Irene Lieber was living in a Brooklyn apartment, scraping by on $759 a month in Social Security, when I met her in 2007. Her credit card had been stolen, and a collection agency was hounding her for charges she never incurred. She ignored them. The agency won a $46,000 claim against her.

That same year, I met Paddy Page, a single mother of four in Idaho. After leaving an abusive spouse, she earned her GED and got a full-time job as a bill collector. Making ends meet on $12 an hour was tough, but her bank made it tougher: Instead of rejecting her debit card when the account ran dry, it socked her with $500 in overdraft fees.

These are the sorts of commonplace household money disasters that have moved me to spend the last quarter-century working as a journalist, helping ordinary people navigate the minefield of personal finance while exploring the relationship between money and happiness. These are the sorts of voices I will be drawing on often as I now launch my new column here at DailyFinance -- a column aimed at helping you make enlightened decisions about how to manage your money, while steering clear of the pitfalls.

The pitfalls have been multiplying. Never in recent memory have so many conventional ideas about household finance been so strenuously tested. For generations, Americans could count on hard work and common sense being rewarded with a decent standard of living. But today, with nearly 14 million people unemployed (and that's just the "official" number), retirement savings subject to a volatile stock market, a foreclosure crisis continuing, and growing fears that we may face a double-dip recession, the very notion of the American middle class seems in peril. Opportunists prey on those in desperate straits, while all but the wealthiest confront anxiety and confusion.

The Devil Is in the Debt Tales

At the center of many of our troubles is an untenable debt load, the result of years of speculation on real estate, and an over-reliance on credit cards to compensate for inadequate income.

Debt is a subject on which I've done a lot of thinking. I grew up the tenth of eleven children in an Irish Catholic family on the South Side of Chicago. My parents believed in hard work, education, board game tournaments and marching into church on Sunday in the order you came from God. Being Depression-era kids, my parents also avoided debt in all its forms.

I got my first job at age 13, earned a degree from a reputable (and affordable) state university, moved to New York City and worked hard, stayed debt-free and started saving for retirement as soon as I got a paycheck. In the late 1990s. I was working as a producer/reporter for CNN Business News and went to seminary at night to get a master's in divinity.

I was motivated by a reporter's curiosity about what the Bible said in its original languages and context. But I came away from the experience fascinated by values, which dovetailed with my interest in personal finance: What drives people to do the things they do with money? What role does money play in happiness? Why do so many people trade what they want most in the world for what they want this minute?

So I wrote a book, Money & Happiness: A Guide to Living the Good Life. My theory: If you can figure out what you truly value, and use money as a tool to get those things, you'll be happy. By happiness, I mean what Aristotle called eudaimonia, or flourishing.

What Do You Really Value?

Flourishing demands wise, creative and intentional choices about earning, saving, investing and spending, based on your values. Because this is about who you are and why you were put on the planet. It's about giving yourself the freedom to make meaningful choices. That's really hard to do with excessive debt, no savings or retirement plan, living paycheck to paycheck, comparing and competing with the Joneses – things that come from not understanding what you really value and how to make the most of financial tools.

In my late 30s, I found myself working 14 hours a day as a television reporter with two kids under age 4. All those years of avoiding debt and building retirement savings gave me the confidence to make different choices. I started my own business, working mainly from home, wrote six books, a weekly personal finance column and a blog; taught a class in moral decision-making at Seton Hall University; and volunteered as a financial coach to help people achieve their goals. This made me happy.

In short, to flourish, it helps tremendously to understand how to manage your money. At the same time, it hasn't been this hard to get ahead in decades. Annual wages have been essentially flat since the 1970s, while the cost of food, health care and college have skyrocketed.

Millions of Americans loaded up on debt to cover the gap when they lost their jobs in the downturn. Their home values have been ravaged and their savings pummeled by the sickening swings of the stock market on the one hand, and by the Federal Reserve's rock-bottom interest rate policy on the other.

I'm From DailyFinance, and I'm Here to Help

My mission -- and frankly, my passion -- is to help people, in whatever circumstances they find themselves, to achieve financial peace. Money, when poorly understood and poorly managed, derails dreams. The dysfunction and trickery that are rampant in the financial landscape today demand a militant commitment to defending your financial goals. It takes discipline and action. As the Irish saying goes, you'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.

At the same time, money isn't everything. Attitude, character, creativity and generosity of spirit count much more. And I suspect some of our dreams are a bill of goods sold to us by Madison Avenue. I doubt I'll ever afford a gigantic designer kitchen renovation (at least not without a budget-crushing rise in my property taxes). So I try to reframe my aspirations and remember what's meaningful. I recognize it's not the size of the kitchen that matters, but how many laughs you share there. Similarly, I hope this column will help you identify what you really value.

I'm not a zillionaire pundit issuing edicts from on high, but someone who faces the same challenges as American families everywhere -- paying the mortgage, educating the kids, trying not to argue about money with my spouse of 19 years, keeping pace with the rising cost of living, getting a decent return on investments and balancing the needs of the future with making memories today.

My daughters are now 14, 12 and almost 9, and I had been itching for some time to work again in a newsroom in New York City with smart people (bouncing ideas off the dog was getting a little old). I was delighted to find a home at DailyFinance.

I don't believe in moralistic lectures or financial smack downs, because there are an awful lot of ways to trip up these days. I hope to provide an independent, trustworthy source of smart guidance, from the holistic perspective of well-being. This column is about your aspirations and challenges in the money and happiness journey, so I welcome your questions but it's also about your wisdom, ideas, and experiences that may help other readers. Email me at You can also follow me on Twitter @MoneyHappiness.

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January 03 2012 at 10:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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December 30 2011 at 12:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dr. Jason Cabler

It's great to see someone else who studies the finance and faith. I started my Celebrating Financial Freedom blog and developed a personal finance course by the same name to show people that money and faith are compatible and that our level of faith is actually linked to how we use our money.

Helping people win with their finances is one mission in my life that I truly enjoy and I know that the world is changed as a result. I hope you check out my blog at

"When you help me with money, you help the world prosper"- J.M. DuMont

November 17 2011 at 1:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My best friend ,she just has announced her wedding with a millionaire old man Ronald who is the CEO of a MNC ! They met via ----SéêkSúɡárDαd.℃⊙M--.- is the largest and best club for rich man date with young and beautiful woman and their admirers to chat online. …you don’t have to be rich there ,but you may meet one ,maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends ! i am curious what kind of research/ statistics you have found on this topic, particularly related to choosing a career that makes you 'happy' and how that impacts the money you will earn through your life,.. if you are doing what you love.

November 03 2011 at 10:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

america is a strange country: everyone is pushed to overextend themselves. oh, we do lack the willpower, like overeating. the latest gadget (iphone, bluetooth, etc.), bigger car or vehicle (remember the humvee), mcmansions everywhere with 3-car garages & 5 bathrooms, and everyone's a star (youtube, dwts, reality tv) has landed our country into poverty. wise up everyone! no, money is not the root of all evils. money is good; it helps the poor, the arts, research diseases (steve jobs' cancer), builds cities, promotes alternative energies, and if used correctly can save future generations from our own self-gratifying society. first rule: get rid of credit cards. second rule: if you can't afford it, don't attempt to buy it. third rule: save your money, if not for you, for your family, friends, parrish, or local community. fourth rule: after you take care of yourself, give to others. my kudos to ms. rowley and her article.

November 01 2011 at 11:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


i am curious what kind of research/ statistics you have found on this topic, particularly related to choosing a career that makes you 'happy' and how that impacts the money you will earn through your life,.. if you are doing what you love.

November 01 2011 at 8:30 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

If rich lefties are unhappy, they are just shopping in the wrong stores, unhappy poor lefties are shopping in the wrong stores with someone elses money that they likely stole from the US taxpayer or flashed mobbed off some victim.

November 01 2011 at 8:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How are those on a fixed income to pay their federal, state and local taxes + sewer service taxes, food clothing, home & car insurance, health insurance, dental insurance? Where should they find the money to maintain their homes, gas & electric, telephone, etc.? All those who have money are quick to tell those without, that money isn't everything, they stress family and friends, however they never say, who is going to pay the bills, so that you can enjoy life as they do; with vacations, nice cloths, furnishings, cars, etc. It is all a lot of "Who Shot John"!!

November 01 2011 at 7:58 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

I'm still trying to help to get my sisters' house back from the crooks that stole it. If there is anyone out there who is not used to talking to contractors or sells persons, tell them to be sure they find a friend who is. The lies that they tell exceed anything that you can imagine. Most times they are clean cut. They will talk to you long enough to find a subject that you like, then they will stick it to you. It could be dancing, music, religion, food and in my sisters' case, it was fishing.

They lied about everything. What they were going to build, where my sister works (she was 78 and does not currently work), how much the construction would cost, etc. As she was leaving town and had not signed a construction contract, nor a contract for a loan, some men went to her house and broke out all of her windows. They replaced the windows, installed a second bathroom, without a closure wall and a few other things, but not a second story, nor a Section 8 Apartment. My sister and her daughter went out of town, a planned trip to Atlanta. When they returned, the crooks had a certain bank to wire $250,000 to her daughters' account. One of the crooks met her to obtain money for the work that was already done. The remainder of the money was paid back. The crooks still want the balance of the money at 11% interest from a lady who is currently 82 years old. Oh, I forgot to say, they sold her house at an auction, so he has been locked out of her house and is trying to get her furniture out.

September 26 2011 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You are just what the doctor ordered and could not have come aboard at a better time! I was beginning to feel that out-there-all-alone kind of desperation, and am now looking forward to your column as a means of guidance and inspiration. I am a single mom home owner who earns less than $25K annually, and have suffered as a result of the downturn in several ways. My self-esteem has plummeted
along with my bank account, and I could certainly benefit from a fresh, new perspective. I am all for learning how to use the tools God gave me as a human being, and am not just looking for an easy bail-out. Thanks so much!

September 26 2011 at 11:43 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply