STARTING OUT


12 Things I'm Thankful For

Erin Burt

When times get tough, count your financial blessings.



What a year. The markets are in mayhem. The economic outlook is dismal. Our IRA and 401(k) balances are disappearing before our eyes. With Thanksgiving approaching, it seems there isn't much to be thankful for when it comes to our finances.

However, try thinking of it this way, as did Bing Crosby in the 1954 musical White Christmas:

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep,
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all,
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.

I sat down to itemize my personal financial blessings, thinking I could come up with, maybe, five for this column. I came up with three times that many. (I limited myself to 12 here, for space.) Try the exercise yourself, and you'll be surprised, too, at all that's good in your financial life.

I'm thankful for...

1. Time. Being young and broke has its drawbacks. But it's a blessing when the stock market takes a nosedive. Sure, my investments have tanked like everyone else's. On the bright side, I didn't have a fortune in there. I have the comfort of knowing that I'm investing for the long-term. I have plenty of time to get my money back tenfold.

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2. Parents who didn't indulge me. My father was a high school teacher, and my mom stayed home with us six kids. Needless to say, money was tight. But I don't remember ever feeling deprived. I grew up in a home where financial decisions weren't made on a whim, where budgeting and bargain shopping were a way of life, and, most importantly, where I felt secure and loved.

As I grew up and headed out on my own, it didn't matter to me that I couldn't afford designer jeans and restaurant meals every night -- I never had them before. And I knew that there were more important things in life than money. (See Lessons I've Learned From Being Broke.)

3. Mutual funds. They allow me to diversify across several stocks with just a little money. I can spread out the risk and make investing a little less of a gamble. And that's something to appreciate, especially in times like this. (See A Beginning Investor's Best Friend to learn more.)

4. Health insurance. As a freelancer, I don't have any job benefits. But I'm thankful to be married to a man who does -- and that his employer extends his health insurance to our kids and me. In the past three months alone, our family has been to the doctor or dentist 11 times for everything from routine checkups to a broken bone. I don't even want to imagine the cost if we had to pay for those visits out of pocket. (If you don't have employer-sponsored coverage, see Health Insurance for Twentysomethings for money-saving tips.)

5. No credit-card debt. It is so liberating to know that when I buy something, I can afford it, and I'm not wasting any money on interest charges.

I do use a credit card -- a rewards card for which I get cash back. I'm grateful for the discipline to pay it off every month. I've racked up enough cash rewards this year to cover about 25% of my holiday gift budget, and I haven't paid a dime of interest. It feels good to have my money working for me instead of against me.

6. Online savings accounts. They're easy to use, accessible and pay higher interest than the savings account at my bank up the street. Plus, the money I stash there (for emergencies and other savings pursuits, such as vacations and car insurance) is safe with the banks' FDIC insurance -- something I'm truly grateful for as banks fail across the country. (Is your money safe? Take our quiz to find out.)

7. The Internet. From online bill paying to easy money transfers, the Internet has simplified my daily financial tasks. Plus, I can check my account balances, compare prices or research an investment with a few clicks of the mouse.

8. A home. I bought my first house last year. But I'm not too concerned about falling real estate prices because I try not to look at my house as an investment. To me, it's a place to live.

Sure, it's a bummer the value has fallen a bit since I bought it, but I plan to live here at least five years. If prices are still down by the time I sell, I won't lose much sleep over it. I paid for a valuable service that I needed: a roof over my head. So what if I don't make a 20% profit when I sell? I'm grateful I have a place to call home.

9. A spouse who shares my financial goals. My husband and I may not always agree on whose turn it is to do the dishes, but we do share the same vision about our financial future. And we regularly assess our progress together. Plus, on a day-to-day basis, I'm thankful we're both savers. I don't have to worry about coming home to a new car in the driveway. We discuss all major purchases and plan ahead to pay for them -- a huge comfort.

10. Friends who aren't impressed by money. Along the same lines, it's nice to know that I don't have to impress anyone. I'm thankful my friends and family like me the way I am -- frugal.

11. Low-rate debt. An upside to the flagging economy is low interest rates. We got a good rate on our mortgage, and that means I have a home I can afford -- a blessing especially in a time when that isn't the case for many people. I'm also grateful that my husband was able to consolidate his school loans near record-low rates a few years ago, saving us thousands of dollars.

12. Generosity. Over the years my husband and I have been the recipients of many people's generosity. From a mysterious box of food left on our doorstep our first Thanksgiving as married, starving students, to my parents recently spending three weeks sleeping on my couch and building rooms in my basement.

I'm thankful for the ability to give something back to others in need, and I'm thankful that charity doesn't have to cost a lot of money to make a big difference.

Your turn. What are you thankful for this year?




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