April is National Financial Literacy Month.
Come on, now, wake up! That was only six words, and you're already nodding off.
I know about this special month because a publicity person told me so, in connection with an appeal for publicity for a client of her's, 'certified financial adviser and retirement coach, Bill Losey,' who, unlike me, actually knows what he's talking about when the subject of finance comes up.
Also unlike me, Mr. Losey has written at least one book, 'Retire in a Weekend! The Baby Boomer's Guide to Making Work Optional,' he founded National Retirement Planning Month, and he publishes an award-winning weekly newsletter that reaches thousands of subscribers worldwide - about all of which you can learn more by visiting BillLosey.com.
Let me summarize Mr. Losey's article, 'Five Ways to Break Bad Money Habits,' at least according to his publicity person. We can break our bad habits by: (1) establishing a budget; (2) separating needs from desires; (3) figuring out the difference between good and bad debt; (4) educating ourselves about this stuff; and (5) setting financial goals and taking them seriously.
Now, bearing in mind that I'm not a financial expert, that I have not written any books, on any subject whatsoever, that I don't have a website and I have never even founded a national day or week, let alone a month, I think we need to get way more specific about this bad money habits thing.
The 'Five Ways to Break Bad Money Habits' article is full of good advice, but it's pretty much what you'd get watching a financial expert talking for two minutes on the 'Today' show or 'Good Morning America.' In print, it's even less compelling. I drifted off a couple of times just reading it because I'm more of a detail person, and there wasn't much in the way of specifics in it. So I'm going to provide some details of my own.
And I should explain that I'm not talking to you rich folks with investment portfolios and, you know, jobs. This is aimed at the regular people, who are sitting there on the couch wondering how they're ever going to get their head above water.
After you've visited Mr. Losey's website and maybe even read his book, then consider my tips for how to break some of your bad spending habits. Here they are:
n Get rid of your cable TV service (or Direct TV, Dish, Comcast or any of those pricey, high-tech options). They are extravagances that unemployed (or under-employed) people cannot afford. For the few bucks it takes to buy a set of rabbit ears at Fred Meyer, you can have free high-definiton. Nobody ever tells you that, but it's true.
I'm utterly amazed at how many people who are out of work, or struggling to get by, continue to pay for high-priced television service.
It is true that you will not get 750 channels like some people do (including HBO or ESPN), but in the Portland area you can have two channel 2's, channel 6, three channel 8's, four 10's, channel 12, several 22's, three 32's, 49 and a whole slew of shopping, religious and rerun channels - all for free. And, let's face it, even the so-called bargain rate that they dangle in front of you ('just $49 a month for the first six months') is ridiculous, and it's only going up after that.
On the other hand, you should subscribe to your local newspaper, because if you don't know what's going on around you, well, you're a lost cause.
• Don't pay for your banking. Banks are as bad as airlines. They ask for all your money, and then they want to charge you fees every time you want to do anything, like write a check. Ask them what you have to do to have free checking. My bank just requires that I keep a certain balance.
• Make your own lunch. Every day. With the money you spend going out to lunch, you could have bought a stinkin' Maserati by now. Same goes for the fancy coffee shops. I personally go to Starbucks every day - but I have a job, and it's my little reward to myself for hanging on to it.
• Learn to cook, buy groceries and stop going out for dinner. This is the same as the lunch one but likely to provide even more savings. You can eat for a week on what you'll spend on one meal at some restaurants.
• Don't pay regular prices for clothing. Almost everything I own came from Value Village or Goodwill - and dammit, I look good! At least clip coupons and shop the sales at the mall and outlet stores.
• Quit smoking. This is not just health advice (even though you already know it's going to kill you if you don't), but financial, too. When I quit smoking 29 years ago, cigarettes were $6.50 a carton, and that was too much for me. Today that's closer to what a pack costs. Cut out the smoking and suddenly we're talking two Maseratis, a red one and a yellow one.
• Speaking of cars, if money is tight, buy used rather than new. A 2-year-old sedan with low mileage is going to last a long time but will be much less spendy.
• Quit the health club. If you're hurting for money, you can take a half-hour walk every day and stay healthy, which is important. When you get that job back (or promotion), join up again, but this is a luxury, people.
One last note about my financial credentials: When it comes to saving money, I know what I'm talking about. I'm in my 37th year of working for newspapers and, even though I'm pretty good at it, I make about the same amount as a first-year teacher in the Portland area. This is not a complaint, because I was warned about this repeatedly by counselors, teachers and family members - and I went into journalism anyway. And I still don't regret it.
Former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.