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Financial literacy impacts decision making

Research by the US Federal Trade Commission shows that financial education affects financial decision-making. Failure to plan for retirement, lack of participation in the stock market, and poor borrowing behavior can all be linked to ignorance of basic financial concepts.

Some of these findings, from the 2008 paper Financial Literacy: An Essential Tool for Informed Consumer Choice? by Annamaria Lusardi, may seem quite obvious at first glance. For example, the author points out that those who demonstrate even a basic understanding of relevant financial topics are much more likely to have planned for retirement. These are not sophisticated topics, but basic things such as knowledge of interest compounding and the ability to perform simple mathematical calculations . Skills like these were shown to be among the strongest predictors of successful retirement planning.

To appeal to the average person, who may not have had a lot of prior exposure to financial topics or investment experience, the study suggest a social or even a psychological approach to financial education, for example exploiting “teachable moments” like the beginning of a new job, in order to get a person to think about taking action when their minds are open to new ideas about how financial decisions may affect their lives.

While the points raised by this study are reasonable, the challenge faced by society, even wealthy countries, is vast. Since the late 1980s when there were significant changes in laws regarding retirement planning, companies were much more free to move from traditional defined benefit plans like pensions to defined contribution plans like 401K plans that shift the responsibility of planning from the corporation to the individual.

While individuals and organizations with high levels of financial sophistication, such as firms specializing in industry specific areas such as chemicals m&a experts can easily manage rather exotic financial decisions, the average person has a much more difficult situation. Financial instruments have become increasingly complex and individuals are constantly being bombarded by the investment industry with new and financial products. However, most individuals are not well equipped to make financial decisions.

The study showed that most individuals cannot perform simple calculations and lack knowledge of basic financial concepts. Knowledge of more complex concepts, such as the difference between bonds and stocks, how mutual funds, and how to estimate the value of an asset is even rarer. Financial illiteracy is widespread among the general population, and particularly evident in some demographic groups that happen to also be overrepresented among the poor and struggling working class, such as women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and those with low levels of formal education.

Problem 3: Not Looking at All Sides of a Problem

This problem is usually having a point of view on an investment situation where you may have taken someone else’s word on it or never really given the question serious thought. One common financial example of this the use of a financial advisor to assist you in buying and selling stocks, mutual funds, or other investments. Whenever I consider that advice from this kind of source, I ask several questions about the source of the advice. Some basic ones may include the following:

– Does this advisor have anything to gain or lose by my decision?

– Is this advice based on the advisors own expertise or on someone else’s?

– Is this person following their on advice on that issue?

– Is the advice based on a fair analysis or a biased analysis?

– Is it to my advantage to even consider taking this advice?

– If the advisor makes any performance claim, can the claim be backed up?

– Does the advice make sense?

– After further investigation and research on my part, does the advice still make sense?

– Does not following the advice make better sense?

The current rash of mortgage problems in the US, issues like short sales because of underwater mortgages and foreclosures, is one example of this kind of decision problem in action. Many people got into this situation because they didn’t think about the consequences of taking out a home equity loan to buy expensive toys, or the possible negative consequences of an adjustable rate loan.

There are many more questions that one can ask, but the basic point is that every decision can be looked at in more than one way. It is to your advantage to ask a few questions and do at least a little work to understand what may be behind a piece of advice.

Next Lesson: Being Overconfident In Your Predictions

Mentally Tough

After reading about the Navy Seals in Newsweek a week ago, I learned a little bit more from the DVD released from the History Channel called the Brain. What was interesting was the segment about how the Navy was actually able to increase the pass rate of Navy Seals by employing some new mental toughness techniques. Prior to the new techniques the pass rate was 25%. After the change the pass rate climbed as high as 33%.

They found that in dealing with fear and stressful situations there are two important parts of the brain. The amigdala and the frontal lobes. The amigdala is the primal part that process information quickly and starts immediately getting other parts of the body involved. The frontal lobes involve higher reasoning, but take longer to use. Essentially, when seals in training are confronted with a situation in the first impulse is for the amigdala to take over, but in order to succeed they need to use the other parts of their brain to execute their given task.

They outlined 4 steps used to create mental toughness and help trainees succeed. I think you will find that you can use these same techniques to help you achieve other goals for yourself. Basically, what they found is that the brain is very complex and lots of different signals are traveling all over the place. By using these techniques the recruits were better able to accomplish their goals.

1. Have a clear goal – It seems kind of obvious, but what the more successful trainees did was take it a step further and break down their large picture goals into very small and specific goals. For example, one former seal talked about his goal in the morning was to make it to breakfast and then his goal was to make it to lunch.

2. Mental Rehearsal – The candidates were instructed to rehearse in their minds the steps they needed to take over and over again.

3. Self Talk – I’ve never recorded this for myself, but apparently you can say like 300+ words a minute to yourself. This has a profound impact on your minds ability to reason and solve problems.

4. Mood regulation – This is the ability to quiet some of those hormones and other chemicals that start to go running around. They found one of the best techniques was to use controlled breathing. Slowly exhaling could help reverse these trends.

Break up with Your Money

By Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

As we face an economic downturn unlike most of us have ever seen, what I call “breaking up” with your money can be an important step for your financial well-being, for your relationship, and for your sanity. We never know what the future may hold – things may start to get a lot better, or they may get worse – but creating healthy relationships with your finances and budget is something that will pay off no matter what type of financial situation we face as a nation or you face as an individual or couple.

The first step is to realize the areas in your relationship where money has “intruded” to create what i call a triangle. I discuss these areas in more detail in my book, Financial Infidelity, but here are some possible triangles, and how you can break up these patterns!

1. Family/Money/Relationship: Family legacies of money behaviors are not always contained in our subconscious minds – they can be very real! Demands of extended family members for financial support can be one way in which money can encroach and put a strain on a couples finances AND on their relationship.
2. Children/Money/Relationship: Nearly 70% of couples experience relationship stress after having kids. When a couple becomes contentious over spending on their children, the couple’s relationship can suffer – as can the family’s relationship.
3. Spending (or saving)/Money/Relationship: This can be a case of “opposites attract” in the extreme: the relationship then becomes at risk for damaging power struggles, sneaky “pay back,” and other deceit.

Hiding or denying the role money has in your life and in your relationship – as in any of the scenarios above, or other scenarios – has a toxic affect on a relationship. These types of “triangle” behaviors negatively influences your relationship with your partner. You may not think of it as cheating, but if you continue in this type of lop-sided relationship, it will take a toll. Attachment to your money can often ruin chances for you and your partner to build an intimate relationship.

Learning to prioritize the role of money in your relationship is an important step toward a healthy dynamic between your, your partner, and your money. I’ve come up with several ways to do this – here is one such exercise:

Withdrawals and Deposits:

Day 1: pretend you have suddenly been forced into bankruptcy. You are poor and have nothing – no money, no investments. Take your negative fantasies into the extreme – imagine yourself selling everything you have, being free of all your material goods.

Day 2: Visualize yourself with plenty of money, and all that entails. You are comfortable and able to do the things that are truly important to you.

Day 3 – and forever after: be consciously grateful. Each day, count the things you are grateful for.

Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil has been an internationally acclaimed relationship therapist for thirty years. New York magazine named her one of the city’s top therapists and Psychology Today named her one of America’s best therapists. Her most recent book, Financial Infidelity, is available on Amazon.

Franchising in Response to Unemployment

Several years ago I found myself unemployed for the first time in my 30+ year career. After the initial panic and rearranging of finances so that day to day expenses could be met, my partner and I started talking about options and decided that we would look into franchising. Franchising offered the promise of “being your own boss”, “90% of franchises are successful”, “building for retirement”, and “doing something fun”.

Being my own boss was definitely attractive since I tend to have definite ideas of how things should be run. I was also still on the rebound from the shock of unemployment. Little did I understand at the time, what being your own boss really means. You’ve got it all… the good, bad, and the ugly. There is also the mind switch from working in the business to working on the business. Give this some thought if you are thinking about starting your own business whether it is a franchise or an entrepreneurial venture.

As for the “90% of franchises are successful”, that may be true overall or may have been true in the past, but I would now take this with a grain of salt as opposed to “with statistics like those, how could we possibly be in the bottom 10%?” A franchise is a great way to get a head start on your business, but it is not a sure thing. You must be willing to follow the franchisor’s formula as closely as possible to help ensure your success. Looking at success rates within your prospective market niche is also a must.

As we looked into franchise options the next hurdle was choosing a business. The internet was a logical place to start and we did take a serious look at a fitness offering. Being on a successful fitness program at the time, this seemed a logical fit for the “fun” portion of the equation. It also appeared to be a real growth industry at the time. We met with the regional manager, went over the “Uniform Offering Circular” and met with a couple of franchisees.

At the same time, we got hooked up with a franchise consultant through FranChoice. This was probably one of the best moves we made during the process. The consultant talked to us about our backgrounds, work style, financials, etc. and then presented several options for franchises. He also told us about a program through Guidant Financial whereby I could parlay 401(k) funds into capital for the business venture. Shortly after starting our discussions with the consultant, we found a red flag with the fitness franchise… no “Discovery Day”! This is like a day long interview at the franchise corporate headquarters with the executives of the franchise. If a franchise doesn’t offer “discovery day”, be very suspicious.

We worked with our franchise consultant and went through the process of discussing our lifestyle, what we wanted out of the business, etc. He provided several concepts that may have worked out better than the one we chose, but rather than really look at the business, we looked with our hearts and emotions.

After doing a phone interview and a “Discovery Day” visit, we were off and running with a commitment for one location under our belts and an option for a second location. Little did we know what a ride we were in for.

Franchising can be a viable option when you find yourself unemployed, but several lessons learned need to be remembered:

  • You need to think about working on the business as opposed to working in the business
  • Find out the real success metrics for the business you are considering – not just revenue per day
  • Understand what kind of employees you will have in your chosen business
  • Choose with your reason and not your emotions
  • Think about your investment risk and how your market niche is performing

Stress and Money

This past week Newsweek had a series of articles related to stress and how different people cope. Given the latest economic climate it is easy to see how many of us could feel stressed out and overwhelmed by the situations we find ourselves in. The most interesting article was written by Ben Sherwood who followed the work of Dr. Andy Morgan from the Yale Medical School. Morgan went to Fort Bragg to study the Army’s elite Airborne. He measured different factors to see if he could determine who would be successful and who wouldn’t.

Interestingly, he found that those who managed their stress better tended to graduate higher in their class as well as complete their given programs. However, it wasn’t quite as simple as you might think. He actually found that the elite soldiers were completely wired differently. These soldiers gave off more NPY ( Neuropeptide Y) in their bodies. This chemical helps to regulate blood pressure, appetite, learning and memory.

In one test would be soldiers are tied with their hands behind their back and legs together. They are then thrown in a pool. Those with higher levels of NPY tend to do better. Instead of fighting the water they tended to remain calm, fall to the bottom and then push off the bottom for air.

What I find interesting about the results of the study is that managing stress for the rest of us can actually be more difficult and we may have to take active steps to calm ourselves to reduce stress and make correct decisions. Most of us know that emotions can get in the way of making proper financial decisions. Emotions make us sell assets when we are scared instead of holding on for better market conditions. They make us buy snake oil that won’t really help us.

Sherwood has created a website called thesurvivorsclub.org for the rest of us to learn how survivors are different and how we can try to emulate them.

Countering the Desire to Buy

Have you ever just had to have something? You’re not even sure why, but before you could say Visa you had made the purchase and then a week later you don’t even use or remember why you bought the darn thing anyway? Typically this is because a very clever marketer has tapped into your seedling desire and created a emotional state that made you want to buy. Think of those yummy pizza ads that made you order over the phone even though you aren’t hungry or buy one of those darn snuggies for $20 over the phone. Perhaps learning more about the tactics behind this marketing can help you resist future assaults on your buying psyche.

Unless you’re an Internet marketer you’ve probably never heard of Frank Kern. He is an Internet marketing master. He has put together legendary marketing sales copy that is responsible for bringing in tens of millions of dollars with his slick tongue. People pay this guy large sums of money in the form of royalties to help promote their products. I was recently listening to one of his free videos where he was dispelling some of his wisdom. The purpose of the video was to help those selling items to sell more and think about buyer psychology, but it can also be useful to stop and pause to think before you buy.

Typically marketers try to tap into a seedling desire. A seedling desire is someone that has a small interest in a given subject. They want to then turn that small desire into a full blown emotional buying state.

Remember we buy emotionally and we justify logically after the fact. Any given copy or ad is trying to tap into your emotional state to present you with a future pleasure or way to avoid pain. In some cases it can be absolutely justified. There really are great products that can change your live. My DVR is living proof of that, but there are other things we don’t need.

One of things I have found useful is to actually wait one day and sleep on it. Sleep has a way of resetting our emotional state and changing how we feel. It is amazing how many times I’ve woken up the next day and the emotional state has passed.

Send a comment and let us know how you let the emotional state pass.

The Power of Money, Endorsement and Identity Theft: Jeremy Schoemaker vs. Google Money Tree Case

IdentityJeremy Schoemaker, known for his Shoemoney.com is one of the authoritative bloggers on the Net today. His company and personal branding is so powerful, that every marketer wants to capitalise on them – even doing it illegally.

This is a classic case of identity theft for the purpose of making more money through the power of endorsement.

The case study

One of Jeremy Schoemaker’s favourite photos is him holding a cheque of a large sum – thanks to his successful make money online business ventures.

Unfortunately for him, this photo is allegedly used by an advertiser to promote Google Money Tree, a ‘system’ to make money online through Google, which later found to be a scam.

Stolen identity to promote a scam program

That’s where the problem lies: Unauthorised use of images to endorse a product without any permissions is already considered illegal and unethical. In this case, the image is used to scam people.

The impact toward Jeremy’s brand images is devastating: People assume he endorses the Google Money Tree, so that many people join the program simply due to the fact that Jeremy, the Shoemoney, ‘endorses’ the system. When the system is deemed to be a scam, so does Jeremy!

He is, of course, not happy with the stolen identity and false endorsement.

Endorsement and mind game: Why advertisers pay big bucks (some steal endorsees’ property as freebies) to get ‘celebrities’ to endorse their products.

Although Jeremy Schoemaker is not your typical celebrities – he is one of the blogging celebrities that is made famous for his financial achievement through blogging and building businesses surrounding it.

The main reason advertisers splash a large sum of money on endorsers that always are public figure is this: to get into prospects’ mind.

Jeremy is a public figure – he build his business and personal branding relentlessly. In blogging world, Jeremy Schoemaker means make money online, blogging celebrity, and branding powerhouse.

Many advertisers want to touch the corner of Jeremy’s robe so that Jeremy’s positive attributes, such as charisma, authority, mindset, and knowledge, are transferred to their products, or at least related to their products.

This way, advertisers get into prospects mind, by saying “Jeremy uses this system to make money,” “Jeremy believe this product is excellent,” and any other assumption.

Obviously, the more authoritative your endorsees are, the stronger visual and emotional bait your product has.

How would this affect the endorsee? He/she could be related to the product, and as the product is successful, his/her image and personal branding will be enhanced, too. Of course, this also applies to the contrary.

Stolen identity that is used to scam: a devastating negative ripple effect

In his Shoemoney.com blog, Jeremy wrote a clarification post that clearly stated that he has nothing to do with the Google Money Tree scam, and indicated that he will pursue a lawsuit against the owner of Google Money Tree system.

Jeremy did the clarification to stop the negative ripple effect that could bring his businesses down altoghether. Clearing his name will take a lot of resources, including money and time.

I respect Jeremy Schoemaker and would like to look forward for a positive outcome of this.

Image by fotologic.

How to Improve Your Sense of Security in Uncertain Economy

Sense of Financial SecurityPeople are often being overly reactive when it goes to bad situations.

The recession itself is happening largely due to global public reaction toward financial crisis, that is more often than not, doesn’t actually affect them directly whatsoever.

Negative outlook on financial issues cost the community lost productivity, thus worsening the effect of the financial crisis.

As a major part of your community, you, in whatever way possible, need to feel secure about your financial stature.

Why? Because if you feel secure about your financials and your life in general, you will be able to affect the community surrounding you.

Sense of security

Improving personal sense of security has never been this important in the past decades.

Sense of security is driven by facts and assumptions. The more you assume, the more insecure you will be. The more you identify facts, the more secure you will be.

Sense of security = know more facts and less assumptions.

Assumptions can be ‘altered’ into and identified as facts – no matter they are right or wrong – if you increase your knowledge through learning from reliable sources.

Facts also related to control. If you want to feel secure, you need to gain (and regain) more control on your life based on a set or series of facts.

Financial sense of security

In term of finance, assumptions leave you unguarded.

For example, consider these statements: “Stock A will go up in 10 minutes.” “Real estate B will increase in value.” etc.

The problem in the above example, is due to the fact that nobody can guarantee the above statement. Any guarantees on such would be classified as misleading, even illegal.

On the other hands, facts can secure your personal finance and help you see things from the right perspective.

For example, consider these statements: “I’m getting a 10% rate of return on my investment.” “The foreclosure houses I bought make me $150 positive cashflow per month.”

Warren Buffet, the maestro of investment, do all of his investment based on intrinsic value – the facts – not based on the floating stock value on stock exchanges – the assumptions.

Again, it is all about control. “Sure things” improve control, hence reducing investment risks.

How to improve your financial sense of security these days

You need to get more facts about personal finance. You will eventually find out that there is a certain consensus between personal finance experts about some of the best practices in managing your finances.

Such knowledge you acquire should be enhanced with tools that can help you with a more exact (and measurable) facts. For example, the use of Savings Calculator to learn how much you would receive within a period of time can provide you with a measurable fact that allow you to decide what’s best for your personal finance – finding savings account that yield you more, finding new investment that can increase the speed of your money, and so on.

Nevertheless, your diligence in increasing your financial knowledge will determine how secure you feel about your personal finance, and how well you cope (and thrive) in today’s economic crisis.

Image by bragadocchio.

Faxless Payday Loan: Helping Hand or Quick Sand?

Helping HandWhen we talk about loans in any forms, they are always related to debts.

Taking loans can offer you two things: good debts and bad debts – good debts put money in your pocket, bad debts lose money from your pocket.

Your financial needs, situation and knowledge play important roles in making the loan bad debt or good debt.

Loans come in many flavours – One of the most talk about, in my opinion, is payday loans. Why is that?

Faxless payday loan – offering you financial solution, fast – a bit too fast to handle

Payday loan is a small amount, short-term loan that is intended to cover borrower’s financial need until his/her next paycheck received.

With the advent of the Internet, payday loans are becoming more and more accessible. The term “faxless payday loan” refers to payday loan which application is processed online, thanks to the Internet.

While in essence payday loan aims to help people regardless of their credit score, many accuse payday loan as the culprit that drown many people deeper in debt.

Not quite.

In my opinion, people inherit a common weakness. They want more for less, and they want it fast.

People are always looking for fast and instant remedies for their problems, including financial problems. Just like everything in life, such as fast food, instant means immediate gratification first and quality second.

Payday loan offers fast solution. Faxless payday loan even does things faster, due to online application processing and instant approval. The drawback, as always, is the sky-high interest rate.

Those bring interesting relationship: No matter how negative the reputation of payday loan is, it seems that more and more people need payday loan these days, and payday loan providers are thriving these days. Some sort of love-hate relationship between lenders and borrowers.

Reality check: Stop blaming payday loans – have you ever look things from the eye of payday loan providers?

I am appalled to know people are blaming payday loan. Although I’m not offering any payday loans or similar things and not involving in one either, I think there are too much bad apples thrown at lenders, accusing them as scammers.

Have you ever thought that it is borrower’s responsibility to keep him/her-self well-informed regarding what type of loans he/she is about to take? It is borrower’s responsibility to know what question to ask and when to take payday loans.

Many payday loan providers I know are trying hard to offer a solution. They bear huge risks – they lend to borrowers with no regard of their credit scores. That is why payday loans charge huge interest rate: to supplement the high risks of lending to borrowers with bad credit ratings.

The right borrowers do regard payday loans as the life-savers. do help people – the right one and the well-informed one, that is – getting out of debt.

How to use payday loan to your benefit

First thing first – learn everything you can about payday loan. It is your responsibility to learn about payday loan, about the providers, and about what to expect and when.

Always plan everything – You need to know how much will you get from the lenders, the amount of the interest you owe to the lenders, and most importantly, how the short-term loans can help you getting out of debt, and for how long. You can actually ask the payday loan providers to provide you with a calculation on how much would you pay in the end of the loan period.

If the plan looks positive, go for it. If not, run away from it.

One, last advice: Never, ever take any form of loans without the right knowledge about the loans. That only makes payday loan quick sand, not helping hands.

Image by toolfan.hess.

Eventually, How You Survive the Recession Depends on Your Financial Intelligence

MoneyI once asked by my reader in my other blog – When do you think the recession will end, and how?

I really am having a hard time to answer the question. So may opinions from experts and public, as well.

To tell you the truth, I can’t imagine how the recession will end, and when will it eventually ends.

Some experts say that the recession will peak within 2 or 3 years, and things will improve gradually from there – so, rough road ahead.

Regarding how the recession will end, here’s an interesting estimate – According to this article, the average recession lasted for 10.8 months. Therefore, according to the data, on average, the recession should end last November 2008, and the longest would probably ended on April 2009.

Not exactly the case, in my opinion. Why?

Negative sentiment drive today’s recession more than before

I think that today’s recession might not be your typical recession. The emotional turmoil is as bad as the economic turmoil, in such a way that people left with unsecurity, uncertainty and negative thinking.

Even though the economy is supposedly rebounded on November 2008, the economic downturn inertia will lengthen the recession, even beyond what’s estimated as the long recession mentioned in the article above, April 2009.

As a non financial expert, but a self-made student of human behaviour, I view the recession will go well over April 2009, and will reach the peak on mid or late 2010.

I’m not sure, but neither the expert.

The best survival tool: financial education

Regarding how the recession will end, my answer would be this:

As everything in life – such as the ripple in a lake decreases when the wind speed decreases – after the panic, buzz and negative sentiment sustain themselves in people, the recession will gradually peaked and the economy will rebound – all with viral effects, as sentiment is contagious; The positive outlook of the economy will gradually, in itself, improve economy situation.

The question: How to accelerate economy sustainability?

The answer: As people start to gather themselves and start to learn from the situation, their financial intelligence increases gradually, and the new understanding will accelerate economy recovery – eventually.

The availability of money guides and money information, especially online, will help people to learn better, faster.

Nowadays, the phrase “Time is money” has never been this true before – the faster people learn, the sooner recession will end – the knowledge will set you free.

Image by emdot.

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