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Scrooge writes on saving Christmas

Published 12/1/15

Scrooge writes on saving Christmas By Peter Andrew

Bah humbug. Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with the holidays. It's great when people observe the religious elements, exchange cards, eat too much, drink too much and give joy and wonder to children in the form of seasonal spirit and extravagant presents. After all, most kids have just two opportunities a year to have their material dreams fulfilled, and only one comes with seasonal magic.

Get a grip, grown-ups

But it's different when it comes to gifts for adults. When you want something, don't you just save up (or get out the plastic) and buy it? Do you really think someone else could do a better job of buying the thing you want? It's not as if the exchange of gifts between grown-ups isn't a zero-sum game: You're almost always trying to guess how much the other person's going to spend so you can match it. And, if you get it wrong, don't you even things up the following year?

After years of faking happiness over slightly off (or downright bad) gifts, adults in my circle of family and friends have agreed on a $15 holiday present cap for each other. Amazingly, some of the inexpensive ones I've received remain precious many years later.

Peculiar presents

Unless they're your own, it can remain very difficult to buy gifts for kids. Of course, that's been the case since the very beginning. One wise man turned up in 1st century Bethlehem with gold, but the other wise guys decided on frankincense and myrrh. And, Read the full article »

Managing money when self-employed

Published 10/26/15

Managing money when self-employed By Peter Andrew

Are you an "independent"? I'm not asking if you're politically unaligned. I want to know whether you "turn to freelancing, contract work, consulting, temporary assignments or on-call work regularly each week for income, opportunity and satisfaction," which is a definition of the word used by the MBO Partners State of Independence study, 2015 edition..

That document contains some astonishing statistics:

  • In 2015, there were 30.2 million Americans over 21 years of age who fit that description, of whom 17.8 million are full-time independents and 12.4 million are part-timers. Another 11.9 million take on those sorts of assignments occasionally.
  • Together, they generated revenues topping $1.15 trillion. That's nearly 7 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.
  • The number of independents working in America is expected to hit 37.9 million by 2020.
  • Of those who work this way, 30 percent are Millennials (defined in this study as those age 21-35 years), up from 12 percent just four years earlier.

The "gig" economy

The rise of the gig economy (so called, because each assignment lasts a short time, like a musician giving a one-night performance) may or may not be transforming how we work. Some argue there have always been millions of freelancers and contract workers, and the fact they're now booked online rather than through Yellow Pages and brick-and-mortar agencies isn't such a big deal. But new companies like cab facilitator Uber, butler service Alfred, home cleaning provider Handy and freelance resource eLance might make real change in many lives.

If it does, it's likely to bring challenges as well as Read the full article »

Making the most of an inheritance

Published 8/24/15

Making the most of an inheritance By Peter Andrew

The very worst thing about getting older is that your family and friends do too. And that, naturally enough, means they begin to die in increasing numbers. I lost my best friend three months ago. And, over the last decade, both my parents have died along with a score of friends who were very dear to me.

Nothing makes up for such losses, but occasionally people remember you in their wills. Usually, you get some small memento, perhaps something you once admired. Rarely, a financial legacy comes your way, though usually only from close family members. Suppose you one day get a four- five- or six-figure check from a loved one's estate. What should you do with it?

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Saving kids

Published 7/29/15

Saving kids By Peter Andrew

To my late maternal grandparents, the Great Depression wasn't history. They lived through it. And, although they fared better than most during that difficult time, they were from a generation that learned to value financial security above almost anything else. I can still remember their taking me, age maybe six or seven years, to open my first savings account. My dad's much older brother had a similar attitude, and made it his unbreakable rule never to save less than 50 percent (seriously!) of his income every month. Clearly the saving habit flows through my blood.

Nature and nurture

However, in what may be a triumph (or more likely disaster) of nurture over nature, saving has played little part in my life. Should I blame my parents? They were fairly affluent and never experienced much hardship or financial insecurity, so they never saved much themselves -- at least until later in life. And they never particularly encouraged me to do so either.

No, it's not mom and dad's fault: They lived their lives their own way, and it worked well for them. But, if they'd realized, all those decades ago when my sisters and I were growing up, just how much some financial discipline would have benefited us, I bet they'd have worked harder to make us savvy with money. Today, I envy people who have good financial skills and habits, and if I had kids now I'd definitely do my best to equip them well, even if it were on a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do basis.

Deferred Read the full article »

Can making money be joyful?

Published 6/29/15

Can making money be joyful? By Peter Andrew

The trouble with having money is that you usually don't. Have money, I mean. Okay, you may keep a wad of banknotes or bag of gold coins somewhere safe, but generally speaking the only joy people with money have comes from bits of paper from their banks and brokers. In fact, in the digital age, they often have to print out their own bits of paper if they want hard-copy statements.

Now, I'm not for a second denying the warm feeling a person can get from seeing lots of zeroes in balances on high interest savings accounts and on portfolio statements. But the emotions involved are generally low-key: those of satisfaction, pride in achievement and the sort of contentment that comes with financial security. Excitement and joy are much rarer, except when a killing's just been made.

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4 ways to stop a wedding invite from breaking the bank

Published 5/28/15

4 ways to stop a wedding invite from breaking the bank By Peter Andrew

If you're like me, you're going to be a sucker for weddings. No quantity of divorce statistics or doubts about the gene pool from which one of the happy couple was derived is going to stop me loving every second. And I really don't care whether it's an over-flowered church affair followed by a reception at a fancy country club, or a bland, city hall ceremony with a party in the back room of a bar afterwards. It's the whole atmosphere of happiness and well-being that gets me. You'd be amazed how often I get something in my eye, just as someone I care about is saying "I do."

So I'm truly disappointed on those occasions when I have to turn down a wedding invitation. But I sometimes do, just because I can't afford to attend. Every year, American Express publishes a survey about the cost of attending nuptials as a guest, and be prepared to be shocked by the results of the latest edition from April, 2015:

Read the full article »