The Politics of Personal Finance

Thrift, frugality, and investing are pursuits that cross political, religious, and social boundaries. Regardless of your ideology, sound personal finance habits can help you live a better life.

There seem to be three distinct classes of personal finance books:

  • Those with an overt religious-based foundation for thrift. Dave Ramsey bases the ideas in The Total Money Makeover on his Christian faith. Miserly Moms takes its cues from Christianity, too.
  • Those espousing a "reactionary" back-to-the-earth philosophy. I'm currently reading Living Simply with Children, which is a great book, but clearly written from a more "liberal" perspective.
  • Those that fall somewhere between, or which straddle both camps. This group comprises the bulk of personal finance books. Some, like Your Money or Your Life, manage to simultaneously promote Christian beliefs and a sort of "New Age" philosophy. Others studiously avoid any sort of dogma.

There's nothing wrong with any of these perspectives. They're all good. And they allow authors to bring new ideas and new techniques to the realm of personal finance. In Living Simply with Children, for example, Marie Sherlock talks about raising children with no concept of Christmas. But in Miserly Moms, the Joni McCoy argues that there's a Biblical basis for mothers staying home with their children.

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Lattes, iPods, and Masterworks: New Ways to Look at Money

My brother is selling his house. To get it ready for market, his family has been packing stuff in boxes. When it came time to pack his wife's shoes, the kids were amazed. She had sixty pairs of shoes. "How much did these cost?" my brother wondered. "Only about $75 each," his wife told him.

Their kids are still a little young to understand money, so my brother tried to translate this for his oldest son. The kid had just spent a couple weeks working, for which his grandfather paid him $20 per day. He saved his money and at the end of the two weeks, he bought an iPod. (Though what a seven-year-old kids wants with an iPod, I'll never know...)

"One way to look at it," my brother told him, "is that for every two pairs of shoes, you could have an iPod."

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How to Get Better Customer Service

I hate dealing with bureaucratic corporations. Their customer service is a joke. Even dealing with small companies can be a challenge. But I'm slowly learning how to coax good customer service out of the companies I call. Here's a list of my favorite tips.

According to consultant Dr. Gary S. Goodman:

Customers need to take some responsibility for the quality of the service they receive. And if they want better service, they should try becoming better customers!

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Financial Advice from a Founding Father

In celebration of Independence Day, I've gathered some personal finance advice from Benjamin Franklin, one of our Founding Fathers. Franklin was witty, wise, and eminently practical. He was a master of thrift and frugality. Nearly three hundred years later, his advice is still worth heeding.

  • "A penny saved is a penny earned."
  • "Buy what thou hast no need of and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessities."
  • "Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship."
  • "Fools make feasts and wise men eat them."
  • "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes."
  • "He that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing."
  • "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
  • "Fond pride of dress is, sure, a very curse;
    Ere fancy you consult, consult your purse."
  • "'Tis easier to surpress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it."
  • "The second vice is lying, the first is debt."
  • "Lying rides upon debt's back."
  • "Creditors have better memories than debtors."
  • "The borrower is slave to the lender and the debtor to the creditor."
  • "Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt."
  • "Women and wine, game and deceit,
    Make the wealth small and the wants great."
  • "Many estates are spent int he getting,
    Since women for tea forsook spinning and knitting,
    And men for punch forsook hewing and splitting."
  • "A fat kitchen makes a lean will."
  • "Learning is to the studious and riches to the careful."
  • "Have you somewhat to do tomorrow? Do it today."
  • "Diligence is the mother of good luck."
  • "Industry pays debts, while despair increases them."
  • "There are no pains without gains."
  • "Industry need not wish."
  • "Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is."
  • "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."
  • "Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all things easy."
  • "But doest thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of."
  • "He that can have patience can have what he will."
  • "He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money."
  • "For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise."
  • "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

If you're interested in more of what Franklin has to say about thrift, please read his thoughts on "The Way to Wealth", which are too extensive to reprint here.

Necessary Hints to Those That Would Be Rich

(by Benjamin Franklin, from Poor Richard's Almanack (1737))

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Scary Story: Billed for Service I Never Received

In the middle of December I received a bill for $5.30 from Sprint. There's nothing remarkable about this except that I've never had a Sprint account! I immediately called the customer service phone number on the bill. It only took a few moments to reach a live operator. "There must be some mistake," I told her. "Why am I receiving this bill?"

The operator tried to explain. "Well, sir, the Federal government recently approved a monthly fee for certain types of accounts." Notice how this phrasing is meant to make you believe the government is levying this fee.

"No," I said. "I don't care about all that. I mean why am I receiving this bill? I don't have a Sprint account. I don't think I ever have."

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