Finance can be a dry topic, and Hunter Kern tries to make it fun with his finance/comedy blog Funancials. He chatted with us about financial literacy and how we can be better informed about how we're making and spending money.
How common is financial literacy? Could we be doing better as a society in this regard?
Financial literacy is rare, but it's becoming more common. When I graduated from college, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the world. But I didn't even know what a mortgage was.
This lack of knowledge can potentially be fixed by implementing a brief "real-life survival" course in elementary schools, high schools and/or colleges. But, "knowing" is only half the battle.
We know that smoking is bad, yet we still die from lung cancer. We know which food groups are healthy and which aren't, but we're still obese. So, I don't think financial literacy will solve all of our problems, but it won't hurt.
What's one tenet of financial literacy you wish everyone knew, and why?
Spend less than you earn. If more people lived by this basic concept, we would live in a more stable economy. The "booms" may not be as good, but the "busts" wouldn't be as bad.
How often does our psychology and personality come into play when we make financial decisions? Is an "impartial" decision ever possible?
As a "numbers guy," it was hard for me to accept the fact that every financial decision is influenced by psychology and personality. For example, I generally think that excess funds in a budget should be invested rather than used to pay down a mortgage. I think this because, historically, stock market returns have been greater than the currently-low mortgage rates. However, do I have the discipline to dollar-cost average into an index fund for an extended period of time? Am I confident that I won't sell my investments based on fear and as a result lose out on most of the upside? Will I be a more productive employee and earn a higher wage because I'm no longer concerned with debt? All good questions - and precisely why psychology is (in many cases) more influential than numbers. It's extremely difficult to remain impartial. Are our minds fooling us into losing money? All of the time and everywhere.
Before making any purchase, what should we ask ourselves and why?
Whenever I'm about to make a purchase, I ask myself, "What else can I buy with this money?" This is a simplified consideration of opportunity costs - which every consumer should understand. For example, before I spend $100 on a nice meal, I quickly consider everything else that costs $100. Instead of a nice meal, I could eat at home and buy a new pair of running shoes. I could pay for three months of a gym membership, 10 pairs of "Happy" socks or one share of Apple.
After this quick analysis, I usually find that I would be happier holding onto my money and using it elsewhere.
What's the future of personal finance?
I'm really excited about the future of personal finance. The collision between technology and money management has resulted in a lot of helpful resources. Information is available everywhere. Reviews are accessible for anything. There are apps to help with everything.
For example, how cool is it that I can conveniently upload all of my gift cards to an app on my phone, use my phone to make a purchase, immediately see the money deducted from my bank account and get notified that I've spent too much in a specific budgeting category - all while sitting on my couch?
At the same time, how scary is it that a retailer knows who I am, they know exactly what I like because they know what I search for and they can see every purchase I've ever made, they can send me coupons specific to the things I want, they know which coupons are more likely to get me to buy, they know which tender type I prefer to pay with, they probably have it stored on their server and they know I can make that purchase - again, while sitting on my couch?