Highly doubtful, alas, that Washington State Treasurer Duane Davidson will supplant Marie Kondo, the Japanese “organizing consultant” and decluttering guru, as the latest viral social-media sensation.
But just as the zeitgeisty “KonMari Method” advises that people should rid themselves of any item that does not “spark joy,” so, too, does Davidson advocate getting your personal finances in order by, among other helpful hints, suggesting you save by reevaluating what you really need. Can a TV show for our silver-haired state bean counter be far behind? Will there be Davidson memes sprouting up on Twitter and Instagram?
OK, we kid. But Davidson, through the State Treasurer’s website, is trying to promote financial literacy and save people a few bucks. He’s launched an online tutorial (http://bit.ly/2ThWj9q) broken into bite-sized nuggets of knowledge, offered in Spanish and English. The state has partnered with Everfi, an educational technology firm out of Washington, D.C., to cover such nettlesome money worries as building an emergency savings fund, improving your credit score, protecting your identity and the hazards of debt in its multifarious forms, including the exploitative payday loan gambit.
We know it might sound like drudge work — just hearing the word “module” gives some nasty flashbacks to school days — but if you were to watch just one five-minute module a day for the next week or so, you might gain insight into why making ends meet is such a struggle.
And, boy, do we need some coaching. The National Financial Educators Council this month released results from a nationwide survey of a diverse group, asking the question: “During the past year (2018), about how much money do you think you lost because you lacked knowledge about personal finances?”
Answer: $1,230. Counting every U.S. citizen, it totals nearly $300 billion lost.
That’s a significant chunk of change. And it probably is a rather low estimate, because, as you’ll learn after sitting through a module or two, we don’t really know where all our money goes. (Here’s a hint: bank fees, loan interest, credit-card debt, investment losses and the daily drip-by-drip draining of one’s bank account.)
It’s that last category — the way we spend available cash — that draws the comparison between Kondo and Davidson.
Click on the module titled “Money Basics,” in which you “explore ways to change your daily spending habits and build savings over time.” An uber-perky female voice (can’t tell whether it’s real or automated) tells the sad story of “Mary, a retail associate” and mother of two, forced to max out her credit cards or take out payday loans to cover her kids’ birthday parties. As the perky voice intones, “Mary ended up paying more than she would have if she had enough saved ahead of time to make these purchases.”
But “Mary” in the module sees the financial light and changes her spending patterns in a way that would make Marie Kondo give a polite opera clap. We learn that Mary started taking her lunch to work, instead of buying fast food, and saved $60 a month. She also “reduced her cable plan” (not totally cutting the cord) and saved $31 a month.
The module concludes on this chirpy, upbeat note: “By making just a few small changes in her daily routine, Mary is now eating healthier, spending more time with her kids, and saving a small amount each month. Let’s start looking at ways you can build savings, just like Mary.”
At that point, the participant is asked to choose seven spending areas (out of a dozen choices) to “evaluate your needs.” Categories include “coffee,” “clothing,” “internet,” “dining out,” “sporting events,” and “entertainment.” Then it encouraged you take a long, hard look at your spending habits, making you consider Zen-like questions about attachment: Do you really need that $150 blouse, that daily “tall, half-caff, soy latte at 120 degrees,” that third trip back to the cineplex for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse?”
“Choose and drag any cost you think you can reduce,” the perky voice commands, “then try to implement that change in your daily life to see your savings build.”
It can be a drag, of sorts, to follow this austere advice. You may ask: Whatever happened to the concept of “retail therapy?” Sorry, that was a viral sensation that the KonMari Method thoroughly displaced.
Saving money is not exciting, doesn’t give you that dopamine rush to the frontal cortex. Right now, you might be feeling financially flush. Unemployment rates are near record lows, after all. But wage growth is stagnating, the stock-market soars and plunges like a school of dolphins, and some pundits whisper that the “R” word – recession – may be on the horizon.
Maybe it’s time to take that financial-literacy tutorial, even if it won’t make Davidson a viral sensation.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis