From Bankruptcy to Paying $22,000 Cash for a Car

The post From Bankruptcy to Paying $22,000 Cash for a Car appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

rebounding from bankruptcy

I was recently a guest on the Masters of Money podcast.  One of the statements Phil made was “Wait a minute.  How does one go from declaring bankruptcy to paying $22,000 cash for a car?”

I had never really looked at my journey in that way.  But, when I thought about it, I realized –  “Dang!  That really is pretty awesome.”  And, what is even more interesting is how my bankruptcy was the catalyst for bringing me to the place I am today.


WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

When I was in my 20s, I was in a relationship. To be totally honest, it was destined to fail.  We were just really too different and so it was never going to work out.  However, being young, naive and in love, I was doing all I could to make it work.

For me, that meant buying things to make him happy.  But, truth be told, I was really spending money to make myself happy.  I loved money because it made me feel good.  I adored all it offered to me.

Sadly (and like so many others), it lead me down the path of financial ruin.  Well, not the money itself.  My attitude did.

I had such an adoration of money, and what I thought it was doing for me, that I misused it. I allowed it to take control of my life to try to fill some of the emptiness I was experiencing.

In December 2001, that relationship came to an end.  When it happened, I was devastated. It was a mix of sadness because it was over but honestly, more fear of me being able to support myself alone financially.

I had built up a lot of debt with him. While it was joint debt, we were not married. We both knew that we could not make ends meet alone and that we also needed to find a way to put this all behind us.  So, bankruptcy it was.

That following August, we met in Wichita, Kansas before the bankruptcy judge and it became official. I was bankrupt.

 

REBOUNDING FROM BANKRUPTCY

Fortunately for me, a few months after that relationship ended, I had moved to a new city and met the man I would eventually marry.  In fact, he proposed to me just a week after I declared bankruptcy.  Talk about a keeper!  😉

When I met my husband, I learned a lot about myself and what real love was like. I began to understand that it wasn’t in the things I gave him or he to me, but in the moments we shared. For the first time in my life, I experienced true love and joy.

He was the change I needed.

We married in June 2003 and knew that we wanted to start our family as soon as possible.  One thing we both agreed upon was that we wanted for me to quit my job and stay home with our children.  It was important for both of us that one of us was there to raise them.  We knew it would be a financial challenge, but one we felt we could overcome together.

In September 2004, our first daughter was born.  That was the same day I officially quit my job.

 

HERE COMES THE DEBT (AGAIN)

Once I was staying home with our little girl, our finances changed.  They had to. We could not spend as much money dining out and in other ways as we once did.  We both knew that.   However, we also had purchased a new home and there were things we needed wanted.

A few months before she was born, my husband purchased a pickup.  One month after Emma arrived, we went out and bought a brand new minivan.

Between the vehicles and a home equity loan to buy things for our house, we had accumulated quite a bit of debt.  We just kept juggling the bills and trying to balance it all – and not very successfully.

I started working part-time from home a few hours a week. That meant I was able to be here to take care of my baby, and was also able to bring in a little bit of cash.  It was difficult to do, but I knew we needed the money, so I kept at it.

Our son followed in March 2007.  There was no way I could still try to work the hours they needed for me to, and raise two kids. My kids mattered more.

So, I quit.

We continued getting by.  There were times when we robbed Peter to pay Paul.  We were making it, but not in the way we wanted to.

Then, one evening, my husband told me to go out to dinner with my friends.  Little did I know what would happen next.

 

THE DINNER THAT CHANGED IT ALL

After an evening of dinner and drinks with my girl friends, it was time to pay.  Most of us pulled out a credit or debit card to pay.  However, my son’s Godmother, Kathy, reached into her purse and pulled out an envelope.

I asked her what that was about, as I’d never seen such a thing before.  She explained how they were using cash for everything instead of plastic because they were trying to get out of debt.

That intrigued me, so I asked her more questions.  She told me how she and her husband had recently started to follow Dave Ramsey.  They were able to create a budget and a plan that was helping dig them out of debt.  She filled us in on some of the program and what they were doing.  That left me wanting to learn more.

When I walked through the door that evening, I sat down and started sharing all of this with my husband.  We knew that our friends did not make much more than we did, so we thought “if they can do it – so can we.”

I grabbed my computer and we started researching this Dave Ramsey.  We had no clue who he was or what he taught. The more we read, the more we were inspired to follow his plan.  We pulled out the debit card and made our purchase.  Nope.  We didn’t even sleep on it.

 

HOW WE CREATED OUR DEBT FREE PLAN

Once the Dave Ramsey books and materials arrived in the mail, we were like two kids on Christmas morning. We tore open the box and could not wait until our kids were in bed that night…..so we could read!!!

Within the week, we had started our plan.  Luckily, we had around $2,000 in the bank, so our emergency fund was already taken care of. We created a budget and a debt snowball plan and were ready to attack.

I was looking at the numbers and our plan and it hit me. I was in debt again.  However, this time, I felt as if I had brought my husband along with me.  I felt horrible that I was back in this situation.

Yes, this time around the spending was not for the same reasons as before, but it had happened. Were we going to get out of debt and just do this all over again in a few years? Why would it be different this time? Did I really learn from my past mistakes?

I started giving this a lot of thought and realized that even though the bankruptcy was behind me, my money attitude was still the same.

 

MY (MUCH NEEDED) ATTITUDE CHANGE

When I looked at the money we had spent, I realized that it was because I enjoyed spending it.  It wasn’t because I was trying to replace an emptiness in my life. Heck! I was happier than I had been my entire life.  But yet, here I was, still building debt, buying things I did not really need.

I had to do a lot of self-analysis. It began with me asking myself one simple question:

“What do you feel when you think about money?”

For me, it was simple. I loved it. I loved how I could use it to get things I wanted.  And, not having had much money growing up, I thought I worked hard for this, so I will spend it as see fit.

When I said that out loud to myself, I knew it was not healthy. Money is not here just to get the things I want.  Sure, it is fun to buy items, but those things were never making me happy.  My husband and children were doing that for me.

I took another look at the debt and knew that the money had purchased things.  Those things were replaceable and if I lost them all tomorrow, I’d be OK.  However, my family wasn’t.  There was nothing in this world that could or would ever replace them.  Ever.

In that moment I made the decision that I was no longer going to love money.  I was going to love my family – and myself – more.

For me, it meant changing my entire attitude.  Once that happened, it all started to fall into place.

 

THE PLAN WE USED – THAT WORKED!

As I mentioned above, we read the Dave Ramsey plan.  While we followed most of what he said, we also had to do some of our own research and come up with our own ways to do things.

For my husband, it meant selling some of the guns he owns (he is an avid hunter).  I sold furniture and other items that were taking up space in the basement.  We had garage sales.  Any money we made from these ventures went to our debt.

I started researching and finding ways to save more money at the grocery store.  And, as a result of my findings, some of my on-line friends encouraged me to start a blog.  (And, we all know where that lead now, don’t we.  😉 ).

Through it all, we did it.

On February 10, 2010, we made the final payment on our mini van.  We had done it.  We had become debt free.

 

THE CASH CAR

Once we were out of debt, we were able to start saving money.  It felt amazing to be able to keep more of what we earned and not have to hand it over to everyone else.

My husband and I knew that we would eventually need to replace our mini van. We started paying ourselves monthly payments – instead of a car company.  We built up that savings for many, many years.

When we had enough built up to pay cash for a car, we did not do it.  Even though we had the money to pay for it, we did not really need a new car.  That was a want.

So, we saved even more and researched and waited until the right car came along.  And, it did.  More than 2 years after we had enough money to pay for the car we wanted, we made the purchase.

There is nothing like sitting down at the dealership and writing a check for a vehicle.  There is no worry about how to fit the payment into our budget. The car is ours.  We were able to drive it home and just enjoy it.

The hard work had paid off.

 

YOU CAN TO IT TOO – I PROMISE

During our journey, I found my calling.  It was to help others, just like you, do the same thing we did.  This blog is how I do that.

I have shared many stories, tips and ideas to help you and your family save money over the years. I know some of you have been able to follow my articles and get started on your own debt free journey.

However, reading a few articles here and there can be difficult to follow. My husband and I did that ourselves.  Yes, it worked for us, but we both kept wishing we could follow a plan that would not just give us a few tools on how to do things, but really be there.

Someone who would hold our hand when we were scared. That we would have others to lean for advice.  We wished that we could celebrate our victories with others who really understood and can relate.

That led me to where I am today.  This blog.  This chance to really help others.  And, in those continuing efforts, The Financial Reboot Course was born.

 

CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE – CHANGE YOUR LIFE

For me, the one change I needed to make was my money attitude.  I did not do that the first time around and I ended up making some of the same mistakes. History was repeating itself.

Once you can do the same thing, and really understand the root of how you feel about money, then – and only then – can you start to overhaul your finances.  If you don’t change the way you handle money, you will be destined to make the same mistakes over and over again.

I want to guide you on your own financial journey. I want you to be successful. I want you to be able to shout it from the rooftops — I’M DEBT FREE!!!!

Let me help you make the change you need at this moment in your life.  Kick start your own Financial Reboot, and leave the past in the past.

 

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What Is a Clearinghouse?

business man on tablet mobile

A clearinghouse is a financial institution that acts as a middleman between buyers and sellers in a market, ensuring that transactions take place even if one side defaults.

If one side of a deal fails, a clearinghouse can step in to fill the gap, thus reducing the risk that a failure will ripple across financial markets. In order to do this, clearinghouses ask their members for “margin”–collateral that is held to keep them safe from their own actions and the actions of other members.

While often described as the “plumbing” behind financial transactions, clearinghouses became high profile after the 2008 financial crisis, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. exposed the need for steady intermediaries in many markets.

Regulations introduced by the Dodd-Frank Act demanded greater clearing requirements, turning the handful of clearinghouses in the country into some of the most systemically important entities in today’s financial system.

Here’s a closer look at them.

How Clearinghouses Work

Clearinghouses handle the clearing and settlement for member trades. Clearing is the handling of trades after they’re agreed upon, while settlement is the actual transfer of ownership–delivering an asset to its buyer and the funds to its seller.

Other responsibilities include recording trade data and collecting margin payments. The margin requirements are usually based on formulas that take into account factors like market volatility, the balance of buy-versus-sell orders, as well as value-at-risk, or the risk of losses from investments.

Because they handle investing risk from both parties in a trade, clearinghouses typically have a “waterfall” of potential actions in case a member defaults. Here are the layers of protection a clearinghouse has for such events:

1. Margin requirements by the member itself. If market volatility spikes or trades start to head south, clearinghouses can put in a margin call and demand more money from a member. In most cases, this response tends to cover any losses.
2. The next buffer would be the clearinghouse’s own operator capital.
3. If these aren’t enough to staunch the losses, the clearinghouse could dip into the mutual default fund made up from contributions by members. Such an action however could, in turn, cause the clearinghouse to ask members for more money, in order to replenish the collective fund.
4. Lastly, a resolution could be to try to find more capital from the clearinghouse itself again–such as from a parent company.

Are Clearinghouses Too Big to Fail?

Some industry observers have argued that regulations have made clearinghouses too systemically important, turning them into big concentrations of financial risk themselves.

These critics argue that because of their membership structure, the risk of default in a clearinghouse is spread across a group of market participants. And one weak member could be bad news for everyone, especially if a clearinghouse has to ask for additional money to refill the mutual default fund. Such a move could trigger a cascade of selling across markets as members try to meet the call.

Other critics have said the margin requirements and default funds at clearinghouses are too shallow, raising the risk that clearinghouses burn through their buffers and need to be bailed out by a government entity or go bankrupt–a series of events that could meanwhile throw financial markets into disarray.

Clearinghouses in Stock Trading

Stock investors have already probably learned the difference between a trade versus settlement date. Trades in the stock market aren’t immediate. Known as “T+2,” settlement happens two days after the trade happens, so the money and shares actually change hands two days later.

In the U.S., the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. handles the majority of clearing and settling in equity trades. Owned by a financial consortium, the DTCC clears on average more than $1 trillion in stock trades each day.

Clearinghouses in Derivatives Trading

Clearinghouses play a much more central and pivotal role in the derivatives market, since with derivatives products are typically leveraged, so money is borrowed in order to make bigger bets. With leverage, the risk among counterparties in trading becomes magnified, increasing the need for an intermediary between buyers and sellers.

Prior to Dodd-Frank, the vast majority of derivatives were traded over the counter. The Act required that the world of derivatives needed to be made safer and required that most contracts be centrally cleared. With U.S. stock options trades, the Options Clearing Corp. is the biggest clearinghouse, while CME Clearing and ICE Clear U.S. are the two largest in other derivatives markets.

The Takeaway

Clearinghouses are financial intermediaries that handle the mechanics behind trades, helping to back and finalize transactions by members.

But since the 2008 financial crisis, the ultimate goal of clearinghouses has been to be a stabilizing force in the marketplace. They sit in between buyers and sellers since it’s hard for one party to know exactly the risk profile and creditworthiness of the other.

For beginner investors, it can be helpful to understand this “plumbing” that allows trades to take place and helps ensure financial markets stay stable.

Want to start investing but don’t know where to start? SoFi Invest® has financial planners ready to answer any questions. Investors can also choose between the Active Investing or Automated Investing platforms, depending on how hands-on or hands-off they want to be.

Check out SoFi Invest today.



SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . The umbrella term “SoFi Invest” refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Digital Assets—The Digital Assets platform is owned by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, http://www.sofi.com/legal.

In our efforts to bring you the latest updates on things that might impact your financial life, we may occasionally enter the political fray, covering candidates, bills, laws and more. Please note: SoFi does not endorse or take official positions on any candidates and the bills they may be sponsoring or proposing. We may occasionally support legislation that we believe would be beneficial to our members, and will make sure to call it out when we do. Our reporting otherwise is for informational purposes only, and shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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Here’s How to Turn Food Pantry Staples into Delicious Meals

Pandemic-related layoffs and income loss have driven many people to community food pantries for the first time in their lives. According to Feeding America, about four out of every 10 people who visited a food bank from March through June of last year were first-time visitors. As the winter holidays approached, more than 80% of […]

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How To Convince Your Spouse You Need A Budget

The post How To Convince Your Spouse You Need A Budget appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Being able to convince your spouse you need a budget can be challenging.  You know it is important that you have a budget, but how to you get your partner on board?

Learn tips on how to convince your spouse you need a budget -- and learn how to create a budget

You might be the saver in your relationship and your partner is a spender.  Your situation could be that your spouse just does not care or have enough understanding of the topic of money.

Whatever the case, the place to start to resolve any differences in money begins with one word – BUDGET.  This is not optional.  It is required if you plan on gaining control of your finances.

Where do you start and what do you do?  Let me start by saying the things you should not do when it comes to money and your partner:

  • Do not nag or annoy your partner.
  • Never manipulate or act like a parent.
  • Don’t try to talk about it when he or she is doing something else.
  • Do not say that they have to do this “or else” (ultimatums rarely work).

Now that you know what you should not do, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what you can so you and your spouse or partner are truly on the same page.

Read More:

  • How to Talk To Your Spouse About Getting Out of  Debt
  • How to Set Financial Goals
  • How to Overcome a Money Saving Obsession

TALKING TO YOUR SPOUSE ABOUT YOUR BUDGET

Set a Budget Date

This may sound strange, but it works.  When you set aside time for a financial meeting, you both can work together without distractions.

Make sure that the kids are entertained or even away at a friend’s or grandma’s house. It may mean setting up time after they are in bed.  Turn off the television.  Put the phone on silent (or even in the other room).

Allow yourself no more than one hour for your meeting.  If you go longer than that, you both my lose focus.  If you find that one hour is not enough time, set up another meeting.

Then, once your budget is working, continue to have regular meetings with your spouse or partner to go over your finances.  As your budget begins to take hold, these sessions will be shorter and shorter (and also much less stressful).

 

Play the Budget Game

Many times, people do not want a budget because they really don’t know what their finances look like.  A good way to see if you both agree is to do your own “dummy budget.”

To do this, you both will get a sheet of paper.  Set the timer for 10 minutes.  During that time, write down all of the bills you pay each month – as well as the mount.  Make sure to also include the total income you bring in as a family.

Once the timer is up, go over your lists together.  You may find that you both are well aware of your finances, which makes it easier to move into the next step.

However, you might also find that one of you has no idea what your financial situation looks like.  Allow time to go over both lists and figure out why there is such a disconnect between what you really pay vs. what you think you pay.

 

Have a heart to heart talk

During your meeting, make sure you talk about more than just the amount of bills and income.  You need to really understand one another and how you feel about money.  These topics could include:

  • If you love to save or spend and why
  • Your financial fears
  • What money means to you
  • What your goals are with your finances

Once you better understand money for your partner, the easier it will be to work together towards achieving financial goals.

 

Set goals as a couple

As I shared above, you need to talk about your goals as individuals.  Once you learn that about one another, see what you can do to create set goals as a couple.

Your goals could include to pay for college for the kids, buy a new car in 15 months or even take that dream vacation with the kids.  Your individual goals then morph themselves into family or couple goals.

Now, you can create a plan to actually move forward together to reaching your financial goals.

 

Use the right tools

Once you have completed the above, you are now ready to get started creating a budget — together.

There are many types of budgets you can use.  You might find you are old school and want to use a paper and pencil.  However, a spreadsheet may work better.  Or, you and your spouse might be the couple who loves to use an app.  The thing is that none is better than the other.  One is not right nor wrong.

Find out the type of budget that works best for you as a couple.  Then, sit down to tackle the creation of your budget. Using something such as our free budget calculator can help you work together to make your budget work.

 

Being on the same page financially lays the ground work to helping improve your relationship.  Your budget is the first step into turing this dream into a reality.

hand on calculator

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Source: pennypinchinmom.com

What Investors Should Know About Spread

coffee and phone on pastel mobile

When trading stocks, there are several market terms that are helpful to understand, such as portfolio, dividend, and volatility. Another key term to know is spread.

In simple terms, a spread represents the difference between any two financial metrics. The type of spread depends on the type of security that’s being traded. For example, when trading bonds, the spread can refer to a difference in yields between bonds of varying maturity lengths or quality.

But there are many differences between bonds vs. stocks—and spread is one of them. With stocks, spread refers to differences in price. Specifically, it measures the gap between the bid price and the ask price. Understanding what is spread and how it works can help you more effectively shape your investment strategy.

What Is Spread?

buying a home. As a home buyer, you may have a set price that you’re willing to pay for a property, based on what you can afford and what you’ve been pre-approved for by your mortgage lender.

You search for homes and eventually find one that has everything on your wishlist. When you check the listing price, you see that the seller has it priced $10,000 above your budget. In terms of spread, the maximum amount you’re willing to offer for the home represents the bid price, while the seller’s listing price represents the ask.

What Does Spread Mean?

Aside from stock spread, spread can have a variety of applications and meanings in the financial world.

As mentioned earlier, bond spread typically refers to differences in yield. But if you’re trading futures, the spread can measure the gap between buy and sell positions for a particular commodity. With options trading, it can refer to differences in strike prices when placing call or put options.

Spread can also be used in foreign currency markets or forex (foreign exchange market) trades to represent the difference between the costs for traders and the profits realized by dealers.

With lending, spread is tied to a difference in interest rates. Specifically, it means the difference between a benchmark rate, such as the prime rate, and the rate that’s actually charged to a borrower. So for example, if you’re getting a mortgage there might be a 2% spread, meaning your rate is 2% higher than the benchmark rate.

Bid-Ask Price and Stocks Spread

If you trade stocks online, it’s important to understand how the bid-ask price spread works and how it can affect your investment outcomes. Since spread can help gauge supply and demand for a particular stock, investors can use that information to make informed decisions about trades and increase the odds of getting the best possible price.

Limit orders. This is an order to buy or sell a security at a certain price or better.
•  Stop orders. A stop order, also called a stop-loss order, is an order to buy or sell a security once it hits a certain price. This is called the stop price and once that price is reached, the order is executed.
•  Buy stop orders. Buy stop orders are used to execute buy orders only when the market reaches a certain stop price.
•  Sell stop orders. A sell stop order is the opposite of a buy stop order. Sell stop orders are executed when the stop price falls below the current market price of a security.

Stop orders can help with limiting losses in your investment portfolio if you’re trading based on bid-ask price spreads. Knowing how to coordinate various types of orders together with stock spreads can help with getting the best possible price as you make trades.

The Takeaway

The more investing terms an investor is familiar with, the better able they’ll be to invest with confidence. Spread is a term that means different things in different situations, but when it comes to stocks, spread is the difference between the bid price and ask price of a given stock. Being able to assess what a spread might mean can help inform individual trading decisions.

As you learn more about stocks, including what is spread and how it works, you can use that knowledge to create a portfolio that reflects your financial needs and goals.

SoFi Invest® makes it easy to get started with stock trading and investing. Members can choose which stocks to buy or sell, based on their investment objectives and risk tolerance, and purchase shares in some of the market’s biggest companies through fractional share investing with Stock Bits.

Find out how SoFi Invest can help you reach your financial goals.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . The umbrella term “SoFi Invest” refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Digital Assets—The Digital Assets platform is owned by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, http://www.sofi.com/legal.

Stock Bits
Stock Bits is a brand name of the fractional trading program offered by SoFi Securities LLC. When making a fractional trade, you are granting SoFi Securities discretion to determine the time and price of the trade. Fractional trades will be executed in our next trading window, which may be several hours or days after placing an order. The execution price may be higher or lower than it was at the time the order was placed.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Source: sofi.com

Math Tips for Smart Shopping

Calculator in a Shopping CartI recently ran across a 2012 article from The Atlantic called The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless at Math. The title of this article hooked me, and as I began reading I found that there are indeed a few ways in which consumers misunderstand math – and pay the price as a result.

But I also found that most of the so-called “math tricks" that people get caught up in are really better described as number-based psychological hacks, which marketers use to extract every last penny from us that they can.

So it's not so much that consumers are hopeless at math as they are susceptible to being tricked. Which is precisely what a savvy shopper knows how to avoid.

What are some of these mathematical misunderstandings that you should be aware of? And what are some of the most common number-based psychological hacks? Those are exactly the questions we’ll be looking at today, as we finish up the year with a resolution to become even smarter shoppers in the new year.

Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by NatureBox. Discover smarter snacking with a new NatureBox each month. Get your first box FREE when you go to naturebox.com/qdt.

How Much Bang For Your Buck?

The article I mentioned from The Atlantic begins with an anecdote that nicely points out one of the biggest flaws in the way the average consumer shops. Namely, that when it comes to pricing and deals, most people go with their gut instead of taking a few seconds to think things through.

Here's the story: Imagine you walk into a coffee shop, take a look at the day’s specials, and see a sign that says, “Today only, your choice—get 33% more coffee for the regular price, or pay 33% less for the regular amount of coffee!” If you were presented with these two options, which would you choose?

In truth, choosing the best deal isn't always just a question of numbers. For example, if you really wanted more than your regular amount of coffee that day, then the extra coffee option would be a fine choice. But that’s not really what I’m talking about here, so let’s rephrase the question a bit to focus on the math.

The real question is this: Which option is the better deal in terms of dollars spent per ounce of coffee? After all, that’s what we’re really talking about when we speak of being a savvy shopper—getting the most bang for your buck.

Most people's gut instinct is that the two deals are about equally as good.

Most people’s gut instinct is that the two deals—33% more coffee for the same price or the same amount of coffee for 33% less money—are equally as good. After all, they both have the same 33% in them. But let’s do the math to see if this assumption is really true.

Imagine your usual 8 oz. cup of coffee costs $2. In this case, the first option gives you about 1.33 x 8 oz. = 10.6 oz. of coffee for $2, while the second option gives you your usual 8 oz. of coffee for a price of 0.67 x $2 = $1.34. That means you pay $2 / 10.6 oz. = 18.9 cents/oz. with the first option, but only $1.34 / 8 oz. = 16.8 cents/oz. with the second.

So, clearly, the second option is a better deal. While it's tempting to get something "free" for the same amount you usually pay (the first option), in this case, getting the amount you actually want for less money is a better deal—especially if you don't really need that extra coffee anyway. And, as always, the math is there to back you up.


What’s the Best Deal?

People prefer to make choices between similar and easily-comparable options.

As I mentioned at the outset, most savvy shopping skills are really less about math and more about avoiding the number-based psychological hacks that marketers (would love to) play on you. While perusing the news this week, I found an article discussing a perfect example of this kind of sneaky hackery.

This example was originally described in Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational, in which he talks about running across an advertisement to subscribe to the magazine The Economist. The advertisement lists 3 possible deals:

  1. Web-only subscription for $59/year
  2. Print-only subscription for $125/year
  3. Print + web subscription for $125/year

If confronted with these options, which would you choose? If you’re anything like the 100 MIT students that Dan Ariely posed this question to, you’d pick the print + web subscription for $125/year; 84% of the MIT students chose that offer, while 16% chose the cheaper web-only subscription.

Not surprisingly, nobody chose the middle print-only option. After all, it’s a pretty bad deal compared to the third option, which gives you the same thing plus something extra, all for the same price. But if that middle option is such a bad deal, why did the marketers even bother to include it?

To answer this question, Dan Ariely removed the second option from the list and presented the two remaining options to another group of 100 MIT students. This time, with just the $59 web-only and $125 print + web subscriptions to choose from, 68% chose the cheaper web-only subscription and 32% chose the print + web subscription. Remember, when all three options were available, 84% of students chose the more expensive option and only 16% chose the cheaper subscription.

So why did the marketers include that strange print-only subscription option? Because they also figured out that more people would choose the more expensive subscription if the print-only option was there.

What’s the math behind this? There isn’t any—this one is purely psychological. Sure, there are numbers involved, but all they’re really doing here is pointing out that people prefer to make choices between similar and easily-comparable options – so when they’re given the opportunity to do so, they will.

It may not be rational, but it is very real. And knowing how to spot this kind of trick is a big part of learning how to use math—or at least numbers—to be a more savvy shopper.

Wrap Up

Okay, that’s all the math we have time for today.

For more fun with math, please check out my book, The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. And remember to become a fan of The Math Dude on Facebook, where you’ll find lots of great math posted throughout the week. If you’re on Twitter, please follow me there, too.

Until next time, this is Jason Marshall with The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Make Math Easier. Thanks for reading, math fans!

Calculator-in-a-shopping cart image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com