Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Add Money Preparedness to Scout Motto!

In order to reach Eagle rank, Boy Scouts must learn financial smarts
(Condensed Version)

By Candice Choi
The Asociated Press

NEW YORK -- Whether it's backpacking, canoeing or picking stocks, good Boy Scouts approach all tasks with the same motto: Be prepared.

Perhaps because of their outdoorsy image, few realize that money management is a part of Scouting. To earn what's called the personal management badge, boys must know the difference between simple and compound interest and how mutual funds differ from CDs.

Last year, nearly 50,000 Scouts between the ages of 12 and 17 earned the badge, which is required to obtain the elite Eagle rank.

"I thought (money) was just about trying to save more than you spend," said John Yurgil, a 16-year-old in Livonia, Mich., who earned the badge last month.

Now he knows there are myriad ways to invest -- such as stocks, CDs and mutual funds -- and that each carries its own risks and rewards. The high school junior also tracked his budget over 13 weeks and mapped out a hypothetical blueprint for making a major family purchase, in his case a washing machine.

About five years ago, the badge's focus was expanded beyond savings to include material on investing and project management.

Requirements now include discussing how emotions influence spending and understanding the significance of a stock's 52-week price range and the importance of good credit.

"It's a part of walking into life well prepared," said Russ Hunsaker, a Scout leader in Salt Lake City who chaired the committee that rewrote the requirements for the badge.

Boys don't need to pass a test to get the badge, but they must demonstrate an understanding of the materials to their merit badge counselor, typically a volunteer from the financial services industry.

For about three months, Scouts meet weekly with their counselor one-on-one or in a group setting, depending on the local council. Few badges require such a long time commitment; many can be earned in just a day.

The badge is one of 21 boys must earn to become an Eagle -- a rank only about 5 percent of the 900,000 eligible Boy Scouts last year obtained. Because of the difficulty of earning the badge, it's often one of the last boys pursue, Hunsaker said.

That was the case for his son, Ellis, 17, who knew as little as most teenagers about managing money before earning the badge.

"I learned how to budget and save my own money, instead of just splurging. I learned about the stock market and different kinds of investments," said the younger Hunsaker, whose interest in the topic has since led him to enroll in a two-year business program at his high school.

Many adults today could have benefited from such early exposure to finance, said Ellen Siegel, a certified financial planner and president of Ellen R. Siegel & Associates in Miami.

"If people already knew how to think along the lines of planning and budgeting and comparison shopping, they wouldn't be caught off guard by what's happening today," she said.

Among those who do not pay their balance in full every month, for instance, the average credit card debt is $17,000, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

As Ellis Hunsaker heads off to college next fall, for instance, his father points out the teen will no doubt be inundated with credit card applications.

"They need to understand what the consequences are of opening one," Hunsaker said.

Now, his son is likely prepared to make wiser choices than many of his peers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Summary of Some Random Thoughts on Culture - By Tony Pellegrino

(Condensed from Saipan Tribune)

We are at a turning point in our culture. As we are pushed and pulled into the larger arena of ties with the United States, it is vital we approach the concept of “culture” with an unbiased and open mind. Many fear that our “culture” will be lost. Many claim we have already lost it and have replaced it with a hybrid. It is time to define exactly what our culture. Is it helping or hindering us in our time of need?

Living in Saipan, we are bombarded by various cultures brought here by various peoples who come to work and live. However no one has defined the culture we fear losing. So let’s discuss it a bit in the hope that it will open up a dialogue for better understanding.

Over the past years we have invited foreigners to visit us as tourists. This type of activity doesn’t affect our “culture” very much because we know that in a few days they will leave. We try to be polite extending our hospitality and show them our “culture” in the hope they will be impressed.

Also over the past years we have invited foreigners to work for us. This type of activity has affected our culture very much because they tend to remain for long periods. In fact, they have remained and even intermarried with our citizens thereby fostering their culture on our own. In addition, we also invite foreigners to invest in our islands and to reap economic benefits at our expense. This group of foreigners also has a lasting impact on our culture.

But the most serious impact continues to come from the United States. We requested becoming citizens and continue to accept huge sums of money from it. Yet we worry about the U.S.’s impact on us. But the irony of all this worry is that we scramble to send our children to schools in the U.S. Some of us even buy homes and go to either work or retire there. We eagerly buy products from the U.S. But at the same time we wish to reject its values and culture.

In a book by Thomas Sowell entitled Race and Culture, he explains that “real culture” such as “music and art” comes only after prosperity and leisure time sets in. But it is another facet of culture that we sometimes overlook which make a major impact on any country. To quote: “the focus here will be primarily on those aspects of culture which provide the material requirements of life itself—the specific skill, general work habits, saving propensities, and attitudes towards education and entrepreneurship—in short what economists call “human capital.” This one point—human capital—when fully understood determines how and when the CNMI will become economically strong again.

How does our “human capital culture” influence the economy? Have we defined it into writing thereby showing our specific skills, our general work habits, our saving of money and resource habits, and our attitudes towards education and entrepreneurship? How do we compare to other peoples?

Some people believe that technology is the sole determinant of economic progress. One only has to look at all the rusting machinery and decaying Western factories given to third world countries along with massive international aid programs. Mr. Sowell explains: “They are a monument to the fallacy of believing that technology transfer is simple a matter of access, rather than a cultural receptivity as well….Differences of work habits, savings propensities, organizational skills, personal hygiene, attitudes, and self-discipline all influence end results, both economic and social.”

We have a commonality with Malaysia, Fiji and India and many African countries in that most of their college graduates aspire to work for the government. This seems the same in the CNMI in that most people want to work for the government. Mr. Sowell explains: “Government employment remains a prime objective and a prime source of inter-group conflict in underdeveloped countries around the world….Formal education, especially among peoples for whom it is rare or recent, often creates feelings of entitlement to rewards and exemption from many kinds of work.”

We see every day how some foreigners come to our islands and begin at a lower socioeconomic level than many of us and eventually rise above us due to their skills, work habits, or other economic performance differences. Thus since foreigners can succeed, so can we locals.

Almost daily I hear about our young educated minds leaving the islands because they cannot find a job. My question is why are we allowing this to happen? Why aren’t we making an effort to retain them? The few that remain are forced to seek employment in government. What is wrong with our system or worse with our thinking to let this happen?

Could one of the reasons that these young people are leaving or refusing to come back is that our islands have little to offer them after spending four years in a modern college in or near an exciting city with many attractions? Could it be that they do not wish to continue the customs as practiced by their ancestors? Could it be that they sense a feeling of sterility here with little hope for advancement?

We continue to believe that this is our land and outsiders are destroying our culture. But what we forget is that daily we must work to maintain our position and that can only be done through cultivating our “human capital.” However we have been lulled into the belief that because “this is our land,” we should have entitlement rights.

Mr. Sowell writes a stinging commentary that I feel fits us so well and has caused us most of the dilemma that we find ourselves in. “Indigenous political leaders, well aware of such counterproductive economic consequences of their pressures against middlemen, nevertheless have every incentive to push such policies, which reap immediate political gains, whatever their long-run economic damage to the community or the nation.” For “middlemen” I substitute the word “local workforce.” In other words we have been duped into accepting low wage workers at the expense of motivating and training our local people into developing our “human capital culture.”

By no means am I trying to suggest what our culture beliefs should be. Nor am I trying to suggest that our culture is not as good as others. But I am suggesting that no matter what we think of ourselves and loudly proclaim ourselves to be, we will never become economically strong until we fully develop our “human capital culture.” When we have almost 22,000 guest workers and thousands of local people out of work, have we really developed our “human capital?”

We will always remain dominated by someone else as we have been since the Spaniards landed here. For years we have been passed around from country to country. But for once, with the help of the United States, we can become almost self-sufficient and proud again. As the Bible tells us: “With all thy Wisdom, get understanding.” When will we?