My grandparents were socialist-leaning Democrats who kept a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt in their hallway, next to the family photos. My father worked in a city hospital, and received a city pension. He bought New York City bonds, the safest bet at the time, which had the lowest interest. We never talked about money or finance. The business section of the Sunday newspaper was the one we always tossed aside. “People like us” didn’t have anything to do with Wall Street or the business world.
I became an English major in college. A film student in graduate school. A writer. A blogger. An instagram photographer. To this day, I remain a financial idiot. I don’t own any real estate or stock. Doing my income taxes gives me anxiety. There’s no one else to blame. I am to blame. I’m certainly smart enough to open a book on investing or use google to search “mutual funds.” It just never seemed like something that I should do. Thinking too much about money was wrong. I should rather worry about the wealth inequalities in American life than selfishly grab my share of it.
I’ve been blogging for nine years now, and I’ve met many people. I can categorize everyone I know into two camps — those who understand the business side of life AND those who are clueless.
Most of my friends tend to lean towards the artistic side, and for many of those who don’t have a working spouse or a trust fund, they are hurting financially. Freelance jobs have disappeared, and the publishing, film, academic, and music worlds are shrinking. Years ago, our parents worked for the same firm for decades. You could live a comfortable life, even if you weren’t a self-starter. We are not as lucky.
My advice to you. Forget BlogHer this year. Attend a personal finance class instead. Some of have started online courses. Others have bought real estate, renting it out to students. The key to survival is KNOWLEDGE. Most who make money found a mentor, or have a relative, who showed them the ropes.
We feel uncomfortable talking about money. We say platitudes like “there is enough for everyone,” when we know this isn’t true. There aren’t unlimited opportunities. Luck comes from the whispers in a room, and not everyone is invited.
If times are tough for artists and writers, imagine the difficulties of the hard-working individual, stuck in a low-paying job. We’ve heard many reports about the vast inequality of wealth in America, where the richest 1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s total wealth. In an article in The Atlantic, Noah Smith, an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, says that while income is important, we should not forget the importance of finance and savings. It is through saving and investing that the wealthy STAY wealthy. He goes as far as suggesting that public schools TEACH financial education as a way to prepare students for life.
Financial education in public schools is a must. I’m not talking about teaching kids the Capital Asset Pricing Model. I mean what Bob Shiller calls “basic Suze Orman stuff.” How to make a monthly budget. What “saving” and “borrowing” mean. How wealth builds over time. How to avoid borrowing lots of money at high interest rates (e.g. credit cards and payday loans). Etc. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can help a lot with this too, by preventing companies from tricking poor people into taking out high-interest debt.
I think this is a great idea, even if all this money talk seems like a foreign language to the disenfranchised. It will demystify the concept of wealth and money. I have two advanced degrees — and I need help with the basics of saving, borrowing, assets and mutual funds.
In addition to “nudging” middle-class and poor Americans to save more, we can help them get a better return on their assets — the second thing that has a huge effect on wealth in the long run. This means helping middle-class people invest in stocks without paying high fees. The first part of this is teaching middle-class people to avoid making frequent changes in their stock portfolios. Studies show that individual investors consistently lose money when they try to buy and sell and buy and sell, mostly because they tend to ignore trading costs. So financial education should teach people to let their stock portfolios just sit there for decades, and ignore the ups and downs.
Last year, we wanted to Occupy Wall Street, but no one had a plan for what to do with it — once it was occupied. Perhaps a better strategy is education, so everyone can be smarter with their money. Those with money have created the game so they always win. Everyone else is going to be left out, unless they study up.