Sarcasm warning: proceed at your own risk!
If there’s one subject area where today’s American adult population is sorely lacking in knowledge, it’s astrophysics. But if there were two subject areas, the other would definitely be personal finance. Don’t worry; it’s probably not your fault. After all, they don’t teach things like budgeting, using credit cards, or starting retirement plans in most schools.
As a result, I often hear the same really basic questions about personal finance repeated endlessly—basic questions to which we should all know the answers or at least know where we can get simple answers to complex questions.
Here are some of those personal finance questions that I’ve come across and the “smart” answers I’d sometimes like to give to them. Chances are you’ve heard some of them before…or even asked one or two of them yourself.
19 Basic Personal Finance Questions Answered
1. Why can’t I ever save up any money?
I usually just point to the person’s vast collection of imported collectable ceramic roosters and say, “Duh”. Buying on impulse or buying without any real uses will wreck your attempts at saving money.
2. Why should I pay off my credit card in full each month when I can just pay the minimum balance?
You shouldn’t. That’s exactly what makes the credit card company very wealthy! By the way, let me thank you for funding my credit card rewards and sign-up bonus programs.
3. How should I invest my money?
Take a trip to Vegas; put it all on black. Wow, there are probably millions of people who will tell you exactly how and some of them are people like Bernie Madoff. The quick answer is to do your homework and know your risk limitations.
4. I have two loans: one small one at 5% and one large one at 21% interest. Which one should I pay off first?
Really? 21 is bigger than 5, so I’d pay off the big one first. But some people just prefer their snowball.
5. Why should I bother going to college?
If you go to college there is a huge chance you will earn a lot more money in your lifetime. Unless you have some kind of God-given talent like singing or painting or plan to learn a trade, college degrees help a lot. If you think it may be a bother to attend, then perhaps it isn’t for you.
6. Will I have enough money to retire?
If you want to know the answer to that one, sit down and ask yourself what lifestyle you want to have in your retirement and what you are doing right now to financially prepare. For far too many, the answer to the question is, sure, unless you want to buy something when you are old…then you won’t.
7. Somebody told me about a great opportunity to make lots of money. Is it a scam?
The default answer here should always be a yes. If you can’t spend the time checking out the “opportunity” then I’m the only one who can tell you about marvelous money-making ideas so make your check out to Gary!
8. Hey, can you lend me some money?
“Neither a borrower or a lender be” is pretty good advice but if I do lend you money can you just slip these handcuffs and shackles on first?
9. I’m really trying to impress my new romantic interest. Got any ideas for a great cheap date?
I guess we all have tried to impress somebody with fancy places when courting. Common sense and some personal touches go pretty far and avoid the obvious. McDonalds is a hard no and asking them to pay probably means “good-bye”.
10. How will doing X affect my credit score?
Your credit score is never affected by X, but is affected by what you use and what you pay. Hint: if you can’t pay your credit card bills on time, your credit score will drop.
11. How much is my house worth?
What time is it? House values can fluctuate but over time do appreciate if they are in good repair and in viable locations. You can ask a realtor to evaluate your home’s value but you may not know until you actually try and sell it.
12. Why can’t I get a loan just because I don’t have a job or source of income?
There is a funny thing about that. They kind of expect you will pay loans back on schedule, so how do you plan to do that without a job?
13. They offered to sell me an extended warranty. How can I lose?
Almost all extended warranties are huge money makers for the sellers. If something fails or breaks, it most often happens in the short term covered under the included manufacturer’s warranty.
14. How much money should I spend on X?
Probably a lot less than you’re going to spend. That’s what comparison shopping is all about and really evaluating your needs versus wants.
15. Can I avoid paying taxes by stashing my money in a foreign bank account?
Yes, but you may have to give up your freedom and be incarcerated after you do that kind of thing. Many have opted for that and may have regretted it at some point.
16. If I don’t pay this bill, will anything bad happen to me?
Of course not. All companies are gentle and loving, so they won’t care if a few people don’t pay their bills. They certainly won’t turn your account over to a collections agency and ruin your credit. So toss that bill in the trash and don’t give it a second thought!
17. Are there any jobs where I can work from home and make over $100,000 a year?
Yes, but you will need a printing press and some plates from the U.S. mint.
18. I read that the economy is heading toward recession/depression/annihilation. Is this true?
Probably not, but one really never knows for certain. It’s a good idea to use reason and logic when investing your money and hedge just a little bit. If your crystal ball says yes to this question, better sell all your stocks and load up on canned food and bottled water immediately.
19. How much money do I need before I can start investing in stocks?
You want a simple answer? Exactly $100, no more, no less. Seriously, think this way, what can I afford if I were to lose this investment because no matter what stocks you invest in, there is always that possibility.
It’s no laughing matter when you have questions about your money and don’t get or don’t try to get a reliable answer to your questions. The next time you find yourself in a personal finance dilemma, ask yourself, “where can I find out about this stuff?” Chances are that checking on the internet can provide you with information or at least point you in the right direction for real answers. You work hard for your money so getting real answers to your questions is ultra-important. There is no reason to embarrass yourself and suffer losses by being uninformed.
Have you ever asked some basic question about your personal finances? Are you a person who looks for the answer to a financial problem yourself and/or by searching for answers from someone with experience and credentials you can rely on? What experiences can you share?