Buy Yourself Some Happiness

Money can’t buy you happiness, the old saying goes.

But, maybe it can.

Many studies have found money can create some happiness – depending on how you spend it.  Purchasing physical things for ourselves isn’t the ticket.  Any good feelings from the purchase wear off quickly, and we are left with just more stuff.

To boost our happiness, we need to get away from buying things. Instead, we can:

Invest in others.

Behavioral scientists have discovered we get more out of our money when we give to others, whether it is buying coffee for a friend or making a donation to charity. When we give to charitable causes, the part of our brains associated with pleasure triggers the release of endorphin’s or “happiness hormones.” Even a dollar donation can make a difference.

Spend on experiences.

Studies have shown when we spend the same amount of money on an experience as on a tangible item, the experience makes us happier in the long run. It doesn’t matter if the experience is a deluxe ski vacation or coffee with a friend.  Experiences are often shared with family and friends, deepening our connections with others. These connections help boost our positive emotions.

Buy time.

A recent study found when we buy timesaving services such as house cleaning, lawn mowing and grocery shopping, our happiness level rises. This may be related to a reduction in stress. Today, people are hiring virtual assistants to help with other mundane tasks.

The amount of money we have does not matter. Nor does where we live. Researchers have found people in all income levels all over the world experience greater happiness when they invest in others, pay for experiences, or buy themselves time.

Although we can spend to increase our happiness, we still need to meet our basic needs, save for the future, and keep our spending in check. When we spend beyond our means, we create debt which can lead to stress. This will certainly negate any emotional boosts.

Want some more happiness? Try being more selective about where and how you spend your money.

If you would like to read more about this topic, here are some interesting articles discussing the link between money and happiness;


Need A Happiness Boost? Spend Your Money To Buy Time, Not More Stuff, National Public Radio

Science Proves It: Money Really Can Buy Happiness, Los Angeles Times

Research: Can Money Buy Happiness? Insights by Stanford Business

Can Money Buy You Happiness? The Wall Street Journal


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.


What To Do When You Turn Up Dead

Imagine you go to your ATM one day and find you are locked out of your account. You inquire at the bank and learn your bank account is closed. You have been reported dead. This happens more than you would think. About 500 alive people each month are recorded as dead -, enough that Social Security has a Frequently Asked Question about this on its website.

People learn they are dead when they go to pick up a prescription and learn they no longer have health insurance. Or they apply for credit and are told they are dead. Or they receive a letter from Social Security expressing condolences on their death. Sometimes their government benefits stop.

According to the Social Security Administration, 90 percent of these errors originate at the Social Security Administration. Social Security receives death notices from funeral homes, county clerks, the post office, family, health insurance companies, and states. If one of its workers inadvertently types in a wrong number, a living person can end up dead on paper. It is also possible that reporting sources have made a mistake.

Once this happens, your name goes on to the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. In the past anyone who paid a fee could purchase this list, making your information readily available to identity thieves. In response, Congress passed legislation,  which went into effect November 2016, restricting access to the Death Master File for the three calendar years following an individual’s death to authorized users. Authorized users include banks, credit reporting agencies, and insurers.

While this helps reduce identify theft, it does not alleviate the headache of having died on paper. When this happens, you are locked out of your life. The information spreads quickly to banks, insurers, hospitals, pharmacies, and other important parts of your health and financial life. You are left with the job of proving you are still alive.

Start with Social Security. You will need to meet in person with a Social Security representative and show an ID or document that proves your identity.  Social Security will remove the death coding. To locate your closest Social Security office, visit SSA will provide a letter that you can give to banks, doctors or others to show that your death report was in error.  You can also locate the erroneous death certificate, have it amended through the issuing office, and send it to your banks, insurers, the credit bureaus, and other financial organizations.

If you are one of the unfortunate people who learns they have died, first I send you my condolences. Then I urge you to act quickly to rejoin the land of the living.


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.


What Happens to Debt When Your Loved One Dies?

What happens to a deceased person’s debt after he dies? His heirs may wonder whether they are responsible for the debt their loved one left behind.

When a person passes away, she leaves an estate which is comprised of money in bank and investment accounts, cash, real estate, vehicles, household furnishings, and other financial or tangible assets. The estate, managed by the executor named in the person’s will, pays the debts. Anything left over is passed to heirs as dictated by the will. If the loved one didn’t have a will, state law governs how any remaining funds are distributed.

If the deceased does not have any assets or there is not sufficient money in the estate to pay debts, the estate is declared insolvent and the creditors don’t get paid.

There is some exception to this, including:

  • Loans with co-signers. These payments now become the responsibility of the co-signers.
  • Credit cards with joint owners. The surviving joint owners need to pay these bills.
  • Secured debts. Secured debts have an asset attached to it such as an automobile or a house. These loan or mortgage payments still need to be paid. If the estate is insolvent, an heir may need to make these payments until the loan is paid off, the property is sold, or it is returned to the lender.
  • Debt in community property states incurred by a deceased spouse.  According to, “in the handful of states with “community property” rules, most debts incurred by one spouse during the marriage are owed by both spouses.” (Community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.)

Family members and other heirs may be contacted by debt collectors when those members become responsible for a loved one’s debt. They are protected by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act which, according to the Federal Trade Commission (, “prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.”

State laws determine the order in which bills and debts get paid. Generally, estate administration fees, funeral expenses, medical bills, and taxes get paid first. These are followed by secured debts. Credit card debt is usually paid last.

There are some monies creditors cannot tap to have their bills paid. These are assets that have named beneficiaries and include retirement accounts and life insurance policies.

If you have questions regarding a loved one’s debt or estate, I recommend you contact an estate planning attorney. He or she will know the state laws and be able to advise you. You can look for an attorney at


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.


How to Protect Yourself Following the Equifax Data Breach

It is estimated about 143 million Americans had their personal information stolen during a data breech at Equifax earlier this year. This is just about half of the population of the United States. Essentially, any individual with a credit report is potentially impacted.

Equifax is one of the three major credit reporting agencies.  These agencies gather personal and loan payment information on anyone with credit. This data is factored in to decisions such as whether you receive loans or credit cards, your credit limits, your interest rates, and the cost of your insurance premiums.

The data stolen in the Equifax cyber theft includes names, social security numbers, birthdates, and some driver’s license numbers. This information will be available to the thieves for years to come. In contrast, when your credit card number is stolen, you can close the card and have a new one issued. You can’t change your birthdate, however.

With all this information, thieves have a better chance of using your identity to take out loans, withdraw funds from your bank and investment accounts, file tax returns and medical claims, and create a whole new you.

As consumers, we need to be constantly on the alert for fraudulent activity in our names – indefinitely.

You can visit the Equifax website at equifaxsecurity2017 to find out whether your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your social security number. The site will give you the option of signing up for a year of free credit monitoring service.

 In its article, The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do, the Federal Trade Commission offers these steps to help protect yourself:

Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. You can get a free report once a year from each of the agencies by visiting

I recommend staggering your reports: get one from Equifax now. In four months, request the report from one of the other agencies, and in 8 months request the report from the third. Repeat these staggered requests forevermore. 

Read your credit reports. If you spot accounts or activity you don’t recognize, visit to learn what to do.

Consider placing a credit freeze or a fraud alert on your credit files.

  • A credit freeze restricts access to your credit file. Most creditors look at your credit report before they approve a new account or loan. If they don’t have access to your file, they may not extend the credit, making it more difficult for a thief to open an account in your name. If you elect to do this, place a freeze on your file at each agency. There is a small fee to do so. The freeze remains on your file until you remove it.

Keep in mind:

  • A credit freeze does not prevent thieves from accessing your existing accounts. You still need to monitor them.
  • Any time you want to apply for a loan or a new credit card, or price new insurance, you will need to lift the freeze, for a small fee.
  • A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you. Fraud alerts temporary.

Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely. I recommended checking weekly. The sooner you spot something, the sooner you can report it and, hopefully, minimize the damage.

File your taxes early, if possible. File your taxes as soon as you have all your tax documents. You want to prevent someone from filing a return using your social security number and collecting a tax refund. If you receive correspondence from the IRS, read it. Respond immediately. The IRS will contact you in writing, not by telephone.

I also have these recommendations:

Read the Explanation of Benefits from your medical insurance company immediately. Look for medical claims you did not make. You do not want to get stuck with the bill for someone else’s surgery. And, you don’t want a stranger’s medical history mixed up with yours. If you find incorrect information, contact your medical insurer immediately. 

Put a Google Alert on your name. “Google Alerts” is a notification service offered by the search engine company Google. You set up the system to search for your name in web pages, newspaper articles, and blogs, and send you an email when it finds it.  Although you need to have an account with Google to use Google Alerts, it is good way to learn if any criminal activity has been reported in your name. To set up an alert, go to 

Sign up for account alerts. Available with many banks and credit card companies, you can sign up to receive notification emails or texts about activity in your accounts. This is early notification that someone may have unauthorized access to your credit card or bank accounts. To set this up, log on to the website and type into the search function “account alerts.”

Set up two-step verification for online account access. Also called two-factor authentication, more and more companies offer this additional layer of protection. Once two-step verification is enabled, when you log on to a site, you will need to enter a set of numbers that you receive via email or text. Should someone steal your password, the thief would need to have both your password and your computer or phone to access your account online. To set this up, log on to a website and type into the search function “two step verification,” “two-factor authentication” or “2FA.”

Because of the number of people impacted and the longevity of the stolen information, the Equifax cyber breach is quite serious. I encourage everyone to find an extra few hours in their week to take measures to protect themselves.


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

Are Your Finances Emergency-Ready?


As I write this blog, Hurricane Harvey is unleashing its fury along the coast of Texas and is moving into Louisiana. A record amount of rain has drenched the area. Thousands have been forced from their homes.

In my state of Vermont, six years ago Hurricane Irene hit our state. The speed and amount of rainfall overwhelmed the mountainous stream beds, causing severe flooding in many areas and forcing people from their homes.

It could be an ice storm, tornado or forest fire. Disaster can hit anywhere at any time.

Many of us have emergency plans including lists of family members’ contact information, designated rendezvous points, information about pets, and copies of prescriptions. You may have a disaster kit at the ready should you need to evacuate.

In this planning, have your considered your personal and financial documents?

There are different ways to handle your documents.

One is to create digital copies and put the copies on two thumb drives – one drive to keep in your safe deposit box, and another to take with you. You will need to keep your thumb drive and its contents secure.

Another option is to store your documents in the cloud using a service such as Drop Box or Box. Since your documents contain sensitive personal information, password protect your information with an extremely strong password. If you don’t have it memorized, have the password ready to go should you need to leave quickly.

Documents to scan and store include:

  • Bank and investment account numbers
  • Insurance policies
  • Estate planning documents including wills and trusts
  • Advanced directives
  • Mortgage, automobile and other loan papers
  • Car Titles
  • Car registrations
  • Drivers’ licenses
  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Licenses
  • Military discharge papers
  • Passports
  • Social Security cards
  • Health Insurance cards

Once you have your information scanned and stored, you will need to update it periodically. One way to remember is to make a future appointment with yourself in your calendar.

Once you have your critical documents gathered, you can probably scan them in about an hour. This hour of preparation could save you several hours of frustration should you ever need to vacate your home in an emergency and leave all your paper documents behind.

Click here to learn how to prepare a disaster kit.


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.


Beyond the Family Home: Senior Housing Options Explained

Many elders desire to stay in their current homes. Seniors who choose to “age in place” can modify their homes to make them safer and accessible and hire home care services. Aging in place may not be desirable or feasible for everyone, however.

Today, there are numerous senior housing alternatives available, and the terminology of the choices can be confusing. Here is a brief description of common options. 

Independent Living is a general term for communities designed for independent elders with few medical and personal care concerns. Residents live in private apartments, houses, condos or cottages. Many independent living communities offer meals, local transportation, social activities, fitness facilities, and other amenities.

There are many types of independent living communities including senior apartments, retirement communities, 55+ communities, age-restricted communities, active adult communities, and cohousing designed for older adults. 

Assisted Living is housing for seniors who need help with activities of daily living and minor help with medications. While residents do not need 24/7 medical care or supervision, staff is available around the clock. Depending on the facility, residents live in private apartments, studios, or private or shared rooms. Amenities frequently include meals, local scheduled transportation, housekeeping, social activities, assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), and medication management.

There are two levels of assisted living:

  • Type I is for elders who are independently mobile and need minimal assistance with ADLs.
  • Type II caters to adults who require help with mobility and greater assistance with ADLs.

Assisted living facilities include personal care homes, residential care homes, congregate care, alternative care facilities, adult care homes, adult group homes, and sheltered housing. 

Nursing Homes provide around-the-clock skilled nursing for people who need a high level of medical care. Most residents live in shared rooms. Physicians oversee the residents’ care. Nurses are always on site to supervise, and nursing assistants generally provide the care. Speech, occupational and physical therapists are also on staff.

Nursing homes are also known as long term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, nursing centers, and convalescent care facilities. 

Memory Care is specialized care for people suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Memory care includes full time supervision and personal care. Some facilities provide memory care exclusively. Assisted living facilities and nursing homes may also provide memory care units. 

Continuing Care Communities offer independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing all on one site. Residents generally move into independent living cottages or apartments. If they begin to require assistance, they move to assisted living units, and, when needed, to the community’s nursing home. Services at continuing care communities can include meals, social activities, local transportation, exercise facilities, and social events. With continuing care communities, all of an individual’s current and future needs are met on one campus. 


If you or your loved one is looking for senior housing, a professional assessment by a geriatric care manager can help you determine what type of communities to consider. To learn more about these professionals and to find one in your area, visit the Aging Life Care Association at

Key to Choice for Seniors by the East Metro Seniors Agenda for Independent Living is a guide to assessing changing lifestyle needs and evaluating the numerous senior housing options. Click here to access this guide.

Medicare offers Your Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home or Other Long‑Term Services & Supports. Click here to access this guide.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.



8 Ideas for Surviving Back-to-School Shopping (Without Taking out a Second Mortgage)

Do you have children heading back to school? Most families will spend a couple of hundred dollars on each child. If you have a college freshman, you may spend several hundred dollars.

According to the National Retail Federation, back-to-school and back-to-college spending ranks as the second biggest shopping season for retailers after the winter holidays.

How can you rein in back-to-school costs? Consider these eight ideas:

1. Shop your drawers and cupboards. Chances are you have many unused or gently used supplies that are perfectly good.

2. Make a list. After you have compiled the supplies you already have on hand, craft a list of what else is needed. If your school sends a supply list, use that as a guide. The trick to reining in costs is not to stray. Stick to your list.

3. Set a spending limit. Let your children know the limit in advance of shopping. Parents can be easily swayed by their children’s choices and wants, and end up spending more than they planned. Your child can help make decisions on which items are the most important and which can be skipped.

4. Hand over the money. Give your child the total amount you are going to spend in cash. This is a great financial planning lesson. There is only a finite amount of money, so your student will need to figure out how to purchase everything she needs with the amount of money she has available. This is will help her figure out what is most important.

5. Have the kids contribute. This is another great lesson in financial literacy. Your child would be responsible for using his own money to purchase certain items, such as paper, notebooks, erasers and other basic supplies. You can help him set a budget and determine priorities.

6. Focus on the big items. If your student needs more expensive items, such as a computer or bedding for a dorm room, put your energy into finding the best deal for those items. Saving fifty cents on pencils is not as significant as saving a couple hundred dollars on a computer.

7. Contact roommates. College students can coordinate their dorm room furnishings with their roommates. One person can bring the refrigerator, the other the TV. Look for used items.

8. Follow your favorite stores on social media. This works especially well for clothing. Choose three or four stores and follow them on Facebook or Twitter to get advance notice of sales and coupons.


Back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to be a budget buster. Approach it with a plan, you’ll be able to control the cost.


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.



Mind Over Money: Fascinating Insights Into the Psychology of Money

When your friends do a favor for you, should you pay them?

When choosing a pain reliever, should you buy a name brand or the generic?

If you are working as a waiter, how can you get a bigger tip?

These questions are examined in Claudia Hammond’s book, Mind Over Money, The psychology of Money and How to Use it Better. When I picked up this book, I thought it would be a self-help book addressing readers’ financial problems. Instead, this book is a fascinating window into humankind’s complex relationship with money.

Hammond examined the results of 263 experiments and research studies in psychology, neuroscience, biology, and behavioral economics to explain why humans react to money and money-related issues the way we do.

The studies Hammond uncovered explain why:

  • We should spend money on experiences, not things.
  • Praise is a better motivator than money.
  • Money wards off the fear of death.
  • Being poor can lead people to make poor financial decisions.
  • A high price is not necessarily a sign of quality.
  • Why enough money is never enough.

And much more.

You will need to read the book to learn what research tells us about these more serious topics, but to answer the lighter ones posed at the beginning of this article, Mind over Money tells us:

  • We should not pay our friends when they do favors for us. Introducing money can transform the interaction. The friends start to compare the amount you are paying them to what a professional would earn. Or they will compare what you are paying them to what they earn at their regular jobs. Hammond says, “The upshot is that a task they would have happily done for nothing, as a genuine favour (sic), they do less happily for a small payment.”
  • Taking a brand name pain reliever may seem to make your headache disappear faster. But, brand names and cheaper generics contain the same active ingredients. The only real difference is the price. Why do people report their headaches disappear faster when they take the name brand pain reliever? Hammond says “price seems to be working like a placebo effect, somehow convincing us that we are actually experiencing a greater reduction of pain with the more expensive brands.”
  • If waiters want larger tips, they should lightly touch their customers on the arm as they present the bill. This was the conclusion of a study by two French psychologists, Nicolas Guéguen and Céline Jacob. Hammond says Guéguen and Jacob’s “research was inspired by studies in the 1980s that had found that if you ask someone to do something, they are more likely to say yes if you touch them on the arm at some point.”

Hammond did sprinkle tips and tricks throughout Mind Over Money and included a four-page final chapter summarizing the take-aways from the research she presented in the book. My favorite is #4: “Don’t go on a wine course. If you learn too much about expensive wines, you’ll start caring about what you’re drinking. If you don’t, cheap wine will carry on tasting good, especially if your friends lie to you about the price.”

Mind Over Money, The psychology of Money and How to Use it Better © 2016 by Claudia Hammond is published by Harper Perennial. List price is $15.99.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.





Addressing the Human Side of Money: Financial Therapy

Financial therapy is a new and growing area of financial assistance.

Whereas financial advisors and financial planners consult on how to invest, protect and grow money, financial therapists address the more human side of personal finances. They help clients work on the underlying emotional issues that keep them trapped in money struggles, be it overspending, under-saving or carrying too much debt.

There are many factors influencing our relationship with money including how our parents handled money, our own early experiences and mistakes, and our beliefs. Financial therapy can help clients examine their unfinished emotional business around money, allowing them to have a healthier relationship with it.

It delves into the past to help clients adjust the core beliefs underlying their behavior with money.

Financial therapists are mental health practitioners. They have had years of study and supervised practice, and have passed a licensing exam.

Financial therapists shouldn’t be confused with financial coaches. Both aim to assist people with financial issues and habits. Coaching, however, focuses more on the present and the future. It concentrates on the client’s current goals, and helps the client overcome blockages and obstructions to achieve more than he would alone. Financial coaches have also received training, but not as extensive as therapists. They are not health practitioners.

Neither financial therapists nor coaches can provide investment advice unless they are also registered as an investment advisor with the SEC or their state.

Could you use some help sorting out your money concerns? The article “Do You Need a Therapist or a Coach” by Bill Cole, provides a good overview of the similarities and differences between financial therapists and coaches, including a list of nine signs that one needs a therapist. Click here to read this article.

For advice on selecting a financial therapist, the article “Here’s How to Know If You Need a Financial Therapist” by Kate Ashford offers some advice. Click here to connect to this article.

To learn more about financial therapy or to locate a financial therapist, visit the Financial Therapy Association at

To learn more about financial coaching or to find a financial coach, visit the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education at

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.


Financial Software for Teenagers? I Say Yes!

Considering I am a daily money manager, it won’t surprise you that teaching my daughter money skills is a high priority on my parenting to-do list. From an early age, my husband and I gave Gabrielle a weekly allowance. The purpose of the allowance, in addition to giving her pocket money, was to provide an opportunity for her to make money mistakes when the consequences were minor and to learn from those mistakes.

Eventually she started earning money from babysitting, pet sitting, odd jobs, and, this year, tutoring. There were also gifts from grandparents at birthdays and holidays. Eventually it was time to get the money out of Gabrielle’s bedroom and into a bank. I helped her open checking and savings accounts. She learned how to write checks, keep track of her debit purchases, view her transactions on line, and transfer money between her accounts.

Gabrielle also developed her own accounting method. I can’t tell you what it was exactly, but I do know it involved a vast spreadsheet and lots of time recording all of her transactions. As her homework load, social life, and number of paying gigs all increased, she complained about not having time to attend to her money. I suggested she try a financial software program which could potentially save her time. As Gabrielle will be heading off to college – and into greater independence – in another year, now seemed like a good time to show her a money tool she can use for life.

I purchased Quicken Starter Edition for her and spent a Sunday afternoon teaching her the program. This was actually fun. Having grown up with computers, Gabrielle was a quick study. She swiftly grasped categories and subcategories, transfers between accounts, and customizing each register. She loves downloading transactions from the bank and the quickness of data entry. And, she is having fun exploring the variety of reports and learning how to customize them.

Watching Gabrielle explore Quicken, I thought every teenager could benefit from learning a financial software program. Even when a teenager isn’t interested in tracking her spending, she most likely is quite computer literate. (Who taught you how to use your smart phone?) The programs and apps available now make recording transactions and paying attention to spending a snap. If a teen has some income and a bank account, now is a great opportunity to teach him a valuable skill.

In addition to Quicken, apps to consider include Mint, YNAB, Personal Capital, Mvelopes, and others. All can be used on a smart phone or tablet. Wherever the teen is, so is a picture of her available cash and recent spending.

Many of these programs include investment tracking. While most teens may not need this function at this point in their lives, the key features these apps offer are cash flow management and budgeting.

I recommend letting your teen choose which program to use. And let him make it his, separate from Mom and Dad.

Here are some articles that review the many personal software apps available:

The Best Personal Finance Software by

The Best Personal Finance Software of 2017 by Top Ten Reviews.

The Best Personal Finance Services of 2017 by PC Magazine.

Top 5 Best Personal Finance Software Apps for Mac, Android, iPhone, Online, and Desktop by AdvisoryHQ.

Best Personal Finance Software by The Simple Dollar.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.