How Our Emotions May Lead To Irrational Money Decisions

How Our Emotions May Lead To Irrational Money Decisions

“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.”

Seth Godin

As consumers, we are often driven by our emotions. Neuroscientists have learned that nearly 95% of all our decisions are made emotionally and intuitively. The forces of marketers and our biases make it nearly inevitable that we make irrational purchase decisions. Marketers embrace irrational customers because that is part of their primary goal. Their marching orders are to attract and retain profitable customer relationships. Our biases keep them busy as they collect big data about us, our purchases, and how we spend.

It is no wonder that it is easy to overspend and ramp up our credit card balances. That makes the credit card companies happy as consumers “buy now, pay later” allows them to pay much later at higher interest rates over a longer period of time. Do you see what I am getting at? We will discuss some of the marketing tactics and biases we need to overcome with better financial discipline. By understanding more, we may become more rational decision-makers.

Marketing Tactics Can Be Harmful To Our Perceptions

Let me just say that marketers are not bad people and consumers aren’t defenseless. We are bombarded daily by an average of 1,500 ads or brand messages, most of which we don’t really pay attention to. Our tendencies are to screen most of the information we are exposed to. These perceptual processes, called selection attention, selection distortion, and selection retention, help us to either screen out the messages or align them with our beliefs and attitudes.

The Invisible Gorilla Experiment

A famous psychology experiment in a 1999 study by Daniel Simons and Chris Chabris that tested selective attention about a gorilla, better visualized here makes the point about selective attention. For those who don’t mind the spoiler, the experiment showed 6 people- three people in white shirts and three people in black shirts passing basketballs around. As participants watched, they kept count of the number of passes made by people in white shirts. At some point, a gorilla strolls into the middle of the action, faces the camera, and thumps its chest. It then leaves, spending nine seconds on the screen.

Who saw the gorilla? Half of the people who watched the video counted the right number of passes but missed the gorilla thought to be invisible. Our visual systems have evolved in recent years for the benefit of marketers. They have worked hard to play with our intuitions. The role of big data plays a crucial role for marketers. A recent infographic from Domo courtesy of Visual Capitalist displays mesmerizing 2019 stats on how much data is generated every minute and from which platforms.

A Sampling of Statistics Per Minute:

  • Americans use 4,416,720 GB of Internet data.
  • There are 188 million emails sent and 18,100, 000 texts sent.
  • Consumers spend $1 million online.
  • Nearly $240,000 worth of transactions occurs on Venmo.
  • 390,030 apps loaded.
  • YouTube users watch 4.5 million videos.
  • Giphy serves 4.8 million gifs.Big Data enables marketers to access:
  • Information about users’ purchasing patterns.
  • A user’s past purchases.
  • Behavioral information from growing history and patterns on a website.
  • Streaming data from millions of users.

Marketers use huge customer relationship systems to more efficiently find a single user’s behavioral and shopping information to make recommendations. As one marketing consultant said, Bias-driven marketing is a no-brainer. As such, marketers can leverage biases to create better user experiences and boost conversion rates.

How They Can Manipulate Shoppers

They use manipulative and subliminal messages convincing us to buy products we may not need. Often prices even on sale days like “Black Friday” are still higher than before but they use eye-catching “50% off” signs. “Buy More, Pay Less” stimulates our brains into thinking we are seeing a bargain.

Expert Endorsements

Marketers use expert opinions to convince consumers of the safety of their products. I recall my Dad, a heavy Camel smoker, telling me that doctors endorsed smoking when he began this bad habit and many people fell for the ad. It seemed funny at the time and I dismissed that as a possibility. However, my Dad was right though I never got to tell him as he died of emphysema, no doubt from his cigarette habit.  An old Camel ad among other ads discussed in this study, “The Doctor’s Choice Is America’s Choice” ran 1930-1953 when smoking became the norm. The use of a doctor’s endorsement was convincing to sell the product.

Tom Selleck And Nellie Young

The strategy of using experts or actors who are credible is used today. Tom Selleck, a trustworthy figure to many, has endorsed reverse mortgages to much success for American Advisors Group (AAG). In the ad, Selleck is a voice of reason about reverse mortgages are good for those who don’t have enough savings like Nellie Young. She is among the first to get a reverse mortgage loan in 1961 when she lost her husband. He makes us care about Nellie and others in a similar situation.

Reverse mortgages are loans that enable homeowners, usually at retirement age, to tap into the equity in their homes. There is little discussion in the ad regarding the downside of the upfront costs, variable interest costs, and lack of tax deductibility on interest paid. A significant downside of reverse mortgages is the lowering of the value of your home as an asset. Selleck’s emotional promotion of reverse mortgage must be accompanied by an understanding of the drawbacks for those considering this loan.

Emotional Ads

Many ads contain emotional messages to build brands. Through nice storytelling, music, and entertainment, we can get sucked into the sales pitch unknowingly. Even using words like “Last Chance” may create that fear of missing out or FOMO. Many times I am in a rush scrolling for a specific email but I see that message or “Time is running out” and I stop to stare at it before I remind myself that I am in a hurry.

Have you ever bought clothes you didn’t need but saw it on someone else in the ad and buy it? I have and I am sorry to admit it. This is a self-deception buy when you can visualize it with the hope it will look as good on you. It doesn’t and you later realize it wasn’t you so you stop wearing this new garment. Hopefully, as it is barely worn you can give it away to stop who will appreciate it.


Overspending Due To Irrational Decisions

Marketing strategies, if successful, may lead to consumers being profitable customers and happy being so. For many consumers that will lead to overspending because of irrational decision-making. They nudge us to buy even if we don’t need it. Nudge marketing is used to influence consumers’ decisions towards certain options. It refers to deliberately manipulating our choices and stimulating purchases also known as higher sales for their business.

We, as the buyers, need to take the blame for overspending, recognizing our vulnerability to falling for marketing trickery. Manage your spending better in these ways. It is not only the marketers that are nudging us, our own biases are at work as well. Wherever we shop, the convenience of having a credit card allows us to spend more. This has been referred to as the “credit card premium” in an MIT study by Drazen Prelec and Duncan Simester.

Biases Add to Our Bad Choices

Biases often result in us spending more than we should, paying off slower or not at all. We need to better understand them to fight off the tendencies to act irrationally when it comes to money. We focused on just a few here, but we wrote about many potential biases we have when we invest or overspend.

Present Bias Allows To Favor Instant Gratification

The present bias values the present when we are planning for the future. Present bias causes many of us to spend money on the latest new shiny object rather than save for retirement or paying off our monthly credit card balance fully. As a result, we favor the present because we favor instant gratification. However, this bias comes at the expense of our financial discipline. Overspending leads to ramping up big bills on our credit cards we can’t pay off properly.

Stephan Meier’s study in 2010 found present-bias minded individuals are more likely to borrow and accumulate higher balances on the credit cards. That means your debt is growing at compound rates detrimentally rather than the positive compounding growth you would get in your retirement bucket. As cardholders, we don’t fully internalize the costs that may stay us for years. Instead, we should consider future savings for retirement, investments, and paying down debt. We need to be rational when making purchase decisions that harm our finances.

Who Are The Beneficiaries Of Overspending? Credit Card Issuers

Credit card companies are direct beneficiaries of our overspending habits. According to Mercator Advisory Corp, it costs about $250 to acquire each customer but retention is the long-term goal. To acquire customers, they may offer a host of features and special perks, including introductory offers as low as 0% APR, cashback, points, mileage, discounts on certain retailers, and dollars on dining, hotel, or other travel needs. Many of the perks are offered upfront and short-term or just part of the trial period.  Both the offers and the costs are difficult to understand.

Teaser rates and rewards disproportionately hurt consumers with biases for instant gratification. We use our credit cards more freely than if we were paying with a finite amount of cash. A study by Theresa Kuchler and Michaela Pagel proved present-biased preferences contribute to households’ inability to reduce debt levels associated with credit card use.  The higher the impatience of participants, the more likely they preferred to spend their paychecks rather than lower the debt paydown of the credit card balances.

Hyperbolic Discounting Focuses On What Is Immediately Available

Hyperbolic discounting is a bias that occurs when people will opt for immediately available rather than later on. For example,  People will take $50 right now rather than $100 a month from now. We just don’t want to wait any longer. This happens when we see desirable upfront benefits offered by credit card issuers. Never mind that your teaser rate or points reward is a one time or one month period. You may have missed the fine print that lets you know that your APR is set 1%-2% higher for the long term. This is a bad consequence if you have a tendency to carry big card balances.

The Fine Print Is Hard For Us To Read

Have you seen a credit card contract lately? They are wordy and complex, deliberately so. analyzed the readability finding the average credit card agreement was 4,900 words in 2016 and lacked clarity. Are first-time cardholders, either young or average person on the street, likely to power through these documents? I don’t think so.

Increasingly, credit card companies are reaching out to subprime users, those with poor credit histories, offering credit for the first time. The US Consumer Finance Protection Bureau published a model credit card agreement that was 1,188 in length for issuers to emulate for consumers to read. It is not simply the length of words but a lack of clarity of signing up for a card. The high level of complexity of these agreements for most people to really understand their responsibilities.

Used properly, cards are convenient tools for toxic financial products for many people. This is concerning as issuers are getting a growing share of this market of people who may be ramping up unaffordable debt. Didn’t that happen when subprime borrowers bought houses with mortgages they couldn’t pay? This is a growing concern and should be for everyone, especially regulators.

 Did The Credit CARD Act of 2009 Help Consumers?

The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 provided consumers, not businesses, with more protections, better disclosures when it comes to hidden fees, interest rate changes, and details on rewards programs. Some improvements have been noted in the latest Consumer Finance Protection Bureau report in 2019 but more needs to be done.

Card issuers prosper in many ways. When we cannot pay our card balances in full–and 58% of Americans do not– it is profitable for the companies. By paying the minimum amount we incur finance charges at high-interest rates in the high teen which are carried over month-to-month at huge costs. Please read our views on the pros and cons of credit cards here.

Credit card issuers earn money in a lot of different ways. They make money on fees besides the monthly finance charges on consumers’ hefty balances after the credit card’s grace period. Unless there a change in behavior, the compounding effects are huge for issuers. They also take a processing fee that is somewhere around 1%-3% of the transaction from merchants.

Here are typical fees consumers pay:

  • Annual fees that average about $80, in a range of $20 to more than $200.
  • Penalty or late fees if you don’t pay the minimum monthly amount of about $30 initially but the amount rises if it recurs though are capped based on inflation changes per the Credit Card Act.
  • Over-limit fees for when you go over your credit limit. You still have this feature but you need to opt-in since the Credit CARD Act.
  • Balance transfer fees on the amount you are moving from one credit card to another because you found a better deal.
  • Card replacement fee if you lost your card.

As noted, there have been some reductions since the Credit Card Act of 2009. These amounts may differ between companies and individual consumers based on their credit scores, discipline, and behavior. These fees are usually discussed in the fine print. However, many of these fees may be hidden more than glaringly obvious. You need to really understand what the credit card offer means regarding your responsibility. Take the time to shop for a card and take control of your spending and paying off your bills fully.

The Credit Card Industry Is Evolving

The credit card industry is evolving. The growing competition of new payment providers is good news for consumers. Recognizing that issuers have come under scrutiny since the Great Recession has resulted in the CFPB issuing reports on credit card issuers disclosing how they are faring with the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights. Advancing digital technologies can provide more tools for users to pay bills promptly, get balance notifications when they are close to their credit availability, and spending trackers for consumers.

With increased scrutiny, better credit card agreements, increased competition, and advanced tools, consumers can control their finances. That said, it may not be easy. However, it is essential to control what you can at the point where you may be at your weakest. Be a more discernable customer. That may be shopping more carefully, planning for the future rather than acting out of a need for instant gratification. Whatever your weakness, offset it with strength. Be aware of these marketing tactics and biases that may encourage irrational decision-making.

Financial Discipline Is Your Responsibility

There are a lot of forces that are collaborating to get you to spend money. While some people excel in financial management better than others, most of us have blind spots. The following list may be something you already, and other rules may resonate with you. Of course, you may have suggestions that work for you and you are willing to share. Having better discipline over your money will give a better feeling over the long term.

Use These Rules For Better Money Habits:

  1. Shop wisely for a credit card understanding the hidden fees that may not be worth the perks.
  2. Read the fine print– terms and conditions– carefully even after you made your selection.
  3. Pay your credit card bill in full so you don’t carry a  balance.
  4. Spend below your means always.
  5. Pay with alternatives to credit cards if you are carrying large balances.
  6. Don’t close any credit card. Instead, cut your card in a million pieces or simply put it in a drawer.
  7. If you have multiple cards, decide how to use them for different categories and don’t max out their limits.
  8. Avoid cards with annual fees unless they have important features you will use.
  9. Don’t get addicted to credit cards. Limit the number of cards you have.
  10. When it comes to paying your card bills, automate and don’t procrastinate. The penalty rates are punitive for a reason.
  11. If your child is an authorized user of your credit card, teach them about how to use the card wisely and safely.
  12. Be aware of behavioral biases of spending more when using your credit card instead of cash.
  13. Review your credit card bills for errors, poor judgment on your part, or to correct impulsive spending.
  14.  Once COVID goes away, hopefully soon, use cash for some of your discretionary purchases.
  15. Find a credit card that gives you alerts when payments are due, balance notifications when you are near 30% of the credit available, and  automate paying your credit balances by your paycheck


Final Thoughts

Marketers appeal to our emotions so that we will be better customers. Their tactics are a fact of life likely to continue if not rise in the future. How you react to these efforts and your own biases is important. Be aware of your emotions and stop and think when making money decisions. You are not defenseless but may need to work on how to avoid temptations to overspend and have too much debt. Delay your shopping when and how you can.  Manage your spending so you do not overspend and ramp up high-cost credit card debt.

Thank you for reading! Please let us what works for you. We would appreciate your comments. Please share this post if you found something of value and consider subscribing to The Cents of Money and receive our weekly newsletter and other goodies.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg: An Inspiration To Working Mothers

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: An Inspiration To Working Mothers

“…My success in law school, I have no doubt was in large measure because of baby Jane…Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law students lacked.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is gone. Just like that, she is in the past tense. Ginsburg had an amazing and productive life, leaving us a rich legacy. She was a working mother, tenacious throughout her career. RBG inspired me to go to law school even as we had two young children at home. It was a risky move for me at a late age after a successful career in finance.

I never met her, but I devoured her legal opinions and speeches, feeling like I knew her. She left a treasure trove of work fighting for equality for women and gender discrimination, equally representing men when the law was unfair. Her iconic legacy contains themes of independence, giving back to others, reproductive and voting rights. She reminds us that societal change is often slow.

Today, we can take for granted the many accomplishments of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This article is my tribute to her with gratitude for inspiring me to change my career to law and ultimately teaching college students. I identified with her upbringing, independent nature, faith, and love of lifelong learning.

Some have pointed out Jewish teaching that those who die just before the Jewish New Year-as RBG did-are the ones God has held back until the last moment because they were needed the most. That may be. We still need Ginsburg, and fortunately, we can look back to her words through her opinions.

1. Being Independent

” My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”

Raised in a modest Jewish home in Brooklyn, Ginsburg was influenced mostly by an immigrant family. They valued education above all else. Her mother, Celia, was born in New York to Austrian immigrants. Although bright, Celia could not further her education past high school as her family pushed her brother, rather than Celia, to attend college. Although she died young, Ginsburg’s mother was a significant influence, teaching her daughter to be independent.

Attending Ivy League schools–Cornell and Harvard Law School–should have meant an easy road to success for RBG. But it wasn’t.

 With her husband’s support, Ruth Bader Ginsburg achieved what few women were able to do at that time. She paved a road for working women who wanted to pursue both a career and a family. How novel it was then to want to achieve success outside of raising a family. It was still unusual for me to pursue this course decades later.

Related Post: 10 Ways For Women To Achieve Financial Independence

2. True Equality Between The Sexes

“Women will only have true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

“I went to law school when women were less than 3% of lawyers in the country; today they are 50%. I never had a woman teach in college or in law school. The changes have been enormous. And they’ve just-they’ve gone much too far [to be] going back.”

Women have been 47% of graduating law school classes since 2000. Yet, only about 18% of equity partners are women in the US today. Women often have different considerations than their male counterparts.  In an article by the American Bar Association, the conflict between the need to produce heavily billable hours to make partner and female fertility coincide at similar timeframes. Women choose differently than men but not out of choice. Despite Ginsburg’s efforts, gender bias remains in the legal profession and elsewhere for working mothers. However, her work gave us a better framework.

3. Gender Discrimination

Ruth Bader Ginsburg made her mark in gender equality, first as an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This happened well before she became the second woman Associate Justice on the Supreme Court in 1993. She represented both genders fighting for her belief that gender should not always be the basis for decisions. Three cases signaled Ginsburg’s prowess in gender discrimination.

Reed v Reed

Ginsburg challenged the existing rule in the Idaho statute that “males must be preferred to females”  as administrators of estates in the landmark 1971 Reed v Reed case. The Reeds were separated, and Sally Reed, as the grieving mother, won the right to administer her deceased son’s estate. Significantly, it was the first time the Supreme Court prohibited different treatment based on sex under equal protection of the 14th Amendment. The Reed case was a significant win for Ginsburg.

Moritz v Commissioner

In the 2018 film, On The Basis of Sex, Ginsburg and her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, argued for Charles Moritz in the Moritz v Commissioner case in 1972. Moritz, an unmarried man, had claimed a tax deduction for his caregiver’s cost for his invalid mother. The IRS denied the deduction specifically allowed only for women and formerly married men, excluding Moritz. Typically, women play the role of caregivers and continue to be so today. On appeal, the tax code unconstitutional, conflicting with the equal protection of the 14th amendment. Moritz case was a significant win for Ginsburg, who sought to challenge traditional gender roles. Having a male plaintiff helped her to make judges more receptive to the notion of gender discrimination.

Weinberger v Weisenfeld

Ruth Bader Ginsburg represented Stephen Wiesenfeld in the 1975 landmark case of Weinberger v Weisenfeld. After his wife, Paula, died in childbirth, Weisenfeld became the sole provider for their newborn son. Having to cut work hours, he sought child care. Wiesenfeld was ineligible for Social Security survivors’ benefits that were made available for widows, not widowers. Ginsburg argued that Wiesenfeld was being discriminated against as a widower because his deceased wife’s contributions to Social Security received unequal treatment relative to salaried men.

The case showed how traditional gender roles formed social security provision. Traditionally women were the caregivers, not men who are traditional breadwinners. According to Ginsburg’s views, conventional gender roles need change. The barriers for women erected by men were quite the norm in the 1970s. Women could not get their credit cards without their fathers or husbands as co-signors until the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

RBG said:

“Our goals in the ’70s was to end the closed-door era. There were so many things off-limits to women, policing, firefighting, mining, piloting planes. All those barriers are gone. And the stereotypical view of people of a world divided between home and child-caring women and men as breadwinners, men representing the family, outside the home, those stereotypes are gone. So we speak of a parent-rather than mother and wage earner rather than male breadwinner.”

4. Why Dissents Matter

Ruth Bader Ginsberg is not only known for her opinions that she wrote in majority decisions as Associate Justice on the Supreme Court (e.g., United States vs. Virginia), but she advanced her legacy in her dissents. While dissents do not bear the court’s imminent power like majority opinions, they carry weight into the future. “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

She strongly dissented in Ledbetter v Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in 2007. The Supreme Court ruled that a female tire-plant supervisor waited too long under the law to bring a Title VII to pay discrimination against her employer. In her dissent,  Justice Ginsburg said the majority’s ” cramped” interpretation of the filing deadlines neglected the insidiousness of pay discrimination. At her encouragement, Congress amended the law to make it easier to challenge unequal pay.

“Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the most significant dissents do become court opinions, and gradually over time, their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.”

Dissents Often Point To The Future

I have always encouraged my students to read dissents as carefully as the majority opinions in my classroom. Although not binding, individual dissents ring real in more contemporary times. I may have channeled Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s message on dissents when I assigned the Plessy v Ferguson case decided in 1896. Justice John  Harlan’s lone dissent in the case considered a Jim Crow-like rule in Louisiana presaged segregation and the Brown v Board of Education. Harlan argued the decision would poison relations between the races.

5. On Voting Rights And Racial Discrimination

Ginsburg’s most famous dissent has to be in Shelby County v Holder. She criticized Chief Justice John Robert’s 5-4 ruling. The 2013 case struck down a vital section of the Voting Rights Act, freeing southern states from apparent voting changes with the federal government. In a vehement dissent, she objected to the conservative view that Jim Crow era discrimination no longer justified VRA’s rules.

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

“Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake proofed, places, where there is greater racial polarization in voting, have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful racial discrimination.”

Ginsburg credits her dissent for the nickname “Notorious RBG.” It is a play on the name of the rapper, Notorious B.I.G. Apparently, a second-year New York University Law School student posted Ginsburg’s dissent on a blog, channeling her anger into something more positive.

6. Give To Others Who Are Less Fortunate

“I tell law students…if you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself…something that makes a life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

7. On Men On The Court

In Safford Unified School District v Redding, a 2009 case, Savana Redding, an eighth-grader was strip-searched by school officials. They were tipped off by another student who told them she might have ibuprofen on her person in violation of school policy. The search violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. As the only woman writing an opinion in the court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg commented on her male colleagues’ indifference to this girl’s strip search. She said, “They have never been a 13-year-old girl.”

8. The Roe V Wade Decision

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a sometimes controversial view of Roe V Wade, the 1973 abortion case. In her confirmation hearings as Associate Justice by the Senate, she was critical of the decision. She would have preferred that the decision relies on equal protection of the 14th Amendment rather than the right to privacy. She said, “Abortion prohibition by the State, however, controls women and denies them full autonomy and full equality with men.” Instead, Ginsburg believed that Struck vs Secretary of Defense, a case she represented as an attorney for the ACLU, was the better case.

There, Susan Struck was an Air Force Captain who got pregnant while serving in Vietnam. She sued the Air Force after it said she would have to either have the abortion at the base hospital or leave if she wanted the child. She didn’t want an abortion. Instead, she tried to put the baby up for adoption because abortion violated her faith. Ginsburg found the regulation violated the equal protection principle as men were not “ordered out of the service because he had been the partner of the conception”. Struck lost in the lower court and the Supreme Court was going to hear it but the US Air Force waived Struck’s discharge and the case became moot.

9. Invest In Yourself

“So often, in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.”

Ginsburg couldn’t land a legal job after law school. Her gender impeded her from working as an attorney. She turned to teach others and became an attorney at the ACLU, advocating for those discriminated against. She essentially invested in herself, building her great confidence up to the Supreme Court. How fortunate she found her calling as a fighter for women’s rights and gender equality. It is lucky for all of us.

10. Women And Power

“As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what we can do, as women can see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things and we’ll  all be better for it.”

I wonder what Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be thinking if she knew that both presidential candidates, Biden and Trump, have said that they want to replace Ginsburg with a woman. To the best of my knowledge, I do not recall a time when a replacement to the Supreme Court was referred by gender. Since the very first appointment to the Supreme Court, it was assumed the Justices would be white men until Thurgood Marshall was appointed as the first black justice in 1967 and Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman justice in 1981. Let’s hope we have a diverse bench representing the US completely.

11. Work/Life Balance A Key To Gender Equality

Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke frequently on the need for work-life balance in our lives. At a 2016 event, she spoke on her belief that law firms needed to allow parents of both genders to succeed in their careers. For that to happen, RBG said it was essential to enable these professionals to have time away from work. She pointed to firms accommodating employees to work remotely given the advances in technology. RBG added that it was up to women and men to make demands in their workplace for such accommodation. She was against those who suggested being successful means giving up your career.

We will miss Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her outspoken voice and brilliant mind. She was my hero.

Final Thoughts

Ruth Bader Ginsburg inspired me not only to be an attorney but to be a better person, to give back to others, to evolve my thinking and pursuits no matter my age. She was passionate about learning and investing in herself. The path for working mothers was very dim when Ginsburg entered her profession. She spoke of work-life balance, something she was able to achieve. There is still not a clear way for women to achieve success in both roles but things are getting better.

As an octogenarian, she earned a rock-star status for a good reason. Through humor and intellect, she was the embodiment of a protector of our rights. Ginsburg’s tenacious and energy is a model we should all adopt in our careers to achieve success.

Thank you for reading!. If you have found something of value, please share it with others. Consider subscribing to The Cents of Money and receive our newsletter, among other freebies.


Ten Commandments of The Virtues Of Work

Ten Commandments of The Virtues Of Work

“Choose a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Mark Twain

Labor Day arrives at the end of summer. But this is no ordinary year. It is the year of COVID, an economic downturn, and racial unrest. Colleges, universities, and K-12 are opening in ways we never imagined before the coronavirus. That back-to-school edginess for our kids is more so this year. Major League baseball has abbreviated and the NFL preseason games were canceled. This summer, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote but not all women. If you were black, voting rights were not fully in place until the 1960s. Inequalities in the workplace, however, still exist.

The Economic Downturn

As a result of COVID, our economy went into a significant downturn as social distancing became necessary. Unemployment in July 2020 was 10.2%, above the rate during the worse part of the Great Recession. The latest initial jobless claims remain stubbornly above 1 million, with total insured unemployment at 14.535 million people. While down from the worst numbers ever recorded, too many people who want to work are able to work but can’t find jobs. Not being able to work robs you of your ability to support yourself. More than that, it takes away your identity and purpose.

This post is dedicated to those Americans out of work and knows the value of work.

Origin of Labor Day To Celebrate Hardworking Americans

Today’s images do not mesh with Labor Day’s origins. We don’t necessarily pay attention to its creation to counter abusive work practices by factory and business owners. But we should. The virtue of work, to be productive, and have dignity is an American right in all our hearts.

The first Labor Day was held on September 5, 1882. Ten thousand workers took unpaid time off to march in a New York City parade from City Hall to Union Square. They protested poor wages, 70 hour-7 day work weeks, child labor, and hazardous conditions. It became a federal holiday in 1894, shortly after labor unions began to claim prominence in the American economy.

Things are not perfect in today’s workplace but fairer systems prevail. This is a far cry from the late 19th century. I always thought of Labor Day’s celebration as a demarcation between summer and the more casual days in late August into September. Normally, we would need a push to get back into the swing at work whether it’s after Labor Day weekend or the start of a regular week. This year, a significant portion of those working are doing so remotely. They may be able to remain home or go to various locations, especially if their children are having classes online.

It is a good time to consider the virtues of work whether you are seeking a job, are already employed, seeking a promotion, or evaluating your career. While the Ten Commandments don’t refer directly to work, it serves as a moral code in the workplace where values such as honesty and ethics are needed.

Ten Commandments: The Virtues of Work

Aristotle said, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”  it is a sentiment worth aiming for whether you plan to work for 10 years or 40 years.

I always valued my work, appreciated its challenges, and a way to give meaning to my life.  Sure, there are always days I would rather not be working. However, I have sought fulfillment from my job and career. If you don’t feel you are in the right place, make changes. Explore and broaden your interests. Our jobs often give us a sense of pride, independence, identity, and purpose, a way to meet people, improve our skills, and of course, financial support.

1. Education As A Path To Work

From the earliest days at school, the value of a good education was a means to an end. That is if you earned a college degree, often seemed like the minimum, it was preparation for a good job or career. Having that degree no longer guarantees “you have it made.”  However, statistics still indicate that your first salary out of college would be above those without a college degree. Don’t rule out getting a vocational degree if college is not for you. Getting technical training for a specific career or trade is a desirable option.

Higher education or advanced training for a vocational degree puts you on a better path for long term earning potential. The higher your starting salary, the more likely your retirement savings will be higher so long as you consistently contribute to it. You will be in good shape if you have access and choose to opt-in to an employer-sponsored 401K plan. Many employers match part or all of your contributions.

Lifelong Learning Is Valuable To Employers

Even with a college degree, you may need further education such as graduate school or simply to expand your skillset. Colleges have been pivoting to provide students with skills that will help to make them attractive candidates for good jobs. As a professor, we have been amping up training to strengthen the skills and abilities that go beyond the classroom. Remember learning can be done out of the classroom or anywhere you may be The most successful people are often lifelong learners who are attractive to employers.

I sometimes hear how these employable skills like problem-solving and critical thinking should be integrated into the classroom and through internships. For young people, college lays the groundwork for self-discovery.  That exploration continues as you begin to work at your first job and beyond. Some students know what they want to do but many others are at the early innings of their long term plan.

Changing Directions

So let me tell you a little bit about my journey. I was a psychology major with an education minor, planning to go to graduate school for school psychology. I graduated in January and had been accepted to a prestigious graduate program to become a school psychologist in the fall. My interim plan was to work at a bank until I start school. However, my boss at the bank encouraged me to delay my program for a semester. The stars seemed to realign for me as I enjoyed learning the factoring business, providing loans to small companies.

Soon after, I went to business graduate school, taking evening classes while working at Merrill Lynch. My plans changed significantly but you can say I combined my two interests. I spent half of my career as an equity analyst on Wall Street and then I moved on to become a business professor. I am always continuing to learn and pick up new skills.

2. Skills Enrichment

“Increase thy ability to earn”

Richest Man In Babylon

Throughout your life, you should strive to strengthen your hard and soft skills through your job or on your own.  Hard or technical skills are teachable and quantifiable abilities gained through formal education or on-the-job training. For example, courses like accounting, computer software, finance, and marketing can be applied in any workplace setting.

Having Soft Skills Are Essential

On the other hand, soft skills are personality attributes that enable someone to interact effectively. Increasingly, employers are seeking these productive traits–adaptability, collaboration, critical thinking, interpersonal communications, problem-solving–as marks of success.

These valuable skills enhance personal and professional development. Skills are like learning a new language, coding, or artificial intelligence (AI) are prime examples of career enhancement tools. These important skills are transferable and can be combined with soft skills. They often overlap between your personal life and career. Billionaire Mark Cuban has studied machine learning and AI not only to better himself but because learning can be fun when you find your passion.

3. Gives Life Meaning And Fulfillment

“If you don’t know what you are living for, you haven’t yet lived.”

Rabbi Noah Weinberg

Acquiring knowledge through learning opens up many doors toward personal fulfillment. It makes your job that much more enjoyable. Having a positive attitude about learning throughout your life adds a dimension to your life and your character development. Picking up new skills and learning how to be accountable is rewarding.

Certainly spending a day at a job that you hate will do little for your self-esteem. On the other hand, being responsible enhances our feelings of self-worth, especially if we are engaged in meaningful work. What are the characteristics of meaningful work? We have some suggestions.

4. Characteristics of Meaningful Work

What makes work meaningful? It is often up to the individual’s personality and what kind of work they enjoy doing. Some people love working with their hands and seeing something tangible, others are rewarded by helping others, and many feel rewarded by making lots of money, affording a luxury lifestyle.

Paid employment is not always the only way to find meaningful work. Countless people find volunteering to be a meaningful part of their lives. Serving a societal goal and raising awareness and the quality of life for others in different fields is gratifying. There is no shortages of public issues that need addressing like health, climate, and inequality.

For work to be meaningful, it should:

  • Be purposeful.
  • Leverage your strengths.
  • Have tangible benefits.
  • Provide personal satisfaction.

Meaningful work means something different for everyone. For the dental hygienist, cleaning and improving someone’s health is rewarding. The painter surveys the rooms he just finished sprucing up with satisfaction.  he baker who is proud of the cake he or she just pulled out of the oven. All are personal accomplishments that each feel like time was well spent.

5. Hard Work And Determination

“You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.”

Psalms 128:2

Hard work and determination is the key to success.  All the talent in the world may not necessarily help you to achieve your goals. But are these characteristics enough?

Kent Humphreys, a consultant to corporate executives, cited a survey in his book, Letters To Workplace Leaders.  The study found that 40% of those surveyed said hard work was the main reason for their success, while 38% indicated determination. Spending hours on a certain task working hard by itself is not enough. You need to be effective and efficient, have grit and personal sacrifice, and good fortune.

Understand Your Goals

To realize your goals, you need to understand what it is that you hope to achieve. Make sure they are realistic goals. For some, it may be about accumulating a lot of money to buy luxuries and have a comfortable lifestyle or achieving a legacy, or simply having a work/life balance to enjoy work and spend time with family. Know what success will look like for you and decide if you can make the commitment that involves personal sacrifice.

I recall a certain young associate I’ll call Jack I had hired. Jack constantly complained of hard work and long hours despite being paid quite well. However, he was not keeping up with the aspects of the job which would help him to become an analyst. Granted, there is a big learning curve but that was part of the attraction of the job for me and others.  For Jack, it was not and he left shortly after, probably misjudging what the work required.

As in Proverbs 12-11 says, “He who works will have abundant food but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.”

6. Having Your Own Business

Starting your own business may not seem like a great idea in the midst of a pandemic and an economic downturn. However, it remains a worthwhile goal for many who want to be their own boss. The benefits are having control, flexibility, work as hard as you want, and own your successes. There are challenges, too. Besides raising capital to run your business, many owners experience volatile income.

More than one-third of US households experienced a 25% change in income year-to-year according to Pew Research. One of the biggest challenges for business owners is learning how to put away savings for business and personal spending when earnings are less predictable. Budgeting and having liquidity on hand play a big role.

Budget and Emergency Fund Play A Role

Many business owners may be subject to sporadic earnings unless you have a subscriber business. At a minimum, you need to create a budget for your business, understand your revenue inflows, fixed and variable expenses. Track your costs for potential reduction opportunities.

Make sure that you pay yourself a salary. Save as much possible for those times your monthly income is lower. You need to have an ample emergency fund for six months or more to pay for your living expenses. Arguably, your emergency fund should be for as much as a full year if your earnings are volatile.  You do not want to borrow money to pay your basic expenses.

Many small businesses are struggling now and may have even closed. If you have your heart set on setting up a business, you can at least start the planning process. The virtues of work are amplified when you own your business.  Read about the pros and cons of self-employment here.

Related Post: Why You Need An Emergency Fund (And How To Invest It)

7. Gender And Racial Inequality In The Workplace

“Around me, I saw women overworked and underpaid, doing men’s work at half men’s wages, not because their work was inferior, but because they were women… As man’s equal before the law, women could demand their rights, asking favors from no one.”

Anna Howard Shaw 

“If they give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

Shirley Chisholm

“I do not demand equal pay for any women save those who do equal work in value. Scorn to be coddled by your employers; make them understand that you are in the services as workers, not as women.”

Susan B. Anthony

This may be the centennial for the women’s right to vote but women, especially those of color, still face challenges. The gender gap remains in the usual places for all women. Women get less pay than men, experience longer career pauses with time out for children and other dependents. As a result of fewer years of earnings, women save less for retirement than men.. Despite facing challenges, women are gaining ground. Slowly, women are reaching higher corporate levels and increasingly starting their own businesses.

Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face And Overcome

Black Women Face Experience Racial Discrimination As Well

While non-minority women starting up their own businesses have difficulties, black women entrepreneurs are further impacted by racial discrimination. This adds more pressure to develop their businesses. On the positive side, black women-owned businesses have been growing significantly faster.

According to American Express 2019 State of  Women-Owned Businesses, the number of women-owned businesses grew 21% from 2014-2019. That rate compares to 9% growth for all businesses. There are nearly 13 million women-owned businesses. Employment grew by 8% to 9.4 million. Revenue grew 21% to over $1.7 trillion.

Hopefully, their progress will not be slowed by the pandemic or economic downturn. Black women account for a greater proportion of all black-owned ventures and 29% of all women-owned businesses. They have been inspiring as were their role models in the 19th century and early 20th century which we address here. They still, however, carry the weight of racial inequalities reflected in a sizable wealth gap.

Related Post: Financial Literacy May Help The Racial Wealth Gap

8. Dignity In The Workplace

When you master your job, you often have a feeling of pride in your work. You know how to do your work well and are recognized by your boss and colleagues. This is often called dignity in the workplace or in a workshop. You have expertise in a craft and enjoy what you do. Bloomberg News writer Noah Smith, making the connection between work and dignity, has said, “Jobs provide a kind of dignity that traditional welfare programs, or even innovative new ones like universal basic income, probably don’t.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a famous speech, “What’s My Life’s Blueprint”  to young students in 1967 about doing a job as best you can so you can find dignity and respect.

“Be A Great Street Sweeper”

“Set out to do a good job and do that job so well that the living, the dead and unborn couldn’t do it any better.”

He went on: “If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

9. Remote Working Is A Growing Trend Likely To Last

As COVID caused work disruption, many organizations who had already embraced remote working, quickly adapted their employees to a full-time virtual schedule. Remote working expanded dramatically as working from home became a necessity for many reasons. Companies have shared how they were able to quickly hook up their employees to their networks, enabling new remote working arrangements.

Remote working was already a growing trend before the pandemic. Millennials had sought flexible time as a desirable perk. Recent college grads and even Boomers have sought this desirable perk. Working from home is far more geared for those in certain careers that require higher education, are city dwellers, and in higher-income brackets. For example, people working in accounting, finance, and software engineering were more likely to work from home than meatpackers. The latter had to make tough decisions between facing the health crisis or stop production altogether.

Remote working doesn’t work for everyone, even for employees that are in suitable jobs where working from home is more common. According to the US Census, about 5.3% typically work from home. In the Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2019  survey, 38% never worked remotely pre-pandemic, while 62% have worked remotely at any frequency.

For many, remote working provides a better work/life balance, with less commuting resulting in increased productivity and flexibility.

10. Be A Mentor

There are many benefits of being a mentor. As a mentor, you are reinforcing what you know, improving your own skills and leadership abilities, and boosting your own self-confidence. It is rewarding as you expand your own personal growth and a sense of fulfillment.

Employees who serve as mentors often report greater job satisfaction and commitment to their organization. There have been a number of studies that link mentoring with career development and growth. In a 2013 study, Rajashi Ghosh and Thomas G. Reio found that mentors were more satisfied with their jobs and committed to their companies than non-mentors.

In many fields, mentoring is used to attract talent and understand corporate culture. An employee or supervisor taking someone under their wing promotes a different kind of bonding and global knowledge sharing. This is good for the organization.

Final Thoughts

Having a job you enjoy is a meaningful part of life. Our work lives are separate from our family. Work gives us another dimension to excel, collaborate with others, and be productive. Many aspects of work have been changing, most for the better though challenges remain, especially for women and minorities. The pandemic and an economic downturn have created new hardships but hopefully, this is temporary, the shorter the better.

Thank you for reading! Please share this with others if found something of value and consider subscribing to get our weekly newsletter and even some freebies.