Thursday, March 28, 2024

Money Math for Life: A Webinar Summary


I recently participated as a panelist for a webinar titled Math Matters in Life: Personal Finances and Future Success. This webinar for financial educators, co-sponsored by the AFSA Education Foundation and National Math Foundation, discussed the important connection between math literacy and financial literacy and presented creative, engaging activities to teach money math.


Below are six take-aways from the webinar for parents and those who teach personal finance:


Fundamental Math Skills- The following math skills are required to make important financial decisions: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, interpreting tables and graphs, ratios, and percentages. An example is calculating 7% sales tax on a $30,000 car ($30,000 x .07 = $2,100). Another is a 73-year old’s RMD on $100,000 IRA account ($100,000 ÷ 26.5 = $3,774, rounded).


Kinesthetic Learning- Information that is taught using activities that require students to touch or manipulate things (i.e., “hands-on” methods) is often retained better by students. Several examples of kinesthetic activities were shown including colorful floor mats from the National Math Foundation for elementary school students to practice adding and subtracting numbers.


Integrated Coursework- Only 25 states require a standalone financial education course for students to graduate and efforts are underway to include all 50 states and DC by 2030. In the meantime, students in non-requirement states can receive some financial education through other subject areas. All students are required to take math courses.


Financial Ratios- Financial ratios are combinations of numbers that provide valuable insights into household finances. They are calculated with basic math. (e.g., division). An example is a liquidity ratio, which is calculated by dividing monthly expenses (from a cash flow statement) into liquid assets (from a net worth statement). The higher the ratio (e.g., 5:1 vs. 2:1), the better because it means that someone has a larger emergency fund to withstand various financial shocks in life.


Application Activities- I shared several activities that I used with college students at Rutgers University including time value of money calculation problems (with an answer sheet containing keystrokes) and case study analyses based on real life situations. Both activities require an understanding of, or the use of, math.


Math Resources for Financial Educators- Among the resources that were mentioned are the 37-module AFSA Education Foundation online course MoneySKILL, which has lots of math calculations built into end-of-module assessments, and the Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF) Math website that includes dozens of interactive activities that simultaneously teach math and personal finance concepts such as the Rule of 72 and calculating income taxes.


This post provides general personal finance or consumer decision-making information and does not address all the variables that apply to an individual’s unique situation. It does not endorse specific products or services and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.



Thursday, March 21, 2024

Lessons from the Road: Words of Wisdom From My Brother


In January, I lost my brother and only sibling, Michael F. O’Neill, to a combination of heart disease and cancer. A published author of the book Road Work: Images and Insights of a Modern Day Explorer and a professional photographer for 40+ years, Michael combined his two passions of photography and extended motorcycle road trips in his book and Roadcraft USA website.


In 2022, Michael asked me to read a draft copy of Road Work prior to its publication and I read it like a former four-decade academic. I focused on grammar and typos, formatting, and consistency. 

A month after he died, I re-read my brother’s book as a sister and focused on insights into the soul of a departed loved one. While Michael did not want bulleted take-aways or action steps in his book (as I had advised), I realized that the book contains valuable life lessons for all of us.

Below are six key insights from Road Work with a few financial planning parallels, of course:


Proficiency Takes Time- While Michael was talking about motorcycling, this insight applies to most anything in life. As he notes, “It takes proper training, lots of practice, and lots of experience…before you’re ever going to be your best…the lessons learned never end and each one adds something new to your inventory of skills while fueling your passion for even more.”


Planning is Important- This applies to a motorcycle trip, the purchase of a motorcycle, or any other bucket list item. Michael wrote the following: Every great road trip I’ve taken…started off with a little bit of dreaming and a lot of planning. The internet enables the avid traveler [and those planning any other future financial goals] to plan things in greater detail than ever before.”


Stereotypes Are Limiting- What Michael wrote about motorcycle rides also applies to life in general: “Though stereotypical descriptions could easily have been assigned to every single person [at an event for motorcyclists]…it’s much more fun when…you don’t limit your exposure to other people based upon assumptions that are probably wrong to begin with.”


Goals Are Motivating- Michael’s words say it all, whether the goal is a motorcycle road trip, a college degree, a promotion, or anything else: “I believe that it is important…imperative even…to set ambitious and challenging goals for yourself. They keep you motivated and focused; and help build the faith, will power, and perseverance needed to achieve the objects of your desire.”


Gratitude Trumps FOMO- Another direct quote: “People would do much better to express gratitude for the great things they have in their lives rather than be bitter about, or jealous of, things they haven’t achieved yet….The deeds, exploits, and achievements of others are their own…not yours. The only thing that matters is your own personal satisfaction and happiness.”


Life is Short- Michael advised readers to “do it (a long postponed road trip) now” and added “Find the one thing that really lights you up…the one thing you’re really passionate about…and pursue it fervently. Now. Today. While you still can. Every day is a gift and people should strive to make the most of each and every one they’re blessed with. Live each and every day as if it is your last.”

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Personal and Professional Uses of Generative AI


I recently co-taught a webinar for one of my clients about professional uses of artificial intelligence (AI) platforms such as ChatGPT. Below are eight highlights from my webinar presentation and some advice to get started:

Previous Experience- Most people have had some experience with AI through word processing software, online searches, online pop-up ads, AI-enabled “smart home” features, and virtual assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Cortana.


Simple ChatGPT Description- ChatGPT provided this simple description: "A smart robot friend who can answer questions and have conversations with users." It is a large language model (LLM) trained on a massive data set of text information that creates (generates) brand new content.


Login Details- The website for ChatGPT is To use this program, users must create an account with a username and password. After that, simply type a prompt into the “Send a Message” field and wait 5-10 seconds. The response to your query is lightning-fast.


Prompt Engineering- This is a skilled process of talking to LLM systems like ChatGPT and involves using carefully chosen words. The more detail the better. For example, instead of “What are mutual funds?,” say “Explain mutual funds to a 10-year old and describe five types of mutual funds.”


Hallucinations Happen- “Hallucinations” is the term used to describe authoritatively sounding statements that are flat out wrong. They happen and, for this reason, ChatGPT output should only be considered a “first draft” subject to review by an experienced subject matter expert.


Fun Ways to Start Using ChatGPT- Many people don’t have time to play with AI on work time so they need to learn how to use it on their time off. Fun personal uses of ChatGPT include poems, songs, jokes, party planning ideas, craft and hobby ideas, gift ideas, recipes and meal planning, vacation planning, restaurant reviews, exercise ideas, and learning a new language.


Content Creation Uses of ChatGPT- For personal finance content creators and other writers, uses of AI include newsletter articles, newspaper columns, blog posts, literature reviews, outlines for classes and webinars, speaker notes for slides, show notes for podcasts, and article, blog, and book summaries.


Learning Activities- A variety of learning activities can be created using ChatGPT. Examples include discussion and polling questions, talking points for debates, trivia game questions, financial case studies, student-created poems or songs, and definitions of terms.


A good way to get started is to write down one or more things that you would like to do with ChatGPT (e.g., summarize a book, plan a trip, research a topic, write a poem, etc.). Then write your first prompt to accomplish this task.

This post provides general personal finance or consumer decision-making information and does not address all the variables that apply to an individual’s unique situation. It does not endorse specific products or services and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Financial Shocks: What You Need to Know


Financial shocks are events that result in unexpected expenses and they are especially challenging for individuals and households with limited resources and tight budgets.

Examples of financial shocks are plentiful and include the following:


- Big spikes in expenses due to inflation (e.g., childcare, food, insurance, rent, utilities)

- Car accidents

- Disability

- Divorce

- Large home repairs (e.g., roof, furnace)

- Large out-of-pocket medical or dental bills

- Loss of a job

- Property damage due to natural disasters

- Reduced income (e.g., fewer work hours or loss of a side hustle)

- Unexpected funeral or family caregiving expenses

- Unexpected travel expenses for medical treatment, a funeral, or caregiving

- Vet bills for a pet

- Widowhood


Financial shocks are typically not an “if,” but a “when” because life happens. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for unexpected financial shocks and make yourself more financially resilient and better able to handle them. Resiliency resources include the following:

- Adequate insurance (auto, disability, health, homeowners/renters, liability, and life)

- Emergency fund equivalent to at least three months of essential living expenses

- Low debt (high outstanding debt makes every financial shock worse!)

- Marketable job skills (e.g., certifications, degrees, and work experience)

- Strong social capital (e.g., family, friends, church, community and government agencies)


Below are some steps to take when you experience different types of financial shocks:

- Apply for available benefits (e.g., unemployment, SNAP, life insurance beneficiary payout)

- Earn additional income, if possible (e.g., second job or “side hustle” freelance work)

- Get professional assistance (e.g., financial counselor or planner, lawyer, government agency)

- Redo your spending plan (budget) to reflect changes in income and/or expenses.

- Seek information from reputable unbiased sources (e.g., Cooperative Extension and public libraries)


Need more information? I was happy to contribute to content of this recent NerdWallet article about ways to recover from an financial shock.

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