Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Financial State of the Middle Class: President Obama Speaks

Finance Guru Dr. Watkins Says Economic Downturn Could Be A Good Thing

By Dr. Boyce Watkins

I hate being the doctor who has to tell the patient he has cancer, but the truth usually sets you free (or so my mother told me): We are in the midst of an economic bloodbath. It’s tough to argue that an economy which shrinks by an annualized rate of 5% is still healthy. It’s hard to tell someone that 7.2% unemployment, with the most job losses since 1945, is a good thing. A 4,000 point drop in the Dow is nothing to sneeze at, even if you have plenty of tissue. Times are tough, we know that.

But if we focus hard enough, we might be able to find a few bright sides to all this. With hopes that no one chooses to kill the messenger, I am going to give it a shot.

1) It could always be much worse.
The United States has, according to some, the strongest economy in the world. Our economy could shrink like Rush Limbaugh’s body on drugs and still be disgustingly rich compared to the rest of the world. Don’t believe me? Consider the “fast-growing” Chinese economy, the one that everyone thinks is going to outpace the United States in the next few years. Our annual tax revenues are nearly 4 times greater than China’s ($2.5 Trillion vs. $670 Billion) and they have over 4 times more people than we do (300 million vs. 1.3 Billion). In other words, our per capita tax receipts are over 16 times greater than China’s. So, we’re far better off than most of the world, even when we’re broke.

2) If there were ever an argument for getting out of Iraq, this might be it.
It’s hard to declare war on random countries if you don’t have the money to do it. War is big business and attacking other countries is a huge financial investment. If you don’t think war is about money, then you may want to take a couple of Political Science and History classes. Perhaps these troubles at home will keep us from creating trouble abroad, since Americans have lost patience with irresponsible, arrogant war-mongering. The Obama stimulus plan is asking for over $800 Billion dollars to boost our economy. We’ve already spent nearly $600 Billion in Iraq. Rather than declaring War on Terror, President Obama has declared War on the Recession, which seems to be a far better investment.

3) If you want to buy cheap stocks or real estate, this is the time to do it.
When the market rises, everyone wants to buy stocks. People forget that you shouldn’t buy stocks when prices are high, you buy when the prices are low. Companies with plenty of cash are grabbing investment and real estate bargains that were hardly available a year ago. You should be doing the same if you can afford to do it. Investors who purchases stocks after major market declines tend to do much better than those who buy during booms. You hear me Warren Buffet?

4) Struggle makes us FOCUSED.
Although I tend to be a hardcore capitalist, a part of me misses the activism of the 1960s, when people cared about more than making a dollar. OK, I wasn’t around in the 1960s, but I’ve watched enough old movies. Going through tough times not only teaches one to pursue a higher purpose in life, it also leads individuals to more carefully scrutinize the state of affairs in our government. In fact, I dare to argue that the financial crisis was just what Barack Obama needed to secure his election over John McCain. Economic prosperity allows us the luxury of choosing our politicians based on silly issues, like gay marriage (as we did in 2004). When we are worried about putting food on the table, we look beyond the silliness and choose the most qualified and most intelligent person for the job (after ensuring that he knows Africa really is a continent). Finally, tough economic times make you more responsible in your own money management, as the threat of financial insecurity keeps us all on high alert.

Those are my points, so again, please don’t kill the messenger. I certainly do not celebrate a weak economy, but I am a firm believer that focusing too much on the door that shuts keeps us from appreciating the ones that just opened. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, and….well, you get the point. It’s the toughness of tough times that make the good times good. Keep hanging in there, it’ll be ok.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of “Financial Lovemaking 101: Merging Assets with Your Partner in ways that Feel Good.” For more information, please visit

Troubled Economy

The country tumbled deeper into recession and probably logged its worst economic performance in a quarter-century during the final three months of last year as battered consumers and businesses throttled back spending.

The U.S. economy is deteriorating at an alarming clip as the housing, credit and financial crises — the worst since the 1930s — feed on each other in a vicious cycle that has proven difficult for Washington policymakers to break.

The Commerce Department is set to release a report Friday expected to show the economy shrank at a pace of 5.4 percent in the October-December period, a much faster descent than the 0.5 percent decline logged in the prior quarter. If economists’ forecasts are correct, it would mark the weakest quarterly showing since an annualized drop of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 1982, when the country was suffering through a severe recession.

“It was a bloodbath,” said Richard

Click to read.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

AOL Talks Money With Finance Expert Dr. Boyce Watkins

Smart Money Tips With Dr. Boyce Watkins
Posted Jan 27th 2009 6:34PM by Alexis Stodghill
Filed under: Money Talks

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill,

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a renowned scholar and speaker in the area of finance. As an African-American financial expert, Dr. Watkins has made it his personal mission to educate our community through writing books and essays, making media appearances, public speaking and more -- so that we may become more empowered with knowledge when it comes to the all-mighty dollar. asked the doctor to share his wisdom and advice for folks seeking tips to successfully navigate the current economic storm. According to Dr. Watkins, it's still possible to get your finances in order -- in fact, it's imperative.

As a black finance expert, what is the most common problem you see in the black community when it comes to personal finance management?

The most common problem is that historically, African Americans have been excluded from the opportunity to build wealth. Money was made from our labor, but we never got much of it. That led to a laborer mentality in African-Americans that taught us how to go out and get jobs rather than learning the art of CREATING jobs. This problem was further exacerbated by the fact that building a company requires capital, which we typically don't have. Most African-Americans have far lower inheritance levels than whites, and this impacts your economic opportunities in life. Also, when you've never had much money, you are usually not very good at managing it, so we are as bad as the rest of America when it comes to our spending, saving, investing and borrowing habits.

How would you suggest that someone with little knowledge of personal finance get started on the road to financial stability?

First, get educated. Empower yourself with financial literacy. The greatest university in the world is called You can research any topic you want. Secondly, start small. You don't have to conquer the world in two steps. Just start by saving 10% of your income. You might say you don't have money to save, but you actually do. If your boss came into your office and gave you a 10% paycut, you'd find a way to survive. Find a way to learn to save. Finally, get a "side hustle." Challenge yourself to find small ways to supplement your income. The riskiest thing to do in this economy is to get all of your personal income from one source.

You have two college degrees, a master's degree and a PhD. What would you say is the relationship between level of education and income?

Education not only gives you many opportunities to earn more money, you usually earn more money with less work, doing a job that you might actually like. Personally, education was the difference for me between being financially well off and living a life of poverty. Education also provides job security, which is often overlooked. Autoworkers, for example, were always able to make high wages with little education. But once the Big Three started to buckle, they were stuck with unskilled labor opportunities. Everyone should get as much education as they can get, since education can be a path to both a wealthy bank account and a wealthy life.

Would you share some tips for sound money management in 2009?

-First, keep investing, especially in the stock market. When the market is low, that's the best time to find cheap stocks. Then hold on to your investments in a well-diversified portfolio (meaning, keep your money spread out). Before you know it, the downturn will have put money in your pocket.

- Learn to adjust your financial habits. Part of the reason we are in this mess is because Americans were borrowing too much money and working hard to live paycheck to paycheck. Get out of that habit, because the government is not going to be able to save us for much longer.

- Cut the toxins out of your life. If you have any bad habits or bad people draining you of your resources (a relative, a friend, or even yourself), renegotiate that relationship from one that is financially destructive to one that can be productive. For example, you may have to cut the financial umbilical chord from a dependent child, or tell that brother that he can't borrow money from you anymore. Cut the toxic energy out of your life so you can rethink your way of seeing money.

You have written extensively on love and money issues. What is your advice for best blending marriage and finances?

In 'Financial Lovemaking,' I tell couples to "find a rhythm." Merging your money is the same as merging your body (ie. sex): No one can tell you how to do it, since we all enjoy different things. You find out what your partner needs, share your own needs and then find a way to make the process comfortable and fulfilling for both parties. If your partner is a saver, then you need to respect that. Given that there is usually a deeply psychological reason that your partner is a saver, you are in serious trouble if you have habits that create financial instability in your relationship. Also, MAKE SURE you know what you're getting into: Many couples focus solely on love, lust, and physical appearance and spend almost no time observing the financial disposition and habits of their partners before making this major commitment. That is a recipe for disaster.

Before you commit your life, your future, your children and your money to someone, remember that LOVING together means LIVING together. If someone is financially irresponsible or brings a set of (what I call) "financial venereal diseases" into your life, it is going to be hard to live with them. You should check the debt levels, income levels and credit score of anyone to whom you choose to commit. Make sure they don't have any financially destructive habits, like alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, or even the shopaholic's disease. Make sure that your financial values are in line with your partner's: For example, don't marry a woman who needs a $40,000 engagement ring if you think that a $500 ring should do the trick.

If you don't ask the hard questions, you can be locked into something with someone who literally destroys your life later down the road.

What is your opinion of the current recession? What is the best way to weather it?

The current recession may very well be the tip of the iceberg. There are serious long-term problems with our economy, and the break down of our financial system is merely a symptom of bigger issues. Additionally, this recession has a deeper problem. It is occurring during a time in which our global financial markets are integrated unlike at any other time in world history. That means that we are dealing with a problem of historic proportions on a landscape on which we've never operated.

The best way to cope with the recession is, in part, through what the government is already doing: Utilizing massive fiscal stimulus plans and encouraging global cooperation. Two other things they could have done are a) to have not wasted 700 billion dollars persuading Americans that Wall Street Bankers need to be protected, and b) to have spent more time helping Americans adjust their expectations.

President Obama seems to be trying to manage expectations, but he has already set the bar very high with his long list of campaign promises. The economic problem for Obama is that it will be extremely difficult to boost our economy back to where it was before, particularly since much of our financial gains over the past 7 years were illusions created through easy access to credit and a poorly regulated financial system. It's similar to an athlete on steroids trying to get off the drugs and then regain old form. It's very difficult to do.

On an individual level, I encourage families to remember that the government may not be there to take care of you in retirement. If you are not saving for retirement, it is critical that you do so. You should also find ways to structure care for the elderly in your family so that they are going to be OK. Also, tighten your own belts and get out of the habit of living from paycheck to paycheck. This is not a secure economy, and seemingly financially stable companies are disappearing overnight. The riskiest thing you can do in this economy is to get all of your income from one source. Find a way to make money from multiple avenues.

What has inspired you to come this far with so much self-determination, as a black man who was born to a single teen mom, then becoming a teen parent yourself?

I wake up every single day with a purpose. Dr. King and Malcolm X died young, so I never knew how much time I will have. But I am absolutely determined not to waste a single day and do all I can to help reshape what it means to be a black scholar and black leader in America. When I get emails from young people telling me that I've inspired them to change their thinking, then I know I've done my work. I know that I am not going to be on this earth forever, but I love the idea that I can impact people in such a way that the spiritual influence can last for generations.

I realized that most black professors are scared into being quiet on social issues, due to heavy political ramifications for speaking up. I also realized that many of us would rather sit in the ivory tower than to take our knowledge to the world. I never wanted to do that, and I've always felt that the role of the Black scholar in America is to use his/her knowledge to enlighten the world and uplift his/her people. That is my mission, and it is something I will continue to do until the day I die.

I also learned that it is not enough to be intelligent. You must be courageous and also sure of who you are. If you seek your validation from your historical oppressors, you will always end up chasing your own tail. Additionally, there are a long list of problems that need to be solved within our community, and it's up to all of us to do whatever we can to try and solve them.

Are there any words of encouragement or wisdom that you would like to share with the audience?

I realized a few things long ago that carry me to this day:

1) Success doesn't happen by accident. You must be deliberate with your actions and think carefully about where you invest your life, your love, your energy and your time. Everything must be proactive.

2) Extraordinary outcomes only come through extraordinary efforts. In life, you get what you give. So, if you want more, you must sacrifice more. You must be willing to do things no one else is willing to do, if you want to have things that no one else has. Never waste one second choosing to be ordinary.

3) Education is everything. Get as much of it as you can. Don't just become a student, BE AN EXTRAORDINARY STUDENT. Never let anyone tell you what to think. Keep your mind liberated so you can find truth and meaning in your endeavors.

4) The best way to get "pimped" is to spend your life trying to work for somebody else. Even if you are the highest paid slave on the plantation, you're still a slave, and you're still on the plantation. Get off the plantation and find a way to true wealth and prosperity. But don't get into the habit of worshipping money. Your goal is to live a wealthy life instead.

5) Keep BS out of your life so you can focus on achieving your goals. Most of us don't do half of what we plan to do because we spend all our time on silly, wasteful activities. There are 8,760 hours in a year and 168 hours in a week. You should budget your time the way you budget your money and not let anybody waste it.

6) Never allow yourself to be without goals. It's not where you are that matters, it's where you're going that determines where you end up. Always be aware of where you are going, and what you need to do in order to get there.

Keep a life full of purpose, and that will make every day worth living.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Finance Professor Boyce Watkins Speaks On The Scary Side of Our National Debt

Dr. Boyce Watkins

Brought to you by The Great Black Speakers Bureau - The #1 Speakers Bureau in the world.

Hey Peeps,

I thought you guys might want to hear Barack Obama's latest pitch as he works to solve one of the greatest economic crises since The Great Depression. It is here if you'd like to take a look. I agree with the President that bold moves by our government are necessary. Where we differ is that I do not believe it to be reasonable to think that our economy, stock market, economic growth or employment numbers are going to reach prior levels any time soon. That's because much of our economy one year ago was an illusion....a mirage created by easy access to credit sparked by a poorly regulated financial system. We are effectively the great athlete trying to compete after his steroids have been taken away: The athlete might be good, but his natural talent will likely never match his performance when it has been enhanced by doping.

More importantly, it is critical that each of us seriously considers the long-term financial damage that has been done to our economy. Even worse than our financial system, our political system is one that promotes the kind of short-sighted behavior that will surely cause serious financial problems for our children and grand children. I apologize for sounding like an alarmist, but I must be blunt: Get your money together RIGHT NOW, or there may be hell to pay in the long-term. The data from my research show that this is simply the beginning of very serious long-term financial problems in our great nation.

Our money advice email list is here, feel free to join. If there is a way that my training in Finance can help you or your family overcome financial challenges, I'd be happy to share what I know.

Be well,
Dr Boyce


The Scary Side of Our National Debt
By Dr. Boyce Watkins

As a finance professor, I become nervous when listening to the numbers being tossed around by our federal government. I hear “700 billion for this and 800 billion for that” mentioned as casually as a man tossing dollar bills at a strip club. Our government officials have been wasteful, incompetent and incredibly myopic in the way they’ve managed our money. Even conservative Republicans are spending like financially illiterate rap stars, and the Obama-mania train doesn’t seem interested in taking a different track.

Added to the $400 - $700 Billion that President Elect Obama wishes to spend on a stimulus package (not to mention bail-outs for automakers and other parts of the economy), the total amount of money our government has seriously considered allocating to solve the financial crisis has approached the $2 Trillion dollar mark. In case you’re wondering, that is A LOT of money, even for government officials who think that money grows on trees.

The truth is that, like the star quarterback who thinks his money will never run out, our country is going to wake up one morning, only to realize that we are no longer financially secure. We are going to be alarmed by the prospect that our government securities are no longer considered risk-free investments. Like the worried mother who notices she is one paycheck away from being homeless, we will see that we are one terrorist attack away from being stripped of our vast economic power.

To put the $2 Trillion dollar problem into context, consider this:

- Our government’s annual income (IRS receipts coming from money you and I pay in taxes) is about $2.5 Trillion dollars.
- Our national debt has reached the $10 Trillion dollar mark. That is like a man earning $250,000 per year, and sitting on a million dollars in debt, with full intention of obtaining more debt because he believes he is too rich to go broke.
- Roughly 42% of the Federal budget goes toward entitlements: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Another 20% goes to making sure we can arbitrarily “liberate” other countries who happen to have plenty of oil (the military), and another 9 – 10% goes toward paying the interest on the national debt.
- Our population is aging – this implies that our productivity as a nation is going to drop over the next 30 years, and our real Gross National Product is likely to drop with it. In conjunction with our decline in productivity, our obligations for the "Big Government 3" (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) are going to grow. So, the guy I mentioned above with a million dollars in debt is also going to see his income decline, while watching his expenses go up.

Translation: our country is in serious financial trouble. Trickle down economics (as proposed by these bailout plans) almost never works. I am amazed that we live in a country in which the same irresponsible men who caused the crisis are the first to be rewarded with a government bailout. The next time someone attempts to argue that Black males or young single mothers lack personal responsibility, I am going to point to the bankers on Wall Street and our government officials as being far more damaging to our nation. The real welfare recipients live on Wall Street, Capitol Hill and in executive suites, as they beg and plead for government assistance that is being granted at will. All the while, I hear politicians (even the great Black man in the White House) tell Black males with nearly 50% unemployment that they just “need to be more responsible”.

What are the solutions to this problem? There really are no quick solutions, but this might be where President Elect Obama can start:

First, stop declaring expensive wars that don’t make any sense. The Iraq War costs our nation roughly $340 million dollars per day and a combined total of half a trillion dollars. That’s enough to send over 10 million kids to college or to pay a year’s worth of health insurance for 100 million people. You could also provide $100,000 dollars worth of mortgage relief to 5 million American families.

Second, stop electing incompetent people to the most challenging office in the land. Choosing President Bush to run our country means that we deserve whatever consequences come from allowing arrogant Ivy League privilege to override the importance of competence, intelligence and solid leadership. With all the bogus and racist claims that Black youth are crippled by anti-intellectualism, it’s funny that nearly 50% of our nation planned to elect a Vice President who doesn’t know that Africa is a continent.

Third, stop throwing our children’s futures into the garbage. Millions of powerful minds are being wasted each year by a horrible inner city educational system. The money spent on the war in Iraq could have saved the lives of these youth and turned them into productive Americans. Instead, many of them are only going to be prepared to milk the economy for more costly entitlements.

Fourth, stop incarcerating many of our most productive citizens. We pay roughly $23,000 per year to incarcerate criminals, plus an average of $24,000 per year/per inmate for community corrections officers and other supervisory officials. Spending that money to educate and rehabilitate these individuals would not only increase our nation’s productivity, it would further reduce reliance on government support given to those who’ve been marginalized or had their families destroyed by our barbaric system of incarceration. This doesn’t count the impact on health effects that would come by simply stopping the prevalence of prison rape and transmission of disease within many communities across America. All chickens eventually come home to roost, even when they’ve been given 25 to life. The incarceration of productive Americans is an inter-generational loss, since their ill-nurtured children then become society’s worst nightmares.

Finally, our elected officials must stop thinking that they have a blank check. Sorry Senators, but you don’t. Money is finite, and when you keep piling up debt like MC Hammer, you’ll find yourself broke after your next album. Around the world, massive wealth appears and disappears in a flash, and by continuing our irresponsibility, we are setting the stage for the twilight of our great nation. Our officials must be more responsible and the American people must demand limitations on the use of federal debt.

Every great empire has a sunset. Many successful individuals and entities are brought down by a crippling vice, addiction or series of poor choices. America's love of debt, arrogance in leadership and unwillingness to plan for the future may be the poisons it has picked to undermine our global prominence. Protect yourself and your family, for there are bumpy times ahead.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University. He does regular commentary in national media, including CNN, ESPN, BET and CBS Sports. For more information, please visit