A Financial Education Event
 

It’s Academy Time! (#USAFA, #USNA, #USMA) – Part 1

This is the Academy time of the year—no I don’t mean the heat of summer, although this time of year is lovely in Southern California. But I mean it’s the time of the year when students begin to fill out applications to compete to get a little piece of paper in the mail worth more than $425,000. This would be an appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, the Naval Academy in Annapolis, West Point in New York or the Merchant Marine Academy and the Coast Guard Academy.

As both an ALO (Admission Liaison Officer for the Air Force Academy) and a mom of three sons who went to academies, I’m here to say that this is a VERY exciting time for applicants to work toward their appointment! I remember when my sons received theirs, we ate on “Happy Plates” (a Kay family tradition when we celebrate a family member achievement). If someone in your world is interested in pursuing this kind of a dream, then share the following insiders tips with them to maximize their opportunities to succeed.

 

Service Academies and Military Funded Education

A couple of our sons garnered one million dollars in scholarship offers, and in both cases two of those offers were from federal service academies.  These are highly competitive and look at the whole person. So it’s not enough to be a brainiac, they are also looking for students who are exceptional in the area of athletics, community involvement and leadership.  In return for this amazing education valued at $425,000, your student will be required to serve in the military for their “commitment” period. The commitment is a minimum of 5 years of service and can be longer, depending on a number of factors in regards to additional training after graduation. For example, our Air Force Academy grad owes 10 years of service because he went to pilot training to fly the F15E Strike Eagle.  If you have a “hero at home” who wants to go to a service academy, there are several things to keep in mind.

One of the first places to visit is your service academy’s admissions site:

USAFA – The United States Air Force Academy

USNA – The United States Naval Academy

USMA — The United States Military Academy

USMMA (Merchant Marine)

Coast Guard Academy (does not require a congressional nomination)

From Prospect to Appointee:  

  • Prospect:  A student who has filled out the initial response form showing interest. This means they are essentially on an admissions mailing list. You can fill this out as early as middle school by going to the academy’s website.
  • Applicant: The individual has filled out a pre-candidate questionnaire and provided initial info on PSAT/SAT/ACT scores, grades and extra-curricular activities. This is usually done NO LATER than the spring of their junior year. This is also the time to contact your congressman and senator in regards to a nomination. In addition, if the student’s parent is qualified for a Presidential nomination, (see nominations and appointments below) then the student can contact the academy directly to pursue this nomination as well.
  • Candidate: To move from applicant to candidate indicates that you have cleared your first competitive hurdle. This step is decided by the Academies admissions staff in the early summer of a student’s Senior year. Not all students will get to this point, but this is when they will be interviewed by the Academy Liaison Officer (or the equivalent). It is from this list that appointments will be offered as early as the fall. For example, one of our sons was offered an USNA appointment by October.
  • Appointee – This means that the candidate has been offered an appointment into the Academy. They can choose to accept it or turn it down, but it means they have not only received an official nomination, but they have also been approved by the Academy’s admissions board and offered an actual appointment.

Basic Requirements

It’s important to check the specific military academy website for updated information on your desired academy, but in general, here are the basics that you will need before you even consider applying:

  • A United States citizen
  • Unmarried with no dependants
  • Of good moral character
  • At least 17, but not past your 23rd birthday by July 1 of the year entering.

Recommendations

Because it is so incredibly competitive to gain entry into a service academy, the following high school courses will help make the applicant more competitive:

  • Four years of English
  • Four year of college-prep math
  • Four years of lab science
  • Three years of social studies
  • Two years of a foreign language
  • One year of computer study

Character

One of the academies defines character as “One’s moral compass, the sum of those qualities of moral excellence which compel a person to do the right thing despite pressure or temptations to the contrary.” (USAFA) They also define leadership as “The process of influencing people and being responsible for the care of followers while accomplishing a common mission.”  These academies are looking for future leaders with the highest moral character possible.

Diversity

Academies are looking for people from a wide variety of life experiences and the word “diversity” at these institutions no longer applies exclusively to race or cultural background. USAFA defines diversity as: “a composite of individual characteristics that includes personal life experiences (including having overcome adversity by personal efforts), geographic background (e.g., region, rural, suburban, urban), socioeconomic background, cultural knowledge, educational background (including academic excellence, and whether an individual would be a first generation college student), work background (including prior enlisted service), language abilities (with particular emphasis on languages of strategic importance to the Air Force), physical abilities (including athletic prowess), philosophical/spiritual perspectives, age, race, ethnicity and gender.

Join us again for part two of this blog series when we will cover nominations and appointments, The Liaison Officer, and Summer Leadership Programs. Please share this blog with someone you know would love to attend a service academy and who has the potential to be among the best and brightest in our nation who will be offered appointments.

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.