August 1, 2015
I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM, WE ALL SCREAM FOR… MORE MONEY!
July was National Ice Cream Month, and the fun continues into August with National Ice Cream Sandwich Day on the 2nd, Root Beer Float Day on the 6th and Banana Split Day on the 10th. Besides all the screaming kids do for ice cream, they also “scream” for more stuff. If you've ever shopped with a kid, you've probably heard at some point, “Can I have this? Can I have that? Pretty please can I have it? But I really DO need the complete Frozen action figurine set. But it IS totally different than the four I already have at home.” Sometimes these phrases are accompanied by screaming, crying, empty promises and can even result in breath-holding.
“As parents, we can't always let our kiddos get their own way. But it's also no fun to be “Captain No” all the time,” said Michelle Salsberry, Quest To Clean Up app creator and mom of two. “Ideally we find a way to help our children decide for themselves if the item they want so badly at the store is something they're willing to earn,” she said.
Quest to Clean Up is a brand-new mobile application that helps parents teach children ages 3-15 financial discipline by using age-appropriate tasks and monetary rewards for kids. Available for iPhone and Android, the app empowers parents to help their kids set goals for spending and saving. With a unique and simple interface, the app helps kids learn ways to make money at home and track their earnings.
But, one of the coolest features of the app is a UPC scanner that helps a child determine if an item is really worth the effort. Simply scan the UPC code of a wanted item, enter the price and the app will convert how many tasks or chores the child needs to complete to be able to afford the item. For example, kids might beg for a new video game for $35; but when they understand they'll have to take out the garbage 10 times and sweep the garage 5 times to be able to “afford it,” they may decide otherwise. If they really want an item, they can add the item to their wish list on the app and start “Quests” (chores) chosen by mom or dad to start saving.
The app also facilitates financial education conversations along the way, which can help kids and parents, learn together, some valuable lessons about money, in a language kids can understand.
Hold a $1 bill next to a $20 bill and ask your kid to choose which is worth more. Chances are you're left holding the $1 bill. But ask a child what APR stands for, what compound interest is, or how long it will take to pay off $1,000 in credit card debt at 18% interest by only paying the minimum balance and they'll look at you with those big, saucer eyes. Then again, so would some adults.
The Quest to Clean Up app and website has a graphically pleasing and icon-driven interface. Children as young as three can use the app (FREE for a limited time), in the AppStore or on GooglePlay, and can be shared on all your family's devices. Download it today to start the earning and stop the whining!
With Quest to Clean Up, there will be less screaming for anything except ice cream - and more ways to earn and save money.
July 10, 2015
Investing 101 for Kiddos: 4 Easy Tips
If you’ve seen our new Cash Calculator, or know a thing or two about financial planning, you know that investing is key to a healthy financial future. But how do you teach a 5-year-old to invest when most adults would consider the ins and outs of investing to be confusing at best? Breaking it into easy, bite-sized nuggets is the best way to start de-mystifying investments for your kids. TheMint.org has four tips to help get you started.
Begin with the basics
The basic concept of investing is a simple one: if you put money aside today towards something that promises to pay a return in the future, your money will increase in value. Remember that $25 savings bond your grandparents bought you for your 1st birthday? There’s a reason it could be worth more than $100 today. So whether saving for college or their first new car, the sooner your kids grasp the concept of investing, the sooner they can start putting their money to work for them. Begin your introduction to investing basics at our Ways to Invest page. Once you’ve aced the basics, teach your kids how long it will take to double their money with the power of 72.
Try a 401 (kids) account
Although it may be awhile before your child can start contributing to a real 401(k) account, you can start promoting good habits now by making up your own 401 (kids) account. Demonstrate the concept of a 401(k) by agreeing to match each dollar your child puts in the “Invest” jar. They will have fun watching their “investments” grow and will be at the top of their class when it comes to grasping the concept of real-world investing down the road. When enough cash has accumulated, consider opening up a brokerage account for your child or using the cash to purchase bonds or stocks in your child’s name. This will give them exposure to the other side of investing which involves the possibility of losing money.
Play future stock trader
Introduce your kids to the stock market by purchasing shares in one of their favorite brands (think Legos or Disney). Set up time to chat with your kids on a recurring basis and review, together, how their stocks are performing. In addition, make sure to check out the book “The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens: 8 Steps to Having More Money Than Your Parents Ever Dreamed Of” by David Gardner and Tom Gardner. Written for an 16-18 year old audience, the book explains investing from the stock market to IRAs to mutual funds.
Be a role model
The best thing you can do to help your kids learn about investing is to include them in conversations and activities you have with your spouse or other adults in the house. Welcome their questions as opportunities to teach basic financial concepts. It all starts with the concept of saving. Kids can learn more about saving as a precursor to investing at TheMint.org here.
May 27, 2015
Small hands can make a big difference
TheMint.org recently launched an all-new Cash Calculator tool that makes it fun for kids to learn how to manage their money. The idea is to divide earned cash into four buckets: Save, Spend, Give and Invest. So how can kids learn more about the Give bucket? Giving is not just donating cash, it is also lending your time and talents to help other people. We’ve created a kid-friendly guide to help decide how they can make a difference.
Time: One thing money can’t buy is time. If your child is interested in getting involved in hands-on giving, consider raising money to give to Alex’s Lemonade Stand. This awesome charity’s mission is to create awareness and raise money to find new treatments and cures for childhood cancer. It was founded in 2000 by a four year old girl named Alex, who had neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer. She wanted to give back to the hospital that was helping her get better, so she and her older brother decided to start a lemonade stand and donate the proceeds. Your child can also host a lemonade stand in your neighborhood and donate the money to this great cause. Gather the neighborhood kids and get started here.
Talents: Is your child crafty, creative or have a unique talent to share? Kids can put their skills to use in countless ways. One idea is to make colorful, made-from-the-heart cards with Cards for Hospitalized Kids. Your child can make the cards on their own or host a card-making party with friends or classmates. The cards can be decorated for a special holiday or just be for everyday well-wishing. Cards for Hospitalized Kids was started by Jen Rubino in 2006 after she received cards from her classmates and friends while she was in the hospital fighting cancer. She said “I so badly just wanted to go to school, hang out with friends and be a normal kid. During that very difficult time, I received a handmade card from a hospital volunteer that really brightened my day; I founded CFHK to do that for other kids.” Every month, this inspiring organization collects cards and distributes them to children in hospitals all over the United States.
Money: If your youngster’s “Give” jar is filling up, decide together which kid-friendly charities could benefit. We love the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This charity was started by a boy named Chris, whose wish to become a police officer was granted to him when he was very sick. Over the past 30 years, Make-A-Wish has helped thousands of kids by granting their wishes. According to their website, the Make-A-Wish foundation grants, on average, a wish every 38 minutes. By donating to this inspiring charity, your child can help another’s wish come true.
March 2, 2015
Bribes vs. rewards: the right way to incentivize your kids
It's an undisputed fact that most parents have, at some point, resorted to bribing their kids to encourage good behavior. That's not always a bad approach, but there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding just when, how and if you should use rewards to incentivize your children. According to this Wall Street Journal article, there's a right way to bribe (we prefer reward) your kids for good behavior. Follow along for a few handy tips to keep you on the straight and narrow.
Some parents find a visual representation of their kid's done (and yet-to-do) chores is a helpful tool for springing their kids to action. Kids who see the chore chart will be reminded of the tasks at hand, will feel further inspiration to complete them and will feel a sense of accomplishment when they check the boxes. Get started with these free printable blank chore charts.
Pick the right incentive
Incentives are useless if they don't encourage your kids to act. Instead of picking which reward you think will motivate your child, help your child choose the reward. They'll feel more committed to the process and driven to complete their chore – whether it be picking up their toys or doing the dishes.
Set clear boundaries
The difference between a bribe and a reward might just be a matter of timing. If your kid is in mid-meltdown, you might be tempted to use a bribe to soothe the situation. While this may be a quick fix, it won't necessarily stop it from happening again and sets a precedence for rewarding negative behavior. Instead, try setting clear boundaries with your child ahead of time – explain what good behavior looks like and set clear expectations that you can both agree to. Then reward them for keeping their end of the bargain. Most important, don't resort to bribery when the going gets rough. This sends a clear message that only good behavior gets rewarded.
Match their efforts
When choosing what and if to reward, smart parents keep their audience in mind. (Are you rewarding a toddler or a tween?) As children grow older, parents should adapt their reward system appropriately. For example, offer to pay half the price of a bigger ticket item for your tween like a concert ticket or a new electronic gadget. You can also try matching college savings to reward good behavior and encourage healthy financial habits. Click here for more tips on how to get your child in the habit of saving.
February 5, 2015
Spread Love from the Classroom to Your Doorstep
You aren't celebrating Valentine's Day this year? You're not alone. Only 54% of American's celebrated Valentine's Day last year which left us thinking… Valentine's Day is a good opportunity to teach kids to show love in non-material ways while building meaningful memories that last longer than roses or candy. This year bond with the kiddos and opt to spread some love and kindness to the people around you.
Spread love in the Home
- Childhood cancer is the leading cause of deaths by disease in children under 15 years old. Help to fund childhood cancer research by having a lemonade stand with the kids and contribute to the $100 million Alex's Lemonade Stand has raised to fight against childhood cancer. Get festive and add some pink coloring to the lemonade and bake some heart-shaped red velvet cupcakes to attract extra visitors.
Spread love in the Classroom
- All you need is some helping hands, melted chocolate, a heart shaped lollipop mold, parchment cut out into heart shapes, a sewing machine and a dash of love to make a quick and unique Valentine's Day gift which will have your children be the talk of playground.
Spread love in the Community
- Gather the family for a day of service on Valentine's Day and inspire your kids to give back. Points of Light allows children to partake in a day of service depending on what causes you care about the most. Who knows, with a little guidance you could have the next Oprah Winfrey on your hands!
Get your F.L.C (Financial Loving Care) on and share a virtual Valentine's Day card with ones that you love – who knows, maybe you'll gain a frugal friend in return.
December 4, 2014
The Gift That Actually Keeps on Giving
While the holidays are most known for gift exchanges and family feasts, they are also a great opportunity to teach children valuable lessons about a different type of giving. Volunteering has a great deal of emotional and psychological benefits. In addition to increasing appreciation for what they have, volunteering reinforces empathy, sharing and finding meaning in non-materialistic pursuits. In fact, research has shown individuals who volunteered as children or observed their parents volunteering are more likely to carry a service ethic throughout their lifetime.
There are many different ways to donate time and popular holiday season activities include helping with a holiday party at a local family shelter, serving food to the homeless or sending a card to members of the armed forces and veterans through American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes.
Looking beyond the holiday season, below are a number of other ideas to incorporate volunteering into your life year round.
- VolunteerMatch can help connect you with organizations and volunteer opportunities in a broad broad range of areas from arts to animals.
- generationOn is dedicated to inspiring, equipping and mobilizing youth to take action that changes the world and themselves through service and offers a wealth of age-appropriate project ideas and resources.
- Family-to-Family is a non-profit national hunger and poverty relief organization dedicated to connecting, one-to-one, families with enough to share to impoverished American families with profoundly less. The program creates a bridge between communities with "more" and some of the nation's poorest areas.
>November 3, 2014
Use Your Dough for Pie Crusts not Plane Tickets
According to AAA, 94.5 million Americans traveled over the Holiday season in 2013. Holiday Travel is a feat to be tackled not by the faint of heart. Long lines, traffic, gas prices, luggage hauling, unhappy little ones, the list goes on and on. So why do we do it? Being with family and friends during the holiday season makes everything better; no matter how arduous the journey.
What will not make the holidays any merrier is winding up with an overdrawn bank account on January 1st. Here’s what you need to know as Holiday travel season looms:
91% of holiday travelers in 2013, traveled by car. Thanks to smartphones and apps, however, you can get to your destination before Santa does and save money doing it. The one app you must have before you hit the road:
Gas Buddy: Available on android and iOS, you simply tell Gas Buddy what zip code or city you're near and it will tell you the price at the pump at gas stations near you. When you select the station you want Gas Buddy will give you directions. This app might even help you make money on your journey. They give away $100/day to users that log in a gas price at a pump they fill up at because the app only works if users contribute! Try it – you could be the next winner.
Less than ideal travel days
It may take some schedule adjusting, but if you're willing to fly on less convenient days – you can score some fantastic deals. The holidays themselves are often the cheapest days to fly. If your family and friends can provide any flexibility in when they celebrate with you, then this can be a great way to save during the holiday frenzy. The one app the airlines don't want you to download:
- SkyScanner: Available on android and iOS, this app doesn't directly sell flights but it lets users compare prices in a whole new way. You can compare prices over a month for a given route, or even weekend flights out of specific cities. They do touch on hotel and rental car prices as well. Once you find what you want SkyScanner takes you directly to the airline to seal the deal.
Ship what you can
Airlines have ramped up on the bag fees, many now charging for carry-ons as well, sometimes up to $45 one way for a bag. The option to ship can sometimes save more than $50, especially if you're packing your whole family in one suitcase and run the risk of having your luggage labeled “HEAVY,” that usually means a hefty upcharge is coming your way. If you want to see a comprehensive list of baggage fees for each airline visit Airfare Watchdog.
October 1, 2014
Financial fear factors — save your kids from scary financial habits
Findings from Northwestern's recent Planning & Progress Study underscored that talking about money is a fear factor for many Americans – shockingly – more so than even the birds and the bees. However, not having conversations about good money habits have even scarier consequences in the long-term. Below are a number of key principles that are the building blocks of financial security and should be reinforced early and often:
- Lead by example — It is hard to convince kids to delay gratification in favor of saving if they see their parents regularly making impulse purchases at the checkout or saying things like “we don't really need this but…” before buying something. Motivate and celebrate restraint by making a board on the fridge or elsewhere with a barometer to track unnecessary items everyone in the family passed up and allocate the money saved towards something significant for the child or family – like vacation or technology. This will help your child learn the value of strategic spending on items that may take longer to acquire but will have much bigger and better benefits than the whim of the moment. Check out everyday opportunities to drive smart spending decisions here.
- Never too early to budget — A recent stat shows only 18% of parents direct an allowance specifically to be deposited into a saving account. An allowance is the first opportunity to introduce kids to the all-important concept of budgeting, the cornerstone of a healthy financial foundation. Sit down with your kids and explain to how you budget for all the family expenses and priorities. Create a mini version of your budget experience by taking out a small bit of their allowance for their contribution to food and rent/mortgage as well as for savings that will go into their piggy bank. Whatever, they have left will be their “discretionary income.” Other ideas to make allowance less of an entitlement and more of real life money lesson here.
- Having the savings talk — There seems to be a financial disconnect between parent and children. 54% of parents rated their teenager's knowledge of money management as either “good” or “excellent,” but 78% percent of the children of those respondents rated their own knowledge of money management as merely average or even poor. That disconnect might be the reason why so many teens would rather eat out multiple times a week and leave little to no money in their savings account. Encouraging a long conversation with your child or teen can be rewarding when they reach college or adulthood.
September 2, 2014
“Savings School” is in Session!
School's back in session, but the learning doesn't just have to happen in the classroom. In fact, valuable lifelong lessons about financial responsibility usually happen at home. Below are some ideas from the Mint for a seasonal "savings school" lesson plan that will take your kids to the top of the class in financial discipline.
Between overpriced candy and expensive, one time wear costumes, Halloween costs can be a real fear factor. A few tricks that will be a treat to your pocketbook while teaching the kids the concept of fun and frugal include creating a Halloween budget and creating incentives to stick to it. Tell your kids that whatever they save by hunting for candy coupons. DIY costumes, etc. will go to their personal savings accounts or towards souvenirs on the next family vacation.
Reinforce the true spirit of the holiday season by emphasizing "giving" over buying. Don't just donate toys to a local organization, but see if you can bring the kids a volunteer event so they can see how that while presents are nice sharing their time is truly priceless. On that same note, brainstorm unique, personalized gifts could make with things you already have at home…including writing up coupons for services like dishwashing, homework help to siblings, etc. Check out this site for some cool DIY gift ideas.
As the weather heats up, spring spending fever tends to strike. Take preventative measures by refocusing the kids' attention on earning rather than burning money. Set a "summer FUNDay" goal to raise money for summer purchases and activities like trips to amusement parks, water toys, etc. Assign rewards to certain chores and achievements that, when earned, will be contributed to the fund. Encourage the kids to collaborate by giving a bit more when they work together to get the job done.
If your kids are hanging at home, challenge them to come up with innovative "staycation" ideas like camping in the backyard or turning the basement into a beauty salon for a day of pampering with friends. Also consider a "penny a day" program where you put the loose change from your purchases into a jar and encourage them to do the same with any change they find. An average of 50 cents a day over 90 days becomes $45 dollars by end of summer and equals a whole bunch of school supplies.
August 1, 2014
Summer Vacation SPF (Savings. Prep. Fun)
A summer getaway with the family is an opportunity for everyone to bond, relax, and recharge. While the memories may be priceless, vacation expenses can add up quickly and according to American Express 31% of travelers plan to spend more than $1,000 per person on their summer adventure. Below are some ideas to have fun in the sun without burning through your budget.
A Penny A Day…
Teach valuable lessons about saving, planning and responsibility while building excitement towards a trip by encouraging everyone in the family to contribute. Set up a big jar and offer incentives for chores that will go towards the vacation fund or make a game of finding coupons so that the money saved on grocery and drugstore shopping could be added to the vacation pot. Being specific as to what the fund will be used for, especially if its souvenirs and desserts, will likely be a great motivator!
Another novel approach courtesy of Grandparents.com, is having the kids apply to their grandparents for a vacation grant. This is a great opportunity for kids to learn to state a business case and see how the real world works.
Planes, Trains or Automobiles
Do the math before committing to a destination or mode of transportation. Calculate the number of passengers traveling, airfares, car rental fees, gas mileage, etc. to decide where to go and how to get there. In fact, this handy calculator can do the work for you. If you opt to fly, here are a few tricks of the trade:
- Flights that depart Tuesdays and Thursdays are generally the cheapest
- Airfares tend to be at their lowest on Tuesday afternoons
- Twitter is a great source for deals. Follow your favorite airlines to get the early scoop on sales
- Save time and money by letting one site like Kayak or SkyScanner do all the legwork for you in comparison shopping for airfare, hotels and car rentals
Home Away From Home
There is no place like home. While it may not be yours officially, a rental house, cabin, condo could be a comfortable and more affordable alternative to a hotel room… or several depending on the size and needs of your family. While cooking may not seem like the ideal vacation activity, renting a place with a fridge and a microwave is convenient when hungry, growing kids are involved and can save a ton on snacks while making it easier to eat healthy. VRBO, FlipKey, Vacation Home Rentals are all helpful options when it comes to finding a vacation rental and many have "last minute deals" if you have flexibility in scheduling.
July 3, 2014
Planet Wise, Dollar Bullish
Protecting and preserving our planet is essential to our quality of life today and in the future. Summer is a great time to teach your kids important lessons about becoming more green while saving green to boot:
Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use two thirds less energy than a regular light bulb and could last 8 to 15 times longer.
No paper, no problem
If you have subscriptions to hard copy publications or still receive billing statements in the mail, you may want to consider switching to the digital versions. You'll cut clutter and costs (online subscriptions are often cheaper than print) while saving trees. It is also a lot easier to carry five books on your tablet than in your tote bag when you go on vacation.
Everything old is cool again
Have tons of affordable fun making recycled crafts with your kids this summer by transforming baby food jars, can crafts, paper bags, orphaned socks, and other household items in gorgeous, green masterpieces. Before getting started, just make sure you clean your recycled supplies thoroughly and check for any sharp edges.
For more resources on educating your kids to be environmentally responsible, visit epa.gov/students.
June 4, 2014
Summer – that magical season where kids are home all day and parents have to find unique, fun ways to keep them entertained.
Below are a few ideas that combine quality time with opportunities to reinforce important lessons about money smarts.
1. Grocery Game Show
Turn your next shopping trip into a competition. Tell the kids what items are on your list and let them go nuts with the coupons (who knows what deals they might uncover). When you get to the store everyone can hunt for the best prices and if the total at the register comes in under budget it's a win for the whole family. With the money left over from the grocery budget after your kids have found some amazing bargains; split the extra cash amongst their piggy banks so they can save for something they really want! The lesson of course being, if you're prudent with certain things, then you will have more flexibility when it comes to the things you want.
2. Treasure Trail
Take a stroll around the block, on a trail, wherever you would like and you might be amazed at the financial gems you could stumble upon. Save up all the pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters you find and see how much you've accumulated by the end of the summer. You might be able to pay for a couple ice cream cones.
Through this program, children read any eight books and record them in the Reading Journal. Then bring completed Reading Journal to local Barnes & Noble Store and the kids can choose a FREE BOOK.
4. Play a New Board Game
Try playing new board games each week such as Monopoly Junior, Payday, Life, Allowance, Careers and Charge It. Each game allows children to think about saving money, investing money and making life decisions while having fun!
April 3, 2014
The Biggest Financial Mistakes Made by Young Millennials
It's April, which means, flowers, sunshine and of course, Financial Literacy Month! Our sister website, TheMintGrad, asked three financial experts to tell us about what they see as the biggest financial mistakes made by young millennials. As kids grow up and families get older young millennials need tools and guidance to get them through what can be a few financially turbulent years. Read what these experts had to say….
Financial Flub #1 failing to invest
Millennials are a risk adverse bunch and are skeptical about long-term investing as a way to build wealth over time. But the fact is – this can be a flub.
Investing over the long term is one of the best ways to grow wealth over time. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, here's how and why millennials can get started investing today.
The key to investing is compound interest – your money will grow over time, and compound to be worth so much more in the future.
If you were to start today, and invest annually think of how your money could grow over the next 40 years! Depending on the investment vehicle there can be there can be a significant level of risk, but there is a great deal of options available to investors.
If you're working, start taking advantage of your company's 401k. If you don't have a 401k offered to you, you may want to consider alternative options such as an IRA or a brokerage account. This can help put you on the right track for the future.
Financial Flub #2 automatic spending may make you automatically broke
Is your spending on autopilot? Do you sign up for a service and pay the same rate for it yearly without even considering if it's the BEST rate? If so, stop that right now!
Once a year, shop around to see if you can get a better deal on expenses such as cable, cell phone, auto insurance, gym memberships - even healthcare! Brand loyalty also means being loyal to your personal brand's finances!
Call your service providers and ask for lower rates. Ask your friends for recommendations on services that work well and are priced well. Comb the Internet -especially savings blogs - for the inside skinny on affordable products. For instance, if you used to drive your car to work and now work from home, most auto insurers will give you a lower rate.
You may even find that you don't even want the services that you pay for yearly. That $36 per month gym membership is only a deal if you use it regularly. Otherwise, it's a $432 yearly drain on your wallet.
Financial Flub # 3 being un-realistic
It's great to have goals to help you get ahead in life. But setting totally unrealistic goals is one of the most common financial flubs I see all the time.
Maybe it's human nature. But way too many individuals spend many years – sometimes even decades – getting themselves into financial trouble. Then they want to fix a chronic or long-term problem either "this year" or "next year."
Case in point: the woman who's had perennially bad credit is almost invariably the same individual that wants to "quickly rebuild" her credit and buy a home "next year."
Or the guy who hasn't been able to save any money for the past five years is often the same fellow that wants to buy a brand new car "next year."
Then there's the cash-strapped couple living paycheck to paycheck. They're barely making ends meet, but they want to have an over-the-top wedding "by next spring."
All these people are making a big financial flub: they're not being realistic about how to engineer a financial turnaround – and how long the process will take.
The lesson: you don't get into serious financial problems overnight. So you usually won't get out of those financial jams overnight either.
March 17, 2014
Choosing the Tax Prep Option That's Right for You
There are two things about April that we generally do not look forward to; rain and tax season. With the number options for completing tax returns cropping up like May flowers, it becomes more complicated to determine the best route for your particular needs and circumstances. Some folks still prefer the old-fashioned pencil and paper method while many have gravitated towards tax prep software and online filing. Below is a closer look at the various available options.
- Filing by hand – One big advantage of this option is that it is free. Each form provides step-by-step directions to follow, you just have to be extra thorough in your calculations to avoid errors. The IRS website and customer assistance line could be a helpful resource if you run into challenges.
- Using software – This method enables you to take a hands-on approach without the often challenging calculations part. However, as there are many options on the market today, make sure you do your research before buying. Check out About.com/Tax Planning U.S. and Consumer Reports.org for a list of some of the available options.
- Hiring an expert – The obvious bonus is that you don't do any of the work, but as with software, you will need to do some legwork before hiring a resource that is right for your needs. This IRS site provides a good overview of the diverse tax preparer credentials categories that exist. Also, as tax preparers involve fees, the IRS offers tax clinics and other support to those that qualify.
Regardless of the tax preparation alternative you choose, now is the time to begin organizing your papers, sorting your receipts and getting ready to meet the April 15th filing deadline. Remember the earlier you file, the earlier your refund is likely to come!
February 5, 2014
I Love Savings – Fun ways to cut costs this Valentine's Day
Between gifts for your kids, goodies for their classmates and something special for your sweetheart, spreading the love on Valentine's Day can leave you with budget heartbreak. Here are few suggestions to convey your love in a meaningful and cost-conscious way, while teaching your children that some of the best things in life are indeed free. Your wallet will adore you!.
- Here on TheMint.org we have created some fun Valentine’s Day cards – have your kids personalize with art supplies that you already have. Decorate with hearts, glitter, flowers, Cupid arrows or other designs, then roll it up and tie with a colorful ribbon. Download PDF.
- Prepare a home cooked meal featuring the family’s favorite main course and dessert, and decorate the dining area with a Valentine’s Day theme. Use the time together to reflect on special times you have shared as a family.
- Create homemade cards for family members with personalized “I love you because…” messages and/or a photo collage.
- Make your own treats – cookies, fudge or chocolate covered pretzels. Strawberries dipped in chocolate are special too. If you have a fondue pot, invite the family to enjoy a chocolate fondue while bonding over a special movie.
- Create a fun Valentine’s Day playlist filled with songs that use the word love! Play it while you’re having dinner or turn your living room into a dance floor!
For parents of college students and young adults - TheMintGrad.org can help you celebrate Valentine's Day, even while they're not at home. Check out these shareable online cards that remind us all it's always a good time to show yourself some financial loving care (FLC).
December 27, 2013
Teaching Your Kids Personal Responsibility
As parents, we want our children to blossom into confident and capable individuals who can stand on their own. Yet, it's not always easy to find the right opportunity to teach kids the value of personal responsibility.
Addressing how kids handle their allowance and piggy bank savings is a great way to get started – personal finance is one area where understanding accountability can make a big practical difference early on. Since financial education is not uniformly taught in schools yet — only 22 states required a high school course in economics and just 14 required a course in personal finance in 2011 (according to the Council for Economic Education) — it's essential for parents to proactively teach their kids how to meet the challenges of a complex financial world.
Below are some suggestions for putting your child on a path towards financial independence and positive lifestyle habits. Take a look at Pointers for Parents for more ideas.
- Talk about financial responsibility early and often – There's no time like the present to introduce basic concepts such as assessing needs vs. wants, creating a budget, and saving for a long term goal. Find teachable moments in routine activities such as food shopping or running errands. Check out Money Talk for more ideas on helping your kids improve their financial IQ.
- Pick a goal – Work with your child to identify something he or she wants to save for and devise a strategy. Discuss how allowance can be used and other ways to accumulate money, such as "gifts" from the Tooth Fairy or age-appropriate "jobs."
- Lead by example – Kids are very observant, so you'll want to be a good role model. It's a lot harder to make a compelling argument against frivolous spending if your child grows up seeing that very behavior.
- Make it fun and offer praise – Learning about responsibility isn't always fun, so keep your kids engaged and motivated by making it enjoyable and offering positive feedback about the behaviors you want them to repeat. "I'm so proud of you for…" is always a good way to start.
November 8, 2013
Tackling debt: It all starts with an action plan
Be it credit cards, mortgage payments or student loans, if you're like many Americans, you have personal debt. According to credit.com, as of June 2013, Americans owed approximately $850 billion dollars in revolving debt, with the average consumer carrying close to $4,000 in credit card debt alone.
But not all debt is bad. A positive credit history, which demonstrates the ability to make timely payments, plays a role in everything from qualifying for loans to getting a job. However, general rules suggest that you shouldn't be using more than 7% of the credit you have available or have your debt burden exceed 36% of what you earn.
Carrying excessive debt can keep you from accomplishing important financial and lifestyle goals such as saving for retirement, buying a new car or even taking a family vacation.
Having a plan to pay off your debt is the first step towards regaining control of your finances. Here are some simple strategies to help you get started:
- Acknowledge and accept that you are in a situation that needs to be remedied and requires a specific plan of action.
- Get a handle on your spending. Keep a daily log of your spending (food, gas, entertainment, household items, etc.) for a month and then look at where to trim expenses.
- Start paying it down. Based on your monthly budget and any additional financial flexibility you may have uncovered in your daily log, determine a realistic amount of money to allocate to debt repayment efforts each month.
- Pay off your highest interest rate debts first. To get out of debt in the most efficient way possible, pay down the balances of loans or credit cards that charge the most interest while paying at least the minimum due on all other debt. You may also want to transfer your higher-interest balances onto your credit card with the lowest interest rate.
October 6, 2013
Better budget behaviors
Making a budget is tough. Sticking to it can be even tougher, as unexpected expenses have a way of derailing even the best laid budget plans. So, whether you’re working towards a financial goal or believe in budgeting as a way of life, the following tips can help keep you on track.
- Work as a team. Get the whole family onboard with budgeting and commit to spending within the set limits. Also, talking to your kids about budgeting may help prevent meltdowns in shopping malls and supermarkets. Once your kids are looped in, you can make it fun with coupon clipping and savings challenges.
- Save receipts and look for spending patterns. It’s easier to identify opportunities to cut back on spending if you have a clear view of where all your money is going.
- Limit temptation. Pulling out your credit card for unplanned extras is a common budget buster. Leaving the cards at home and using the cash in your wallet can curb the tendency for unnecessary spending.
- Anticipate extras. There are certain unplanned expenditures that are a priority. Avoid having your budget broadsided by creating a “miscellaneous” bucket. Any “miscellaneous” money remaining at the end of the month can be rolled over into the next month, used to help play debt or placed into savings.
- Review your budget periodically. Every so often, it’s valuable to see if the budget you set still makes sense for you and your family. Have your fixed costs changed? Did you or your spouse get a raise, or have other financial events changed your lifestyle? Take a moment to revisit your written budget.
- Most importantly, get money smart! The more you learn about managing your money, the better you’ll be at sticking to your plan.
Check out these resources from Northwestern Mutual to create a budget you can stick to:
September 13, 2013
Calling all carpools!
Why sharing the driving is good for your pocketbook, your pals and the planet.
Back to school season is here (already?) which means we've already begun shopping for all those must-have items that tend to blow our monthly budgets.
Carpooling is one way to reduce costs, save you time, and cut back on fuel emissions. Sharing the responsibility of driving kids to and from after school activities can also foster closer ties with neighbors and broaden your family's circle of friends. If you're still thinking that you don't want to be locked-in to a carpool schedule, remember that carpooling will:
- Cut your car expenses. With gas prices inching towards $4.00 per gallon, reducing the miles you drive can mean real savings with fewer tank refills. You’ll also reduce the mileage on your car resulting in less frequent oil changes or tire replacements which will save you even more money over time.
- Reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The less we drive the greater the environmental benefit through reduced auto emissions. Carpooling means cleaner air and less congestion on our roads.
- Save you time. While organizing a carpool schedule may seem like too much to manage, once you have a plan in place just think of how much time will be freed up for other activities. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend less time driving around town and more time to spend on things like getting dinner ready before the kids get home?
- Create connections with others. Pitching in with friends and neighbors can strengthen these bonds and establish a feeling of community which is beneficial for you and your children. It’s also a great way to teach your kids a lesson about teamwork. If anything, spending quality time getting to know your kids’ friends will keep you in-the-know – just think of the backseat conversations!
August 1, 2013
Learning at the Lemonade Stand
Setting up a lemonade stand or community bake sale with your kids is a great way to mix business and pleasure this summer. The planning, prepping and profiting phases of your small business venture are ripe with opportunity for lighthearted learning. Practicing how to make correct change for customers, designing marketing posters and fliers, and buying supplies nurtures creativity while promoting important math and business concepts, as well as the benefits of teamwork.
Here are some practical tips to help your young entrepreneurs get the most out of the experience.
- Plan where, when, how and who
Ensure that your venture has the best shot for success by working with your kids to determine the best day and time to maximize sales. And just like in the real world, figure out who is best suited to manage the different aspects of the sale.
- Determine what items you'll sell and how much you'll charge
Defining your shopping and inventory lists and then assigning prices is a natural springboard to help your kids understand how retail works. The fringe benefit is that once they understand the idea of mark-ups they may be more amenable to waiting for something they want to go on sale.
- Encourage your kids to donate a portion of the proceeds to charity
Helping those in need is one of life's most important lessons. Also, working with your child to figure out how they'll use their earnings is a great opportunity to reinforce spending vs. savings principles. If you're looking for ideas, check out Alex's Lemonade Stand for ways you can support childhood cancer research.
- Clean up afterwards
Good corporate citizens regard and protect the environment and their communities. This is also a chance to talk about the benefits of recycling.
Most importantly, let your kid be the boss! While children need our guidance, it's important that we empower them to make their own decisions.
July 17, 2013
Send your kids to Grandparent Money Camp
Contrary to popular belief, grandparents aren't only wired to spoil the grandkids rotten. In fact, they're probably one of our greatest untapped resources for teaching important life lessons and reinforcing the core values of the family. After all, they have years of wisdom and experience, and are respected by your kids.
So what better allies to enlist in your mission to turn your children into money mavens? While you're busy working or taking care of your daily "to do" list, grandma and grandpa are the perfect people to have fun with your kids while helping them become more financially fit.
Here are some suggestions for getting Nana and Poppy onboard with your summer money camp:
- Set aside a specific time each week for an ice cream or lunch date to chat about family history and finances. Possible topics could include grandpa's first job, how he and grandma financed their first home or steps they take to save for special gifts for their kids and grandkids. Aside from the financial lessons, this is an opportunity to bond and deepen your kids' understanding of their background and legacy.
- Get them to take the kids for volunteer work or to a charity event. This will open the door to valuable discussions about not taking what they have for granted and the benefits of helping others..
- Pull out the tablet or fire up the computer and explore online resources like TheMint.org, to discuss important money concepts and lessons. Grandparents should be encouraged to provide examples from their personal experiences to complement the information and interactive tools on the site.
May 14, 2013
Technology provides an anytime/anywhere experience, but can it help us reach financial security tomorrow?
Nearly one in three (31%) Americans say they find the immediacy of society today (email, texting, instant messaging, etc.) distracting, and an alarming 69% say the fast pace makes it hard to stick to long term goals, according to recent Northwestern Mutual research.
To balance the benefits of technology with thoughtful, longer term planning, use technology as a tool to help facilitate small steps toward greater financial goals. Help your family learn and practice good financial habits with the following tech-savvy tips.
- Keep a money journal: Use the “notes” feature on your phone or iPod to record your actual expenses each day. You’ll have a clearer picture of where and why you spent your money, as well as opportunities to save or refine your spending.
- Develop a monthly budget: Whether it’s downloading a budget app for your smartphone or creating a simple spreadsheet on your computer, keeping track of how much money is available to spend on the items you need can help limit unnecessary or impulse purchases.
- Choose a long term savings goal: Contribute to your goal by setting aside a certain amount of money each week or month. When you do this consistently over time, you’ll be surprised at how much these funds will grow.
Technology may continue to revolutionize the way we live, but the basic tenants for successful, long term financial planning – and good financial habits - never change.
March 27, 2013
Get Educated for Financial Literacy Month
April is Financial Literacy month so it's a great time to sit down with your kids and talk about money matters. Consider it a type of 'New Year' for your money habits and use it as a jumping off point to help your family learn about financial planning, save more and spend smarter in the year ahead.
Focusing early on financial education has never been more important. Kids today have the chance to live well into their 120th year and along the way they'll need to be able to spend, save, grow and protect their assets through every life phase from college to home ownership to marriage and kids, on into retirement.
As a parent, you have many important things to teach them. First and foremost is imparting them with a real and practical understanding of money. This will put your kids on a better path to long-term financial security. Think of it as the gift you give today to their future selves.
Here are a few tips to help get you started this month:
- Get the basics down and make it fun: Today's kids will face many major life expenses before they even embark on their careers. Take college: a four year university degree runs in the six-figures. With that in mind, find fun ways to teach and reinforce the fundamentals early - saving, investing, debt and risk. This empowers kids for the challenges ahead.
- Learning by doing: As adults, thinking about and preparing for your financial future reduces the stress around day-to-day money issues. That's reason alone to help your kids get comfortable talking about and dealing with money. Start with something simple like an allowance.
- Set the example: Teaching children to become financially responsible adults isn't easy, but the earlier you start the better. Learning the value of planning and saving, and the value of a dollar, will help them throughout their lifetimes. Demonstrate this every day by adopting good money habits yourself, and then share your decision making with them.
TheMint.org is just one resource that can provide tips and tools to help you raise money-smart kids.
Here's to a financially fit year!
February 11, 2013
Why Your Family Needs an Emergency Fund
In life, it's wise to expect the unexpected. Having a financial cushion is a smart strategy to keep you and your family on firm ground when the unforeseen happens. An emergency fund can help protect you from the burden of assuming additional debt to meet unanticipated financial pressures. A sudden job loss, death in the family, accident, or large home and auto repairs can be managed with an emergency fund in place. You may already know that risk products are a great way to accrue funds and protect your income, but an emergency fund will serve as an important component of your broader strategy for managing a wide range of risks.
How Much Do I Need?
Most experts agree that an ideal amount to set aside in your emergency fund is between three and six month's worth of your living expenses. Your particular circumstances will determine the amount that is best for you. Some of the determining factors may be how many children you have, whether or not you carry substantial debt or have different types of insurance coverage.
The reason for having three to six months of expenses saved up is that a sudden loss of income is the most common reason for needing an emergency fund. If you or your spouse loses a job, it may take several months to find suitable new employment.
How Can I Get Started?
Saving money can be difficult. One recommended approach is to pay yourself first; as soon as you get your pay check, you should set aside money for your savings. This strategy lessens the temptation to spend it elsewhere. Saving even a small amount of money on a regular basis will add up. It pays to be consistent and patient.
Where Should I Keep it?
Once you've saved up some cash, it's important to put that money into an easily accessible savings account. Remember, this is money you may need at an unspecified time; it shouldn't be invested in stocks or mutual funds that could lose money in the short-term. You don't want to put these funds in a savings vehicle that will penalize you for early withdrawals should you need the money before it has reached its maturation dates, such as those with certificates of deposit (CDs).
Don't let the unexpected derail your financial wellness. Plan for the unforeseen by creating an emergency fund today.
January 9, 2013
Tech Tools for Money Matters
Innovations in technology have made managing our personal finances easier than ever. If you currently pay bills with checks or track your accounts with a pen and paper, 2013 may be the year to start using personal financial technologies. If you are already tech-savvy in this arena, you can look forward to some exciting emerging tools, such as virtual wallets or mobile payment capabilities for items scanned with your smartphone.
These smartphones and hand-held devices allow us to engage in a wide range of money-smart behaviors including checking account balances, transferring money or obtaining e-receipts with a few taps on a touch screen.
Consider a few ways these tools can support your use of technology for money-conscious decision-making:
- Clarity and control. Software packages or specialized apps can give you a holistic view of your unique financial picture so you can track your spending and saving habits and gain deeper insights into how your behaviors impact the fulfillment of your financial goals. The ability to clearly assess your finances will enable you to develop sharper plans for achieving these objectives.
- Fact finding. Before making decisions, do some research online to compare prices or read consumer reviews. Knowledge is key when it comes to smart shopping decisions and money management.
- Convenience. Whether it’s an app for your smartphone or a tablet-friendly tool, you can’t beat the usefulness of these devices for immediate updates on balances, automatic bill payment or checks deposits. No longer are consumers limited by the hours of banks or the location of the nearest ATM.
If you’re not already using technology to enhance how you approach money management, now might be the time to see how you can improve your financial decision-making.
November 26, 2012
Simple Tips for Sticking to Your Holiday Budget
The holiday shopping season has arrived (already?)! For many of us this means creating to-do lists and putting a spending plan in place. Even with a budget, it's easy to get off track. Here are some tips that will help you create and stick to your holiday budget:
- Write down EVERYTHING you'll be buying. While we're good at making our gift lists, we often forget all the seemingly small costs. These items do add up, so take a few extra minutes to plan for 'hidden' expenses such as stamps, gasoline for trips to and from the mall, wrapping paper, ribbons, tape, and other little extras.
- Be prepared to receive gifts from unexpected friends or relatives. One surefire way to blow your budget is unplanned spending on a gift for someone who wasn't on your list. When you come across affordable items with broad-appeal, you may tuck it away just in case. Of course, you can always choose not to reciprocate and send a hand-written thank you card on nice stationary (if you don't have any, stock up on that too when you see it on sale).
- Keep your list in your wallet so you always have it. With so much to remember during holiday time, don't take any chances that you will recall which items you have already purchased and what remains on your list. Being prepared when you go shopping will eliminate more trips to the store or the need to make last minute online purchases that may not be within your spending plan.
- Remember the true meaning of the holidays. When you are tempted to blow your budget, keep in mind that the holidays are about family and togetherness. This will help you put your spending in perspective so you can keep your budget on track.
November 21, 2012
Re-Gifting Do's and Don'ts
With so many presents to buy during the holiday season for family members, friends and acquaintances, re-gifting items you don't like or won't use doesn't seem like a bad idea. In fact, it's kind of like recycling, right? If you agree that re-gifting is a budget-smart strategy, here are some do's and don'ts to consider before the holiday season.
- Have good intentions. Give items you believe the recipient will appreciate. Remember: you didn’t like it enough to keep it for yourself, are you sure the recipient will?
- Re-package the item in new wrapping paper or a gift bag that you purchased along with a card.
- Gift only new, unopened items in excellent condition.
- Use common sense. Make sure the gift recipient won’t trace the gift back to its original source.
- Re-package handmade or one-of-a-kind items. Signed books or free promotional items are off limits. An item that a friend gave you from a trip abroad is also not a good idea.
- Part with an item that you don’t remember the origin of.
- Give something just to give a gift. Make sure the recipient will appreciate the specific item. If not, a gift card is another simple option.
- Re-gift if you can’t handle it. If you’re going to feel guilty or announce that the item has been re-gifted then this approach isn’t right for you.
October 24, 2012
Raising Thankful Kids
With Thanksgiving approaching, many of us wonder if we're doing enough to raise our children to be thankful -- to acknowledge and appreciate what matters in their lives and to show their gratitude to others. While these may be hard concepts for young children and even those in their tween years to fully understand, the concepts serve as essential lessons to help kids establish meaningful and healthy relationships with others, as well as to promote good feelings about themselves.
Most parents see the importance of training our pre-school age children to say "please" and "thank you" when they ask for Goldfish crackers or receive a goodie bag at the end of a birthday party. Teaching children manners is a great start, yet it is extremely important that we continue to cultivate and reinforce an 'attitude of gratitude' in our growing children that goes beyond etiquette, but into their hearts.
Here are a few suggestions to help accomplish the goal of raising a thankful child (even though it is natural for them to always want more, more, more.)
- Start with basic manners and go from there. Encourage hand written 'thank you' cards as a way of showing appreciation for birthday or holiday gifts. While your child at first might see it as a hassle, explain that this gesture makes the gift-giver feel good and that their actions will be appreciated. Developing empathy for others is fundamental to showing gratitude.
- Lead by example. - Parents' actions are a strong shaper of children's habits, so show your kids how to be generous through your own acts of kindness.
- Find ways for your children to give to others. Look for volunteer opportunities that you can actively participate in together. When kids sort cans at the local food pantry or work at a tag sale to benefit a community organization, they will develop empathy, humility and an appreciation for what they have.
- Share with family members what you are thankful for throughout the year – through a toast or prayer. The more often we focus on what we appreciate, the more natural it will become to show gratitude to others and feel it in our hearts.
September 12, 2012
Kids Buying Apps: Money lessons for kids who want to use real money to buy virtual "stuff"
Most of us parents would agree that it's way too easy for our little ones to buy apps when they borrow (or remove from our handbags and dressers) our hand-held devices. If it hasn't happened to you, surely you have a friend whose child has racked up significant charges with a few simple clicks without parental consent or even knowledge. It's hard enough to teach our children about the value of money, but now there is an added challenge when kids make purchases without seeing or touching real dollars. About half of all children paid for their first digital content by the tender age of seven, according to a study by NPD Group, a leading market research firm. It's no surprise that computer games follow music as the most frequently purchased items by children.
And, while there are technological safeguards that can be put in place to prevent accidental app purchases by changing settings or adding password protections, that only addresses part of the problem. Unless parents use their children's interest in buying apps as an opportunity to talk to their kids about the value of money, we are missing a huge chance to impart important money lessons. Chief among these lessons: the difference between wants vs. needs. Children that are old enough to play these games have the capacity to understand that people have basic requirements for living healthy lives such as eating, drinking, sleeping, wearing protective clothing, getting exercise and so forth. They can also understand that eating at restaurants or buying items from a snack bar are wants, as are new designer clothes and fancy sports equipment. Parents can explain that those things are enjoyable extras, but we don't have to have them to survive. We like playing video games or listening to music, but we don't need new apps to live.
A tip for helping teach your children about spending vs. saving starts by mapping out a way for them to save for the items they most want to purchase. They should commit to writing down on paper the item(s) they want in a notebook. They can use allowance (if applicable) or tooth fairy money, or you can help this process along by giving them small jobs around the house, such as taking out the trash or watering the plants, to help them earn money. Once your child sees how much effort goes into making a purchase, he or she will begin to understand the value of a dollar.
What makes online buying harder to grasp is that kids who have little experience with these basic money concepts can't see, feel or smell the money that is being spent. Why not take cash and a credit card out of your wallet as you explain these concepts. You can show them that a dollar bill equals a dollar that your credit company lends you, but you need to pay it back each month or you will owe more and more and more. It's not an easy concept for younger kids to understand, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to explain these concepts. Over time, money talk will sink in and you'll be doing your part to help raise a child who will grow to be a financially responsible adult.
August 8, 2012
Many families already know lessons on sticking to a budget happen at the hot dog stand!
According to our latest poll, this summer when families head off to festivals, theme parks or county fairs, most parents (80%) will cover admission costs and half of all parents will give their kids a set amount of money they are allowed to spend on extras and food creating opportunities to teach them about spending within their means. Only 7% of parents will buy their kids 'anything they want' and an equal number of parents won't let kids spend any money on extra items. A third of parents (34%) will let their kids spend their own money for extras.
July 2, 2012
School's out, summer spending is in
Talk with your kids about making the most of your summer dollars
Longer days, warmer temperatures and lots of free time create more reasons for spending money. During the hectic school year, we're often too rushed to provide our kids with everyday lessons about spending. For instance, we may not explain how purchasing the big box of cereal, instead of the individual packages, saved money on the grocery bill. However, summer is a great time to introduce and reinforce important lessons about sticking to a budget while still having fun.
When you're out and about this summer, consider involving your kids in decisions and activities that help them understand the value of saving money.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Plan ahead. Take a moment to figure out how often you can go out during the week and still stick to your budget. With your kids, decorate a calendar to mark when you'll enjoy higher cost activities.
- Bring snacks and drinks from home. By avoiding vending machines and concession stands you'll save money on marked up items. Chances are you'll also make healthier choices. By toting your own reusable bottles filled with tap water, you'll save a bundle.
- Look for discounts and coupons. Don't pay full price for entertainment. If you're planning a trip to a nearby amusement or water park, look for coupons in your local newspaper or online. Also, check with your local movie theatre to see if they offer bargain matinees. Some theatres show the same feature films at a reduced cost during the day.
- Entertain at home. Instead of going out to eat with friends and family, invite them over for a potluck meal or BBQ. Not only will you eliminate the burden of preparing food for everyone, but you'll save a lot of money.
- Host your own festival. Invite the neighborhood kids over for relay races and backyard games. You'll have a ton of fun without spending a nickel.
- Visit your community library to enjoy free air conditioning, books and other multimedia. Find out if your library has a summer reading program for kids. It will keep them busy all summer long, at little to no cost to you.
By working with your kids to make budget-friendly choices, you'll reinforce smart money habits they can carry with them for years to come. Even better, you'll have money saved up for back-to-school shopping.