MintFamily with Beth Kobliner: 6 Financial Lessons Kids Learn From Having a Summer Job

If your teen was lucky enough to snag a summer job (quite a feat in this economy), congratulations!

For your child, a rush of pride and possibility comes with their first job. Hello, financial freedom. Goodbye, begging mom and dad for $5 to grab pizza with friends, or $40 for a new video game.

A teen’s first paycheck is an exciting moment for mom and dad, too—and not just because the begging stops (or at least slows down). A summer job is a kid’s first real-world experience with earning their own money. That means it’s a great opening for parents to impart some critical lessons about financial responsibility:

Needs Vs. Wants

Earning your own money teaches you to take care of needs before wants. Having a minimum-wage job doesn’t mean your daughter needs to be instantly responsible for all her bills, but she can certainly start chipping in for things like gas or her cell phone bill.

Savings First

Save, save, save—even when it feels like you don’t need to. When you have a steady paycheck coming in, it’s easy to believe that things will always be this good. But you never know when you’ll need money for an emergency, like if you get laid off or your car breaks down.

Learning to save money is one of the most important lessons a kid can take into adulthood. Talk with your newly minted worker about putting 10% of each paycheck into her college fund and another 10% into a general savings account.

Hard Work Pays Off

Your kid may think that all she has to do is show up, but there’s more to a job than just getting hired. She can pick up extra shifts, stay a little late if the boss needs her, and hold herself to a high standard, even when doing menial tasks like folding napkins or shredding papers. A strong work ethic makes her the kind of employee that gets a raise, a good recommendation, or an invitation to come back next summer. At the very least, she’ll take pride in her work.

The Tax Man Cometh

A teen’s first paycheck contains a painful surprise — the IRS takes a hefty slice of it. Just because your contract says you make $10 an hour, doesn’t mean you’ll have $80 in your pocket at the end of the day. Consider this an opportunity to talk to kids about everything that taxes pay for: schools, libraries, police, the roads he drives on to get to work, Social Security for when he retires, unemployment insurance in case he’s laid off, and so much more.

Reward Yourself

Go ahead, live a little. Hey, earning a paycheck isn’t only about delaying gratification. Part of the reason we work is so we can enjoy the fruits of our labors! Encourage your hard-working kid to set aside some of her take-home pay to go out with friends or buy a new pair of shoes–she’s earned it!

Be Grateful

Remember how lucky you are. Typical summer jobs—waiter, cashier, lifeguard, camp counselor, etc.—all have their highs and lows. If your kid starts complaining about the good old days of “doing nothing,” remind him how lucky he is even to be employed. With teens facing a 25% unemployment rate for the past few summers, up from 15% in 2007, and many of the adults in their lives laid off since the recession, it’s a good time to instill sensitivity and gratitude.

© 2012 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved

Beth Kobliner is a personal finance commentator and journalist, the author of the New York Times bestseller “Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties,” and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.

 

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Money Milestones: Affording a Baby

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Guess how much it costs to raise a child these days (not including college costs).

The latest government figures show that for a middle-income family, parents can expect to spend close to a quarter of a million dollars to raise one child through high school. This includes food, housing, health care, and basic necessities. (To estimate your own costs based on your state and lifestyle check out this site.)

I’m trying to not let this figure get in the way of my sanity, as I welcome baby #2 (a girl) this month. One way we’re planning to save is by giving her many of her brother’s hand-me-downs. Yes, she’ll wear bibs that say, “Handsome like Daddy.” And she’ll never know the difference.

Of course, it’s critical to have some savings (about six to nine months tucked aside) and be clear of as much credit card debt as possible before this expensive person comes to live with you.

Even still, whether or not you can afford a baby is not always an easy or simple calculation. There are many moving parts: Who will take care of the baby? Will you nurse or formula-feed (something that may change after the baby is born)? Will your health insurance cover most of the baby’s medical needs? The sooner you can plan and anticipate these scenarios, the sooner you can calculate your true baby-related costs.

As a second-time parent, I have some additional advice on how to navigate the expenses of raising a child and save as much money along the way.

What to Expect (and How to Save) in the First Year

A recent survey of moms by BabyCenter.com, a site for new and expecting parents, found that providing for a new baby in the first year costs families, on average, roughly $13,000. This doesn’t include childcare, which can run from several hundred to thousands of dollars per month, depending on whether you opt for a day care provider or a personal nanny.

Not to mention, a babysitter (because mom and dad need a date night once in a while) may run you another $600 a year, according to BabyCenter. Add in a stroller ($180) and baby room décor ($150) and you can see how quickly expenses can add up.

A few suggestions for saving on the little things during the first year:

  • Bank on hand-me-downs from friends, family, and everyone. Join list-serves and Facebook groups where neighboring families may be giving away free baby clothes. Free stuff is out there. You just need to find it!
  • If you choose to nurse, see if you qualify for a free breast pump through your insurance provider, a savings of $200 or more.
  • Ask for freebies from medical providers. Before we left the hospital with our first baby, we stocked up on diapers and formula from the nurses that lasted us weeks. They were happy to give it to us. Just ask. Your pediatrician may also have samples and freebies in stock.
  • Prepare your own baby food. Yes, it’s more time consuming than giving your baby prepared food from a jar, but not THAT much more time. Pureeing apples takes a few minutes. That’s instant apple sauce with no preservatives that costs a fraction of what it would be at the grocery store. Spend an hour making a week’s batch and freeze for later.
  • Stay put. Expectant parents sometimes buy into the myth that they need more room to provide for the child. False. Living in New York City I know parents with three children living in a two-bedroom apartment (Don’t ask me how, but the point is it can be done!) An infant can usually sleep in a bassinet in the mom and dad’s bedroom for the first six months.

For more help with budgeting that first year you can head to the Baby Center cost calculator for a ballpark estimate.

Save on Child Care

The average cost of childcare has been climbing over the years. Day care, for example, now costs an average $200 a week, according to Care.com. A personal nanny can be $15 to $18 an hour in some areas.

As an alternative, you may save by opting for a nanny share. Many neighboring parents are reaping the savings of splitting the cost of one caretaker for two children.  And if you have more than one child attending a day care center, ask about sibling discounts.

Don’t forget to take advantage of your tax benefits, too, namely the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit where you can claim up to $3,000 worth of child care-related expenses for one child (or up to $6,000 for two or more children under the age of 13).

Eliminate Debt

I touched on this earlier, but just to elaborate, it’s so important to start parenthood debt-free, since you’re likely to incur a heap of additional costs preparing for and raising a child. Don’t compound your stress levels and existing lack of sleep with the thought of your credit card bills piling up.

Another reason having little to no credit card debt is important is because if you find yourself needing to take on any loans over the next few years, banks prefer borrowers with strong credit scores and a clean bill of financial health. Your debt to income ratio will play an important role then.

Planning for College: Start Early

For both our kids we opened up a 529 “qualified tuition” plan before they were born, knowing that college costs are escalating each year, faster than the rate of inflation. The 529 is a state-sponsored tax-advantaged savings plan that’s a popular way to start saving for your little one.

Many states offer state income tax deductions for all or part of the contributions made by the donor although state-specific tax rules apply.  I like the site savingforcollege.com where you can compare each state’s plan.

You can use your withdrawals for school expenses including tuition, room and board, textbooks, supplies, fees, etc. You can establish a 529 plan either directly from your State Department of Education or through a financial planner. And remember that you can choose any state’s plan, not just the one provided by your state.

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

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Family Matters: Affording Care for a Family Member

Twenty-three year-old Emilie Lima Burke has started to save $20 per day.

It’s not for a vacation or her retirement fund. Instead, she’s preparing for the moment she expects she’ll need to take care of her aging dad and all his expenses.  Burke, who runs the site BurkeDoes.com, a financial, health and career resource for millennial women, says that her parents used to joke that she and her sister would be “their retirement plans.”

But that’s seems no longer a laughing matter.

“My dad has struggled with long bouts of unemployment…He has no money saved at all,” says the 23 year-old. “I know that at some point I will be [his caregiver]. When there is no retirement fund or any assets for aging parents to fall on, you just have to make a plan.”

We’re living longer these days, which means that many of us have the great fortune of growing older with our parents. The number of Americans ages 65 and older expected to nearly double by 2050, according to the U.S. Census.

With longevity, though, comes the increasing responsibility and financial pressure to care after our aging family members, especially, if like Burke, our family doesn’t have a financial plan already in place. The average working household has “virtually no retirement savings.”

It’s no surprise then that about one in four Americans (with parents ages 65 and older) is helping a parent with his or her affairs, offering financial help or caring after them.

And not to cause alarm, but more than half of the country – 29 states – have so-called “filial support” or “filial responsibility” laws that could potentially require adult children to pay for their parents’ care if they don’t have the means to do so for themselves.

If you’re struggling to support a family member or anticipate needing to care after a loved one down the road, here are some ways to help make your efforts more affordable.

Know Their Bottom Line

If a family member is turning to you for help, particularly financial help, then it’s more than appropriate to have a candid money talk – no matter how uncomfortable it may be.  Ask to see how much they have in the bank, as well as what other streams of income they may be receiving (e.g. social security, a pension, insurance payout, a portfolio distribution, etc.). Create a budget to pay for as much as possible with your parent’s income and assets before tapping your own bank account.

“I see people who take on credit card debt or stop paying their own bills to care for their parents, but a much better option is to first exhaust all of the resources that the parents can have access to,” says Belinda Rosenblum, a financial strategist at OwnYourMoney.com.

Having a paper trail of statements showing income and expenses will also prove helpful if your parent needs to apply for Medicaid, the health insurance program designed to help those with little money. Here’s where you can learn more about Medicaid eligibility.  Care facilities sometimes have a Medicaid expert on staff to assist with your application, too.

Reach Out to Local and National Resources

When business coach Amanda Abella’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year ago, her family needed to find a way to pay for her extra care. The adult day care alone, she estimates, would have cost $100 per day.

For guidance, they turned to her grandmother’s doctor and the social worker at the hospital and discovered the Alliance for Aging, a Florida-based private, not-for-profit that provides a range of services to older people, including personal care, legal help, transportation, meals, etc. After several rounds of interviews and almost a year of being on the wait list, Abella’s grandmother succeeded and now receives free nursing care.

The lesson: Never assume that you have to go it alone. Help is out there. Local and national resources offer grants and support to seniors. To start your search for funding visit: Family Caregiver Alliance and Paying For Senior Care.

Also worth mentioning: If your aging parents are veterans look into the Department of Veterans. “Often veterans overlook or are not aware of the benefits they are eligible for such as medical care or prescriptions, especially if they’ve been separated from the military for a long time,” says military money life coach Lacey Langford.

Look Into The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

If you need to take time off work to care for a family member, be it a parent, child or even yourself, but worried about losing your job in the process, you may benefit from the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The federal law grants certain workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year with the promise of getting their jobs back. You can also keep your company health benefits during your time off. Some states such as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island allow qualified workers to earn at least part of their paycheck during this time.

Remember the Tax Deduction

Track expenses and if you afforded more than half of your parent’s needs during the tax year (including utilities, medical bills, food and general living expenses) and he or she earned less than $4,050 (not counting social security), then you may be able to claim mom or dad (or both) as a dependent on your 2016 tax return. Doing so offers you additional tax benefits. You can find more information on how to claim a parent as a dependent on TurboTax.com.

Keep in mind that whether or not your parent qualifies as a dependent, you might be able to deduct the medical expenses (including prescriptions and doctor visits) you paid for on his or her behalf from your taxable income. The IRS requires the total of these expenses to be more than 10% of your adjusted gross income in order to claim the deduction.

Consider Long-Term Care Insurance

If your parents have yet to reach the age where they may need some assistance, see if they’ve looked into long-term care insurance. This can come in handy if they think you may need to afford a nursing home or at-home care later down the road. (And about 70% of Americans who reach age 65 will likely need some time of long-term care before as they age). Medicare does not cover these costs and they can be very expensive.

For example, the average cost of a home health aid, which long-term care would cover, can be anywhere from $34,000 to $57,000 a year depending on where you live.  If your parents don’t have enough saved to cover this, it may fall on your shoulders. It’s just as beneficial to you for them to seriously consider long-term care.

You may decide to purchase a policy yourself and have your parent(s) be the beneficiary.

Keep in mind that the ideal time to buy long-term care is when your parents are in their 50’s and 60’s (specifically between 52 and 64). The younger and healthier the beneficiary is, the more likely he or she will qualify (and the lower the monthly premium). For a couple in good health applying for long-term health care in their mid-50s, the average annual cost is about $2,350 (or less than $200 a month).

Create a Family Fund

Finally, like Burke, it pays to start saving early for the financial what-ifs surrounding our family members.

You can hope for the best, but should also prepare for the worst. Tucking away even $10 or $15 a week for the next five or ten years while your parents are still able to take care of themselves could yield an essential nest egg for everybody when life takes a turn.

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

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MintFamily with Beth Kobliner: 3 Ways Your Kids Will Redefine the American Dream

A friend’s 20-something son shocked his parents with his post-graduation plans: He was moving to Southeast Asia to sell selfie sticks.

Millennials in a nutshell, #amiright?

But who can blame them for taking non-traditional paths, given the poor financial hand they’ve been dealt: record levels of college debt, uncertain job prospects, stagnant wages, and more. It’s why one in three Millennials is deeply dissatisfied with their financial situation, according to a much-quoted new study from George Washington University and PwC.

Findings from a recent Harvard survey cut even deeper: half of Millennials say the American Dream is dead. Yep, that cornerstone of post-war America—the house, the car, the upwardly mobile career track—is about as relevant to them as black & white TV. To parents raised on the mythology of the American Dream, that’s grim news.

But the situation may not be as dire as it appears.

As they’ve done with everything from communications to careers, Millennials are redefining what it means to lead a “better life” (something parents see as key to the American Dream, according to a 2015 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll). This new paradigm is rooted in the experiences of people who came of age after the financial crisis of 2008, and reflects how they see the world. It offers a flexible lifestyle (one that some might see as transient) and a reworking of the traditional measures of success.

Here are three ways that our kids will make their own American Dream—and thrive.

1.  They’ll rethink what college means—and how to pay for it.

Two-thirds of parents say the American Dream includes sending their kids to college, according to a September poll from the youth media company Fusion. These moms and dads are right to think this, as college grads earn about $1 million more over their lifetimes.

For Millennials, cost and career aspirations are informing this major life decision more than ever (call it pragmatism if you want). Gone are the days of selecting a school based on its bucolic campus or dominant football program. Kids (and parents) want more value—and less debt.

That’s why it’s so critical to start the college cost conversation early—like 9th grade-early. Want an incentive? A start-up called Raise.me allows high schoolers—as early as freshman year—to earn “micro-scholarships” from over 100 colleges. Got an A in chemistry? Won the lacrosse playoffs? Volunteered at your local animal shelter? Each awesome achievement can earn your kid $500 to over $1,000 from various colleges. Even “mayor” of Millennials Mark Zuckerberg backs it: Facebook is one of Raise.me’s main supporters.

Best way to avoid the college cost guessing game? Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)—the key to scholarships, grants, work-study, and low-rate federal loans. The form is notoriously long and complicated, but it’s getting better! Starting this year, you can access the FAFSA on October 1, 2016 (up from January 1, 2017). Why the new, early start? It means you’ll be able to auto-fill the form for the 2017-18 school year using your 2015 tax return data. (More details here.)

Parents of kids who excel in hands-on environments can encourage them to consider the growing trend of apprenticeships (a traditionally European idea that’s catching on here in the U.S.), particularly programs offered in tandem with a community college degree.

2.  They’ll understand that owning your own “home sweet home” is only sweet when you can afford it.

In 1986 (back when I was graduating from college!), 76% of young people saw owning a home as essential to the American Dream. Today that’s down to 59%, according to the Fusion poll.

That means your kid is more likely to bunk with you—or rent—than take on a mortgage she can’t afford (so don’t turn her bedroom into a home office just yet). If she does move in with you, make sure she uses this time as an opportunity to save! (And work out any financial details in advance with this helpful guide from eHow.com.)

Renting has traditionally gotten a bad rap, but it lets your kid explore—new towns, new jobs, new people!—without being stuck in one place. Take our selfie-stick seller: his Southeast Asia stint lasted less than a year before he was back in the states and settling into a new city and new gig. Like his fellow Millennials, he’ll probably rent for several years. Buying may not even cross his mind until his early 30s. A Zillow study shows the average first-time homebuyer is now 33, up from 29 in the 1970s. Of course, you’ll want to talk to your kid about the realities of owning a home, including how to sock away a chunk of money for a down payment once she’s ready.

3.  They’ll value happiness and independence over a huge paycheck.

The entrepreneurial goals of Millennials can sometimes seem a little, er, lofty (like the selfie stick plan that didn’t exactly take off), but thankfully, many are starting to pace themselves.

A study from Upwork, a company that helps businesses find freelance workers, showed that 62% (mostly Millennial) freelancers planned to work a full-time job and moonlight on the side for two years before quitting to follow their dreams. Two years may not be a magic number (a specific financial goal would be safer), but at least they’re earning—and learning—prior to taking the leap.

Today’s young people aren’t all work and no play, either. Millennials’ drive for success, salary, and even entrepreneurial goals pales in comparison to their desire to spend time with family and friends, which they rank as “one of the most important things” in their lives, according to the Harvard survey.

The takeaway? We’re raising a generation that demands independence, flexibility, and a true work/life balance. Perhaps that’s the new American Dream.

Sounds like something we can all believe in.

How do you define the American Dream for your kids? Tell me on Twitter using #NewAmericanDream.

© 2016 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved

BethKobliner

Beth Kobliner is the author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life, and is currently writing a new book, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not), to be published by Simon & Schuster. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.

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Not Managing Your Own Money? At Least Know This.

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You may not be a numbers person and despise thinking about money. I get it. (Although, I suspect you may be underestimating yourself.)

Because of this, if you’re in a relationship, you may be inclined to let your partner take the financial reins and oversee your joint accounts. Often times households appoint a spouse as the “CFO,” or chief financial officer, with the good intention of streamlining all the financial bookkeeping and bill payment under one person’s watchful eye. That system has its merits. “While it would be nice to think that every financial decision in a household were made on a 50/50 basis – real life so often gets in the way,” says Manisha Thakor, Director of Wealth Strategies for Women at The BAM Alliance. “In our modern, busy world ‘divide & conquer’ is often the only logistical way to make sure all financial tasks get done.”

But if you’re not the family CFO and/or not interested in personal finance, it’s never an excuse to turn a blind eye to your money. You risk making ill-informed decisions, taking your finances for granted and being financially vulnerable in the event your partner can no longer oversee the bills for any reason.

To avoid such perils, here are critical areas of your financial life that each person in a partnership should understand no matter what.

Income & Expenses

Do you know how much your spouse or partner earns? Believe it or not, this figure is a blind spot in many relationships. A recent study found that 43% of couples failed to accurately report how much their partner earns.

Another survey found that one in three newlyweds discovered their spouse’s spending habits are different than what they thought.

But if you don’t know how much each of you brings home (and spends) every month, how will you be able to really understand what’s affordable, how long it will take you to climb out of debt or save up for a goal together?

“There’s no need to go into the spending nitty-gritty, so long as the difference between income & expenses is positive, savings goals are being met, and no one is upset at how money is being spent,” says Thakor.

Another reason why it’s key to know how much your partner makes is so that you can better assess your tax filings. Taxes may not be something you like to tackle, but if you do sign a joint return, you should know your combined household income. That’s a line item the IRS zooms in on very closely. Misreporting or under-reporting income is a big no-no. And if you’re both signing those tax returns, the IRS will hold the both of you accountable in the event of an audit.

Your Home Ownership Status

If you own a home with your partner and the mortgage is in both of your names that only means that you’re both financially responsible for the loan. But unless your name is also on the property deed, you don’t technically own the home. This is critical to know because in case you separate or divorce, you may not be entitled to the house or profits from the sale.

Account Access

Your partner may be primarily in charge of paying bills and managing the money, but what if you had to (or just want to) step in and take a look or manage the accounts yourself? Do you know where and how to pay the mortgage if you had to? Can you access your retirement savings and investments online?

“For shared assets you want to know what accounts you have and where they’re kept,” says Thakor. In addition to bank accounts, be sure to keep an updated list of your shared insurance policies and know where and how to access your will.

Your Investment Strategy

How informed are you about the way you’re investing together? You may not be that interested in stock charts and tables, but at least know your allocation and the amount of risk you’re taking together. “Knowing your mix between stocks, bonds and cash, and knowing how much in aggregate fees you are paying (at both a product and an advisor level) are three key drivers of your long term investment success,” says Thakor. Set up a time to review your investments with your partner regularly and make a point to show up to meetings with a financial advisor. And remember, no question is a dumb question!

Credit Scores

If you’re ever planning to apply for a loan or credit card together, it’s best to know each others credit scores so that you can better manage your expectations. If you only assume your partner has a strong 800 credit score (like you), but then get rejected for a joint loan because the score was actually in the 500s, you might save yourself the shock and resentment that will likely soon follow. The earlier you know, the sooner, too, you can work together to help repair his or her credit. Keep track of your credit score on a monthly basis using Mint’s credit score tool.

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

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My Mint Story: Managing Less Money for More Family

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For the majority of our marriage, my husband and I have moved to three cities, traveled internationally, and delivered a resounding “yes!” to most social invitations. We have thoroughly enjoyed the perks of sharing a checking account, most notably the enhanced numbers every time we peeked at our balance.

Our finances were never of grave concern for us; we had the cash to pay rent every month, avoided excessive purchases, and had no plans to buy a house. Life was good, and so was the Thai take-out we enjoyed multiple times a week. And the trips to Vegas. Those were good, real good.

Then things got tricky: My husband attended business school on loans while I floated us with my single (but well-paying) income. Then I became a stay-at-home mom while my husband floated us with his single (but well-paying) income. Our truncated cash flow and the new addition to our family put our financial health at the forefront: we needed to save for our daughter’s education and manage our debt, but for real this time. In short, our financial awakening was less “ah-ha!” and more “uh-oh.”

Here are some of the lessons I learned to help get my family on track:

Those Who Don’t Earn, Save

Since I wasn’t working, I forced myself to become a much more cost-conscious consumer. I started clipping coupons, traveling a bit further for cheaper gas, cooking my own baby food and wagging my finger at pleads for expensive take-out. In other words, I turned into my mother. These small cuts were things that I didn’t have the time nor the brainpower to consider when I was working full-time because… who cares, $8 lattes it is!

Lifestyles Change and That’s Okay

Our transition from DINKS to a single-income family of three was obviously significant on an emotional level. However, it took us a little longer (probably too long) to recognize the financial implications of this major life shift. Buying a third seat on an airplane and apartment-hunting for 2-bedrooms were more sobering than pregnancy. We started having to say “no” to events that we would have been first in line for years ago. This was a tough road for me, not so much because I missed the “good” stuff, but because I was afraid it would turn me into a different person. Luckily, people aren’t defined by things, so life goes on merrily. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Does the coffee taste terrible? Absolutely.

Say Yes to Mint

Opening a Mint account is like getting a gym membership: it’s the right thing to do, but if you don’t use it, things get flabby, bloated, and, well, hard to look at. I had definitely let myself go when it came to my Mint account. Why make a deep dive into this month’s incurred finance charges when it was so much easier to just delete the email? I would ignore notifications and once “forgot” to let Mint know when I switched banks. Accepting Mint as a friend and an advisor was a crucial step in taking advantage of what the service has to offer.

I’ve always been a fan of being able to customize my expense categories in Mint, but it became an invaluable tool once we had a baby. Babies incur expenses that turn over as rapidly as their clothing size: the amount we spend on formula dwindles the more she eats real food…she’ll grow out of diapers, and school costs replace pre-existing childcare expenses. Having the ability to categorize our child’s expenses based on her phase of life keeps us on our toes – we know that “Food for Baby” costs will go up or down depending on her current demands, and that “Activities for Baby” will become more dominant as she grows older. It also helps us plan for the next phase, and have a firmer grasp on realistic expenses for a second child.

I admit I’m still learning to use it at its fullest capacity, but having Mint as a friendly presence in my life makes me feel more confident about the financial choices I make moving forward. If only it made coffee, too.

Julia Bensfield is a comedian and writer based in Washington, DC. She writes about motherhood and life on her humor blog Your Mom Dot Com.

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After the Wedding: Joining Accounts & More

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Hey everyone, thank you or your well wishes and sweet notes. I’m married!

But guess what? Once you’re married and starting your happily ever after, you must still discuss finances. Now our conversations are changing. Initially, it was about budgeting for the wedding and now it’s all about what are we going to do with the gifts and cash from our wedding and the way we plan to manage our finances long term. Finances and plans for your future are always changing, and you should be having discussions about money regularly.

Communicate

Even if you have a primary person in the relationship who deals almost entirely with the money and the bills, you still need open communication between the two of you so that both are aware of where you are with savings goals, retirement funds, investments, and more. Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you should be ignorant of your finances! It should be a joint conversation, one you have every time something changes, or you get a raise, or when anything effects it.

You can track all of your accounts and purchases through Mint, which is a great way for Michael and I to stay on top of our spending and saving! You can even track special accounts like money markets and investment accounts through the Mint app.

Save Together

When you plan to buy a house, money is at the root of it. Do you have enough saved for a down payment, how much do you even need? These questions will need answers!

A great way to start saving for a house or other large purchase as a married couple is to open a money market account. A money market account is an interest-bearing account that typically pays a higher interest rate than a savings account, so you can save money faster and get a higher interest rate based on the market as a whole.

Money market accounts are insured by the FDIC and the portfolios typically invest in short-term, liquid securities. They are able to offer a higher interest rate by requiring a higher minimum balance, and by placing restrictions on the number of withdrawals the account holder may take over a given period of time. This all makes them fantastic savings accounts, especially when you and your partner are saving for a big purchase!

There are also annual vacations, possible future children, and other things to plan for that require money. You will also want to start thinking about investing if you have the money to do so. A joint investment account is a great way to start working towards your long-term goals.

Invest Together

Many married couples choose to invest together. You can invest in stocks, bonds, bitcoin, mutual funds, anything you want! Investing can be fun, but you are also using real money and should make sure that you agree about the goals of your investments!

You can open a joint account through a brokerage firm such as TD Ameritrade and Merrill Edge, both of whom do not have an account minimum that you have to meet. This means you don’t have to always have $1000 in the account (like Charles Schwab) or $2500 (looking at you, Scottrade).

A brokerage account is one between an investor and a licensed brokerage firm that allows the investor to deposit funds with the firm and then they place the investment orders for you. Even though that might sounds weird, that’s actually very common. All four firms listed above are online stock brokers, which is just a person or an institution licensed to buy and sell stocks and other securities via the market exchanges.

Do research and figure out what investments work best for you, and remember that retirement accounts and real estate are investments, as well. Also, the stock brokers all have customer support and financial advisors that can answer some questions, especially about previous results of investments and they can walk you through the trading process.

Seek an Expert

If you are unsure about budgets and investing or what is best for you, consider using a certified financial advisor to help make sure you are on track for all your goals. They can also recommend investments!

Michael and I agreed to invest our money from our gifts into real estate, while also investing in our apartment with a little makeover (and by little I mean new furniture, new artwork and a new bed). We planned ahead and used our credit card to pay for parts of the wedding and received a large lump sum of points to go on our honeymoon to Mexico!

Thank you for coming all on this journey with me!

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Jessica Naziri is the founder of TechSesh.co, a lifestyle website for women inspired by tech. She has been a technology news reporter for The Los Angeles Times, CNN and CNBC.com. Since then, her work has also appeared in TechCrunch, The Washington Post, Mashable, CBS, The Travel Channel, CNN, NPR, USA Today, Inside Edition, Yahoo!, and Business Insider.

Follow Jessica on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or reach out directly via email Hello@techsesh.co.

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House Architecture

Kids & Money: Counterintuitive Advice that Works!

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Growing up, I suspect my parents talked about money more than the average family.

From a young age I knew how much they earned. I knew how much our house was worth (before you could just search prices on the Internet) and I knew that while we weren’t “rich” in the dollars and cents kind of way, my parents felt rich because they followed their own rules and prioritized their money.

While neighboring families may have kept mum on the topic, my Middle Eastern parents chatted casually (and out loud) about their attempts to ask for raises, the cost of everything and the threat of layoffs at my dad’s company.

It’s counterintuitive to the way some might think to raise their kids. After all, it’s not exactly America’s cultural norm to speak openly about money, which is considered more of a taboo topic amongst friends and family than religion or politics.

Fast-forward two decades and I suppose my career choice shouldn’t come as a surprise…and possibly why the real estate section of the NY Times is my favorite thing to read on the weekends.

I’m grateful for the fact that my parents acted outside the box. Sometimes it makes all the difference. Here are some additional counterintuitive strategies for raising money savvy kids I look forward to practicing with my kids – once they’re out of diapers.

Don’t Call it an Allowance

Instead, call it earnings so there’s a linkage between hard work and pay.

And it’s best when the work to exceed the expected duties of just being members of a household. For example, some parents argue that kids should make their beds and wash their dishes without reward. (I agree.)

Instead, offer an allow, er, earnings, when they perform duties outside the normal realm like, say, washing mom’s car on a Saturday, helping to clean out the attic or babysitting a younger sibling. As head of household, you can decide what constitutes an atypical activity.

Take it to the next level and ask your kids to identify a need at home and how they’d like to help address or solve it, and have them negotiate a rate while they’re at it. For example, “Mom, your office is a mess. I’d like to help you organize your paperwork. I charge $5 an hour.” This teaches entrepreneurship at a young age and the importance of being your own financial advocate in the real world.

Say YES to Their Wants

Just because you say yes, doesn’t mean they will receive what they want. Instead, next time your child asks for something that isn’t necessary, ask them to jot it down and add it to their growing list of wants. Rank the wants weekly or monthly and insist that your child come up with ways to afford their wishes. Maybe it means performing more work around the house, saving up their cash gifts that year and/or watching for a sale.

When Mint spoke with Susan Beacham, founder of Money Savvy Generation, she emphasized the importance of having kids keep a list of their wants because it forces kids to stop and reflect on what they really want and value. As Susan said, “We’re teaching how our needs and wants change…We teach them how to prioritize. Children need to gauge, ‘Do I really want this? Will I really use this? If I get it, will I want it tomorrow?’”

Answer Their Awkward Money Questions

“Are we rich?” and “How much do you make?”

While your instinct may be to change the subject (or run) when these tricky money questions come out of your child’s mouth, it helps to first dig into your kid’s line of questioning.

Instead of saying, “It’s none of your business,” try responding gently with your own question like, “Why are your curious?”

You may discover that while your child ponders, “How much do you make?” his or her curiosity actually stems from overhearing a conversation about what a friend’s parent does and earns and how the family is “rich.”

It’s worth it to take a beat to learn more about the context of your child’s question. The good news is, they’re curious about money. The last thing you want to do is to shut them down. It only perpetuates the stigma around money.

Who knows, by asking your child to share more about their money question, it may lead you down an opportune path to discuss what “rich” means to your family and that while everyone makes a different amount, it’s not how much one earns that matters, but how we manage that money.

Then, you can pivot to talking about the importance of saving…and all the while you’ve avoided revealing your salary and bonus!

Don’t Delay Gratification

At least not when you’re trying to entice kids to save money.

When I chatted with Bill Dwight, founder of FamZoo, an online and mobile banking service for parents and kids, he suggested that moms and dad encourage their kids to save by offering a savings return frequently – each week, instead of each year. This way kids can feel better rewarded and more compelled to save habitually.

“Kids operate on a much faster clock. A year is a really long time to a kid,” says Dwight. FamZoo sends a text to your child each time interest accrues. “I would like my kids when they’re very young to get a text message that says, ‘Oh, you just earned $0.25 of interest this week,’ because I want to set that habit that says, ‘Yes, saving is good. My money is working for me.’ A lot of kids don’t even have that concept that money could work for you.”

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

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House Architecture Pets

4 Awesome Alternatives to Pet Ownership

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Last week was National Puppy Day, so no doubt your Instagram feed was filled with picture after picture of oversized-paws, pink tongues and floppy ears… all tagged #furbaby – amiright?

I can imagine if you want a pet, but don’t have one, it may tug at the heart strings a bit. But having a pet requires a big commitment and since we’re a financial blog, we’ll just go ahead and break the news: pet ownership is not cheap.

If you are currently not in a state to take on the unexpected expenses that come with #furbaby, this does not mean you and your family can’t have the experience of bonding with and caring for a furry (or scaly!) friend.

Here are 4 awesome, feel-good ways you can create the experience of having a pet without taking on the cost of it. [Hint: #2 can even double as your side hustle!]

Volunteer at a shelter

This one shouldn’t come as a surprise, but here’s the extra kick-in-the-boot to get you to check it out! Your local shelter is looking for people just like you to help out with exercising the pets and giving positive attention to animals waiting for their forever home.

Pro tip: If you are reallllly wishing you could have a pet but know it’s just not the right time financially, this could be a risky option (they don’t call them “puppy dog eyes” for nothing).

But if you are resolved you can’t have a pet and still want to be around animals, this is a wonderful way to not only get in the fur-baby time, but also give back to your community. Bottom line: all that attention and trust-building you provide is making that animal a better candidate for a good home with its own family. Pat yourself on the back – if you pick this option, you’re killing it in the Make the World a Better Place category.

Pet Sit

Taking a pet into your own home (or staying at someone else’s home to watch their pet) is like having an Auntie/Uncle weekend. It’s the best. You get to pretend for whatever period of time that you have a pet of your very own – but no financial responsibilities (not to be mistaken for no responsibilities). Not to mention, providing a home environment will likely help ease any kind of separation anxiety the pet may generally experience when their person is away.

Pro tip: if it’s a cat, might be better to house sit in addition to pet sit, it’s likely they’d be more distressed by moving homes for a period of time than having their owner gone.

Super pro tip: Before offering up your home, make sure it is properly secured to have a pet roam around. Holes in fences, ajar windows, etc could tempt the little dude to find his way back to his parent’s house.

To find opportunities to pet sit – become familiar with the pets in your neighborhood and let their owners know of your interest. If you have a friend with a beloved pet, be sure to let them know you would love to watch them when they go out of town. Many pet owners are hesitant to ask for this kind of help, but it’s a relief to know someone you trust is willing to watch them.

If you want to make money doing this and actually make a side hustle out of it, check out sites like Rover or DogVacay. These are awesome resources for pet owners to find vacation homes for their pups.

Fostering a pet

Many shelters and animal rescues have special programs to find homes for their animals due to overflow of pets in need or to get them used to living in a home environment. Reach out to a local animal rescue and ask about their programs. Many will help financially with the cost for the pet (i.e. food, medical bills, etc) – but not all. Be sure to get the full details ahead of time. Also, be prepared that eventually you will part with the animal. Maybe pre-plan how you will celebrate when the pet does find a home to help with the transition.

Service Dog Training

You’ve likely seen a service dog and are familiar with the incredible benefit they offer people with disabilities. But did you know, for many of these programs, the dogs start their initial training in a prison? Sounds scary, but it’s a great way for inmates to take on a positive responsibility and the bond they develop is often so beneficial, it’s actually a rehabilitation method. In between the pup’s time learning basic training and then going on to the hard-core service training, they need time to adapt to the outside world. This is where you could come in! Many programs, such as ICAN in Indiana, need temporary homes for these dogs before they go on to become the heroes they’re destined to be. Look in your state for similar programs!

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House Architecture

What To Discuss For a Healthy Financial Future

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When it comes to a healthy relationship, it’s very important to talk about money management, how you’re going to budget, save, everything. Joining two lives is complicated enough without forgetting to talk about how you’re going to use money, split bills, and plan for your future.

Things like buying a home or a car, or annual vacations need to be budgeted for, and there must be an agreement between you both about how money is spent and saved. If you don’t take the time to lay it all out early on, you may both be surprised in a negative way later. You really want to be on the same page when it comes to money, or it will lead to arguments and resentment.

Here are some things that you and your significant other need to discuss, in order to have a healthy financial future:

Salaries.

You will likely have a salary disparity. One of you will make more, and together you’ll need to decide a fair way of splitting bills.

Credit score.

You are your partner should both get your credit checked, so that there are no surprises. Ideally, this should be done once a year! You should know what each other’s score is, and learn how to improve your score over time, such as with paying credit cards on time, or having bills in your name.

Credit cards.

How are you, as a couple, planning to pay your bills? Will you split individual bills, or use a shared credit card to pay for everything and split the final total at the end of the month? How you plan to pay your bills and use shared finances like credit cards is important to discuss ahead of time.

Debt.

This one is VERY important to talk about before combining finances. Once you’re married, debt basically becomes shared. You should both be extremely honest about any student loans, mortgage debts, credit card debts, or others. Paying off unexpected debts can breed resentment in couples, and should be discussed before you get married!

Savings.

All of your monthly expenses and budgeting needs to account for saving money monthly, too. How much do you and your partner think is a good amount to save every month? How much have they saved previously? Experts say that you should always have 3-6 months worth of bills saved at any given time, in case of emergencies like an unexpected job loss.

Retirement.

Just like savings, this one is also very important. If your partner is not saving for retirement, like in a 401 (k) or an IRA, will your retirement savings be enough to keep both of you afloat? This is another place where if it is not discussed and decided, it can sneak up on you both and be a huge problem later in life. Just because you are young doesn’t mean you can ignore retirement savings. In fact, when you’re young is the best time to start worrying about retirement!

These are some of the things that you have to discuss and make plans for when you are combining lives and finances.

Mint is just one way to put everything in one place and have clear goals to work towards, as well as have everything organized and accessible. Next time, I am going to talk to you about budgeting for a wedding together!

Jessica Naziri is the founder of TechSesh.co, a lifestyle website for women inspired by tech. She has been a technology news reporter for The Los Angeles Times, CNN and CNBC.com. Since then, her work has also appeared in TechCrunch, The Washington Post, Mashable, CBS, The Travel Channel, CNN, NPR, USA Today, Inside Edition, Yahoo!, and Business Insider.

Follow Jessica on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or reach out directly via email Hello@techsesh.co.

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