Welcome to The Shaw Atlas, the monthly newsletter from Shaw & Associates, CPAs & Financial Advisors. We look forward to keeping you abreast of ever-changing tax codes, providing you with money saving accounting tips and illustrating proactive strategies to help you achieve the financial life you envision.
The 2008 Financial Literacy Survey conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and MSN Money found out that 40% of people learned about personal finances from their parents or at home. However, less than 1/4 of students feel that they are prepared to deal with the financial challenges that they will face in the real world.
Depending on where you live, what car you drive, and how much you make can change the amount of taxes that you need to pay. A part of being financially literate is to understand what taxes you are paying and how they affect you. The Total Tax Insights website provides you with a tax calculator that allows you to enter in your information and get an estimated annual tax liability.
Click here to find out what your estimated annual tax liability is.
No matter what your situation is, taxes add up and have a real impact on our financial picture.
If you happen to be part of the 56% of Americans that do not have a budget, you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t have the faintest idea on how to save, let alone teach my children to save.” Feedthepig.org is a brilliant website that has multiple financial tools available at the click of a button. There are free savings tips, discussions that you can join and even games that make finances a little more interesting. They even provide a site for tweens.
According to the website 360financialliteracy.com, which is a site produced by the American Institute of CPA’s, “It is a duty of the nation’s CPA’s to promote financial literacy by helping Americans understand their personal finances and develop money management skills. Financial education is a lifelong endeavor-from children learning about the value of money to adults understanding how to reach a secure retirement.” We whole-heartedly agree with this statement, so we decided to dedicate this month’s newsletter to the topic of financial literacy. Why is this such a big deal? According to the most recent information on the U.S. Census Bureau website, as of 2007, 46.1% of American families carried credit card debt in excess of their most recent payment amount, with a median household revolving debt (other than mortgages) of $24,800. The website statisticbrain.com, whose information is claimed to be verified by the Federal Reserve, US Census Bureau, and the IRS, provides some very sobering statistics:
- Percent of working Americans not saving for retirement – 40%
- Pecent of American families who have no savings at all – 25%
- Average amount saved for retirement – $35,000
- Percent of American workers who postponed their retirement age this year – 24%
- Percent of American adults who have an emergency fund to fall back on – 38%.
This topic is so much larger than what we can feasibly address in 1 newsletter, but we’ll at least touch on some key points.
First, I want to start with a bit of a disclaimer. I am writing this article because I feel like this is genuinely a problem, and I truly care about the financial health (and therefore the future stability and happiness) of others. My household finances are not perfect, although we are doing better than the above statistics. I’m not telling you this, or making any of the following points, to be smug or self-satisfying (life and kids have thrown our savings goals some curveballs the past several years also), but more to try to pass on some of the knowledge I have gained over a lifetime of being very frugal, being addicted to saving, and a lot of reading on this topic. By the way, even if you don’t have kids, read the “Children” section below if you feel that your financial literacy is not great. You could most likely benefit from many of those tips as well.
It is never too early to start teaching children about finances, and I think we all know by now that the American education system is not teaching children what they need to know about money to become fiscally responsible adults. So, that means this really is the parents’ (and other role models’) job. There are many ways to help teach your kids about money, budgeting, and saving. Smaller children generally will learn by watching the adults around them. Take them to the grocery store, and comment about good sale prices. Tell them you’re not buying a particular item today because you think the price is too high. Talk about needs versus wants. Get them one of those three-compartment piggy banks that has a section for savings, one for spending, and one for giving. Encourage them to split their money between the three compartments, and talk about what each one will be used for. Take your children to the bank with you and explain what is happening with the money you are depositing. My three year old son recently asked me, when I said we were going to the bank, “why, do we need some cash”? Well, yes, but I decided it was time to start explaining to him about depositing cash and checks and that you can’t just go get unlimited cash from the bank.
School-aged children are ready for higher-level financial education. The grade school ages are when you really should be driving home the difference between needs and wants. It’s ok to tell your children that you are not going to buy them the same toys their friends have because our family is saving our money for a fun vacation, or for the future. Decide on a savings goal for your family, say for a vacation or a Wii, or whatever the hot toy is right now, and create a savings bar chart that you hang in your house. Decide what each family member should be doing to help reach that goal, and color in the chart as you progress towards the goal. Finally buying that item or taking that vacation will have much more meaning to your children that way than if you just automatically do it for them without making a big deal out of it.
As your children approach their teen years, start giving them budgets. When I was a teenager, I had a monthly clothing allowance. Other than the big things (back-to-school shopping, winter coats, etc), if I wanted a piece of clothing, I had to buy it with my allowance money. This taught me three very valuable lessons. First, if you spend it all on one regular-priced item, you can’t buy as many clothes as if you wait for a sale. Second, if I spent it all at the mall on the first weekend of the month, I couldn’t buy any more clothes until next month. Third, I learned that if I didn’t feel like my allowance was enough to meet my lifestyle desires, I should go earn my own money, which I did. What a simple way to teach your teenager three very important and useful life lessons! Or, if your kids don’t really care about clothes, give them a monthly lunch money allowance. This will accomplish the exact same thing. The monthly (rather than weekly) frequency is key here because it helps to counteract the feeling of needing instant gratification.
By high school at the latest, get your kid their own bank account. And, get them a debit card (you should probably also get some kind of overdraft protection line on this account to avoid costly overdraft fees while they’re learning to manage a bank account). Debit cards are a great budgeting tool! Credit cards are nice because they eliminate the need to carry cash, and they give you a paper or electronic way to track your expenditures. But, unless you teach your kids to very strictly manage their spending and pay their balance in full each year (difficult abstract topics for young and old alike), this can quickly run up debt that is hard to recover from. Cash works better for controlling spending (when you spend it, it’s gone!), but unfortunately makes it difficult to track where your money goes, and is easy to lose. The answer- a debit card. Your child can track where their money is going, but they can’t spend money they don’t have. This teaches them to keep an account ledger to track their balance and to think before they buy something.
When your child receives money, either through a job, allowance, gifts, etc, teach them to automatically put some of that into savings, and into their “give” account if your family has made this a priority. From the age that I first received an allowance, I was required to put part of it into savings. I can’t remember the percent, but I had my little book where we tracked what I had earned that week, and how much I was going to put into my savings account from that money. Then my parents helped me keep that savings money in an envelope until we went to the bank. Then, we wrote that deposit into my little savings passbook. Even though we are much more electronically advanced these days, keep a ledger book for at least your youngest kids for their savings account. Maybe they will get excited to see the numbers grow like I did (should have known from an early age that I would grow up to be an accountant). When I was in my late 20’s, I took a temporary hiatus from the corporate world to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and I waited tables for a time. I would come home every day with my tip money, separate out 25%, and put it in my “savings” envelope (waiting tables was no reason to stop saving, right?). Then, every week I would deposit that into my savings account. I did this because my parents ingrained this in me from a very early age.
The Rest of Us
What about you? Are you financially literate? Do you have a spending budget? What about a savings budget? If so, do you actually meet your goals? Do you know your “number”, which is the amount you need to save per month to meet your retirement lifestyle goals. Is your debt under control? Do you have the proper plans in place to protect your family in case of your death, disability, or declining health? Studies show that the best way to raise financially literate children is to make sure your own finances are in order. Don’t have children in your home? You still want to retire someday, right, while you’re still young enough to play?
If you feel like your finances are a mess, start simple. Set a budget, pay for everything with a debit card, hold yourself accountable. There are ways to get out of debt, meet your savings goals, and look forward to what all you are going to be able to do in your golden years, but it may require a complete financial overhaul. Or, it may require just a little fine-tuning.
Seek resources. I love to read books related to financing (no time to read? me neither-get a book on cd from the library and listen to it in your car). A few of my favorites over the years have included: The Truth About Money by Ric Edelman (he actually makes the basics kind of interesting); The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley; any Robert Kiyosaki books including Rich Dad, Poor Dad. There are many more (share your favorites with us on Facebook, we’d love to hear what books have helped you). If you feel like you need help reining in your spending, visit feedthepig.org, or for good overall financial literacy topics, including information broken out by various life stages, visit 360financialliteracy.com. And, as always, feel free to contact us with any of your financial questions. Just make sure to talk to someone who can help you. Do you really want to work until you are 80, or have your 30-year-old kids living with you?
Shaw & Associates would like to extend a sincere congratulations to OpenStage Theatre, who is celebrating their 40th year of stage productions in Fort Collins.
As many of you know, Shaw & Associates has been a season sponsor of OpenStage Theatre for the past 6 years. I was attracted to OpenStage as I had done some local theater when I was younger (much younger!). What I found was a theater company with unparalleled talent and productions. So surprised with what I saw, I became more and more involved until I eventually was nominated to the Board of Directors.
As OpenStage looks to the future, I want to take the time to point out how important having a strong arts community, in general, and a high-quality theater company like OpenStage, in particular, is to the health of the economy of a city such as Fort Collins. It is these amenities and attractions that sets us apart from other communities. It is one of the reasons we are called the Choice City.
Thus, I highly encourage you to support OpenStage by attending performances, making donations (OpenStage is a 501(c) charitable organization) and generally supporting the arts community.
To learn more about OpenStage Theater or to view a list of this season’s production please visit their website.
Margee Daggett has made it possible to keep your garden around longer by creating a cover that will protect your plants from frost and from those pesky pests that like to eat away plants . We would like to acknowledge and applaud Margee for being featured on 9News in September as a top product to use. We feel privileged to work with clients that continue to succeed in their endeavors.
To find more information on Frost Protek Plant Covers, please visit their website.
If you would like to view the 9News article please click here.
If you would like to showcase your business’s achievements in our newsletter please contact Cassy at Cassy@kevinshawcpa.com
Being featured in our awards section does not indicate that the client endorses our services.