A Financial Education Event
 

Identity Theft Protection for Girlfriends, Grandma and Grandkids

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My husband brought me the credit card bill and asked “What did you DO on your last trip to New York?” He was stunned, “These charges are to a tattoo shop, an liquor store and a series of bars. Please tell me this is some kind of mistake!”
It was a classic case of identity theft. I may have been guilty of buying one too many lattes and pastries at Dean and Delucas in New York, but I had no tattoos! I tried to respond to my hubby but couldn’t speak . . .
And then I woke up.

Yes, I know. I’m a strange breed because my nightmares consist of dreams about identity theft. Unfortunately, my nightmares are other people’s reality, especially in light of recent major data breaches.
According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, it takes 12 months, on average, for a victim of identity theft to notice the crime. You may feel YOU are safe, but what about your girlfriends in your group of friends? What about Grandma in the retirement home? She’s a prime target. So is your four year old grandson, when scammers want to take over his social security number.

I just got back from an informative trip to USAA in San Antonio. They flew out a group of us, who also write about these topics, and they shared the newest ways they help their members in a variety of areas. I interviewed Mike Slaugh, the Executive Director of Financial Crimes Prevention and he gave me some great ways to keep you and (those who love) safe from the ever growing threat of identity theft. Here are some ways to identify and protect yourself from the latest scams.

Phishing Scams – Never give your social security number, account numbers, date of birth or other personal information via email or on the phone unless you initiated the contact.  Never click a link in an email, no matter how official the email looks. Instead, open a browser and put in the name of your credit card or lending institution sending the email. “Some of the most popular scams are romance, charity, work at home and advanced fee scams” says Slaugh. “If you are asked to send money so they can pay you money, then that’s classified as an advanced fee scam.”

Checks – When you pay your credit card by check, never put your credit card’s full account number on the check, just write the last four digits. This will prevent someone in transit from harvesting your account number. Better yet, set up an automatic pay from your checking account and you won’t have to write a check at all (plus, you’ll never be late on your payments.)

• Data Breach – To see if your data was among those compromised during the Equifax Data breach, just go to the website they set up to verify your data. You’ll only use 6 digits of your social to see if your name appears on the list. Remind your girlfriends, Grandma and grandkids to check this info as well. If your info was compromised, then they offer a list of actions to take to help, this also includes getting credit monitoring. Your bank or credit card company might offer free credit monitoring as a benefit to their customers. Our family are USAA members and they partner with Experian to provide those members with free credit monitoring. I’ve seen alerts that tell me new lines of credit were opened.  If these accounts weren’t opened by me, then I can take immediate action.

MFA or Multifactor Authentication – Mike Slaugh emphasized the need to “make sure your financial accounts utilize MFA.” This means that your mobile app or website requires a touch ID, face or voice authentication, and/or a four digit pin, or a security token built into the app. This could include email or cell phone authentication or recovery that would send a code to your phone or email to authenticate usage on a new device.

• Deployed Military Members — During our Heroes at Home Financial events at bases, we encourage deploying military members to bring a device with them that can support MFA such as a keychain token. At the USAA Deployment Checklist you’ll find where a USAA member can go to their security section and ask for the token. Furthermore, you may want to put a credit alert on your social security number to make sure that scammers can’t use personal info to authenticate. Dana Martinez, USAA Director of Corporate Communications adds, “The Active Duty Alert gives extra protection for the service member.” You can put this alert in place by contacting any of the three credit reporting bureaus: Experian, TransUnion or Equifax.

• Auction Fraud or Fraudulent Websites– Auction fraud is a frequently reported consumer fraud complaint at the FTC, totaling 51,000 auction complaints last year. The fraud is simple – put up a fake ad on eBay or other auction site, let someone “win” the bid and send in their money, but never send out the merchandise. Make sure the seller has an established history before you click “buy.” Also, watch out for websites that offer deals that are incredibly good. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” says Mike Slaugh. Check out any questionable website with the Better Business Bureau. Or google the website name, address or phone number and see the results.

I had a family member recently try to buy a dog for a great deal. She checked out the website and it wasn’t reported as fraudulent. But when she got to the payment portion, they wanted a Western Union payment before she got the dog– red flag!  There’s no recourse with that kind of payment and you can’t get your money back with a wire transfer or a money order. She googled the phone number listed on the website and saw it was connected to a previous scam website that was taken down. Her savvy sleuthing saved her from losing a lot of money just by being aware and doing her research.

• Identity Theft or Credit Repair Scams — The Federal Trade Commission has warned that some companies that claim to be identity theft prevention companies are scam artists trying to get your driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name, Social Security number or credit and bank account numbers. If you are unsure about a firm, check it out with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org .

 

Keep your data safe and be sure to pass along your knowledge to friends and family members, you could save them a lot of grief just by sharing this wealth of information.

 

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

 

Before You Say “I Do” – Premarital Financial Counseling

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“Bye, bye!”  I smiled and waved from the front porch, Bob by my side, “Nice to meet you!”

Speaking like a ventriloquist, I continued to wave at my son and his girlfriend,

“I give It less than one week” I told my husband, “two weeks tops.”

Bob smiled, giving his very poor ventriloquist rendition, “I don’t know, she was, ah, very conversational.”

“Yeah,” we turned to walk back in, “and her favorite topic was herself!”

We had just entertained one of our sons and a girl he brought home to meet us. In our family, we are predisposed to like the significant others that our children bring home because our kids have very good judgement. Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t sitting on “no” when it comes to these friendships that could blossom into something more.

One week later, we got a call from our son letting us know that he and the girl were not going to work out.

“Yeah,” our son reported, “I realized that the only thing we had in common was that we both thought she was pretty.”

The Kay whammy had struck again.

“What is the Kay whammy?” you ask.  It’s pretty simple, when our kids bring a special person home to meet our family, they either stay together for life and get married. Or, they break up within two weeks.

We are an intense family and we tend to drive away the faint of heart. But we are also a loving, loud and loquacious family and that attracts the brave hearts.

When it comes to a spouse, our kids look for certain qualities and when they get serious, we ask for a credit report.

I’m kidding.

Not really.

Knowing your future mate’s money habits is a significant part of deciding if they are a “forever” friend or not. Since “money matters” is cited as the #1 reason for divorce in America, it’s important to be on the same page regarding this topic. So far, all of our kids have opted for premarital counseling before the big day and this counseling should include the topic of money management.

Here’s a quick list of the financial topics that should be covered before you say I do.

8 Topics to Cover in Financial Premarital Counseling

Your Family of Origin’s Financial Situation

How did your parents manage money? What did they teach you about money? Chances are good you may manage your finances the way that your family did and this may be different from your significant other’s point of view. Did your parents save, believe in tithing, pay cash for everything or did they live paycheck to paycheck? Hashing out the differences, finding the similarities and developing a new plan for you and your spouse will be topics you cover under this heading.

Your Spend Plan

Do you currently have a budget? Go over both of your current budgets. If you don’t have one, then that is also a discussion point. Decide on what a new budget will look like for you as a couple when you are married. There’s a great app I use called Mint that can be accessed and updated by both parties at any time. This is especially good for military families who are apart but want to keep track of mutual spending.

 Holidays, Birthdays and Vacations

How do you spend money on vacations and holidays? Some families spend so much on Christmas, that it takes until the following May to pay off that debt. Others never take a family vacation. Our family had a low-key Christmas where each child got three modest gifts so the emphasis could stay on the Christ child. Then we went all out on their birthdays where the child was so celebrated that it became a highlight of the year for them. All these different approaches will impact your budget and your relationship.

 Born Spender or Saver?

What is your money personality? You could take the Money Harmony Quiz to see whether you are a born hoarder, spender, money monk, avoider or amasser.  Bob was a born spender, I was a born saver and we made it work nonetheless. But it took a lot of discussion and an action plan to learn to live in harmony with an opposite type of money personality.

 One Checkbook or Two?

Are you each going to keep your own checking account or are you going to combine them? Who will pay for which bill? What about savings accounts and credit cards? Will those be combined or remain separate? Now is a good time to download my free Sixty Minute Money Workout to help you learn how to discuss this topic and others within a time frame that minimizes conflict and maximizes the work you are doing in this area.

 Your Credit History or Debt

You and your significant other need to bring your credit reports to a premarital financial counseling session. Depending on what is there, it may be a wee bit uncomfortable. I married into 40K of consumer debt I didn’t know about and it had a huge impact on our lives together. Your mate may not count student loan debt as debt and you may find out there is an 80K loan that will impact your marriage. You can get a copy of your credit report, once a year, for free at Annual Credit Report and get one for each of the three reporting bureaus at this site. You can also get a copy of your credit score (different from a report) at Credit.com where they will also tell you ways to improve your score. Be prepared to enter your social security number to get this information. Talk about these debts and discuss a repayment plan.

Long Term Financial Priorities

My adult daughter says that life is about investing in experiences, not things. Her priority is travel over a newer car or designer clothes. Her husband’s priorities are slightly different because he’s a born saver. They learned how to discuss these diverse perspectives by doing a Sixty Minute Money Workout so they can get on the same page.  Your mate may want to buy a house as soon as possible and would forgo vacations to make that happen. You may not care that much about home ownership but really want to go home for the holidays. It’s important to discuss topics like housing, retirement, vacation and other long term goals before you get married. I like to say that you can have it all, but not at the same time. Bob and I chose to put our kids in private schools rather than drive new cars. Today, our kids are done with school and we drive the newer cars. We just have to choose the timing on our purchases.

 

Who Does the Math?

Someone is going to need to balance the checkbook, pay the bills and set up the budget. Yes, you should set up your spend plan together, you can even pay the bills together, but that’s usually the exception rather than the norm. One of you may be predisposed to balancing the books better than the other. One of you may actually enjoy paying the bills. In our family, I’m the financial expert and my husband flies jets, so you would think I balance the checkbook. But I also know that my husband needs to be aware of the bottom line because he’s the born spender, so he keeps the books and I review the statements. There needs to be a check and balance. One person should not have absolute control over the couple’s money. Sometimes, he who controls the money controls the house. So it’s important that both partners have access so that there’s no abuse of power.

Which of these topics have you already discussed with your significant other? Which topics still need to be explored? Set a day, time and topic to talk about money with your mate and don’t forget to get the free Sixty Minute Money Workout download.

 

And Baby Makes Three – Ways to Save Bucks on Babies

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“Mama, can you ask Miss Natalya if I can hold the baby?” my 6’ 4” son asked with hopeful expectation.

Moments later, he was holding the pretty little three-month-old baby girl and smiling proudly, “now take my picture.”

Ever since he was a teenager, he absolutely loved babies. Holding them. Having his picture made with them. Then giving them back when they made the tell-tale popping sounds that let him know the infant was filling up her diaper.

Father and son

Fast forward ten years. Past his years as a midshipman at Annapolis, past his years as a graduate student at Stanford, past combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fast forward to the present. Now, this Marine is holding his newborn son, Robert Philip Kay, III.

 

“Why are you picking up the baby when he’s sleeping?” I watch my son cuddle his 4-day-old son, the infant’s tiny features pronounced next to his big father’s duplicate profile.

 

“Because I’m the dad and I can hold him whenever I want.” He holds him. He has his picture made with him. And when the tell-tale popping noises indicate little Robbie is filling his diaper, he’s suddenly changed. He goes from a boy who has never changed a diaper to a man who changes every single one his tiny son fills (and his namesake filled six of those bad boys in only 24 hours.)

I’m proud of my man child who grew up so quickly, met a beautiful mermaid, married her before she got away and made me a “Glam-ma” to a tiny human who has my Hispanic hair, my husband’s name, his mother’s nose and his father’s legacy.

My daughter in law is a precious asset to the Kay family and not surprisingly, she’s great with money. Here are eight new mom tips that come from her recent experience and my background as a mom of many.

8 Ways to Save Bucks on Babies

  • Amazon Baby Registry – Whether you have three baby showers or none, it’s smart to have a list of items you can use for baby. Even if friends and family don’t buy off the list, they can still mark it as “purchased” to minimize duplicates. Once everyone buys what they want, the new parents are entitled to a 10% off one order (wither 60 days before and up to 180 days after the baby’s arrival) and 15% off if you are an Amazon Prime Member. My DIL used this discount to buy eligible items off her registry that had not yet been purchased and she used Amazon gift cards, to further minimize their OOP expenses. Plus, she had $1000 worth of gifts purchased by friends and family, which scored her $100 worth of free diapers and wipes.
  • Return Duplicates Promptly – Get a store credit or exchange items for something else you can use right away. If you wait until after the baby arrives, you may not have the chance to get around to returning the items in a timely manner and you’ll lose out.
  • Don’t Open Those Diapers! – My first son, Daniel, weighed 11 pounds and was 24” long. He never wore newborn diapers. My last son, Joshua, was 10.5 pounds. He never wore newborn diapers. Even if you don’t give birth to a sumo wrestler, you still need to be careful on your timing in opening new bags/boxes of diapers. Once you open them, they can’t be returned for a larger size. This is especially true when you open a 180 count box from Exchanging a brand name diaper is easy at Walmart or Target, where you don’t need a receipt to get a larger size package. But not if they’re opened.
  • Calling All Freebies – I went out to Annapolis to nest before the baby arrived and it seemed like every day, my DIL was getting freebies delivered to her door—especially baby formula. She also got free toiletries, diapers, books and more from the hospital. Manufacturers of baby products and hospital auxiliary groups provide freebies for new moms. Look inside the baby bassinet cabinet in the hospital and you’ll probably find diapers, swaddling blankets, alcohol swabs, a nasal aspirator, disposable nipples for bottles, a thermometer, and more. These are valued at $30 to $40 and you can always use them.
  • Nurse if Possible – Not only will your baby get colostrum, that helps to fight infections and illnesses, but you’ll get valuable bonding time with your little one. It’s been estimated that nursing moms save $1400 in the first year over those who use formula. My DIL got reimbursed for a pump through Tri Care and other insurance plans cover the cost of a pump as well. Don’t take the one from the hospital because those (usually) aren’t free and nothing can ruin a peaceful day at home with your newborn than the breast pump Po Po at your door, asking why you stole an $800 breast pump.Don’t give away your sample formula either, 85% of nursing moms stop by the time their babies are 6 months old.
  • Free Advice – Many hospitals have a lactation expert who makes the rounds and helps new moms learn how to nurse a baby. When Anne, the lactation consultant came by to see my DIL, I learned a few things as well. Even after nursing 5 babies, I didn’t know that “infants are nocturnal beings.” Um, yeah. I should have figured that out. This service is free and can cost $200 if you pay a lactation advisor. Ask about free hotlines and even volunteer services that may pay for a home visit. Plus, check your insurance provider’s coverages as well.One of the nurses, Leslie, was helping my DIL and when she realized I had raised 5 infants, she pointed at me and said to my son and DIL, “You are blessed to have her in your life. She’s one of the greatest resources of knowledge you have at your disposal.” I loved Leslie, she was my favorite.
  • Double Duty Accessories – When you’re filling out a wish list, try to get items that have more than one function. Like a Graco pack n play that also has a changing table built in as well as a bassinet. We got my oldest son a crib that converted into a toddler bed for his son, Liam, and we bought the conversion kit when we bought the crib. These styles are new every 9 months and if you wait to buy the conversion kit when you need it (2 years or so), then it may no longer be available.
  • You Have Not Because You Ask Not – Be sure you ask the OB/GYN and the pediatrician for product samples. Not only will you discover whether you like the product before you purchase a full size, you may only need a little of it to get you through the crisis (we will not talk about nipple cream now.) Sign up for baby food company newsletters and coupon offers. Go to Gerber, Beechnut, Earthsbest, and Stonyfield to get these offers.

Three generations of Robert Philip Kay

Congratulations on your new baby. Whether you are the parent, grandparents, auntie, uncle or just a favorite friend—this is an exciting time for your entire family.

My husband and I are and thankful for our children and now our children’s children. We are often asked how we raised so many successful children, with success being measured as kids who are living their purpose and making the world a better place.

We usually answer this question with, “We tried to think of what was best for the child. I didn’t think about what I wanted to do, I thought about what was going to be the best option for my child.”

Gotta go check instastories for the latest baby video—until next time!

MilCents Helps Build Your Financial Foundation

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Are you ready to understand, manage, plan, and protect your money? I know I’m ready and helping others do the same!

I love creative ways to learn about money that are easy and interactive. That’s why I work in Washington DC on the advisory panel of the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN).  I am writing to share an exciting update about MilCents — MFAN’s financial education social learning program.

Over the last few months, MFAN has worked with financial education experts to develop five customized program tracks that correspond with stages within the military life cycle.

While our Heroes at Home Financial Event helps families learn in a live show, MilCents goes further online and at your own pace. Stages include: ROTC/Service Academies, actively serving, transitioning military, veteran, and retiree. The customized tracks allow users to get the tailored information they need, when they need it. In addition, they’ve enhanced their monitored social community, added gaming elements, and refreshed all MilCents content — especially the content focused on military retirement. 

Are you confused about the changes to military retirement? Don’t worry — MilCents breaks it down so it’s easy to understand in the retirement section.

BONUS: The first 150 participants to complete MilCents and earn all the program badges will receive a $20 Amazon gift card.

Click here to get started. And make sure to tell your friends and family — learning’s more fun when you’re doing it with others.

There’s also a better way to budget. Take control of your money by joining the @Military Family Advisory Network’s customized online #MilCents financial education program and get help with your spend plan.

To the partners who helped make MilCents possible — thank you. We know this program will continue to help families within our broad military community.

Ellie Kay

Advisory Board Member

Military Family Advisory Network

 

I Do Not Hate You

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Technology–you gotta love it, and hate it, too.

On Jan 1, I published a very fun blog, that my readers loved. Then we transferred over to a new platform and it was forever lost.

So I’ve revived it, now that we are a few months into 2017 to remind us that this is going to be a good year!

********

My daughter, Bethany, and I have a close relationship that often baffles the unassuming bystander. While we have been known to have a hearty row every now and then, we prefer to laugh early and often. One of our shticks is performed when we try to call or text each other and the recipient fails to answer. Our ever-mature response is to call and leave voice mail saying,

“Why do you hate me?”

The other party is to respond as soon as possible with assurances that you are not nearly as hated as you think.

We have variations of this hilarity and while it seems unhealthy from the outside looking in, it works for us.

At the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 we hear a lot about how eager some are to release 2016 to the dregs of a year gone sour: a year of political strife, unequalled loss and anguished setbacks. In short, they hated 2016.

But I have to say to 2016—I do not hate you.

In 2015 my Marine son was in a combat zone in Iraq, in 2014 he was in regular firefights in Afghanistan as an infantry platoon commander.  Had I been prone to hate a year, it would have been 2014.

In 2016 that Marine married his true love and I gained a daughter. I know it’s a cliché, most mother-in-laws have to say that, right? But in my case, I really expanded the tent pegs of my heart to let another inside. This young lady read my books before she met me, she knows my son better than I, and she works kindly and lovingly behind the scenes to foster our family’s unity. She calls me “mama” and she calls me regularly.  She gives me gifts (my love language is gift giving) and she makes me laugh. Yeah, I hear you “Ellie, you are painting this girl in shades of YOU—what she does for YOUR son, how she makes YOU feel, and the value she brings to YOUR family.” You are right. I am.

In 2013 my daughter Bethany, a recent college graduate, left the good old US of A and moved to England to serve at a non-profit that benefitted children. She mended hearts of kids who needed to hear about hope. She got to see a number of countries and experience other cultures and that was good. But the non-profit organization broke her heart. Amidst poor leadership, false accusation and territorial dogmas my daughter lost her joy. The “bouncing Bunny” came back shattered and in need of healing. If I could have hated a year, it could have been 2013.

In 2016 that daughter married her true love and I gained a son. Yes, here we go with the cliché’s again. But if you’ve never enlarged your heart to let someone who is not your own child in, then you don’t know what I’m talking about, so don’t judge me. This young man is guileless. Truly, he knows no guile. I don’t know if he’s a good poker player because he just doesn’t lie very well. My daughter had mended from her terrible-no-good-very-bad-year and was able to present him with a whole, healthy heart to have and to hold forevermore.  He calls me “mama” even though he has a great family of his own and they are part of the assets he brings to our lives. He adores my daughter. He gets her. She chose well and they gained a “happily ever after.”  Of course they’ll have challenges, loss and heartache. But they’ll have each other and that does a mama’s heart good.

In 2016, our family saw other great gains—my grandson’s 2nd birthday party with doting parents, Army beat Navy after 14 years, a son started pilot training, another son began his senior year at West Point, my children gathered from far away places for the weddings & holidays, and we welcomed our first grandfurbaby named Schmidt (yep, from New Girl, but the dog is better behaved.) My conference team successfully completed 15 events at 10 bases with Heroes at Home, providing financial literacy education to service members thanks to USAA.  I have a passion for these people and I got to live out that in my work this past year. The last part of 2016 had us planning 2017 with 25 events at 17 different bases in five countries—a success by any standard.

In 2016 had my focus been on politics, social justice or mortality, I would have hated this past year. Had I chosen to look at the family drama, broken friendships, missing family & friends associated with the two Kay family weddings—I would have hated 2016. There was plenty of negativity to focus on this past year both in our family and in our world, but I chose to focus on what went right, not what went wrong. I chose (not based on feeling, but based on a decision of the will) to focus on what we have instead of what we don’t have. I tried to choose wisely.

No, 2016, I do not hate you.

As I’m writing this blog on January 1st, I turned off my phone to concentrate on the task at hand. I missed a few texts, a call goes to voice mail. I proof and edit my work, choose the photos to accompany the blog and populate it for the appropriate day.  Then I listen to my voice mail. I have a “Happy New Year” message from my daughter that begins with,

“Why do you hate me?”

I smile to myself. Hello, 2017, I think we’re going to have a good year.

Valentines Day

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Even after 29 years of marriage, Valentines Day is still consider a “high holy day” in the Kay house! If Bob ever lived in a world where he thought he could skip over the day in an effort to “save money” he would end up spending Valentines with Buddy, our mini schnauzer in his dog house! But you don’t have to spend a lot for your gift to mean a lot, here are some ideas that may help.

Is it OK to Scrimp on Valentine’s Day?

For Valentine’s Day, you might feel the need to pull out all the stops, but it’s not necessary. Sure, some people want to celebrate the holiday in a lavish way, but others prefer to go the low-key route. Whether you fit into these descriptions or fall somewhere in the middle, there are a romantic date ideas for Valentine’s Day or the weekend before that suit every budget.

The Least Expensive Way to Spend Feb 14th

After a home-cooked meal, snuggle up with your honey and enjoy a movie night on the cheap. Look for specials at Redbox and get a romantic dramedy plus an action movie to keep both of you happy. Or get both action and romance by renting a flick like “Knight and Day” with Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise. If you are an amazon prime member then you have access through your computer or TV to free movies that are not available for free to non-members. You may not even be aware of the freebies offered, so be sure to check them out.

Flower Power

When it comes to flowers, you usually get what you pay for and one way to cut costs is to hand deliver, this can save anywhere from $8 to $20. You could look at grouponLocal Living, Living Social or SeizeTheDeal for offers such as $20 for $40 worth of flowers with FTD.

One kind of fun option reminds me of one of my favorite romantic comedies, “Kate and Leopold” and that is to give flowers with specific meanings. Go to TheFlowerExpert.com to find out the meaning of different flowers. For example, red roses mean romantic love while a bouquet of mixed roses means “I don’t know my feelings about you yet, but I’m sending you roses anyway.” Carnations are a less expensive option and a red carnation conveys love pride, beauty and admiration. Daisys are also inexpensive and convey “loyal love.” A sunflower symbolizes pure thoughts. So you can select a cheaper flower if, and only if, you write a note explaining the meaning of the flower and why you chose it for your true love.

Dinner and a Show

Going out for dinner seems to be a Valentine’s Day mainstay and dinner for two can range anywhere from $20 to $200 or more. How to you have a nice meal without sending a signal to your mate that you want to spend as little as possible? After all, aren’t they worth a splurge on Valentine’s Day?

There are quite a few ways to save a lot in this area and still have a nice time together. Lunch or brunch can be half the price of dinner and you could go on the Sunday before the big day. In fact, some restaurants are offering prix fix menus for the weekend or entire Valentine week. Go to your favorite restaurant’s twitter or facebook page and see what specials they are offering to get the best value. Some of these values are only offered to social media friends.

You can also go to restaurant.com where gift certificates have gone on sale this week. You can get a $25 gift certificate for your favorite restaurant for as little as $6 by entering the coupon code found at RetailMeNot. Check community billboards at your local chamber of commerce website. For example, in our area, a local Greek center is offering a romantic, candlelight dinner for two with champagne, flowers, dinner and dancing for $50 a person. While this may not seem like a bargain at first, when you add up the cost of the individual items like the food, flowers, bottle of bubbly and a cover charge you would have to pay to dance, it’s an all inclusive deal that is sure to please. Plus, you can learn how to dance the Kalamatianos, a traditional Greek dance. Can you say, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding!”?

Great Dates that Double As A Great Gift

Right now, there are some great deals to be had at Travelzoo such as a quick, 2 night getaway on a $299 cruise, with an oceanview room. Bob and I took a cruise this way and really loved it. This week, there are also really nice hotels from Orlando to Seattle that range from $49 to $99 a night. Or, if you want to get up, up and away, there’s a $125 two hour helicopter ride featured.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Wedding Budget: Step Two

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Wedding Budget: Step Two

In my first post about preparing your wedding budget, I talked about figuring out who is paying for what. This time I’ll talk about how both the couple and any contributing parents can avoid going into debt.

Going into debt for your wedding or honeymoon (or allowing those who love you to do so) is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. For starters, it means you’re spending too much money for a one-day event. Secondly, it sets a poor precedence for your marriage. It also means you’re borrowing from your future or the future of your family.

One of the first things you can do to avoid going into debt is setting up a budget. You can do one with papers and a folder if that’s your preference, or you can use one online. Here are a few websites with great budgeting tools:

Next, you (not mom and dad) need to prioritize the most important things about your wedding and honeymoon. Make a list of internal and external categories, then both of you order them by importance. Here are a couple short examples (10 or so is ideal), starting with internal priorities:

Internal He said She said
Positive Honeymoon Experience 2 3
Memories of Ceremony 3 1
Spiritual Significance 1 2
Pleasing Extended Family 4 5
Feelings of Romance 5 4

 

And external priorities:

External He said She said
Wedding Dress 3 2
Flowers 5 4
Photos 1 1
Reception 2 3
Rehearsal Dinner 4 5

Combine the lists by adding the numbers and you’ll get a good idea for your collective budget priorities. Make a commitment to go as far as you can down the list, but no further. After all, you need to plan around the idea that marriage is not just a day. I’ll talk more about that in my next wedding post.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Wedding Budget: Step One

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Wedding Budget: Step One

“They say when you marry in June, you’re a bride all your life.” That’s a line from a song in one of our favorite musicals, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” It’s also a good reminder that when you prepare for your wedding, you need to think about details beyond the big day. In the Kay family, we have two Kay weddings in a two month time period. Since we’re in wedding season, I’ll use the next couple weeks to cover a few wedding preparation topics. Today’s post is about the budget.

An old proverb says, “A wise man counts the cost before he builds a tower.” One of the main mistakes engaged couples make is not setting a wedding budget, or expecting parents to cover expenses beyond their ability to pay. So how do you figure out who’s paying for what? You have to ask the right questions so you can gather all your financial facts.

What are the financial expectations from the bride’s parents?

The biggest mistake you can make here is assuming the bride’s parents will be covering all the expenses. All parents have some form of financial limitation, so it’s important to talk to them about it ahead of time. Some may give a lump sum; some may pay for specific things like the dress and/or reception. It’s usually best to be direct, polite and flexible when gathering information from the parents who traditionally pay for the majority of the expenses.

What are the financial expectations from the groom’s parents?

Tradition says that the groom’s parents are only expected to pay for the rehearsal dinner, but sometimes they may be able to cover more (or all) of the wedding costs. Talking to them about their financial limitations will both help your budget and encourage them to contribute willingly.

Are there any others who can contribute financially?

Sometimes grandparents or other relatives will offer to pay for part of the honeymoon or something else as their wedding gift. While you probably shouldn’t approach them about contributing, it’s a good idea to keep a list of who has offered to pay for what.

What expenses will the bride and groom cover?

It’s not uncommon for the bride and groom to pay for the entire wedding, especially if they are getting married later in life. But if they aren’t, it’s important to think about things the bride and groom are expected to cover, like the honeymoon, marriage license, flowers and the ceremony officiant’s fee.

It may be hard to ask some of these questions, but it will be harder if you’ve already gotten the financial ball rolling or if you’ve waited until the last minute. Setting an appropriate budget will help you avoid going into debt, which is what I’ll talk about in my next wedding post.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

The Homestretch – Hearts Apart Stay Connected

I became a Veteran at sending a husband away for stretches of time while keeping the home fires burning. It wasn’t fun when the five youngest kids all had the stomach bug at the same time and Bob was stuck in Hawaii with a broken jet for two weeks. But we made it work.

These days, my military sons and I are apart as they serve at home an abroad. My Marine is overseas and some days, I just miss him something fierce (as they say in Texas). Here are some ways to stay connected whether you are a spouse, a sibling or a parent.

Special Connections – My Army son, Joshua and I will take
a screen shot of our phones when all the numbers are the same, then we send it to each other. We don’t have to add words because that is a unique connection that means “I’m thinking of you and I love you.” I have another friend who bought a watch for her son and her husband that has an audible timer. She set the watches for the same time in her part of the United States and her husband’s location overseas. Every day when the alarm went off, the father/son knew that the other was thinking of them and they felt connected every time.

Your Local Base, Post or Unit – Be sure you stay in touch with a military support group that is sponsored by your local unit. Family support groups will be in the know about the status of your military member’s communication capabilities. Often, you can sign up for free services that are offered to the bases such as pillow cases with a photo of your military member for each of the kids or a Stand Up Daddy project. They will also let you know when the unit allows email or other contact and where to mail packages. We are members of a Marine parents group that keeps us informed and reminds us of OPSEC (Operation Security.)

Skype – Schedule regular and free communication with www.oovoo.com or www.skype.com. Be sure your military member is allowed this kind of access and that it’s not against any regulations. We have a date with our Marine at the same time every week and we prioritize it. Keep the dialog positive while they are deployed and share the negative stuff with a trusted friend or chaplain. Deployed members need us to keep it light, but when they come home, they’ll get diaper duty. 

Apps and More – Viber is a free app that allows for free texting and calls. Text 4 free is also a free app that allows you to text when your phone is connected via Wi-Fi (in case they don’t have cell phone access). Facetime is a great app for users of iPhones, iPads, Macs, or iPods. Words With Friends is also free and lets you play games with free texting through the game.

It’s also important when they get back home to try and spend time together as well. But you don’t want to go off budget either. It’s important to not give into the temptation for “splurge spending” just because they are back home again.

Staying Connected When You’re Together:

  • RetailMeNot – This isn’t just a great app to look up discount codes inside every store you visit in person or online. It’s also a resource for coupons. I had a Mimi’s “Buy one entrée, get one free” in my email inbox but forgot to bring it to the restaurant. Happily, I found it on the RetailMeNot app and used it from my phone!
  • Google Search and Social Media – Find your favorite restaurant’s web site and check out their values or like them on their Facebook or Twitter to get special deals. Many sites will offer printable coupons as well as weekly specials. Or download Coupon Sherpa or Yowza apps to find deals.
  • Two for One/One for Two! – If your fave place doesn’t offer a “buy one/get one free” special, then why not share a meal? This savvy approach is especially smart at a restaurant that’s notorious for serving larger portions. You may have to pay a small surcharge for an extra plate, but your wallet (and waistlines) will thank you.
  • Entertainment Books – These coupon books cost around $35 (and sometimes run on sale for $10). Go to entertainment.com to find offers near you. Not only do they feature restaurant coupons, but they also offer great values on a variety of local and national services. But be forewarned: they’re not cost effective if you leave them at home!
  • Restaurant.com – At this site, you can get $25 restaurant gift certificates for only $10 and be sure to sign up for their sale notifications when you can get that $25 gift certificate for only $2!

FInancial Pre-Deployment Checklist (part 3)

Do you have your money matters in order for your next deployment?  It’s important to make sure that all aspects of your finances are lined up to be able to give your family and yourself peace of mind while you are deployed. This is the final part of a continuing series. The items on the checklists from last week and from this week will make all the difference in minimizing stress not only for yourself, but for your loved ones as well.

  • Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

In addition to legal protections, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides certain financial protections for active duty members of the regular forces,

A servicemember’s protections under the SCRA are not automatic and require that the servicemember requests the protections such as limitation on interest rates, and payment schedules. You will likely have to prove you’re your military service may make an impact on your ability to pay.

All interest rates can be reduced to 6 percent for accounts established before active duty and can include mortgages, car loans, credit cards and even some student loans. This only applies to loans before you became an active duty servicemember, it does not include loans you received after becoming a servicemember.

The SCRA also protects from foreclosures and repossessions and helps with termination of residential leases and auto leases. These are before military service or if you receive PCS orders from CONUS to OCONUS or a deployment for a minimum of 90 days.   

  • Savings Accounts

It’s important to build a personal savings account of  6 to 12 months worth of income

Calculate how much you’ll need by this formula (BAH + ME) x 6 = Goal Savings

Never use PAYDAY LOANS to supplement your savings because in these you pay 200% to 500%. Instead, go to PentagonFoundation.org for a $500 loan with a $3 service charge and no interest for one month. It’s called the ARK (Asset Recovery Kit) program.

The Savings Deposit Program – SDP – While deployed and after 30 days in a combat zone, service members may be eligible to participate in the Savings Deposit Program (SDP).  The program is available to service members during assignments and deployments to specified locations. The SDP pays back a guaranteed 10 percent annual return on investment (2.5.percent.quarterly) on up to $10,000 contributed from un-allotted current pay and allowances. Upon withdrawal, a service member’s contributions to SDP will not be taxed, but the interest earned will be.  Interest continues 3 months after the servicemember is out of the zone.

  • SBP – Survivors Benefit Plan – This program provides monthly payments to the servicemembers elgible beneficiaries in the event they

Cost – no cost while you are activeduty. But during retirement there’s a monthly deduction which can be no more than 6.5 percent of your gross retired pay.

Beneficiaries – spouse, legal child, former spouse (if court ordered), the child must be under 18, if over 18, then in college (up to 22).

  • SGLI Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance

SGLI is a low-cost term life insurance protection policy offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs 
(VA) for servicemembers on active duty. Even though SGLI coverage is automatic, before servicemembers deploy, they should confirm that their beneficiary(ies) designation is up to date.

Servicemembers are automatically covered for the maximum amount of $400,000 unless coverage is declined or elected at a lower amount and this costs $26/month plus $1/month for traumatic for a total of $27.

Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) automatically provides life insurance coverage to spouses and dependent children when the service member is covered by SGLI up to $100,000 for the spouse and $10,000 per child unless the servicemember declined the coverage in writing. Coverage amounts for FSGLI cannot exceed the coverage amount selected for the servicemember under SGLI. The cost is very affordable for the spouse such as $5/month for a female 35 or under and it is free for children under 18.

Whether you are single or married, it’s important to check off the above items to make sure you and your family are financially ready for deployment. Thank you for your service please know that America appreciates both you and your family.

Ellie Kay

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