Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thrifty Preschooling

For Preschool, I use World Book's Scope and Sequence to help me know what my children need to learn.  I also use Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready and How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

But, this morning I found a great site via a friend's blog that seems to have just about everything you'd need to teach your child preschool at home for free.  Here's the site:  http://www.hubbardscupboard.org.  Happy Preschooling!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Money and My Kids

One of my dear friends--whose input I love to hear!--commented on the post I wrote about Mary Hunt's book.  She asked if we give our kids allowances.  

We don't.  Not yet.  Chris and I are talking about it this year, but we aren't sure yet what that will look like and we definitely don't think our younger two are ready.  I think we need to decide the purpose of what the allowance will be for and how much guidance we will give her with it.  I know we don't plan on giving her an allowance to cover everything as Ms. Hunt suggests--a  salary.  But, let me digress.  

My friend commented about Ms. Hunt's approach and how it wouldn't be feasible for her family.  Before I start feeling condemned because I can't pull off what another mom or family can, I think about their lives.  It helps me determine what parts of someone's advice might be applicable to my family and our situation.  

So, here are my observations.  Ms. Hunt and her husband had 2 children--both boys.  She tells a story of when her oldest was learning how to manage his allowance.  After blowing his allowance lickety split at first, her son reacted by becoming a miser for quite some time.  She was okay with letting her son give a very small birthday gift (I think it cost $1 or $2), because it was his money and what he chose to do.  1) I believe that Ms. Hunt did not homeschool.  I've never heard her mention homeschooling.  So, I think her kids went to public school.  The expenses involved in each are different.  Responsibilities for kids are too.  2) She had 2 boys.  2 Boys!  2, not 3, 4, 6, or 10 or 1.  The number and the gender makes a difference, I think.  My brother had the same reaction her boys did when given money.  I, on the other hand, was motivated to get a job so I could participate in the activities at school that I wanted to.  So was my best friend in high school. Neither of us had parents who gave us regular allowances.    My brother just chose to fore go the activities.  And not get a job until he had to.  My friends who got allowances didn't get jobs in high school.

Also, having 2 meant that there were things that Ms. Hunt didn't have to consider.  Since my girls wear the same size (no hand me downs between them :( ) and I have only 1 boy, I take this into consideration with purchases.  I don't have to purchase dress shoes that will make it through more than 1 season.  I need sturdy clothes, but I don't need high quality that will last through a lot of kids.  If I get hand me downs that have a little life left, that's great--they only need to make it through 1 season with my kids.  Whereas, my friends with multiple kids always think, "How many kids will this x item last though?"  I don't think a child is going to think that when they're making a purchase.  I don't mean to criticize Ms. Hunt in any way with these observations.  I just wanted to point out a few differences and I think that those differences shape the voice she speaks with and shaped what she experienced personally with her family.

I think she has some good ideas--that worked for her and her family.  But, that doesn't mean that it would be easy for me to take her ideas and use them like a cookie cutter on my own family.  So, I never read a financial book with that thinking.  Honestly, I always seek my friends out with multiple kids (3 or more) when I'm looking for ideas about money and my kids and even how to save money in general.  The more people in a household, the farther things have to go.  In our case, ours has to go 6 ways plus 1 dog.  My husband recently put on an application that he has 5 dependents.  I wondered what people would think.  It also asked the ages of children--which listed 3.  What they might think!  My husband was including my mom, who lives with us and who we provide room and board for.  He does have 5 dependents.  

It's interesting because my oldest daughter, Autumn, is going into 4th grade.  My husband hasn't wanted them to worry about money and how to spend it, so I've been saving any money that's given to them as gifts.  I think he hasn't wanted them to grow up before they have to.  We have seen that often as soon as people have money they become preoccupied with figuring out how they might spend it.  This consume a lot of their time and energy.  He has wanted to keep our kids from this as long as we can.  We both know the time is coming to teach them about having money themselves and letting it go.  

Last week was a first step in several ways for me and Autumn.  

The first situation was when Autumn's Grandma gave her $5 as a get well present--she's been miserable with  an illness.  She wanted to go to Target and look at the dollar section.  So, we did, but she didn't find anything she wanted.  So, we meandered over to the toy aisle.  Sami had plenty of ideas about what she should spend it on.  Autumn was very disappointed, because we had just finished our money chapter and she understood she didn't have enough money to purchase any of the things Sami was pointing out.  She also had wanted to get something to share with her siblings and something for herself.  I explained to her that she could save it.  But, she told me she didn't want to, because then it would eat at her about wanting to spend it.  So, I suggested that she get an edible treat to share and then save the rest.  She could save it for something bigger.  She replied that she doesn't get money so how would she save?  She had a good point there.  I reminded her about birthdays and Christmas.  She replied that she knew that she was supposed to save that for college some day.  I told her that we would give her part of any money she received then (which my husband and I had already discussed).  That satisfied her and we went off to the food section of the store.  She found a back of ring pops for $1.49 (plus tax).  We took them home and she savored her treat.  The rest of the money is sitting in her wallet in her dresser to my knowledge.

The second situation began a week ago in Target's shoe section.  I have always bought my girls practical Mary Jane's from Payless or Target for winter dress shoes.  My girls love to run (especially Sami) and I have been so fearful of them in slick soled shoes.   We were at Target and Autumn found some flats that she loved.  They looked so grown up!  I cringed.  My little girl--growing up.  I still wanted to hold on to her and so I stalled.  I spoke with my husband about it and he encouraged me to let her get some flats.  It was time.  I had 2 $10 off $25 or more coupons for Payless this week, so I took the girls there yesterday.  I am very thankful for the Lord's blessing in this--I found these sweet flats that were grown up looking, but had a strap across.  The girls loved them immediately!  Then, I asked them to try on the traditional black Mary Jane's.  I had an idea that I proposed to them.  How about wearing the flats to church on Sundays and the Mary Jane's the rest of the week?  My girls really don't like tennis shoes most of the time and are always asking to wear there church shoes.  It seemed like a good solution and they were thrilled!  They did like the Mary Jane's, but they had wanted to feel grown up, too.  With the coupons and a tax-free clothing week for back to school shopping, the two pairs cost the same as 1 would have cost for each of the girls.  I was very thankful and so were they.  The one thing I'm very conscious of when picking out clothing and shoes for my kids is trying to find a balance between what's best and practical (and modest) and something they like.  My husband tells a story of a pair of shoes he once had that he hated.  I've never forgotten how that experience has impacted him.  I understand that it's good for my girls to have some choice within some boundaries.  I have to remember my budget and they have to get shoes and clothing that will work for our family.  

This Payless story is a good example though of how having only 3 kids changes things for me.  If I had multiple kids and I needed my shoes to last through more than 1 child, I'd probably head to the Stride Rite Outlet and watch for the Stride Rite sales regularly.  The Payless shoes will only last a season, if that.  I had to replace Autumn's Payless sandals in the middle of the summer this year.  I know that her new sandals will get passed on to a friend's child who will be able to use them, though, and that comforts me.  

I'm not sure that this has been much but a rambling post, but I better scoot and wrap up this up.  My kids are off to breakfast this morning with their free coupons that they earned from the summer library reading program!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

It may be free, but...

Every once in a while, I'll get a coupon book for McDonald's in the mail.  I'll save it in case we're out and I can use one of the $1 coupons or free drink coupons.  But, sometimes what is free isn't necessarily good for us.  

A few weeks ago, a friend shared with me how much she likes McDonald's Sweet Tea.  I agreed with her.  I like it, but it's almost too sweet.  I found out why in the next minute.  She said she and her husband had calculated how much sugar was in a drink--1/2 cup.  1/2 cup!!  Ay Ay Ay!  I shrank inside.  Ew.

So, yesterday, my girls and I were out.  My daughter has been dealing with a cold sore/skin infection this week on her lip and I felt so bad for her.  I was trying to figure out something nice to do for her.  I considered going to McDonald's.  There was a coupon for sweet tea and I had some coupons for the kids for ice cream.  I thought of the sweet tea and it made me cringe.  So, I decided instead to go to the library and let Autumn pick out a video to watch.  

I realized that although it would taste good in the moment, I would be drinking 1/2 cup of sugar!  It would have been free, but not very good for me.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Quite a Surprise of a Book

Several years ago, I read various books by Ellie Kay, Jonni McCoy, Mary Hunt, Larry Burkett, and others.  Then, I went to look at the websites for each author.  I have been struck by a singular irony about the websites.   The stated mission and goal of each of these Christian authors is to help families in financial crisis. But, most of the websites have a fee to access the information on the site.  I found the same thing last week with the Economides' website.  It seems very strange to me.  I do understand that the authors need to make a living and this is one of the ways that they earn money.  But, I wish it didn't have to be that way.  I wonder how much money they make from their books vs. their websites and whether there might be more ways these authors and organizations could share their knowledge freely (with no strings attached as a free trial offer) to help families in need.  I was thankful to find this morning that on some of the websites, there is a lot information available than others.

Here are a few things I did find:  
1) Ellie Kay's site has all sorts of free calculators on it under the tools tab.  Ms. Kay's book Heroes at Home is a financial book for soldiers and their families that I really enjoyed and agreed with.
2) Jonni McCoy's site has all sorts of information on it--recipes, tips, articles, links... and the content has free.  She's changed her site a lot from the last time I looked at it and it is much easier to read now and find information on.
3) Matt Bell is discontinuing his site and has joined Sound Mind Investing.  This is the kind of site that really bothers me.  I just took a look at it.  It took me several minutes to find how much it actually costs to subscribe to the site.  It costs $10/month.  I am saddened that Matt Bell has joined the site and is discontinuing his own site.  There is some good budgeting information on his site that will only be there for a little longer if you're interested.  It's similar to the budgeting forms I invented for my own family.  
4) Mary Hunt has no content available on her site without a membership that costs $29/year.  This seems less expensive than it used to be.  But, there were a few things that bother me about her site.  There's a lot of advertising on it.  It also uses the same gimics that secular financial advertising uses--offering "free" things that aren't really free (these kind of ads make me cringe).
5) Crown Financial Ministries (started by Larry Burkett) site has made a lot more information available online for free!  I am very pleased with this and glad that they are doing this for families.  I looked at their site a few years ago and very little was available for free.
6) Dave Ramsey's site is also $9.95/month like the one Matt Bell is joining.  Similar tools and fee, just a different person.

It was really interesting looking at all of these sites and others.  The financial bloggers I looked through have a ton of advertising on their sites.  The sites are hard to look at, because they are so busy.  Honestly, I'd rather buy a book and read it than look through one of the sites.

But, today my purpose is to review a book by Mary Hunt, Raising Financially Confident Kids.  I have read other books by Mary Hunt before.  I didn't expect to like a lot in this book.  Surprisingly, I did.  This book is about how she and her husband taught their kids about finances and raised them to be good stewards of their finances.  I would read this book--try and think of her as a regular mom.  Don't look at her website first and shield your eyes from the commercialism of her other books.  Just take this singular book on its own.  I don't fully intend to follow all of her ideas (especially the one about giving preschoolers your coupons and lists at the store--that is quite stressful when they drop that really important coupon along your trip and even after retracing your steps you can't find it!), but there were some great ideas too about how to expose your kids to financial gimics like home shopping networks.  I did like her ideas for different age children.  The ideas may help you or spur you on to come up with your own ideas that fit for your family.

What I most liked (and was surprised by) in this book was that, in contrast to the Economides book, is that Ms. Hunt brings God into the picture.  She doesn't go as far as Crown Financial Ministries does and how I feel--that our children need to understand that God has given them what they have and it is important to be good stewards of this, but she almost gets there.  I also like that at the end, she states "God's plan is for children to grow wings and fly away.  Our job as parents is to prepare them for the flight.  Building financial confidence is one important way" (p. 205).  Ms. Hunt seems to realize in this statement that finances are just one part of our lives.  They shouldn't consume us, lest they become an idol.  

A great portion of this book is devoted to talking about debt and how we debt-proof our kids--essentially how we teach them to avoid debt.  Her website is titled debt-proof living.  Debt is becoming a greater and greater part of our world and it is becoming more and more accepted.  We have to teach our kids that they need to live within their means and not expect to live beyond them.

In the end, I am glad that I read this book.  It helped me feel better about Mary Hunt's perspective on finances and what she teaches.  There were some good ideas in this book about how and what to teach our children about finances.  I obviously have my own opinions about the fee for access websites when it comes to Christian financial websites, including Mary Hunt's.  I hope someday she will consider how she can help people who can't afford her site and possibly making some content on her site available without a membership fee.  What I just realized as I finished writing this review is that for years I have been viewing people who work with Christians and their finances as working in ministry, but really these are businesses. I would be wise to remember this and see folks like Mary Hunt as business owners, not ministry leaders or parachurch missionaries.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Mary Hunt's book from Revel Publishing for review.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Team Effort

One of my friends and I sat down last week to talk about budgeting and saving money.  It was a fun conversation.  I enjoyed talking with her about the things she already does and other possible things she could do.  I talked to her a few days later and she said her husband was having fun with it and she was really encouraged.

One area that has a particular high bill for them is their water bill.  Where they live (like where we live) water is really expensive!  But, they didn't realize it because they had nothing to compare it to.  I went home and compared her water usage and bill to ours and realized that her cost for water is even higher than ours.  I emailed her right away to let her know how high their water cost is.  Knowing this motivated her and her husband to work on cutting down that bill.  She shared her stories with me over the phone later and I smiled.  

We had dinner at a friend's house last weekend with her family and another family.  I smiled the next day when I reflected on our visit.  One thing that had really struck me was that she and her husband had the same vision for their finances and generosity.  They were definitely on the same page and loved being frugal and saving money--together.  In their case, I know it's a whole family effort and vision as well.  They are also wonderfully giving people who love the people in their lives well.

I called my other friend to leave her this message...  "I wanted to leave you a message because I was so encouraged by our conversation the other day.  It's exciting to me to watch God working in your marriage.  I am realizing see how God works to give us a common vision and goals with our husbands when it comes to finances.  God works in so many ways and it's neat for me to see this one.  It's definitely a journey and often not an easy one, but eventually we get there--on the same page together."

The interesting thing to me is that the vision isn't identical in every marriage.  Every family has their own priorities and needs.  We have different family traditions.  

Truly, it makes me smile to see God glorified this way in our marriages.  The point of money management and budgeting is not so that we can feel more self sufficient, but so we can be good stewards of what He has given us and to be thankful for how He has provided.  Each month when I balance our budget, I share with my husband how things turn out.  Last Saturday was one such day.  I gave my husband the rundown and his reply was, "Really?"  He and I both thanked the Lord for providing for our family.  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Teaching Kids About Money

My children are growing up.  Just like I did once.  I had a saver mom and a spendthrift dad.  I am thankful that I ended up more like my mom than my dad in this regard.  Please don't get me wrong--I inherited some good traits from my dad that have held me in good stead.  I want my children to grow up with good money managing skills and able to manage their own finances.  So, I enjoy reading books about kids and finances.  

A year or two ago, I began looking for a book to help me outline what I need to teach my children.  I found two that I ordered.  One was a book Howard Dayton wrote for kids in grades K-2, The ABCs of Handling Money God's Way.  It was a nice little story and the workbook had some good questions.  And I did like that it addressed how God wants us to view money.  But, it didn't cover a lot.  I also ordered a little book titled I want to teach my child about Money by Kathie and Doug Rechkemmer.  I am very visual, so when it arrived and turned out to be a very small book (in size), I was disappointed and set it aside.  It covered what I wanted to teach, but the format was so small that it would be difficult to look at together with my kids.

Then recently two books came across my desk on teaching kids about money.  Of course, I was curious.  The first is The Money Smart Family System, by Steve and Annette Economides, published by Thomas Nelson.  They have a website www.americascheapestfamily.com that you can subscribe to for $20 to gain access to their content.  Some is available for free, but I don't know how much.  This couple paid off a lot of debt about 16 years ago and then began to give advice to other families.  Basically, this book could be a "how to" teach your child about spending tool.  They've raised several kids and homeschooled (5 kids from beginning to end for $1000).  I'm pretty frugal, but I can't imagine homeschooling K-12 for $1000 in total without making a lot of sacrifices when it comes to curriculum or allocating what falls under homeschooling to other budgeting areas.  

Before I go any farther, I want to rabbit trail to our pastor's sermon from last Sunday (click here).  It was about awaiting Christ's return and being awake.  In the sermon, he mentions that if we don't look to Christ's return and are only focused on our life here and now, then our faith becomes a tool simply to a better life here.  What he says about this has really stuck in my mind.  That Sunday night in our small group, I realized that this is my concern about many Christian "self-help" type books.  It is as if faith in God isn't about glorifying God in our lives--it is really just a means to a better life for us and our families here and now.  I think this is really important that we have to be careful about how we view our lives and God's role in our life.

So, back to the Money Smart family System.  This book is a book that reflects the judeo-Christian values that Dr. Dobson often talks about on Focus on the Family, except that God is never (to my notice) mentioned in the book.  When the Economides pair recommends books, many Focus on the Family type of books are referenced and authors that I've heard from years past on the show.  I was particularly interested in how they explain giving.  
Here are a few quotes:
"We must help our children comprehend that the money they earn is not solely intended for their personal use or enjoyment--they have a responsibility to be a conduit of benefit to others." p. 70

"If we can consistently help our children see the benefits that come with sharing the simplest things, they will be inoculated against greed and miserly thinking as they grow older." p. 71
Reasons for giving include things like how it reduces clutter and opens their eyes (leading to compassion) and teaching the joy of giving.  Note, God isn't mentioned in this chapter.  Later in the book, there is a chapter on activities to develop activities for character, strength, and scholarships.  In this chapter, religious activities are talked about.  The positive reason for mission trips?  "Being immersed in a different culture and learning how other people live can breed a deeper appreciation and greater satisfaction for life at home.    Beyond that, it could open your child's heart to a possible career or avocation helping others in need." p. 123.  Really?  What about God?  Serving Him and loving others because He first loved us.  

This book is not what I'd recommend to a Christian family.  God isn't a part of the picture this book presents.  Is it a book I'd recommend to a family that wants to live a moral life, but doesn't believe in God?  Yes.  That's who this book is for.  Is there a danger to a Christian family following this model?  I think so.  I think one of the greatest pitfalls for our children to believing in God is the strong American value that we can do it ourselves.  We don't need help or need anyone else.  We are always hearing "Believe in yourself" .  We need to be careful to teach our children, I believe, that everything we have comes from the Lord and we are to be good stewards of it.  

To sum it all up:  if you're looking for a list of age appropriate chores, check this book out of the library.  Aside from that, I don't recommend this book.  

I'm going to be reviewing Mary Hunt's book on raising financially responsible kids next week.  So, it'll be fun to dig into this subject again!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What if you had nothing?

A week or two ago, something happened in our extended family that caused us to pause and ask this question:  What would we do if we had nothing?  

We live on one income with two cars and a roof over our head.  I am able to homeschool and stay home with our children.  We help support both of our mothers.  We are thankful to the Lord for all of these things. 

But, what would we do of things changed?  Unexpected expenses?  Job change?  A lower income?  Would we cope?

When one's income changes, hard decisions have to be made.  I had a roommate once who never adjusted her spending level downward when her income level changed downward.  She began to live deeply in debt, paying the minimum on her credit cards each month.  Her experience made a deep impression on me.

So, if in such a position, what would we change?  No cable.  No internet.  What we ate would change.  One car, not two.  Change the coverage on our car insurance.  No extras.  Plant wildflowers in the lawn so as not to have to mow more grass and use more gas for the lawnmower.  Raise the thermostat in the summer and lower it in winter.  We already have prepaid cell phones, but if we hadn't already switched, we would.  Use the library for internet access and more for curriculum use than purchasing books for homeschooling.  I could work part time.  Cheaper coffee.  Sticking to our budget.  

At what point, would one make such changes?  Or should we always be mindful of such things?  I remember a good piece of advice I read in a book once.  Consider your time and what you can do with your time that will save you the most money.  We already do budget, which I think is extremely important.  If we don't budget, it would be very difficult to know if our efforts in saving money and spending less were effective or not.

We are expecting my husband's income to drop in a few years.  So, should I tighten our belts now or in a few years?  I think it would be easier to do what we can now and live wisely and carefully so that we don't have to make drastic adjustments all at once.  

In the end, it all comes down to two basic questions.  What are our needs? and What are our wants?  I'll never forget when my mom asked me when I was in 4th grade if I needed a sweatshirt that I really wanted.  She asked me if I needed it.  I had to admit that I didn't.  This morning my daughter told me that she wanted to get some bath crayons.  I explained to her that it wasn't a need.  We have plenty of toys and fun things to play with.  I realize that I can tell her this, but I hope that someday soon she will be able to think through this question, "Do you need it?" and answer the question truthfully about something she wants.  It will be a moment that profoundly changes her life, I hope, as it did mine.