On this Motley Fool Answers episode, Robert Brokamp is on his own to interview Rachel Schneider, a senior VP at the Center for Financial Services Innovation, and professor Jonathan Morduch, who teaches public policy and economics at NYU, about their new book, The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty. For the study behind the book, their team tracked essentially everything about the finances of 235 families in five states for a full year, giving them deep insights into where we are succeeding, where we're not, and what obstacles are most commonly in our paths.
In this segment, they talk tactics: With money tight and fiscal pitfalls everywhere, the families in their study have come up with a number of tricks to keep themselves from winding up in worse shape. Some seem counterintuitive, as in "Wouldn't that cost you more in the long run?" But personal finance isn't just a numbers game. It's a human game.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Sept. 26, 2017.
Robert Brokamp: I was impressed by many of the workarounds people came up with. I think it's the type of stuff that anyone could learn from, especially if you have any spending problems. In that Federal Reserve study that found that people can't come up with $400, something like 17% of people who earn over $100,000 couldn't do it either. So it's not just a lower-income problem. Janice had the work-around of cutting up her ATM card. I think when she ran out of checks she didn't get any new ones and then she chose a bank that was like an hour away with horrible hours. She could only get her money if she actually needed to get it.
Jonathan Morduch: Yes, I thought Janice's story on the ATM cards was an interesting one, because when you're facing these ups and downs, it's very tempting to put it on your credit card or go to a payday lender. She had gotten into trouble with payday lenders in the past. The payday lenders require a check -- a postdated check you have to write out -- and she knew that if she didn't have any more checks, she couldn't go to the payday lender. And when she ran out of checks she just didn't order any more.
She's then operating without checks and she's then having to pay her bills with money orders. And if you're just looking at it from outside, you think, "God, that's crazy. Why doesn't she just use checks instead of having all these costs?" But she figured out that this was by far less costly because it keeps the payday lenders at bay and she had a similar work-around with her savings.
Brokamp: Another work-around I liked was the family who, when they did have money, would stock up on things like toothpaste, laundry detergent, and things like that because they figured they're going to need that stuff. That gets the money out of their hands so they can't spend it.
Rachel Schneider: That was Becky and Jeremy. Jeremy's the truck mechanic. And I think there's a real theme in the work-arounds that we saw people come up with around self-awareness. Like knowing what would work for you to maintain discipline around your financial goals.
It's hard. It's hard for everybody, so some people find it really useful to do what Becky does and stockpile when she has cash. Another man we got to know only spent in increments of under $20. That was his rule. I only buy things in small amounts. But people come up with those rules knowing their own foibles, their own dangers. For Becky she felt like it's really easy to spend cash. As to saving cash she said, "That's just hard for me. But I know I'm going to need these pork chops or this laundry detergent so I'll just buy that now and eventually I'll use it."
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