— Nathan Dungan started his career as a financial
planner. But when a colleague at financial services firm
Thrivent suggested that he develop a one-time workshop
for families that have trouble talking about money, it
sparked something. In 2003 he founded Share Save Spend,
whose mission is to help youths and adults achieve
financial sanity with healthy money habits, linking
their money to sharing, saving and spending decisions.
After writing several books on the subject, such as
"Prodigal Sons and Material Girls: How Not to be
Your Child’s ATM," he developed an online tool
— Money Sanity U — to reach a bigger audience of
profligate spenders. His program now reaches hundreds of
thousands of consumers. He talked earlier this month
about what has changed in American culture to encourage
people to spend more than they make:
Why did you create your online tool Money Sanity U?
To help individuals and families be more intentional
about addressing a variety of money topics. We created
basic topics like building an emergency fund, buying a
car, eating out vs. eating in and needs vs. wants. Our
goal is to help people and families in organizations
(both for-profit and nonprofit).
Explain what you mean about financial well-being
affecting quality of life.
Every year in the Stress in America survey, money is the
No. 1 source of stress in adults, regardless of
socioeconomic status. There’s a money component in job
security, personal safety and health outcomes. A recent
federal study said that only 47 percent of Americans
would be able to pay for a $400 emergency. There are
flashing red lights all over the place, and you can’t
get out by just saying "save more money." We’re
trying to give people tools to do something about it. It’s
not about investing but about giving them a framework to
manage their financial well-being.
is good news here, too. Once people thoughtfully
consider their values and if their behavior is aligned
to them, they realize they have more control than they
So you’re seeing progress with people enrolled in
Money Sanity U?
We followed a group of adolescents in our program for
about two years. We checked their learning three times
in 14 months. Then we did nothing with them for eight
months because we wanted to check the staying power of
the concepts. We found they were spending less money and
they knew where it was going. They had a financial
vocabulary and higher self-esteem.
Why measure self-esteem?
Diminished self-esteem triggers spending. It’s a
chemical lift or "buyer’s high."
Why don’t we talk about money?
(sighs) It’s the secret shame of Americans. A lot of
people have a lot of shame about it. Everyone has things
they wish they had done differently with their money,
but we need to intervene with adolescents and talk to
them about it. When parents can talk to other parents
about what’s working for them, it provides peer
reinforcement. We have to get beyond not talking about
Why does our culture foster so much shame?
There is a lot of emotion around money. It can run away
with us very quickly. It’s a conversation that can
suddenly explode. We’re in the No. 1 economy in the
world, but we can’t step into this topic. Some of us
never learned about managing money and have no
capabilities, or we’re victims of bad timing and we
don’t know how to deal with that. There is an
inability to be vulnerable on this topic and that causes
stress. Unfortunately, it’s rarely a quick fix.
Is the problem getting better or worse?
In some ways I think it’s getting better. With
millennials, we’re seeing a softening. They’re more
willing to put issues on the table. They’re skeptical
of financial institutions. When people are willing to
talk openly about student loan debt, for example, we
start to see a shift and upward movement in financial
well-being. Since the economic downturn in 2008, there’s
more of a willingness on the part of individuals and
corporations to take a look at it.
Live music, traveling with my family, tennis
book you’re reading: "Trouble Boys: The True
Story of The Replacements" by Bob Mehr
advice someone gave you: Embrace difficult moments, they
will help you grow in ways you never imagined.
splurge under $100: Date night with my wife in Notheast
website: MicroGrants.net. They spur economic
self-sufficiency by giving grants to low-income people