Summer Money Tips

May 21st, 2015

blocks (640x427)School will soon be out for the summer! Summer can be a prime time for parents to help children learn about money. Here are few ways to strengthen your children’s skills:

  • Numbers are all around us, from license plates, to road signs. When you are traveling with your children, make a game of finding numbers or counting certain items.
  • Count out things – like produce at the farmer’s market or grocery store – I need five today, help me count.
  • Use blocks to build and sort and categorize into colors, shapes and sizes. This is just another way to sort,  like sorting coins, or sorting money into spending, saving and sharing categories.
  • Play dominos together and count the dots.
  • Play board games to utilize counting skills.
  • Use the clock to start counting time.
  • Teach measuring concepts with a sand box and water. Using water to measure is a great learning tool on a hot summer day.
  • When you make a list and check off items as you run errands, your child can help in making the list and then in checking items off.  They’ll learn skills for planning and following their plans.
  • When a family is planning a vacation, and requests arise to buy candy or other small items, ask the question, “would you rather have this OR be able to go to the amusement park or zoo?” Help them understand how small choices add up by putting the money saved (not spent on candy…)  in a jar for the specific vacation-related purpose.

All these activities will help your child learn that essential financial lesson:  “If you really want something, plan for it. Shop around, compare prices and get the item that gives the most for your money.”



Consumer Knowledge, Saving, Smart shopping, Spending plans

Your Kids Are Watching You….

May 19th, 2015

Girl laying on floor counting change by piggy bank

From the time your children were born, they have been watching and learning from adults. It is scary, but they imitate what they see around them. Learning about money is no exception. One mom recently told me that her 2 year old knew which of her cards was the debit card and knew the numbers to punch in the key pad.

Our children’s observation of our practices influence their thinking at a very early age. By exposing your child to beginning money principles, you will start the ball rolling:

  • Money is used to get things we want and things we need. When we buy things, we spend money or we need to save money to get the items.
  • We may want many things but we only have limited amount of money to use. We may need to save, share or spend our money.
  • We have jobs in order to get money.   Some jobs, though, we do without payment, because we want to help others. (Share our talents)
  • In the community where we live we pay taxes that provide roads, libraries, police and fire protection and school.

Here’s an easy way to get started:  If you have a jar of coins – have your children use a muffin tin to separate out the coins. [Note: Watch your children to avoid a choking hazard.] Adults should not assume that children are too young to begin to understand the value of money.


Consumer Knowledge, Saving

Easy Money?

May 14th, 2015

money_493221089I came home the other day to find a hang tag on my front door — it advertised our local “payday loan” company, and included a coupon for $10 off my first payday loan transaction fee.

Yippee!! (Not.)

If you know a little about payday loans and other services provided by this type of alternative financial services firm, you probably understand why I wasn’t excited.  A payday loan is a small short-term loan, often as short as two weeks – it’s designed to get you by until your next payday.  Here’s how it might work:

I (the customer) would go into a payday lending business and write them a check.  I would date the check with the date of my next payday (perhaps two weeks from now).  If I wanted to borrow $300, they might tell me to write the check for $360.  I leave my check with them and walk out with $300 cash. When the date on the check comes around, they send my check to the bank and get paid.

It’s easy.  Or at least it seems easy.  However there are (at least) two problems:

  1. I’ll be short on money next month, since $360 will be immediately spent.  Therefore it’s very possible that I will be back to the payday lender for another loan (paying another fee).  This cycle can repeat many times.  Worse, the amount I’m borrowing each time might increase.  Even if I do succeed in reducing the amount I borrow each time, it may be months before I’m out of debt.  Taking a payday loan is like digging a hole and jumping in — it can be hard to climb out.
  2. Cost.  Paying $60 to borrow $300 might seem worth it at the time. Sixty dollars is 20% of $300.  Twenty percent is not a great interest rate, but it’s not that bad, right?  But wait — that was just a two-week loan.  When I borrow money, the key factor is the Annual Percentage Rate of interest (APR).  If it’s 20% for two weeks, then it is actually a 520% APR. That’s not an APR I will brag about to my friends, but it’s typical for payday loans — they usually range between 300-800% if calculated as an APR.

The moral of the story?  Anything that sounds like “easy money” is probably not. If you find yourself pinched for cash, think twice before turning to a payday loan as the solution to your problem.  It may be a short-term solution, but what will be the long-term consequences?


p.s. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has a good page on alternative financial services (including payday loans and other services) to help you evaluate pros and cons before you jump in.

Consumer Knowledge, Credit

Dream come true

May 12th, 2015

Last weekend I went for the first time to the Algona POW Camp MuseumThis local attraction provided a wonderful afternoon of entertainment and enrichment!  What’s more, it was inexpensive and just an hour’s drive from my home.

It was a great reminder that we don’t have to travel far to find unique and interesting forms of recreation.  All we need to do is look around us for nearby state parks, museums, community theaters and more.  Tourism opportunities that are nearby have the added advantage that we can do several mini-trips instead of just one “big” vacation.

We often give up on a dream of vacation or recreation because it’s costly.  It’s true that I can’t spend a month traveling Europe this summer; it’s simply not a realistic option.  But that doesn’t have to mean I can’t find ways to enjoy myself or spend time with others.  

Instead of giving up because we can’t afford the big vacation, it’s smart to ask ourselves, “What’s the underlying dream?” OR “What is it I really want?” If I realize that my “dream vacation” involves exploring history, then I can look for nearby historical sites or museums to visit.  If my ideal vacation includes relaxing on a beach or spending time in the outdoors, then I can look for nearby opportunities for those activities.  A dream of owning a boat might reflect a desire to fish or to spend time in or around the water: sometimes you can catch the biggest fish from the boat dock! Public lakes are free to use and a fishing license is low in cost.

Asking the deeper question can provide clues to some realistic steps to satisfy our wishes, rather than simply giving up and feeling deprived.  It works for other “dreams” too, not just vacations.  For example, if I dream of living in a mansion, but know that’s not going to happen, I can ask myself what’s behind that dream.  Perhaps I’ll discover that what I really want is more beautiful surroundings, and then I might think of other (more realistic) ways to make my surroundings more beautiful.

Whether your dream is travel or housing or something else, finding the underlying motivation allows you to consider all the ways you can realize the dream without busting the budget.

What is your story of finding a creative way to move closer to a dream? ~Barb    

Consumer Knowledge, Credit, Saving

Temporary/Part-Time Workers Can Save!

May 7th, 2015

shutterstock_110517083Jim is a temporary full-time employee at an agriculture business; his job for the summer is to work with the grounds crew running a lawn mower. Nancy is going to start working part-time for the local grocery, stocking shelves and learning how to run the cash register. Both individuals would like to “save” a portion of their income.  I hope they know about and will consider the new MyRA, a Roth account available from the US Treasury.

The new account is available to anyone who is a wage earner and doesn’t have access to a retirement plan at work — in other words, anyone like Jim and Nancy who are temporary workers or work part-time. There is an income cap of $131,000 for individuals to use the plan. There are no fees for management and the Treasury is paying 3.19% return. Right now enrollment is limited to individuals whose employers use direct deposit for pay.

Why is this something to consider? Because you can withdraw what you’ve contributed after 5 years with no taxes or penalties. So Nancy, who is 16, would have an emergency account when she is 21 to pay for the cost of moving to take that first job after college graduation. Jim ,who is 18, will be 23 in five years and might be planning to get married and buy his first home. First time home owners can withdraw both contributions and earnings tax fee.  Even if they don’t use the account in these ways, they have a decent return on their savings.  What’s more, that savings won’t put a dent in any financial aid they qualify for when going to school, and they will have the added flexibility a Roth account provides when making financial decisions in retirement.


Retirement, Saving

Social Security Reform: 2005

May 5th, 2015

1-intro-lgMy co-workers know that when I don’t have a desire to finish a task I’ll procrastinate by finding something to clean, sort or do that involves anything but sitting and typing. During this morning’s exercise in avoidance,  I came across an old file titled, Social Security Reform.

The materials collected were from 2005. The hot political discussion at the time was to change Social Security and allow individuals to move part of their contributions into private investment accounts. By law Social Security funds must be invested in government securities, and many viewed this investment as secure but under par for return. The proposal was met with mixed reviews;  many of the documents I had collected questioned the impact. Evidence could be found that suggested such a change would result in reduced retirement income for some individuals.

Each year the status of the Social Security program and it’s Trust Fund are reviewed and recommendations for change are made. The recurring themes  resulting from the review are to increase retirement ages, increase withholding from pay, and raise the dollar amount that is subject to the withholding tax.

I guess Congress has the same bad habit that I do, if you don’t want to deal with it at the moment, procrastinate! Perhaps in this case it was a good thing, the loss of investments in 2008 made us all aware that with expectations for high return come the risk of high losses. It stopped the political promotion of the idea that we should invest Social Security funds in equities. Unfortunately, just like the work I left undone on my desk this a.m., the Social Security program still needs to be fine tuned. Perhaps, just like my work, it doesn’t need any creative touches but time on task.


Consumer Knowledge, Retirement

Your Money Your Future

May 1st, 2015

YMYFlogoLife is not about money — but how you deal with money has a huge impact on your quality of life, your family’s life, and the life of your community.

When you have sound information and strong skills, you can make your money work for you and for your future.

The Your Money, Your Future program is a 2-hour, online class offered the first Monday each month.  The class will help you get more for your money, show you how to save money for your financial goals, and manage credit. There is still room available in the May 4th class which begins at 5:30. To register or get more information, contact me at


Credit, Goals, Saving, Spending plans

Too Many Credit Card Offers?

April 23rd, 2015

Recently, I was sharing some tips to help people deal with their finances. These questions came up: How many receive credit card offers in the mail? What do you do with those offers that you don’t fill out? Do you through them away? Do you shred your mail?

All those credit card offers, especially if they’re not carefully disposed of, create a prime risk for identity theft. Would you like to reduce your junk mail and your risk of identity theft?

For more than 15 years, we consumers have had the right to opt out of direct marketing campaigns by notifying the three national credit reporting agencies that we do not be on any lists that are shared with businesses seeking new customers. There are two ways to start the process:

1. Call 1-888-567-8688

2. Or go to

You may immediately opt out for a five year period.  However, if you wish to opt out permanently, you must “confirm” your request in writing by submitting a signed Permanent Opt-Out Election form.
I signed up for Opt Out for life about 6 years ago. My credit card offers have become almost non-existent. This is one consumer protection program that actually works.

Consumer Knowledge, Credit

Money Smart Week – April 18-25, 2015

April 21st, 2015

IMG_0039Money Smart Week, started 13 years ago by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, is designed as a public awareness campaign to help consumers better manage their personal finances. Here in Iowa, more than 200 partner organizations have joined in the fun, promoting financial education with many interesting opportunities to learn. All Money Smart Week programs are free, and strictly educational (no marketing allowed).

ISU Extension and Outreach has been a MSW partner for many years. Programs are offered for audiences from preschoolers to seniors. From scout nights to shred days, essay and poster contests, geocache for college cash, piggy banks, books, and kites – in many cases, a chance to win a prize makes the learning even more fun. Educational program topics include: establishing a budget, protecting financial information, raising money-smart kids, and more.

Go to for more details about activities in your area. Check out your local libraries for a display as well as programming. Spread the knowledge!

Consumer Knowledge, Credit, Goals, Retirement, Saving, Uncategorized

Gateway to Gambling?

April 19th, 2015

large-Dice-166.6-14983[1]I was recently part of a discussion about on-line spending and how it can become a problem.  The discussion focused around kids – teens and preteens – and how they can develop habits of excessive on-line spending without parents even being fully aware.

Before 18, of course, young people can’t own credit cards in their own names; sometimes they’re given access to use their parents’ credit cards, and they often use gift cards and prepaid cards for on-line spending, as well.

The specific anecdote that caught my attention was of a 12-year-old who had, over the course of just a couple of months, spent over $350 in the on-line game “Farmville.”  The individual charges were small – typically under $2 – but they added up.  And the child had not really been paying attention.  His thirst to win kept him continuing to spend.

That repeated spending on a game is a LOT like repeatedly putting money in a slot machine or repeatedly laying money down at a game table.  The idea of on-line games becoming a gateway to gambling was a sobering thought.

What repeated spending habits could become addictive in your life?

Credit, Smart shopping