Here are a few tips on how to remain financially sound

Jan 5 2013 - 11:18pm

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Bill Clinton got elected by inspiring his staff with a sign that said, "It's the economy, stupid."

Smart man. It still is the economy, but you'd be stupid if you thought anyone but you was responsible for how you do in it.

Yes, the government does have long-range effects on the economy as a whole. I firmly believe it should do more.

Our own U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop agrees. He often says government doesn't create jobs, but still wants government to keep paying for all those jobs at ATK Space Systems. When earmarks were in fashion, he was all about them, too. Just think "defense cuts" and watch his head explode.

However, very little of what government does helps you today to afford your home, your car, your next vacation or this month's electric bill. If you make a million dollars a year, but can't manage money, you could end up broke.

Meanwhile, the schoolteacher across the street may have a paid-off house and comfortable retirement.

How? By being smart:

* Turn off your car.

C. Arden Pope, a Brigham Young University economist, said that for every dollar spent on cutting air pollution there are around $10 in savings. Health care costs go down, premature deaths decrease and fewer people need funerals -- not to mention you save at the pump.

* Ignore housing value reports.

RealtyTrac recently released data showing that Weber County's housing market is worse off than it was four years ago. It lacked Davis data, but I'm guessing Davis is the same, because Salt Lake County is.

My response: So what?

The year 2008 was near the height of the housing bubble. Homes were suddenly worth a lot, but widows were staring at property tax bills that had doubled in value overnight. Home equity was soaring, but you had to go into debt to use it.

So forget 2008.

Home values should reflect the ability of people to pay. Real wages haven't gone up in a decade. Home values in 2000 are a better benchmark.

The U.S. Census Bureau says Utah's median housing price in 2000 was $146,000.

The median price in the second quarter of 2012, according to the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, was $143,760. So we're about where we started.

People who neither bought nor borrowed while the market burbled can take comfort that they didn't get rich, but didn't lose either.

Those who bought smaller homes, paid them off and didn't mortgage them again are the real winners. No matter what happens, they have a place to live.

* How do I pay for that house?

Brown bag lunch. I did.

Lunch, with tip and gasoline, costs about $10. If I brown bag, I save $50 a week, $200 a month and, over a 40-year career, $104,000 adjusted for inflation.

Which, with interest, is about what my wife and I paid for our rambling mansion.

Peanut butter is the way.

My friend Scott Parkinson, vice president at Bank of Utah, agrees with me that, especially today, consumers need a lot more education on how to handle their finances.

Scott is promoting his bank's new online financial management software that lets its customers compare all their bills and accounts, even those in other institutions, to get an overall picture of their finances.

If you don't bank at his bank, or you would rather take a course, call Cornerstone Financial Education, 3340 Harrison Blvd., Ogden, at 800-336-1245. It offers free counseling and other financial education services.

Get money-smart, people. It's the nation's fiscal cliff, but it's your money.

The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232, or ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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