Parents: Cover Retirement First then Pay for College

Dear Mary: We recently read a short article you wrote on common money mistakes to avoid. One of the mistakes was “Paying for college.”  Unfortunately, this article came about three years too late. 

Worried Mature couple doing paperwork with a calculator

No one told us when our daughter went to college three years ago, that we shouldn’t pay for her college. When we started, we thought we were helping her out but as it turns out, we have been carrying the majority of the load. 

Just recently, we informed her that we would not be paying for her senior year she is on her own because we have gone into debt further that we will ever be able to get out of.

So, because we are now three years in debt, do you have any advice for us as we strive to pay it off? David and Joanne

Fun and Clever Ways to Use This for That

Recently as I was half way out the door, car keys in hand and on the way to the home improvement center, I remembered that I might already have what I needed. Cooking spray! That’s it. I’d heard that it just might work. It did, and quite perfectly, too. No more squeaks and I saved a trip and purchase, too.

Got a squeaky door or sticky drawer? Spritz a little cooking spray on the hinges or drawer slides then work it back and forth to distribute the “lubricant.” Wipe away any drips with a paper towel.

Use mayonnaise to get rid of white water rings on wood furniture. Make sure the area is completely dry then spread enough full-fat mayonnaise on the spot. Let it sit for several hours, even overnight. Now wipe it clean, and buff with a soft clean cloth. Magical, isn’t it. 

How to Buy a New Car with All Cash

I wouldn’t walk across hot coals for the fun of it. But if I could be shown how a short, painful walk would do away with a lifetime of worry, frustration and the fear that comes with constantly being broke, I’d do it.

21492118_m

While the method that follows isn’t exactly hot coals, it does represent a short-term sacrifice to achieve something amazing that few people will ever achieve in their lifetimes: paying all cash for a car, and perhaps, if you choose, even a brand-new car. Eventually. 

Let’s say that tomorrow morning your car is destroyed beyond repair. You must have a car, and because you have no money saved and the insurance check is pathetically small, you opt to buy a brand-new car. Realistically, how much can you afford to pay each month for a car payment? $200? $350 $600? 

Okay, back to reality. Your car isn’t destroyed, and you’ll keep driving it for a while. But remember the amount you believe you could afford to pay for a car payment each month if you absolutely had to and keep reading.

Tricks Retailers Use to Get Us to Spend More

Who knew that the male brain is hot-wired to believe if a price tag is printed in red, it’s a bargain–even if when that items not on sale and it’s just the regular price? I didn’t, but I don’t doubt the Oxford University study that found men most often believe that if the tag is printed in red they are saving twice as much as when the very same price tag is displayed in black and white. 

15451808_m

That red tag thing isn’t the only game that retailers play to boost their profit margins Every year the retail industry spends gazillions of dollars to learn how our human minds work and then use that information to trick us into spending more.

Take a store’s floor coverings for example. Smooth floors guide you in, carpet makes you more likely to slow down and browse. And the deeper the carpet’s pile, the longer you’ll linger. Next time you’re in a supermarket, pay attention to the flooring. See those large floor tiles in the open areas, but smaller ones in front of the pricey seafood and meat counters? That’s by design. As your roll your cart over the small tile, the wheels click more often fooling you into walking more slowly. 

Name Your Poison

This is a guest post by Beth Lee Lundberg, MBA, AFC, Financial Coach, mom to two, and founder of The Yankee Saver. Visit Beth at her website to learn more about her financial coaching services. You can follow Beth on Twitter.

Relationships are funny. Sometimes, something as simple as a name can jump start them forward, or doom them to failure. 

25086155_m

Take my friend Bean for example. I first met Bean when I was four. We grew up in the same New England neighborhood, a half hour north of Boston. Bean lived two colonials and one cape away from my parent’s house, and could always make me laugh. She has a heart of gold, and today is still one of the staple relationships in my life. In the unlikely event that I were to meet someone else named Bean, I’m sure I would consider them a friend right away, based on all the good things I associate with the name. 

But names work the other way as well. I have another friend, a really sweet person, who will not, no matter what, associate with anyone named Daryl. Why? She had a bad experience with a Daryl once, and that was it. Now, don’t even mention a Daryl to her, she won’t hear anything past the first name. 

When you think about it, we all bring our past experiences into our new relationships, and use them to protect ourselves from bad things, and move closer to good things.  We go with what we know, even if all we know is a name. It might seem kind of nuts, but its how we work.

This is particularly true when it comes to our relationship with money. Money has a lot of emotion around it, and sometimes just the sound of “money” words can conjure up all kinds of bad feelings. Take the word “budget”, for example. For lots of people, this word is one big, huge, Daryl. I know, I used to feel this way too. “Stick to your budget” may as well have been, “Take a sip of strychnine” or “Bite this poison apple.” My reaction would be the same. I just could not relate to the word in a good way.

The thing is, this negative association creates a major problem. Without a budget, we will fail at managing our money. But we can’t fail! We need to manage our money well! We need it to support ourselves now and when we are too old to work. We need it to protect ourselves and the people we love!  We just can’t afford to have the Daryl reaction to our finances. 

So, what do we do?

We change the name! That’s right, no more calling the key to our financial success a “budget”.  Let’s make it real, something we can relate to, and something we will welcome into our lives.  Let’s give that sucker the name it needs to get the job done.

This worked really well for me and my family. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the strong and mighty protector of my own personal economy: Welcome THOR! Thor is a giant Viking Warrior who is leading his people across rough terrains and enemy waters. Thor will bring us safely into the land of financial freedom, for he is strong, and has won many battles (like the one over at DSW last week…). We follow him because he is good, he is right, he is a powerful hero. He is also wicked scary, so we tend to do what he says.

Sound nuts? Might be, but it works. Here’s a recent example:

“Mom, can I get a new lacrosse stick?” asks my 12-year-old son, who knows he does not need another lacrosse stick.

“Hmmm,” I say. “Let me check with Thor.”

The energy in the room changes, the Viking Warrior is being summoned.

“OK,” says the brave sixth-grader.

I look down at the spreadsheet on my laptop as my son waits silently.

I scroll to Thor’s line marked “Kid’s Activities”, see $17 left for the pay period and then translate my findings:

“Thor says ‘NOOOOO, ARRRGH!’ ”

“Fine,” says the boy. He walks away. End of conversation.

Nobody messes with Thor!

For you, maybe Thor is actually Dr. Spock or Flloyd, The Mayor, Frank Sinatra or Diana Prince (remember Wonder Woman at her day job?). It doesn’t matter what name you give it, as long as that name satisfies the emotional connection you need to have with your budget in order for it to be a working part of your life and get you where you need to be with your money.

So go ahead, name your poison! What name will it be?

Question: Do you have a question for Beth? Use the comments below where  she’ll respond. 

Put a Teenager In Charge of the Family Vacation Budget? Seriously?

Dear Mary: I wanted to tell you the secret of sticking to a budget on our family vacation–something we’ve had a hard time achieving in the past. This year, we let our teenage daughter plan the vacation. Seems too simple. 

29034410_m

We told her the amount we had to spend beyond the cost of overnight accommodations. We told her she could spend the money any way she wanted. We could eat out every night or cook dinner in our kitchenette. She could spend it all on the Boardwalk.

My spendthrift daughter became Ms. Frugality. She wanted to parasail. So she had us eat every single meal in the room and spent less than twenty dollars at the Boardwalk. We parasailed and had the best time ever. We came home with cash in our pockets. Best of all, we are enjoying the priceless accomplishment of teaching our child the value of money. Madeline

Dear Madeline: Wow, way to go! What a great idea and I am so proud of your sweet daughter for accepting the challenge of such a big task.  I’m going to predict that this event  will stay with her for a lifetime and will begin to shape her money life. Never again will she think you have unlimited sources of money. She’s experienced how making good choices with a limited amount of money can result in positive outcomes.

You gave your daughter the opportunity to make her own independent financial decisions, and she scored. Please give her my heartfelt congratulations and a big frugal high five!

The Truth About Extended Warranties

Recently I stopped into Toys R Us to get a little something for Eli. Yes I am one of those grandmothers. We found the cutest ever toy Shaving Kit, just perfect for bath time. The price was under $10. At check out, and without missing a beat, the sales clerk inquired if I would like to add an extended warranty for just $4.79. Seriously. I laughed. She winced. I apologized but really, I couldn’t help it.

14635999_m

An extended warranty sounds like a good thing and that’s because it’s designed that way. While I cannot say that every extended warranty would be a rip off, that’s the way I want you to start thinking of them. Every time you are offered and extended warranty, think: RipOff! Then if you have doubts, make that warranty prove to you otherwise.

Six Silly Gadgets That Make Life Easier

I am nothing if not a gadget lover. Ingenious items that make my life easier are great, but when I find something that’s cool and has the potential to save money? Well, that’s cause for some kind of tiny celebration. Here are my current fun finds.

71On4cN5AHL._SL1500_

814k5YuHz9L._SL1500_Sugru. I don’t know where this stuff has been hiding (maybe I’m the one who’s been missing?), but my recent discovery has me giddy with joy. It’s called Sugru, or perhaps a better name would be Miracle in a Package. Think: silly putty without the silly part. Sugru is self-setting rubber for fixing, modifying and making stuff. You apply it, shape it and watch it transform into a durable, waterproof rubber with amazing properties. It comes in a bevy of colors, which makes it a crafter’s dream come true. I have so many DIY projects crying out for Sugru, I just don’t know where to start.