Archive for the ‘Money’ category

Sudden good fortune

February 5, 2019

For a long time, my company, like many nonprofits, was struggling to make ends meet. Our budget was as lean as it could be, while still making sure that operations ran smoothly (if not quite quickly). We were working our way to financial stability.

And one day, with a letter and a phone call, things changed. We received a modest, unexpected bequest that did more than pay our bills for the month. Instead of juggling payments and hoping for donations, we had some breathing room to plan for the future.

What would we do with this unanticipated gift? Spend it? Save it? A little of both?

Sudden good fortune, like winning a lottery or jackpot, is one of the most dangerous things to happen to an organization – or an individual.

There’s that’s rush of euphoria, sense of freedom, and perilous impulsiveness. There are arguments about what to do with good fortune. There are other people who want to share in your good fortune. And there is the temptation to spend that good fortune quickly – and unwisely.

Having learned from a past gift that was unwisely spent, board leaders wanted to designate the entire amount toward our fledgling endowment.

Working with the day to day expenses and limitations of a small company, staff wanted to designate a small amount for operations.

As a nonprofit, we asked ourselves three basic questions:

1. Could we continue to function well if we didn’t have this gift? Specifically, how would our clients and staff be affected if we didn’t have this gift?

2. Will there still be a strong need for our services over the next 20, 30, and 40 years?

3. Are we committed to serving our future clients who need our services?

This unexpected gift spurred me to commit to our mission, not just in the short term, but for generations to come. It changed my perspective from today’s clients to future beneficiaries.

In the end, the answer wasn’t difficult. We decided to designate the entire gift toward the endowment, but also slightly increase our budget for staff and operations in the next year.

What would you do with sudden good fortune?

Reflections on spending and priorities

April 12, 2016


April is a month of spending and taxation. As individuals and businesses are filling out tax returns and possibly making tax payments and estimated tax payments to government, our state legislature and city councils are discussing how to spend our money.

Whether it is our decision to buy something, or government’s decision to fund something, it’s all about our priorities. I started thinking about what are priorities are, and how our spending priorities reflect what is important to us.

In our personal lives, our basic priorities might be:

  1. Security (safety from harm)
  2. Food and water
  3. Shelter and clothing (safety from the environment)
  4. Health (medicine, vaccinations, vitamins)

If our fundamental needs are met, our priorities might change to:

  1. Family and community ties
  2. A sense of purpose, spirituality, or philanthropy
  3. A fulfilling job (career)
  4. Planning for the future (retirement)

Just as our priorities influence how we spend money, government’s priorities influence the programs that are funded.

When governments prioritize society (the common good), focusing on the issues that individuals cannot easily manage, spending priorities might be:

  1. Public security (safety from other countries or hostile groups)
  2. Public order (safety within a community)
  3. Common good (utilities, infrastructure, education, recreation, environment)
  4. Public welfare (healthcare, welfare, housing)

Until the Social Security Act passed in 1935, Hawaii and the United States seemed to prioritize the common good – emphasizing charity and philanthropy instead of public assistance.

When governments prioritize individuals, focusing on personal welfare and health, spending priorities might be:

  1. Public welfare (healthcare, welfare, housing)
  2. Public order (safety within a community)
  3. Common good (utilities, infrastructure, education, recreation, environment)
  4. Public security (safety from other countries or hostile groups)

Based on 2015 federal spending, the United States government seems to prioritize individuals – 65% of the federal budget was spent on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and income security programs.


Should Hawaii’s priorities be on individuals or the common good? What are your priorities?


Note: I found this elegant graphic on, and I wish I could acknowledge the original author.

Financial wellness is cool, high taxes are cruel

April 7, 2015

Financial Literacy Month

When my son was in first grade, his teacher game him an “If I had $100…” writing assignment. “If I had $100 I would buy a video game arcade. I would buy the arcade because I like to play video games all day!” My first thought was that we needed to cut down on his game playing! My second thought was that he doesn’t realize how much things really cost.

We’re not too young or too old to to be money-wise. April is Financial Literacy Month, and we could all take some time to think about our financial well-being. So many of us are living with credit card debt, student loans, or overwhelming mortgages.

Most financial wellness philosophies come down to budgets, balances, and goals – or, spending less than you earn, sharing what you can, saving the rest, and making good choices. Here are 4 ideas to help you and your money get healthier and happier:

  1. Pledge to take 30 steps to financial wellness. Money Management International offers 30 simple ways to improve your financial wellness. It all starts with a commitment to change.
  2. Plan your financial first aid kit. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a free “Emergency Financial First Aid Kit” to help you organize all of your financial information and records in one place.
  3. Make a lifestyle change. If you’d rather make a big leap forward to financial wellness, try one of these challenges. Take David Bruno’s 100 Thing Challenge, to reduce your stuff and refuse new stuff. Accept Courtney Carver’s Project 333 Challenge, to spend less on clothes and simplify your wardrobe. Limit your trash to one bag a week with Glad’s One Bag Challenge, to reduce spending and encourage recycling.
  4. For kids: learn about saving money and saving the day. Practical Money Skills has a free printable comic “Saving the Day” featuring Spider-Man and the Avengers. There’s even a “Budget Blaster” worksheet to budget like a superhero. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis offers a free “The Piggy Bank Primer: Saving and Budgeting” to introduce kids to saving, spending, budgeting, and more.

Taking care of our financial well-being is just half of the battle. Our government’s financial well-being is just as important as our own, because the government is spending our money. On April 19, 2015, Hawaii residents and taxpayers will celebrate Tax Freedom Day – the day when we start to work for ourselves, rather than working to pay our taxes, according to the Tax Foundation. In Hawaii, we’ll have worked for the government (through federal, state, local, sales, and payroll taxes) for 109 days, celebrating our freedom five days earlier than the nation as a whole.

Here are 3 fun ideas to help you celebrate Tax Freedom Day:

  1. Pay yourself first. Put $100 in your savings account to symbolize your “first” paycheck of the year. You could even be ironic and spend 30% of it.
  2.  Turn dollar bills into art. Make friends with your money by trying out money origami. Create a $100 money lei from Instructables or a money origami shirt from Homemade Gifts Made Easy.
  3. Play with other people’s money. Challenge family and friends to a game of Monopoly. The Monopoly Hawaii Edition was issued in 1996. You could also play Hawaii-opoly by Island-opoly (with replica 1800s bank notes) and Hawaii-opoly by Late for the Sky.

How would you rate your financial well-being? How could we improve Hawaii’s financial wellness? Do you think that Hawaii’s government is worth the 109 days that we work to pay our taxes?

“Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women and Money” by Kevin O’Leary

July 5, 2014

Cold Hard Truth on Men Women and Money

“Don’t spend too much. Mostly save. Always invest.”

That’s the secret to becoming wealthy, according to business entrepreneur, “The Learning Company” founder, and “Shark Tank” co-host Kevin O’Leary.

But if it were easy, we would all be wealthy. So O’Leary wrote “Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women and Money: 50 Common Money Mistakes and How to Fix Them” (2012) to talk about our relationship with money and how we can “save money, invest better, and cut your losses.”

To get people more comfortable thinking about money, O’Leary starts with personal anecdotes and a financial quiz. He offers several tools to help you understand where your money comes from and where it goes, including a “90-day number,” a finance calculator, and how to find “ghost money.”

What is the cold, hard truth? O’Leary warns, “No matter how much money you make, the world is designed to take it away.” To combat this fact, O’Leary offers is the “Cold Hard Truth Card,” a credit-card sized pledge about money that I think we should all carry around in our wallets.

The “Cold Hard Truth Card” says:
I pledge to make no purchases unless I can answer TRUE to the following 5 statements:
1. I have given this purchase sufficient thought.
2. Buying this item will not create debt for me or anyone else.
3. I not only want this item, I need it.
4. This item is more valuable than the interest I’d earn if I saved the money instead.
5. This item will matter to me in a year.

The challenge is to find that set point of “enough” and then rarely exceed it. Once you find your set point, don’t spend more extravagantly even when your income increases. “When you get to a place of ‘enough,’ you will stop having money problems,” he writes.

He emphasizes three guiding principles about money: keep money and emotions separate; eliminate debt; and be grateful for what you have.

Here are 3 common money mistakes everyone makes:
* You’re in the dark about your finances. The fix: correct that by figuring out your 90-day number (all your earnings over 3 months, minus all your expenses over 3 months).
* Money (buying stuff) makes you happy. The fix: if you’re bored, lonely frustrated or sad, go for a walk, cook, read – but don’t shop! Avoid advertising by cutting down on magazines, TV, and the internet.
* You don’t know what to invest in. The fix: the 3 basic rules of investing are 1) invest in stocks and securities that pay dividends/interest; 2) save a consistent portion of your income; and 3) spend the interest, not the principle.

And here are 3 more money mistakes about things you think you need:
* You think you need a car. The fix: car ownership is not for everyone. If you can, move closer to work town. Walk, bike, or take public transportation. If you need a car, lease your vehicle or buy used.
* You think you need a college degree. The fix: Think outside the cubicle! Not everyone should go to college. Skilled trades don’t require years of expensive schooling.
* You think you need to buy a home. The fix: rent, don’t buy. If you have debt (like student loans), you should rent until you are debt-free.

“Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women and Money” lays out our money problems in simple terms. O’Leary offers practical and helpful tools to save money and to think about money in a new way: as creative energy, not as a way to get “stuff.” Some of his suggestions may seem unemotional and unromantic (he strongly recommends pre-nuptial agreements before getting married) and may not work for everyone. One mistake that is missing: “You think that newer means better.” This is not necessarily true; newer is different, not necessarily better.

For more money ideas, visit Kevin O’Leary’s website.

Opening shared banking centers

June 24, 2014

Shared Banking Centers

Last month, there were armed robberies at three Oahu banks. On May 1, a Central Pacific Bank in Wahiawa was robbed by a man with a handgun. On May 13, an American Savings Bank in Salt Lake was robbed by two men armed with a rifle and pistol. On May 30, an American Savings Bank at Pearlridge Center was robbed by two men with handguns. In response, American Savings Bank hired special duty police officers for their Oahu branches.

This post is not about gun control or gun rights. It’s about trying to make banks and customers safer, and save money too.

In shopping malls and strip malls, restaurants band together in food courts, giving consumers more choice and sharing the costs of table space and cleaning services. At large airports like Las Vegas, car rental companies join together in rental car centers. McCarran Rent-a-Car Center hosts 12 car rental companies, who share the costs of office space, utilities, shuttle bus services, parking, and even cars.

While banks are opening ATMs and branches in more convenient and economical places, like grocery stores and mass merchandise stores, they have continued to open and operate large, single-bank branches. Recently, Central Pacific Bank opened a new branch in Manoa (May 2014), First Hawaiian Bank built a new branch in Aina Haina (December 2013), and American Savings Bank opened in a new branch in Kailua-Kona (June 2013).

Banks may not want to give up their imposing presence or formal, elegant buildings, but maybe it’s time for banks to band together in shared banking centers.

Banks could benefit from shared banking centers because they could share the costs for offices, lobby space, conference rooms, utilities, and parking. They could hire more security guards and install better security cameras. With lower operating costs, they could extend their banking hours, making it more convenient for bank customers to stop by after work. Previously empty floor space could be set up with tables and chairs for people to read over bank paperwork or talk informally with bank representatives. They could even coordinate employee appreciation days and customer loyalty events.

Consumers could benefit from shared banking centers because we would have one-stop shopping for banking, credit and loan accounts. There might be more competitive rates, since banks know that customers could walk across the lobby to another bank. Bank fees might remain the same or even decrease, since operating costs would be lower. Walking into a bank might feel a little safer, because a shared banking center could afford to hire more security and better security cameras; and maybe a little less stressful, because banks might feel less intimidating.

Bank employees could benefit from shared banking centers because outstanding employees would be appreciated, if managers know that another bank easily could lure them away. They might feel safer, knowing that there is increased security and more staff during opening and closing hours. They could learn from other banks’ best business practices and share ideas.

Do you prefer to bank online, by phone, by ATM, or in person? How often do you visit your local bank? What do you think of a shared banking center?