Monday, June 27, 2011

Leaving Home 101 - Launching Money Smart Kids

My five-year-old son, Jonathan, was very mad and having a horrible, no good, very bad day. His three-year-old brother, Joshua, had taken all his favorite GI Joes and threw them in the toilet—again.
“I haffa tell ya’ mama,” He announced when he came into the kitchen where I was mixing a batch of brownies, “I’m gonna’ run away.”
Gazing at his determined face, I leaned down and met his eyes, “Well, we’re going to miss you around here, son. Let me at least pack you a lunch before you go.”
As a veteran mom of many, I knew Jonathan’s terrible, no good, very bad day would pass and that he was probably just going to his friend’s house to play. I asked his older brother, Daniel, to get on his bike and follow his younger brother to make sure he would only go as far as the Maerten’s house.
I dialed Leanne Maertens number, “Hey Leanne, is Jonathan there yet?”
I heard her doorbell ring, “Yes, I think he’s at the door now.”
“Well, he’s run away from home and I figure he’ll hang out until dinner. Let me know when he leaves.”
Fast forward a few years and Jonathan’s left home again—for good. He’s earned a $435,000 scholarship to The United States Air Force Academy. He learned that there’s a good way to leave home and a not-so-good way to leave. Here are the things parents can make sure their children know in order to leave home well.

Budget Babies
Before your child leaves make sure that you help them establish a workable budget. Go to my tools page at . The categories should include housing, transportation, clothing, food, entertainment, and (if necessary) tuition and books. Decide, up front, what they will pay for from their own work money and what you will cover. Ask them to send you a monthly budget report and review it with them. Look at this as an opportunity to coach them in right choices but beware of funding their failures by bailing them out on a regular basis. This is the time for them to learn to live on their own in a healthy way. A great resource is , a free, online allowance and money management system for kids, teens and families. Kids & teens track their allowances, IOUs, cash and gift cards. They learn to make smart saving and spending decisions, too.

Bucks and Money Cards
Your college bound student will need banking accounts for checking and savings. Research banks (or savings and loans) that offer student banking programs. In our family, we like to get money cards like the American Express prepaid credit card that is safer than cash, do not require a credit check and are easily reloaded. With this money card, our college kids have the benefits of a debit or credit card without the liability or temptation to get into debt. They are convenient, safe and efficient—plus we can reload funds onto their cards either online or at our local store.
Now is also the time to educate your child on the dangers of easy credit. Direct them to order their free annual report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus to make sure no one has stolen their identity.
Help your children set up their own credit card through your own credit card company with an "additional card" where you are the gatekeeper. You can set up credit limits and turn off ATM use as well. As they charge items that you were planning on pay for (such as books, rent, food) then pay off the balance each month, they’ll build their own credit score as well. Our son, Daniel, as a senior in college built enough good credit to prequalify for a townhouse! It all started with our involved effort to help him establish and build credit wisely—without getting into debt.

Borrowing and Student Loans

Parents often ask, “How do we pay for college, should we get a HELOC or a second mortgage?” I do not believe you should leverage the equity in your home (which is part of your future retirement) in order to pay for your child’s future. HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit) are also a poor choice. Instead, look at a variety of scholarships, work study programs, and other options available through the financial aid office at the school. Another financially healthy option is to have your child attend a college you can afford. Our mantra for our college bound kids is: I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.
My oldest step-daughter took a year off school between her sophomore and junior years at Columbia University in order to work to help pay for college. Some employers will help pay for college as well. Exhaust all your options and think outside the box in order to minimize college debt. If you must subsidize tuition through student loans, then make sure the loans are in your student’s name and that they do not exceed $20,000 by the time they graduate from a four year college. Email and ask for the "College Crunch" file for dozens of great ways to get through college debt free!

Bagels and Broccoli
My daughter, Bethany, was graduating from high school and I decided to let her do our grocery shopping in order to teach her how to shop wisely when she was on her own at college. When she got the the bakery department, she exclaimed: “Wow! I can get this bag of eight bagels for less than this other bag with only six!” She was so proud (and so was I!)
Be sure your kids know how to price compare and how to read the store labels as well. Show them the “price per ounce” on the shelf so that they can recognize value. Walk them through the frozen foods section to compare the difference between buying fresh broccoli versus frozen and let them see the savings in frozen convenience foods versus fast food pizza. We also teach them to use in order to match up coupons with local sales in order to get items for pennies or for free.

Launching a child in leaving home can be costly and stressful unless you are strategic and purposeful in your planning. With the right moves, you can help your student finish well at home and start their new life with a healthy financial perspective.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Five Apps To Save Money in the Store

I don't dumpster dive, hound my friends for coupons, or store up a years' worth of toilet paper in my garage--but I did manage to save $160,000 on coupons! That's enough money to put seven kids through college or buy a modest airplane for my hubby (he votes for the airplane, I vote for college and guess whose vote counts DOUBLE?).

You don't have to clip coupons to save with all the wonderful apps that are available on your smart phone. So there's really no excuse to pay full price in the store! Here are some of my favorite apps:

Five Apps to Save Money in the Store

1. Shopper –One of the reasons people overspend at the grocery store is because they impulse buy or get things they really do not need. Making a list saves money and is easy when you use Shopper. This app lets you make several lists at a time for different stores, it calculates sales tax, allows for quantities, tracks your coupons and is secure because you need a password to open it (just in case you’re putting those Reeces on the list and your hubby never sees them.) It costs .99

2. Check and Compare 1024 -- Ever wonder how much money you are spending at the store while shopping and if you’re getting the best price? Just enter your item prices and quantities and “Checkout" will show you just how much your bill will be at the register. The “Compare” portion allows you to compare prices based on quantity and size to show the best value. You can then transfer the best value price to the checkout price field. The Budget tool can be set and keeps track of your remaining budget for one or multiple shopping trips until cleared. This app costs $2.99

3. Coupon Sherpa – This FREE app eliminates the need for a traditional coupon book by providing hundreds of in-store coupons for many merchants on your iPhone or iPod Touch. The coupons can be scanned by optical scanners right from your phone! Save money on food, clothing, shoes, restaurants, electronics, travel, jewelry, sporting goods, books and more. You can find coupons by category or store name, email coupons to friends, create your own favorites list of stores and find the store nearest you.

4. Yowza – This is another FREE app to launch on your iPhone, iPod Touch, or android phone and it instantly goes about finding deals and coupons in your geographic area. When you walk up to the cashier, just show the deal on your device and let them scan the barcode or type in the coupon code. No clipping. No stashing coupons in your wallet or purse. No need to remember which location that restaurant coupon was good for. It features city and zip code based coupon searches, notifications when your favorite store adds a coupon and you can share your savings via Twitter, Facebook, or Email.

5. Amazon Mobile -- The FREE Amazon Mobile app allows you to quickly search, shop, compare prices, read reviews, and make purchases on using a simple, interface. Amazon customers have full access to their existing account. It also includes "Amazon Remembers" that allows you to use the camera on your iPhone to create a visual list. The photos you take from the app are stored on both the Amazon Mobile app and Amazon’s website. If the item you want to remember is a product, Amazon Remembers will try to find a product similar to your photo for sale on the web. If they do, they’ll send you an e-mail alert and post the result along with the photo.

Happy Savings!
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Writer's Corner -- Should I Fund My Own Travel to Go on National Media?

I’m beginning an “Writer’s Corner” for my friends who are in the publishing and media field. One of the questions that authors often ask is, “Where should I put my marketing dollars?” When you have an opportunity to go on a nice, national show and you have to fund the trip yourself, how can you make sure it’s worth what I call the “Media Investment.” So if you are invited on a show, make sure that they are a class act, with a nice set, great team of professionals, excellent production quality and easy to work with ahead of time. But NEVER pay production costs and RARELY pay for play! I do have a source that has a worthwhile pay-for-placement schedule and if you email me at, I'll send you her contact info. The main thing this blog is looking at is: paying your own travel costs.

When it comes to the ever present question: “should I fund my travel or should I not?” A big consideration is if your publicity dollars are tight--then you might want to pass. Instead, spend those dollars on your website, social media and radio or skype ops that can be done from your home office.

That having been said, there are some ways to make the possibility of a national television appearance more viable financially, even if you have to fund travel yourself. Here are some ideas:

1) TWO FOR ONE DEAL -- Dovetail the media trip off of a nearby major market media trip. If your publisher will pay for you to do a nearby media market tour, then let them know you’ll do the secondary show on your own. This might make your publisher more likely to fund the first market for you since they will be getting a “two for one” deal out of it –two media markets for their one market investment. Or, if you are speaking at an event near the proposed television show, then dovetail the media gig off the speaking gig.

2) MULTIPLES --Pitch the producer with the idea of recording multiple interviews. If you can do the live interview that day, then record 2 to 3 more interview segments on the set after the show, then they will have these shows in the can and you will be on once a week until these segments run out. It makes your monetary investment (for the trip) more valuable. This is how I was able to be on one international show 12 times in 3 trips. I did one live show on each of these trips and 3 recorded shows. But please note: THESE MUST BE ARRANGED BEFOREHAND. Don’t expect to make the pitch about multiple shows the day before you travel and then expect to record afterwards. Pitch the idea of multiples ahead of time, before you book the show and see if they have time in their production schedule to make it work.

3) TIMELESS – If your interview is not headline driven, then try to make it timeless by avoiding mention of events in the news, holidays, days of the week or seasons. Then tell the producer that you are going to try not to “date” the interview so they can re-air it at another time in the event it fits another show in the future and they want to drop in as a segment again on another show.

4) SKYPE - Pitch the idea of a skype interview (free for you). If the angle of your story can become newsworthy (highlighting something that is in the headlines), then they might consider a skype interview. These are usually reserved for those who have been in studio at least once and proven that they can handle an interview. But if you have media clips you could show them and if you’ve done skype interviews before, then make the offer. That way you don’t incur any travel expenses at all. Furthermore, if you go in studio (following one of the tips listed), then be sure you get the producer’s card for future skype opportunities.

NEW AUTHORS - For some writers who are new to the game, a show where you have to fund your own travel would be a good option for you if: 1) you are just starting out in media & want the experience 2) you have the money to invest, and/or 3) you really need a media clip of you on an international or national show. In these cases, it could be all right to invest in going on this show. But be sure you try to get the most “bang for your buck” by following some of the ideas I listed above.

BONUS TIP: If you are recording multiple interviews (in person or via skype) for a faith based show, then try to make one of them a bit more generic (or crossover friendly). Oftentimes these clips are required by national shows like The Today Show, the Nate Berkus Show, ABC News, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, etc, when they are exploring the idea of having you on a show. These mainstream producers might come calling (or if your publicist pitches them) and they will ask for a media clip to see how you look and act on the air. If you have a clip that is more mainstream (and less evangelical), then you’re more likely to get the media booking.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)