The One Certainty in Personal Finances Today Is Uncertainty

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In this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Robert Brokamp is on his own to interview Rachel Schneider, a senior VP at the Center for Financial Services Innovation, and professor Jonathan Morduch, who teaches public policy and economics at NYU, about their new book, The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty.

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For the study behind the book, their team tracked essentially everything about the finances of 235 families in five states for a full year, giving them deep insights into where we are succeeding, where we're not, and what obstacles are most commonly in our paths. But first, a quick Answers, Answers response to a listener trying to find a more profitable place to put his emergency fund.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Sept. 26, 2017.

Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick and I'm joined, as always, by Robert Brokamp, personal finance expert here at The Motley Fool. Hello, Bro!

Robert Brokamp: Hello, Alison!

Southwick: Did you miss me?

Brokamp: Every minute of every day, just like all our listeners out there did, I'm sure, too, as well.

Southwick: Well, thanks to the magic of radio, they didn't know that I've been gone for the last couple of weeks.

Brokamp: That's true.

Southwick: So anyway, in this week's episode Robert is going to talk to the authors of The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty. We're also going to answer your question about putting your emergency fund in a muni bond fund. Fun! Fun with funds! All that and more on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers.

[...]

Southwick: It's time for Answers, Answers. Today's question comes from Raymond. Raymond writes, "My wife and I have built up the suggested six months' worth of expenses for an emergency fund, which is currently earning nothing in our checking account. Our financial advisor suggested a money market account, but I have not found one much above a 1% yield. My thought was to invest it into a tax-free municipal bond fund, specifically the Vanguard Pennsylvania Long-Term Tax-Exempt Fund.

Brokamp: Well, Raymond, good for you for building up the emergency fund, and good for you for trying to get a little bit more money on that cash just sitting around. I understand why you'd want to look at a municipal bond fund.

First of all, munis are generally issued by states, local governments, counties, and that type of thing. Generally they're safer than corporate bonds. There are some circumstances when that's not the case, but it does make sense to look at muni bond funds to a certain degree. Plus they're free of federal taxes and if you're buying bonds issued by your local municipality, it could be free of those taxes. I assume you live in Pennsylvania, which is why you're looking at the Pennsylvania muni bond fund. Plus it currently has a 3.5% yield, which is a heck of a lot better...

Southwick: Oh, that's not bad...

Brokamp: ... than nothing, so it makes total sense that you would be looking at it. However, bond funds do have risks. There's credit risk, so if something happens to the economy, sometimes that will show up in the performance of the bond fund; plus there's interest rate risk. Interest rates go up and the value of existing bonds tend to go down, at least temporarily. If you look at this bond fund over the last decade, it actually did lose money in two years. In 2008 [that was during the bad times of the Great Recession] this fund lost a whopping 3.6% and in 2013, which was a bad year for bonds, this fund lost 2.66%, so it's not immune to some drops.

Plus the longer the term of the bonds in the fund, the more sensitive it's going to be to interest rate changes. We just had another Federal Reserve meeting. They hinted at another rate hike this year and maybe three next year, so most people would suggest that you do not go into a long-term bond fund at this point.

So first I'm going to side with your financial advisor and say that a money market is probably something good to look at. If you do a little digging around, you will find something close to maybe 1.3%. Look at Bankrate or NerdWallet or even The Motley Fool's own banking center at Fool.com/Saving.

But because you've saved up six months [and we've talked before about how an emergency fund can sit around doing nothing for a long time because emergencies are rare], if you want to split that up a little bit and do some money market and then some in a bond fund, I wouldn't object to it. A lot of financial advisors would. I think it's OK.

I wouldn't go with a long term. I'd go with Vanguard, because they do have good bond funds, but I would look more at a short or intermediate-term bond fund. If you want to put a little bit in that long-term muni bond fund, I don't think it's a horrible idea, but keep it just a little bit and know that it's very possible that in any given year it could lose a little bit of money.

Southwick: And, of course, if you want to learn more about muni bonds in general, you'll want to check out our awesome episode with Steve Broido, the man behind the glass. I believe the episode [is] How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bonds.

Brokamp: It's one of our all-time best I would say.

Southwick: It's only because it had Steve in it that we love it so much.

Brokamp: That's true.

Southwick: Who got his tonsils taken out this week.

Brokamp: Oh, really?

Southwick: Yeah!

Brokamp: That's no fun.

Southwick: It's supposed to be horrible when you're an adult, so he's suffering right now. Or he's on a lot of Percocet!

Brokamp: And he's happier than all of us!

Southwick: Maybe he's OK. I don't know.

[...]

Brokamp: So at this point you may have heard about the stat from the Federal Reserve that almost half of American households don't have enough cash to cover a $400 emergency and there's no shortage of other statistics about the struggles of lower and middle-income Americans. But have you ever wondered about the stories behind the statistics?

If so, I've got the book for you. It's called The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty. It's written by Rachel Schneider, a senior vice president of the Center for Financial Services [Innovation], and Jonathan Morduch, a professor of public policy and economics at NYU; and today we're lucky to have them both in the studio with us. Welcome Rachel and Jonathan.

Jonathan Morduch: Thank you.

Brokamp: Let's get into the study behind the book and why you did it. You and your team tracked the finances of 235 families across, if I remember correctly, five states for about a year from the period of 2012-2013 and you looked at everything. Spending. Saving. Borrowing. Even in-kind types of financial transactions. How did you choose these people and how did you monitor their finances? Was it an actual diary?

Rachel Schneider: I wish it were as simple as having given people diaries. That would have been more straightforward. What we did, actually, is we had field researchers in each of the areas of the country that we were working in, and they both recruited the families and then they went and met with them every few weeks. They were really collecting this data in person, which is what gave us such an amazing depth; a richness around understanding not just the numbers that we were collecting, but what was going on in these families' lives.

Brokamp: And it wasn't just lower-income households, although many of them were.

Morduch: In the communities, we weren't catching the very poorest or the very richest. [About one-third of the households were below the poverty line]. Most [were] between the poverty line and twice the poverty line [maybe $50,000]. But then another group above the median in their communities, so kind of solidly middle class. But the key for all the families was that everybody had a worker. Everybody had some form of employment; at least one member. And so we were trying to capture households that were working. They're trying to move ahead. And watching them over the year gave us a chance to see where they were succeeding, where they were falling behind, and where the obstacles were coming from.

Brokamp: I'm a certified financial planner, and like every financial advisor you want to help people plan for the future. But to do that, you have to know how much money you're going to make and to me that's one of the most surprising things of your book; is how volatile income is for these people.

Schneider: Yes, it really was. The way we looked at volatility is we calculated the monthly incomes and then we compared spikes and dips -- moments when the income was 25% more or less than the average monthly income. And what we found in our sample was that, on average, families had five months out of the year where their income was either 25% more or 25% less than their average; and even that number really understates it, because when we look at how big those spikes and dips were, they actually were closer to 50% than 25%. We were just using 25% as [a] benchmark that's far enough from the average that it must matter. It must make a big enough difference in your spending.

So what you see is people are really having to budget month by month, or week by week. One of my most memorable moments in the study was talking to a couple that said, "Every Sunday night when we get our schedule for the week we sit down and we figure out how much we're going to earn that week and then we figure out which bills we can pay."

Brokamp: One of the things I like about the book is that you actually get to meet some of these people, although you've changed the names. To me one of the most interesting people is a woman named Janice Evans. This is a woman who's been working at a casino for 20 years. She works every night from 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. Makes $8.35 an hour. Hopes to double that with tips but it doesn't always happen and it varies based on the time of year, the weather.

And to me it was surprising that it depends on whether it was an even or odd year because certain years Mississippi State plays a home game against Alabama and LSU. Those people come to the state of Mississippi and they gamble on the way back. That determines how much money she's going to make in any given year.

Morduch: Yes, Janice is really amazing. She works really hard. She's a very religious person. She doesn't actually like gambling, herself. She doesn't touch it. But her life is bound up with the gamblers and when they're winning, because she depends on tips, she's winning. When they're losing, she's losing. And when the casino empties out in the winter and fall [football season comes to Mississippi and everyone's home watching the game instead of being at the casino], she sees that in her paycheck.

So part of her is like, "That's great! They should be home with their kids and their families and saving their money." But another part is she really sees it in her paycheck. You can see that the summers are big. The winter and the fall are really down, and that's a real challenge for her. And you wouldn't see it in her average income, which is pretty good for that part of Mississippi, but September to November she's actually having to cut back on groceries and food, so it's a really different story when you're following week by week how her family is doing.

Brokamp: One term from the book that I learned was "episodic poverty." So over the course of the year, someone might be above the poverty line, but depending on when they realize their income, they have these periods of where they're below the poverty line.

Schneider: Absolutely true. We have this idea that people will simply save during the up months, or borrow during the low months and smooth it out for themselves, but that's really ambitious when what you're doing is operating at breakeven. Like that's a completely reasonable strategy for those of us who can keep a cushion or a checking account, because then we'll just fluctuate up and down around some basic amount that allows us to avoid fees and access low-cost credit.

But if you're fluctuating up and down around zero, sort of the way Janice is, then what you're going to find is you have some months where you are technically poor and where you really just can't make rent or can't, as Janice says, buy the same groceries you would during other parts of the year.

Brokamp: And the spending is also very variable, and it would be great if it went in the same direction as the income, but it didn't. And if I remember correctly, something like 60% of the spending spikes were not accompanied by an income spike, as well.

Morduch: Yes, everyone's juggling, so there are expense spikes that are hitting. Some of them are medical needs. Some of them are your car breaks down. Your roof needs fixing. You've got that going on at the same time as not knowing what hours you're going to get at the shop or with Janice not knowing how good a night she'll have on a Thursday, or what have you. That's the real challenge.

And so a lot of the financial advice that we dole out -- which makes sense for households that are basically stable [automate your savings, and plan and budget] -- just falls apart for these families. They're working really hard and they're budgeting any way they can, but the financial advice we have just doesn't fit their situation.

Brokamp: A lot of people might think of this as more of a lower-income problem, but apparently that's creeping up into the middle-income areas. I think one of the lines from your book was that we all hear about income inequality, but income variability is actually rising faster and it is affecting more people. Why is that? Is it the gig economy? Is it the change from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy? Why are we seeing more of this volatility?

Schneider: The things you mentioned are a part of it, and the gig economy is the phrase I think that's getting the most traction in explaining this, but it's only part of the story. But it's a useful, illustrative part of the story. So if you think about the gig economy, what's happening is that people are working for themselves, or they're doing a job that is somehow outsourced by the company. The company is no longer bearing the risk of the ups and downs.

Uber is a good example. Uber, the company, bears relatively little risk that more or fewer people will want to use their services. They've passed that risk entirely onto their workforce. And the drivers are the ones who feel it if fewer people want to use the service. They feel it directly.

But that's happening in all sorts of companies. So retailers, both large and small, flex the workforce that's onsite-based on demand for their services. And as companies have gotten more efficient [and] more productive, what that means is they're able to use analytics to carefully calibrate how many people they're going to want on the floor helping customers Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. relative to Friday at 6:00 p.m.

So a lot of people who have full-time work nonetheless are sharing in the ups and downs of demand for the services of their employer in the way that we associate with tips. We knew restaurant workers experience that, but the fact is about half of American workers work hourly and a lot of those hourly jobs come with the right of your employer to flex the number of hours you get up and down.

So there's really a broader trend in the labor market around shifting to putting more risk onto the worker relative to the firm, and that's really the more global explanation versus just describing it as the gig economy.

Brokamp: You talk briefly in the book about just the mental tax of income volatility and cited some studies that found that people are more interested in income stability than more income. You used an example of a guy whose job was to fix trucks. He chose a job farther away that was more stable. It probably results in lower income, but he was willing to do that because it was easier for him to plan that way and there's a peace of mind that comes with knowing how much money you're going to have a month from now.

Morduch: Yes, one spring the truck mechanic was visiting and talking to his wife, and she was just in a bad mood. And he asked, "What's going on? It's a beautiful spring day." And she knew that in the spring the trucks weren't breaking down so her husband wasn't getting so many hours and they were going to see that in the paycheck. And she had a mortgage payment to make.

She had the money in hand, and she wasn't sure whether she should actually put it in the mail because she didn't know what was going to happen in the next paycheck. And she was just carrying that weight with her in a way that most people wouldn't even think about. You just send it off. But when you're living that life, everything becomes contingent and you're always waiting and juggling. And it took us having to spend time with families to see the costs of that.

And as you were saying, Jeremy eventually moved to a job that was 45 minutes away. He had a longer commute and worse pay on average; but steadier hours, guaranteed hours, and it started to change everything for them.

Brokamp: That was an interesting story for me, too. Talking about shifting risk onto the employees -- he earned a commission based on how many trucks he could repair. So he could go into the garage, wait for a truck to break down, and not make as much money, just because that night it just so happened that no trucks broke down.

Morduch: Yes, it was all on him. Sometimes over an eight-hour shift he'd have one truck to fix the whole time. So winter and summer he'd do better, but he was bearing the risk of seasonality in that case.

Brokamp: Another part of this, too, is something we've all heard about, and that is average wages have not grown significantly, but other things have [healthcare, college, housing]. That's part of this. You can't just get by on what you used to be able to get by on maybe 20 or 30 years ago.

Schneider: I think that is part of it. It's a big part of why people have a hard time building up that cushion. Like you started us out by talking about that $400 statistic that has really made an impact on how people understand this issue. So why can't people put aside $400? It seems like a relatively small amount. But what's happened is the cost of a middle-class life has not kept pace with middle-class incomes, and so people are really stretched and living in a way that makes it pretty hard to set aside that money.

The obvious answer for a lot of people is just spend less. And I think if what we were talking about was luxury goods, and extra vacations, and really fancy cars then that's an easier case to make. But what we're really talking about is people putting their money toward rent in a neighborhood where the schools are good. Or buying a house in a neighborhood that's not such a far drive from work. Or having two cars so that both members of a couple can get to work and drive kids around. We're not really talking about things that are easily cut.

Brokamp: It's funny. You bring up things like cars, and houses, and things like that. And if you don't have a lot of money to begin with, you have to make choices that can cost you more money down the road. I know someone who does not have much money, so she bought a used, old car. So what does that mean? She then had a series of repairs that she didn't have money for, and it's the same with buying an inexpensive fixer-upper, or buying a house in a neighborhood that's not as safe or the schools aren't as good. Eventually the parents have to make that decision [whether to] stick with the bad school or go to a private school.

Morduch: Yes, we saw a lot of that. And it also came down to how well you take care of yourselves physically. I think there was Federal Reserve stat that said 25% of Americans are passing up going to the doctor for things they need, and eventually that's going to catch up with them.

Schneider: And it also ends up affecting whole communities at once, because what happens, then, is your car breaks down and you ask your cousin, or your sister, or your mom for a ride. Or [you ask someone for] a loan to fix your car. The good part is they pull together and get each person through the immediate crisis. The downside of that is that the economic problems that one family experiences are usually experienced by their friends and neighbors, too, so it's hard for communities, as a whole, to pull themselves up.

Brokamp: And that gets into safety nets where people who are in better financial situations tend to be surrounded by people in better financial situations, so if they do have to rely on somebody else, those people have the resources to do it; whereas generally if you're in these other communities, they don't have the same resources. But it still happens, and you write about that in the book. It amazed me how some of these people who don't have much money are still lending money to friends and family if they need it. That's like their own, private banking system.

Schneider: It's really true. Janice, who you were talking about, who works at the casino feels a real responsibility to tithe at her church. It's more than just a financial choice. It's a choice to be part of her community. To connect with other people in her church. It's a really meaningful thing to do with her money in addition to meaning that if she gets into trouble the church is also going to be helpful with her. But we saw those kinds of generous acts from everybody. There's just a lot of willingness to help each other in the families that we worked with.

Brokamp: I was impressed by many of the workarounds people came up with. I think it's the type of stuff that anyone could learn from, especially if you have any spending problems. In that Federal Reserve study that found that people can't come up with $400, something like 17% of people who earn over $100,000 couldn't do it either. So it's not just a lower-income problem. Janice had the work-around of cutting up her ATM card. I think when she ran out of checks she didn't get any new ones and then she chose a bank that was like an hour away with horrible hours. She could only get her money if she actually needed to get it.

Morduch: Yes, I thought Janice's story on the ATM cards was an interesting one, because when you're facing these ups and downs, it's very tempting to put it on your credit card or go to a payday lender. She had gotten into trouble with payday lenders in the past. The payday lenders require a check -- a postdated check you have to write out -- and she knew that if she didn't have any more checks, she couldn't go to the payday lender. And when she ran out of checks she just didn't order any more.

She's then operating without checks and she's then having to pay her bills with money orders. And if you're just looking at it from outside, you think, "God, that's crazy. Why doesn't she just use checks instead of having all these costs?" But she figured out that this was by far less costly because it keeps the payday lenders at bay and she had a similar work-around with her savings.

Brokamp: Another work-around I liked was the family who, when they did have money, would stock up on things like toothpaste, laundry detergent, and things like that because they figured they're going to need that stuff. That gets the money out of their hands so they can't spend it.

Schneider: That was Becky and Jeremy. Jeremy's the truck mechanic. And I think there's a real theme in the work-arounds that we saw people come up with around self-awareness. Like knowing what would work for you to maintain discipline around your financial goals.

It's hard. It's hard for everybody, so some people find it really useful to do what Becky does and stockpile when she has cash. Another man we got to know only spent in increments of under $20. That was his rule. I only buy things in small amounts. But people come up with those rules knowing their own foibles, their own dangers. For Becky she felt like it's really easy to spend cash. As to saving cash she said, "That's just hard for me. But I know I'm going to need these pork chops or this laundry detergent so I'll just buy that now and eventually I'll use it."

Brokamp: We have very active discussion boards here at The Motley Fool, and one of the most active is one called Living Below Your Means. So you can imagine the people on this board are generally frugal. They tend to be budgeters. Very recently someone posted a cartoon on the board sympathetic to lower-income people saying that the people who are out to get them [payday loans, subprime credit cards, rent-to-own furniture shops] all end up costing them in the long term. But to a certain degree these are the only things that are available to them.

This set up a whole debate on the discussion board. And like I said, these people tend to be a little more frugal and pretty financially responsible, so there was a heavy contingent of people who felt like if you're poor it's at least partially your fault. And many of them had anecdotes of people who had too many kids. People who took out huge student loans to get English degrees. Someone told a story of a family who needs help because the father was killed in a motorcycle accident and didn't have life insurance. And they were saying, "Well, he had money for a motorcycle, but he didn't have money for life insurance." So there's that whole strain of that.

And then the other side was saying, "There but for the grace of God go I," and all those folks had stories like, "Well, my sister and I were on similar tracks, but then she had a kid with medical problems." Or the spouse ended up being an abusive alcoholic. And then a lot of the stories came up about what's happened down South with the hurricanes. A lot of this is just luck. These people didn't want these situations but something happened.

So if you were to wade into that conversation, how would you address the people who say people are poor mostly because of their own decisions, but also there is a level of personal responsibility? Even when I was reading your book, I came across [this] a couple of times, and I'm thinking, "Oh, man, that wasn't the right thing to do."

Schneider: Yes, we saw that, too.

Morduch: We totally did. Both sides have some truth to them, right? In the end there was one thing that became clear, which was that everyone's making mistakes. I mean, when I look at what I've done over the past couple of years, it's like, "Wow! What was I thinking?" Or what should I have been thinking instead of whatever I was thinking.

The costs, though, that I paid for my mistakes are pretty small because in the big picture I can handle it. But the costs that the families we got to know are paying are just disproportionately large relative to the mistakes they made. And that's what changed it for me. You don't have enough money in your bank account and then something bad happens. Well, you should have saved before, and you can trace that back to some spending choice you made. That probably wasn't that crazy, but the costs you're paying in terms of fees and then follow-on problems are just huge for families that don't have much at the margin.

Schneider: I think that's well said. I also would say that of course we all bear some personal responsibility -- plenty -- for how our lives go. It seems self-evident. But it's also equally clear that there are forces outside of all of our control that impact what kind of lives we ultimately have. You mentioned the hurricanes which are a really visceral, painful current example where these families might have been doing everything right and they just live in the path of a hurricane and now they're starting from scratch. Well, that's true if you think about the economic forces that are changing our country, as well.

So Janice, as an example, has no responsibility for the economic opportunities that exist in her region of the country. In her region of the country, the job she got is a good job. Is it the best possible job one can get nationwide? Absolutely not. But that's what's available in her area. She went out and got herself the training and got herself into that job. I think what you see in our economy, right now, are some really big, systemic changes and they're affecting people's personal, financial lives in really clear ways.

Brokamp: Let's move to, then, solutions. Let's say President Trump finds your book, loves it, calls you into the White House and says, "All right. I agree with you." And to be quite honest, reading about some of these people, I'm sure many of them were Trump voters because they're talking about how they're not getting ahead even though they're working hard and they were expecting some sort of changes. And he says, "Which thing should I be doing to improve this situation?" Not that he's actually going to do it, but what would you tell him?

Morduch: It's interesting. We didn't touch politics when in the conversations with the households, but we were definitely in some very Republican areas. What would we say? When we think about security in this country, there's a real divide. There are Americans who are very secure and then Americans like the families we got to know who are struggling in various ways.

And there are really two dimensions of that. One is what's the underlying instability, like the hours going up and down week by week? And the other is what their coping mechanisms are. And you need both. So the top of the list would be some labor market intervention. Perhaps legislation that would say you need to give your workers a week or two weeks' notice so they can plan better. Better would be a month. So there are interventions like that. Or helping collective bargaining so that workers can take back some of the power and get to better contracts.

But then there's a whole series of things which usually don't get talked about in that conversation, which are financial: better financial products, mechanisms, regulations. Rachel has done a lot more thinking on that side, but there are lists of things which really go together and haven't been on the table in the way they ought to be.

Schneider: And that's the set of things that the business community often can get behind and does like. You can make the argument that there is profit to be made in serving people with better financial services. We need, in fact, better lending. Better savings. Products to help people manage the ups and downs they experience. I think we're at the beginning of a whole wave of innovation in insurance. And so you could think about some really pro-business approaches to encouraging innovation in that space.

I also think government has a real role to play, here, and there's lots of motivation from both sides of the aisle to revisit the way we provide welfare in our country. I think we just passed the 20-year anniversary of welfare reform or we're just about to get to it and I don't think anybody really thinks the way we provide assistance to families in need today is working as well as it should. And so we need to think about new and better policies to help people to manage their economic lives. To know they can be secure and take on risks for their future.

Morduch: Yes, the CFPB [the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau], which is an Obama innovation and pushed by Elizabeth Warren and all kinds of people who Donald Trump wouldn't necessarily see as buddies; that government agency is protecting a lot of Trump voters...

Brokamp: Exactly...

Morduch: ... and in some world it would be great if Donald Trump said, "Hey, these are my people and we need to strengthen this organization, this agency and provide protection to those folks. They need it."

Brokamp: One of the points you make in the book is that various social services [welfare types of safety nets] vary across the country, so a lot of it is administered by the state, and a lot of them do have requirements in terms of assets. And once you have saved up some money, then you're not in the program anymore. But the evidence is that if you let people stay on the program and accumulate more assets, it reduces the chances that they'll come back to the program later.

Schneider: Yes, that is so true. And that just doesn't seem like it makes any sense, and there is state-by-state movement to change it, but it's hard. And that's only one of the many policies you could pull at the threads of and say, "We think we're helping people with that policy but the way it's structured we're making it harder for people to get off of public assistance and stay off."

For example, it's generally pretty onerous to get public assistance. TANF, which is the main way we provide welfare has a work requirement which is fine one way or the other, but it means you've got to document that you're either working or trying to find work, and it caps the amount of time that you can receive welfare. But at the end of two years, regardless of where you are in terms of your employment prospects, you're now done.

And it doesn't really work in any meaningful way to change somebody's trajectory. We'd be better off enabling somebody to actually become self-sufficient. Let's invest that same money in some way that makes the person able to take care of themselves better.

Brokamp: Got you. Well, thank you very much. It's been very interesting. I totally recommend the book again. It's The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty. Rachel and Jonathan, thanks for coming in!

Schneider: Thank you.

Morduch: Thank you.

[...]

Southwick: So I go to Boise for 10 days and I come home to find a huge stack of postcards on my desk. Look at these!

Brokamp: Oh my gosh, look at all of those. They're everywhere! Everywhere!

Southwick: All right. So... Whaaat? Matt sent a card from Dinosaur Land in Virginia, so we finally got Virginia. Grant sent a card with a plethora of financial puns from London. Alexander went to Hawaii and he listens to this show when he bikes to work in Colorado and I'm also going to say hello to his wife, Jessica. Mary Anne sent a card from Cinque Terre and approves of Rick's music choices.

Brokamp: Yes. That is, by the way, one of the more brilliant aspects of our podcast, and it's all Rick.

Southwick: And she also says that the audio quality has improved immensely over the last few years. So way to go, Rick! You're getting better at this! Gold star!

James wrote from the Erie Canal, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary. He also made a number of requests in his card which we will try to get to in the future. Sean went to Paris and says we're the most entertaining of The Fool's podcasts. Aw! Gene and Becky went to the Biltmore in North Carolina and are hoping that we can help them save enough to afford a similar place.

Greg sent a card from Mongolia [the land of my distance ancestors, which I totally forgot I mentioned on the podcast, but apparently I did] where he was a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. And David sent a card from Scotland, the land of whisky without an E.

So thank you, guys. I love that the postcards keep coming in even though I stopped bugging you for them a long time ago. I need to take another picture of the postcard wall because it is...

Brokamp: It's impressive.

Southwick: It's impressive. It's really impressive. All because of you.

Brokamp: It's all because of you.

Southwick: Aw, jinx.

Brokamp: Jinx.

Southwick: All right. Well, that's the show. It is edited thankfully by Rick Engdahl. For Robert Brokamp. I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish everybody!

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