Thinking Aloud with Children

September 3rd, 2015

communicateAs my children have grown up, I’ve been pleased to see that they generally think things through – they consider various options fairly thoroughly, especially when it’s an important decision.  I don’t take full credit for that, but I like to think I contributed.  Thoughtful decision-making (about finances and other issues) is not an inborn capacity – it needs to be taught.  So how do we help our children build that skill?

One habit I developed with my kids was to never say “I can’t afford that.” 

Why?  Because it was usually a lie – I could afford a certain toy, or a certain pair of shoes, or… whatever.  Instead, I got in the habit of saying something like this: “I choose not to buy that $5 box of cereal, because I want to use my money to buy fruits and vegetables, which are more important.”  I didn’t necessarily use that exact phrase, but I worked to convey that I had thought about the trade-offs and was trying to spend my money on the things that were most important.  And sometimes I said “yes I will pay for that,” because it was important or valuable.

It was kind of like thinking out loud – sharing with my daughters the reasons why I made certain choices;  even sometimes letting them hear the argument  going on inside my head (“should I or shouldn’t I?”).  I think that was helpful to my children.  I kept it age appropriate – for example, I didn’t share with a 10-year-old child my uncertainty about which health insurance plan to sign up for.  But I did let them in on my thinking about daily spending decisions, and about larger decisions as they grew older.

What steps do you take to help your children learn to make thoughtful decisions?


P.S.1 – Looking for ideas to help you build children’s money skills?  Check out Money as You Grow!

P.S. 2 – Here’s s link to a worksheet to help folks think through the pros and cons of decisions  





Figuring Take-Home Pay

September 1st, 2015

Calc - sm- shutterstock_73524163In a few months my daughter will start a new job in another state.  As she looks for a place to live, she’s being very cautious about what she can afford.  She wasn’t sure how social security, income taxes, insurance and retirement contributions would affect her income. She needed a realistic idea of take home pay before her first paycheck.

She could have generally estimated that tax withholdings would be about 25-30%, but that’s not very precise.  Instead she asked Mom, who happens to teach finance! I pointed her in the direction of NEFE’s (the National Endowment for Financial Education) ”Smart About Money” website. It is non-commercial and very trustworthy.  One of the site’s features is a set of calculators, including a take-home pay calculator 

A take-home pay calculator is useful to someone like my daughter, starting a whole new career.  But it’s also useful to people who are expecting other changes:

  • Income amount (getting a raise? moving from full-time to part-time?)
  • Marital status
  • Number of dependents
  • Contributions to retirement plan
  • Other changes in withholdings.

If you’re anticipating a change in your situation, remember that you don’t have to guess.  The take-home pay calculator from Smart About Money can give you a fairly reliable estimate of what to expect.


P.S. this calculator is not state-specific; it appears to use an average or typical state income tax rate.  So if you’re moving to a state with very low or very high income tax rates, the results may be a little off.



New Beginnings

August 28th, 2015

first day of kindergartenI’m enjoying all the new “first day” photos being shared on social media. From backpacks to shots of roommates in a new apartment, the transitions are great to celebrate. No doubt parents everywhere are feeling relief that the school supply list and registration fees are out of the way for another year.

It isn’t always easy to meet those initial costs of sending your children to school. It’s been my experience, as a former high school teacher, that getting a graduating senior enrolled in their school of choice can be costly. Financial aid and scholarships often arrive after a student is enrolled. Registration fees, deposits for rooms/apartments, and upfront costs of supplies have to be covered from your own resources.

Parents can plan ahead by considering the purchase of savings bonds, starting a 529 College Savings Plan, or establishing a Cloverdell Savings Account. The funds have tax advantages and create accessible dollars for the first financial hurdles of enrolling in post-secondary education. Encouraging a teen who has employment to think ahead and plan for those costs, as well as having your own “think ahead” plan can lessen some of the stress of celebrating a “first day.”


Saving, Uncategorized

Hanging On for the Ride

August 25th, 2015

roller coaster rideI’m a fan of the Iowa State Fair and recently filled one of the shifts at Camp CY, the Iowa State University, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach display in the Varied Industries Building. My job for the day was to assist individuals with taking a virtual roller coaster ride using Oculus Rift. The College of Design FLEX team had created an amazing ride through campus and jokingly suggested that there was a “go fund me” campaign to begin construction. Many times during the day I had to put a hand on someone’s shoulder or behind their back to keep them from losing their balance as they experienced the virtual twisting and turning of the ride.
I thought of this today when visiting with an individual who had been listening to the financial news and was feeling concerned about their retirement funds. Investments are very much like a roller coaster ride; you have to decide how much you can handle the experience. As long as things are slowly climbing upward we’re okay, but you can’t go up forever. Financial experts are sharing the typical response: it’s a normal correction; now is a good time to invest; historically when the S&P experiences a drop it has a good recovery period; and those with more time will be okay. Sort of like that hand I placed on someone’s shoulder to steady them.
I expect that we’re in for a bumpy financial ride with many different dips and rises. The Federal Reserve has been giving out early information that they will increase interest rates (look for news in September), and China’s market adjustments are something to expect. As usual the best advice is to stay the course if you are confident you have things allocated correctly; find someone, your financial adviser, to give you some support; and be prepared for some discomfort as we roll ahead.


Goals, Saving

Autonomy vs Diminished Capacity

August 20th, 2015

$eniorMost days Dad cannot add or subtract or figure out if he has enough money in his pocket to pay for something. I try hard to never say, “NO”, because that leads to reasoning with Dad, and there just is no such thing as a logical discussion when Alzheimer’s is involved.

My goal is to make Dad FEEL good. So: Dad now carries a wallet with $30 to $50 in it most days. With the exception of a walk downtown to have coffee with the neighbor (who is also in his 80’s and lives with his daughter), dad goes nowhere without me. So, why does Dad need that much money in his wallet? Because, that is what he has ALWAYS carried in his wallet. It is NORMAL for him. It makes him FEEL good. More than once he has lost his wallet and I have always found it…in a pair of pants in the laundry basket or in a drawer in his room. I have no concern that he will REALLY lose it because he never goes anywhere without me. Dad’s wants are few and inexpensive. Having $30 – $50 in his pocket means he never has to figure out if he has enough to pay for something. If I know he wants something that will cost more than he has in his wallet, we swing by the bank and pick up some extra cash so he can manage the transaction without my help.

As Dad’s disease progresses, he gets younger in his mind and in his behaviors. While we were picking up stuff for our vacation, Dad began grabbing snack items for our trip. He grabbed an armload and ran to the check out to quickly pay for them. Why the hurry? Why not continue shopping with me and we all check out at the same time? When I was a kid, such behavior would have made Dad ask ME if my money was burning a hole in my pocket. It occurred to me that HE wanted to pay for these things to share with everyone on the trip. Had he waited and checked out with me, I might have insisted on paying for it all together.  He wanted the joy of being the provider. So, in the future when we shop, I will send him to pick out the fruit and let him pay for it while I take care of the rest of the purchases.

My financial goal with Dad is to keep him safe, secure and happy. I don’t always get it right the first time (At first I didn’t let him carry cash for fear he would lose it), and we all paid the price. The good news is that, since he has no short term memory, he doesn’t remember my unsuccessful attempt at keeping him happy. Alzheimer’s always lets me have more than one try at getting it right.  ~Brenda

Consumer Knowledge, Smart shopping

Opting Dad Out

August 18th, 2015

opt-outYou can learn a lot about a person by the kind of junk mail they get. I knew my dad was a generous man, but had no idea how generous until his mail was being forwarded to my house. He receives many requests for donations to support a variety of causes. The junk mail industry is an efficient and resourceful network; I can tell that because a lot of the junk mail is already arriving with his new address. It is also obvious that his new address has been sold to other companies.

Every day, when I pick up the mail, I look at those things that were forwarded…they have an additional yellow address label stuck to the envelope provided by the post office. For those senders that have an online presence, I email them and either inform them of dad’s change of address or ask them to stop sending mail. Some of the junk mail provides a self-addressed, stamped envelope hoping he will send money or an order. I use that envelop to drop them a note, asking them to remove dad from their mailing list.

I also, went online to and entered Dad’s information so he will be no longer receive “pre-approved” firm offers of credit or insurance.  At this site, you have the option to 1) Opt-Out from receiving Firm Offers for Five Years, 2) Opt-Out from receiving Firm Offers permanently or 3) Opt-In and be eligible to receive Firm Offers.  I went for option #2!  ~Brenda

Consumer Knowledge

One way to fill your piggy bank…

August 13th, 2015

125183558It has been said that the little things do matter. Think about trying one or more of these suggestions and add to your piggy bank.

Drink one less coffee a week. – Let’s say you stop at your preferred coffee house three times a week. Just trim it back to two. Add up the savings.

Call one credit card company and ask for a rate reduction. Simply call the number on the back of your card, ask to speak to a supervisor, and request that they reduce your APR (Annual Percentage Rate). Doing this may help you pay down your debt quicker.

Stop by the library and check out some movies. Save money by using the local library’s resources – books, movies, music and more.

Replace one light bulb in your house with a CFL. CFL lightbulbs are great for closets, garages and laundry rooms.

Air up your tires. Don’t forget general maintenance for your car – the tires are key and helps with gas mileage.

Drink water instead of your usual beverage with one meal a day. By drinking water you will be healthier and have a few coins in your pocket.

Write a grocery list before you go to the store, and stick to it. This keeps a lot of unnecessary stuff out of your cart. Prepare one simple meal at home out of the cupboard instead of ordering delivery or take-out. Even if it’s something simple like a hamburger and macaroni and cheese.

The next time you make a casserole, make a double batch and freeze the rest. These meals are great for nights when you would otherwise get some take out – instead, just pull it out of the freezer, heat it up, and you’re ready to eat.

Each of these steps is easy to do, and reasonable for the average person.  What will you do this week to save a few dollars?



Renting, Do You Have Renter’s Insurance?

August 11th, 2015

untitled (150x100)

In a recent Insurance Information Institute study, only 37 percent of renters in the United States carry renter’s insurance. Are you one of the 37 percent or are you living on the edge as one of the 63 percent without insurance? You may think your landlord’s insurance is going to take care of you if something happens – YOU’D BEST THINK AGAIN. The landlord’s policy does not cover your “stuff.”

Renters insurance protects you from all kinds of disasters – fire, storm, theft, etc. The insurance covers your belongings if they are damaged inside/outside your apartment/home. Your laptop at your friend’s home is covered if stolen. Also covered is personal liability – if someone falls, needs medical care and has medical expenses. If you are displaced from your apartment, renters insurance will pay for temporary living expenses and food if you are suddenly homeless after a fire or a disaster. A friend’s son was living in a college apartment when the unit next to the son’s had a fire. His renter’s insurance covered the smoke damage that occurred to his apartment.

So how expensive is renter’s insurance? It depends on the value of your personal possessions; I remember when I was renting, I took inventory of my furniture, clothes, shoes and electronic equipment to make an estimate of how much I needed to cover. Before you buy, know how much your stuff is worth. The average policy ranges from $15 – 30 per month.  Shop around for policies. Discounts can apply if you have an auto insurance policy with the same company.


Consumer Knowledge, Insurance, Smart shopping

Cut Cleaning Costs

August 6th, 2015

Professional cleaners team working

I helped my children move last weekend.  Of course, moving means cleaning!  Before I drove over, they asked “Mom, would you bring some more rags?”

I’ve always been a big believer in using rags instead of paper towels.  It’s a money-saver, and it’s good for the environment, too (less garbage in landfills, fewer trees cut down for paper towels).

My rags are free (old towels, t-shirts, cloth diapers, and more). The only cost is laundry: I have a separate laundry basket where I put used rags, and I probably wash two loads of rags in a typical year.

I do use a few paper towels occasionally – maybe 2 or 3 rolls per year.  When my children were young, spills were common.  If we had wiped up all the spills with paper towels, I’ll bet I would’ve spent $50-$100 a year on paper towels.

Using rags is a simple step. The money saved isn’t huge, but every little bit helps, right?  Especially when it’s also good for the environment.  NOTE: Check out our Eco-Family blog for more ideas on protecting the environment!    

What are your examples of simple ways you save a few dollars each month?  ~Barb


Saving, Smart shopping

Tax Tips for Back-to-School

August 4th, 2015

salestaxholiday-15“Where has summer gone?!” That refrain is echoing everywhere I turn! (or maybe it just seems like it). For many of us, August means turning a corner – back-to-school time is clearly in sight.

Today I’m offering two tax-related back-to-school tips:

  1. Sales Tax Holidays can be helpful. Iowa’s Sales Tax Holiday is coming up this weekend. On August 7-8, no Iowa sales tax (state or local) will be charged on most clothing and footwear purchases priced under $100. Other states have sales tax holidays too.  TIP: you don’t need to have children going back to school to take advantage of this bonus!
    WARNING: in your rush to save 7%, be cautious about buying everything in sight. Sometimes the word “Sale” puts a rosy glow on items which we would never purchase under normal circumstances. Keep your receipts in case you change your mind after the rose-colored glasses come off.
  2. Iowa’s K-12 Tuition and Textbook Credit can increase your tax refund, so save your receipts and keep records. Why? It applies to more than just tuition and textbook costs. Many of the supplies you buy, from notebooks and calculators to football cleats and show choir costumes, as well as the fees you pay for your children’s K-12 classes and school activities qualify for this tax credit (line 44 on the Iowa tax return).  It’s a 25% credit, up to $250 per child. There are a few rules to be aware of, so check the details, but don’t miss out! It’s a commonly-overlooked credit. I missed it myself for the first nine years my children were in school.

Summer isn’t over yet – enjoy the month of August! But as you get ready for back-to-school season, a little tax knowledge can save you money!  ~Barb

Consumer Knowledge, Saving, Smart shopping ,