called “Bill My Parents.” So help me.) It doesn’t help that plenty of today’s kids grow up watching parents swipe cards to pay for everything from a gallon of milk to a new dining-room set.

Most troubling of all: Our children will have to think about credit scores and self-funded retirements almost before the ink is dry on their diplomas – and those degrees now come with an average of $29,400 in debt, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

That’s a lot to consider, and frankly some parents don’t feel up to the challenge. But if you want what’s best for your kids, it’s time to lean in. According to a 2013 study from Cambridge University, our money habits are formed by the age of 7. While it is possible to modify our behaviors later on, it’s easier to build a money-savvy kid than to fix a financially busted grownup.

‘Negligible effects’ on behavior

The youth financial literacy movement that began in the mid-1990s created a lot of sound and fury. Yet it signified virtually nothing, for two reasons:

  • There’s no guarantee your child will receive instruction. Currently only 17 states require some form of PF education during high school. It may not even be a stand-alone class, but rather a component of another subject (e.g., civics).
  • Recent research suggests these classes don’t work anyway. A 2014 study published in the journal Management Science analyzed 168 papers covering 201 previous financial literacy studies. It concluded that even “many hours” of high school PF classwork “have negligible effects on behavior 20 months or more from the time of intervention.” (Just ask J.D. Roth, founder of Get Rich Slowly. He did well on his high school PF class tests and wound up in major debt anyway.)

As youth financial literacy expert Dr. Lewis Mandell wryly notes, teaching PF is “the same as offering sex education and expecting there won’t be any teen pregnancies.”

At the first meeting of the new President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, council member Richard Cordray stated that he will “insist on financial education at all schools,” from K-12. (He is also director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.)

That was in late March 2014. It’s unclear when such a project might be implemented. After all, the much-discussed Common Core educational standards originated from a 2006-07 initiative, but the curricula were not available for adoption until 2010.

What’s also unclear: whether a new approach will make any difference. (See “negligible effects on behavior,” above.)

Money comes from work

Even if those classes do get implemented – and actually work – parents still wouldn’t be off the hook. Would you let one sixth-grade health class about the birds and the bees provide the only information your kids get about love and relationships? Then don’t rely on schools to reflect your own money values, either.

For example, a class might presume that a two-income household was the norm, whereas in your family it’s important to have an at-home parent. Emphasizing the day-to-day tactics that stretch a single salary could teach a lot about smart money management – and also why the sacrifice is worth it. And if the at-home parent is also starting his or her own part-time business, kids could certainly learn a lot about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

Individual circumstances aside, all the financial experts with whom I spoke agreed that children should learn:

  • Money comes from work.
  • Money pays for needs first and then for “wants.”
  • Money also pays for emergencies and long-term goals, which means a portion of each paycheck must be saved.
  • Money is a limited resource, so you must make careful choices about how to use the cash you have.

Tips should be age-appropriate, of course. There’s no point in discussing mortgage points with a kid who can’t even stay dry at night. But even the weekly trip to the grocery store can yield lessons. Your 3-year-old can match coupons to products. An 8-year-old can search for the best deals on pasta or peanut butter. You can even bring up wants vs. needs: “We don’t get what we want every week, but this week we’re going to buy ice cream.”

Here’s a phrase to avoid: “We can’t afford that.” Don’t make your kids think you’re poor (even if you are). Instead, say, “That’s not in the budget right now.” This promotes the idea of spending as something that you plan and follow through on vs. giving in to temptation (or pleading).

“Every time you spend money you are making a choice,” says Gail Hillebrand, the CFPB’s head of consumer education and management. “It’s not, ‘I have some money in my pocket I can spend’ – it’s ‘I am making a choice about my family’s budget every time I spend’.”

Over time, children observe the results of those choices: “Those kids see their parents scrimping and saving – but they also see their parents making that down payment on a home or paying cash for a car.”

Pocket money: earned or given?

Thus the family budget should be a mostly open book. You don’t have to share everything, i.e., you don’t have to tell them exactly how much you earn. Simply explain that X percent of income covers the family’s essentials and the rest gets apportioned among other categories. Depending on your situation, these may include:

  • Savings/emergency fund
  • College accounts
  • Retirement
  • Future goals (e.g., pay cash for the next car)
  • Family fun (including saving up for electronics or vacations)

About that last: It’s vital that children learn the concept of saving up for non-essential items. Watching parents set aside $100 per month is a good example: By the time school lets out we’ll have enough to go to Six Flags! Experts suggest creating a visual representation of the goal; allowing kids to chart the family’s progress toward that summer trip gives a sense of pleasurable anticipation as well as cause and effect.

Children should be saving on their own, too, starting as early as age 2 or 3. Many PF experts suggest the “three jars” method: saving, spending and giving. Have your kids divide those coins or dollar bills among the jars, specifying at least 20 percent for saving. (gift money goes there, too – thanks, Grandma!). Emphasize the ways that saving gives us options: to handle emergencies, pay cash for an auto, buy a home, have a comfortable and happy life.

Let the kids determine where the giving-jar cash goes: a church collection plate, the food bank, an animal charity. When it’s time to go shopping, telling Junior to bring his spending jar is “a wonderful way to stop the whining,” notes Jean Chatzky, author of “Not Your Parents’ Money Book: Making, Saving and Spending Your Own Money.”

Where does this money come from? An allowance, probably: A 2012 study from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants indicates that 61 percent of U.S. parents give money to their kids on a schedule.

Most money experts believe that allowances should be earned, e.g., for doing household chores or feeding the pets. Some advocate a “blended” approach, in which children get a relatively small sum plus the chance to earn more via special chores. Rachel Ramsey Cruze, who co-authored “Smart Money, Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win With Money” with her financial-guru father Dave Ramsey, grew up with “commissions” vs. allowances. All money had to be earned, first through chores and later through babysitting and other jobs.

Kids who earn most of their spending cash are more likely to understand the connection between “work” and “money,” according to Cruze. They’re also more likely to “treat their things better when they pay for it vs. when it was just given to them.”

Parents should gradually cede control of their children’s expenses to the kids themselves. The emphasis is on “gradual.” You shouldn’t expect a 9-year-old to budget and shop for her own school wardrobe, but she could be given enough to cover iTunes downloads, treats away from home and birthday gifts for friends.

Explain that there will be absolutely no bailouts. (Chatzky liked to remind her kids that their future bosses wouldn’t advance them their salaries.) So if Junior spends half his school clothing money on a single pair of shoes, then it’s up to him to learn to stretch what’s left. When your daughter chooses to blow the budget the first week, the corollary choice is having to skip a birthday party at the end of the month – unless, of course, she wants to take on extra chores to earn the money for a present.

“The only way to raise kids to be financially responsible is to allow them to make their own decisions and then to live with the consequences of those decisions,” says Mary Hunt, author of more than two dozen books including “Raising Financially Confident Kids.”

She used a monthly vs. weekly allowance because it taught her two sons to plan ahead. Hunt says if she had to do it over again she’d impose a 15 percent tax to get them accustomed to the idea of take-home pay vs. salary. (Now that’s some tough financial love!)


This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong.

When I first started writing for Get Rich Slowly, I’d just become interested in my finances. While I’ve always been frugal, I started to realize there was much more to personal finance than finding ways to save money.

Here’s where I was, financially, at that time:

  • I was rebuilding my recently depleted emergency fund.

  • I had just started to earn more.

  • I was working hard for my money, but I had no idea how to make my money work for me. I still didn’t feel in control.

  • My boyfriend/partner was in debt. Sometimes, we fought about money. We keep our finances separate, but there are some goals for which both of us need to be on the same financial page.

A couple of years later, a lot has changed. Writing for this site has taught me a lot about money, and my finances have greatly improved as a result. I’ve now built a healthy emergency fund, started investing, and learned how to manage my income as a freelancer more effectively. For his part, my boyfriend has gotten out of debt, built an emergency fund, and is now researching index funds on his own. We ended up on the same financial page; all is well.

I’m lucky enough to be in the beginning of what J.D. calls the Third Stage of Personal Finance. My major financial goals have been met, and I’m now happily saving away — for what, I’m not sure.

Reaching the Third Stage

How did I get here? It was the boring, straightforward stuff:

  • Cutting back on my expenses and living frugally

  • Finding ways to earn more

  • Investing

  • Avoiding debt

But I was also lucky. I was lucky enough to be offered a great job that helped me reach my goals. And when I lost that job, I was lucky enough to have colleagues that helped me find other work.

The role of luck

I don’t ignore the role of luck in my life, but I do think luck is meaningless if you don’t take some kind of action. I would never have been offered that job if I didn’t a) bug my friend about it, b) have previous experience and c) do the required work.

Also, if I wasn’t in the right financial mindset, I could have just as easily squandered that money by inflating my lifestyle. In writing this piece, I asked my boyfriend if it was okay to talk about his experience getting out of debt and building an emergency fund.

“Sure. But I didn’t build anything. I just got lucky,” he said, referring to a hefty windfall he got earlier this year.

“What are you talking about? You work your ass off. You negotiated your salary and you’ve been saving like crazy!”

That was true, he said, but that windfall really helped get him started. “That’s when things turned around,” he told me.

But the thing is, if that windfall had come just a few years earlier, it would have been blown. In fact, when it came, he briefly considered using it as a down payment on a car — a really unnecessary expense right now. But, because he’s become committed to getting his finances in order, he decided to use the windfall to reach his money goals instead and he allocated the money to an emergency fund.

Luck definitely plays a role in our success; but most of the time, it still requires at least some action on our part.

Life in the Third Stage

One night, while visiting my parents, we went grocery shopping. My Dad happened upon some tiki torches, which he’d been looking to buy. “How much are they?” I asked. “I’m not sure,” he said, putting them in the cart.

Later, when we had a discussion about money, my Dad brought this up, saying this is what he loves most about being in the Third Stage. “I don’t have to fret over small purchases and decisions,” he told me. “If I want to buy something for the backyard, I can do it. And I don’t have to worry about whether or not I can swing it this month.”

My parents have come a long way. Back in the day, even an extra dollar spent would have hurt us, much less whatever he spent on those torches.

I feel more in control of my finances these days. When I was repaying my student loan, I felt in control of my debt, but I didn’t really feel in control of my finances. And when I got out of debt, moved to California (where I was barely making ends meet) and depleted my emergency fund, I definitely didn’t feel in control of my finances.

But now, I do. I’m not yet financially independent. But I feel like my money is working for me, instead of the other way around. Control and freedom are probably the best things about being in this stage.

But What’s Next?

I’m complaining about a damn good problem here, but the third stage is kind of boring. Right now, I don’t have any clear goals, aside from working toward financial independence. I’ve plateaued.

And there’s nothing wrong with sitting back and saving, but I’m a goal-oriented person. I like having tasks; I like striving for things. In the Second Stage, it was all about paying off debt, cutting back, building my funds and working to max retirement. It was challenging, and the answer to “what’s next?” came naturally.

The Third Stage is a little more stable, and the goals are a little less obvious. Here’s what’s next, for me, in the third stage:

  • Work on “multiple streams of income”

J.D. has written about this before, and so have many personal finance writers. My goal as a freelancer has been to diversify my client base. But I’d also like to find other, non-work-related ways to earn extra income.

  • Educate myself

Trying to find other sources of income means learning about how to do it. I want to learn how other people earn passive income and invest wisely in other endeavors.

  • Continue to save

J.D. wrote a great piece about starting an opportunity fund. This way, if some kind of investment opportunity should arise, I’d be prepared for it. I love this idea.

And I’m continuing to save for my future goals too, even though I’m not sure what they are. I don’t know what I want to do with my life in the next few years. Maybe start a family? Maybe move to another country? I really don’t know. But whatever it is, it will probably require money. So I want to be prepared to say “yes” to whatever sounds great at that time.

I also opened an SEP-IRA. As a self-employed person, this helps me sock away even more for retirement.

  • Give back

For me, being grateful for what I have makes me want to help others. In this stage, I’ve been looking for ways to give back, whether it’s time or money.

Plotwise, the Third Stage of finance isn’t terribly exciting. Control and freedom are wonderful feelings; but, as far as action, there aren’t many highs or lows in this stage. At least that’s what I’ve found so far.

And that’s kind of awesome, really. For once, I don’t have to worry about money. I don’t have to be scared that I’m not going to be able to make ends meet. Comfort is good. I’m immensely grateful for it.

But at the same time, I don’t want to get too comfortable. I don’t want to forget that there’s still work to be done. I want to keep my eye on the ultimate goal: financial independence.

What are you doing (or, what do you plan to do) during this stage of finance?


This article is by staff writer William Cowie.

Twice a year, the Federal Reserve’s Chair gives what amounts to the “financial state of the union” address to Congress, and it’s a good thing for everyone concerned with their finances to take five minutes or so to find out what the Federal Reserve is seeing, thinking, and about to do.

Janet Yellen delivered her latest comments a week ago, and it may be worth your while to take a few seconds out to assess what she said, because the economy is approaching another inflection point.

Inflection point? Yes, if you look at the economy (any country’s economy) you know it goes up and down in a wave pattern. That pattern always has two inflection points: the top, when the economy turns down and good times turn to bad, and of course the bottom, when things turn up again and get better. The last inflection point we had came around 2008 to 2009, when the Great Recession officially bottomed out. In the past, the time between a bottom and the next top usually ranged between five and eight years. That means we’ve entered the window for the next inflection point, which will be a top, meaning the economy will turn down again soon. This is not an alarmist statement, but merely a recap of a long-term trend which has defied all attempts to interrupt it. This approaching inflection point gives us more cause than usual to pay attention to what the individual with the most influence over the economy has to say.

In order to obtain a proper perspective about what Yellen said, it is important to understand which beacons the Federal Reserve uses to navigate the great ship of the American economy. The “big three,” spelled out specifically in the Federal Reserve Act, are:

Growth and employment: The Fed was granted its vast powers by Congress with the proviso that its actions would promote healthy economic growth and full employment by the American people (which is important to officials who need to get elected every now and then).

The economy and employment have always been regarded as two faces of the same coin: Good economic growth creates good employment opportunities for all. In practice, though, they tend to be measured and addressed separately.

Economic growth is typically measured as growth in the GDP while employment is measured by its inverse number (unemployment). Neither measure is without its controversy, but it’s the best we have. And the Fed’s goal is to keep unemployment as close to 5 percent as it can get it and GDP at a positive number, somewhere between 3 and 5 percent.

Price stability: Price stability was the second condition Congress demanded in exchange for the franchise it gave the Federal Reserve Board to manage the economy. Many people have different opinions over the definition of inflation, how it is measured, and what level is ideal. Given all of the inexactitude, the Fed has publicly stated that its goal is to keep the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index (as defined and measured) as close to 2 percent as it can get it.

Interest rates: Maintaining moderate interest rates was the third mandate. Of the “big three” factors, this is “the driver.” In other words, the Fed usually sets interest rates at a level to help achieve the goals set for the other two.

In addition to the “big three,” the Fed also pays attention to home prices, given how important that is for people like us.

OK, enough with the theory.

So, what did she say?

Here’s the Fed’s take on the economic state of the union: (The detailed comments, if you want to get it from the horse’s mouth, can be found here.)

Growth: GDP growth was negative for the first quarter.

At this stage of the recovery, that is unusual, to say the least. Two quarters in a row of negative growth meet the technical definition of a recession. Nobody at the Fed thinks that’s going to happen, though, blaming the GDP reduction on “transitory factors” (probably the cold winter and a mild jab at the lawmakers’ sequestration policy).

Because the Fed doesn’t think those factors are going to repeat, they don’t think we’re at the brink of the next recession, and, most important, they’re not going to react, positively or negatively.

Employment: Unemployment is 6.1 percent, the lowest since the recession, and only 1.7 percent above the pre-recession low.

The Fed’s take is: Close, but no cigar … yet. Therefore, the Federal Reserve doesn’t think its job is done in this area, especially when you look at a broader measure of employment, i.e., labor force participation. The labor force participation rate captures the proportion of every age group that has a job. The Fed uses it to include those who have given up looking for a job, something the traditional unemployment rate can’t measure.

What concerns the Fed is that the U.S. labor force participation rate has not yet recovered from the Great Recession. Some may have argued that’s because of retiring baby boomers, but this Fed chart shows the disturbing drop in the participation of those 20 to 24 years of age:

You can see the rate of participation of younger workers bounced back after prior recessions, but it hasn’t lately. Chairwoman Yellen’s Fed has noticed this and it tempers any enthusiasm they may have had for the employment situation.

Inflation: Low (around 1.5 percent), but rising.

The Federal Reserve’s inflation target is 2 percent — and they have been concerned for a long time that inflation is, if anything, too low. That concern is fading as prices are beginning to rise, and they expect inflation to continue growing for the remainder of this year.

Therefore…

The Fed’s big kahunas — the Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC — believe the recovery of the American economy is under way, but not where they want it to be. (The FOMC has eight scheduled meetings each year, and you can read the post-meeting statements here.) Because the economy has acquired some momentum of its own, they will continue weaning the economy from its “stimulus IV” gradually.

What is stimulus IV? Two things:

  • the amount of money they inject into the economy by buying pieces of paper from banks, and
  • interest rates

A while ago, they started “tapering” the asset purchases, meaning they’re pumping a little less money into the economy every month. That will continue.

And they will hold interest rates where they are now until “about” the third quarter of 2015. This is not new; Ben Bernanke introduced that timeline back when he was king, er, Fed Chair.

How does this affect you?

1. Now you know what the Fed is looking at: unemployment, GDP and inflation. Until unemployment gets close to 5 percent, GDP grows more than 5 percent, and inflation gets over 2 percent, things will probably continue as they are. When any of those things change, you will know before the rest of the population that the Fed will react by turning on the brakes.

2. Expect more growth in the U.S. economy. Most people agree this is one of the most anemic and unbalanced recoveries in recent memory, but it is still a recovery. Perhaps because it’s so slow, we can probably expect it to continue longer than ones in the past.

3. Expect improvements in your job situation. These times carry better prospects for promotions, raises and bonuses than for the past seven years or so. It’s probably a good time to push for those.

4. Expect the stock market to continue to rise, at least in the short term. Many people are getting nervous, because the stock market seems overvalued to them, but there is nothing in the immediate economic outlook to warrant “the big one.” (Of course, that has never stopped the market from behaving erratically, has it?)

5. Expect home prices to continue to rise, as people who lost their homes in the Great Recession re-qualify for mortgages, just in time to buy another one … as the market approaches its peak. Banks, too, have more money than in many years, and they are becoming ever more eager to palm off those loans to more people. It is probably not a good time to buy a home for the first time, to upgrade, or to refinance to “tap into that equity,” because the next correction isn’t that far into the future anymore.

Overall, the message seems to be: Keep on keeping on, or, as Young Mr. Grace always used to say on the British sitcom “Are You Being Served?”: “You’re all doing very well!”


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