5 things you didn’t realize you could ask for that can save you lots of money







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Sometimes, a simple question can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Whether it’s earning more money at work, getting a pesky bank fee waived or lowering your bills, often the only thing standing between you and saving money is asking for what you want.

Here are five things you might not even be aware you can ask for.

1. Ask for a raise

Just 37% of workers have asked for a raise, according to a 2018 survey of over 160,000 people by career site PayScale. But 70% of those who did ask for more money got it, while just one in three people reported receiving a raise without asking for one. That means that most people could be leaving money on the table.

Those who have worked at a company for at least five years are most likely to receive a raise, Payscale found, though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for one otherwise. Just be sure to come prepared to demonstrate the value you add to the business.

“They need you to show what impact your work has had on the business,” Lydia Frank, vice president of PayScale, told CNBC Make It.

Your preparation should also include knowing comparable salary ranges in your company and the broader field, bestselling author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch told CNBC Make It. And if you need a raise because of external pressures — say, to save for your kid’s school — leave that out of the conversation.

“People often bring up their mortgage, their new car payment,” she says. “Focus on why you deserve a raise — not why you need it.”





2. Ask for banking fees to be waived

If you’re hit with a late fee on a credit card payment or an overdraft fee on your checking account, ask for it to be waived. Chances are, your bank or card issuer will let you off the hook.

Nearly 90% of people who asked for a late fee to be waived were successful, according to a report from CompareCards, a credit comparison site. But the same survey found that only 48% of people who have been hit with a late fee have asked for leniency.

This year, credit card companies can charge you up to $27 for your first late fee, and up to $38 for additional late payments within a six month period, according to the guidelines set by the 2009 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act.

“You have far more power with your credit card company than you realize,” writes Matt Schulz, CompareCards’ chief industry analyst. “You just have to be willing to wield it, and far too few people do.”

This works best if you’ve been a longtime customer or if it’s a first-time occurrence.

3. Ask the seller to pay the closing costs on a home

Buying a new home? One tactic that might save you money is asking the seller to cover some of the expenses for you.

“What buyers don’t realize is that there are a lot of things you can put in your offer letter that are non-standard,” Skylar Olsen, director of economic research at Zillow, tells CNBC Make It. “Everything is on the table.”

That includes closing costs, which total around $3,700 on average, Zillow reports. You can also ask for more unexpected things like furniture or appliances, Olsen says. She uses bar stools as an example: If you see that they go perfectly with the kitchen, your offer to buy can be contingent on keeping them.





To do that, you’d include the stools in your offer letter, and the seller will either agree or send a counter-offer. While the exact savings will depend on where you’re buying, the type of house, the deal you strike and a host of other factors, there’s no harm in asking as long as you’re flexible, she says.

And definitely ask the seller to cover any obvious repairs that need to be done to make the house more livable. The only thing stopping you is “whether or not you feel bold and ask for what you want,” Olsen says.

4. Ask for a lower credit card APR

More than eight in 10 people who called their issuer and asked for a lower interest rate on their credit card were approved, a CompareCards survey revealed. But just over 20% of people said they’ve asked.

If you carry credit card debt, that lower APR can save you big. Here’s an example from CompareCards:

If you have a balance of $5,000 on a card with a 24% APR and pay $250 per month, it’ll take 26 months to pay it off and you’ll pay about $1,450 in interest. Lower that APR to 18% — a 6-point reduction, equal to the average drop shown in our survey — and you’ll save more than $450 in interest and two months in payoff time.

The key to attaining a lower rate, Schulz says, is the same as the key to getting a raise: You need to come prepared. Mention other credit card offers you’ve been pre-approved for that advertise a lesser rate.

“Come to the call with ammunition,” he says.





5. Ask if you really have to pay that medical bill

With medical costs continuing to rise for most Americans, it’s more important than ever to double- and triple-check every bill you receive. It’s fairly common to receive a medical bill in error, according to DirectPath, which helps employees manage their benefits. At least half of the medical claims it reviewed for clients contained an error, the company recently reported.

“Mistakes are rampant,” Bridget Lipezker, senior vice president of advocacy and transparency at DirectPath, told CNBC. “In the complicated world of health-care billing, don’t make the assumption that a medical bill is right.”

Some common errors include incorrect medical bill coding, or charging a patient for a name-brand prescription instead of the generic they received.

If you think you’ve been billed incorrectly, first check with your company to see if it offers an advocacy service like DirectPath. From there, you should call your insurance company and ask them to review your bill.

Don’t miss:

70% of Americans with credit card debt admit they can’t pay it off this year

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How to manage money in a marriage

Among the romance of it all, it is easy to put aside the fact that getting married means more than just saying ‘I do’.

For most couples, marriage means a merging of finances. With a lot of marriages ending because of disagreements over money, it is worth getting on the same page about how you will approach what can be a tricky area to navigate.

What changes after marriage?

In reality, not much changes in your everyday finances once you’ve taken your vows. You can receive some tax benefits under the marriage allowance (only if one of you isn’t a high-rate tax payer), and there are some benefits surrounding paying a lower rate of tax on interest earned from savings. One of the most significant gains is that if one of you were to die, the surviving partner would not be charged tax on anything he or she inherits from the estate.

However, the biggest change comes if you decide to take out a joint credit agreement in the form of a joint current account, mortgage or loan. Vows do not create a financial association, but these financial products do. This means that you are both responsible for the debt, and in the case of a joint current account, money is owned equally regardless of who deposited it into the account.

So how can you manage your money?

It is down to personal preference how you manage your money in a marriage, but here are three possible approaches you could adopt:

Separate accounts – You could just keep separate accounts for everything. In this situation you are not taking on any joint financial responsibility, but it could get complicated in terms of paying bills and household costs.

Halfway house – You could have a joint bank account that both of you pay a proportion of your salary into and that covers expenses and household bills. Then you would each maintain a separate bank account and therefore retain an element of financial independence. This can get complicated if there is disparity in your incomes, as you would need to work out what amount each of you should contribute to the joint account based on how much you earn. It can also become complicated if you add children into the mix, especially if one partner takes a hit financially by going part-time or giving up work in order to look after them.

Merge finances – The final option is to merge your finances entirely. In this case you would pay both salaries into one account (if you have two sources of income) and use that for everything. In terms of management, this makes it easier because you are just dealing with one pool of money, but it does mean a loss of financial independence. If you were to then separate, it could make it harder to divide up your finances.

Takeaway

The key thing is that in terms of debt, you are only liable for debts in your name, not for any debts of your partner. This applies to your credit score as well: if your husband/wife has an issue with debt, this will not affect your own credit rating unless the issue relates to a financial product that you jointly hold.

As with any sort of financial management, it is best to make a monthly budget and be aware of what you can and cannot afford. You can either do this separately, or if you are sharing finances, together. As difficult as it may seem sometimes, being aware of what money you have going in and coming out makes life that much easier and helps you to avoid getting into financial difficulty.

And as with anything in marriage, communication is key. It is best to discuss what financial responsibilities you and your spouse have both individually and jointly, and therefore what your money should go towards. From filling up the car to covering the mortgage, it all matters when you are sharing a life together.

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Before life goes sideways, be sure to do these 3 things







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Chanel Reynolds got the call you never want.

Her husband, Jose, had been in a terrible accident and was now in intensive care, irreparably wounded. A week later, with no signs of brain function, he was removed from life support and died. Meanwhile, Reynolds realized they had wills, but they were not signed or notarized. She wasn’t sure of all their coverage, and she couldn’t easily locate the phone number for their insurance company.

A super-organized project manager, Reynolds says her organizing skills were extremely helpful. At the same time, she said, it was “humiliating that I was so disorganized and felt so helpless.”

Holding her thumb and fingers several inches apart to represent a stack of paper, Reynolds said the mail piled up and all she could do was stare at it, paralyzed.

When she recovered from an unrecoverable time, Reynolds created GYST.com in 2013 to share what she’d learned. (GYST stands for Get Your S— Together.) A few things kept recurring, and she said, “If we had had these few things done, there would have been less to answer. I hoped family and friends would share.”

The site went viral and Reynolds wrote “What Matters Most,” a guide to wills, money and insurance — and where to start when you don’t even know you need to do this.

Planning for catastrophes

It’s not the actual planning or organizational tasks themselves. People manage to plan and carry out other complicated tasks. When the event is positive — getting married, having a child, buying a home, inheriting some money — it’s far easier and more exciting to sit down and make plans.

As Reynolds points out, the negative ones such as a bad diagnosis or disability, or some unforeseen disaster, are a punch in the gut.

When things go to pieces, you don’t know what you don’t know. The average person has several financial accounts and different types of coverage, and few people can quickly lay their hands on all that information.

At a minimum, to be prepared for some unforeseen catastrophe, you should have a will, an emergency fund and a simple folder or notebook that holds financial and account information for you and your partner.

More from Invest in You:
What surprises people most about Roth IRAs
Learning to be an adult is like anything else: something you can learn
Five easy ways to save $1,000 in three months

It’s far easier to write down passwords and assemble information on accounts and key phone numbers when life is humming along. Planning simply makes a hard time easier, Reynolds says. What’s more, we do it all the time for a range of events both big and small.

“We back up our computers, we change our furnace filters and the oil in our cars,” Reynolds said. Getting organized for an unseen event is no different.

A routine surgery gone wrong

Like most people in their 30s, neither Liz Gendreau, 38, an IT program manager, nor her husband had wills. They just assumed there’d be plenty of time at some unspecified later date.

But a routine surgery for Gendreau’s husband, Todd Gwiazdowski, led to a long ICU stay with life-threatening complications seven years ago. At the time, Gwiazdowski was collecting unemployment, which he lost because he could not look for work. He had been caring for the couple’s sons, so expenses also soared because Gendreau needed to secure child care.

The expenses go way beyond medical ones.

“There’s a ton of nonmedical expenses people never think about it,” Gendreau said. “Special food, installing railings in the house, special clothes,” she said. Many may not be allowable expenses through a health savings account. Luckily, Gwiazdowski recovered. Gendreau blogs about family finance on her website, Chief Mom Officer.

Until he was in the hospital long enough to qualify for a discount, Gendreau had to pay for hospital parking. “You don’t have time to cook,” Gendreau said, so there’s food to pay for. So many things are not technically medical, but they all come at once. Just as your income goes down your expenses skyrocket.

An emergency fund was put to immediate use. Gendreau’s strategy was to reallocate her spending. “Because I’d always put money in the kids’ college funds and retirement, I was able to come up with money by stopping saving,” she said.

‘What if…?’

Job loss is just one difficult scenario. Gendreau recommends imagining how you might handle different types of emergencies beyond simple cash amounts.

Consider how you’d manage if you had to move out of your home after a flood or a fire. Where would you take money from? What if you run through your three months’ fund? If you have kids, you’ll want a plan for taking care of them if neither parent is able to. Do you depend on family or friends? How near are these people?

Reynolds recommends playing “what if?” to determine the areas in which your family could be most vulnerable. For Reynolds, not having an emergency fund was devastating. “If I hadn’t been able to lean on some people” it would have been catastrophic. Her husband had no disability insurance, and his injuries were unrecoverable. There was loss of salary, possibly long-term care, that would have bankrupted the family.





“Think of the things that can go wrong,” Reynolds said. “[Think about] what’s most important. I have found I sleep better at night knowing some of the basic stuff is taken care of.”

There’s also peace of mind in being able to say you did enough planning. “I was so embarrassed about how poorly I’d planned,” Reynolds said. “If you can create more space to be in the room and less time beating yourself up for poor planning, we’re all better off.”

“Even if you figured out everything in advance, when you’re sitting in the ICU next to your husband, wondering if he’s going to live, it’s inherently stressful,” Gendreau said. “That’s not the best time to figure all that out. I think we don’t talk about it as much as we should because everyone thinks nothing will ever go wrong.”

Regular checkups

Keep in mind that planning is usually not one and done, but something that needs reviewing and checking on a regular basis. Reynolds schedules her annual checkup around her birthday because it’s an easy way to remember something crucial. Around that time, she revisits insurance and other paperwork.

“Hoping for the best is nice, but it’s not a plan.”
-Chanel Reynolds, Author, What Matters Most

When things get hard, everything else seems to get harder, Reynolds says, “which is the opposite of what needs to happen. It’s a domino effect.”

That cascade can make it hard for people to get out of the hole financially and emotionally. “Hoping for the best is nice, but it’s not a plan,” Reynolds said.

At some point, she realized she wasn’t the only who didn’t have all her ducks in a row. Most people don’t have solid plans in place for dire emergencies. “We all suck at this,” she said.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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Talking to your kids about managing money

As summer job season approaches, we’re looking at ways you can help your kids manage money.

You should start talking finances with your kids long before they file the first application for a summer job. Start as young as kindergarten. And, instead of using an old fashioned piggy bank as a first savings account consider a clear jar. That way your young one can see the money adding up.

Also, instead of paying for chores just make chores part of being in the family. Then, give the child a weekly allowance to manage. Make it clear they need to manage the money for things like treats at the movies.

“So, that when you are together with them at an event and they say can I have this? Can I have that? Can I have that? You can go, I don’t know, do you have any money? Did you bring your money along?,” replies clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baker.

As your child ages, set them up with a savings account at a bank and encourage them to save money. Then, before they go off to college, set aside time to talk about the hazards of credit card debt.

Dr. Baker has done a series of podcasts on the topic. You can find the links on the right side of this page.

‘Journey to Financial Wellness’ teaches students how to manage money after college

Central Michigan University students learned more about managing finances and budgeting after college at “Journey to Financial Wellness” on April 17.

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Hosted by CMU’s Financial Wellness Collaborative, the conference featured informational sessions with faculty members, alumni and community members who aimed to teach students how to better handle their finances. 

The event featured several breakout sessions, with topics such as “The Importance of Finances After Graduation,” “Salary Negotiation” and “Get Smart About Credit.”

Kelsey Stewart, Assistant Director of Financial Aid, discussed paying for college through loans in her session “Federal and Student Loan Debt Repayment.” She discussed the differences between government and private loans, the parent PLUS loan, repayment plans, loan terms and interest rates.

She emphasized the importance of budgeting and living frugally in college while minimizing the number of loans taken out each year. She also encouraged students to visit the office of financial aid to discuss their specific loan situations.

Comstock Park sophomore Danielle Swafford said she attended the conference to learn about handling her own finances.

“Finance as a whole is something that’s really scary to a lot of college students,” Swafford said

Manager of Financial Services John Gawryk presented “The Importance of Finances After Graduation.” He began his talk with a discussion on the economic situation the millennial generation is facing. College-aged members of the workforce were better off in 1989 than young members of the workforce today, he said, because inflation has outpaced wages. 

“College is no longer a ticket to the middle class,” Gawryk said. “It’s a supply and demand issue. You’re the biggest generation this country has ever seen, you outnumber the baby boomers.”

Gawryk’s talk focused on how to repay student loans as fast as possible after graduation. 

He also discouraged students from keeping all of their money in the bank because the return rate, the rate at which one’s savings account grows annually, is far lower than inflation. Keeping no more than $5,000 in a savings account is preferable with the rest of one’s savings in stock market investments.

“You can’t borrow your way out of debt,” he said.

U.S. Teens Aren’t Optimistic About Their Future Finances

America’s teenagers have a lot on their minds. They worry about school, about fitting in, about guns, about the environment, about just figuring out who they really are. But given that for the most part, mom and dad are still paying the bills, you might be surprised at how many of them are already worrying about money and their financial futures. 

According to a new survey from Junior Achievement and Citizen’s Bank, fully 45% of teens say they’re worried they won’t be able to afford to live on their own when they reach adulthood, while 47% are worried about paying for college. The study also showed that 40% worry about finding a fulfilling, well-paying job, and 33% are concerned that they don’t know enough about how to manage money.

“These survey findings show a disconcerting lack of confidence among teens when it comes to achieving financial goals,” said Jack Kosakowski, CEO of Junior Achievement USA, in a press release. “With a strong economy, you would think teens would be more optimistic. It just demonstrates the importance of working with young people to help them better understand financial concepts and gain confidence in their ability to manage their financial futures.”

It’s important for adults to talk with teens about money. Image source: Getty Images.

Here’s what teens want

Considering the historically low unemployment rate in the U.S. today, there’s a fair amount of pessimism baked into the fact that 62% of those surveyed listed just getting a full-time job as one of their top financial goals for the future — making it the most common response. A similar percentage of teenagers (59%) said that graduating from a four-year school was a top goal. And 53% want to reach a level of financial independence such that they’re no longer relying on monetary help from their parents. But 37% said they don’t expect to hit that last milestone before they are 30.

In the slightly longer term, 74% of teenagers believe they’ll own a car by the time they are 30, but only 60% expect to own a home at that age. In addition, 44% of those surveyed expect to be saving for retirement by the time they hit 30, while 43% expect to have their student loans paid off.

“It’s clear that more has to be done to help prepare students for the future — whether it is through helping them navigate paying for college or educating them on how to manage their money by establishing savings and checking accounts,” said Citizen’s Bank President of Consumer Deposits and Lending Brendan Coughlin in the press release.

What can you do?

As a parent, it’s important to start talking to your offspring about money early. They need to understand the value of a dollar, and where their family stands. Is paying for college something you can afford, or will your child need to find other options? And how much will that depend on which school they choose? (Your in-state university? We can swing it. Columbia University? Sorry, kid, but no.) Are you in good shape financially, or are your household finances a mess?

Teenagers need to understand how money is earned, and the consequences of making various financial choices. It’s possible for anyone — even someone of modest means — to go to college, land a good job, and achieve financial independence, but doing so is far easier if you really understand the impact of the choices you make along the way.

Parents should actively involve their children in financial discussions, and set a good example. A kid who watches mom or dad constantly buy things they can’t afford or make other careless money decisions will be more likely to mimic those behaviors later.

It’s important to teach our kids that reaching long-term financial goals requires sacrifices on the instant-gratification front. You may not take that exotic vacation, or drive the car of your dreams, but your children need to see that if those decisions are part of a plan that leads to financial security, the sacrifices will be well worth it.

This is the biggest money mistake people make, according to NFL player Brandon Copeland







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When it comes to money, many people aren’t getting it right — especially professional football players, NFL linebacker Brandon Copeland told CNBC on Wednesday.

But there’s one thing in particular that they are doing wrong: Trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Players entering the National Football League “end up trying to do what other people are doing in the locker room,” Copeland said on “Power Lunch.”

“That is the biggest mistake people make.”

And it’s not just an NFL problem — but something Americans in general are guilty of, added Copeland, who plays for the New York Jets.

He’s now making it his mission to educate people on how to manage their money. This year, he is teaching a class at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, on financial literacy.

It’s something he thinks is severely lacking in today’s educational system. According to a 2018 survey by the Council for Economic Education, only 17 states require high school students to take a personal finance class.

“We’ve practiced our multiplication tables. We’ve practiced cursive at some point in time. We’ve never practiced budgeting,” said Copeland, a member of the CNBC Invest in You Financial Wellness Council.

“Yet, when you come out of college you are expected to know it right off the bat,” he added. “A lot of this stuff kids don’t know, don’t understand because no one has ever sat down and talked to them about it.”

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Copeland practices what he preaches. He saves about 90 percent of his income.

For others, he suggests aiming to save at least half of their salaries. But even that may not be feasible — which is understandable, he said.

“Some people, they can’t live if they are saving 50% of their money,” he said.

What they should do, however, is take stock of their financial situation. They can start off by calculating all of their expenses — from rent to cellphones to their Netflix account — and see where they can cut back.

They should also understand what they value and why in order to avoid making unnecessary purchases, and find strong mentors, he advises.

— CNBC’s Stefanie Kratter contributed to this report.

Check out 4 Money Lessons Everyone Should Know by Age 25 via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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Law Adds Money Management to Arizona High School Curriculum

Next year’s high school economics courses will now have a segment on personal finance thanks to a new law.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill April 11 that will require high school economics classes to dedicate a portion of the course to personal finance management. Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee said the goal of SB 1184 is to teach students how to manage their money. She said the courses could cover anything from how to balance their checkbooks to the consequences of acquiring debt.

“What we would like to see is that students are able to understand the basics before they graduate from high school, and then they can be successful when they get into the real world,” said Yee.

Yee said each school’s program will be different since it will be up to the school district to determine the content and length of the course segment. Schools will implement the changes in the 2019-20 school year.

Students who already took an economics class without the financial literacy section will not be barred from graduating.

According to the Federal Reserve, Americans have $1.56 trillion of student loan debt, and 7 million Americans are three months late in car payments. She said that’s an example of what inspired the law.

“The statistics are staggering. We really have to capture these young people before they become adults who don’t understand how to manage their own budgets,” said Yee.

Yee said her administration will soon have trainings and tools on the state treasury website.

This Maine woman rebooted her relationship with money and is helping others do it, too

When Sarah Newcomb was growing up in Orono in the late 1980s and 1990s, she always felt like a misfit — like she was less-than.

That’s because in a town full of the children of University of Maine professors and professionals, who went on ski trips and vacations to Disney World like it was no big deal, Newcomb’s family was different.

“Orono was an upper middle class town and we were lower middle class. I felt we might as well be white trash,” she said. “There were people I felt I couldn’t date because they were off-limits. Class was just so obvious to me. To me, it was ever present. It was not fun for me to feel poor.”

Courtesy of Sarah Newcomb

Newcomb was pretty and smart, creative and musical, and in a way it’s surprising to hear that she didn’t fit in. But the financial divide that loomed between her and her more well-off peers showed itself in ways that were both big and small. Her family couldn’t afford new clothes from stores like The Gap or The Limited, so she shopped at thrift stores instead. When she was on school field trips and the bus would stop at McDonald’s so the students could get a quick bite to eat, Newcomb stayed on the bus because she didn’t have $5 to spend.

“Little expenditures that meant nothing to most people were a big deal in my family,” she said. “What happens with people is that you start to internalize it. It becomes part of your identity.”

Newcomb’s experiences growing up in a lower middle class household have inspired her, as an adult, to help people with similar backgrounds overcome the bad lessons, shame and self-doubt that come with growing up poor. Nowadays, she’s a senior behavioral scientist at Morningstar, a global financial services firm where she researches why we make financial decisions and how we can make better ones. She received her doctorate in economics and psychology from the University of Maine, and although she has been living and working in Washington, D.C., since she graduated in 2015, she’s getting ready to move back to Maine with her daughter, Zoe.

[See all Bangor Metro stories]

It has taken time and work, of course, but Newcomb clearly has found career success and financial stability. Still, the lessons she internalized as a child are never too far from the surface.

“Here I am, about to buy a house,” she said, a trace of wonder in her voice. “I never thought I would own a house. That wasn’t for people like me.”

‘Nothing to do with numbers’

So how did she get from there to here? And how can others do it, too? To better understand, it’s important to look even farther back in her life. When she was a child, she was raised as a very conservative Christian. (She declined to name the denomination.) In the church, she learned very strongly that money was the opposite of what’s good and moral.

“The teaching that is very common in many religions glorifies poverty as a spiritual state,” Newcomb said. “It teaches that money is the root of all evil and that the pursuit of wealth is the sign of a poisoned heart. That things like wanting material comforts are greed and avarice. The deep lesson from religion that I internalized as a child was that you either care about other people or you care about money. Choose a side.”

So she chose people. Or, perhaps more accurately, she chose the side that didn’t have money.

“I thought I hated the rich, and everyone around me hated the rich, so I felt justified,” she said. “My problem was that I was blaming money itself for choices that some people make with their money.”

Courtesy of Matthew Gilson via Sarah Newcomb

And even after Newcomb graduated high school and struck out on her own, she brought these lessons with her and her financial situation didn’t improve. There was no money for college, so she went to Portland and worked a series of dead-end jobs while trying to get a theater career going. But it wasn’t financially sustainable. Once, she even turned down the opportunity to have a record contract.

“I was afraid of the kind of money [the producer] was talking about,” she said.

When she turned 24, she was living in Massachusetts and was able to put herself through college without her parents co-signing the loans. She enrolled at Salem State University with an undeclared major, but ended up falling in love with math.

“So at 28, I graduated with a math degree and still couldn’t get my finances together,” she said.

It was one of her first big aha moments.

“I said, this doesn’t have anything to do with numbers,” Newcomb recalled. “I was so tired of being poor, because being poor is exhausting. And thought, OK, fine. I’m going to learn how to be a financial planner, and learn how it’s done.”

She started the training, and ended up taking a class on psychology and financial planning. The teacher didn’t focus on interest rates but on something that was, for her, much more important.

“The big lesson I got from that class is that it’s never about the numbers,” she said. “A number means different things to different people because of the stories we tell.”

The teacher asked the students to examine their own histories with money, which led to a second epiphany for Newcomb.

“It was at that point I began to wake up to the fact that I both feared and hated money,” she said. “It was never a source of opportunity. It was always a source of barriers, and I had come to resent money and the people who had it. In order to feel OK about myself, I had to judge them. I was also afraid that if I had it, it would corrupt me.”

Rewriting old stories about money

Money isn’t inherently good or bad, she realized. It’s a tool that can be used in lots of ways.

“Some people take money and use it to exploit others and the planet. Other people use their money to heal and to serve and to comfort and to build,” she said. “It’s just money. It’s all human choice.”

As Newcomb worked to rewrite her stories about money, she decided she wanted to help others do the same.

“I started to realize I could not possibly be the only person who was hardworking and motivated and smart and stuck,” she said. “I realized I didn’t want to be a financial planner. I wanted to help people get unstuck.”

Newcomb finished her program in personal financial planning, moved back to Maine with her then-husband and young daughter, and enrolled at the University of Maine with the goal of studying the psychology of money. She loved the experience, and when she graduated she got a job at a startup called “HelloWallet,” which was owned at the time by Morningstar.

“What they wanted was a behavioral scientist who would help them make tools so people could manage their money better,” she said. “It was like, this job was made for me.”

Later, she moved from HelloWallet, which had been purchased by KeyBank, to working directly for Morningstar. While there, she had the opportunity to advise officials from the U.S. Department of the Treasury about financial management tools; write a book, “Loaded,” about money and psychology; be a regular contributor to PsychologyToday.com; and more. In Maine, she will work remotely for Morningstar and, she hopes, make a difference locally as well.

“I have a dream of working with communities, places where their entire economic identity has changed, or left,” she said. “How can a community reimagine itself? I would love to find a way to help distressed communities use resources in a way that feels right. How can they imagine their own resources, their own community, in a new way?”

Mainers may not always have money. But they do tend to be resourceful, and that’s innately valuable, she said, adding that if she could tell her childhood self one thing, it would be that.

“I think I’d want to say something around the idea that it doesn’t matter where you start,” she said. “You have resources. You have value. All you have to do is turn that value into something that serves your community.”

This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s May 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

 

How one Maine woman rebooted her relationship with money and is helping others do it, too

When Sarah Newcomb was growing up in Orono in the late 1980s and 1990s, she always felt like a misfit — like she was less-than.

That’s because in a town full of the children of University of Maine professors and professionals, who went on ski trips and vacations to Disney World like it was no big deal, Newcomb’s family was different.

“Orono was an upper middle class town and we were lower middle class. I felt we might as well be white trash,” she said. “There were people I felt I couldn’t date because they were off-limits. Class was just so obvious to me. To me, it was ever present. It was not fun for me to feel poor.”

Courtesy of Sarah Newcomb

Newcomb was pretty and smart, creative and musical, and in a way it’s surprising to hear that she didn’t fit in. But the financial divide that loomed between her and her more well-off peers showed itself in ways that were both big and small. Her family couldn’t afford new clothes from stores like The Gap or The Limited, so she shopped at thrift stores instead. When she was on school field trips and the bus would stop at McDonald’s so the students could get a quick bite to eat, Newcomb stayed on the bus because she didn’t have $5 to spend.

“Little expenditures that meant nothing to most people were a big deal in my family,” she said. “What happens with people is that you start to internalize it. It becomes part of your identity.”

Newcomb’s experiences growing up in a lower middle class household have inspired her, as an adult, to help people with similar backgrounds overcome the bad lessons, shame and self-doubt that come with growing up poor. Nowadays, she’s a senior behavioral scientist at Morningstar, a global financial services firm where she researches why we make financial decisions and how we can make better ones. She received her doctorate in economics and psychology from the University of Maine, and although she has been living and working in Washington, D.C., since she graduated in 2015, she’s getting ready to move back to Maine with her daughter, Zoe.

[See all Bangor Metro stories]

It has taken time and work, of course, but Newcomb clearly has found career success and financial stability. Still, the lessons she internalized as a child are never too far from the surface.

“Here I am, about to buy a house,” she said, a trace of wonder in her voice. “I never thought I would own a house. That wasn’t for people like me.”

‘Nothing to do with numbers’

So how did she get from there to here? And how can others do it, too? To better understand, it’s important to look even farther back in her life. When she was a child, she was raised as a very conservative Christian. (She declined to name the denomination.) In the church, she learned very strongly that money was the opposite of what’s good and moral.

“The teaching that is very common in many religions glorifies poverty as a spiritual state,” Newcomb said. “It teaches that money is the root of all evil and that the pursuit of wealth is the sign of a poisoned heart. That things like wanting material comforts are greed and avarice. The deep lesson from religion that I internalized as a child was that you either care about other people or you care about money. Choose a side.”

So she chose people. Or, perhaps more accurately, she chose the side that didn’t have money.

“I thought I hated the rich, and everyone around me hated the rich, so I felt justified,” she said. “My problem was that I was blaming money itself for choices that some people make with their money.”

Courtesy of Matthew Gilson via Sarah Newcomb

And even after Newcomb graduated high school and struck out on her own, she brought these lessons with her and her financial situation didn’t improve. There was no money for college, so she went to Portland and worked a series of dead-end jobs while trying to get a theater career going. But it wasn’t financially sustainable. Once, she even turned down the opportunity to have a record contract.

“I was afraid of the kind of money [the producer] was talking about,” she said.

When she turned 24, she was living in Massachusetts and was able to put herself through college without her parents co-signing the loans. She enrolled at Salem State University with an undeclared major, but ended up falling in love with math.

“So at 28, I graduated with a math degree and still couldn’t get my finances together,” she said.

It was one of her first big aha moments.

“I said, this doesn’t have anything to do with numbers,” Newcomb recalled. “I was so tired of being poor, because being poor is exhausting. And thought, OK, fine. I’m going to learn how to be a financial planner, and learn how it’s done.”

She started the training, and ended up taking a class on psychology and financial planning. The teacher didn’t focus on interest rates but on something that was, for her, much more important.

“The big lesson I got from that class is that it’s never about the numbers,” she said. “A number means different things to different people because of the stories we tell.”

The teacher asked the students to examine their own histories with money, which led to a second epiphany for Newcomb.

“It was at that point I began to wake up to the fact that I both feared and hated money,” she said. “It was never a source of opportunity. It was always a source of barriers, and I had come to resent money and the people who had it. In order to feel OK about myself, I had to judge them. I was also afraid that if I had it, it would corrupt me.”

Rewriting old stories about money

Money isn’t inherently good or bad, she realized. It’s a tool that can be used in lots of ways.

“Some people take money and use it to exploit others and the planet. Other people use their money to heal and to serve and to comfort and to build,” she said. “It’s just money. It’s all human choice.”

As Newcomb worked to rewrite her stories about money, she decided she wanted to help others do the same.

“I started to realize I could not possibly be the only person who was hardworking and motivated and smart and stuck,” she said. “I realized I didn’t want to be a financial planner. I wanted to help people get unstuck.”

Newcomb finished her program in personal financial planning, moved back to Maine with her then-husband and young daughter, and enrolled at the University of Maine with the goal of studying the psychology of money. She loved the experience, and when she graduated she got a job at a startup called “HelloWallet,” which was owned at the time by Morningstar.

“What they wanted was a behavioral scientist who would help them make tools so people could manage their money better,” she said. “It was like, this job was made for me.”

Later, she moved from HelloWallet, which had been purchased by KeyBank, to working directly for Morningstar. While there, she had the opportunity to advise officials from the U.S. Department of the Treasury about financial management tools; write a book, “Loaded,” about money and psychology; be a regular contributor to PsychologyToday.com; and more. In Maine, she will work remotely for Morningstar and, she hopes, make a difference locally as well.

“I have a dream of working with communities, places where their entire economic identity has changed, or left,” she said. “How can a community reimagine itself? I would love to find a way to help distressed communities use resources in a way that feels right. How can they imagine their own resources, their own community, in a new way?”

Mainers may not always have money. But they do tend to be resourceful, and that’s innately valuable, she said, adding that if she could tell her childhood self one thing, it would be that.

“I think I’d want to say something around the idea that it doesn’t matter where you start,” she said. “You have resources. You have value. All you have to do is turn that value into something that serves your community.”

This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s May 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.