Which core values of American democracy show up in how you spend your money? Making sure that you have basic financial literacy helps you align your values with your personal spending and government spending.

Literacy for Personal Spending:

  • Develop an income and spending plan, even if the income is only a weekly allowance. Consider including savings and charitable giving as part of your plan.
  • Think of what you spend in relation to your overall income. For example, think of the percentage of your income you spend on housing, the percentage you spend on entertainment, the percentage you give to charities, etc. Evaluate if you are spending your money on needs (something you must have, like sufficient food and water, shelter, basic health care) before you are spending it on wants (something you would like to have, like a new car, name-brand clothes, dining at a restaurant).
  • When making a purchase, consider the cost of the item and what other item(s) its purchase will keep you from buying. For instance, budget only a certain amount for snacks each month. If you spend the budgeted amount during the first half of the month, you may need to skip snacks during the second half.
  • Take the time to comparison shop and make informed choices.
  • Keep records of your purchases.
  • Learn your lesson when you make a bad spending decision. If you make an impulse decision and later regret it, use it as a reminder to make a budget and stick to it, even if it means delaying a purchase.
  • Practice not buying something until you have enough to pay for it in cash.
  • Remember that credit is borrowing money from someone and that they charge you for it. Take advantage of free online debt calculators to get a better idea of how interest accrues.
  • Remember that money needs to be set aside consistently for your savings to grow over time, and that it may take both investing and time to see substantial growth.
  • Use one of the many free or low-cost online resources to make sure that every family member is financially literate, like those listed at https://www.mint.com/ultimate-resources-for-teaching-kids-about-money, or a free lesson plan like this one at https://www.incharge.org/financial-literacy/resources-for-teachers/financial-literacy-for-kids/.

Literacy for Government Spending:

  • Several helpful websites, like https://www.usa.gov/budget, explain the government’s budget process.
  • Pie charts showing the percentages of government spending in key categories are available from several sites, including this one: https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/US_fed_spending_pie_chart
  • Review the chart to see if you agree with the allocation of government resources. Express your opinions to your representatives in Congress and/or your local newspaper.
  • When you purchase an item that is taxed, say a prayer of gratitude for your ability to make the purchase. Then add a prayer that government leaders will make wise and responsible use of tax revenues.
  • When you pay your taxes, take a moment to be thankful for some of the benefits they bring like freedom of the press, paved roads, public schools and libraries, national parks, and Medicare coverage for elders. Commit to learn about one tax-funded program and the people who benefit from the program. This Tax Day Ritual for individuals and families includes expressions of gratitude and sorrows and a prayer to be said before you submit or mail in your taxes.
Habib Todd Boerger in Practicing Democracy with Your Money by Habib Todd Boerger, Kristin Ritzau