The No. 1 rule for the holidays should be not to go into debt. (iStock)
In 2004, my daughter, who was 9 at the time, gave me a Christmas present that I shall treasure for the rest of my life.
Olivia created “Yo Mamma: Sayings from My Momma,” a book of all the things I would repeat to her and her siblings. As you might imagine, most of the sayings were about money.
Here are two of my favorite quotes that made it into the book.
— “Do you have a job?” (I started saying this as soon as the kids started talking and asking for stuff.)
— “Do you have money to pay for that?” (A standard question when she tried to put something in the shopping cart.)
I smile every time I pull her book from my bookshelf.
So, with Olivia’s book in mind, I thought I’d pull five of my quotes over the past year that resonated with readers.
— “If debt were a person, I’d slap it.” I said this in a column about good debt versus bad debt. I hate all debt. As I wrote, I know my views are extreme, almost un-American, in a nation that relies so heavily personally and politically on borrowing. But when it comes to money, what you tell yourself matters. When we use positive adjectives to describe debt, we minimize the financial bondage it creates.
— “Empathy does not equal endorsement.” In April, I recommended for the Color of Money Book Club an essay by novelist and former Washington Post book critic William McPherson. McPherson died this past spring and I thought the essay “Falling (You can read it at http://bit.ly/Falling_essay) was a powerful look at how this once privileged person ended up poor because of a series of bad decisions.
“Life is about choices,” one reader wrote. “One does not ‘fall into poverty.’ One walks into it with open arms.”
Many people feel that there shouldn’t be a government safety net for the irresponsible. They only want to help the poor they deem worthy of assistance. But that’s a dangerous means test. It leaves no room for people to make mistakes. And we are all fallible. Advocating for government supported anti-poverty programs doesn’t mean you absolve people of personal responsibility.
What do we as a society owe the poor? We owe them empathy. We owe them a safety net that gives them a chance to get back on their feet — and maybe even survive.
— “When it comes to helping your young adult to successfully launch — and stay in flight — there’s no place like home.” A lot of young adults are moving back in with their parents, often because they are saddled with student loans.
“More young people today live in their parents’ home than in any other arrangement,” according to the Census Bureau.
Is this a good thing?
It’s not a bad thing necessarily. I encourage young adults who have burdensome debt to move home if they can. Instead of paying rent they can attack the debt.
You may think that living at home is a failure to launch or that it delays the all-important lesson of learning to be independent. But we should remove the stigma of young adults returning home as a financial embarrassment. It is not, especially if parents allowed or encouraged a student to attend a college that necessitated some heavy borrowing.
— “Sales are bait, and you have to keep in mind that you never save when you spend.”
One of my new favorite books is “Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter” by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler. It’s a brilliant and accessible look at behavioral economics. Ariely and Kreisler agree with me that consumers are too driven by a discount and that can lead to some bad decision making.
— “Should you invest in bitcoins for retirement? Only if you think riding a roller coaster without a safety harness is a good idea.”
[Bitcoin tumbles nearly 30 percent in volatile trading]
I wrote this in response to questions from some readers on whether they should buy bitcoin, an electronic currency that has skyrocketed, causing people to ignore caution.
As I told folks, if you can afford to lose every penny you invest and not miss any sleep over the loss, go ahead and invest in bitcoin. However, if you have a regular job, a mortgage, kids to put through college, credit card debt, a pitiful emergency fund and a lackluster retirement account, don’t even think about buying bitcoin. The currency may be virtual, but the investment risk is very real.
Tell me your favorite financial quote, one that may help you do better with your money in 2018. Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I love quotations, which are a shorthand way to remember some important life lessons.