This past week, I finished up the last of my 132 CARE financial literacy presentations for this school year, and also had a wonderful opportunity to speak about my thoughts on citizenship with a local Boy Scout Troop.

Having naturalized new U.S. Citizens when I was on the bench, I was aware of the 100 questions and answers which aspiring citizens study in preparing for naturalization. I raised this question with the Scouts. How many Americans, born in this country, would know most of the answers? After years of watching Jay Leno and Water’s World interview people on the street with current-events questions that you would think they would know the answers to, I really do wonder. (By the way you can find those questions and answers at

That experience with the Boy Scouts made me wonder how many families know and practice the Top 10 lessons that I talk about in a CARE presentation, or, how many may know their importance but just don’t practice them. I know that I talk about them in my columns, but I am not sure that I have ever actually listed them in one column, so here they are.

1. Don't use credit cards to buy "stuff" you can't afford.

2. Cash is king.

3. Budget in order to control your spending or it will control you.

4. You need a good credit history or there will be consequences.

5. Save if you want to do priceless things and live richly.

6. Money matters.

7. Don't make wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences "false needs."

8. Don't make anticipated expenses "false emergencies."

9. The only "good debt" is debt that you can afford to repay and have a plan to repay.

10. Get the best value for every dollar you spend or borrow for an education, and minimize any student loan debt.

Here are some additional things that you would hear at a CARE presentation.

1. Today eight out of the top 14 stressors in life are money-related, so you need to learn about personal finances, and be proactive about having a plan and developing good financial habits, so that you can eliminate all or many of those stressors. You can have one four-year car loan, and never have another car loan in your life, if you keep it for 10 years and after you pay off the loan, put the monthly payment you have been paying in the bank every month, so that you will have the money for your next car. Or, like so many Americans, you can roll in a series of seven-year car loans, and owe $30,000 against a car that is worth $12,000. I know that would stress me out. Which one do you want to be?

2. Because there no longer are effective usury laws, and interest rates are so high, you need to learn about finances, so that the financial industry won’t take advantage of you. Every week you read about some financial institution being fined millions of dollars for taking advantage of consumers. When they can borrow at 1 percent, and loan it to you on a credit card at 29 percent, they can make a lot of credit mistakes and ruin a lot of consumers' lives. When it comes to defending yourself against being financially taken advantage of, it is critical that you read all of your financial contracts carefully, understand them, and “do your own math” to determine whether you can afford it. Don’t take anyone’s word for that. It doesn’t make a difference what the agreement is — a lease; cable, internet or phone contract; a mortgage; or any other financial contract.

3. Money is what you get for working hard or having invested your hard-earned money wisely, so get the best value that you can for every dollar of your hard-earned money when you spend it. If you think about how many hours you or someone had to work to buy or do something, and you buy or do it, you will value it and enjoy it more. On the other hand, sometimes you may walk away, or look for a better deal. If you build good spending habits, and always “make money matter,” getting good value will eventually come easily.

4. As a consumer, you are not a business making a profit, and passing your interest costs on to your customers in the price of the products or services that you are selling. As a result, as a consumer, no matter how much money you are making, your goal should be to pay as few interest dollars as possible. A 15-year mortgage, instead of a 30-year mortgage; a three- or four-year car loan, rather than a seven-year loan; avoiding credit card debt; and minimizing student loan debt can significantly reduce your interest costs, and leave you with more money in the end, so that you can meet all or more of your financial goals.

Next: More of what you would hear in a CARE presentation.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at or at