There’s No “I” in Team

If you have ever been involved in kids’ sports you’ve probably heard a coach say, “There’s No ‘I’ in Team”. There may be more than a kernel of truth in such a saying when it comes to family finances as well.

A recent Wall Street Journal article (Caitlin Nish, 10-29-12, R9) tells the story of two newlyweds, Sarah Henry-Courtney and her husband Daniel. They appear to have clear financial goals and the willpower to stay on track. With a combined income of $130,000 they have paid off all of their debt (student loans, cars, etc.) except the mortgage on their four-bedroom home in Bedford, New Hampshire.

One aspect of their financial arrangement, however, gave me pause for concern. They both have individual savings accounts to fund their hobbies. They have $3,000 in joint savings but Ms. Henry-Courtney, who likes travel and tennis, has nearly $10,000 in HER personal savings account. Mr. Courtney has about $5,000 in HIS savings account to indulge his love of technology and home-theatre.

It struck me as somewhat odd that they have separate savings accounts and that they have more in each of these accounts than they do in joint savings – if this works for the Courtney’s – good for them. But, this seems to violate the aforementioned axiom that there’s “No ‘I’ in team”. A good number of financial advisers and marriage counselors alike feel learning to jointly manage money is a “crucial step in becoming a fully functioning couple” (, April 29, 2011).

Are separate savings and checking accounts the way to consummate a financial union? What are your thoughts on separate savings and checking accounts for married couples? I think a team approach and total transparency is the way to avoid financial tension (and secrets) in a marriage, but I know many of you might disagree. In fact, somewhere in the vicinity of one-third to nearly half of all couples have separate checking accounts. Dave Ramsey, if you’re reading this (long-shot), what’s your thoughts on separate savings and checking accounts?

One thing is for certain, be sure to check out any potential life-partner’s financial footprint BEFORE getting serious. Profligate spending and financial tomfoolery are major contributors to marital discord and divorce.

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The Golden Rule of Shopping

We’re all familiar with it – The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This sentiment appears to be universal. It’s golden in its simplicity, that we would treat others as we would like them to treat us. Here are several Golden Rules that span both time and cultures:

The Golden Rules

• Secular: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

• New Testament: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12)

• Old testament: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18)

• Islamic: “No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself” (Al-Nawawai, 13)

But, what does the Golden Rule have to with shopping? In a word (okay, two words), a lot. Consumption and ethics can’t be separated. Consumption is a moral matter because it “raises issues of fairness, self versus group interests and immediate versus delayed gratification” (Wilk, 2001).

Let me demonstrate how the decisions we make as consumers reveal a lot about who we are. I call this The Golden Rule Acid test. Psychologist, Clayton Tucker-Ladd, has asked hundreds of college students over the years the following question which I would now like to ask you:

                                        The Golden Rule Acid Test

Is it morally just and fair to be free to have plenty to eat, nice clothes, luxuries, time and money for fun, TV, and comforts, while others in the world are starving, uneducated, and in poor health?
Circle one: Yes No

This question hit me like a ton of bricks. Maybe we all need to step back and reconsider what our spending says about us as human beings. For many of us, it appears that the Golden Rule of Shopping has taken a back seat to our desire for money and Shiny Objects. It’s time we all start practicing checkbook morality.

Consider Shiny Objects as a Christmas gift for someone you love.

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What Would Jesus Drive?

What would Jesus drive?* That’s a great question. I feel it’s a real “acid test” for those of us trying to be good stewards of our financial resources. In April of this year, I was graciously invited to deliver the keynote speech as a guest of the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN) and Opus College of Business’ 19th Annual Stakeholder Dialogue. St. Thomas has a great collection of centers, Institutes, and faculty researching the role of ethics in business. And, they practice what they preach – helping hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses incorporate ethical practices into their business model.

The title of my talk on the evening’s program was “Can Happiness be Bought and Sold?” A question that spurred the writing of my recent book, Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy (Harper Collins). My working title, however, was “What Would Jesus drive? The Ethics of Over-Consumption”. The talk was SRO and the audience was very receptive to the message I shared – proof that a lot of us struggle with how to best relate to money and possessions. If you’re interested, here’s a YouTube link to my talk at St. Thomas:

It was Socrates who famously said nearly 2,5000 years ago that “An unexamined life is not worth living”. St. Augustine, the 5th century Bishop and philosopher, had this to say about the futility of attempting to buy happiness, “My soul was sick and covered with sores, and it rubbed up against material things in a desperate attempt to relieve the itching. But since material things have no soul, they cannot be loved”. That is a powerful depiction of the futility of attempting to find happiness in things.

The Bible also has more than a few choice words about money and possessions:
1 Timothy 6:10 – “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil ….”.
Matthew 6:19-21 – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal”

Matthew 6:24 – “… You cannot serve God and Mammon”.

All this to say that how we spend our money and relate to our possessions can’t be separated from who we are ethically. Consumption is a moral issue because “ always and inevitably raises issues of fairness, self vs. group intrerests, and immediate vs. delayed gratification” (Wilk 2001). I closed my talk on that cool April day in St. Paul with a quote from Albert Einstein who said, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted”. More on this subject in blogs to come, especially as we speed toward the holiday season.

* This line was originated by Dan Smith (Bill McKibben, 2001)

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Halloween Spending 2012: Talk About Scary!

If you’ve read my book, Shiny Objects, you know I can’t resist a good story on how much Americans spend on their pets – talk about scary. Halloween is just around the corner and it looks like spending on All Hollows Eve is heading for another record. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts Americans will shell out $6.86 billion (one billion = 1,000 million) on Halloween in 2012. The average person will spend $79.82 on spooky decorations, frightening costumes, and candy. That’s an increase over the $72.31 we spent last year.

We will spend an average of $28.65 on costumes for us two-legged beings – a total of $2.5 billion. But we won’t stop there. We will cough up an additional $310 million on costumes for our pets, yes, that’s $310 million. If you haven’t had enough already, I was able to secure the Top 10 pet costumes for 2012:
1. Pumpkin
2. Devil
3. Hot dog – perennial favorite of mine
4. Bee
5. Cat
6. Witch
7. Bowties, fancy collars, etc.
8. Pirate – see my last year’s Halloween blog
9. Dog
10. Ghost

Although it didn’t make the top 10 list, and I hope you’re sitting down, 3.3% of those buying costumes for their pets will dress their dog up as a cat – will the fun never end?

Laurie Taylor, A VP at Petsmart (which sells a lot of pet costumes) exclaimed, “Dogs like to wear them, dogs know when they look good” (WSJ, 10-24-12, D3). Halloween spending – truly a spooky tail (pun intended).

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Argo, the Shah of Iran, & “West Struckedness”

Last weekend my wife and I went to the movies – a rare occasion for us. We were both coming of age in 1979 when the Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy and held their U.S. hostages for 444 days. The movie was great and I highly recommend it. But, what grabbed my attention was the then Shah of Iran’s lifestyle. In the first few minutes of the film it was mentioned that the Shah had his lunches flown in from Paris on the Concorde. And, the Shah could also throw a party. His formal coronation in 1967 and the 1971 fete for the 2,500 anniversary of the Peacock throne were over-the-top affairs. The Shah and his wife were heavily into bling long before the word became part of our lexicon. He drove fancy cars, a Lamborghini that some how ended up in the hands of actor Nicolas Cage, and kept a seal in the palace fountain.

No doubt this type of behavior raised more than a few eyebrows in this Muslim nation. Businessmen, the clergy, and members of the middle class were offended by the Shah and the moneyed elite who adopted western style attire, drank intoxicating beverages, and consorted (openly!) with members of the opposite sex. One Iranian intellectual labeled this love of all things western as “West Struckedness”. Another writer described all those who emulated western lifestyles as “diseased”.

There may be at least a kernel of truth in such accusations. Apparently our love of Shiny Objects knows no cultural or religious boundaries. Read my book, Shiny Objects, for other examples of “creeping materialism”.

Source: The Contemporary History: Iranian revolution,, accessed on 10-23-2012.

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Budget by the Fudgets

Are you waging a battle with Shiny Objects? If so, help has arrived. Fudget’s Budget, a 1954 animated short film by United Productions of America (UPA), starring George and Irene Fudget, amusingly illustrates the perils of falling off the budget bandwagon.

In a nod to simpler times, the short film is “Dedicated to all those courageous people who manage to live within a family budget”. The animation is cutting edge and the story is timeless.

Take 6 minutes and 40 seconds out of your busy schedule to enjoy this fun and important message. Be sure to forward this post to at least ten friends and family members. I would like to spread this message world-wide as we approach the holiday season. I also welcome your opinion of the film and our love of Shiny Objects.

Here’s the link to Fudget’s Budget:

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Materialism – Gangnam Style

     The incredibly popular, over 220 million You Tube views, Gangnam style video from Korean hip-hop artist Psy is actually a pointed social commentary on spreading materialism in Korea. Gangnam is the Beverly Hills 90210 of Seoul Korea. Many of the denizens (residents) of Gangnam are wealthy. The fact that the residents of Gangnam have not earned their fortunes the “old fashioned” way, through hard work and sacrifice, but by simply being in the right place (Gangnam) while the real estate values skyrocketed runs counter to traditional Korean views about wealth. Welcome to 21st century America. It appears that the citizens of Gangnam, and the rest of Korea, like citizens all over the world, may benefit from a quick read of my book, that explains our love of Shiny Objects.



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Can You Hear Me Now? Are you addicted to your cell phone?

Did you know that Americans throw out approximately 140 million, yes, that’s millions, of cell phones every year? To see if you might be a slave to your cell-phone, answer the following eleven questions and use the benchmarks below to see if you’ve got a cell-phone Jones (70s talk for addiction).
Cell Phone Use Scale* :
Please answer “Yes” or “No” to each of the statements below regarding your cell phone.

1. I get agitated when my cell phone is not in sight. ___ Yes ___ No
2. I get nervous when my phone’s battery is almost exhausted. ___ Yes ___ No
3. I have tried to cut back on my cell phone. ___ Yes ___ No
4. I do not want to turn off my cell phone when I am in a meeting .___ Yes ___ No
5. I want my cell phone to stand out in design and ornaments. ___ Yes ___ No
6. I make phone calls even when there is no real need to do so. ___ Yes ___ No
7. I frequently check my cell phone to see if I have missed any calls or
messages. ___ Yes ___ No
8. I tend to use my cell phone even when there is a fixed-line available. ___ Yes ___ No
9. I always return phone messages as soon as possible. ___ Yes ___ No
10. I spend more time than I should on my cell phone. ___ Yes ___ No
11. I find that I am spending more and more time on my cell phone.___ Yes ___ No

* Scale adapted from Yoon Su-jeong of St. Mary’s Hospital

If you asnwered “Yes” to four or more of the above statements you may not want to tell your spouse or significant other about your relationship with your cell-phone but they probably already know. A simple remedy to beat your cell-phone habit: read Shiny Objects to find out how.

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A Modo Mio! – espresso machines enter the fast lane

At last. Thanks to Fiat and the Starbucks of Italy – Lavazza, you can now make a fine cup of espresso while you drive. Fiat’s 500L, to be relaesed in the US in 2013, will combine two things Americans love, cars and coffee. The safety concerns of drinking (and preparing) 200 degree liquid while speeding along the espresso way (pardon the pun) at 75 mph are real. But the real issue, addressed in my book, Shiny Objects, is how our obsession with possessions and our own personal desires has clouded our better judgment. Read my book. Change the world. Beginning with you.

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God vs. Donald Trump

If need be, who would you go to for financial advice? This was a question posed to 2,262 US adults age 18 plus by Harris Interactive. Harris conducted the poll during February of 2012 for the American Bible Society (ABS). The poll was conducted to help launch ABS’ Financial Stewardship Bible (FSB). The ABS has highlighted every verse in the bible that mentions money and/or possessions. More than 2,000 scriptural verses are highlighted in the FSB.

       But, alas, despite being the best selling book of all times, many of us look elsewhere for financial advice. It appears that many of us would seek the advice of the King of Combovers himself, yes, that’s right, Donald trump. Fifty percent of US adults stated they would be willing to take financial advice from The Donald despite his somewhat spotty record (at least four bankruptcies).

     On the other hand, only 32 percent of US adults would look to the Bible for financial advice. 86 percent of American adults, according to the ABS survey, do not heed the financial pearls of wisdom offered in the Bible – too old school.

     And, it gets worse. Ten percent of Americans age 18-34 would look to Kim Kardashian for financial advice. Given the above, it’s not surprising why members of the Baby Boomer generation are woefully unprepared as they enter their “Golden Years”. And, with Kim Kardashian as the financial Shaman for the younger set, things don’t bode well for Generations X and Y as well.

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