How to Maintain a Reasonable Toy Inventory and Other Great Reader Tips

If you have kids, you might be dreading how many new toys you’re going to have to find room for come next month. Reader Beth has a great toy inventory balancing system that’s sure to please everyone, even the kids.

Photo credit: Too Many Toys, by David Shannon

Family friends of ours have a great system that solves the problem of an ever-growing inventory of way too many toys—most of which the kids no longer play with. Their children know that each year after Christmas each child is required to count and create a list of new toys they received as gifts. Then the kids go to their rooms and find the same number of toys that are still in good condition that they no longer play with, which they need to give away to create space for the new ones. Of the toys they designate to be purged, they are allowed to select one to be put away and kept in a memory box.

As a family, they load up the car and drive the toys to a local charity that accepts donations (many churches, preschools, and shelters are grateful to receive toys). Doing this each year helps to keep their house less cluttered but more than that, the kids learn a valuable lesson about making choices and allowing other children to benefit from things they once enjoyed but have outgrown. Beth

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5 Key Motivators That Influence Teens

They want independence and freedom; you want them to take responsibility for their actions. They want decision-making power; you want them to make the right choices. They are struggling to break away; you can’t bear the thought of letting go. Welcome to adolescence.

Teenagers long to feel significant. They want to demonstrate to themselves and the world that they matter and are capable of making a difference. Many of the problems teens encounter today is because their desire to be significant is ignored or diminished.

 

Having raised two sons, my husband and I now understand a thing or two about teens and money. And if there is one thing we have learned, it is this: If you trust your teens with some amount of money and then allow them to make their own independent financial decisions on a level commensurate with their ages and abilities—and allow them to suffer the consequences of their financial decisions—you will address the five key motivators that influence kids:

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Back-to-School Clothes Shopping

Your money is limited and time is short. Here is my best advice to make sure back-to-school clothes shopping doesn’t send you to the poorhouse.

Set spending limits. Time to get real. How much money (not credit) do you have available for school clothes? Write it down.

Take an inventory. Sort through your kids’ clothes and decide which ones you want to keep and which ones they don’t wear due to wear and tear, or because they no longer fit. This gives you a clear idea of what you have, and what you need to buy.

Sell the old to buy the new. If you have gently used clothes in good condition, sell them and use the money towards the purchase of back-to-school clothing. You can sell on eBay or on Craigslist, at a garage sale or by taking them to a resale consignment shop to sell or use as trade items.

Assess needs. Not every child will have the same needs when it comes to school clothes. What is reasonable? Now divvy up the money you have against the children’s needs then moving on to wants until all the money has been appropriated.

Start with new shoes. There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes to get kids in the mood for the first day of school. Shoes are so satisfying, this will take the edge off the raging case of the “I wants” that your children may have picked up somewhere. And a new pair of shoes even make last seasons’ clothes perk up. Read more

Parents’ Financial Decisions and Their Adult Children

Parents of adult children may believe it’s none of their kids’ business how they handle their finances and what they do with their money.

While that may be true, never forget that every financial decision you make has the potential one day to become either a burden or a blessing for your family.

Dear Mary: One of our friends suggested that we look into a plan called “Life Estate,” which would make sure that our home goes to our children no matter what.

We own our home and have no debt, but have no long-term care insurance either. Of course, we hope to stay well until we die, but in the event we would have to go to a nursing home and our monies run out, we understand this plan would preclude the nursing home from taking our home. Your thoughts? Tom and Jackie

Dear Tom and Jackie: I am not an attorney, but I do have experience as a real estate broker. Generally, I can tell you that “life estate” is a term used to designate the way legal ownership or title is held on real property.

To do this, you would deed your property to your children, who become the “remaindermen,” while you become the “life tenants.”

As the life tenants, you retain possession of the property including full costs of maintaining the property. The life tenants cannot sell the property without the consent of the remaindermen. Further, your children would receive full ownership (fee simple) immediately upon the death of the last life tenant, without the property going through probate.

There are advantages and also a few disadvantages for you to convey your property now to a life estate that you need to fully understand before making a decision. I suggest that you meet with a qualified real estate attorney.

If you decide to deed your property to a life estate it should be as simple as completing forms and having them properly recorded in the county where the property is located.

Dear Mary: I have been reading your books, newsletters and this daily column for years. You have really helped me a lot. Thanks! I have passed along everything that I could to my parents, but evidently they haven’t read a thing.

A year ago, my brother bailed our parents out from foreclosure and they are still so far in debt they can’t see even a glimmer of light.

Now they want to come for a visit and I want to tell them not to come because I know they can’t afford it. If you ask them if they can afford it they will laugh and tell you they can’t afford anything, but that doesn’t change anything. They have nothing in savings, and spend money (credit cards) like they have all the money in the world, trying to keep up appearances.

Should I tell them that they can’t come visit until they get back on their feet again, or just let them come and continue to flounder and get more in debt than they already are? I’ve been able to put them off for a couple of months, but I don’t know how much longer I can. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Debbie

Dear Debbie: There is a reason I have NOT written a book, How to Manage Your Parents’ Money. That’s because you can’t control your parents or make any useful demands on them.

My advice is to back off. Call and invite them to come and visit at the earliest possible time. Do everything you can to make their visit enjoyable including not talking to them about their financial situation. Let the way you live and manage your finances speak louder than anything you can say.

Should they die broke leaving all kinds of debt, you will not be liable for any of it, provided you have not added your name to any of their accounts.

Please, just love them and allow them to have a warm and loving relationship with you despite your differences.

20 Best Learning Toys for the Kids

Learning toys do more than sit there and entertain—they stimulate and teach kids important skills like critical thinking, problem solving, logic and even coding. Learning toys—open-ended games, kits, toys and crafts—make for great Christmas gifts.

To help you get past the shock of realizing Christmas is fewer than six weeks away, here’s my list of the best learning toys. I love them because they’re fun but at the same time stimulate learning through creativity and mind-challenging play. I think the kids in your life are going to love them, too. Enjoy!

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1. Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker.  This early learning center for babies who are not yet walking, is just adorable. It’s a clever toy that encourages and teaches a baby how to move from sitting to standing position and then walking, all the while encouraging interactive play. The learning walker has 70 sing-along song onboard, sound effects, and fun phrases. Meant for babies and toddlers from 9 months to 3 years. About $25.

2. Chat and Count Smartphone. There’s some kind of magnetic attraction between babies and mobile phones. Have you noticed this? Now you can separate little ones from your phone without stifling their curiosity by giving them their own smartphone! This adorable “phone” from the folks at LeapFrog mimicks the real thing with more than 15 phone activities, a music button to sing along to tunes about counting and phone manners. Skills to learn: numbers, pretend play, social interaction and conversational skills, as well. Ages 18 months to 3 years. About $12.

3. Pretend & Play Teaching Cash Register. This working register encourages imaginative play while teaching measurements, basic math and early money skills. Kids will easily learn currency denomination and have fun handling life-size money and this working cash register. Features a solar calculator, pretend credit card, play bills in various denominations as well as plastic coins and more. This realistic toy will give children endless hours of fun pretending, playing and developing math skills! Ages 3 and up. About $28.

4. Little Apps Tablet. This kid-size toy tablet keeps little ones busily learning for hours on end with its color-changing screen, letter buttons and piano keyboard. Includes 12 learning activites with progressive learning levels. Thankfully, it also features volume control and automatic shut-off to conserve on battery life. And if that’s not enough, check out just how adorable it is! Ages 2 years to 5 years. About $15.

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Watermelon, Every Kid’s Favorite Vegetable

That’s right. Watermelon is a vegetable, not fruit. But don’t tell the kids. Watermelon contains many important vitamins and minerals also lycopene, an important antioxidant. Healthy and delicious, watermelon is at the peak of its season now and that means it is also cheap.

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Here’s a reliable way to pick out the best melon: Choose a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free of bruises, cuts and dents. Lift it up. The watermelon should be heavy for its size. Turn it over. On the underside there should be a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun. A spot that is white or pale green signals an unripe melon.

Once you get the perfect melon home, you could simply carve it into wedges and serve. But that may get boring after a few melons. Keep these recipes handy and you’ll enjoy watermelon right through summer … and all through winter, too, if you decide to make Watermelon Pickles. Come on, you can do it!

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The Best Inexpensive Double Stroller

There are few joys in life that rival the joy that children bring. But nothing has surprised me more than how that joy is multiplied when we get to add the word “grand” to the children in our lives. Double joy!

Woman with a double stroller outside walking

Dear Mary: Thank you for your column, I really enjoy it! Based on your recommendation, we purchased your “Best Inexpensive Stroller” hoping it would stand up against the cobblestones of Rome, Italy.

Well, after three months of living in Rome with our two-year-old little girl, I can tell you the stroller did fantastically! It held up great over miles and miles of walking, cobblestones, was simple for travel within airports, and perfect for tight squeezes onto buses, trams, and trains! It was an ideal investment, so thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. You truly bless the lives of those you reach. With gratitude, Barbara.

Dear Barbara: I’m both excited and jealous: Excited that you love that stroller as much as I do and jealous because I would love to spend three months in Rome with my grandsons, over miles and miles of cobblestones.

Did you notice? I said grandsons! Eli age 7 is now big brother to Sam, age 1. The fun in my Fridays has doubled now that Sam is old enough to join us. Catch up for recent readers: Since Eli was six-weeks old, I’ve cared for him on Fridays. My original intent was to gift my Fridays to my kids to give them a day to breathe. But as it turns out, this has become the greatest gift they could have ever given me. Read more

How to Beat the College Debt Trap Plus a GIVEAWAY!

Over the holidays, I was chatting with my sister-in-law, a financial advisor with a highly respected Fortune 100 financial services organization. We were talking about the value of a college education as weighed against the outrageously high cost to go to college these days.

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She asked me to recommend a book or resource that she could offer to her clients that would help them navigate the whole topic of student loans, college educations, savings, scholarships, savings programs—everything in one, neat package that would also be easy to read and even easier to understand. Sadly, I couldn’t give her even one resource to consider.

But that was last fall, and this is now. I am very excited that now there is such a source—a brand new book, Beating the College Debt Trap: Getting a Degree Without Going Broke, by Alex Chediak.

I was hopeful when the publisher asked me to read the manuscript—hopeful that finally someone would nail this difficult topic, offering realistic solutions for ordinary people.

Once I got into the manuscript, I was doing the happy dance. Chediak spares no punches, coming at the subject both as a student and college professor. He knows his stuff. He dives right into the nitty-gritty of how to pay less for college, get meaningful work during college (while setting yourself up for success after college); how to pay off any loans quickly (he recommends never taking on more than a total of $10,000 in student debt, which I agree is reasonable); spend less, save more and stay out of debt for good. Honestly, reading this book is like hearing myself talking.  Read more