My 11-year-old daughter recently went on quite a spending spree.
She gets a very modest allowance—$6 a week. So when she got home from an outing with a friend and her nanny, I was surprised to see her plop a big bag of goodies on the kitchen counter. Among the loot: A bottle of kid perfume (strawberry gummy bear-scent, no less), some gaudy jewelry, several packs of gum, and a Claire’s makeup set with—I kid you not—64 shades of eye shadow! (Does anyone need that many colors, much less a tween?). Photo by pasukaru76.
We had a long, ahem, talk about her shopping trip. Her mall haul might seem typical for a young girl, but there were a few wrinkles. Our family rule is that our daughter only makes significant purchases she’s with us—not when she’s with someone else’s nanny. Also, our daughter isn’t allowed to wear or buy makeup yet. Finally, I knew she couldn’t afford what she bought.
It turns out that she emptied her piggybank without telling us. It’s a segmented one, with slots for spending, saving and donating. She took the money from every section and emptied it into her little polka-dotted purse.
I know fall is just beginning, but my mind is edging toward winter. Why? I’m reviewing our family savings and looking at how much we’ve saved to buy heating oil. (We still have an oil furnace). And I don’t want a repeat of what happened last winter.
There was a day, just before we hit a major cold snap, when I kept fiddling with our thermostat. The house just didn’t feel warm enough. I was pretty sure I heard the furnace running, so I adjusted the heat, put on a sweater and went on to other things.
I should have known better. It was a Saturday, and by 2 p.m. I realized the house was getting colder…and colder…and colder. We thought maybe our furnace was malfunctioning. But my hubby checked and we had run out of oil. Drats! (Photo by Carl Mueller)
Tags: oil heat
When our family recently traveled to England, we stayed in a rented flat part of the time instead of a hotel. It was a real apartment, so we cooked in the owner’s kitchen, learned how to turn on the boiler for hot shower water, and figured out how to use their TV remotes—and yep, it’s just as complicated in England as here, with multiple controllers. (Photo by Fang Gou)
Staying in someone else’s home made me wonder what it would be like if a visiting family stayed in our home. With all its little quirks.
I’d have to leave them a note about not using the front left burner on the stove. It goes from zero to scalding right away—nothing in between. Our family is used to that oddity and avoids using that burner. But visitors would need a warning. I’d also have to explain how to finesse our front door lock—it’s fussy. And how to turn one of the basement lights on and off by twisting the lightbulb in and out. Cuz the fixture and chain aren’t working right.
Do you put up will these little oddities in your house, too? Most of us do. So this month, why not fix a few of them?
I’m over at Equifax’s Family Money blog talking about budget family travel—outside the United States. Yep, it’s actually possible, and our family lived to tell about it during a recent journey to England.
Our daughters are 10 and 14, which we decided was a good age for a “bigger” trip. They’re old enough to do lots of walking, and they’re actually interested in some of the history (cutting off heads at the Tower of London, the horrors of the plague in England, etc.).
- Renting a London flat (we stayed in this cute place in the Islington neighborhood)
- Buying breakfast makings at a nearby grocers
- Eating simple lunches and dinners at places like Pret a Manger (which you can also find in some U.S. big cities), and
- Being strategic about buying plane tickets and other items, which I talk about in my Equifax blog post.
We also gleaned budget travel strategies and itinerary tips from travel guide/TV host Rick Steves. His city guides and website are consistently great. We’ve used his guides on multiple European trips over the past 20 years.
We certainly can’t do trips like this one, to England, every year. But it was worth saving for. It was a real mind-opening experience for our daughters, and a fun adventure for my husband and me. We’re already arguing amongst ourselves about where to go on our next European journey! Photo by Highways Agency.
Head here to read my entire Equifax post and to share your budget travel ideas in the comments. What money-saving strategies have made fun trips possible for your family?
For the past two weeks, we’ve been running a “chicken urgent-care clinic” in our backyard.
Well, sort of. We have three backyard chickens. Urban chickens are a huge deal here in Portland, Oregon. To our family, Lily, Ernestine and Cocoa are pets–just as if they were cats or dogs. We pet them. We carry them around. We occasionally bring them in the house for visits and snacks. (We make them stand on newspaper. They poop a lot.)
And when our pets are sick, we fuss over them. So when Ernestine, our lovely black and white Barred Rock hen, started acting under the weather a few weeks ago, we sprang into action. Visits to bird vets are expensive, so we usually get great advice from our local farm stores. (Thanks, Urban Farm Store and Linnton Feed.) We’ve tried a de-worming remedy, and are on to a broad-spectrum antibiotic. We’re just not sure what’s ailing sweet Ernestine.
I’m over at Equifax.com’s new family money blog today talking about the link between losing weight and saving money. Believe it or not, the two have lots of similarities—and not just in how hard they are to do!
I noticed the connection when I joined Weight Watchers a while back. I didn’t make a conscious effort to use my newfound WW skills with my wallet; it just happened. I noticed that when I was mindful about the way I was spending money—just as I was mindful about how I “spent” my calories—lo and behold, I made good progress. From my post:
It Works for Weight Loss: Spontaneity is out, at least for a while. Plan ahead when you eat away from home, deciding in advance how many calories or what food you’ll eat.
It Works for Your Wallet: Same deal: Spontaneous consumption of money (a.k.a. spending) is not your friend when you’re tuning up your budget. Eating out is actually is a perfect example here. Many weight-loss programs suggest checking the menu of your favorite restaurant and deciding in advance what you’ll eat so you can estimate calories.
Our family has started doing the same thing. However, instead of just checking calories on a restaurant’s menu, we check prices. Then we estimate what our family might spend on meal, and decide if we can afford that particular dinner spot on our weekly budget.
We might also do a quick advance search for online coupons (a great place to check is Restaurant.com) for the restaurant we’re considering. We often give this Internet search task to our kids—they’re getting good at it!
Right now, there’s a chore list on our refrigerator with dollar values next to each one. “Wipe down lower kitchen cabinets: $1.” “Clean lower living room windows: $1.” And so on.
What does that have to do with holiday gift-giving? Our kids are earning extra money to buy gifts for each other, us, and a few friends and relatives. They’ll be small, simple gifts—but the kids will work to raise money for them. They feel good about it. We feel good about it. It’s an easy—but important—way to teach our girls that 1) Even kids can buy and give gifts and 2) They can pay for gifts, rather than asking us for a gift-giving subsidy.
Our kids are also learning about the joys of being generous, and how to do so without spending a ton of money. (Photo by jayneandd)
Some ideas on helping kids become thoughtful gift-givers:
1. Give a gift to a needy child. Even before our kids were old enough to earn their gift-giving money, we participated in a holiday charity program at our daughter’s school. We fondly refer to it as the “shoebox gift” because the rule is that you buy only items that will fit in a single shoebox, wrapped. We get the first name, gender and age of the child, and then decide what to buy.
We’ve found it easiest to take a small cash budget (like $20-$30) to a single store (usually Target) and let our kids help decide how to fill the box. They usually start by filling the box with $1 items from the front-of-the-store bins. We always talk a little about whether those dollar items will 1) last long enough and 2) feel like nice gifts. The girls usually put back all but one or two of the dollar items, pick a few fun holiday candies, then fill out the box with one nice, small toy that’s “cool” this year—like a Littlest Pet Shop set.
The decisions our kids consider with this gift roll over into buying for friends and family: Will a lot of inexpensive items make my gift seem bigger/ stretch my budget or should I use my money for one, larger gift? Am I buying something the receiver will like or picking something I want for myself? Can I put myself in my receiver’s shoes and ask: What might really delight this person this year?
2. Discourage kids from buying for themselves while shopping for others. It dilutes their attention. We ask our kids to leave their own spending money at home while they’re shopping for others. We want their attention 100% focused on picking gifts for those special people—not filling up their own gift lists.
3. Encourage them to make coupons. Sometimes the best gift is a service, rather than a thing. And for kids on a tight budget, service coupons can be a great solution. For a sibling, your child could make and color cute little coupons like: “I’ll make your bed one morning.” Or “I’ll let you choose one TV show without arguing with you.” Or even “I’ll do your after-school chores today.” The receiver can present these coupons for “redemption” anytime from now to next Christmas.
Our kids give us, their parents, these coupons, too. I’ve gotten some great ones: “Good for one time I play a board game with you.” (They know I love board games but the kids often thing they’re boring.) Or another favorite: “Good for one time I let you win an argument with me.”
What does that mean? Un-complicating our family finances a little.
I happen to be a very, um, detailed person about our family budget. So over the years, I have dived into it deeper and deeper, creating categories for everything under the sun: For “Cars,” we have Car: Insurance; Car: Repairs, Car: Maintenance. And so on.
I personally feel calmer when critical expenses have a category and a budget. I worry less that I’ll forget something important and we’ll end up caught short when we need money for it. Also, I feel less guilty spending on “fun” items when I know the critical stuff (property taxes, utilities, groceries) has a category and money sitting inside it each month.
All that is well and good, but my budgeting mania was starting to get the best of me. (Photo by Images_of_Money)
I’m always on the lookout for good ideas on teaching kids about money. One woman who has more than a few thoughts on the subject, since she’s got the cool-sounding job of “Mom Saver-in-Chief” for RedPlum, the big coupon company, is Lisa Reynolds.
Lisa, who lives with her husband and two young sons in Northville, Mich., is also host of the online show “Viva la Value” on Diva Toolbox Radio.
Lisa thinks of teaching kids to be good money stewards as coaching them on “financial fitness.” Here’s more from Lisa.
When you say it’s important to help our kids get “financially fit,” can you tell me what you mean?
Well, just as it is important to teach kids to be healthy and physically fit, we also need to begin teaching children how to be “financially fit” when they are young. The idea is to build savings habits in them now that will become permanent and come naturally to them as adults. Involving your children in some of your financial planning and spending efforts are some of the best ways to pass on important money lessons. It may not be immediately evident, but your children and teens are paying close attention and learning from your saving ways.
That moment when one of your kids asks if you have a coupon for something they want to buy, or when they decide to wait until something is on sale before making a purchase is the day you know you are teaching them a life lesson.
If you’ve got kids in high school or college, you’re facing the same unpleasant expense we are: Buying textbooks.
As if tuition wasn’t already high enough, you also have to pay for books. Expensive books. That are used for only a few months. And get quickly dinged up. If we had bought them all new, our daughter’s high school books would have totaled $390. And that’s just high school!
So what can you do to save money on books?
Buy e-textbooks. Maybe. It seems cheaper up front to buy or rent ebooks your kid can read on a Kindle, iPad or other tablet. Amazon.com recently started offering ebook rentals (for up to 360 days). CourseSmart.com offers a similar option.
Challenges: All textbooks are not yet available digitally. And you don’t end up with a physical copy of a book to sell back once you’re done with it. (I personally like the idea of getting some money back for my books.) DealNews is lukewarm about ebook rentals for these same reasons. Someday, this may be the main way to get texts. But for now, there are still cheaper options.