For those of us who write personal finance columns, and for those of us who speak to students about personal finance lessons, tactics and techniques for life, many television commercials can provide us with great material to reinforce many of our important lessons.
Of course, sometimes the message that the commercial is pushing can be used to reinforce an opposite important personal finance lesson. For example, take the Visa Check Card commercial where the lunch line crashes when someone dares to use cash instead of swiping a card. I think the message of the commercial, which at the end says that money shouldn’t slow you down, is that cards are more convenient and quicker in this very busy world where our time is so precious. I use it to reinforce just the opposite lesson, which is that “Cash is King.” As regular readers know, studies show that people who use cash make different spending decisions, and often spend less, so I tell students, and everyone, that I make money slow me down every day by using cash as much as possible, because I know that it will save me money in the long run, and, for me, “money matters.”
Then there is the Tina Fey and Michael Che American Express cash back commercial, where everything is on sale, because Tina gets cash back. It doesn’t take students long to do some third grade math and figure out that she is buying him a $25 lunch that she doesn’t have to buy (ok it’s nice to treat your friends sometimes), so that she can get what, 3 percent in cash back? That’s a net financial loss of $24.25, even if she is a multi-millionaire. Hopefully it will make students think twice about rewards cards in their futures. Of course we all think that we only spend money on our rewards cards that we would otherwise spend, especially if we pay the balance off every month. Wouldn’t it be great if all the studies actually showed that?
Now there is a new one that I use for the importance of making money matter. It is The General Insurance commercial, where the woman says that paying too much for auto insurance is like throwing money away; money that you could use for other things. She is crumbling up and throwing dollar bills into a wastebasket, while they show some of the things she is thinking about that she could do with that money. That is what it is all about, saving money where you can, especially on those everyday things, so that you can avoid or minimize debt, and do more in life. It is that whole cheap vs. frugal discussion that we have had.
The bottom line is, what positive or negative financial messages are you and your friends and family taking away from all of those commercials?
On a different subject, by now you have read and heard a lot in the media about the advisability of making financial resolutions now for 2018, along with some good advice, so I won’t pile on. I will say, however, that if you don’t have a financial adviser that you work with and meet with periodically, there are two times when you might consider spending a little time reviewing your overall finances. It is like they tell you to change your smoke detector batteries when we move back and forth between daylight savings and standard times. For me they are, first, when you get your first credit card bill after the holidays, and, second, when you are putting your taxes together or meeting with your tax preparer. Perhaps pick one and use it annually as the time to honestly review your budget, spending habits, savings goals, and debt situation.
On a final subject, there is that tax reform that your have heard so much about. The dust is still settling, so that all of the winners and losers have not been fully determined yet, and the accountants, who are clearly some of the short-term winners, are still hard at work figuring it all out.
One issue that you have no doubt heard reported is the concern that charitable donations will go down because of the new law. Reasons given include that the estate tax exemption has significantly increased, which will result in less incentive for larger contributors to give to charity, and that people in high-taxed states, who can no longer deduct all of their local and state taxes, will have less money to give to charity. Perhaps the primary concern reported is that, because of the doubled standard deduction, fewer taxpayers will itemize, so they will no longer get a tax benefit from any charitable donations, and, therefore, won’t donate or will donate less.
Estimates by the Council on Foundations and the National Council of Nonprofits include that there will be as many as 28 million fewer Americans itemizing, and there could be between $16 billion and $24 billion less in annual charitable giving because of the new law. Of course they have an agenda, and it was before the law was passed when the charitable associations were trying to convince Congress to provide for a “universal deduction.” That would make qualified charitable donations deductible even if one elects the standard deduction. If these predictions come true, and I certainly hope that they don’t, it should be interesting to see if Congress revisits a universal deduction. I can say that we have been conditioned to the idea that charitable donations are deductible (it’s in all the charitable solicitation letters), and I am sure that for some people, it meant that they thought that they could afford to give more. Just like up to now, in New York state, many homebuyers felt that they could buy a more expensive house because the federal government was subsidizing their mortgage interest and real estate taxes.
One other thought for taxpayers over 70 1/2 who are required to make a Required Minimum Distribution from their retirement accounts. You may now be better off making all of your otherwise charitable donations through your RMD, which will reduce your taxable income, and still elect the larger standard deduction. Your accountant will do the math and determine if that works for you, if you ask.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo