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Economics


  • 9 reasons you may never retire (42 comments)

    This article is by staff writer William Cowie. My mom passed away a little less than a year ago. All her life she was the picture of health: She walked every day and ate super-healthy. The extended family dreaded going there, because they knew there would be no sugary goodies, only healthy (boring) eats. We used to joke and say she was so healthy they’d have to shoot her on the Day of Judgment ……

  • A better way to calculate the value of your time (20 comments)

    This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong. It’s both fascinating and useful to calculate the value of your time. Financial freedom gives you options and flexibility. But without time, that means nothing. Time is a precious resource that we should spend wisely. But you already know this – we’ve written about it quite a bit. Knowing the value of your time is helpful for a variety of reasons: If you’re a freelancer, it can help you…

  • Bad advice about having a baby I’m glad I followed (51 comments)

    This article is by staff writer Holly Johnson. Last week I was out walking with a friend when she admitted she was scared she would never have kids. “We’ll never be able to afford them,” she said as we made our way around the block and up the next street. She and her husband are about our age (and not getting any younger), and I could tell she was worried. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll figure…

  • Can you trust those government numbers? (32 comments)

    This article is by staff writer William Cowie. Ever hear someone say, “You can’t trust those government statistics”? When they say inflation is 1.6 percent, do you feel they might be fudging the numbers to bamboozle the masses? Many people, even the highly educated, feel there is a government conspiracy to doctor the numbers and make them look better or maybe just make us feel better. Investopedia, one of the more respected sites, has a…

  • What the Fed’s monetary policy statement means for you (40 comments)

    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…

  • Is this where you can cut the most the quickest? (94 comments)

    This article is by staff writer William Cowie. The post a couple of weeks ago about the whole income inequality thing brought out some good insights and raised several new questions. We love to play board games, and one of our favorites is Acquire, a great money game which seems to have acquired (no pun intended) quite a cult following through the years. (Good luck trying to get a good one on eBay for under…

  • The new way to get rich slowly (84 comments)

    This article is by staff writer William Cowie. The face of getting rich slowly is changing right before our eyes, even as the status quo is failing. Before this year’s State of the Union address, the President’s media supporters, fretting about his low approval rating, fumed: “…never during his time in office has the state of the economy been better — yet rarely has he gotten such low marks from the public for his handling of it.”…

  • The ‘cost’ of gun ownership (215 comments)

    As some of you might know or remember, I have been considering the purchase of a firearm for some time. Two posts ago I mentioned it while talking about being victim of a robbery, and reader Tyler Karaszewski wrote a cogent and passionate comment that began, “I think it’s sad that so many of our responses to these sorts of events are to (quite literally) begin escalating an arms race.” My following post was about…

  • HDHP with HSA: friend or foe? (59 comments)

    This is a guest post from Joanna Lahey, an associate economics professor at the George H. W. Bush School of Government and Public Service and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the aforementioned institutions. This is the final article in her series on health insurance. Here are the first, second and third articles. Remember way back when in…

  • Health insurance options for the self-employed (42 comments)

    This is a guest post from Joanna Lahey, an associate professor of economics at the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the aforementioned institutions. This is the third of four articles on health insurance. The final part will be published next Saturday. Here are the first and second…

  • Insurance: Choosing the right plan (27 comments)

    This the second of four articles about health insurance by Joanna Lahey, an associate professor of economics at the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). You can read the first one here. The subsequent articles will be published on the next two Saturdays. In part two of our exploration of health economics, we will explore the more common structures of…

  • Insurance: Share the risk (84 comments)

    This is a guest post from Joanna Lahey, an associate professor of economics at the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Ellen’s note: Joanna has written four articles about health insurance. This is the first, and every Saturday for the next month, we’ll be publishing one. Given the readers’  concern over the cost of health insurance as well as the…

  • Free Box Economics (88 comments)

    On my way home from selling some magazines at Powell’s, I happened upon a whole street’s worth of free piles. First one, then another, then another. The second one was the jackpot, though. I saw the chair, a tall swiveling kitchen chair; it was just what I’ve been looking for, meant for my youngest son. He loves to swivel and has been asking me for a chair like that. “We’ll keep our eyes out!” I’ve…

  • Dollar Coins: Or, In Other Words, a New Tax (155 comments)

    This post is by staff writer Sarah Gilbert. “You need 75 more cents!” the woman at our favorite burger joint, Little Big Burger, said brightly after I sent my 9-year-old to order another serving of truffle oil fries with all the change I could find in my bag. Thankfully, I knew I’d sent enough money: I’d stashed a dollar coin in my bag, saving the Abraham Lincoln because, well, Lincoln. These fries were just good…

  • Is Your Spending Normal? (112 comments)

    Over the past year, one of the most popular features here at Get Rich Slowly has been the monthly “how much do you spend on X?” question. I started these informal and unscientific surveys on a whim. I wanted too see what sort of spending ranges we held as a population of relatively money-savvy citizens. In the past year, we’ve looked at the following spending categories: How much do you spend on food? How much…

  • America’s Love-Hate Relationship with Wealth (187 comments)

    I was on the road for the past two months, first in Chicago, and then in Bolivia and Peru. As always happens, one of the side effects of travel is that I’ve been living in a media vacuum. For the past few weeks, I’ve heard almost nothing of current events. That means I arrived home to find a strange phenomenon: Protestors “occupying” Wall Street. And Oakland. And Portland. And probably many other places as well….

  • The Spectacle of Financial Difficulty (170 comments)

    This post is from new staff writer Sarah Gilbert. Both my husband and I have spent some periods of unemployment over the past decade, and we have become intimately familiar with financial humiliation. Having had a red tag left on your doorknob notifying you of the impending shutoff of one of your utilities is not just a reminder you might soon lose a vital public service; it’s a public shaming, and it’s hard not to…

  • Why Austerity Hurts: The Government’s Budget is Not Like Yours (276 comments)

    This post is from new staff writer Sarah Gilbert. GRS readers liked Gilbert’s recent post on economics and current events, so today she’s offering more of the same. Unlike “entitlements,” the word “austerity” has come to mean something akin to “godliness” in modern political circles. And along with austerity goes the concept of running the government’s balance sheet like a personal budget. Everyone, from President Obama to his bitterest rivals, have been known to stick…

  • What S&P Debt Ratings Mean for the U.S. (and Its Citizen Shareholders) (98 comments)

    This post is from new staff writer Sarah Gilbert. We’d planned for her to make her debut later, but Gilbert offered to write about the current economic situation, so she’s stepping up the plate a little early. This is a rare GRS foray into current events. Do you like it? Hate it? Not care either way? Let us know. (I’ll do a formal introduction for Gilbert later; for now, a mini-bio is at the end…

  • Ask the Readers: When Is It Not Your Fault? (256 comments)

    In popular American mythology, the rich work hard for their wealth. They’ve earned it. They deserve it. While this is often true, everyone can cite instances of people who have money due to fate and circumstance, not because of hard work and perseverance. The same holds true for folks at the opposite end of the spectrum. Yes, there are plenty of people who are poor or in debt due to their own bad choices. But…

  • All That Glitters: Why I’m Not Investing in Gold (215 comments)

    Over the past two years, I’ve received a lot of requests to write about investing in gold and silver. I’ve ignored these requests. For one, I feel unqualified to comment. For another, I’m afraid that anything I do say will just make people angry. Last week I realized, however, that I don’t have to come at this as an expert. Because I’m not one. Instead, maybe we can have a discussion about the pros and…

  • The Time Value of Money (or Why 25 Years of Cable TV Doesn’t Cost as Much as You Think) (31 comments)

    This guest post is from Stephen Popick, a government economist and founder of Coffeecents.org, a personal finance program for young adults. Popick is the long-time administrator of the Get Rich Slowly discussion forums. He loves coffee, even if his habit will cost him a latte-a-day million in thirty years. Just after Christmas, Carl Hendley of The Motley Fool wrote about his cable bill and how much lost investment income that money represented. As an economist,…

  • The Tiger Mother and You: Are We Preparing Our Kids for a Better Financial Future? (120 comments)

    This is a guest post from Robert Brokamp of The Motley Fool. Robert is a Certified Financial Planner and the adviser for The Motley Fool’s Rule Your Retirement service. He contributes one new article to Get Rich Slowly every two weeks. Those of you who are parents — and those of you who came from them — may have already read the Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua (which is an excerpt from her…

  • When To Walk Away From A Bad Mortgage (251 comments)

    This post is from staff writer Sierra Black. Sierra writes about frugality, sustainable living, and getting her kids to eat kale at Childwild.com. Since the housing bubble burst, many Americans have found their finances underwater. They’re paying on homes that are worth much less than the mortgages against them. More than a few have chosen to walk away from these debts. Called a “walkaway” or a “strategic default”, deliberately defaulting on your mortgage is becoming…

  • The Economics of Seinfeld (21 comments)

    A group of economics professors have pooled their collective brainpower to come up with a new way to teach their students — and the general public — about economic principles. They’ve created a site called The Economics of Seinfeld that uses the hit TV series from the 1990s to explain basic financial concepts. Here’s how the authors describe their aim: It is the simplicity of Seinfeld that makes it so appropriate for use in economics…

  • Want to Make More Money? Go Back to School! (31 comments)

    Lately, I’ve been more vocal about the importance of looking for ways to boost your income. Cutting costs is awesome — don’t stop — but if you really want to supercharge your debt reduction or your saving, you have to look for ways to earn more money. “That’s great,” some commenters have said, “but how do we earn more money.” That’s a fair question, though it’s much tougher to answer than, “How do I spend…

  • Reader Story: How We Became Reluctant Landlords (62 comments)

    This guest post from Jolyn is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes. You can read more about Jolyn’s financial adventures at Budgets are the New Black. My husband and I bought our first home in Las…

  • Does Saving Stimulate the Economy More than Spending? (73 comments)

    This post is from GRS staff writer April Dykman. When the 2008-09 financial crisis hit, my husband and I were debt-free and building our savings. We were proud of what we’d accomplished, and I used to stare at our savings balance with a smile after every payday. At the time, all I seemed to hear was that we Americans had to spend our way out of a recession, that spending was the key to growth….

  • Yes, You WILL Get Social Security (127 comments)

    This is a guest post from Robert Brokamp of The Motley Fool. Robert is a Certified Financial Planner and the adviser for The Motley Fool’s Rule Your Retirement service. He contributes one new article to Get Rich Slowly every two weeks. We hear a lot about the doubts over the future of Social Security. Here are a few I’ve come across: “Three-fourths of those 18 to 34 don’t expect to get a Social Security check…

  • Why I Buy Local (171 comments)

    Kris and I live in a small, quiet neighborhood south of Portland. When the trolley line ran through here — between 1893 and 1959 — Oak Grove was actually thriving community, with shops and stores and more. (It’s true! I’ve seen pictures!) Now, though, downtown Oak Grove, such as it is, consists of a convenience store, a hair salon, a joint once named “the best dive bar in Portland” — and the home office of…

  • Why Are Interest Rates So Low Right Now? (and Where Should You Put Your Money?) (72 comments)

    I’ve been plowing through my e-mail lately in my never-ending quest to reach inbox zero. As a result, I’ve been answering tons of reader questions. And when I can’t answer them (or when I think a colleague can do a better job), I try to refer the question to somebody else. Over the weekend, for example, LP wrote: I’m a college student and have started saving up and setting aside money, and I feel that…

  • Do Credit Cards Take from the Poor and Give to the Rich? (148 comments)

    My philosophy on credit cards has changed completely in the last five years. I’ve gone from anti-credit-card to pro-credit-card — but only for those who can use them responsibly. I think they’re a great convenience, and I like getting cash back when I use mine. But not everyone thinks this cash-back feature is a good thing. In fact, my inbox is a-flutter with folks who want me to comment on the recent credit-card study from…

  • Reader Story: Social Capital and the Microeconomic Recovery (30 comments)

    This guest post from Kimberly is part of the Reader Stories feature here at Get Rich Slowly. Some reader stories contain general “how I did X” advice, and others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity, and with all sorts of incomes. On May 27th, J.D. published an article title entitled “Social Capital: More Valuable Than Money?”. In the…

  • Is a Weak Euro Good for U.S. Travelers? (52 comments)

    It had to happen eventually! A GRS staff writer has finally submitted an article on a topic I was planning to cover. This post from April Dykman is stronger than the one I’d put together, though, so I’ve just tacked an addendum to the end. Europe’s financial crisis is leading to a weaker euro and more travel deals designed to attract American tourists. According to media reports, the state of the euro might make a…

  • What Do Ancient Spice Traders and the Modern Financial Industry Have in Common? (22 comments)

    This is a guest post from Chett Daniel, who writes about improving your life through personal fitness and personal finance at 5k5k.org. Last year, Chett shared what fourth-graders “know” about money. What role do financial professionals have in our personal finance lives today and in the future? Are they still the gateway to understanding financial info that’s too difficult for the common person to grasp? Or have they created a profit-producing “need” that is slowly…

  • Is the Economy Improving? Views from Everyday Folks (104 comments)

    On Friday night, we had some good frugal fun. Kris and I got together with a group of my old high school friends to go bowling and eat pizza. It was just like the good ol’ days — but with a bunch of grade-school children added to the mix. Over pepperoni pizza and root beer, the conversation turned to the economy. I asked my brother Jeff how the family box factory is doing. “To be…

  • Economica: Women and the Global Economy (13 comments)

    In his book Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty [my review], Nobel Peace Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus argues that one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty and overpopulation is to boost the economic status of women. When you empower women — especially poor women — their communities are improved in many subtle ways. The International Museum of Women has just launched their new global online exhibition, Economica: Women and…

  • Warren Buffett Has No Regrets About the Past Year — Do You? (40 comments)

    This article is GRS staff writer Adam Baker. In addition to his work at Get Rich Slowly, Baker blogs over at Man Vs. Debt, where he maintains a list of every single item his family owns. It’s no secret that J.D. loves him some Warren Buffett. Honestly, though, who doesn’t? Financial wisdom seems to ooze from his pores. Previously on Get Rich Slowly, J.D. has touched on Buffett’s philosophies, well-known frugality, and charitable efforts. Buffett…

  • The Truth About Taxes (229 comments)

    Note: Although I try to keep GRS a politics-free zone, today’s topic is inherently political. I’ve stayed as neutral as possible in the article, but I know that there’ll be some political discussion in the comments. Please keep conversation civil, as always. Because I was frustrated with my own ignorance about the U.S. federal budget and our tax system, I recently spent twelve hours researching a variety of tax topics. From my research came two…

  • Understanding the Federal Budget (141 comments)

    Note: Although I try to keep GRS a politics-free zone, today’s topic is inherently political. I’ve stayed as neutral as possible in the article, but I know that there’ll be some political discussion in the comments. Please keep conversation civil, as always. Recently at The Simple Dollar, Trent posed the question, “How much do taxes matter to you?” As might be expected, his readers responded with passionate comments from both sides of the political spectrum….

  • The Spending Habits of the Average American (106 comments)

    Last week, Diane dropped a line asking for information about the spending habits of the average American. She wrote: I am trying to find sites that will provide average spending habits — such as how much an average person spends on food per week or how much a family spends on entertainment, that sort of thing. I am hoping to see where my habits line up with someone of similar means in the same part…

  • The Ascent of Money (31 comments)

    Beginning tonight, public television stations in the United States will broadcast a four-part series from economist and historian Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money. This is an expanded version of a documentary that first aired in January. Here’s a description of The Ascent of Money from the official site: For millions of people, the recession has generated a thirst for knowledge about how our global economic system really works, especially when so many financial experts…

  • The Fall and Rise of Personal Savings (58 comments)

    Americans are beginning to save again, or so the media is reporting. The personal saving rate has jumped from 0.4% in 2007 to a whopping 6.9% in May. But what does that mean? Is it a good thing? And how long will it last? The personal saving rate “Personal saving rate” is an economic term for income that is not used immediately to buy goods and services. It’s money that consumers save for the future….

  • Three Lessons from Warren Buffett (34 comments)

    This is a guest post from Robert Brokamp of The Motley Fool. Beginning today, Robert will contribute one article to Get Rich Slowly every two weeks. It’s my hope that he’ll bring a fresh perspective to this site, while also providing coverage of topics where I have weaknesses. Today he’s writing about one of my financial heroes, Warren Buffett. From what I can tell, there were no drugs, no free love, and just a little…

  • The New Age of Thrift (68 comments)

    Over the past few months, the mainstream media has been filled with stories about the New Frugals and the return to thrift. People who once lived beyond their means, financing their lifestyle with debt, have “found religion”. They’ve begun to embrace frugality, and have discovered the joy that can come through spending less. The new age of thrift Not everyone is happy about this. The March issue of Redbook contained an article called “The Upside…

  • Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (31 comments)

    We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric lately about how this is the worst economy since the Great Depression. Maybe that’s true and maybe it isn’t, but even if it were, what would it mean? I have no frame of reference for these sorts of claims. They smack of hyperbole, but I can’t be sure. In my lifetime, the closest I’ve come to experiencing anything like the Depression was during the recession of the early 1980s,…

  • Economic Stimulus and the Marginal Propensity to Consume (99 comments)

    This is a guest post from Kevin, who writes about getting and staying out of debt at No-Debt Plan. Previously at GRS, Kevin wrote about the power of attentive spending. Many Americans will begin receiving a few extra dollars in their paychecks this month. Thanks to the latest round of economic stimulus from the federal government, the monthly take-home pay of most workers will increase by about $50. Economists and politicians hope that this is…

  • Snake-Oil Salesmen? Debating the Role of the Financial Media (74 comments)

    Jim Cramer is the manic host of CNBC’s Mad Money, a television show that offers stock recommendations and investment advice. Jon Stewart is the host of Comedy Central’s satirical news program, The Daily Show. Cramer and Stewart engaged in a war of words recently, which came to a head last Thursday night when Cramer appeared on Stewart’s program. Stewart’s complaint is that CNBC doesn’t offer financial news and advice so much as it acts as…

  • The Credit Crisis — Visualized (36 comments)

    Over at Vimeo, Jonathan Jarvis has created a ten-minute film that offers an overview of the credit crisis. If you’ve been struggling to understand what went wrong with the American economy, this will give you some of the basics: The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo. If you’d like more information, I encourage you to carve out time to listen to two radio broadcasts, both from NPR’s This American Life: “The Giant…

  • When Consumers Cut Back (49 comments)

    Over the weekend, Kim C. pointed me to an article about the dangers of thrift. There’s been a glut of these pieces lately, most of which just make me tense. They seem as if they’re cheerleading conspicuous consumption. But this one is interesting. Writing for The New York Times, Hiroko Tabuchi describes what happened when consumers cut back in Japan during that nation’s “lost decade” after its bubble economy burst. Tabuchi writes: The economic malaise…

  • Outside Looking In: How Others View Our Spending (80 comments)

    Last week, I went running with my friend Mac. As we ran, we talked. Mac asked me how it felt to be out of debt, to actually be saving money. Like many of my friends, he’s watched my financial turnaround with interest. “It feels great,” I said. “I should have learned from you and Pam earlier.” Mac and Pam have always made smart financial choices. They’re not misers, but they’re thrifty, carefully choosing where they…

  • The National Economy Versus Your Personal Economy (52 comments)

    Yesterday I attended the mid-winter conference of the local financial planning association. I listened to various speakers talk about the economy and how it relates to personal finance. One of the presenters was John Mitchell, a local financial guru, who spoke about the current economic climate in the state, the nation, and the world. Mitchell’s presentation was outstanding — I wish I had recorded it. He argues that this country has encountered similar problems before,…

  • Three Legislative Proposals That Could Have Major Consequences for Your Finances (20 comments)

    J.D. is on vacation. This guest post comes from DR of The Dough Roller, a money management blog. Previously at GRS, he shared the seven habits of wealth. Amidst all the financial turmoil on Wall Street and in the credit markets lately, one could easily forget about money-related legislation that is quietly pending in Congress. Ranging from credit card reform to foreclosure assistance to identity theft prevention, these legislative initiatives could have major consequences for…

  • American Household Debt Declines, Personal Saving Rate Increases (36 comments)

    This morning, Karl sent me a link to a CNN/Money article that is simultaneously happy and sad: In a sign that Americans’ spending habits are shifting, household debt fell for the first time ever, based on data going back to 1952. According to a Federal Reserve report released Thursday, consumer debt fell an annualized $30 billion, or 0.8% in the third quarter to $13.91 trillion. Think about that for a moment. In the 56 years…

  • Black Friday — Or Not? (82 comments)

    This weekend will be important for U.S. retailers. They’ll be counting their pennies carefully. With retail sales already down sharply from 2007, merchants are eager for a strong start to the holiday shopping season. The day after Thanksgiving — now dubbed “Black Friday” — has become something of a ritualized cultural experience, and one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Many people view the day as a chance to grab stellar deals on…

  • Living with and Learning from Layoffs (48 comments)

    Earlier today, I shared several lists of recession-proof jobs. The experts who created these lists don’t agree on much, but they do seem to think that both jobs in IT and the health-care industry are fairly safe. That doesn’t mean that all of these jobs are safe, of course. I have two friends who combine both of these: they’re IT workers for health insurance providers. One of my friends still has his job. The other…

  • The Best Recession-Proof Jobs (114 comments)

    In The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets (which I recently reviewed), author Peter Schiff provides a list of the best jobs to beat the economic collapse he predicts is just around the corner. “I foresee the following as the 10 strongest professions and industries over the coming decade and beyond,” he writes. His list: Engineering, because the abandoned U.S. industrial base will need to be re-tooled. Construction, to rebuild the American infrastructure….

  • Bull Moves in Bear Markets (55 comments)

    In high school, I once dated a girl whose father believed the world was doomed to nuclear destruction. While his family lived in a trailer house (as did mine), this man spent a lot of time and money building a bomb shelter in the back yard. He stocked up on food supplies. He warned anyone who would listen about the coming armageddon. He cited many reasons — Biblical, historical, political — that a fiery death…

  • Cat and Girl on Halloween (13 comments)

    Cat and Girl is one of my favorite webcomics. It’s cynical, postmodern, and smart. I admit that not everyone finds it amusing (Kris, for example), but I do. I particularly liked yesterday’s strip, and am grateful that artist Dorothy Gambrell has granted me permission to re-post it here: Cat and Girl often features commentary on class, money, and consumerism. Mostly it’s just delightfully strange. Have a safe and happy Halloween.

  • Faces of World Poverty: 20 Arresting Photographs (34 comments)

    What do we picture when we think about poverty? What stereotypes do we have about what poverty looks like? What do they mask from us? What do they keep us from seeing? While putting together my two main posts for Blog Action Day, I came across a number of arresting photographs depicting poverty around the world. It became clear to me that poverty takes many forms — poverty has many faces. These are a few…

  • Learning to Give: What *I* Can Do to Fight Poverty (98 comments)

    In our recent discussion about tithing, I made a confession: I do not tithe to church or charity. I feel guilty about this. My rationale is always: “Once I take care of myself, I’ll take care of other people.” Yet what do I mean by “taking care of myself”? I don’t know. Sometimes I think “once I’ve saved X, then I’ll start sharing my wealth”, but X seems to be a moving target. I’ve thought…

  • Another Frightening Show About the Economy (26 comments)

    Last spring, This American Life tackled the subprime mortgage mess in a show entitled “The Giant Pool of Money”. This is a great episode, and I recommend it to anyone who wants background on the current U.S. financial situation. When I wrote about it in May, I said: Why did the crisis occur? Because all along the financial chain — from bankers to brokers to borrowers to investors — people deluded themselves. They thought they…

  • The Market Meltdown: Essential Reading (39 comments)

    Get Rich Slowly readers have sent me many stories about the ongoing U.S. economic crisis and the debate over a possible bailout. Because I don’t like to talk politics here, and because economics is way outside my area of expertise, I haven’t provided much commentary on this situation. Besides, sound personal finance skills are the same no matter what the condition of the economy. When times are rough, it’s even more important to focus on…

  • What is Money? A Basic Economics Lesson from 1947 (19 comments)

    I was pleased recently to discover another handful of short films about financial topics from the 1940s and 1950s. I’ll share them over the next few months, starting with this timely piece from 1947. With the recent economic turmoil in the U.S., it’s worthwhile to answer the question: What is money? This ten-minute film takes its structure by following a single $5 bill as it circulates from person to person, being used in a variety…

  • Thoughts on the Financial Crisis from an Actual Economist (39 comments)

    This editorial is from Stephen Popick, a real-life government economist. He’s also the administrator for the Get Rich Slowly discussion forums. Why did the current financial crisis happen?  I don’t think a fully comprehensive answer could fit into a few paragraphs, but I can give some brief thoughts. As of this morning, otherwise sound companies are encountering financial difficulties.  If we think of the current financial crisis as being a simmering pot on an oven,…

  • Are You Worried About Today’s Economy? (44 comments)

    I drove to the box factory earlier this week to chat with my former co-workers. While I was there, I asked my cousin Nick (the bookkeeper) for info on the company retirement plan. I still have $80,000 that I need to roll over once I set up my new 401(k) for the blog. Only, it seems I don’t have $80,000 in retirement savings anymore. It’s more like $60,000. 2008 has not been kind to American…

  • The Economics of a POW Camp (15 comments)

    In a 1945 issue of Econimica, R. A. Radford wrote about the economic organization of a P.O.W. camp. Radford spent at least two years (the timeline isn’t clear) as a prisoner in Italy and Germany during World War II. He used his experience as the basis for a paper about “financial” transactions among his fellow inmates. He found that although economic activity as a prisoner is severely curtailed, the ideas and habits of the outside…

  • The American Way of Debt (182 comments)

    On Sunday, The New York Times published a series of articles on The Debt Trap, exploring the surge in consumer debt and the lenders who made it possible. The main article profiles a Philadelphia woman who made some bad choices, bought into the myth of easy credit, and now finds herself struggling with insurmountable debt. “I regret not dealing with my emotions instead of just shopping,” she says. Through compulsive spending and an unaffordable mortgage,…

  • The History of Debt in America (Now in PDF!) (12 comments)

    In Wednesday’s links roundup, I mentioned a long article on the history of debt in America. Rian dropped me an e-mail to say that he liked the essay, too, but found a way to make it more accessible: I have been in contact with the author of the long article about the history of debt in America that you posted recently. I cooked up a PDF version because I like to read long articles offline,…

  • The Story of Stuff (131 comments)

    Every time I write about Stuff, readers point me to The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute video about where Stuff comes from and where it goes. Until today, however, I’d never taken time to watch it. According to the web site: From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a…

  • Can Saving Prepare Us for the Oncoming Recession? (82 comments)

    “What will it take to make Americans save more?” wonders Michelle Singletary in her latest column at The Washington Post. Singletary points to a recent survey that reveals Americans know they’re not saving but they just don’t care enough to change. (I recommend reading Singletary’s article via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where there are fewer ads and no pagination problems.) What’s the root of the problem? Our homes are more expensive. We’re consuming high-tech gadgets like…

  • The Giant Pool of Money: Anatomy of the Subprime Mortgage Mess (31 comments)

    The American housing crisis isn’t over yet. The fallout from the subprime mortgage mess will continue to settle for months (or years). Though the various statistical models disagree on just how much further prices will drop before they hit bottom, most seem to indicate there’s another 10% to 20% left to go. What exactly is the subprime mortgage crisis and how did we get here? That’s the question tackled this week by Chicago Public Radio’s…

  • A Glimpse at the Spending of the Average American (41 comments)

    On Saturday, The New York Times published a brilliant chart illustrating the spending of the average American: “Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers 84,000 prices in about 200 categories,” the paper writes, “like gasoline, bananas, dresses and garbage collection.” These numbers form the Consumer Price Index, one common measure of inflation. And this graphic makes that information accessible. This chart is neat for several reasons: The circle itself represents 100% of the average…

  • Round & Round: Capitalist Propaganda from 1939 (6 comments)

    Here’s a short-film produced by General Motors in 1939 called “Round & Round”. It’s a brief look at the free market system. It feels like it was produced for first-graders: This is a factory. This is a machine in the factory. This is the workman who tends the machine in the factory. And this is what the workman makes on his machine in the factory. This is a widget. Inside the widget factory, there are…

  • When the Going Gets Tough, Get Back to the Basics (29 comments)

    I’ve posted several stories about national economic woe recently. In real life, I’ve had conversations with a few of my friends about the mortgage mess, about recession and a possible bear market, and about the nature of poverty. The economy is sour in the United States (and elsewhere in the world), and this frightens many people. I don’t buy in to the forecasts of economic doom. I’m an optimist. Things may get rough, but they’ve…

  • The Negative Saving Rate and the Age of Easy Credit (81 comments)

    “My generation doesn’t know how to be thrifty,” writes Eve Conant in the current issue of Newsweek. She describes how her grandfather — who fled his native Ukraine during World War II — would store plastic bags filled with leftover bread crusts in the closet of his new home in California, a house he bought with $13,000 cash. “He couldn’t shake old habits,” Conant writes. “Or were they old virtues?” Now, many decades after Arkady’s…

  • Will the Subprime Mortgage Crisis Turn the Suburbs Into Slums? (44 comments)

    Is today’s McMansion tomorrow’s tenement home? Wrtiting in The Atlantic Monthly, Christopher B. Leinberger argues that modern suburban neighborhoods may be in decline, and not just because of the subprime mortgage crisis. Rising gasoline prices, for example, may prompt Americans to return to the city. And when they do, what will become of the subdivisions where they used to live? For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until…

  • Economic Mobility and The American Dream (33 comments)

    In a comment on my interview with Adam Shepard, Liberal Arts Dude pointed to the Economic Mobility Project, a nonpartisan collaboration between several leading think-tanks. According to the project’s web site: While as individuals [these groups] may not necessarily agree on the solutions or policy prescriptions for action, each believes that economic mobility plays a central role in defining the American experience and that more attention must be paid to understanding the status and health…

  • Scratch Beginnings: An Interview with Adam Shepard (152 comments)

    I just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America for the third time. In this book, the author chronicles three one-month stints working as one of the American poor. Her goal is to demonstrate that it’s difficult to succeed as a waitress, or a maid, or a Wal-Mart employee. This is a book that I wanted to like — I sympathize with the author’s motives — but what could…

  • Are Mortgage Rates Tied to the Federal Funds Rate? (29 comments)

    The Federal Reserve has lowered short-term interest rates twice in the past week by a total of 1.25 percentage points. (They lowered the federal funds rate, not the prime lending rate, though that falls in lockstep with the former.) Many people are excited because they believe this will lead to lower rates on fixed-term mortgages, meaning the average person may be able to save big bucks by refinancing. One GRS reader wrote yesterday to ask:…