We live in a modern world. I wake up in the morning to find my smartphone telling me that my daughter’s permission slip is due and it’s “pirate day” for my son’s preschool. I hop out of bed and whip up a smoothie while watching an episode of “Mad Men” on my iPad and then work remotely from my computer – all things that barely even existed when I was a kid. So why, if we live in such a modern world, has financial advice not kept up with the changing times?
Face it: your grandpa probably kept his retirement savings in a pickle jar and now you’re trying to choose between a traditional or Roth IRA. If times have changed, isn’t it time that conventional money wisdom change too?
Money Mantra Updates
While old-fashioned money values still ring true in a lot of different situations, some of that advice can be tweaked to make a little more sense for today. Here’s an updated take on some of the oldest financial aphorisms in the books:
1. “A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned”
Benjamin Franklin gets credit for this gem. But obviously, Ben Franklin never went to a sample sale with me. While the original quote was meant to expound upon the importance of saving money, too often the quote is used to justify purchases that offer a discount. “Oh, these shoes? I got them for 30% off – but you know what they say, a penny saved is a penny earned!” Don’t let Ben’s mantra lull you into spending money just because something is on sale.
Updated Mantra: A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned…When It’s Safely in the Bank”
If you really want to save, say “no” to the cute pair of shoes and deposit that amount into a savings account. Now that’s a penny earned.
2. “It Could Be Worse!”
This is one of those things that people say when they’re in a poor financial position but don’t really want to work to improve their habits. For instance, say you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck with your spouse, like many Americans. Instead of bringing in more income or cutting back your expenses, you figure that at least you have a paycheck – therefore, it could be worse. It’s a saying that makes you complacent and fools you into thinking that you’re doing fine.
Updated Mantra: “It Could Be Better!”
Instead of using someone else’s poor fortune to make you feel better about your own situation, remind yourself that it can always get better, too. Start today, and you can change your financial habits so you don’t need prop yourself up on those who are doing “worse.”
3. “Pay Your Bills No Matter What”
Paying your bills is definitely a good practice for any consumer. However, that doesn’t mean you should always pay your bills, no questions asked. Sometimes, discrepancies, overages, and other mistakes could have you paying more than you should. Plus, just asking your service providers for a discount could have you dishing out less each month. Your bills aren’t necessarily set in stone.
Updated Mantra: “Pay Your Bills After Examination and Negotiation”
When you receive your bills, always check through them with a fine-toothed comb and look for mistakes. Then, for things like dental and medical bills, give the office a call and see if the amount owed can be adjusted. Many offer discounts if you pay quickly or upfront so that paying your bills doesn’t have to be so painful.
4. “Money Can’t Buy Happiness”
Okay, I know that this spending mantra is true – for the most part. Some of the most miserable people in the world are also some of the richest. But a lack of money can also contribute to unhappiness, especially in marriage. In several different studies, experts and researchers found that the states with the highest divorce rate are also the poorest, that couples who receive government assistance are more likely to divorce, and that unemployed men have a higher divorce rate than employed men. No, money doesn’t buy happiness – but a lack of money doesn’t ensure happiness either.
Updated Mantra: “Money Can’t Buy Happiness, But It Can Help”
While money certainly doesn’t guarantee happiness, the lack of it can increase stress and make it harder to enjoy life. What’s most important is how you handle the money you have.
5. “The Safest Way to Double Your Money Is to Fold It Over Once and Put It in Your Pocket”
Kin Hubbard was a journalist – and apparent penny-pincher – in the early 1900s. Clearly he was a proponent of keeping your friends close and your money even closer. And, given the commonality of gambling during the turn of the century, he was probably smart to keep his money in his wallet. Of course, times have changed. And while hanging onto your money and assets might be the safest way to keep track of your money, it might not be the best way to invest in anything more than a fat wallet.
Updated Mantra: “The Smartest Way to Double Your Money is to Invest Wisely”
Talk to a financial advisor if you’re thinking about investing or starting a retirement account. He or she can show you ways to safely double your money – or at least make a tidy return – by using low-risk mutual funds and other investments to put your money to work for you.
6. “Always Pay Off Your Smallest Debt First”
This is a common mantra for those who follow a debt payoff plan and want to see the fruits of their labor the fastest. And sure, paying off smaller debts can make you feel more confident in tackling larger debts – but while the plan is attractive, it ignores one vital detail: interest rates. You could be shelling out for higher interest rates even as you pay off smaller debts, which could put you two steps backward for every step forward. As you pay off smaller debts, your higher-interest debts could be amassing even more.
Updated Mantra: “Pay Off the Debt That Makes the Most Financial Sense”
Instead of simply choosing the smallest debt, do a little math. See how much money you’ll be paying out to various debts in principle and interest. You might find that it’s smarter to pay off mid-sized debt with a higher interest rate first, while allowing smaller debts and lower interest rates to wait. Be smart, and you could end up saving hundreds or even thousands of interest while still attacking a sensible debt payoff plan.
7. “Invest in Quality”
Some people believe that if you invest in quality – whether it’s clothes, technology, cars, or anything else – that you’re getting a better return for your money. If you spend a little more on a quality item, then you get more use and a better experience from that item, right? Well, that’s not necessarily true. Thanks to advances in technology and manufacturing, a lot of the time when you invest in “quality” you’re actually investing in a pricey brand name, while cheaper products are just as effective.
Updated Mantra: “Verify Quality and Then Invest”
Do your research when making big ticket purchases. Check out online reviews, do a test run, and weight your options to know whether an investment piece really is worth the extra expense. Whether it’s a flat screen TV or a pair of shoes, the brand name on the label isn’t as important as the functionality. You’ll save money by shopping around and making educated decisions.
Whether it was advice that you picked up from your parents or something you read in a dated finance book, blindly following old-school money rules might not give you the biggest bang for your buck. It’s better to make up your own spending mantras that help you control your bank accounts, make smart financial choices, and sleep easy knowing that you’re doing what’s best for you and your family – not for Ben Franklin.
What spending mantra do you live by?