April is a great time to give some thought to your personal finances. Not only is it tax time, it’s also National Financial Capability Month. The annual observance, which has also been known as Financial Literacy Month, seeks to raise awareness about the importance of establishing and maintaining healthy financial practices.
Nationwide, household debt totaled more than $11.8 trillion at the end of 2014, including mortgages, car loans, credit card debt and student loans, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“Critical decisions – from financing higher education to saving for retirement – can have lasting consequences for individuals and for our country’s economy,” President Barack Obama said in proclaiming the 2015 event. “Financial literacy enables people of all ages to make smart choices and set goals to protect their hard-earned income.”
In addition to tapping into online resources provided by federal agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Small Business Administration, consider marking National Financial Capability Month by watching these finance-related TED Talks. The topics range from behavioral economics experiments that reveal fascinating insights into how people spend money to finance tips and strategies for saving.
Behavioral economist Shlomo Benartzi proposes that people aren’t saving enough due to a lack of action and an aversion to loss. “Behavioral finance is really a combination of psychology and economics trying to understand the money mistakes people make,” Benartzi says.
Mellody Hobson, president of a money management firm and board member of DreamWorks Animation, discusses how growing up in a single-parent family inspired her to become fiscally responsible. “I want to live in a financially literate society,” Hobson says.
Cognitive psychologist Daniel Goldstein says that people often use commitment devices, such as locking away a credit card, to avoid negative behaviors. But these devices can be problematic by reminding people of their lack of self-discipline. “Resisting temptation is hard,” says Goldstein, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research.
Why do countries with seemingly similar economies and institutions display radically different savings behavior? Keith Chen, a UCLA professor and behavioral economist, discusses how differences in how we speak relate to differences in how we save.
Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of the investment firm LearnVest, examines why Americans do not get a formal education in personal finance, even though money is the No. 1 cause of stress for young people. She also discusses how fiscally irresponsible choices can cause a domino effect. “It’s not about being rich,” von Tobel says. “It’s about living your richest life.”
Harvard Business School Professor Michael Norton says money can buy happiness – you just have to spend it right. When people are prosocial with their money, meaning they use it to benefit others, they report being happier. “Spending on other people has a bigger return for you than spending on yourself,” Norton says.