Financial Intelligence vs. Financial Literacy

“Literacy”, according to Webster’s dictionary, is “the ability to read and write”. So it follows that “Financial Literacy” is the ability to read and write numbers. When I first saw the term “Financial Intelligence” on the cover of the book by Karen Berman and Joe Knight, I thought “THAT’s what I’ve been looking for!” – because a lot of us can READ numbers, but what we really want to do is TRANSLATE the numbers and figure out what they are telling us. Right? Numbers are like a language – only easier: if I’m learning Spanish, I have to learn nouns, verbs and adjectives, feminine and masculine, past, present and future AND the grammar rules that give a sentence that wonderful rhythm – and meaning! Numbers don’t have tenses or genders or parts of speech – but they DO have meaning. Leave the complicated stuff to the professionals and learn the simple stuff: what is the story my numbers are telling me. If you need a translator at first, check out or any of the books on “Financial Intelligence” at The Business Literacy Institute Before you know it, you’ll know your story – and you can begin to write the next chapters!

For a real light touch, if business books are not your thing, check out the Financial Intelligence graphic novel (okay – comic book) at


A New American Dream – revisiting the definition?

In 1931 John T. Adams defined the American Dream as “the dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” And somehow, the dream has become synonymous with owning a house – because a house is about security and stability and a base to come home to. Or at least that is how I think of it. But what is that dream for you? Is it paying off a crushing Student Loan Debt? Is it buying a home? Is it getting healthcare coverage? Is it owning a home? In the Sunday NY Times yesterday there is an article about Jacob Deng Mach, a refugee – one of the Lost Boys of Sudan – living in Atlanta who says “All I knew was that America was the greatest thing in the world. Nobody knew how people struggle in America.” The perception of the American Dream is alive and well in the world – and we still see examples of the American Dream in action (primarily in Silicon Valley these days). If you want to see a vision for a New American Dream, visit If that dream doesn’t work for you – what does? I’d love to hear from you – because at the base of the answer to each of these questions is the same value that John T. Adams wrote about: a sense of opportunity to achieve safety and stability.

Just one thing

A friend forwarded an email that he had received from the manager of his retirement fund, which included an article about “happiness”, with this recipe:

Practicing gratitude
· Cultivating optimism/hope
· Avoiding social comparison (ruminating on what others have and we do not)
· Practicing acts of generosity and kindness
· Developing deep social relationships (versus an abundance of those that are superficial)
· Developing resilience/endurance through trials
· Practicing forgiveness (even more, forgiveness that is undeserved)
· Increasing “flow” activities – those where your gifts /talents are most utilized
· Savoring life’s joys (versus unbridled indulgence)
· Establishing purpose/setting goals
· Pursuing “spirituality” – acknowledging a power beyond oneself
· Physical and social activity – movement and engagement with those around us

As every media outlet I’m in contact with today is tempting me with all kinds of incredible deals – at incredible prices, I looked at this list – and it’s source – with some cynicism (see? – not cultivating happiness – yet). And yet, yesterday’s Thanksgiving celebration was – for me – a savoring of just one of life’s joys (with “bridled” indulgence): a gathering of friends to share – whatever each of us felt like sharing. So – that’s the point, isn’t it: I may eventually be able to do all the things on the list above, but for today, I just need do do one thing. So I’ll continue from yesterday and move and engage with those around me – though I’m tempted to stay by the fire, protected from the weather outside…

We all make assumptions…don’t we?

Years ago, my cousin Hap and I were talking about financial advisers and financial planners – we were both relatively new in our careers and wanting to do the right thing about saving for retirement – and saving, period. He told me that he had been working with “a guy” at Merrill Lynch for a few years and just that morning, his “guy” had called him to say that he was now a Portfolio Manager (a timeout, while I just clarify: a broker is someone who arranges a transaction between a buyer and a seller and receives a commission, and a portfolio manager is someone who makes investment decisions using money other people have placed under his/her control). My cousin said “So, Bob, what have you done in the last 12 hours that qualifies you to move from being a ‘broker’ to being a ‘portfolio manager'”. “I got new business cards.” Now, it turns out that Bob had the talent and he has done well as a portfolio manager for my cousin. But some of us treat people who manager our money like doctors: do what they say, even if we don’t think it is in our best interest. Do ask questions, check your assumptions, and take the time to find an adviser who you will be with for a good long time – it is worth the effort.

Check out Friday’s radio show:

I’m just asking…

On Friday’s show with Helaine Olen, one of the things we talked about was fiduciary duty.  What is the fiduciary duty of a financial advisor? “To consistently act in the best interest of clients.” And one of the things you get to sort out for yourself when you hire an advisor is how much you are willing to pay for his or her advice – the same way you do if you are hiring any professional.  The difference in the financial world is that you pay for that advice in different ways: sometimes by paying a percentage of the assets the professional manages, sometimes by paying commissions on products the professional buys in your account.  So you can go price shopping for an advisor just the way you do for a car, if price matters most to you.  What I think about when I think about a financial advisor goes beyond money: do I understand what s/he is talking about? Is s/he listening to the answers to questions asked – or do I feel like I do when I get on the customer service line for my computer: the person on the other end is reading from a script and just knows they have to solve the problem and get off the line to reach their quota? Do I know others who have had experience with this advisor? Can s/he give me references? Are they a fiduciary? How do they get paid? How long has their longest client been with them?

We live in a consumer society and we’re being asked to make more decisions that may be out of our area of both comfort and expertise.  BUT we also live in a world that has more ways to find information and ask questions than we’ve ever had.  So go ahead, ask the questions – and keep coming back with the answers you get to join the conversation.  I agree with Helaine – we need to keep talking about our money so we can keep it, grow it and use it.

A happiness dividend

Last week I heard a speaker relaying the story of her early teaching experience -which she hated – and how THINKING more positively about her teaching actually made her more creative in her teaching and able to get out of her own way.  She was still clear that teaching wasn’t for her and left the profession – but she left with achievement instead of bad memories.  I’m an incurable optimist, so overall positive thinking comes naturally to me.  But this got me wondering two things: 1. how many times a day to I think about money? 2. what percentage of those thoughts are positive?  I honestly have no idea – but I do think about money a lot during the day: writing contracts for clients, doing the grocery shopping, listening to market reports – heck, listening to the news in general (the Budget, healthcare premiums, jobless/jobs reports), making travel plans for business or work – THINKING about making travel plans.  Well, you know.  And then my follow-on thought: if I switch negative thoughts to positive thoughts, what kind of happiness dividend over time because of my view?

So join me in an experiment – take a few pauses during the day to reflect on how often (in the last hour, in the last 4 hours – don’t make yourself crazy, but notice) you’ve thought about money. I’ll check back in next week with what I learn.

In the meantime, join us tomorrow to talk about the dark side of the personal financial industry with blogger, author, and researcher extraordinaire Helaine Olen.

Materialism, kids and self esteem

On today’s “Money In Your Life” radio show (link attached), Dr. Tim Kasser talked about his work studying the link between materialistic values and self esteem.  He has done  studies across the age spectrum, but important work with tweens and teens that have shown that, not only can you not buy happiness but that focus on status/image/money have a deep affect on a child’s self-esteem and on how that child shows up and functions in society.  Listen to the show – and watch the short Youtube – to sort out what you can do, what your child can do and what advertisers can do.