An April Fool from the weather, April 20th, 2021. Photo by Shayna Deitchman

“Though April showers may come your way,

They bring the flowers that bloom in May,”

 (“April Showers”, music by Louis Silvers, lyrics by B.G. De Sylva, 1921)

April!  It’s a  beautiful month when spring often comes to full bloom, the last snow flies.   It’s a month that for many people begins with pranks, continues with income tax time, and ends with the warmth of early summer.  Pranks and taxes…two things that may cause great anxiety for some people.   As far as pranks go, practice your situational awareness!

Since April happens not only to be a beautiful month but also “National Financial Capability Month”, let’s dig in to finances and do our best not to be the April Fools when tax time or a big storm rolls in.

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Fast facts and perspective:

In 2023, Missouri had the 6th lowest cost of living in the United States.

In 2023, Kansas City had the highest cost of living in the state of Missouri.

In 2022, the average annual income in the 27 counties served by Catholic Charities of Kansas City—St. Joseph was $43,075.

In 2022 the lowest average hourly wage in our 27 counties was $13.56, the highest average hourly wage was $32.05.

A New Yorker earning $50,000.00 a year (unlikely, unless this person has 8 room mates in a 450 square foot apartment), moving to Kansas City, MO could take a pay cut of $20,906.00 and still live at the same standard of living as in New York.

A person from Albany, GA moving to Kansas City, MO would have to earn $10,751 more to maintain his standard of living.

Viewed as above, we’ve got it pretty good in Northwest Missouri!  Taking a closer look, the facts are a little different for much of our population.  Across all of our counties, the average number of persons living in poverty is 13.7%.  Imagine that you work with 99 other people, 14 of your colleagues would be living below the poverty level.

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What does “living below the poverty level” look like in 2024?  In the abstract, according to the department of Health and Human Services, it simply means that a single person with a pre-tax income below $15,060 and a family of 4 with a pre-tax total (all family members’ income is added together), income of $31,200 fall below the poverty level and may qualify for “certain programs and benefits”.  The reality of living below the poverty level is that a person may have full time employment with benefits but still be unable to buy enough groceries for their family for even a week at a time.  Living below the poverty level means making difficult choices and trying to problem solve on a daily basis:

“Should I spend $50.00 on groceries or pay part of my gas bill so that maybe I won’t get cut off?”;  “If my job doesn’t increase my pay this year, I won’t be able to afford gas and insurance for my car to be able to drive to work, if I ride the bus it will add 2 hours to my day and I won’t be able to drop and pick up my children at school”; “I can live with this toothache and swollen face until my next paycheck.”;  “my friends want to meet for dinner at a restaurant this week and I can’t afford it”;  “I will pay the electricity bill on my credit card even though my interest rate is 35%, because I had to pay my friend back the loan he made me to get my car running last month.”

These problems and difficult choices are not just for people whose income, through no fault of their own, puts them below the poverty level.  On the other side of the coin are the many people who simply live beyond their means until they end up in financial trouble:  “I have to have this car, even though I won’t be able to pay for it’s maintenance;  I need  to eat out every day because I’m a horrible cook;  I know I can’t afford these clothes and they will go on sale at the end of the season but I want them now”. And the author’s personal favorite:  “It’s payday.  I think I’ll buy myself a treat.  But I won’t spend more than $200.”  Today’s social media enhanced culture of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and “YOLO” (you only live once) can encourage terrible spending habits and also encourage a lack of saving.  When our lives are upended by FOMO and YOLO, we can find ourselves in deep debt, especially if we are affected by a community disaster or a personal disaster.

What are we to do when we don’t earn enough to make ends meet or we spend more than we have and can’t pay the bills?  Start with small changes in order to begin finding out how to make ends meet and to start building a pile of change to hold you up in times of disaster personal or communal!  It’s not enough to just “spend less”, it is important to save as well, even if it’s only $5 a week at the beginning.  More perspective:  the current price in our area for a 16 ounce triple shot brevé latte at a nationally known coffee seller is nearly $10.  Easy choice:  3 gallons of regular fuel for your car or 16 ounces of fuel for you?

A very basic way to begin when you are in the red or close to it:

Check your credit report to ensure that everything is correct and your identity has not been stolen.  Dispute anything that is not correct and true.  Federal law gives you the right to check your reports from the three credit bureaus once a year for free.  The only website authorized to give you your three free is:

https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action

Add up your total monthly income from all jobs.

Add up your total monthly expenses, including entertainment and treats.

Honestly define your needs and wants.  Make the most basic needs of shelter, food and health your top priorities.

Check your income total against your needs total, is there enough?  Is there enough for a want or two?  Great!  Use anything above needs to start saving and look forward to the day when you can start spending a little on your wants list!

When there is not enough income to cover your needs:

Find ways to trim your spending, learn to say “No!” to things that are wants.  Find out if you are eligible for SNAP and Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), if you are a student loan borrower, check into income driven repayment plans, call lenders and ask for lower interest rates (credit card companies can sometimes surprise you with much better rates, you just have to ask).

Use what you have trimmed to pay any past due bills.

Also important:  if you are the parent (or aunt) to the most perfect, nearly irresistible children who sometimes beg you for toys, candy, video games, Bob Ross finger puppets that they “Really, neeed!”…practice saying no and encourage them to save up to buy the toy independently of you.  (Caved in that time, the nephew still loves his Bob Ross finger puppet.)  Don’t say no to all treats all the time for children.  Figure out what the affordable treats are and try not to make your little ones feel deprived as you encourage them to save and teach them the difference between need and want.  It is not good to deny yourself all treats either, if you are feeling deprived and frustrated, you may find it difficult to stick to your new spending and saving habits.  A free or very inexpensive treat for yourself weekly can help you stay on track.  Look for free community events, concerts in the park, movie nights in the park, make a visit to the public library or a museum that does not charge admission.

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“Put money in thy purse;”

(W. Shakespeare, Othello, Act I Scene iii)

Start saving.  Talk to your bank about certificates of deposit and money market savings accounts.  A certificate of deposit is good for long term planning and a money market savings account can be a good option for building an emergency fund, as long as you can access it in emergencies.  Cash in small bills is what you will need if there is a disaster on the scale of a mass power outage i.e. no credit/debit transactions possible.  Cash in small bills is also far too easy to spend for some people, and does not accrue interest.  If you build an emergency fund in cash, please keep it in a fire and water resistant container and aim for enough to keep you and your family fed and sheltered for at least 2 weeks.

Never underestimate the benefit of filing your tax returns on time.  This not only saves you from paying interest and penalties but also, when you file a federal, state, and in some areas, municipal return, you may be pleasantly surprised to find you qualify for tax credits, lower student loan payments and some benefit programs such as SNAP.  If you qualify for a refund on your federal tax return, one easy way to start your savings is to save that refund or have it directly deposited into a treasury bond!

Ok, so you will file your taxes on time.  How about a little help with that?  Many people qualify for free tax help, check here to see if you do:

Get your taxes done for free:

https://www.irs.gov/filing/free-file-do-your-federal-taxes-for-free

https://extension.missouri.edu/counties/urban-west-region/tax-prep

Even better, get your taxes done for free and get PAID for getting them done for free:

https://www.marketforce.com/become-a-shopper

Back to YOLO and foolishness.  You only live once, true.  The expression can be a rallying cry to foolishness and poor spending habits or we can make it a better rallying cry:  “I only live once so I will do my best to free my life of financial worry.”

Thanks for reading and watch out for those pranksters!

By Shayna Deitchman, AmeriCorps Disaster Relief Services
#DisasterServicesCCKCSJ #ItHappensCCKCSJ

Free Financial planning resources:

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/

Student loans:

https://studentaid.gov/loan-simulator/

https://freestudentloanadvice.org/

Low minimum balance requirements, low initial deposit certificates of deposit and youth savings accounts:

https://www.holyrosarycu.org/

Treasury Bonds

https://www.treasurydirect.gov/research-center/faq-irs-tax-feature/

For Veterans:

Money Market Savings accounts, certificates of deposit at competitive rates:

https://www.navyfederal.org/

https://www.usaa.com/

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