What I’d Tell My Teen-Aged Self About Money

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer,Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

I’m turning fifty this year. All in all, I’m happy about fifty. Life is good and I’ve learned lessons that have helped us overcome a massive financial mess. But along with the many good decisions I’ve made, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes along with way – many of them financial ones. If I could go back in time and talk with my teen-aged self, here’s what I’d tell her about money.


Money is Always Available…Somewhere

I always had this thought growing up that there was a set amount of money in the world and that either you had it or you didn’t. I grew up believing that whether you were rich or poor was largely out of your control, and we were on the poor side. I’ve learned through side hustling that money is always available somewhere if you’re willing to go out and find it and work for it. The want ads are bustling with opportunities for work, as are sites like Upwork and Craigslist.

The work opportunities out there may not always be pleasing to one’s palette, but they are available. If I could go back and talk to my teen self, I’d tell her not to cling to her job as if it was the only one available, because there’s always other opportunities to earn money for those willing to work to find them.


Mindset Affects Wealth

Since I grew up poor and was taught (inadvertently) that we were destined to be poor, my mindset was that there was no use in trying to change things. I believed this up into my mid-forties, and then I found personal finance blogs.  As I read the stories of dozens of people climbing out from under their debt, I realized that we could too.

From there my husband and I began a long process of figuring out why we were always broke, and we learned that we were self-sabotaging our money management because we’d both been under the false belief that we would always struggle for money. We were piddling away our money on small, useless things like drive-thru meals and cable TV, not realizing the impact those “little” spends were having on our bank account.

We were so lack-minded that we’d start to feel panic if we had a little bit of money in savings. It just didn’t feel right. I know that sounds odd, but when you’ve lived with a belief long enough – no matter how wrong that belief is – anything contrary feels wrong.

We had to teach ourselves that, more than deserving “stuff”, we deserved financial security.  This is what I’d tell 16-year-old me: How you view money affects how much money you’ll have.


Popular Opinion Doesn’t Matter

Growing up poor in the public school system is not fun. I remember being teased about my two-dollar canvas tennis shoes and thrift store jeans. These memories convinced me that “stuff” meant acceptance. When I got my first job in fast food at 15, I spent nearly every dime I made on clothes at the local County Seat (give me a shout if you’re old enough to remember that store J ).

Eventually – but not soon enough – I learned that the pursuit of the approval of the Joneses is fruitless. If I could tell my teen self that, she’d be one rich woman right now.


Thinking Bigger Will Get You Bigger Results

When we were struggling for money and deep in debt, we could never think beyond making it to the next payday and hoping we’d have enough money to pay the bills. If we ended the month in the positive (which didn’t happen very often) it was a good month.

Once we started to pay off our debt, save money and manage our lives differently, we learned to think bigger. Our original goal was to simply have enough money to make it through the month. Then our goal changed to paying off some of our debt. Then we wanted all of our debt gone. Our new goal is financial independence – for the purpose of helping others.

The great thing about learning to think bigger is that it allows you to take others into consideration besides yourself. We now give away more money and “stuff” than we ever have before. We’re making an impact for good on others and aren’t so focused on ourselves. If I could go back in time, I’d tell my teen self to expect more out of life than just making it to the next payday. I’d tell her to think BIG and allow herself to imagine a better future – one where she could journey toward success and help others in the process.

How about you all? What would you tell your teen self about money?  

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/goodncrazy/4833445750/in/

How to Keep Kids’ Activities from Breaking the Bank

kids-sports-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

Studies show that the average cost of raising a child from birth to age eighteen is nearly $250,000, and a recent study reveals that a decent chunk of that cash is spent on extracurricular activities. In the case of elementary-aged children, it’s an average of $463 this year, and in the case of secondary-aged children, it’s a whopping $1,124 this year.

If you’re “average”, that means you could be spending nearly $10,000 on each of your children’s extracurricular activities over the 13-year period that they’re in school. And that’s simply the national average, which takes into account all school-aged kids – even those not participating in after-school activities. If you’ve got a kid involved in a serious sport such as baseball, hockey, gymnastics or dance, you’re likely spending a lot more than $1,100 a year, even for elementary-aged kids.

If that seems like an astronomical amount of money to spend on kids’ activities to you, you’re not alone. The fact of the matter is that the days when the education system picked up a large amount of the financial burden for extracurricular activities such as sports is long gone, and parents are left to foot the bill.

How can you as a parent keep kids’ activity costs reasonable but still make sure your kids can have the sport or other extracurricular experiences that help make for a fulfilling life? Here are some tips.

Limit Activities to One or Two per Year

Many parents these days feel as if their kids need to be involved in some type of extracurricular activity all year around. The truth is that even one or two activities a year for your child will benefit them and help them to grow in teamwork skills, discipline and obedience.

When considering which activities to sign your child up for, ask them to decide which activity or activities they like best, and narrow the list down to their top one or two. Not only will this save you money, it’ll save time and lower stress levels as well.

Pick Activities That Will Benefit Them as Adults

The reality is that the majority of kids won’t grow up to be professional athletes or world-class Olympians, no matter how much promise they show at a younger age. If your goal as a parent is to raise up a professional athlete, you may want to reconsider your motives and instead choose an activity that will hold life-long benefits.

Activities such as self-defense classes that will show them how to handle themselves should they get trapped in an attacker situation or school sports such as cross country that will help them develop a life-long habit of self-care through exercise are some examples of activities that will benefit your kids long after they’ve graduated from high school.

Do Activities as a Family or With an Organized Group of Friends

Many families choose to do activities together instead of being involved in school-sponsored sports. Some families train for marathons, triathlons and obstacle courses together, or bike together in charity or other events.

Planning regular activities with family members or groups of friends allows those same benefits of teamwork and training for a fraction of the cost.

If you’re set on providing extracurricular activities that do cost more than you’d like, there are a few ways to help make the financial burden less impactful.

Work the Costs into Your Budget

Just like you would with a regular bill such as your utility bill, it helps to figure out the annual amount you’re spending on activities and adding that monthly “bill” into your regular budget, saving the money in a separate savings account or envelope. This way when fees are due you won’t be scrambling to come up with the cash.

Ask if the Studio Will Do a Work-for-Pay Trade

Some sports centers will allow you to volunteer or work there in exchange for lowering your child’s participation fees. Just remember if you do participate in some type of a barter situation to check and follow the bartering tax laws for your state.

Kids reap many benefits from being involved in extracurricular activities. With a little planning, choosing and creativity, those activities can be affordable for almost any family.

How about you all? How do you keep kids’ activity costs affordable?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/luigi_and_linda/7240626210/


4 Money Milestones You Should Have in Place Before You Have Kids

money-chalk-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

With the latest reports stating that it costs nearly $250,000 to raise a kid, it might be a good idea to have your money situation in order before you think about having kids. It also might be a good idea to get your money situation in order if you already have kids.

I should start off by saying that we didn’t start getting our money in order until the oldest of our four kids turned thirteen years old. I share this to encourage those starting late: it’s never too late to start getting your money together.

I remember having a talk with our oldest one time, expressing remorse and regret that all of her years as a child had been watching us struggle for money. I didn’t want to give her that same experience that I had as a child; one where money had been a constant source of fear because we never had enough growing up. Yet my husband and I fell into the same path with our kids that our parents fell into with us. A lack of education about personal finance had been passed down throughout the generations.

Oldest daughter answered my regrets with the heart of a champion. “Mom, what matters is that you are getting it together now. Even if it takes ten years to get out of debt, at least you’re getting out. You can spoil us then.”

Kids are resilient. They often have a wisdom that adults lose in the face of trying circumstances. It’s for them that we’re working on achieving the money milestones that are best in place before kids arrive on the scene. Here are four of my favorite money milestones that you might want to think about achieving before you have kids.

Get Your Debt Situation in Order

A best case scenario would be zero consumer debt (and a commitment to stay that way) and a very manageable mortgage (say, 25-30% of the primary income earner’s take home pay). When we had our first baby, both Rick and I were working. I had a great job: part-time, they allowed me to work from home and I made really good money.

I thought I’d work forever, but after kid number two came along I really had a heart to stay home and manage the kids and the house full-time.  Kid number two had a minor but time-intensive medical condition for the first year of her life that left me wanting time to care for her more than I wanted money.

I got laid off in a group layoff at my company when kid number two was 9 months old, and we chose for me to stay home, but money was tight due to our debt situation. We had borrowed based on two incomes. If we had to do it over again we would’ve bought a house based on hubby’s income alone and avoided consumer debt altogether.

Be Contributing to Retirement Accounts Consistently

“I haven’t arrived, but I’ve left” is a good motto when it comes to combining retirement planning and kid-raising.  It’s not necessary to be fully prepared for retirement, but it’s a good idea to be consistently contributing to either a 401(k) or an IRA of some sort. It’s tempting to stop saving for retirement during the kid-raising years so you can be sure to have money to cover kid expenses, but you’ll thank yourself if you keep saving for retirement because then your kids won’t have to help support you financially during retirement years.

Make Saving a Habit

A plush emergency savings fund is always a good idea, but even more so when you’ve got kids. All expenses double and triple when you add additional family members, so it’s a good idea to set aside a specific percentage of your paycheck into a savings account that can cover a new car need, an expensive bill or repair, or that can carry your family through during an unexpected reduction in income such as a job layoff.  It’s also a good idea to carry a sizeable life insurance policy if you don’t have enough money saved to be considered self-insured in your own eyes.

Have a College Savings Plan

College costs and student loan debt numbers are rising every single year. If you’re having a baby, it’s a smart idea to research the different college savings plans available in your state and to have a plan in place for how much you’re going to contribute to your child’s college education and to work that number into a monthly amount that you can include in your budget as early as possible. Time flies even faster when kids come along. It’s a wonderfully, beautifully hectic life where one day you’ll be bringing your kid home from the hospital and then next you’ll be teaching him or her to drive.

If you get a college savings plan in place sooner rather than later, you’ll lessen the financial burden of college on yourself and on your kids.

How about you all? What money milestones do you think are important to have in place before kids come along?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/digitalsextant/29908738/

How I Grew Up Poor But Still Messed Up My Money As An Adult

money-pile-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer,Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

I grew up in a poor family. For a while, we were really poor. I remember one time – shortly after my parents’ divorce – when we had zero food in the house. Aside from ketchup and mustard, the fridge and the cupboard were completely bare. My dad paid child support faithfully each month, but the monthly amount of support rendered by the judge was enough to pay the house payment and not much more.

The rest of our money came from government assistance until my mom taught herself to type and got a job as a secretary. It was during this transition period that we had the days of the bare cupboard. I vividly remember my mom sitting in the recliner, sobbing with fear over how she would feed her three young kids until the welfare check came in two days later.

You would think an experience so traumatic would make me keen on saving money and staying out of debt, but instead it had the opposite effect.

How could I go through the experience of living a life of poverty and still mess up my money as an adult? Here’s how.

I Thought That People Who Had Money Had Stuff

Somehow in childhood I learned to equate poverty with a lack of stuff and wealth with an abundance of stuff. So my goal when I started working at age fifteen was to own a lot of stuff. I bought all of the clothes my mom couldn’t afford to buy for me. When I got my own home and family, I made sure we had an abundance of food, clothing and whatever else I thought we needed.

I later learned that I had a subconscious fear of not being able to afford to buy stuff, but I didn’t make the connection between the stuff and the money (or lack of it) in my bank account. What mattered to me was that I could buy whatever I wanted, regardless of the means it took to purchase it.

The Cure

The cure for this mindset mistake was to learn to think long-term. The book, The Millionaire Next Door, really helped. It was through that book that I learned that wealth isn’t about having stuff, it’s about having financial security.

I Had a Poverty Mindset

A poverty mindset consists of the belief that “I’ll always be poor/struggling for money.” For many years I believed that wealth or a lack of it was a “luck of the draw” thing. One was either a “have” or a “have not” and whatever group they were lumped in with was up to the gods; individual actions have no effect.

The Cure

Ironically, it was discovering the world of personal finance blogs that cured me of this incorrect belief. Through PF blogs, I found story after story of people who were deeply in debt, yet they managed to dig themselves out of the hole and begin building wealth. The people who shared their stories taught me that a person’s financial situation boils largely down to daily, weekly, monthly and yearly financial choices.

I Used Spending as a Band-Aid

For years I dealt with emotional problems, relationship problems, work problems and any other problems by buying stuff. I “deserved” stuff was my reasoning. I spent money to heal, to celebrate and to confirm my worth as an individual.

The Cure

The cure for this problem came when I began to work to uncover long-held emotional problems and to work through them, one-by-one. Through this technique I began to establish unconditional acceptance of myself and to teach myself what I really deserved and what I truly desired where money was concerned: financial security.

I think the take-away here is that when a person is deep in debt, there are often misguided beliefs behind the problem.  If one can work to discover what those misguided beliefs are, and to exchange them with healthier mindsets, both financial and emotional healing for the long-term can truly begin.

Do you have any subconscious beliefs or life experiences that have impacted the way you handle money?

How We’re Teaching Our Kids Good Money Management Skills

kids-money-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

As we work our way out of tens of thousands of dollars in consumer debt, we’re keeping our kids informed of nearly every step along the way. We’ve been open with them about our situation from the beginning of our debt payoff journey, from the starting debt numbers to the drop in debt, to some increases in debt due to family crises and the subsequent drop in debt again.

We’re keeping them involved in hopes that they choose to avoid debt and not make the same money mistakes that we’ve made over the course of our marriage. We’re using several different strategies in order to teach the kids good money management skills while they’re under our roof, hoping that they’ll bring those skills with them as they head out into the adult world. Here’s a list of some of the more important things we’re teaching our kids about good money management skills.

We Teach Them About Debt’s Consequences

When we first began our debt payoff journey, we sat down with the kids and explained the perils of our debt situation. We started with a sixty-five percent debt-to-income ratio and LOTS of consumer debt. We told the kids our debt numbers and how much in monthly payments we were paying each month. We also explained to them what interest was and how much of our monthly payments were going to the loan and credit card companies via interest each month.

When we first began our journey, our interest payments totaled nearly $1200 a month. The magnitude of that dollar amount and what other more fun things we could be doing with that money shocked them, just as it shocked us when we sat down and figured it out.

We want our kids to know how much an excessive amount of debt affects current and future wealth-building goals so that they work to avoid debt, especially “bad” debt.

We Don’t Let Them Borrow from Us – Usually

One of the house rules for our kids is that if they want something, they have to save for it. We want to teach them to get into the habit of saving for things instead of borrowing for things. Yet on occasion, if one seems set on borrowing money, we’ve let them borrow it.

This has only happened once, and with our oldest. She was taking an interest in archery and wanted a bow and arrow set of her own. The price? $257. This was not in our budget at the time, so after much pleading and negotiating we allowed her to use her birthday money ($100) to purchase the set and to borrow the rest of the money from us.

She was only twelve at the time so she didn’t have a job. The money she earned at the time came from her small allowance and other miscellaneous paid-for chores, as well as from Christmas money that year.

Madelyn hated every bit of the three months it took her to pay off her debt. We required fifty percent of her allowance each week, which meant her own spending cash was cut in half. We also required all of her Christmas money that she received that year to get the debt paid in full. It may sound harsh, but we wanted her to understand the feeling of bondage that debt can have, and at the end of the experience, she did.  She said, “I’m never, ever borrowing money again.” We hope she sticks to that promise.

We Have Them Help us With the Monthly Budget

Each month we show the kids our monthly budget so that they understand where our money is going that month. We also ask for their input about changes we can make to the budget that can help improve our situation. Not only does this help them to understand the restraints that debt brings, it helps them to understand why we say “no” to certain extraneous purchases. When they see where the money goes each month, they don’t complain when we’re not going out to eat or shopping frivolously for clothes or toys.

We Teach Them the Importance of Saving and Investing

Using online savings calculators and our own savings and retirement accounts as examples, we show our kids the results of saving money and the ups and downs of investing. We explain the benefits of saving, such as having money available for car and home repairs and other bills. We also encourage them to put a portion of their own money into savings.

I’m sure that each of our four kids will manage money in a different way, but we take comfort in knowing that we’ve taught them responsible money management methods and that we’ve taught them of the dangers of debt and the importance of saving. I have a feeling they’ll do much better than we have with money.

How about you all? What money management skills do you feel are important to teach to children?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/62030038@N02/8402437512/