A Financial Education Event

The Science of Laughter

Next week, I have the privilege of keynoting at the AFCPE symposium and I’ll present The Science of Laughter. This is a topic near to my heart because it’s the way I’ve lived my life.

When I married my husband, I got a three for one deal: I married the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot and I also inherited two young stepdaughters. Then my groom said, “let’s join the active duty Air Force and we can see the world.” But what he really showed me was five more children in seven years for a total of seven children. Then we took the show on the road and moved eleven times in thirteen years. I learned, very quickly, that I needed to learn to look at life in a funny way or end up on the funny farm.

I chose laughter.

I chose joy.

And my life has been better for it.

It has been said that “Laughter is Good Medicine,” but why is that actually true? There are a number of ways that laughter benefits the health and wealth of the communities we serve. These benefits exist on a number of levels.


The Physical Benefits of Laughter – Research from a variety of sources, including UCLA’s famous RxLaughter program explains what happens to someone physically when they laugh.  It has a measurable benefit for an individual’s blood pressure and stress levels, it decreases heart disease, and improves overall physical health. In fact, Lee Berk, an associate professor at Loma Linda University, asserts that “Laughter appears to cause all the reciprocal, or opposite effects of stress.”  The amazing result is that when we laugh more, we stress less.


The Social Benefits of Laughter Robert R. Provide, a behavioral neuroscientist from the University of Maryland indicates that laughter is a social behavior. His studies testify that humor is contagious & can spread to an audience, it’s actually a form of communication. Sara Algoe, an associate professor of social psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has said, “We think laughter can draw us closer together to other people and grease the wheels for better social interaction”

There is also a specific science behind jokes, anecdotes and one-liners. When you build these into your work and presentations, everyone receives a quick, mental vacation.


The Financial Benefits of Laughter – You may have heard the classic premise of “laughing all the way to the bank,” but it is actually true in some ways.  The quantitative data & my own personal experience proves how incorporating laughter into speaking events, financial education & contract negotiations improve an entrepreneur’s bottom line. Humor also helps teams maximize efficiency, effectiveness and it facilitates employee retention.

I was once working a contract to gain funding for Heroes at Home, my non-profit dedicated to providing free financial education to young military members. I was making very little headway with lead decision maker and it looked like we were going to end in a “no deal” situation. We decided to table the discussion until the end of our lunch together. I took the time to share humorous anecdotes about my biggest gaffes in my work with these service members and also shared some lighthearted stories that made the table begin to laugh. And I shared more and they laughed more. You’ve probably guessed the end of this story—we got our funding and more. I didn’t share the stories to get the contract, I shared them to lighten the environment. In the end, everyone was happier, and my military audiences were the ones who gained the most.

Take Away/Application to the Field

There is a very specific take away to the Science of Laughter and the way it applies to the entrepreneurs, the field of financial education and AFC® practitioners. I’ve seen these results in some of the 2000 financial education presentations that I’ve made to hundreds of thousands of participants and I’ve been gratified by the results. Using laughter helps in many unexpected ways such as information retention, better health and as a way to grow your business.


Information Retention – Humor helps the AFC®’s clients learn more in financial education sessions, whether it’s one-on-one or in front of 5,000 people. By including very specific humorous examples & conducting exercises that are effective but are also workplace appropriate, we can help our clients and audiences retain more information. One of my guiding principles is: when in doubt about a joke, always err on the side of propriety. I’m not willing to lose an audience member in the name of humor if it could alienate them in the process. But sharing a lighthearted quote or story can give the mind a break and then allow my audience to reengage in order to learn more.


Greater Health – Incorporating humor into your work life not only helps others, it helps the entrepreneur as well. If you are presenting at a workshop, a keynote or even in your own Toastmasters group, your audiences can experience this real time with some simple, short exercises that they can do during the session you present. One such exercise is to have them imagine what they would look like if they were shocked with an electrical shock, then turn to the person next to them, and without a word–imitate that look. It’s almost impossible NOT to laugh.

Another example of seeing this in action was when I was at FinCon19 and one of the keynote speakers quoted Mayo Angelou’s famous quote, “’I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Bethany Bayless, the wildly funny FinCon emcee, applauded the speaker and then said to the audience, “Now turn to the person sitting next to you, put your hand on their arm and say, ‘I will always remember how you feel.’” It took a moment for them to understand the humorous twist. But it was such an in-the-moment and funny turn on the quote that the audience kept laughing, in waves, for a full 3 minutes.” They needed the mental break from the heavy content they just heard from the keynote and this humorous exercise was just what the doctor ordered.

Grow Your Practice and your Business – Incorporating humor improves audience feedback and can lead to more opportunities for the practitioner. It’s one of the reasons we use liberal doses of humor in our podcast, The Money Millhouse. Whether it is word of mouth amongst individual clients, a greater social following or a demand for these skills in front of larger audiences, anyone can grow a practice or a business by adding the tool of laughter to their toolkit.

Memorial Day and #HonorThroughAction

Gold Star Family

Being part of a gold star family is like being part of an honored and exclusive club—but one that no one wants to join. The gold star indicates that a member of that family died while serving their country. We are a three-star blue star family, which means that we currently have three family members serving with sons in the Marines, Air Force and Army. We’ve weathered deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq—praying our way through each day they were there. We never want to add another gold star to our family.

Yes, our family is a gold star family because of my Grandfather, SSGT Walter Rawleigh, a bombardier on a B-24. He was on his 47thmission in Madang, Papua New Guinea. Fully gassed and loaded with bombs, the “Cisco Kid II” had an engine malfunction on take-off and crashed into an encampment of Seabees having breakfast. Ten members of the crew and 165 Seabees suddenly died that day. Obviously, I never knew my grandfather and my dad was a young child when his father perished. I know that my father, Chief Master Sgt Rodger Rawleigh, USAF (Ret) was inspired to serve because of the fact his dad never came back from war.


Memorial Day

Memorial Day is about gold star families and should not be confused with Veteran’s Day. The latter is a day which honors all who have served in the United States military. A memorial is a remembrance of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It’s not a day to say, “Happy Memorial Day,” even though many Americans have a day off. Many will use that time to picnic and enjoy their families and friends. In fact, the original tradition of this day was to eat a picnic while sitting on the grounds of a cemetery.

This national holiday was first recognized by Congress in 1971 and before that time it was known as Decoration Day, which originated shortly after the Civil war. Besides my Grandfather’s tragic accident, 645,000 Americans have given their lives in defense of our freedoms. What can we do to appropriately honor those who died? I’m glad you asked.


The Poppy

 Honoring our fallen with a poppy is a tradition that was inspired by the poem crafted in 1915
entitled, “In Flanders Fields.” It was written by Lt. Col John McCrae after he lost a friend during WWI.  McCrae’s poem inspired Moina Michael, an American professor and volunteer for the American YWCA, to write a response poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” vowing to wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

Michaels campaigned to have the red poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance and, with help from Anna Guerin and the 1920 National American Legion Conference, the poppy became the official symbol of remembrance.

But it’s not limited to our country, the poppy is used as a symbol of remembrance all over the world. Along with the American Legion, we encourage people to wear or display a poppy on this weekend to remember those who lost their lives in battle.


Virtual Poppy Field

I invite everyone to join the conversation online using #honorthroughaction and share your story. What does Memorial Day mean to you? Who are you honoring? You can visit www.poppyinmemory.com to dedicate a digital poppy to a fallen hero or as a gesture of appreciation for those who have sacrificed all. It only takes minutes to participate and I want to thank USAAwho are sponsoring this initiative and for all their help in Heroes at Home.

Honor the fallen today.

5 Do’s and Don’ts For a Smooth Transition to College or A Service Academy

When my daughter, Bethany was 4 years old, we called her “Bunny” because she hopped from heart to heart. She loved to play with her little girlfriends and one afternoon she spent the entire afternoon with Amanda. She was a little girl who felt life deeply and could go from being on top of the world to the depths of despair in nanoseconds.

When I picked her up from her friend’s she bounced to the car and chatted all the way home. We walked in the door and I asked her how Amanda’s older sister was doing. Suddenly, she began to sob, uncontrollably.

“What’s wrong, Bunny?” I handed her a Kleenex.

“I don’t want to leave you, Mama!” she wailed.

“Why would you think you have to leave?” I was really confused.

She looked at me through her tears, “To go to COLLEGE.”

Apparently Amanda’s older sister was preparing to move to go to college and Bethany couldn’t imagine a day when she would have to leave her Papa and myself to go to school. The good news is that fourteen years later, she was a little bit more prepared when she moved from California to Chicago to go to college. She got a B.A. in Communications, with an emphasis in Electronic Media and was in her element.

Today, Bethany and I host The Money Millhousepodcast and still get just as emotional, on occasion, while putting her college degree to good use. We made a point of preparing Bunny and all the Kay kids for college, long before they went to Freshman orientation. Three of the Kay kids went to service academies, which meant they only had less than a month at home after high school graduation.

Whether you are prepping kids to go to a civilian university or whether they are going a service academy like three of our sons (USMA, USAFA, USNA) here’s some “homework” in the form of five do’s and don’ts to make a smooth move.   

  1. Don’t – Fill up free time with friends at the expense of family. 
  • Friends come and go but family is forever.
  • Only a small percentage of your friends from high school will still be your BFFs throughout college. Less than 2% of boyfriend/girlfriend relationships will last until

    college graduation.

          Do – Tell your mama (and papa) that you love them early and often.

  • Mend fences and build bridges with family members.
  • Expect there to be some pre-separation anxiety on both sides (parents and kids) so give each other a lot of grace.
  • Students, please understand that this is hard on your parents, especially if you are moving away to go to school.
  • Parents, understand that this is hard on your kid because they are about to go do something they’ve never done before. For those going to service academies, it’s going to be big and scary and you won’t be there.
  • Students, take the time to thank your parents, grandparents, friends, educators and coaches.
  1. Don’t – Take a break from physical fitness, especially if attending a Service Academy.
  • My husband, Bob, and our son, Jonathan, went to The Air Force Academy and they used to say that “The Air Force Academy is at an altitude of 7258 feet—far far above Annapolis or West Point.” That’s why physical fitness was important.
  • If you’re going to a service academy, you’re going to take a Physical Fitness Test as soon as you get there.
  • Engage in risky behavior, now is not the time to push the limits legally or physically. Don’t take up space jumping or quad racing because a broken limb could cost an appointee their service academy appointment.

          Do – Continue to workout and make wise choices.

  • Physical fitness is a healthy way to cope with pressure in college.
  • Even if you go on a family vacation or have a lot of things to do.
  • For service academy appointees, run 3 miles 3-4 times a week and then do 50 pushups and 50 sit ups every day.
  1. Don’t – Make this all about you.
  • Parents, don’t create drama before they go or after they’ve gone.
  • Moms, don’t sob and cry and tell them you don’t’ know how you’re going to survive without them. Shedding a few tears is OK, but doing what Oprah calls “the ugly cry” isn’t all right.
  • Parental, sibling or significant other drama is a distraction to the service academy appointee going through basic cadet training or “beast.” Distractions can lead to accidents and accidents can lead to a turn back (meaning they have to go home.)
  • Don’t post a bunch of “poor me-isms” on social media

          Do – Keep it positive. 

  • Right now, service academy portals will have a mailing address for the student. Give this address to friends and family and with your network because cards and letters mean everything during basic training. “Basics” aren’t allowed access to computers, phones or social media.
  • Do send simple cards and letters – no perfume on the cards, no kissy marks on the envelopes, no care packages during beast, and no food. After beast is over, you can send these.
  • Do tell your student funny stories about a younger sibling or the dog.
  • Do send pictures of the dog or pet.
  • Do keep it light and not heavy.Students, do make your social media channels private or have them go dormant.
  • Do clean up these channels because you never know what the cadre will get ahold of and you don’t want to embarrass yourself or become a targ
  1. Don’t –Be Han Solo – you don’t have to do this alone.
  • My husband’s advice to our sons for basic cadet training was. “Keep your mouth shut and help your classmates.”
  • Don’t stand out as the first, the most knowledgeable or the best or worst
  • For parents, don’t go this journey alone, join a parents club or booster club.
  • Remember, parents, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.

          Do – Be a team player.

  • Look for ways you can help others get through Beast.
  • The friendships you make in BCT and college will last a lifetime. My husband, Bob and I just had dinner with a classmate of USAFA class of l978.
  • Do take advantage of the sponsor family program, a program that allows local families to “adopt” a cadet or midshipman.Some of these friendships may become like a second family—or at least get you to the airport.
  • Parents, do join a parents clubfor your respective service academy. Your civilian friends don’t get it, other service academy parents do understand the unique situation your family faces.
  1. Don’t – Ever forget the “why” of what this education and your career means.
  • Service Academy Appointees are choosing something hard, something their civilian friends will never understand, but there’s a big “why.” They want to serve their country as officers.
  • During BCT and during your 4 years there, you’ll have to sometimes take life a meal at a time, a day at a time.
  • Parents, don’t forget that being a good parent means you let them fly and you support their choice to serve. You don’t have to like it or feel good about what those choices may include.
  • Parents, DON’T borrow tomorrow’s trouble. While they are there, they are safe, they are not deployed, they are not in harm’s way. Today has enough challenges of its own without borrowing on tomorrow. As long as they are in training, they aren’t in combat. If and when that day happens, you’ll have the strength you need to cope. We know this, having had one son serve in a combat zone in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Appointees, remember your goals in getting through BCT and the academy—to fly, to serve, to go into cyber security or intel, or missles or space. Your goal is much bigger than BCT and that’s why you’ll get through.

Do –  Remember the Legacy

  • You are part of a long line of military service.
  • Think about the parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles who have ever served. You are part of that legacy.
  • Your legacy keeps American free.
  • Putting on a uniform doesn’t make someone a hero, but those who put on that uniform and serve with integrity first, service before self and excellence in all they do—that’s pretty heroic.
  • There’s another kind of hero as well, the Heroes at Homeand those are the parents, siblings, grandparents and family members of those who serve. America thanks you as well. 

“It starts and ends with character, and it’s a journey, not a destination. Leadership is a gift, and it is given to us by those who follow.”

General David Goldfein

Air Force Chief of Staff



Leaving Home 101 – Launching Money Smart Kids

My five-year-old son, Jonathan, was very mad and having a horrible, no good, very bad day. His three-year-old brother, Joshua, had taken all his favorite GI Joes and threw them in the toilet—again.
“I haffa tell ya’ mama,” He announced when he came into the kitchen where I was mixing a batch of brownies, “I’m gonna’ run away.”
Gazing at his determined face, I leaned down and met his eyes, “Well, we’re going to miss you around here, son. Let me at least pack you a lunch before you go.”
As a veteran mom of many, I knew Jonathan’s terrible, no good, very bad day would pass and that he was probably just going to his friend’s house to play. I asked his older brother, Daniel, to get on his bike and follow his younger brother to make sure he would only go as far as the Maerten’s house.
I dialed Leanne Maertens number, “Hey Leanne, is Jonathan there yet?”
I heard her doorbell ring, “Yes, I think he’s at the door now.”
“Well, he’s run away from home and I figure he’ll hang out until dinner. Let me know when he leaves.”
Fast forward a few years and Jonathan’s left home again—for good. He’s earned a $435,000 scholarship to The United States Air Force Academy. He learned that there’s a good way to leave home and a not-so-good way to leave. Here are the things parents can make sure their children know in order to leave home well.

Budget Babies
Before your child leaves make sure that you help them establish a workable budget. Go to my tools page at www.elliekay.com . The categories should include housing, transportation, clothing, food, entertainment, and (if necessary) tuition and books. Decide, up front, what they will pay for from their own work money and what you will cover. Ask them to send you a monthly budget report and review it with them. Look at this as an opportunity to coach them in right choices but beware of funding their failures by bailing them out on a regular basis. This is the time for them to learn to live on their own in a healthy way. A great resource is www.MoneyTrail.net , a free, online allowance and money management system for kids, teens and families. Kids & teens track their allowances, IOUs, cash and gift cards. They learn to make smart saving and spending decisions, too.

Bucks and Money Cards
Your college bound student will need banking accounts for checking and savings. Research banks (or savings and loans) that offer student banking programs. In our family, we like to get money cards like the American Express prepaid credit card that is safer than cash, do not require a credit check and are easily reloaded. With this money card, our college kids have the benefits of a debit or credit card without the liability or temptation to get into debt. They are convenient, safe and efficient—plus we can reload funds onto their cards either online or at our local store.
Now is also the time to educate your child on the dangers of easy credit. Direct them to order their free annual report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus to make sure no one has stolen their identity.
Help your children set up their own credit card through your own credit card company with an “additional card” where you are the gatekeeper. You can set up credit limits and turn off ATM use as well. As they charge items that you were planning on pay for (such as books, rent, food) then pay off the balance each month, they’ll build their own credit score as well. Our son, Daniel, as a senior in college built enough good credit to prequalify for a townhouse! It all started with our involved effort to help him establish and build credit wisely—without getting into debt.

Borrowing and Student Loans

Parents often ask, “How do we pay for college, should we get a HELOC or a second mortgage?” I do not believe you should leverage the equity in your home (which is part of your future retirement) in order to pay for your child’s future. HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit) are also a poor choice. Instead, look at a variety of scholarships, work study programs, and other options available through the financial aid office at the school. Another financially healthy option is to have your child attend a college you can afford. Our mantra for our college bound kids is: I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.
My oldest step-daughter took a year off school between her sophomore and junior years at Columbia University in order to work to help pay for college. Some employers will help pay for college as well. Exhaust all your options and think outside the box in order to minimize college debt. If you must subsidize tuition through student loans, then make sure the loans are in your student’s name and that they do not exceed $20,000 by the time they graduate from a four year college. Email assistant@elliekay.com and ask for the “College Crunch” file for dozens of great ways to get through college debt free!

Bagels and Broccoli
My daughter, Bethany, was graduating from high school and I decided to let her do our grocery shopping in order to teach her how to shop wisely when she was on her own at college. When she got the the bakery department, she exclaimed: “Wow! I can get this bag of eight bagels for less than this other bag with only six!” She was so proud (and so was I!)
Be sure your kids know how to price compare and how to read the store labels as well. Show them the “price per ounce” on the shelf so that they can recognize value. Walk them through the frozen foods section to compare the difference between buying fresh broccoli versus frozen and let them see the savings in frozen convenience foods versus fast food pizza. We also teach them to use www.couponmom.com in order to match up coupons with local sales in order to get items for pennies or for free.

Launching a child in leaving home can be costly and stressful unless you are strategic and purposeful in your planning. With the right moves, you can help your student finish well at home and start their new life with a healthy financial perspective.

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Coupon Blessings – Diary of a Coupon Queen

I had five children seven and under, a fighter pilot husband who was gone more than he was home, and we had just made our eleventh military move in thirteen years. Because we moved so much, we homeschooled the kids to give the poor little dears the continuity they needed.  In the midst of keeping a clean home, volunteering at our local base, couponing, grinding our wheat and making our bread, I decided to do something totally unreasonable:  I wrote my first book, Shop, Save and Share. This photo is what we looked like when I penned the “Coupon Queen’s” book, just after coming back from my first book signing.

Besides having a high energy level at that time, the main reason I wrote a book was to help other families get out of the debt the same way we were able dig out from $40,000 in consumer debt. It seemed that writing a book was the best way to get the word out to a lot of people at once.  Fast forward twelve years, and my kids are almost all grown and gone and I now have 14 books under this expanding belt of mine. 🙂 As I reflect on whether Shop, Save and Share achieved it’s intended purpose, I introduce a guest blogger, Andrea Wiener, who will give us her story. (This is a shortened version, for the full version go to Coupon Blessings.)

Andrea’s Story:

So glad to have this opportunity to tell my story – how God used Ellie Kay and her ministry to help eliminate my $30,000 credit card debt.

 At the age of 17, I was $30,000 in debt from almost a dozen credit cards.  [In 1999] I’m prayin “Lord, I’m still up to my ears in debt and now I gotta stock up on stuff”[for Y2K].

 God quickly started answering that prayer – a few days later, Ellie Kay appeared as a guest on “Life Today” with James and Betty Robison. Ellie had just come out with Shop, Save, and Share – I was excited to read it cos’ here was somebody that made sense – and I wanted to know how to share blessings with others when I didn’t have too much myself – and a whole bunch of debt besides which.

 Ellie’s book was SO simple – I think I ended up dog-earing a few of them – her explanation of couponing and blessings were easy. Simplest concepts were new to me – like using a store coupon with a manufacturers’ coupon!

 As I mastered each concept, I immediately started using it – and moved on to the next one. I used to keep her book in my bag – that’s why it was getting so dog-eared, and I ended up having to buy a few of them.

 What I like about the book is that Ellie’s Christian worldview and integrity come out from the VERY first chapter. I remember this quote from the Shop Save and Share audio/video series – “everything we do must be done with integrity and honor” – so whenever the shelf-clearing tendencies try to take over as I shop, I go back to that.

 In 2000, all my debt was paid off. 12 years later, I have a couponing website (www.couponblessingsnow.com) and a corresponding Facebook page (CouponBlessingsNow) – but if it wasn’t for God putting Ellie Kay and Shop Save and Share into my life, I don’t think I would have any of this.

 My advice to you guys? If you haven’t already, check out Ellie Kay on her website (which is www.elliekay.com) and on her “Ellie Kay” Facebook page – you will be blessed, for she will teach you a LOT.


Thanks, Andrea, for sharing your story today and everyone be sure to check out her blog.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

How do YOU Spell Stress Relief?

I had five children in the first seven years of marriage and moved 11 times in 13 years! During that time frame, my fighter pilot husband was gone as much as he was home, I home-schooled the kids because it was the only continuity they had, and I didn’t have the support or proximity of any extended family members. It was a situation set up for a first class trip to the funny farm! 

    Some folks turn to addictive behaviors to cope with stress, like shopping therapy (and the credit card debt that goes with it) or overeating (OK, so I’ve been known to wallow my sorrows in chocolate and coffee on occasion).  But I decided to volunteer at the base Family Services Center. They paid for 6 hours a week of childcare for those five kiddies and I gave back to the military community in a productive way instead of drowning in the “poor me” syndrome.  I also worked out by walking the kids at the park or running early in the morning before my husband left for work. We were on a tighty-tight budget at that time, so these stress relievers were within our spending plan because they were FREE.

 How do YOU reduce stress without breaking your budget?  My son, Jonathan, is a freshman (doolie) at the United States Air Force Academy, and it’s an incredibly rough first year at that fine institution. They get broken down and built back up as a military team. But they also find brilliant ways to reduce stress. One of the biggest weekends in a “doolie’s” life is 100’s night. This is when the seniors (firsties) have 100 days until graduation. They find out their bases, and they all go out for 3 days to celebrate. It’s tradition for freshman to “decorate” their room. The more you destroy it with a theme, the more respect you show to that senior. For Cadet Owen’s room, Jonathan & friends used 300 pounds of rice, and random stuff including marble strips from the Terrazzo (the main walk area at the Academy) for a Zen garden. Jonathan, et al, also created a tennis court in another room complete with artificial turf, foul lines and a net. There was a “pond” with water and 15 goldfish (for the class of 2015). The photo shows a VW bug that was purchased from salvage and reassembled in a senior’s room. Another senior staff member had his room dry walled shut—the hallway was one straight wall, instead of an alcove going into his room. He had to destroy the new “wall” to get in!

A lot of de-stressing military stories are told in my new, 3rd edition of Heroes at Home, some are so very creative! Here’s one of my favorites:

Tom Neven, a former Marine, is currently an author and freelance writer. He tells the story of when he was stationed in Okinawa at Camp Hansen with the First Battalion, Fourth Marines. Someone broke into the provost marshal’s office, where they had an audiotape player that broadcast the national anthem and “Marines’ Hymn” at 0800 every morning. The “criminal” substituted a Led Zeppelin tape. At 0800 the next morning, as each unit was waiting to raise the morning colors, a raucous “Whole Lotta Love” blasted across the base instead!

 What do you do to de-stress? Today, I still walk, volunteer, spend time with friends and I also love getting spa treatments and I never pay full price. In fact, I subscribe to the local deal site, Local Living  to get an $85 massage for $33 or a $45 pedicure for $18. So be sure to check with your local group buying site to save money. 

 Share with me how YOU spell stress relief!

Ellie Kay



Fun Kid’s Budgets — Teaching the Value of a Buck

“But I waaant it, “ four year old Joshua whined for the umpteenth time.  Bob was TDY and I was completely out of patience with our youngest son.  After taking care of five kids under the age of 11 by myself for months, my fun meter was pegged. I braced myself for a complete kiddie meltdown in the middle of the department store, and I knew what I must do to prevent it from happening.  I turned to my son, “Is it in your budget?”  He immediately stopped the whining, “Um…let me see.” Distracted by the question and the task of looking in his little wallet, we successfully navigated the possibility of daytime drama and I breathed a sigh of relief.

That incident happened a number of years ago and now Joshua has received an appointment to West Point and will be getting a $425,000 education in the process. Part of this is because we took the time to teach him about budgets, a work ethic and financial literacy from a young age. I believe there is a way to teach kids about money matters and help them become financially literate by developing child-friendly exercises such as “Fun Kid Budgets.”

Oftentimes, children can get family finances off track with their kiddie demands for instant gratification, but you can teach your kids about money by putting them on a budget for anything from clothing to school supplies to entertainment. And it doesn’t have to be dull, dry and boring—it can be fun! Here is where the fun part comes in, whatever he doesn’t spend, he gets to keep. Just make sure the budgets are age appropriate and be prepared to help them learn. Here are some examples of how to create your own Fun Kid Budgets:

  • Restaurants — tell your child how much you will give him to spend on his meal at the restaurant. Remember, he gets to keep what he doesn’t spend. This becomes a great motivator for him to spend less than he “makes” while learning the value of a dollar!  But be careful with the born savers, they might just say, “I don’t think I’ll eat a meal here at all, I’ll save the $8 and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at home.”


  • The Zoo – When you take a child to the zoo, give her enough for the ticket, treats and a modest souvenir. She may even pass on the sweets and pocket the change.
  • Theme Parks – If you have a big family vacation planned to a theme park, give your child enough for the day. We did this with our five children at Knotts Berry Farm, designating $100 per child.  You should have seen how big their eyes got when they had to fork over $55 just to get into the park!
  • Movies – Budget the ticket and a nice snack, kids will soon learn that theater food is very overpriced.
  • Clothing – Set aside an amount you’ll pay for the article of clothing. You pay for the item, they pay for the brand. For example, the budget for tennis shoes is $40, if our teen wants the “Air Jordans” for $120, he pays the extra $80 from his allowance or savings for the brand name.

Remember that grandmas, aunties and big sisters can also teach the kids they love how to manage money with a fun budget. For more information on what your kids should know (at what age) about money matters, email a request for “Fiscal Fitness for Kids” to assistant@elliekay.com . Please mention that you read about this resource in my blog and we’ll send it to you free!
How do YOU teach your kids about money?

Ellie Kay

The Top Twelve “Don’ts” for Deployments

I was a mom to five children who were seven years old and under and it was a wild time in our house when my fighter pilot husband deployed. There were some assignments when he was gone more than he was home and dealing with all those kids was simply chaos. But out of the chaos came creativity and new capabilities that were waiting for the right opportunity to emerge. There were things I learned to do and not to do in order to survive and thrive.

I wasn’t alone. Over the course of a decade, the combination of multiple deployments and limited time at home has weighed heavily on the families of military members who have fought two protracted ground wars. Those family members left at home have a significant role to play while their military loved one is deployed. While there are things they can do to make the separations more bearable, there are also certain activities to avoid. Along those lines, here are the “Top Twelve Don’ts for Deployment”

  1. Don’t have a negative attitude; it will hurt you, your kids, and everyone who is unfortunate enough to be around you! Keep the sour remarks off Facebook and twitter or anyplace your spouse can read them. You don’t want him or her distracted by your “stuff” because distractions can lead to accidents and accidents can lead to loss of life.
  2. Don’t spend time alone with people of the opposite sex; establish boundaries during this particularly vulnerable time.
  3. Don’t listen to your favorite love songs or romantic movies if it makes you nostalgic for your mate. Instead, watch a comedy with a friend.
  4. Don’t buy big-ticket items without your spouse’s approval—no matter how depressed you are. Instead, try to save money. For example, review the amount you are paying for home or auto insurance and try to get it cheaper. Be sure to check out USAA if you qualify to become a member.
  5. Don’t give in to impulse buying on the smaller-ticket items either; they will surely add up to big debts!
  6. Don’t clean out your spouse’s “stuff,” even if he never does listen to those old CDs!
  7. Don’t stay home alone—especially if you have little ones. Plug into your Family Support Group, LINKS, on base or join a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group in your area.
  8. Don’t turn down offers for help. Take people up on their offers to take you to lunch, come over for dinner, baby-sit your kids (if you trust them), and even bring you a casserole. Now is the time to accept help!
  9. Don’t overdose on news shows, especially when your spouse is involved in a “hot news” conflict. Don’t let your kids hear much (if any) of the news involving your spouse’s deployment. Even babies and toddlers can pick up on the vibe. Madeline Brazell says, “Andrew, who was only two when Duane went to war, started to exhibit disturbing behavior during the first days Duane’s deployment to the war when we kept the news on almost all day.”
  10. Don’t overdo it on TV in general—too much of it makes your brain turn to mush.
  11. Don’t use TV, DVDs, computers, or game systems as a babysitter. Limit their use to one show or one hour a day and your child will have a better outlook on life.
  12. Don’t list your physical address in the phone book or on any registration information. When a Stealth went down in Kosovo, and they didn’t know who the pilot was, CNN was standing curbside at every pilot’s house listed in the phone book!

How do YOU find you cope when your military member is deployed?

Thank you for being a Hero at Home and be sure to share this with a military family as your way of telling them, “Thanks for your service as a Hero at Home.”

Ellie Kay


Military Heroes, Money and Me

If time and money were no issue, what could you see yourself doing for the rest of your life? That’s the question we ask in order to discover our passions.

Think about this for a minute and remember this would be something you have to do FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! What would you do and why? Could you really travel for the rest of your life?  Could you eat chocolate for the duration? Could you go to spas forever? Most of the “splurges” we would indulge in if time and money were no object are not sustainable for the REST OF OUR LIVES.

Here’s my answer:

I’d speak to our military members and their families. I’d give two kinds of presentations:

1) Heroes at Home — The top characteristics of military families that help them not only survive the lifestyle, but thrive in the midst of it. These families would experience humor, hope and healing and walk away feeling that what they do as Heroes at Home has a life and death impact on our world. They would feel they are leaving a meaningful legacy.

2) Money Matters — The number one problem in marriages is money. I would show families how to get out of debt, improve FICOS, teach their kids financial literacy and pay cash for cars. I would give them real world examples from our very real family of kids that graduate from college debt free with 700+ FICOS. This is the message I’d give to families if time and money were no object.

Wait a minute!  This is exactly what I’m doing because my “profession” is finances in which I’m a media veteran, financial expert and spokesperson. But my “passion” is helping military families and it’s what I have the privilege of doing in between my corporate work, speaking and media appearances. In fact, the two often marry such as the recent appearance I had on Fox and Friends talking about sequestration and the loss of tuition assistance for military members. Click through to see the segment. 

Thanks to sponsors like USAA I can give away hundreds of free books to these military audiences so that they can walk away with some tangible military and financial help at their fingertips. I waived my usual honorariums at these events. With additional generous donors like ProFlowers, I’m able to travel to military bases and give away lots of free stuff to our Heroes at Home like several $200 gift certificates for San Diego’s own Shari’s Berries, Red Envelope, Personal Creations and ProFlowers . What do these corporate sponsors get out of the deal? They get the satisfaction of knowing they are making a difference in the lives of people like Shari.

I did a Heroes at Home presentation last month at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD)and there was a woman named Shari* (*name changed) who came up to me after the event. She confessed that she was at the end of her sanity because she was stuck at home with two toddlers while her husband was facing his 3rd deployment in 5 years. She was all of 23 years old.

Shari smiled weakly, “I came out tonight because of the free childcare and to get a break from the kids.”

She wiped away her tears, “I didn’t expect to laugh so much. Isn’t that silly, I don’t know why I’m crying now…But to hear that others feel the same way I do and I have people here who can be a support has changed my outlook. I can’t believe you did it with all those kids of yours.”

“I feel that I know why I’m a military spouse and that it really is worth it after all.” She smiled bravely, “I know what I need to do and you helped me see that.”

“Besides,” she wiped her nose “I won the gift basket door prize.” She laughed and blew her nose into a kleenex.

I got an email from Shari a few weeks later and she’s plugged into a family support group program at MCRD to get the support she needs. She said that night we met was a turning point for her because it gave her hope.

Hope. That’s a powerful word.

I guess you can see why military families are my passion.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R) 

If you live in the San Diego area, then save the date:

Camp Pendleton – April 19th — Del Mar Beach Resort – 6:00 — Call 760-725-9052 to make reservations for free childcare

We will be giving away free books, and $200 gift certificates from San Diego’s own, Shari’s Berries, plus $200 gift certificates for Red Envelope and Personal Creations plus a $350 gift certificate to ProFlowers.

Pass along this info to your military friends in the area, there are limited spots available for childcare, so they should act now

Lean Body, Fat Wallet: The Health and Wealth Connection

I’m announcing, in this blog, my new upcoming release with friend Danna Demetre!

What would you do if you finally lost all that excess weight and had energy to burn?  How different would your life be if you were completely out of debt and in control of your finances? And what if you could do both at the same time with just few simple lifestyle changes?

Those were some of the questions we wanted to answer when I wrote this book with Danna Demetre. In the interest of full disclosure, there were other reasons I wanted to pen this work as well. One of them was because it was a good excuse to spend time in Danna’s lovely San Diego home doing the writing (and drinking beverages from Italy)! Plus my hubby likes her hubby, Lew (except when the West Point grad takes on the Air Force Academy grad and they engage in a death-match-war-of-the-words to see whose academy is superior.) It also meant that I only had to write ½ of a book instead of a whole book.  Don’t laugh, this is a very important reason I engaged in this project.  In fact, my literary agent, Steve Laube, says, “Ellie you are the kind of author who likes to have written books.”  So what’s your point, Steve?

Even though Danna and I are experts from two seemingly different fields – finance and fitness,  in our new book, Lean Body, Fat Wallet, we let readers in on a remarkable discovery – the habits that are good for your wallet are equally good for your body. The principles that help you stick to a budget are the same ones that help you eat better, lose weight and keep it off.

The simple and practical teaching in this “two for one” bargain of a book will help you put those principles and habits to work using an innovative approach to improving both your wealth and your health.  Lean Body, Fat Wallet, includes real life stories of failure and success readers will identify with and draw inspiration from. It also links common issues of health and money, such as balancing a budget along with a diet and how overspending relates to overeating.

Here’s just a sampling of what you’ll find in Lean Body, Fat Wallet:

  • Four essential habits for satisfying, sustainable change and how to make them part of your life
  • Ten “failure factors” that trip us up and how to steer clear of them
  • Proven strategies to overcome emotional eating and spending
  • A wealth of stress busters that don’t rely on food or money
  • A game plan for raising fit and frugal kids

We also offer a tool kit of charts to track your accomplishments and a recap menu that allows readers to easily navigate each chapter and pick out specific sections relevant to current needs.

Here’s a list of reasons people fail to develop that Lean Body, Fat Wallet we will give you ways to overcome these:

Top Ten Failure Factors

  1. Set unrealistic goals ­
  2. Motivated by the wrong motives
  3. Believed failure was inevitable
  4. Fulfilled the need for immediate gratification too often
  5. Influenced unduly by other people
  6. Practiced a “deprivation mentality”  – all or nothing/black or white
  7. Rationalized and made excuses rather than taking responsibility
  8. Displaced emotional issues through overspending and overeating
  9. Procrastinated rather than taking action
  10. Lacked the tools to make compounding incremental change

Through this book you, too, can discover a new way to approach your financial and physical challenges. Join Danna and I on this amazing journey and at the end of the road, you’ll develop your very own lean body and fat wallet!

Pre-order the book and we’ll send you a special surprise!

What would YOU rather have, a Lean Body or a Fat Wallet?


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