Net worth: The most important number in personal finance?

Do you know your net worth?

Your net worth is a snapshot of your financial life at one moment in time, a single number representing your financial health. It's the total of everything you've earned and spent until today. In The Wall Street Journal Complete Personal Finance Guidebook, Jeff Opdyke writes:

Knowing your net worth is important...if only for one reason: It forces you to interact with your financial life, keeping you in touch with your money and knowledgeable about where you are on the road to where you think you're going.

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Using an allowance to teach kids about money

This is a guest post from Nickel, who writes about personal finance at Five Cent Nickel. Since that and his four kids don't keep him busy enough, he's launched another site more narrowly focused on credit card offers.

Though small was your allowance, you saved a little store; and those who save a little shall get a plenty more. — William Makepeace Thackeray

Just over three years ago, we decided to start paying our kids an allowance. While the decision whether to implement an allowance is highly personal, I thought I'd pull together some thoughts on the subject for those of you with kids of your own. Continue reading...

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Best personal finance podcasts

A photo illustration of headphones and a laptop for post on best personal finance podcasts

Podcasts are a great and free way to learn about saving and investing. Here are some of the very best personal finance podcasts we feel are worthy of your "must-listen" line-up:

Planet Money

Planet Money is perhaps the best all-around podcast about money and economics out there right now. The production values are extremely high -- as you'd expect from any NPR show -- but it stands out for its ability to explain the most complex economic issues in straightforward and innovative ways. Their most famous episode, "Giant Pool of Money" with This American Life, remains one of the best pieces of explanatory journalism on the housing crisis in any medium. If you still aren't certain what caused the housing crisis of 2008 and the global money panic that followed definitely give this episode a listen.

Bad With Money

If you don't know a stock from a bond or an IRA from the IRS, you may want to check out Bad With Money with YouTube comedian and former BuzzFeed writer Gaby Dunn. While primarily geared toward millennials, this podcast is a sonic kick-in-the-pants for anyone who needs to get a handle on their money management (or lack thereof.) One of the better episodes allowed listeners to come along as Gaby unloaded all her financial baggage to a financial psychologist. Yes, your parents' attitudes about money are likely affecting you today. This is not the place for advice on sophisticated financial instruments or advanced savings and investing -- by any means -- but Gaby's voice is fresh and the tone 100 percent non-judgmental.

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How to inoculate your children against advertising

I have a confession to make: I like commercials. Even though they can be boring, insulting, and just plain bothersome, on some level they intrigue me. I often wonder why certain ads fail miserably while others succeed in catapulting a brand to the forefront of store shelves. I like commercials because I enjoy guessing which will sink the product and which marketing genius will get a promotion. But what I hadn't considered until I had children was how much power commercials seem to have over us.

Out of the Mouth of Babes

What changed my perception was a routine shopping trip a few years ago with my then four-year-old boys. As I paused my shopping cart in front of the cleaning supplies, Andy said, "Mom, aren't we going to buy some Clorox?" I stared in surprise at my child because, although he was pointing straight at the Clorox, I knew he wasn't able to read.

I puzzled over the bleach incident for some time because not only were the boys unable to read, but I didn't generally buy bleach. Eventually, my husband and I realized that commercials were to blame. While I had been dismissing commercial-watching as a mildly amusing pastime, marketers were subtly invading my home and impressing their values on my captivated and trusting children.

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An angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other

We received a Costco coupon book in the mail today. Costco — a membership warehouse store — has very low prices and generally does not take coupons. A few times a year, though, they send out flyers with special discounts.

Kris flipped through the book first, clipping coupons for kleenex, cat litter, and ziploc bags. When she was finished, I picked it up to look for things she'd missed.

  • On the first page, I nearly tore out a coupon for $6 off a ten-pack of toothbrushes.
  • On the next page, I was drawn to a coupon for four pounds of jelly beans.
  • Later in the book, I was tempted by a stainless steel slow cooker. ("We already have a slow cooker!" Kris muttered in exasperation when she edited this entry.)

"I've got to stop looking at this," I said, tossing the coupon book aside.

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Missing money: Finding unclaimed property

On Monday, I received a strange letter in the mail. It was addressed to my father, but sent to my home. My father has been dead for twelve years, and he never saw the house we live in now. The letter purports to be a settlement of some sort of $400 annuity. (I'm unclear on the details and don't have it with me right now.)

Though I'm deeply skeptical that this is anything but a scam, I do intend to follow up in case it's legitimate. I've heard stories of people who have "found" money of this sort. In fact, there's an entire industry devoted to lost and unclaimed money of all kinds.

In the U.S., the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA) is a non-profit organization that assists in "reuniting owners with their property". NAUPA sponsors a free site called Missing Money, which allows users to search unclaimed property records from participating states. In this context, "property" simply means "stuff" — it doesn't refer to real estate. Common types of unclaimed property include: Continue reading...

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