Rob McDaniel started poor in life, and after a lot of sacrifice by his mother and a lot of work in school, he worked his way up to be an assistant superintendent in the Murray School District in Utah. It sounds like a typical American dream story — nothing flashy, just hard work and perseverance.
I wrote about McDaniel as part of an article on how the American dream may be in trouble: "Moving on up: Can the American Dream still become a reality today?"
The thing that struck me, a Deseret News reporter on the financial responsibility beat, was how simple, little ideas believed and acted upon made the difference in McDaniel's life. His mother believed in the power of education and used education to change her life. McDaniel watched and learned. It isn't a wonder that he ended up in education.
But so many of these ideas aren't acted upon, simply because people have never heard of them.
For example, who knew that families waste about 25 percent of the food they buy? Just realizing that one fact might make people plan their shopping more carefully.
It's also interesting that principles that work with individuals and families also work at the macro level. For example, financially responsible public policy is at the heart of Eric Schulzke's look at how cities such as Stockton, Calif., are running out of money or David Ward's story on whether the recession will bring about a renaissance of thrift.
There is also a morality to the issue of financial responsibility. David Ward wrote about people putting their money into "moral" investments. But the idea of using money and resources responsibly applies to simple, small decisions as well.
And those simple decisions — such as whether to spend money on lunches or to brown bag — can have an element of fun to them. Being responsible doesn't mean people can't have fun. Sometimes saving money becomes the game.
The American Dream has always meant different things to different people. Whether the story is one of rags to riches or something more modest, at the core of the American dream is the idea that no matter your background, if you work hard you should be able to improve your lot in life and take care of yourself and your family.
Recent research finds that this dream may be becoming more elusive for many Americans. One study found that 43 percent of people raised in the bottom fifth of households (those making less than $28,900 a year) stay at the bottom throughout their lives.
Read the full report here: American Dream
With Americans collectively hitting a peak of $13.8 trillion in household debt four years ago, and now living through the Great Recession, the question arises: Will this economic disaster produce not just a temporary tightening of belts, but a real renaissance of thrift?
Prior to the Great Recession, Americans experienced 20 years of gains in net worth. For the bottom 50 percent of households, all of those gains are now gone — and the wealthiest 10 percent are 80 percent richer. The losses are largely due to the collapse of home values, a mountain of consumer debt and the decline of median incomes to 1993 levels.
Read the full report here: Thrift Renaissance
The aftermath of Stockton, California's mismanagement will haunt the city’s residents for years to come. Essential services are already being short-changed to pay debts and employee pensions.
Stockton's path to bankruptcy is an object lesson in how exuberance, naiveté and false hopes can supplant prudence. It's a lesson that cities, counties and states around the nation are rapidly learning. Stockon is easily the largest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy. It's an infection that is sweeping not just the nation but the world. As Mediterranean countries totter toward bankruptcy, U.S. states like California and Illinois, and a good handful of American cities from Stockton, Calif. to Scranton, Penn. are on the same path.
Read the full report here: Cities in the red
Measured by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the personal savings rate is the nationwide difference between after-tax income and consumption. Any money not spent is considered "saved," including money spent paying down debt. That rate dropped precipitously from more than 12 percent in 1981 to just 1 percent in 2005.
The free fall of savings has many economists and personal finance experts concerned at both micro and macro levels. At the family level, they argue, insolvent individuals are exposed to economic shocks. At the national level, depleted savings are unavailable to fuel business investment and government infrastructure, leading to unsustainable reliance on foreign cash, especially from China.
Read the full report here: Collapsed savings
The 46-year-old New York lottery is the largest in North America and funds nearly 15 percent of the state’s education budget. It's just one example of a cash-strapped state expanding legalized gambling to make easy money. But such states might want to check their odds: only two of the 13 states that have legalized gambling in the past decade have met their projected revenues.
With increased competition and payouts that often fail to meet expectations, expanding legalized gambling might not be worth the social costs. Gambling as a source of revenue for states may not be sustainable, experts warn.
Read the full report here: Gambling costs
Marriage used to be a foundation for adult life, a base from which a couple would launch into work, start a family and try to carve a niche in a middle-class lifestyle. Now, young people increasingly delay marriage or having a baby until they feel they've achieved some success. Marriage has moved from first step to capstone, experts say, against a backdrop of shifting economic and societal standards. Newlyweds and first-time parents are older. But the numbers alone, demographers warn, don't capture the nuance of complicated and related decisions that include personal choice, economics, education and expectations.
Read the full report here: Marriage economy
popular belief is that a bachelor's degree is worth a million dollars, a number originally offered in a 2002 U.S. Census Bureau report and then picked up and widely touted by the College Board. The idea is that over a lifetime, a college degree increases a worker's earnings by roughly that figure, compared to those who do not earn a degree.
But that belief is rife with flaws, according to Mark Schneider, a vice president at American Institutes for Research, a social policy think tank. Schneider said the College Board backtracked on the million-dollar claim, but the number took on a life of its own and has never died.
Read the full report here: Education value
In the 1980s, Amy Domini was working as a Boston stockbroker when she realized something that surprised her: while all of her clients were interested in making a profit, many had ethical boundaries which kept them from investing in certain businesses.
Some clients avoided tobacco companies, for example, because a loved one had died of lung cancer. Others wouldn't invest in lumber companies because of a love of birding.
Such was the impetus for the Domini 400, the first index of “socially responsible” stocks.
Read the full report here: Moral investor
Thirty-one percent of couples with combined finances are deceptive about money. Those couples hide cash (51percent), they hide purchases (54 percent) and bills (30 percent). And they lie about finances, debt and money earned (34 percent).
And with taxes coming due in April, many deceptive spouses are being outed by the cold calculations required to fill out the tax forms.
Read the full report here: Financial fidelity
It didn't make the wealthy look so good.
A 2009 national look at charitable giving by McClatchy Newspapers showed the poor give a higher percentage of their income (4.3 percent) to charity than rich people (2.1 percent).
The survey led Kraus and his colleagues at Berkeley and the University of Toronto to conduct several experiments to see if the McClatchy analysis could be replicated; to see why people who are in lower classes appear to be more generous than people in higher classes
Read the full report here: Rich with charity