A Financial Education Event

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thankful Traditions

The Kay family photo for Woman’s Day magazine.

Back when my co-host of The Money Millhouse was just a little girl with a big smile, we created memories through holiday traditions.

One of the things I discovered is that not every “savings” can be measured in dollars and cents. One of the things we emphasized in our family is the saving of memories. Our Thankful Tree was featured in a Woman’s Day magazine one year. It took two photographers 8 rolls of film and four hours to get one 3 x 5 photo in the magazine. Joshua was missing for one roll of film and we didn’t notice until we saw him making faces from behind the photographers and we asked, “What are you doing back there?”

The tip we gave is how we’ve stayed in touch with family and friends during this holiday. On November 1st, we made a Thankful Tree on poster board and put it on our wall or front door. The tree was bare because the leaves that we made out of construction paper have not yet been gathered. The leaves have the person’s name on them and say, “Papa is thankful for _________.” But we left the tree bare at the beginning of the season to teach the children how barren our lives are without the giving of thanks.

We made and sent the leaves to friends and family around the world along with a self-addressed envelope. When these envelopes came back, the children got excited as they took turns opening them. At dinner that night, we read the leaf and give thanks along with those who are thankful and put the leaf on our tree. By Thanksgiving Day, we had a tree full of thanks. We carefully saved the leaves in an envelope marked by the year and kept all in our Thanksgiving decoration box. Each year, we read the leaves from past years.

We never know when this year’s leaf might be someone’s last, or which family might have a new leaf on next year’s tree. So we give thanks.  These days, we gather “thankful comments” from facebook, email and twitter, but the point is we are connecting with friends and family in a meaningful way.

This holiday, what are YOU thankful for?  Besides our health and our family, we are thankful for two weddings this year, healthy grandchildren, and the chance to be together during the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ellie Kay


8 Ways to Thank a Veteran Today and Every Day


As far a military families go, I’m brat, a grandbrat, a wifebrat and a mombrat. Yes, military service runs deep in the Kay family. My Grandpa died as an aircrew member in WWII; my dad retired as a Chief Master SGT in the US Air Force; my hubby flew fighter aircraft in the Air Force for 30 years; one of my sons graduated from the Naval Academy and is an active duty Marine; another son graduated this year from the United States Air Force Academy and is at pilot training; and my youngest son is a junior at WestPoint. So when it comes to thanking our troops for their service, I really appreciate those of you who take the time to say thanks.  Here are some more easy ways to express your appreciation:

1.       Say “Thanks” – The fact that you are reading this blog, indicates that you probably already thank those in uniform when you see them. When people say “Thank you for your service” to my Marine son, he responds with, “Proud to serve.”  Be sure to also thank family members, including parents of service members, for the way they serve by supporting their military members. You can also say thanks by donating to Heroes at Home, which provides financial readiness for military readiness. In our Heroes at Home events I explain that when people say thanks to them, it’s their way of being patriotic.

2.      Say “Welcome Home” – As we all know, the Vietnam War was not a popular conflict, and those who served were greeted with jeers, taunts or just plain apathy. There are also those who returned from the Korean War who were never properly welcomed back. So when you see an older vet, ask them what war they served in and if it’s one of those two, then ask one more question, “Were you ever welcomed home?” If they say, “no” then simply say, “Well you have been now, welcome home soldier, thank you for your service.” I’ve done this many times and all were deeply thankful for the sentiments, and some were so deeply moved, they even had tears in their eyes. In our Heroes at Home Events, I encourage our young service members to welcome home these Veterans and just how much it means for someone currently serving to thank those who have served.

3.      Pick Up Dinner – Every year, restaurants give free meals and discounts for Veterans and those who are serving now and at The Military Wallet, you can get this year’s update. But why not keep it going year round? Once a year, or more, depending on your budget, pay for a military member’s meal. You may see a service member with his or her family or a group of military dudes and dudettes in a small group at a restaurant. Don’t go up to the soldier, sailor or airman to ask if you can pay for their meal. Instead, go to the manager or the waitress and ask for their bill, then pay it as you leave and tell the waitress to give them a simple message: “Thank you for your service.”

4.       Operation Gratitude – During Veterans day week, our USAFA parents club volunteered to help put together care packages for the troops. Lots of volunteers put together over 7,000 care packages in one day! Each time I went through the assembly line with my boxes, it took all my self control not to slip that package of Rocky Mountain Factory fudge into my pocket. You can also donate DVDs, Girl Scout cookies, trial-sized toiletries, candy, scarves, gloves, small stuffed animals, books and more to the effort.

5.      Mow A Yard – Or rake leaves, or plant rosebushes, or paint an outhouse, or… you get the idea, for the military family of a deployed service member in your neighborhood, church or community.  When Bob was gone and I was left home alone with a house full of kids, I really appreciated that help. The best help comes from people you know, where that military family is comfortable knowing you are not a creeper!

6.      Donate Your Old Cell – If you are like most of the Kay family members, you get a new phone about once every 18 months or so (it seems to be an inalienable right in our clan). Instead of trading in when you trade up, give it to Cell Phones for Soldiers.

7.      Calling All Coupon Queens – I started out in the financial area as a Coupon Queen and eventually evolved to “America’s Family Financial Expert” ®. Along the way, I’ve encouraged families to donate their expired coupons to military units overseas. They can use your castoffs for up to six months past the expiration date. For more information, email us at assistant@elliekay.com and put “Expired Coupons” in the subject line.

Care for Critters – If you are like my hubby, you are a critter person. He sits in his easy chair each evening and instantly—voila!—three mini schnauzers appear in his lap. They were his constant pet therapy when he broke his back a couple years ago, thereby ending his career as a fighter pilot. If you love critters, then you can offer to provide foster care by taking in a dog or cat of a wounded or deployed military member while he or she is receiving medical treatment or on duty.  For more on this, go to Guardian Angels for Soldiers.

Thank you to all our Veterans and their families, and a special thanks to my husband, LTC Bob Kay, the World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot for his 30 years of service, to my Marine, Airman and Soldier. I’m so proud of all of you!

Ellie Kay


Service Academies and Military Funded Education



 I recently spoke at Congresswoman Katie Hill’s (25th Congressional District) Military Academy night.  The audience members were parents and students in high school.   These federal academies are highly competitive and look at the whole person. So it’s not enough to be a brainianc (super smart), 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 $450,000, 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.  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  The Merchant Marine Academy

USCGA    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.

The Essay

It’s never too early to begin to think about what you would like to write in your admissions application essay. These are very important and should be well thought out before submitting. Be sure to have you liaison officer review it before you submit it or ask an academy graduate to help. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a faculty member from your school review it as well. More eyes on the project can mean a broader perspective, but it still needs to be your own voice, so you will have the final word on the essay.

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees – Life Lessons Learned from Allowances

This week and next, I am taking some time to focus on the benefits of using an allowance to teach kids life skills. Some of the personal stories are from days gone by, as Bob and my adult children don’t have much use for allowances anymore. But the truths are timeless and we’re seeing some of the fruits of our labor as our kids make wise choices.

Using an Allowance to Teach Responsibility

The first objective we have in implementing an allowance is the idea of teaching our children about responsibility. Responsibility and accountability are closely related, and both are vital life skills that will help keep our children out of a financial counselor’s office when they’re adults.

Members Only Personally, I do not advocate giving a child an allowance because she is living and breathing—as if an allowance were an inalienable right. On the other hand, your child is a member of your family and as such has certain responsibilities. Because she is a member of the family she should get an allowance.

Not Paid for Chores There’s a delicate balance between paying your child for chores and withholding a portion of the allowance for chores and withholding a portion of the allowance for chores left undone. Daryl Lucas said in his book 105 Questions Children Ask About Money Matters. “Try not to tie allowances to chores. Doing so gives children the impression that they should be paid for all work, even cleaning up after themselves. Give them both chores and an allowance because they are part of the family.” (Tyndale House Publishers, 1997, Questions #79).

Responsibilities on Demand In our large family, we’ve trained our children that they are part of a larger whole—the family. As responsible members they are required to give their parents the help they need. While they have specific chores that they ware to do on a regular basis, that does not exclude them from nonpaying work. We’ve trained our kids to fold another load of laundry, vacuum the carpet, rake the backyard, or do whatever the family needs to get one. This doesn’t mean we’re not willing to pay them for some of these jobs on occasion (if they’re trying to earn money and looking to do extra work). But it does mean that they’ll do some work without expecting to be paid to do it.

Age Appropriate An allowance based on a child’s age is a good place to start. So unless you have twins, all your children will get different allowances. Their chores or responsibilities would need to be age appropriate, too.

Younger Children Even a three-year-old child can help set a table, carry dishes to the sink, pick up his toys and clothes. As a four year old, he can being learning to make his bed with help, and by the time he’s five, he’s doing a fairly decent job of it. One of the primary chores five-year-old Joshua has is to organize the shoe rack we keep in our garage (we don’t wear shoes in our house). One day we heard a sharp cry from the garage, and when I went to see what Joshua was doing, all he could say was, “Look at that, Mama.” Daniel had a few friends over, and there were four sets of tennis shoes that were sizes 12, 13, 14, and 15—there was no place for Joshua to put them on the rack!

Older Children The older a child is, the more responsibility he tends to have in the family, since he is closer to living on his own—when he will have to make all his own financial decisions. When our oldest, Daniel starts to complain that he has the lion’s share of the work around the house, we gently remind him that he also has the most privileges associated with his heightened responsibility.

Check back next week for part 2, where I’ll focus on the benefits of teaching accountability through an allowance.

This blog is taken from my book Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees: Teaching Your Kids the Value of a Buck. For more on this subject, you can buy the book from the bookstore at www.elliekay.com.

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees – Life Lessons Learned from Allowances (Part 2)

In this second installment of the “Life Lessons Learned from Allowances” blog, I am taking some time to focus on the benefits of using an allowance to teach kids accountability. As I noted last week, some of the personal stories are from days gone by, as Bob and my adult children don’t have much use for allowances anymore. But the truths are timeless and we’re seeing some of the fruits of our labor as our kids make wise choices.

Using an Allowance to Teach Accountability

The second objective of implementing an allowance is to help our children learn financial accountability—a less that most adults still need to learn, as well. A crucial part of that accountability is letting our kids face the reality that choices have consequences.

Natural Consequences This is a great tool to teach our kids accountability. When our middle child, Bethany, first began getting an allowance, she often had it spent before the first day was out. She’d see something in the store and spontaneously blow her money on a cheap toy that would be broken by the next day.

Then we decided to begin emphasizing the consequences of her choices. When she saw a cool pencil she wanted at the store and asked us to buy it, here’s how our conversation went:

“Sure, you can buy that, Bunny! Just use your allowance.”

She’d reply mournfully, “But I don’t have any left…” trailing off in a sympathy-seeking whine.

I’d pat her blond curls. “Well, then, I guess we’ll see about it next Sunday, when you get your allowance again.”

This simple technique began to teach her the natural consequences of spending all her money the first day, and it made her accountable for her own spending habits.

Conditional Allowance While our kids get an allowance because they’re a responsible part of our family, it doesn’t mean that there are no conditions placed on that allowance. They do have a responsibility to do their chores (even though they’re not getting paid to do chores, as we’ve already stated). SO the big question is: “How do you get kids to do their chores, and what if they don’t?”

Reality Discipline

About eight years ago I went to a garage sale that radically changed the way we parent our children. I picked up a book (that I’ve already mentioned in this section) by Dr. Kevin Lehman called Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. I bought it because it was by a Christian author, and I thought it would be a good resource to have on our bookshelves—and because it was a steal at fifty cents. The principles I learned from it, however, are priceless:

  1. Establish a healthy authority over your child.
  2. Hold your children accountable for their actions.
  3. Let reality be the teacher.
  4. Use actions more than words.
  5. Stick to your guns, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
  6. Relationships come before rules.
  7. Live by your values.

Let me give you an example of how to get kids to do their chores based on this reality-discipline approach:

Real-Life Example Just this week Bethany decided she would rather comb her hair a gazillion strokes and paint here nails than make her bed. So when it came time for the mad dash to leave the house for school, she left this chore undone. When the kids go home from school, she skipped over the a friend’s house—leaving her chore still undone.

Real Calm Response This presented the ideal opportunity for Mom to step in to calmly deal with the situation. I asked seven-year-old Jonathan (aka Sweetpea) to make his sister’s bed, and I paid him fifty cents for the three-minute chore. He was delighted to earn some more money (he was saving for an F-15 model airplane kit).

Real Allowance Money Gone When Bethany got home, I informed her of the reality of the situation: she hadn’t done her job; Jonathan did it for her. And I took fifty cents from her upcoming allowance to pay for his services.

No-Nag Zone This approach is not failure-proof, but it has been effective for us. It also keeps us from going over the edge and losing our cool over undone chores, a lack of responsibility, and sloppiness. It seems to affect kids all the more to see their money go to their siblings, and it has gone a long way in reducing the amount of forgetfulness, laziness, and rebelliousness that we sometimes see.

This blog is taken from my book Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees: Teaching Your Kids the Value of a Buck. For more on this subject, you can buy the book from the bookstore at www.elliekay.com.

Go Big, Don’t Go For Broke: Tailgating at its Best

My husband and our son Jonathan with the Drum and Bugle Corps at an Air Force game.

When my husband was assigned to his alma mater, the United States Air Force Academy, we knew we were in for an adventure. We lived on the Academy grounds and found deer in our front yard, wild turkeys in our back yard, and an occasional brown bear by the community dumpsters. But nothing prepared me for the ultimate adventure—tailgating before a football game at over 7,000 feet. The games in September and early October were filled with crisp, cool weather and lots of pregame fun. But by the time Air Force played Army in November, I knew we were in for trouble. The freezing rain started halfway through our tailgate party and was in full force by the time we were guzzling hot chocolate and apple pie. At the start of the game, I had become one of the frozen chosen in the stands, wearing layers of clothing but still chilled to the feet. Our efforts were ultimately vindicated; we whipped Army and brought home the Commander-in-Chief trophy.

In the midst of game-time seasons, I learned the fine art of tailgating with some guiding principles to boot. Here are some tips to make your tailgates more complete—come rain, snow or sleet.

Make a List—Check it Twice

Getting organized will help avoid the frustration of forgetting an essential tailgaiting tool. Make a checklist at home for everything you want to bring to your party and be sure to include everything, even if you think you won’t forget it (We once left the game tickets at home).  Here is a fairly comprehensive list:

Cookout Essentials. Whether you’re going for the all-out barbecue or a simple picnic, it’s important to remember every detail. One slip of the memory can turn baked beans into finger food (not recommended) or leave warm water in place of an ice-cold soda.

  • Food (list it each item individually), beverages (don’t forget a bottle opener or cork screw), condiments, coolers and ice, charcoal and lighter fluid, lighter or matches, cooking and eating utensils, cooker or grill, water (for drinking and for cooling charcoal), serving trays, trash bags, paper products (plates, cups, towels, napkins), plastic products (storage baggies, leftover containers, utensils), pots and pans, and grilling gear (apron, oven mitts, and chef hat).

The Perfect Setup. Tried and true tailgaters know that the right setup can be the difference between the best party and an awkward get-together. If you have the means to take some amenities along, these extras can turn your tailgate into the ultimate tailgate.

  • Canopy or tent, chairs and table (a table cloth makes it better), generator (a portable power source for hard-core tailgaters), flag and holders (GO TEAM!), rope or bungee cords (to tie things down in the wind), decorations, music (radio, iPod, speakers, karaoke machine), and fun stuff (football, Frisbee, games, etc.).

Emergencies and More. Fair-weather fans and tailgating novices may be deterred by a slight chance of rain, but a few preparatory measures will make the difference between worst-case scenarios and slight hiccups in the plan.

  • Blankets and protective rain gear, binoculars, camera, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, sun block, and umbrellas.

Each tailgate is a different experience, so plan ahead and think of every possibility. When in doubt, consider the Boy Scout motto: “be prepared.” And whatever you do, don’t forget the tickets!

Beyond the things to bring, there are a few more considerations to make game day an experience to remember. Check back next week for more tips on game-day preparation and for resources to get more affordable tickets to sporting events.

1000 Kisses — Investing in Our Children

I’m currently missing 4000 kisses every year.

Yep, they just upped and moved away, 1000 at a time.

I try to gain back some of those by kissing my friend Natalya’s four little girls. Her baby is only six months old and likes to suck on pickles. Don’t you know you have to grab up a sweetheart like that and give her 10 kisses on her chubby cheeks, just for being so cute?

As a mom who had her youngest five children in seven years, and homeschooled said children for seven years, I figured I got and gave at least 50 kisses a day. Those of you who have had infants and toddlers know that there are times when you just get overwhelmed with their cuteness and have to get some loving on the spot—a dozen kisses at a time!

Even when my children became teens, they knew they had to kiss me when they woke up, give me kiss when they left and came back home, and then again before they went to bed. Let’s say that averaged out to 3 kisses a day (accounting for the fact that I didn’t see them every day if I was out of town). At 365 days per year, that’s still 1000 kisses a year.

Yes, I’m a numbers person and that is both a blessing and a curse, but bear with me a second because I’m trying to get you to feel just a little bit sorry for me for a moment. Every time one of my children “launches” and goes off to college, I lose 1000 annual kisses. When you multiply that by 4 Kay kids who have launched in the last 6 years, I’m down 4000, and those marks of affection are worth far more than dollars—they are priceless.

There are a number of ways to invest in our kids. One of the most important areas is their education.  My husband, Bob and I sacrificed certain things to invest in their education by sending the youngest three to the best school in our part of the world, Desert Christian Schools.  We are not independently wealthy and it cost us something to have as many as 3 kids in private school at a time. But it was worth it to us. We could have driven newer cars, lived in a bigger house or taken fancier vacations, but we knew that one day, when we’re old, we wouldn’t regret cars, houses or vacations. We are going to be thankful we invested in our kids.

For us, this kind of education allowed for smaller classroom sizes, more safety, excellent academic programs and fantastic athletic teams. There are also teachers and administrators have a heart of compassion for our students and  work with us when one of the Kay kids makes a boneheaded choice that requires correction.  Granted, we couldn’t always afford private school, which is why I homeschooled for a while. We also had two kids graduate from public school and do really well in life. Whether you homeschool, choose a private school or send them to public education, being invested in the educational process is essential. For us, that translated into over a million dollars in college scholarships for our progeny.

Another way to invest in our children is in areas where they are having trouble, for example, investing in a tutor. Our son, Jonathan, had trouble in Geometry and we got him a tutor. He got over the learning curve hump, gained mastery and confidence in the material and even became a gainfully employed tutor with Mathemagicians in our community. Math helped our oldest son, Philip, get offers from Cornell and Stanford because he got a 760 out of 800 on his MSATs in Math (he only got a 560 in verbal, but I guess Math geeks don’t have to know how to spell).

Some parents invest in music lessons that can help children gain math skills (something about reading music that makes you more proficient in math), gain confidence, and even earn a partial scholarship in that area. Or you may be a mom that invested in your child by taking them to endless soccer, baseball, basketball, football, or Tae Kwon Do teams. All those hours as chauffer were not in vain because your little one learned self-discipline, the value of exercise, and how to be a part of a team.  Other parents spend time with their kids by taking them out to fun events or out to eat. We like to subscribe to Local Living to find out when there’s a new restaurant or cool event we can take them to for as little as half of the regular price.

I could write 10 more pages on legitimate ways we “invest” in our children, but I’ll end with the one that I started with in this blog.  Invest your affection in your child. Hug them. Spend time with them. Tell them you believe in them. Speak about the bright future they have ahead of them. One day, sooner than you think, that child will launch and you’ll also be down 1000 kisses.  So be sure to kiss ‘em while you can!

Let me know, how do YOU invest in your kids?

 Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert ®

Leaving Home 101

Our five-year-old son, Philip, was very mad and having a horrible, no good, very bad day. His two-year-old brother, Jonathan, had taken all his favorite GI Joes and threw them in the toilet—again.

“I haffa tell ya’ mama,” He announced when he came into the kitchen where I was mixing a batch of brownies, “I’m gonna’ run away.”

I leaned down and met his eyes, “Well, we’re going to miss you around here, son. Let me at least pack you a lunch before you go.”

As a veteran mom of many, I knew Philip’s terrible, no good, very bad day would pass and that he was probably just going to his friend’s house to play. I asked his older brother, Daniel, to get on his bike and follow his younger brother to make sure he would only go as far as the Maerten’s house.

Juggling the phone with the brownie bowl, I dialed Leanne Maertens number, “Hey is Philip there yet?”

I heard her doorbell ring in the background, “Yes, I think he’s at the door now.”

“Well, he’s run away from home and I figure he’ll hang out until dinner. Let me know when he leaves.”

Philip spent the entire afternoon playing with Christopher and Edward and then Leanne called to say that our little runaway was coming home. He returned a few minutes later and announced, “Well, I’m back from running away, Mama! What’s for dinner?”

Fast forward a few years and Philip’s left home again—for good. He’s in graduate school at Stanford and has to cook all his own dinners. He learned that there’s a good way to leave home and a not-so-good way to leave. Here are the things parents do to help their kids leave home well.

Budget Babies

     Before your child leaves make sure that you help them establish a workable budget. The categories should include housing, transportation, clothing, food, entertainment, and (if necessary) tuition and books.  Go to Ellie Kay’s tool page and for an online budget. Decide, up front, what they will pay for from their own work money and what you will cover. Ask them to send you a monthly budget report and review it with them. Look at this as an opportunity to coach them in right choices but beware of funding their failures by bailing them out on a regular basis. This is the time for them to learn to live on their own in a healthy way.

Banking and Credit Cards

      Your college bound student will need banking accounts for checking and savings. Research banks (or savings and loans) that offer student banking programs. Or go to CheckingFinder . Now is also the time to educate your child on the dangers of easy credit. They will have access to thousands of dollars worth of credit through a variety of offers that may show up in their student mailbox—if they can find a co-signer or prove they have an adequate income. Teach them to shred these credit card offers in order to help protect their identity and also direct them to order their free annual report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus at AnnualCreditReport (& warn them to bypass any offers that require money, only get the FREE report.)

Help your children set up their own credit card by getting an additional card that you control on your own credit card account (we use American Express) and make sure that initially, they only have a $300 credit limit. As they charge and pay off the balance each month, they’ll build their own credit score as well. Our son, Daniel, when he was a senior in college built enough good credit to prequalify for a townhouse! It all started with our involved effort to help him establish and build credit wisely—without getting into debt.

Borrowing and Student Loans

     Parents often ask, “How do we pay for college, should we get a HELOC, refinance our house, or get a second mortgage?” I do not believe you should leverage the equity in your home (which is part of your future retirement) in order to pay for your child’s future. HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit) are also a poor choice. Instead, look at a variety of scholarships, work study programs, and other options available through the financial aid office at the school. Another financially healthy option is to have your child attend a college you can afford. Our mantra for our college bound kids is: I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt. Email assistant@elliekay.com and request “College Crunch File” to see ways to minimize college debt or even put kids through school with NO student loan debt, as we have done with five of our seven children.

Bagels and Broccoli

My daughter, Bethany, started to do some of our grocery shopping when she was still in high school in order to teach her how to shop wisely when she was on her own at college. When she got the the bakery department, she exclaimed: “Wow! I can get this bag of eight bagels for less than this other bag with only six!” She was so proud (and so was I!)   Be sure your kids know how to price compare and how to read the store labels as well. Show them the “price per ounce” on the shelf so that they can recognize value. Walk them through the frozen foods section to compare the difference between buying fresh broccoli versus frozen and let them see the savings in frozen convenience foods versus fast food pizza.  Introduce them to the website CouponMom for ways to save hundreds on groceries and have them read my grocery shopping blogs.

Boomer Helicopter Parents

    One of the characteristics of Millenials (i.e. your college student) is that their parents tend to “hover” too much, not allowing the child to fail or pay the consequences of failure when they stumble. Most student loans cannot be granted beyond a certain threshold unless you (or someone else) co-signs. The same applies to credit cards for those under 21. There is a balance, it’s important to hold the line on student loan debt and other forms of credit for your Millennial. Remember another one of our mantras (that you can borrow) “Our love is unconditional, but our money is conditional.” If you’re paying for college, and investing in your student, then you automatically have a right to expect that they’ll do certain things in return, like pass their own classes, maintain a budget and earn part of their college through work/study programs, scholarships and/or part time jobs.

Launching a child can be costly and stressful unless you are strategic and purposeful in your planning. With the right moves, you can help your student finish well at home and start their new life with a healthy financial perspective.  But the part about missing them and crying those secret tears when no one is looking is something I can’t help you with right now because I’m too busy missing my own college kid (love you Jonathan)!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R) 


Black Friday: Fact or Fiction?

The Kay Family, Christmas on the Move, 1995

The Kay family has been waking at the crack of dawn the Friday after Thanksgiving for almost two decades in order to save as much as 50% on our Christmas purchases. But does all that hot chocolate and bleary-eyed effort really pay off? There is a lot of misinformation about this retailers’ dream day, so I’d like to set the record straight on what is fact and what is fiction regarding this special day.

  • Black Friday sales begin on Black Friday.

FICTION:  It seems that the holiday sales begin earlier and earlier each year. We are used to almost bypassing Thanksgiving as a holiday and decorations go out in stores even before Halloween is over. While some stores like, JC Penneys have issued press releases that they will “honor Thanksgiving as a family day” and not open until 6:00 AM on Friday, other stores aren’t sharing the sentiment. For example, some big sales will start on Thanksgiving day, including stores like Sears, Wal-Mart and K-Mart; you’ll find them at Bradsdeals or BlackFriday So if you need an excuse to get away from your annoying sister-in-law and walk off some of that turkey, you may want to do some shopping on Thanksgiving.

  • Getting a store credit card to get a discount will hurt your FICO score & you should never use any credit  card for purchases.

FACT: Every time you open a line of credit, or there’s an inquiry about your credit you run the risk of getting a hit on your Fair Isaac Credit Score, or FICO. So trying to receive that extra 20% off all your purchases and then closing down the account in a couple of months is usually a very bad idea. It’s especially bad if you’re going to buy a new car or a home in the next several months. Plus, if you are someone who is prone to run up your credit cards and not pay off the balance each month, then you’re in for a double whammy. Your best friend may tell you she does this all the time to get the discounts, and all she’s telling you is that she also gets hit on credit score. Give her the facts, and help a sister out!

When it comes to using a credit card, you are are often better off using credit if you know you can pay the balance at the next billing cycle. It will help you in a dispute with an online vendor and can help you earn rewards points to buy other gifts. Check out LowCards for the rewards and cash back conus you might get. Some credit cards have their own extended warranties if you buy that item (think electronics) with the card. They’ll take a one year warranty and double it. Go to Credit.com to find out the details on what your card is offering.

  • Price Matching Doesn’t Apply on Black Friday

FICTION:  Wal-Mart has offered to match competitor’s ads for years, and this year is no exception. Last year, Best Buy, Amazon, and Home Depot got in on the price comping, and this year you can expect even more including
Target.  So bring in the ads to these various stores to get the good deals (some stores will even match online offers), and save those receipts as well. Because if you have an elite credit card, including  or some offered by Citi and Visa, they will offer a price-protection feature where they will refund you the difference if you find a lower price for the item you’ve bought. For example,the  Chase Freedom card refunds up to $500 per eligible purchase and up to $3500 per calendar year and is valid 90 days after purchase.

Black Friday is not the busiest shopping day of the year.

FACT:   According to the International Council of Shopping Centers the busiest shopping day of the year is actually the Saturday before Dec. 25. In fact, only 35% of respondents plan on shopping on BF—which is more good news for you. It won’t be as crowded as you thought!

  • They give away products for free on Black Friday

FICTION: Yeah, right. You may have been dipping into the cider a bit early if you really believe there are free door busters on Black Friday. The most you will get is some cheesy little ornament worth $2.99 given to the first 100 customers. This also means that sleeping outside the store to get something you think is free.

  • The Best prices of the year are found on Black Friday

FACT: Sorta. There is no doubt that some items will never be cheaper than on Black Friday, but other items may be part of a large retailer’s push to get those Saturday-before-Christmas shoppers and may cut their Black Friday prices. You can use a cool tool at Decide.com to help you figure out whether you should buy that item now or later. It uses data to help you decide the best time to buy a certain product.

  • Black Friday deals are worth sleeping on the curb to get

FICTION:  If you really love the great outdoors and want to sleep under the starts to get one of the 3 HDTV deals that Best Buy is offering in your city, then knock yourself out. But really, this year there are more BF deals available online and in the store as well. For example, this year Kohl’s is offering its online shoppers all early bird deals on Nov 21 and all day on Thanksgiving!  So unless you just have a whole lot of free time on your hands, I’d pass on the sleepover.

  • Be careful before you buy because you may not be able to get a full refund on some of your Black Friday purchases

FACT: Retailers sometimes tighten their return policies during the holidays.  I remember one year I got 35% less than what I paid for a camera because of restocking fees that Best Buy charged me. Not fun. Other stores may only give you an in-store refund, so you are locked into spending your refund at that store. So be sure you know the store’s refund policy before you slap down the dough.

  • There are special, “secret” deals online that are not in the circulars.

FACT:   In recent years, on Thanksgiving Day, retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart have advertised extra Black Friday deals that were not listed in their circulars. These “secret” deals are only found online or with the store’s app, so the trick is to find them early so you’ll know about them when you arrive at the store on Friday. Get the Dealnews app to find new listings.

Myth: Cyber Monday offers the same caliber deals online as Black Friday in-store sales. For those of you who’d rather fully digest your Thanksgiving meal and not stand in line starting at 3 a.m. on Black Friday, we understand. Shopping for the best deals can be exhausting, but if you wait until Cyber Monday you may be missing out on some of the highest markdowns of the holiday season.

Happy Savings!

Ellie Kay


Three, Four or More – Help for Families With Lots of Kiddies!

What do parents do to get by in our economy when they have 3, 4 or more kids? As a mom of seven, I’ve been asked how I handled buying clothing on one military man’s income. Here are some tips for you to share with your friends who are raising a gaggle of great kids! 

Top Tips To Buy Clothing For 3, 4, or More

  • Budget – This is fairly basic, but if you don’t already have a household budget with a clothing budget allocated, then you’re setting your large family up for failure.  The clothing allowance for most family budgets is 5% to 8% of your total budget.  Determine what this amount is and purpose to stay within that budget. For an online budget, go to my tools at Ellie Kay.com  This will cut down on debt and in the long run, help to de-stress your financial situation.
  •  Investment Purchases – For parents of larger families, buying clothing should be a carefully considered investment. Cheaper is not better for three, four, or more children.  For example, if you spend $25 on jeans for Billie (because they are better quality) rather than $12 for cheaper brand, they’re going to also last for Billie’s younger brother, too.  In the long run, higher quality clothing can be passed down the line and will save you from having to spend an additional $12 on another pair of cheap jeans for the next sibling.  Consider the quality, durability and wear of the clothing you buy and consider it an investment.
  • Unisex Clothing – If your children are different sexes then it’s impossible to pass along clothing, right? Wrong.  When you buy jeans for older children, try to get ones that are not gender specific. Do the same thing for coats, plain shirts, t-shirts, belts—even hoodies.  Some great low cost online clothing sites are NoMoreRack Overstock and even eBay .  If you are getting ANYTHING on line, before you select “purchase” check for coupons codes first at RetailMeNot . Or, another alternative is to go to  Save1.com, a family owned coupon and loyalty site representing more than 5,000 of the top online merchants. What makes us different this site different is that when someone shops from Save1 to save money, they provide a healthy meal to a malnourished child through one of thier non-profit feeding partners.
  • New to You Wardrobe – A very creative approach to clothing your child is to trade out all the clothing you cannot pass to your other children with another more than four family.  Look for people in your moms group, gym, workplace, neighborhood, or church who have quality clothing and a child who is a year or two older than the child you need to outfit.  Then, see if they have a different child that you can outfit from your child’s outgrown clothing.  Swap your quality clothing for theirs and your child will have a new wardrobe.  It’s still important to get a few brand-new things for each child, like shoes, so that they will feel special and won’t have to wear hand-me-downs all the time. But the swapped clothing can be especially great for two categories of clothing:  1) play clothes, which are going to be soiled and stained frequently.  And 2) church clothing, which are usually in better shape to begin with because they’re not worn as often. You can also find free items at Freecycle.
  • Don’t Whine—Consign! – For an easy credit at your local, quality consignment store, gather all your children’s outgrown clothing and take it in. Be sure it is clean, buttons are sewn on tightly (and all there) and that it is pressed if necessary—this extra care and effort will garner you a better credit.  Then use that credit to purchase your child’s clothing for the current season. To see if a consignment store is worth your time and effort, read their reviews on Yelp.

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)


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