Top Financial Things You Should Do After Having a Baby

As some of you know, prior to my life as a glorious SAHM, I was miserable as a financial advisor. Now, despite me not enjoying the actual work of a financial advisor, it was incredibly practical and useful in terms of preparing for my own personal future. (Also, I met some awesome people who started off as clients and became my friends.)

One of the main reasons I took the job (other than desperation, fear, and general cluelessness) was because even though I knew I wouldn’t really like it, the knowledge gained about finances and money was invaluable.

And since we just had our fourth child, Sasquatch, I recently had to make a bunch of updates to our finances in order to ensure that in the event of our improbable demise, ALL my children (no matter how new), would be financially taken care of.

Incidentally, I wrote a similar piece in my Money Series three years ago after Glow Worm was born. (Also, my buddy at Just Making Cents riffed off this current post on his blog. Want to see how he scored?)

So, I thought since I just did a bunch of adulting and took care of this crap, here are some of my Top Financial Things You Should Do After Having a Baby.

Disclaimer: I am a former financial advisor and used to own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own family. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your family. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) Update/Create a Living Trust or Will

I know. I’m a morbid sort. But believe me – your loved ones will appreciate the forethought and time you took to make sure your assets were titled correctly, as well as included all your progeny.

Wills detail where and who gets your stuff, but Living Trusts go a step further and bypass probate. Furthermore, they can detail who will assume guardianship of your children, who will be the trustee over your assets should you die before your children are legally able to manage their assets, as well as whole slew of other handy details that make your financial life easier.

Remember: probate can take at least 60-90 days and often times, much longer (not to mention, you have to pay probate taxes). Bypassing probate is super important when your children may need to access funds in order to cover their living expenses.

Make sure your will/trust include ALL your children. (Well, assuming that you want to include all your children. But since the majority of my readers have small/young children, chances are, you do.)

I may be a registered Democrat, but I started off as a Republican and certainly do not think the government can cure all and do all. As a result, I really do not want the government to decide who should take care of my kids, where my assets should go, or anything else related to my personal or financial life.

If you are like me in this regard, make sure you get a living trust or at the very least, have a will.

Also, make sure you actually title your assets in the name of your trust.

It makes zero sense to have a living trust but not have any of your assets in it. That just means you wasted your money on lawyer fees without any of the benefits of their lawyering.

2) Update your beneficiaries.

Whether they be IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, life insurance, Transfer on Death accounts – WHATEVER. If it has a beneficiary, make sure your newest child is added to the beneficiaries.

The possibility that my children may think I purposely disinherited them from any of our accounts versus just being an idiot or procrastinator or just a forgetful human makes me so sad. No child should be cut out of their inheritance due to stupidity on the part of their parents.

It’s a pain in the ass, I know. Lots of forms to sign and social security numbers to look up. I get it.

Do it anyway.

As soon as possible. One never knows the future – and though morbid, better safe than sorry.

3) Open up a savings/brokerage account and/or a 529 college savings account for your child. 

Again, opening accounts is easy; funding them is harder. Fund the accounts, too.

Right after a child is born, I always deposit any gift cards or financial gifts in their account right away. (For gift cards, if someone gives my kid a $20 to Target, I will deposit $20 into their account and use the Target gift card however I want.)

I also transfer some “seed” money to get the account going as well as deposit any gifts they get throughout the year. I also set up their 529 plans with an automatic monthly investment. This way, I build in saving automatically and don’t have to remember to do it. (If I waited until I remembered, I would never save any money.)

I realize that not everyone has the luxury or benefit of people giving gifts or even having excess funds to save for their kids. Even so, I urge you to open up the accounts anyway. You never know when people are generous and kind during birthdays, graduations, and holidays. It is always better to be prepared. Plus, even if you can only sock away $10/month, that is still better than nothing.

4) Update your benefits.

If you have health insurance – ADD YOUR NEW BABY. Even if it is no longer your company’s open enrollment period, a new baby (whether through birth or adoption) is considered a life changing event and you usually have 30 days after birth/adoption to add your child to your health insurance.

If you don’t remember to add your child, then you will have to wait until your next open enrollment period before you can do so. Depending on when that is, you would have too pay for all the well-baby appointments and immunizations out of pocket and just pray your child doesn’t get sick or hurt the first year.

Save yourself the worry and the potential financial disaster. Enroll your child in your health benefits.

If you have other benefits at work that they qualify for, by all means, add them to those, too.

5) Get life insurance or make sure your life insurance is enough.

Look, I get it. I’m obsessed with untimely demises.

People always complain that life insurance is paying for something that won’t likely happen. But you know what? We pay for car insurance and hope to never use it. No one complains about that. (Well, that and it’s illegal to drive without car insurance. It’s thus far, not illegal to be alive without life insurance.)

Anyhow, my point is, if you are the primary breadwinner for your family and you die, how will your family provide for their living expenses? If you are one of the breadwinners, how will your family make up the difference in income? And if you are the SAHP, how will your family pay for the child care services you provide?

Even if you live modestly and have a lot of savings, how long will your savings last?

And right now, I really want to address the SAHP.

Look, I know you can always go out and get a job. I am obviously not commenting on our abilities to work and get well-paying jobs.

But to do so immediately after your spouse dies? While taking care of grieving kids and household stuff and paperwork and the business of the dead?

That is much harder.

And the last thing you want to think about after your spouse dies is how much of a hole you are burning through your savings while trying to find a job and sending out resumes and going on interviews while you and your children are grieving.

That sucks.

Furthermore, even if you, as the SAHP get a job, you will either have to accept a lower paying job in exchange for flexibility in your work schedule to take care of your children. Or, you have to pay for someone else to take care of your children. Either way, there is a monetary outlay that eats into your income.

Also, life insurance through your employer is great and all, but you need life insurance independent of your employer. 

Why? Because if your employment terminates, so does your life insurance. And then, when you re-apply for life insurance, you will only be older and more likely to be in worse health.

Oh, and if you get a large amount of life insurance, (eg: $1 million), get multiple policies. That way, if you have a financial difficulty or you no longer need quite as much life insurance because the kids are grown or your savings are much larger, you do not have to cancel the entire amount only to re-apply when you are older and likely to be in worse health and have higher premiums (after all, the older you are, the closer you are to dying).

So, if you wanted a total of $1 million coverage, get two $500,000 policies. That way, if your financial situation becomes more volatile or you no longer need that much life insurance, you just cancel one $500,000 policy and still have the other $500,000 policy.

All this talk of death when there is a new life in the family. Seems counterintuitive. But I firmly believe that once you bring a life into the world, you are responsible for providing for them. And children are never more vulnerable than after the death of a parent.

Thus, it behooves us to do all we can while we are alive to make sure that our children are protected and provided for when we are not.

Besides, the superstitious part of me feels as if you are just inviting trouble if you don’t get this stuff taken care of ASAP.

The practical part of me knows that life happens and that when you have a new baby, you’re totally sleep deprived and overwhelmed – but you also know that the baby is new and it’s a good reminder of doing this stuff before you completely forget or it’s too late.

Now, get cracking!

(And don’t forget to check out Just Making Cents comments and feedback and additional advice!)

How to Pay for College

Author’s Note: Today’s guest post is by my college buddy, JT, from the blog, Just Making Cents. Since I just had a baby, JT was kind enough to step in and write a post for my blog – and it is totally appropos since I have four kids to put through college. 

Anyhow, JT offered to add a post to my Money Series that I started when I had Glow Worm. I love his perspective because JT has 15+ years of Wall Street experience (he was a big shot at a famous hedge fund) and he and I used to talk finance back in the day when I was a Financial Advisor. (Of course, JT had to dumb down a lot of stuff for me since he is heads and tails more amazing than I ever could hope to be.)

I hope you enjoy his post and also head on over to his blog, Just Making Cents, where he blogs about finance, teaching your kids about finance, and parenting successful kids. 

Now that Halloween is over and you have eaten all the fun-sized Kit Kat bars and tossed the gluey candy corn, you will likely come across an underrated confection: the Blow Pop.

For first-timers, the Blow Pop’s hard candy exterior eventually recedes to a surprising, softish gum center, lasting twice as long as other candies.

Sadly, when it comes to a parent’s finances, not all surprises are as sweet, or enduring things as welcome. Just when you think you’ve paid all the costs to raise your child, up surfaces college tuition bills. Surprise.

A Hard Blow:

Those are some big numbers but hard to crack without some context. Because this is Mandarin Mama’s blog, let’s analyze the case of a Bay Area family with 2 children.

Assume this family owns a standard 3 bed, 2 bath home in San Jose, which costs $775,000*, and drives 2 cars. This family saves for Stanford** and Berkeley** (their children are exceptionally smart) and the parents want to retire at 67. They’re fairly frugal, only going out to eat occasionally and taking local vacations.

Stanford costs about $60,000 a year. Berkeley costs about $28,500 a year (Both figures include room and board). To catch up to tuition growth, you would need to save $11,000 a year for Stanford and $5,750 a year for Berkeley from the moment your child is born up to the last tuition payment.

Here’s what this family would need to make in income (for readers with 4 children – ahem! – it’s safe to assume you’ll need more income. A lot more.):

CostsAnnual
Housing$45,840
Food$12,000
Utilities$10,000
Transportation$9,600
Clothing/Supplies$1,000
Other/Misc$5,000
Saving for Stanford$11,000
Saving for Berkeley$5,750
Taxes$45,010
Total Costs + Taxes$145,200
401k$18,000
Total Income Need$163,200

Don’t make $163k a year? There’s hope for you.

4 Tips on Paying for College, Depending on Your Phase in Life:

1. Newly Unwrapped (You are pre-child or have children ages 0-5): Make that budget so that you can max out your 401k and put in $6-11k per child into a 529 plan if you have children. You are in the phase of life where you should live as frugally as possible, really watching your expenses. If you save well in this phase, it provides a great foundation for the next 3 phases.

2. The Fruity Shell (You have children ages 5-12): Start talking to your children about money now. Teach them what money is and how to make it. Have your child allocate a portion of his or her profit to college savings, a portion to spending (beyond the food, clothes, and shelter you provide), and a portion to charity.

When your child knows how to make his or her own money, this reduces the amount you need to spend on their clothes or gadgets, and increases the amount you can allocate to your retirement and their tuition.

The side benefit to this is that when they know it’s their own sweat going into paying for college, they’ll have a more purposeful outlook and make college and what-to-major-in decisions more pragmatically.

(I would not recommend pushing them to start a business. Rather, I would present it as a fun thing to do, then layer in the business and finance concepts.)

3. The Gum Shows Through (You have older children ages 12-16). Start (or continue) your child’s financial education. Discuss potential side-businesses they’d be interested in starting.

At this age group, they have two important resources and skills: 1) they are tech savvy, and 2) they have a developing social network. They can tap into both resources and start a blog with affiliate links or an eCommerce store. Like in the previous step, advise them to allocate a portion of the proceeds to their college savings. The side benefit to this is that starting and running a business looks good on their college application.

(Again, I wouldn’t push your child to start their business. At this age, I would emphasize the extra spending money and the benefit of it for college applications.)

If you are willing to switch jobs or go back to work, consider working for the college near you. Sometimes they have reduced tuition for themselves or partner colleges for employees. Research this first and see how long it takes to qualify for such benefits.

4. Chew Time (Your children are 17+): Don’t panic. Even if you haven’t saved anything, there are ways to minimize the bill and still save toward retirement. I’ll spend the most time in this phase since it’s the most urgent.

Community College

Your child may want to consider spending 2 years at a community college then transfer to a 4-year college. The advantage of this, besides cutting tuition almost in half, is that it helps the GPA. If your child has a 3.8 the first two years at Diablo Valley College and squeaks out a 2.8 at UC Santa Barbara, his or her overall GPA is a solid 3.3.

The best thing is for your child to know what they want to do, find the college that best enables that, then find the JC that’s a feeder school to that college. It doesn’t diminish career prospects to attend a JC first. When people ask about schools, it’s from where you graduated rather than where you started.

Lower Cost, But Not Quality

Remember that there are plenty of financial aid and scholarships available. The listed price of tuition is generally not the actual cost.

If a public university most fits your child, attending the in-state flagships like Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, or UVA offer almost unmatched quality per cost.

However, if a private university best fits your child, focus on schools with large endowments and smaller enrollments — they sometimes offer reduced tuition based on your income.

Research schools with endowments north of $5 billion but undergraduate enrollment of fewer than 12,000 (a private school with an undergraduate enrollment north of 12,000 has less money to spend per student and less scholarship money. Essentially, you are paying private school tuition for public school experience).

The Logical Path

If neither flagship nor well-endowed/smaller private is an option for your child, make sure your child has a strong idea of what career path he or she wants to take. So if he or she wants to do electrical engineering, find the in-state public school that routinely sends its electrical engineers to large electrical engineering employers before your child applies to college.

Don’t wait until college starts to figure things out. There is a very specific script of majors and progression of internships that prequalify candidates for certain (often the most sought-after) employers.

Income, More or Less

You yourself may want to consider starting your own side or online business to generate extra money. If your business makes enough to cover your expenses and you feel confident enough to leave your day job, you will reduce your income, qualifying your child for scholarships and reduced tuition from certain schools.

If your business takes off, consider paying yourself a low salary to qualify your child for scholarships and reduced tuition. Carefully research this, however, since some schools consider your net worth as well and may require more history of low income.

The Decision 

Now, if it has to be a choice between saving for college or retirement, choose retirement. Your children will have a long career that will help them pay off their debt. You…do not.

That’s a Wrap:

Don’t let large, scary numbers frighten you from acting. No matter what phase of life you’re in, the future can be as sweet as a lollipop if you’re willing to research and put in the extra effort. Yes, you can have your candy and eat it too.

Like what you read and want to find out more about money and parenting? Get a free, 3-day course on teaching your child about money and I’ll send you a free guide to helping your child start their own business. Just sign up here with the phrase “Mandarin Lemonade.”

*Based on median home listing in San Jose, CA on Realtor.com

**Cost of College: Using data from the CollegeBoard of price increase above inflation plus inflation, both for the last decade, Stanford and Berkeley cost assumed to rise 4.25% and 4.75%, respectively.

Savings Growth: Assumes historical growth rate of the S&P 500 of 7%.

Why I Have a Financial Advisor: Money Series Pt 5

Now, it may seem weird to you that I have a financial advisor – especially since I used to be one and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I’m sure it won’t be any surprise to anyone that my mother is my financial advisor. What can I say? It saves on fees.

Well, the reasons I have my mother manage my money versus managing it myself are largely the same reasons most people have a financial advisor. And those are because I don’t have some combination of the following:

1) Time
2) Interest
3) Ability
4) Resources

(For the record, mine is a combination of 1 and 2.) With that said, here is my inside scoop on what to look for in a financial advisor should you choose to have one.

Disclaimer: I am a financial advisor and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own family. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your family. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) Make sure you like the person. This seems like such a stupid reason. After all, there are plenty of likable people out there who should NOT be financial advisors. But ultimately, you’ll be discussing the details of your financial life as well as your hopes and dreams for the future (because let’s be real – that all requires money). If you don’t like your financial advisor, it’s going to be pretty difficult divulging such intimate information. Plus, you’ll be talking to them at least a few times a year. If you don’t like the person, you’ll put off meeting them, likely not follow their advice in a timely manner, and in general, waste everyone’s time.

2) Don’t get hung up on “The Best.” Just like the rest of life, “The Best” is a moving target and different for everybody. Whether it’s “The Best” advisor, fund, or stock, you’re most likely not going to have it. Or have it at the wrong time. There is no way out of the thousands of financial advisors you are going to have “The Best.” Even if you’re a gazillionaire, you’re not. Settle for good and competent. You want reasonable returns (whatever that means to you), sound advice, and a responsive attitude.

3) Don’t pay for a financial plan. Pay for advice and management. This is not to say that paying for a financial plan is a waste of money. Indeed, if you are confident that you will hold yourself accountable to following every single item on your plan, then, have at it. But let’s be real. You most likely won’t. Instead, you’ll have paid approximately $1,500-2,000 for a fat pile of paper that just sits on your shelf collecting dust while your financial house is still in shambles. Then a few years later, you’ll go through the cycle again.

Save everyone the trouble. Pay an advisor to manage your money. I wouldn’t necessarily give them full discretion over your funds (that seems unnecessarily trusting), but do follow their advice. Usually, this translates into a monthly fee. Think of it as having an advisor on retainer. Not only do you get to call them up and ask for advice any time you want, you also have someone actively looking at your account and managing it in a way that is consistent with your desires.

4) Along with #3, avoid paying per transaction/by commission. Now, realistically, some products are commission only. (eg: Annuities, life insurance, REITs) But for the most part, this way, you know that the advisor is recommending you buy/sell something because it really IS a good thing for your account (and not because they get paid a commission). As for annuities, life insurance, and REITs, they all have their place and can be good for you depending on your situation. Annuities and life insurance get pilloried quite often but in reality, I have highly recommended their usage. (Annuities especially since despite the higher cost, it’s the closest thing most people will get to a pension.)

5) Have as much of your assets at one place. I don’t mean one fund or one stock. I mean, have as much of your assets as possible held with the same financial advisor. Why? Because they will have a fuller view of your financial life and can give you better advice if they have the big picture. Also, it sounds awful, but financial advisors are only human. They will pay more attention to more money (because you are a bigger client). If you spread out your assets across several advisors, you are pretty much guaranteeing no one will look at your stuff.

Ok, that’s it for now. If I think of more, I will add it to this post or write another one. For those of you with financial advisors, what has your experience been? And for those of you without one, why haven’t you gotten one yet?

ETA:A friend asked me a great question on FB that I wanted to share with the rest of you.

I want to get started! Where do I start? It’s long overdue. How do you know which advisors are for you and your best interest? I thought of reading up on stock trading and understanding it, so I can do it myself. Signing up on Etrade? Talk to me. Lol.

Here’s my response:

I’d start by asking friends (especially those who are wealthier than you). Check out their recommendations. Or you can just walk into a Schwab, TD Ameritrade, or Ameriprise and ask for a broker on duty. Or, keep your eye out for seminars and attend some. Once you have some names, google and interview them.

Most advisors will talk to you and get to know you without charging you. If they do, run away. If they recommend you open an account or buy something with them before getting to know you, run away. Find out how they get paid. How do they decide or evaluate what is a good stock or fund? How do they determine when to sell? How often will they review your account? What type of clients are they looking for?

Also, trust your gut. If someone makes you feel uneasy, run. They may be perfectly honest but if YOU don’t feel comfortable, then they are not for you.

Most advisors end up with a book of business that looks like them. So you want to look for someone who is similar to you (except has time, interest, ability, and resources to do investments). You want someone who has similar values and world view.

Thanks for asking! Hope that helps. Feel free to ask more questions.

Testing God: Money Series Pt 4

Obviously, you don’t have to believe in God to be a charitable person. (And many people are generous because they’re just good people!) But the reason why I make our family give away Hapa Papa’s hard-earned cash is because of a college Bible study on Malachi 3 (because I’m not good people!). Before that, it’s not that I was opposed to the idea of tithing or giving, but since I didn’t make any of my own money until after college, it wasn’t particularly applicable. But the study, particularly the following verse, rocked my world.

Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

– Malachi 3:10 RSV

The tl;dr version is basically God telling the Israelites to stop cheating Him out of His tithe (usually the first part of a harvest) and to trust that He will provide for them (and abundantly, at that) by having more of the harvest come in.

If you think about it, when you’re a farmer, it’s totally poor financial planning to give the first and best portions of your harvest to God versus keeping it for yourself to provide food for your family or as seed for the next planting. But God commands His people to do so as a way to remind them that everything they have is from God and that He alone provides. In fact, God almost begs the Israelites to put Him to the test so He can prove to them that He keeps his promises by lavishing them so incredibly with blessings – to the point of overflowing!

It sounds absolutely terrifying.

Now, I tithe not to bribe God to give me more stuff (although I am not averse to it – I’m not totally bonkers), but to remind myself that God has provided generously to my family and will continue to provide for us – regardless of me doing something as counter-intuitive as giving our money away. Since my first paycheck, I have chosen to tithe approximately 10% of my income. It’s funny how being faithful with my pitiful $11.50/hr starting salary helped with being faithful with ever-increasing amounts of money. (That’s a concept I also remember from my college days. I am pretty sure it was Pastor Ken Fong who taught this to me, but I can’t be sure. Either way, super helpful.)

True fact: Even though Hapa Papa is totally an atheist, he said his respect for me as a Christian went up when he found out that I tithed on a regular basis. It was early in our relationship and made a big impression on him. Now, it makes a big impression on his bank account. (Ok, not really that big. I don’t want it to seem that we give more than we actually do.)

So you see, other than the benefit of getting more blessings from God, you can get prospective spouses, too! Tithing is AWESOME!

Of course, it’s all fine and good to give money, etc. but I do think there are some responsible ways to go about it. Here then are some of my tips and reasoning behind our giving. (I’m pretty sure these work regardless of your religious devotion, but I could be wrong.) Obviously, just because this is how I’ve forced Hapa Papa to give doesn’t mean that this is the method proscribed by God and if you do not do so in the same manner, you will be smited/smitten/smote/smoted. Your theological mileage may vary.

1) Make sure your financial house is in order. Don’t be giving money away if you cannot afford to do so. If you have mountains of debt, I’m not sure it’s good policy to give away money that robs you of providing for your family/kids/rent etc. This is not to say that you cannot/should not give if you do have debt, but be sensible about it. And who is to say that the only way you can give is monetarily?

2) Donate to places that are responsible financially. There are a lot of groups that spend more money on advertising and fundraising than they do helping the cause for which they are advertising and fundraising. I want to make sure as much of my dollar as possible goes to whatever I’m supporting. You can look into a charity’s financials through sites such as: Guidestar or Givewell.

3) Give deeply vs broadly. In the past, I would give small amounts to many charities/worthy organizations. But now, I am more focused on selecting a few groups and giving more concentrated amounts. For example, instead of giving $10 to ten different groups, I would prefer to give $100 to one group. Nothing wrong with giving a charity $10, but $100 may be a bit more effective.

4) Give with purpose and planning. When I first graduated college, I chose to support friends who went on staff at InterVarsity (the Christian group I was part of at UCLA). I did so because I wanted to love my friends as well as thank the organization that made such a huge impact in my life. I also chose to support and contribute to friends who became missionaries (either in an urban or international setting) through groups like Servant Partners.

However, my philosophy towards giving has evolved a bit. I still support some of these folks and I enjoy reading and hearing about how my money helps my friends do college and urban ministry. But a lot of these types of para-church ministries are very fuzzy in terms of results and doing good. How do we measure success in these areas? Yes, people convert to Christianity or their lives are changed, but that is a lifetime commitment. Life is long and prone to many twists and turns. Who knows how it will turn out?

I think relationship based ministries are important – that’s why I still support my friends. But now, I try to focus on organizations that have very discrete and measurable results. I tend to give money to groups such as my local food bankHeifer International, or World Vision. Next year, I’m thinking of adding the Hamlin Fistula Organization. What I love about these organizations is that I know exactly what I’m getting – and people are benefiting in a specific way. I give $450 to the Fistula organization and one woman gets a fistula (basically a hole caused by childbirth complications between a woman’s vagina and bladder/rectum that causes constant leaking of urine and feces) fixed. I give $100 to the food bank and they can buy 100 lbs of food. I really love how the very necessary needs of people are being met in supremely practical, boring ways.

Figure out what type of person you are and how you want your money to have impact. I like both “soft” relational results as well as practical, nitty-gritty results. That’s why I split my giving.

At the end of every year, I decide which organizations I want to support for the next year and decide what amount I want to give each month. Furthermore, it comes in very handy when people/causes to whom you don’t want to donate ask for money. I always tell them, I have planned out my giving for the year already and although I am sure their cause is very worthy, I only give to organizations that I have researched and vetted. They are welcome to give me information about their group and I will consider them for next year.

4) Budget for miscellaneous donations. With that said, every year, I have friends running marathons for cancer or asking for donations for causes that are meaningful to them. I want to support my friends so I make sure I donate to a few of these as well.

5) Set up giving on an automatic basis. Just like it’s much easier to auto-pay your bills or savings, it’s much easier to automate your giving. That way, you don’t forget, it’s in smaller monthly increments, and you don’t miss the money (as much).

6) If you are tithing or donating on a percentage basis, figure out what number to use. By that, I mean, do you use pre-tax or post-tax salary? Pre-benefits or post-benefits? I don’t think there is a right or wrong number to use. Just choose the one that sits on your conscience the lightest and be consistent with it. Personally, I am lazy and somewhat cheap, so I just use whatever number is deposited into my bank account (and that is the post-tax and benefits number).

7) Make giving a priority. Every time we have an added expense (eg: preschool) or a set back (eg: a layoff), Hapa Papa always mentions that we could lower our giving. I always immediately nix the idea. Not because I’m a good person, but because I know that I often spend foolishly. So, I am not about to “cheat God” when I could just spend in a more judicious manner. Also, it helps that so much of our giving is automated that it’s already built into our budget.

You’ll notice that I don’t mention anything about teaching my kids to give. I haven’t really started to teach my kids about money or giving – but in the future, I will. When that happens, I’ll likely blog about it. But for now, I’m leaving that blank and to other experts. 😉

You’ll also note that I do not give to a church (which is what most people think of when they think of tithing). This is mostly because I do not currently belong to a church. However, when I did attend church, I gave on a more sporadic basis. In the future, I may also give to my church of choice because it will support their many services and activities from which I directly benefit.

Anyhow, this post was not just an excuse to brag about how generous I am with Hapa Papa’s hard labor. When I was just starting to give money to charities I was pretty clueless on the practicalities of the matter and since all my friends were newbies just like I was, it wasn’t a particularly helpful bunch. Hopefully, this post can help you choose to give in a useful and practical manner. After all, it is your money. You should steward it wisely.

Why I Buy Used: Money Series Pt 2

Now, everyone knows I do my fair share to stimulate the economy. I can be quite the profligate spender – especially when it comes to buying fruit from Costco. I have often come back from a trip to Costco after throwing down a ton of money only to be asked by Hapa Papa, “Where is the food?” Because all he can see are piles and piles of fruit. What can I say? I’m Chinese. We eat fruit. Lots of it.

But even with Hapa Papa being my personal money train, we do still live off of one income (albeit, very generous) and have a mortgage and preschool and utilities so at some point, there is a limit to my spending. One time, in despair, Hapa Papa asked, “Why don’t you love me? Do you want me to work until I die?” After that, I started to watch my spending as a way to love him. He asks for so little, you know. The least I could do was throw him a bone.

Anyhow, even though Amazon and Costco are kept in business almost single-handedly by me, I do try to limit my spending without hampering my desire to hoard and get stuff. What I do, however, is buy used.

For those of you who have had the dubious honor of coming to my house, you know that it is a giant toy store. I own pretty much every toy known to man and the beauty of it is that around 80% of them were purchased used. I’m sure my kids think my day job is a drug dealer because I constantly go to people’s houses, give them cash and get something in return. People also come to my house to buy things I sell. I don’t think Cookie Monster or Gamera realize that we can go to stores to buy toys. They think toys come from other people’s houses.

It has actually come to the point where I no longer troll craigslist or the various Facebook virtual garage sale pages because I OWN EVERYTHING. (This helps a lot because now, I don’t really buy anything anymore.) When I go to real garage sales, I go for fun and rarely spend more than $20 because again, I OWN EVERYTHING. (Of course, my house is crammed full of toys, so you know, there are downsides to owning everything.) I justify having so many toys because I will have so many children they are bound to be used.

For clothes, I often buy used to supplement clothes I buy on clearance and clothes swap with friends. I think Cookie Monster’s baby clothes have gone through at least five (soon to be six) babies so far. The majority of them have held up just fine because babies grow so quickly, they really don’t wear them long enough to do enough damage.

I buy ahead for the next year or two when clothes go on clearance at the end of each season because why pay full price for clothes if I don’t have to? Who’s going to know they were purchased on clearance? Do kids’ clothes really go out of style? (Not the clothes I’m buying.) Plus, as the kids get older, the clothes wear out more quickly because they are more actively running, jumping, climbing, and therefore falling. I have bought many an iron on patch! Also, Cookie Monster grows so quickly that he is sometimes in between sizes in the spring – but I know he will be out of them by fall or winter. Why buy brand new pants if he’s going to be wearing them only for a few months?

Here’s my secret to buying used things: go to the super-nice, rich neighborhoods. People often have a glut of barely worn, brand name clothes that they want to get rid of quickly. I have purchased a bag of clothes for $25 that contained nine pairs of pants/shorts, ten shirts, and a sweater or two thrown in for good measure. When you consider that often, a pair of jeans from Old Navy is $15, that’s a really good deal.

The same goes for toys. Usually, used toys start at 50% retail (and are sometimes lower). You will get better deals on toys at garage sales, but if you want something specific, you’ll have to wait a long time. If you don’t want to wait, craigslist or the Facebook pages will be a better bet (although a little more costly). Sadly, I know the going rate of almost any used toy (as well as their retail price). Why is my brain so full of useless minutiae? My family will HATE me for all this useless information in the coming zombie apocalypse.

As for books, I usually buy them when the local library has their book sales. Children’s books are usually $0.50-$1 and I also get to support my local library. Incidentally, I use the library a TON for my personal use as well as for my kids. I read at least 100-150 books a year and if I bought them all new or even used, that would be thousands of dollars. Instead, I am willing to wait for new releases and get pretty much all my books for free. That allows me to pay for the occasional new book in order to support an author or a series that I really appreciate and enjoy. Plus, I already paid taxes for my library access – why shouldn’t I use it?

This also keeps my house from accumulating hundreds of books every year. Between my brother and I, we had hundreds of books that I no longer had room for. I gave several boxes to the local library and sold at least twenty boxes back to various used book stores for either cash or credit. Nothing is sadder than an unread or no longer read book sitting on a dusty shelf, waiting to be noticed. Why not send it somewhere it can be loved or put to good use?

I also buy used furniture – but usually, I buy things that are made of wood because the thought of a used mattress or couch I find squicky. I know. I’m a snob. But all my dining tables have been used – and they were great deals! I once got a dining set with six chairs for $100. The guy even lent us his truck to move it! Hapa Papa was very sad when I sold the same set three years later for the same $100.

Ok, this post ended up much longer than I originally anticipated. To sum up in nice bullet-points, here are some reasons I buy used:

1) It saves money – sometimes at least 50%.

2) Helps the environment – reduce, reuse, recycle and all that. (But it seriously is not a very important reason for me, personally.)

3) I can get more for less money – therefore, it frees up more money for things I really want but cannot get at reduced price. (It’s the same basic premise as #1.)

4) I feel smug/brilliant every time I see something go “on sale” new and it’s STILL more expensive than I spent on a used item. Even better when I can’t tell the difference between the new and used item due to the previous owner’s awesomeness.

5) My kids end up turning new toys into “used” toys almost immediately. Why not just save myself the trouble? It pains me less when they batter something I bought used than when they batter something I bought brand new. Although, sometimes I get even more upset because WHEN WILL I EVER GET WEDGE-ITS FOR LESS THAN $1 EVER AGAIN?!

6) My kids don’t really know any better – they are just happy they get toys (and lots of them). Bonus: they don’t realize you can buy the toys at the store – so they never ask me for anything they see in a store.

7) DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH LEGOS COST BRAND NEW? OMG – it’s the biggest racket EVER. Even used, they are pricey. But let’s just say that I’ve spent about $200 in total on both the BIG and small Legos – and I guarantee for the same price, I would’ve come away with two, small, sad regular Lego sets. (Perhaps a slight exaggeration – but not by much!)

8) In addition, DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THOMAS TRAINS COST BRAND NEW??? It’s almost as big a racket as the Lego Conspiracy! I’ve spent about $8-900 used on various train related things since Cookie Monster started to like trains. This same stuff would have cost me several thousand if I purchased brand new. Yes, I realize $900 is A LOT of money already (not all at the same time, thank goodness), but for the same haul brand new? At least $3-4,000. This only makes me feel slightly better.

9) When my children finally are done with the toys and I start selling them, I can most likely sell them at the same price at which I purchased them – and possibly, even more. Granted, that’s likely another ten years down the line, but then I can claim “vintage” status so I can charge even MORE. It won’t hurt nearly as much as if I bought them brand new and I think to myself, “I’m selling these things at 50% off! GAH!! All my MONIES!!!”

Ok. I think you get my point. I buy used to save money and as a nice after thought, to save the environment. Either way, I’m a HERO. A SAVVY HERO!!!

What about you? Do you buy used? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments. 😀

How Am I Going to Send 3+ Kids to College?: Money Series Pt 1

The thought is terrifying from a monetary standpoint. In about twenty years, I will have three children in college AT THE SAME TIME. Talk about poor family planning (from a paying for college standpoint). And if I do end up having four kids, I will have three kids in college for at least 2-3 years IN A ROW. They’re on their own for grad school, man. Geez.

You’ve seen the numbers. From 1985-2011, college costs rose 500%. (I don’t even want to know what it will cost me in fifteen years when Cookie Monster starts college.) As for loans, I suppose I could have my kids take them out, but have you seen the statistics? Plus, all that brouhaha right now about student loans and interest rates and how I know people who are my age who are STILL paying off student loans (both for undergrad and grad school) and how much that hampers them financially.

So what am I to do? If I can help it, I don’t want my kids saddled with debt (at least too much of it). I can’t count on scholarships (especially not athletic) because who knows how smart or hard-working my kids will be? Since my neighborhood is half Indian/Pakistani and half Chinese, I really have no illusions of them being at the top of the pack. (And I’m OK with that. Hapa Papa was nowhere near the top of the pack in high school, went to a state school, and makes SCADS more money than I ever did because he works harder and smarter than I ever wanted to. That’s another post for some other day.)

And no, I’m not going to move to a less competitive neighborhood because really, who doesn’t want their kids surrounded by smart, hard-working kids? If I don’t like my kids’ grades, then they’ll just have to work HARDER, not move to an easier school. (White flight, I’m looking at YOU!)

The only other recourse (in terms of helping my kids with their education costs) is to save aggressively and to save NOW. (Of course, they can also work in high school – and Hapa Papa has big plans for that – and college, too. Those are absolutely on the table!) This is when it totally helps to be a financial advisor (and to have a mother for one as well).

Here is what we are currently doing and hoping to do so in the future. Hopefully, this will help you, but I do realize that I may be in a different financial situation than you and your family so please don’t feel too bad or too smug if you are doing better or worse than we are. There are many ways to pay for school. This is just what I am doing for now.

Disclaimer: I am a financial advisor and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own children. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your situation. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) 529 Plans – These are plans that accumulate tax-free and are dispensed tax-free as long as you use them for qualifying higher education costs. The funds remain in our custody and we can switch the beneficiary at any time. (So, if Cookie Monster gets a full ride and doesn’t need this money, then I can transfer the funds to Gamera or Baby3.)

We opened an account for each child as soon as I got their Social Security numbers. I seed it with some money and then contribute about $100/mo per account. I would put more in here, but because it can only be used for higher education costs, I don’t want to put TOO much money in here just in case the kids don’t end up at college or whatever.

2) UGMA/UTMA Accounts – These are just regular savings/investment accounts for my children. I am the custodian but my kids are the ultimate owners when they hit either 18, 21, or 25 (For CA). (I am pretty sure I chose 21.) After that, the money is theirs to do with HOWEVER THEY WISH. Somewhat terrifying, but hopefully, I will have taught my children how to handle their finances well and to make good decisions. I do have to pay taxes on these accounts, but since they’re children, the tax rate is not as horrible.

Any gift cards/checks/cash I received during baby showers, gifts, birthdays, Chinese New Year, etc., I put in here. (In the case of gift cards, I just use the gift card and deposit a corresponding amount into their account.) As with the 529 plan, as soon as I get their Social Security number, I open an UTMA for my kid and deposit a “seed” amount. Then, when they receive money, I put it in their accounts – even if it’s as trivial as a few dollars for a birthday or Chinese New Year. (Usually, I round up and add something on top of it.)

If Hapa Papa gets a bonus at work, or sells some stock grants, or whatever, I will take either all or a portion of it and apply it equally among the kids. If we happen to get a really nice financial gift from family, I do the same. Whatever “extra” money that comes our way, I will always consider putting it in the kids’ accounts. (Unless, for some reason, we need to replenish our emergency fund, our IRA contributions are coming up, or property taxes are coming up, I usually put some in the kids’ accounts.)

Also, any time there is a new baby, I will not only seed money in the new baby’s account, I will also add some money into the older kids’ accounts. Not as much, of course, but some.

3) Aggressively pay down all other debts. That’s pretty self-explanatory. We paid off our mini-van last year ahead of schedule thanks to a stock grant, and we pay extra on our principal for our mortgage every month. Every now and then, we also send in a fat chunk of a bonus or severance or stock grant to pay down the mortgage principal even more. Our goal is to pay off the mortgage before Cookie Monster starts college. We are very lucky that currently, our mortgage is our only debt. This may change if we have to buy a new car later down the road or if we have to get a bigger house when the kids become teenagers.

4) Save aggressively for our retirement. This may seem strange to include as part of the kids’ education savings, but it makes perfect sense to me. The more we save now, due to the time value of money, the less we will have to put away when we’re older and much closer to retirement. In other words, when the kids are in college, we will not have to be scrambling any more than usual to come up with money both for college AND for retirement. The retirement money (barring some horrible economic downturn AGAIN) will already be there.

5) Have the kids work. My parents paid entirely for my education and as a result, I don’t think I took it very seriously. I have been coddled pretty much all my life. Hapa Papa, on the other hand, had some scholarships and worked his way through college without any substantial help from his family. I would like my kids to have something in between.

My current plan is to have the majority of tuition and board as well as some “fun” money for my kids covered. I will give them a monthly stipend and if they run out, they’re out. If they need more money, they can work for it. Also, Hapa Papa is thinking that some day, he’ll start his own consulting firm and farm out work to the kids. He’ll pay them and yes, they can spend some of that money, but a good portion of that will be forced into their college savings account so that they will also pay for their college in that way.

This, of course, is the highly speculative portion of my plan. The kids obviously cannot work now. (Such slackers! Their fellow Chinese kids are making clothes right now! Lazy bastards.) We have no idea if Hapa Papa will ever open up his own shop. We don’t know if college will even be relevant in the future (although, likely yes). But that is our plan for the moment.

I know that we are very fortunate to have so many options. Many folks do not have enough money after necessities to set aside for their kids (let alone for themselves). I would say in terms of priorities, take care of your daily needs first, then emergency funds, then retirement, then kids. No one will give you a loan for the first three, but the last one, there are plenty available.

Again, when I think of all these resources I have available for both myself and my children, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness and guilt and relief. We always want the best for our children – no matter what our circumstances. So I have no doubt that the folks who cannot provide as much for their kids would OF COURSE, do so if their circumstances allowed it. Ultimately, money is important, but there are plenty of children who grew up without a single financial want who have huge holes in their souls due to other unmet needs.

Hrm. Didn’t mean to get all Hallmark on you there. I just know that because of Hapa Papa’s job, we are able to provide much for our family without too much hardship. It isn’t fair; I’m sorry. My only hope is that we can be generous to others as well as ourselves.