A Financial Education Event
 

Financial First Aid Kit – Military Appreciation Month

In honor of military appreciation month, I’d like to highlight our Army son, Joshua. When he was born we started saying, “If he had been our first, he would have been our last.” That little boy had more energy and could get into more scrapes than all our other children combined. When he was eighteen months old, he stripped down to his diaper, took a plastic sword and chased his four older siblings around the house, thus earning the nickname “Conan, the baby barbarian.” By that age, he had also jumped off the top bunkbed (three stitches) and “flown” off our travel trailer (four stitches). Joshua was the reason we purchased a serious first aid kit. He’s now an Army Lt jumping out of airplanes at Fort Benning.

Just as every family needs a good first aid kit for those unexpected accidents, they also need a financial first aid kit, or practical ways to help safeguard their financial future.

  1. An Emergency Savings Account – This account is not an investment account, it doesn’t include IRAs, retirement accounts or CDs. Its purpose is not growth, but safety. These are funds that are accessed in the event of spouse unemployment, emergency home repairs, or unexpected auto repair bills. The best way to build this account is to establish a family budget. Go to your base’s Family Readiness Center to develop a budget for your current season of life. I recommend automatically transferring funds from a paycheck or checking account into a savings account every week. A good guideline is to save three months of living expenses for dual income households or six months for a single income family.
  2. Life & Health Insurance – For life insurance, you will need enough money so that your dependents could invest the money and live modestly on the proceeds. For military members, the best buy is still SGLI, or Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance. Members are automatically insured for the maximum amount of $400,000 unless an election is filed reducing the insurance by $50,000 increments or canceling it entirely.  Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) is a program extended to the spouses and dependent children of members insured under the SGLI program. FSGLI provides up to a maximum of $100,000 of insurance coverage for spouses, not to exceed the amount of SGLI the insured member has in force, and $10,000 for dependent children. The rates are inexpensive. If your situation requires additional life insurance or you are transitioning out of the military, look at USAA for the best rates for military members and their families. For health insurance, there’s healthcare.gov where you can find out about open enrollment season and how to get insurance plans changed or updated. Another good place to research a variety of plans is found at eHealthInsurance where you can compare plans. There’s also
  1. A Will –Here’s another easy one, that’s as easy as making an appointment with the JAG or taking advantage of mobile services that are sometimes offered at military conferences such as Yellow Ribbon. The main section of this critical document will assign a guardian for your children. In many states, the surviving spouse may only get one-third to one-half of the assets that were in your sole name. Your children get the rest and if they are minors, a court administrator could handle their money until they become adults. Make sure that the beneficiary designations on any 401(k) plans, IRAs, life insurance and bank accounts are also up to date. Another option is legal zoom, which can prepare a quick will at a low cost.
  2. A Retirement Account –A surprising number of military spouses, or reservists do not take advantage of the terrific tax-deferred accounts offered by their employer, which include 401(k) plans. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a Federal Government-sponsored retirement savings and investment plan and has great rates with low fees for administering the account It’s part of the new Blended Retirement System that is currently in place. This plan offers the similar tax benefits that many private corporations offer their employees under 401(k) plans and they are full portable upon leaving the military. Be sure your current TSP funds are not in the “G” fund for maximum benefit.
  3. A Good Credit Rating – The best way to rebuild good FICO, or credit score, is found in three steps: pay more than your minimum payment (even if it’s only $5/month more), pay a day early rather than a day late (set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your credit card company for minimum payments) and never let your available credit fall to less than 30% of the total credit available (for example, $2000 on a $6000 credit line.)  Each year, get a free copy of your credit report by going to Annual Credit Report or go into the base’s Family Support Center where they can also run a free copy of your report and check your score.
  4. A College Fund for Those Babies!–Select a college savings account that has low fees, a good selection of investments, plus a tax break. One of the many options is a Qualified State Tuition Plan, also known as 529 Plans. Be sure to research your state of record and their plans. These contributions will be tax-deferred and could even be tax-deductible from your state income tax if you are a resident of that state (check with your tax specialist). When the money is withdrawn for college, it is only taxed at the student’s income tax rate. If the child does not go to college, the money can be designated for another beneficiary or removed at a 10% penalty.

 

If you’re a family with a “Conan,” then make sure you have a First Aid Kit on hand. But don’t forget the fact that your family need a Financial First Aid kit as well.

I wanted to issue a special thank you to all our military families who serve, we appreciate you!

Millennial Moneybags

As a seven-year-old, I launched a business where I made $10 in two weeks through extensive marketing and key product placement to my second-grade class. In 2018 dollars, that’s equal to $712—not bad for a kid entrepreneur! When my dad heard how much I’d made, he pulled my braid and said, “Good job, little moneybags!” That sparked a passion in me to earn more, save more and share more.

Fast forward a lotta years and I’m teaching my five millennials the basic skills to master in their 20s to become financially savvy and stable.

Spend Plan

It’s important to develop a budget and stick to it. Make sure it is realistic and accounts for all your spending—including entertainment, gifts and other splurges. If there’s more than one person doing the spending on the same plan, then mint has a good app you can use to track where those dollars are going. The three main parts of a good spend plan include the ability to: save diligently, share generously and spend wisely.

Squash Debt

It’s pretty basic: saving=good and debt=bad. Don’t add to debt buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like. Instead, put all “bonus” money toward debt such as income tax returns, bonuses from work and even a happy birthday check from your Grandma. This can also help you whittle down that average student loan debt of 35K+ and the average credit card debt of 8K. By paying off this debt early in your life, you’ll avoid thousands of dollars in interest and create margin in your life. In our 20’s my husband and I made the move to one car to get ahead on debt repayment and we don’t regret doing without for a little while to be debt free forever!

Spend Not and Want Not

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Most millennials live paycheck to paycheck with a lot of financial stress hanging over their heads. You can break this cycle, even if you came by it honestly (from your parents’ example.) Readjust your mind set to look at extra money left over at the end of the month as either savings or debt repayment—not fun money to spend. As you are trying to spend less to get on track financially, you may get an extra roommate to reduce your rent payments or carpool to save on commuting. Go to happy hour for free food and be the designated driver, drinking water. Use Retail Me Not every time you buy anything (online or in a store) to get codes and other savings. Be creative in the ways you can spend less than you make each month.

Save for a Rainy Day and Beyond

Any smart millennial will have a few months savings in a rainy-day account to pay for that unexpected bill or an emergency. A super smart saver will also start tucking away money for retirement and take advantage of the miracle of compounding interest. In our Heroes at Home show, we share this slide that shows you how to invest in yourself.

 

Super Skilled Cooking Star


My twentysomething year olds love the food network and Pinterest. They especially like watching a client of mine, Amy Pottinger, a military spouse, compete on that network. But what’s the use of watching cooking shows if you never cook? According to the USDA Cost of Food at Home, you can save thousands of dollars each year by making your own food instead of eating out. In fact, by using apps to save money in the grocery store and getting coupons and tips from sites like The Coupon Mom, you can save even more. I added up all the money I saved over 20 years with sales, coupons, and eating in (instead of eating out) and the amazing total was $161,000, that’s enough to help put some millennials through college debt free!

Strategic Splurges

 

Sometimes, there’s a misconception that becoming financially fit means you deprive yourself of everything fun and there’s no room for a splurge. Not true. You are just careful about what you will splurge on. That $20 glass of wine in a restaurant can go four times as far at Trader Joe’s when you splurge on a $20 bottle of wine (instead of the two buck Chuck.) Buying clothes that fall apart after one or two washes isn’t as smart as buying quality (on sale) that will last longer. An energy efficient appliance that saves you money in the long run is a better option than the cheaper version with a higher utility bill. Read up on products before you waste your money and realize that a strategic splurge here and there can save you significant change in the long run.

 

So, So, Happy

 

One of the reasons our family could go from being 40k in consumer debt to where we could pay cash for everything (including cars and college) is because we chose to be content. The more you choose to be happy where you are (knowing that’s not where you will always be), the better off you will be financially. You don’t have to drive a new car, live in the coolest place or take a mega trip once a month. I always said, “you can have it all—but not all at once.”  It’s a choice, you can drive a better car and have more roommates. You can splurge on clothes and drive an old clunker. It’s all about choices and the biggest and best choice of all is to simply choose to be content where you are right now.

 

How many of these habits do you currently practice?

Rent-To-Own: Is It Ever A Good Idea?

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You’ve moved into a new place, started a new job and you’re beginning another phase of your life. The only problem is that you don’t have enough furniture for the new place and you realize you’ll also need a washer/dryer.  Then, miraculously, an ad pops up on social media for a place where you can go get name brand appliances and choose from dozens of options on exactly the kind of furniture you need—all for only $21.99 a month! YEA!!!  You’re saved! After all, you have a good job, the monthly payments aren’t going to break you and you deserve to make your new place comfortable, right?

Wait a minute, not so fast.

Is rent-to-own the best option? The answer is:  it depends.

How Does Rent-to-Own Work?

Usually, you’re renting from a well known store, but, in most cases, you’ll have to sign a third party contract. I remember one time when we bought a refrigerator and my husband thought, “Let’s use someone else’s money at 0% interest.”  The only problem was the third party contract indicated that those 0% payments were only for a fixed introductory period, then there were three options. We could buy the item, continue making payments (at 200% APR interest) or return the item to end our lease. We bought it out early, so that we were in the clear and vowed to never buy into this kind of a contract without understanding the fine print first.

 

Rent-to-own also means that if you fall behind on the payments, the leasing company can repossess your leased item and you don’t get any money back. There may be cheaper ways to pay because even if you have bad credit the options of  layaway, sub-prime credit cards or  bad-credit personal loans, which run 36% APR are better than the 200% APR of many rent-to-own programs.

 

When Is Rent-to-Own A Good Idea?

 

Despite the typical APR rates north of 200% for this kind of contract, there may be some anomalies when this option is not a bad thing for your bottom line. In fact, there are some instances, when using a rent-to-own option make sense:

 

  • If the interest rate stays relatively low (less than 3%) during the entire leasing term, and the term is 24 months or less, then you aren’t losing much. But read the fine print.
  • If you believe you’ll have the money to buy the item outright at the end of the low, fixed rate introductory period, then it could be a good way to keep some money in a rainy day account while you save up for the buy out.
  • If you need to diversify your loans to improve your credit score, and you qualify for low interest, then this kind of financial contract could help your credit score. But since diversification of loans only represents 10% of your credit score, it’s not worth paying higher interest rates to diversify.
  • If you are only in a location for a short amount of time (our sons have military training at bases for anywhere from 3 months to 10 months), and your interest rate is low, you could rent and turn the item back in when you move. But make sure the contract allows you to do so. If you must move yourself and your company doesn’t pay for a move, then renting a truck and moving that furniture cross country could cost more than it’s worth.
  • If you have the good credit score amongst your roommates and you all need to get furniture for the main living areas, then you could work a deal where they use your credit (your contribution) and they pay their part of the monthly payments (their contribution). But make sure the interest rates are low for the entire contract and that you trust your roommates enough to make the payments to you (on time) so that you can make the payment. At the end of the lease, you keep the furniture. This option may be more of a hassle than it’s worth. But if you are cash strapped, it might be just what you need.

 

Before You Sign

Let’s say that you’ve decided that Rent-to-own is the route that will work best for your budget and lifestyle. Here is your checklist before you ink that contract, if any of these are not clear are it’s revealed that they are not to your advantage, then think twice about this option. Here’s the list:

  • What are the monthly payments (including all fees)?
  • When are the payments due?
  • What is the total cost to own this item (all payments, interest and fees)?
  • Who insures damaged or theft?
  • If you miss a payment, will it be automatically repossessed?
  • Is the item new or used?

After You Sign

 

Let’s say you already signed a contract before you read this blog. Or, you’ve followed all the advice shared and decide that the contract will be a good option for you. Take these steps to protect yourself:

 

  • Follow the money. Make sure you are keeping your payment records because some rental companies have had problems with giving their customers credit for payments made.
  • Pay on time. Since 35% of your credit score is your credit history, it’s crucial that you make your payments on time or even before they are due. If possible, set up the payments to transfer from your bank account so that you never miss a payment.
  • There’s a chance your debt might be sold to a debt collector Know your rights in this situation as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires debt collectors from harassing customers, calling them excessively and using abusive or deceptive practices to collect on the debt. 

In the Kay family, we like to live a debt free life and will usually save up to buy furniture or appliances before we would go into debt. This isn’t always possible for American consumers, in which case it’s good to know the nuances of Rent-to-Own for you or those you care about.

What has been YOUR experience with Rent-to-Own?

Driving Cars for Free

In our Heroes at Home Financial Event Tour, one of the most popular segments deals with “how to drive a car for free.” The concept is fairly simple, but less than 10% of Americans actually follow the steps to experience debt free living when it comes to transportation. We love our military audiences because even though some military members are “ordered” to attend our show, by the time it is over, they are laughing, they’ve learned something and they realize how much fellow Americans loves them.

So how do you do it? Just follow three steps:

  1. Start with a Debt Free Car – This is usually going to be the car you just paid off. Or, it might be a vehicle a parent or someone else gave you (it might even have seen better days). In our lives, we were “given” one car and we gave away 8 cars. It might be that you agree to be a one-car family for 18 months instead of a two-car family. This is how the Kays did it to start with. If you don’t absolutely have to drive a car (you are a one car family, public transportation, driving someone else’s car, etc.), then you can go to step #2.
  1. Pay Yourself – The monthly payment for your car that you used to pay before it was paid off is a payment you will now pay to yourself instead of to the lienholder. So let’s say your car payment was $300. You will pay yourself $300 every month for 18 months. At the end of that time, you take the $5400 you have saved and then sell your existing vehicle for as much as you can get for it. You will get more money for your vehicle if you detail it, get everything running as well as possible (without a huge investment) and then sell it yourself. Go to KBB for 10 steps on how to sell your car yourself.  Let’s say you sell it for $8000. Now you have $13,400 to work with.
  1. Pay Cash for Your Next Car – Follow my steps from my previous blog on Car Buying Dos and Don’ts – Even if you aren’t a USAA member (for an additional military discount), you can still follow the steps listed to pay the least price possible for your next vehicle. Make a special note: You cannot do this with a new car! It has to be a used car. The average new car depreciates $8000 in 8 seconds (when you drive it off the lot). So you have to buy a car that is slightly used (or real used until you trade up). The example in my blog shows how I traded up consistently until I was driving a modest Mercedes. (Is there such a thing as a modest Mercedes? I believe there is).
  1. Trade Up Until You’re Satisfied – After you’re in a new-to-you “paid for” car, then start with step number two all over again and start paying yourself. Let’s say you bought a car for $13,400 and you got into it low (as I showed you how to do in my previous blog), then in only 18 months a used car won’t depreciate that much (if you take care of it and try to keep low mileage on it) and you can sell it for close to what you paid for it. You sell it after 18 months for $13,000 and add the additional $5400 that you have saved by paying yourself every month. Now you have $18,400 going into step #3 and you can trade up your vehicle.

Does this work? It absolutely does. Not only do I do this in my own family, but I have children who do it as well. When my kids ask for my advice (sometimes it’s nice having a mom who is America’s Family Financial Expert ®), I advise them to not be wasting money on expensive car interest payments or crazy expensive leases. The difference is enough money saved over the course of five years to be able to put money down on a house instead of having to rent. It truly adds up!

Keep trading up until you are satisfied with your car and you can trade up into a car with a substantial manufacturer’s warranty (or negotiate that warranty). I do practice what I preach, and I did this to get my 2014 Mercedes, which is under mfg warranty until 2022. The only perceived downside is that my dream car is red and I thought that red cars get more speeding tickets than other colors. But good news! That’s a myth. Pedal to the metal!

What can you do today to drive your cars for free tomorrow? Let me hear from you!

Ellie Kay

Top Ten Failure Factors for Finances

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday. Only 1 day left in January! By now, it seems that most of our New Year’s resolutions have lost some steam, been pushed to
the side, or just been dropped all together.

It is never too late to reevaluate our goals and start over. We don’t need to wait until the next January 1st to get our finances under control. When we fall off the wagon, it is best to get up and keep going. I like to imagine the young Anne of Avonlea saying, “Isn’t it nice that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it?”

If we understand what derails us from achieving our goals, then we can counter those failure factors and find success. These are the top ten failure factors that impact the achievement of a goal. Read them slowly and think about what they mean in your recent resolutions.

Top Ten Failure Factors:

•   Setting unrealistic goals

•   Motivated by the wrong motives

•   Believed failure was inevitable

•   Fulfilled the need for immediate gratification too often

•   Influenced unduly by other people

•   Practiced a “deprivation mentality”  – all or nothing/black or white

•   Rationalized and made excuses rather than taking responsibility

•   Displaced emotional issues through overspending and overeating

•   Procrastinated rather than taking action

•   Lacked the tools to make compounding incremental change

Reread the list above and circle any of the “failure factors” which you believe may be significant influences in your life. Failure can be seen as a profound learning opportunity. It’s time to stop trying so hard and start training toward a new way of addressing your wealth challenges. Past failures do not need to be repeated. Before my husband and I met, he was in a debt cycle he felt would never change & financial

freedom was just a dream. But it did change because we set goals and took action. The result? We’ve been debt free for 20+ years.

After you circle the “failure factors” that may apply to your situation, take the time to write three ways you believe you can counter those factors and turn them into successful areas of your life. I believe in the old saying from John L. Beckley “people don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.” Having a plan can be over half the battle in discovering ways to be successful in your finances. But implementing that plan is the other half of finding success.

One of the ways that I have found most people can create and stick to a plan is by having a “money buddy.”  If you are married, this might be your partner, and if you are single, it can be a like-minded friend who is good with their own financial resources. Get together with your money buddy and go over this “failure factor” list. Let them help you come up with ways that you can counter the failure to turn it into success. Then, set a date to meet with your financial partner and track your success. It’s kind of like Weight Watchers for money matters and there is great power in unity with other like-minded people who want to overcome their own failure factors.

For great budgeting tools, go to mint.com—an excellent app for managing finances. Keep checking in week to week for help along the way. You are not alone in this financial journey! You can find success if you: Dream Big. Set Goals. Take Action

Smart Money Habits for Millennials (and Their Mamas)

The Kay Family had five babies in seven years. That roughly adds up to 3 kids in diapers at once, 10 years of not sleeping through the night, 4 teenage drivers at the same time, 3 kids in college at once and today, we have 5 millennials in their 20’s simultaneously.

Fun .

But the good news is that they eventually slept, pottied, drove, graduated and even mastered money habits in the journey. Here are the habits we helped teach our millennials to make sure they didn’t have to move home, they could remain financially independent, have a great start for their families, and still buy their mama nice birthday gifts.

Habit #1 – Create and Live By a Spending Plan

Many millennials have heard of the value of creating a budget and even have apps that help. But it’s of little use if they don’t know how to stick to it. Here are my favorite apps to help:

  • Mint Budgeting App – I met the founder of Mint, Aaron Patzer, in a green room, years ago, when we were both going to be on ABC News in NYC. At the time, he was building his success with Mint. I just remember him being (as he says in the video) “full of myself.” Ha! But his budgeting app is probably the best out there because it makes it easy to create a budget. You connect the Mint app to your bank and the app uses your details to help create a personalized budget.
  • PocketGuard Budget App – This app also connects to your bank accounts and shows you what you currently have in your pocket. It tracks your money to show what you are spending and automates where you’re going off budget and where you need to cut back.
  • You Need a Budget – This app’s claim to fame is that it creates a budget you can stick to based on the info provided in your bank accounts and spending habits. It even teaches you what to do if you overspend and how to live on last month’s income. This is the only app that cost money in my list and it’s $50 for the year, but there are hoards of devotees that say this app helped them to finally live on a budget.
  • GoodBudget – Back when dinosaurs roamed the financial space, there was an “envelope system” where you put the money you needed in each envelope labeled with expenses such as gas, food and entertainment. It helped Bob and I get out of 40K in consumer debt in only 2.5 years when we were first married. This app is the digital version of that system, making sure that everyone knows how much is left in the “envelope.”

You might need a money buddy to stay on track, too. Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista, talks about her journey on our fun podcast The Money Millhouse and how she went from broke to anything-but-broke through techniques that kept her on track.

Habit #2 – Cook Creatively and Consistently

Money evaporates when you order out for lunch or dinner more than one or two meals a week. Bob took leftover dinners (the

re’s a microwave and fridge at work) for our entire marriage and we calculate that he’s saved $20,000 by doing this! Make Pintrist your pal or watch The Food Network to learn easy ways to create nutritious and tasty meals. Ask for an Instant Pot for your next birthday and make more than you need for dinner so you’ll have leftovers for either lunch or dinner later in the week. Or freeze the leftovers. My daughter lived with roommates for a few years and they would assign different nights for each of them to cook to simplify the work. Cook more and your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Habit #3 – Care About Your Retirement

When we take our Heroes At Home Financial Event on the road, we teach young service members the miracle of compounding interest with the mantra: start early, start small and stay committed. Be sure to start with funding a Roth IRA and take advantage of your company’s matching portion of your 401(k). Lacey Langford, an Accredited Financial Counselor gave some great tips on a segment called “I Aint Afraid of No Money.”  She discussed retirement planning from her experience in working with the military (but many tips apply to civilians as well.) If you’re military, be sure to go into your Family Readiness Center to discuss the Blended Retirement System and what your options are for your situation. It’s free and a benefit you can use early and often.

Habit #4 – Count the Cost of Debt

The average millennial college grad owes 37K in student loan debt and the average household owes $8500 in credit card debt. Work on minimizing the debt you accrue and pay off the debt you have so that you’ll have the flexibility to move or wait on the right job. One of my sons worked for JC Penney, and they eliminated his entire department. Most employees were freaking out because they had student loan debt, consumer debt and car debt—but not our son. He made a practice of living on less so he wouldn’t accrue debt and he was able to have less worry in the process of finding a new job.

Be sure you also pay attention to your credit score. Rod Griffin, from Experian, came over for a discussion on coffee and credit. He works with us on our tours and he teaches that if you have bad credit, you’ll pay an average of 360K more (over your lifetime) for the use of basic credit, than the person who has a good score. Improve your score by paying on time, paying more than the minimum balance due and make sure you never use more than 30% of your available credit.

Habit #5 – Choose Contentment

This is a tricky habit because it’s a mindset that you choose. There will always be something to spend money on to make you go off budget or get into financial trouble. There’s the new phone, tablet, car, vacay, boyfriend/girlfriend, baby, or a plethora of other reasons to want to spend more and have more. This is where your friends, family and even faith come into play. Coveting what others have or do is a lesson in futility and discontentment. Your friends either contribute to this mindset or they keep you focused on what matters most. If keeping up with their lifestyle is an important platform in your friendship, then you may want to find new friends. Remember that this financial journey is a marathon not a sprint. I’ve always said, “you can have it all—just not at the same time.”

What is one habit you are good at? What is one habit you want to improve upon? Share it with us, a friend or even a money buddy, so that you can be fiscally healthy in 2018 and for a lifetime.

 

Credit Card Choices — Big Benefits With Right Choices

Southwest Airlines is running a credit card offer for qualifying applicants where they will get a companion pass for the rest of this year and all of 2018, plus 40,000 points. My daughter uses credit cards sparingly and her score is in the 800s (on a FICO scale up to 850). She decided to get the card and is thrilled to add her husband a companion to her recent round

trip purchase from Burbank to San Francisco for only $59. Pretty good deal for her. Since I already have a companion pass on a #SWA card, it wouldn’t be a good deal for me.

But not all deals are that good. How do you know which choice is best for your needs?

On my recent trip to #USAA, I learned a lot about the latest offerings in credit cards.

In fact, Yasmin Ghahremani, a writer with USAA, contributes the following information on how to navigate your first rewards card in three easy steps.

Credit cards that offer rewards like airline miles or a percent of cash back on everyday purchases can be a pretty great deal. But with so many different rewards credit cards available, choosing one that’s right for your lifestyle can feel overwhelming. Not only that, are you sure a rewards credit card is a smart financial move?

First off:  rewards credit cards aren’t for everyone. If you’ve never owned a credit card before or have a not-so-great credit score, you may not even qualify for a rewards card in the first place. And because interest rates for rewards cards tend to be higher than most credit cards, if you are the type to miss payments, make minimum payments only, or carry a hefty balance, your best bet is to look for a credit card with a low interest rate.

Once your cash flow and spending habits are more favorable, you can give rewards cards another look–otherwise, the interest you’ll pay on a carried balance will easily outstrip the value of any rewards you’ll receive. “Rewards cards are really best for transactors: those who pay off their balance every month,” says Mikel Van Cleve, Advice Director and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ with USAA

That said, if your credit card hygiene is superb and you make a habit of paying off the balance in full each month, then you’re probably ready for your first rewards card!

1. First, consider the kind of rewards you’d like to earn. If you’re a jet-setter and love to take frequent vacations, travel rewards cards that can earn airline miles, waive luggage fees, grant access to posh airline lounges and more might be right up your alley.

Not the globe-trotting type? Then a cash-back rewards card might be more your style. These essentially give you a small percentage discount (anywhere from 1–5%) on the stuff you’re already buying with your credit card, like groceries, gas, online purchases and more.

Once you’ve identified the type of rewards you’d like to earn…

2. Match your spending habits to your overall rewards card management. Take a look at how much you actually spend in certain categories on an annual basis to pinpoint where you could earn the most rewards. If you’re single and eat out a lot, a card that offers extra cash back for grocery spending might not be the best fit.

Plus, not all rewards cards work the same way: some offer more complex variations, like extra cash-back percentage points for spending in certain categories, such as 3% at supermarkets and 1% on all other kinds of purchases.

Other kinds of rewards cards offer additional percentage points on a rotating calendar for certain types of purchases, with bonus categories changing every quarter. For example: you might earn 5% on groceries one quarter, 5% on gas the next quarter, 5% at restaurants for another quarter, etc.

Complex earning structures may ultimately earn you more, but only if you’re really familiar with your own spending habits and the amount of time you care to spend tracking expenses and managing rewards redemption. Depending on the card you choose, you’ll need to keep up with rotating categories that may require an opt-in action (like visiting a website or filling out a form) every quarter, or you miss out on the perks.

If you don’t want to hassle with that, consider choosing a card with a flat base earning rate. Many credit cards now offer 1.5% or even 2% on every purchase you make. For instance, if the card offers 1% cash back for every dollar you spend on the card and you’ve spent a total of $2,500, you can earn $25 cash back. Even better, you often have a choice on how to spend those rewards, usually via a check, a credit to your statement, or points good towards purchases with other retailers. (Beware the latter as it may encourage you to spend needlessly!) 

3. Examine the fine print of any offers you see. Does the card charge an annual fee that costs as much or more than you will likely earn back via rewards? If you feel pressured to spend more just to get enough rewards to justify the annual fee, that card might be causing you to spend more than you normally might.

Does the card place limits, or “cap” how many rewards you can earn in bonus categories? Some cards allow you to earn 3% on only the first $3,000 a year you spend on groceries, and after that rewards may diminish or disappear entirely. You’ll want to factor those considerations into your decision.

“Make sure you know how the cards you’re considering work, and figure out which one works best for your habits,” advises Van Cleve. “If you do that the rewards can really help you save some money and work toward other goals that you have.”

The Millennial Boomerang

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“My kids will never come back to live with us after they are launched.”

“I don’t have worry about boomerang children, mine have great jobs.”

“Junior would never get into trouble and need me to bail him out, he’s a good boy.”

Have you ever made a declarative statement that you had to take back and eat, along with a big, fat slice of humble pie?  I have. In fact, I’ve eaten so many humble pies that I’ve put on five pounds just thinking about it! That’s why I’m approaching today’s blog very circumspectly.

“Failure to Launch” was not only a popular Matthew McConaughey movie (would someone puleeze give that man a shirt!). It’s also a syndrome in America among Boomer and Gen X parents and their Millennial babies. There are many reasons for this boomerang barrage. One primary factor has to do with the unemployment rate among 20 to 24 year olds, which was 15.4% last year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Furthermore, statistics from the Pew Research Center indicated that 13% of American parents with an adult child had a child move back into the family home. While 40% of recent college graduates still live at home.

Money matters are the number one reason why these kiddies come back home to mommy and daddy as well as the struggling economy, student loan debt, consumer debt and in some cases legal troubles. Another primary reason is that some parents just enjoy having their kids at home and don’t really see the need for them to move on and move out.

There is good news and bad news for families in this situation. A boomerang incidence is detrimental when the children have an entitlement mentality, don’t carry their own weight in the home, are not looking for work, and cause their parents to delay retirement to get them financially settled. No one wins in that situation.

The good news of the situation exists when this living arrangement is only temporary and involves a solid exit plan. In fact, it can be a great bonding time between generations, especially if there are grandchildren involved.

But one thing is certain:  boomerang babies introduce more stress into the household. If the old adage is true that “company and fish are alike, after three days they both begin to stink” then having adult children home for an months on end has the ability to raise your blood
pressure significantly.

But what to do? What to do?

Here is the Ellie Kay motto for a situation like this, just tell your adult children:  “My love for you is unconditional, by my money is not.”  Your “money” in this case includes your home, furnishings, food, car, cash, retirement fund, home equity, phones, insurance, and anything else in your monthly budget that is impacted by new peeps living with you!

Here are some guidelines to follow if you find yourself in this situation:

  • DTR – “Define The Relationship” by discussing the living arrangement and defining the expectations on both sides. Come to an agreement as to what is expected of one another and delineate the boundaries.
  • Develop An Exit Strategy First – A solid exit strategy will have them back on their own between 3 and 6 months. If they know when they will be expected say “sayonara”, then that gives them a deadline to work toward in becoming financially independent again. It also helps to eliminate resentment when the time doth draw nigh.
  • Do What – Do What? – This is your new song, in that you are going to ask that son or daughter to do their portion for the household, whether it is doing chores and paying rent, or contributing by buying groceries and paying the light bill. The more uncomfortable it becomes in the parent’s nest, the more motivation that birdie has to re-launch.
  • Define the Rules – Part of the exit strategy will include the establishment of a budget for the adult child. I like the mint app because multiple people can track the spending at the same time. If they are living in your home, then you have the right to oversee a budget that will help them live on their own again. The idea of this may seem to restrict their freedom but it’s all part of the diabolical plan to kick them back out of the nest again.
  • Do have them pay Rent – Once they are employed, then begin to increase the rent over the course of the next months until they are paying the same rent to you that they would be paying for a place of their own. If you want an idea of what rent is in your neighborhood, go to Rentometer to find out a fair rate. YES, it’s probably more than what your lovely room and board is worth—BUT THAT IS THE POINT! You want them to see how it’s not worth it to live with mumsey; it’s a better value elsewhere.
  • Do Unto Others –– If you want to be kind (and sneaky in a good way), then you can take half the rent they give you and put it in an account that you can then relinquish to them. This will help them pay the first and last month’s rent on a place of their own. But you don’t “owe” them this act of kindness, your money, after all, is conditional while your love is unconditional and don’t fall into the trap by defining your love with how much you pay their way.
  • Do Give Them Wisdom – In some cases, the best assistance you can give them (besides the establishment of a budget) is to get them to a financial counselor such as nfcc.org that will help them for free. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can renegotiate loans, restructure debt and provide accountability outside of your direct influence. There’s nothing like a third party to be the bad guy when it comes to letting them know the real deal in the real world.
  • Don’t Bail them Out! – Just remember the idea of precedence: what you do once, you will have to do again for the same child or for another one of your children. Keep in mind your needs such as retirement, paying your bills, your credit scores and your financial future. We owe our children food, shelter and clothing for 18 years. We owe them unconditional love for a lifetime. But we don’t owe them a bailout when they overextend themselves or fail to plan responsibly.  

 

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.

 

Saving Every Day, the Kay Way

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This week, I got a phone call from Jonathan, my fighter pilot son, sharing his latest bargain. He may have gotten his flying abilities from the World’s Greatest Fighter pilot, but he learned how to save from another family member, who will remain nameless. He talked about how he scored a new bedding set at Bed, Bath and Beyond by layering the savings. As he shared, his excitement gained momentum,

“Yeah, so the regular price for the bed set was $245, it was on clearance for $109, then the clearance was marked down another 50% for one day only, so it was $55. Then I used my 20% off coupon (found at Retail Me Not) and saved $21 more.” He came up for air, with the coup de gras,

“I only paid $34 for a bedding set valued at $245.”

He is my favorite son. *

After I complimented his money savings prowess, I excitedly told him about my recent discovery from our local County of Los Angeles Public Library in Quartz Hills. I found out that instead of paying $14.95 for Audible, (which is a good deal if you listen to a lot of audible books) you can get them for free at the library online. It was so easy. You just download the Overdrive app for free, register your library card and voila! I’ve already downloaded Dr. Who, The Underwater Menace and Jodi Picolt’s Small Great Things. Since it’s a digital download, I can listen to iton my phone in the car or on a plane–all for FREE. When I’m done, it’s automatically returned on the system.

Truth be told, I taught my kids from an early age how to save money. It’s in their DNA and it’s served them well as millennials in the cold, sometimes cruel world of adulting. The good news is that these skills can be learned, even if you weren’t taught from the womb how to get the best bargain.

For example, my daughter’s friend, Kristen, went to Downtown Disney with my daughter and I recently and we educated her at the Rainforest Cafe in a major way.

The first perk we received was when we called ahead to make a reservation (at 4:00 PM) and were told there were no reservations left until 9:00 PM. To which I replied,

“But I’m a Landry’s Select Club member.” I heard a quick intake of breath on the other side of the phone.

“Oh well, that’s different. Just come to the front of the line when you get here and they’ll be a 15-minute wait max for you.”

Sweet dreams are made of this.

We were happily seated upstairs at a table overlooking the two-story Atlas fountain and right in front of our own personal monkey. While we perused our menus, I explained how the Landry Select Club works.

“You only pay $25 to get the card and you earn a $25 credit for every $250 you spend at hundreds of participating restaurants, casinos and hotels across the county. It’s not a credit card, it’s just like a membership card. Restaurants like Bubba Gump, the Chart House, Saltgrass & McCormick and Schmick’s.”  I paused for a quick breath and continued,

“Plus, you get $25 credit your birthday month. There’s no renewal fees and you always get priority seating.” About that time, the Manager came over and asked us how it was going (another perk of being a member.) As soon as the manager left, my daughter added,

“Also, as soon as you register your new card online, you automatically get a $25 credit. So it pays for itself right away.”

Just then the storm began with a loud clap of thunder. The elephants at the end of the aisle started snorting loudly and our monkey friend kind of freaked out at the weather.

It was the end of our educational session. But not the end of our passion about saving money every day–the Kay way!

What are some of your day to day savings discoveries? Let me know!

 

*To be  clear all of Ellie Kay’s kids are her favorites.  She’s not a horrible mom who loves one child more than another. (Except when they buy her gifts for no reason, then they really are her favorite because gift giving is her love language, which really is a thing.)

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