Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Gift of Communication - Christmas Gifts that Keep Giving

In my series on “Gifts that Keep on Giving” I’m reminded of my college daughter, Bunny, and the fun we had staying at the Drake hotel in Chicago on a business trip. I really miss seeing her and today’s gift is perfect for her and her friends, it’s the “gift of communication.” When she was little, she talked non stop and now that she’s grown, she still love to chat whenever possible!

In my work with families who are on a budget, I have found that many have had to rethink their cell phone plan. In an effort to pay the bills, they may have had to cancel a cell phone plan or in some cases, they don’t have the credit to establish that service. In my quest to find a great communication alternative, I came across a cool new partnership in prepaid plans. This year, if you want to give the gift of communication to a family who is on a budget or a struggling college student, you can do so through a prepaid phone from Boost and Virgin Mobile as well as prepaid mobile broadband with Virgin Mobile’s Broadband2Go plans.

This is a partnership that is easy for me to talk about because it really benefits people who are on a budget. Let’s face it, those who need to limit their expenses, still need the ability to have a cell phone or connect to the internet. Whether you are happily employed or unemployed, it’s important to be able to pursue work situations through the use of a cell phone and through broadband connectivity.

Prepaid cell phones:

I think that prepaid cell phones are perfect for those who might not otherwise be able to afford or have the credit to qualify for a contract plan. I’ve also found they are a good option for families who have members who routinely go over their traditional cell phone limits, sometimes costing their parents lots of dollars in extra charges each month. (Ahem, not that this has ever happened to the Kay family! All I will say is: the leaves were raked and the laundry was folded by penitent teens for the several weeks.)

Prepaid plans from companies like Boost and Virgin Mobile were created for consumers such as college students who want to be able to afford freedom and independence on a budget. However, economics aside, cell phone plans such as the Virgin Mobile $25 Beyond Talk plan or the Boost Mobile $50 Unlimited plan keep both students and their parents happy. Parents appreciate being able to keep in contact with their kids, especially if there's an emergency. On the other hand, students, many of whom spend little time in their dorm rooms or apartments, like the flexibility and convenience of not having check if they’ve gone over their monthly allotted minutes.

Prepaid Mobile Broadband:
Another great gift of communication involves giving the gift of connectivity! Whether you are searching for a job, or the best price on a new pair of jeans, you need to be connected. Virgin Mobile’s Broadband2Go plans offer unlimited 3G, nationwide internet access for $40 a month with no contract. The Virgin Mobile MiFi device allows up 5 wireless enabled devices to connect at one time, so college roommates can share their gift all year long & divide the costs among themselves.

When you are selecting your gifts this year, be purposeful and try to give a gift that will keep on giving the whole year through. And Bunny, keep on calling, I love to hear how those finals are coming along!

Merry Christmas!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert ®

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Give the Gift of Education

Christmas is one of my most favorite times of the year and this year, more people are getting into the idea of gifting than last year. In fact, according to a recent survey, 73% of consumers say that they will spend the same as last year during the fourth quarter, and 18% of consumers report that they will spend more. So spending is back up again, but I think that strategic spending is more important now than ever.
It’s important for consumers to be careful and thoughtful in the decisions they make when it comes to buying gifts this holiday. That’s why I’ve partnered with Upromise to tell my friends about the gift of education. So while parents and grandparents (even favorite aunties) are splurging on kids, why not work on saving for kids, too by providing for that cute kid’s college education?

You can open a 529 account for any beneficiary, or gift money using Ugift into an Upromise Investments 529 plan. If you don’t already have a 529 plan, then you are really missing out because the contributions can benefit from tax deferred growth. Also, gifting into one of these plans this time of year also means that you can possibly take advantage of year end tax deductions. Just check to see if you are eligible for states income tax deductions or credits for saving for college. For example, parents and grandparents can contribute as much as $13,000 ($26,000 if married filing jointly) into a 529 plan without incurring gift taxes. A special rule allows married couples to gift up to $130,000 ($65,000 if single) as long as no additional gifts are made to that beneficiary over a five year period. This also applies to recent college grads who might appreciate a meaningful gift to help pay a student loan payment. Plus, you don’t have to be a parent or grandparent to participate, other friends and family can make contributions to your child’s 529 plan by gifting money or by buying gifts, which brings me to my next point—how to save money by spending money.

Most people, know about Upromise from signing up for their buying program. I’ve been participating for years by going to and then purchasing through participating online retailers. These are stores where I would shop anyway and I get anywhere from 1% to 25% back for the purchases I make. And our family isn’t the only one doing this. Last year, during the holiday season Upromise members received $12 million in college savings rewards from eligible holiday spending. Because membership is free and members have collectively earned $575 million in college savings from purchasing items online or even by buying gas or groceries. I book a lot of travel for my business and often find myself eating out—all these are also included toward my children’s 529 plans.

So consider giving the gift of education to a child you love—either by saving or spending, and the world will be a much smarter place!

Happy Holidays!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert ®