How we live money

Carmen Wong Ulrich, the new host of Marketplace Money, starting November 2, 2013.  

Why am I not a banker?

Why not a high-end money-manager or number cruncher, pulling in millions? It’s certainly not for a lack of brainy chops (I’m a flag-flying nerd) or a desire to enjoy a healthy income (I do enjoy travel). It’s because I believe that the power to change lives through money lies in our beliefs and behavior, not in the money itself.

Here’s an example: On my television show during the height of the recession, I had on a guest, a 40-something teacher with no kids, who managed to save up six-figures on a salary of around $40,000 a year. What should she do with this money? On the same show, a following guest was a single career-banker who had made around $400,000 to $500,000 a year and was now laid off and hadn't saved a dime. Actually, he was deep in debt with a huge mortgage, new flashy car and no job prospects.

Why did these two end up in such different places? Wanna bet that to the banker money was a pursuit -- a pursuit of status, stuff and 'happiness,' at least as he’d thought it would be? And that to the teacher, money was simply a form of security and tool of stability? She was the ant to the banker’s grasshopper.

What we do with our money is a reflection of who we are and what we deem important: Our upbringing, our yearnings, our relationships, insecurities, fears and hopes. Why spend $6,000 on holiday gifts for your family when you’re over $75,000 in debt and making just over $100,000? Why avoid the stock market altogether even as a very smart and accomplished personality, like my friend and speaker Rabbi Dan who said to me recently: “It’s all fixed!” The system’s fixed and I want no part of it. (We still need to have that coffee Dan, if only so I can continue to convince you away from storing cash in your mattress.)

There’s a reason why behavioral economics (which I teach) is so popular now, because at our fingertips we have access to a world of information and knowledge on every financial product out there -- but what we really need is insight into why we do what we do with our money.

That’s not to say that all this information isn’t important. I can attest to the power of financial knowledge as I congratulate the graduates of Dress for Success’s financial education series every year, which I’m deeply proud of helping with my books and presence. These women’s lives are changed within a couple of months simply by learning their rights as consumers, how to manage credit and how to build savings. But the power of this knowledge also resides in knowing that you are in charge when it comes to your money. That no matter how big or small your budget, each and every day you can make a choice to either move forward, building that financial foundation, or sick slowly deeper into financial insecurity.

Regularly here, you’re going to hear, read and see something that can make a difference to your money and subsequently your life. Something that will make you say, “Oh, I didn’t think of it that way.”, or “I’m going to tackle that this afternoon.” And your voice and your experiences add substantially to what we do. Learning through a community and its own stories is a powerful, compelling thing.

Yes, I’m going to help you make, keep, spend and grow your money. But heads up: It’s going to be a one-two combo of information and motivation. Because that’s how we live money.

About the author

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the former host of Marketplace Money, APM’s weekend personal finance program.

Carmen Wong Ulrich, the new host of Marketplace Money, starting November 2, 2013.  

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