If anyone on Earth is familiar with the extremes of money - poverty and wealth - it is Wyclef Jean. The famed musician, who founded The Fugees, along with bandmates Lauryn Hill and Pras Michel, overcame humble origins in Haiti to become a global superstar. For the latest in Reuters' "Life Lessons" series, we talked with Jean about what he has learned about money. Q: WHO WAS YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCE GROWING UP IN HAITI? A: My papa and mama left for America when I was one, so I was actually raised by my grandmother for a few years. She was incredible and very wise. We were very poor, but she made sure we never felt it. We didn't have anything like Disney World, so when the rains came, she let us go outside and run in puddles. That was our amusement park. Q: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB? A: I used to get five cents for doing chores for people in my village. Sometimes I would milk cows, sometimes I would walk the cows from one area to another, sometimes I would go to the well to get water for my neighbors. I started working literally when I was six years old. Q: WHEN YOU CAME TO AMERICA AT AGE 10, WAS IT STRANGE TO MOVE FROM ONE OF THE POOREST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD TO ONE OF THE WEALTHIEST?
A: It was definitely culture shock. I ended up at one of the worst housing projects in New York City, in Coney Island, but to me it seemed like everyone was rich. Remember, I was coming from Haiti, where my house was a hut, there was hardly any electricity, and for light, we used oil in a lamp. Q: ONCE YOU BECAME A SUCCESS IN THE MUSIC WORLD, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT HANDLING MONEY? A: Your business manager is one of the most important people in your life. When you are young and making money for the first time, you want to buy everything, like fancy cars. Your business manager has to be the bad guy and tell you to wait.
Q: DID MONEY CHANGE THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU? A: At first, you feel like you have to give everyone money, and you automatically become a bank for a certain number of people. That is the biggest mistake I ever made. If I had to do it again, I wouldn't give anyone a penny. Instead, I would say, 'Bring me a business plan of something you want to invest in.' I had to learn how to say 'no' when people ask for money. Q: HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT PHILANTHROPIC CAUSES TO SUPPORT? A: The name 'Fugees' stands for 'Refugees,' so that is a cause that has always been close to my heart. So many friends and family made their way over the seas, from places like Haiti and Cuba, to start new lives in America. I have performed in support of refugees many times, whether for Tibet or for Africa or for Haiti.
Q: YOU HAD SOME TROUBLES RUNNING YOUR OWN CHARITY. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THAT? A: The tricky part is that when you are using your name, no one cares who the charity's CEO or president or accountants are. Any scrutiny that goes down, it goes down on the celebrity. We had some accounting problems, we fixed them, and at the end of the day, you have to move forward. What I learned is that the person you put in charge has to be accountable for every part of that foundation. Q: WHAT MONEY LESSONS HAVE YOU PASSED ALONG TO YOUR DAUGHTER? A: My wife and I actually have to tell her to save her money. She is always giving it away, for things like cancer benefits or shoe drives. It dates back to when she was four and I brought her to Haiti, to one of the most dangerous slums in the world, where she handed out Christmas gifts. For a dad, it is the best feeling in the world to see her give back. Q: HAITIANS LOVE PROVERBS. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ONE? A: One of the greatest is something my dad taught me. It basically translates to, 'Don't bow down to anyone until you go to their funeral and see them rise from the coffin.' In other words, no matter who you are, you are equal to everybody. Whether it is a king or queen or president, look them right in the eye.
(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)By Chris TaylorNEW YORK, Sept 12 Would you give up alcohol to help balance the family budget?I posed that very question on social media recently. These were some of the answers I got:"Yeah, right.""Gosh no - it's what gets us through the week.""As if that would ever happen."And so on, in the same vein. Most responses ranged from sarcastic to outright incredulous. But one other answer stood out, which got to the heart of the matter:"I quit drinking - and it was like we won the lottery!"
And there's the rub. We all tend to complain, in an era of stagnant incomes and rising prices, about how we just can't make ends meet. There is just no place we could possibly find more savings. But is that really true? Consider this: The average U.S. household spent $445 on wine, beer and spirits in 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That amounts to roughly 1 percent of our household expenditures, and it compares with an average household figure of $268 in 1993. That is more than we spend on all nonalcoholic beverages combined, by the way. Keep in mind those averages include nondrinkers, too. That means some households are spending much, much more than that already-hefty average on alcohol. So let's be honest with ourselves. It is not always the case that we can't squeeze any more savings out of our budgets. It is that we choose not to, because we just don't want to give up the booze. When New York City's Jenna Hollenstein sat down one day and calculated what her drinking was costing her, she was shocked.
The 39-year-old dietician used to enjoy a nice bottle of wine or some gin after work, and it was starting to add up. "Even if it was only a $15 bottle of wine, three times a week, that was $45," she remembers. "That's $180 a month, or over $2,000 a year."That's a significant amount of money - and that's not even including going out for cocktails with friends."Hollenstein finally decided to give up her pricey habit, and even wrote a book on her experiences, "Drinking to Distraction." But she is hardly alone in having a taste for a nip after work. After all, 64 percent of American adults report drinking occasionally, according to Gallup's most recent poll on consumption habits. Through boom times and bust, one of our most consistent national traits is that we enjoy our booze, and are not willing to give it up."We've been asking this question since the 1930s, and the numbers are remarkably constant," says Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief. "Even in an era of huge demographic changes, the percentage of drinkers just doesn't seem to budge."
BEER OR WINE? Beer is America's beverage of choice, by the way, followed by wine and then spirits. The average drinker enjoys a shade over four alcoholic beverages a week, according to the Gallup poll. But 9 percent of people have more than eight drinks over the same period, and 5 percent of folks are guzzling more than 20. And that can get very expensive indeed - especially if you do your drinking in restaurants or bars with high markups. We might not even realize how much we are spending on this habit, since it drips out in relatively small increments - a beer or two here, a carafe of wine there. Personal-finance expert Tiffany Aliche, author of "The One Week Budget," suggests forcing yourself to do the math - just as Hollenstein did - before tossing back yet another nightcap."Let's say you drink three nights a week and spend $30 each time," she says. "That's over $4,000 a year, or as much as a trip to Paris or Rome."It is not an all-or-nothing proposition, notes Aliche, who is not a drinker herself. You don't have to become a teetotaler in order to realize massive savings. "Instead of drinking three times a week, just drink twice - and then go on your vacation, too," she advises. As for Hollenstein, who had a long and complex relationship with alcohol, she thought it was best to give up drinking altogether. She did not necessarily do it for the money - but when she did, she noticed that her finances changed overnight."As soon as I gave it up, the money thing became so clear," she says. "Drinking was just a mindless, habitual thing I did on a daily basis. And I didn't really notice it - until I got my credit card bill or looked at my bank account."