Someone asked me the other day what I had learned while writing this column.
I started this column two years ago this month, and in two years you can learn a lot. I've written about banking, wills, foreclosures, college planning, retirement saving, taxes, buying houses, car warranties, credit cards and the things our mothers have taught us - to name just a few. I've talked to a lot of smart people - including many, many readers.
Even boiling all that down to its essence would make another year's worth of columns. And I don't have that year. This is my last Cents & Sensibility column.
A few months back, I became responsible for the Sunday front page, both planning and editing. To compensate, this column started running every other week. Now, I'm taking on some more editing and supervising; and rather than risk having the column become an afterthought, I'm giving it up.
So what have I learned that I can say in 17 inches or less?
Common sense can save you from a lot of financial heartache.
It's easy to help others without spending a fortune if you plan carefully and make giving a priority.
Everyone should budget and then follow the budget.
Saving even $5 a week can make a difference at the end of the year. I should have joined Wachovia's Way to Save program a whole lot sooner than I did.
Ask questions, research and then ask more questions.
Never say yes immediately (unless chocolate is involved).
The Better Business Bureau and the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office are a consumer's best friend.
It's important to know your rights as a consumer and stand up for yourself.
It never hurts to ask for a better rate or better price.
Ask nicely but firmly.
You shouldn't spend what you don't have. At the same time, all saving and no play can suck the joy out of life. Life is too short to always be a miser.
I can't leave without one more plea: Teach financial literacy at home and school.
I've written more than one column about the importance of teaching children that money doesn't just flow from the ATM. They need to be taught to save for the things they want. I felt a small victory in my own home this week when my son asked if he could go on a school trip to Germany if "he saved the money for the trip himself."
On Saturday, the N.C. Association of CPAs is doing its part to fight financial illiteracy. Their program, "Making Cents: A Financial Literacy Program for All Ages" is from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Millbrook High School in Raleigh.
It's designed for parents, teachers and kids in grades seven to 12. Students might get the most out of a morning session led by N.C. State University master's of accounting students that will involve real situations and feature an interactive cash flow game. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions and a chance to win a financial makeover. The program is free, but you must register. To find out more, go to www.ncacpa.org/MakingCents.
Thank you for reading my column, and keep saving.
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