I recently read the book, The Overspent American, and it had an effect on me that, frankly, caught me by surprise.  I get the whole media push for Americans to buy, buy, buy and I’ve been quite smug with myself knowing that I usually do not succumb to their multi-billion dollar advertisements.  Until now.

It’s lipstick.  And, specifically, the lipstick tube.

The book made it very clear that, although unbelievable differences in retail prices, women’s makeup is pretty much the same across the board.  Not that I cared.  At the time of my reading I was a mascara-only female.  I simply am not interested in applying daily or even bi-weekly makeup.  Not that I don’t want to look good.  But, truly, I’d rather spend the time writing or working on a new lesson.

Then the work with MetroPCS presented itself.  I took the job because it meant I got to spread the word about kids and money.  Besides, I hate contracts and activation fees.  And don’t get me started on overages!  So it was an easy sell.

But that meant I was going to be doing the morning show circuit.  And that meant people, real people…not kids, were actually going to see me.  So I called my younger sister, who’s as girly-girly as it gets, and she sent me to the Mac counter at Nordstrom.

Hundreds (please don’t make me say the actual amount!), of dollars later, I was the proud owner of eyeliner pencils, eye shadow, this stuff that makes your eye lashes longer, skin smoothing cream, cover up, all kinds of brushes.  It was a bit overwhelming.  I had to call the girl who sold it all to me the next day because I forgot what to do with it all.

Then there was the lipstick.  I usually buy lipstick every two years or so.  And it’s usually when I’m picking up a prescription at the drug store.  The tube that the lipstick was living in never registered in my mind.  Until I read the book.

The author made a point to describe how women who are looking for some small way to save some money on makeup will buy most of their supplies at the drugstore (much cheaper!) but their lipstick must bear the marks of designer labels.  After all, it’s really the only make-up that is exposed to others.

So I was happy to find that I liked the tube that the Mac lipstick came in.  Next to the drugstore lipstick hiding at the bottom of my purse, there was no comparisson.

And now I find myself watching those around me when I pull out my Mac lipstick.  Do you see my lipstick?  Do you know that it’s from the Mac counter at Nordstrom?  Do you know it’s expensive?  Do you know I’m worth it?  And I can afford it?

It’s the weirdest thing.  I was never this way before.  I was quite proud that I simply did not care whether or not I even wore makeup.  And now I’m obsessed with my lipstick.  Specifically, the lipstick tube.

Have I become like those ladies in the book who are unwilling to spend ridiculous amounts of money on makeup yet want others to think I do because I pull out a swanky lipstick tube?

In a way, I’m thankful that this has happened.  I will begin working with 17-21 year olds soon.  I want to be able to share this example with them because I think it will have more of an impact on them than the 7-year olds I’m used to working with!  I think the most powerful lessons are those that tap into real life experiences.  And I’m having a real-life experience succumbing to media pressure.  Now I can relate.  And that makes all the difference with young adults.

My lipstick has almost reached the metal rim.  As of this writing, I’m not sure where my next tube will come from.  But I have an idea.  If I’m to make any impact on these “kids”, I’ll be making an additional purchase when I pick up Ryan’s allergy medication at the drug store.  But putting out stocking-stuffer hints is not beyond me.

Nathan’s Taxi Service

Keeping gas in the tank is painful for a teen when it’s their money that’s being sucked dry.  But it’s also a very important life lesson.  Teens need to learn how to manage money before we send them out into the world.

So Nathan was thrilled when he came home yesterday with yet another opportunity to drive one of Ryan’s friends to school every day.  Besides Ryan, this is his fourth passenger.  Paying passenger. 

I told Nathan I would pay him the Ryan’s school bus fare if he drove Ryan to and from school each day.  That cost me $265.  Nathan was thrilled.

Then one of Nathan’s friends asked if he could be driven home from daily cross country practice.  He’d pay $5/week.  The same happened with one of Ryan’s friends who also needed a ride home and was also willing to pay $5/week.

So far I’m thinking Nathan’s ahead.  And he’s doing it without hestitation so I’m pretty sure he’s figured out he’s ahead.

But now it’s turning into a business.  Last week another one of Ryan’s friends asked if Nathan could pick him up on the way to school.  It’s a little out of Nathan’s way but for $25/month Nathan was willing to take a slight detour.  Then a friend of Ryan’s friend asked the same thing.  Since both of these boys is being picked up at the same place (they go to morning seminary) Nathan figured…what’s one more if he’s getting and additional $25/month.

I think the whole thing is great.  Nathan is a very safe driver.  We did ask that he talk with the parents to work out details and so that the parents have a chance to meet him.  He’s actually doing these parents a huge favor.  The school is 13 miles away.  That’s a lot of driving time.

And I know how Nathan thinks.  He has room for one more passenger to and from school.  That’s even more gas money.  I’m not much of a gambling gal, but I have bets that within a few weeks those seats will be filled.

My List is Getting Shorter

I was trying to figure out this whole LinkedIn networking thing when I got a phone call from Nathan.  So it was a nice break because when it comes to doing new things, that learning curve can get frustrating.

This was Nathan’s first time depositing checks into his new checking account.  We opened the account because, at 16, it’s important for him to learn how to use a debit card and write checks.  Yes I know.  Who writes checks anymore?  I do.  Not a lot, but enough that I know there will be times when he will need to write one, too.

He was standing in front of the ATM machine when he called because, on a Saturday, the bank is closed at this hour.  “What do I do?” he asks.

“Have you signed the checks?” I asked.

“No, you told me not to do that until I deposited them.”

“Right.   And now that you’re going to deposit them, it’s a good time.”

He didn’t have a pen.  And could only find a pencil in his car.

“How ’bout pencil?’ he asked.

Honestly, that one threw me for a second.  It’s been so long that I actually had to think about the answer.  “Uh, no.  It needs to be a pen.”

We hung up while he went in search of someone with a pen.

Two minutes later (I decided not to continue my work on LinkedIn while waiting) he calls back.

“Okay.  I signed the checks and filled in all the information on the envelope.”

Information on the envelope?  I never do that.

Then he throws this one out:  “I’m depositing cash, too.”

Alrightie, now I’m stumped.  Can you put cash into the envelope in an ATM machine?  I have no idea.  Instead of admitting this to him (which is unlike me because I usually have no problem admitting I’m clueless) I told him it’s always a good idea to have extra cash at home in a safe place; you won’t be able to use your debit card everywhere.

He bought it.

So then I told him I would wait on the other end while he followed the instructions by himself.  About a minute later, maybe more, I hear, “Okay.  I’m done.”

Yippee.  One more thing to cross off my list of things my kids need to know before they leave home.

Now I have to decide if I want to cross “Figure out LinkedIn” off my list.  Nah.

Let the Shopping Begin – Revisited

I am always impressed by how frugal kids become when it’s their money they’re spending.  Nathan and Ryan received their clothing budget and have started shopping.  Neither one has spent all their money yet.  But that’s okay, it’s theirs to use until spring when they get a smaller budget for summer  clothes.

Here’s what I love.  Both boys have been shopping sales and using coupons.  In fact, they don’t want to spend any money at all unless there’s some sort of deal.  And lucky for them, in this economy, retail has been offering some pretty good deals.

Nathan used a $20 off coupon at his favorite clothing store, Pacsun.  He had to spend at least $40 to get the deal.  That was a pretty good deal since he chose several t-shirts that came to just over $40.  And Ryan used a 15% off coupon at Kohl’s.  So that’s where he bought the bulk of his items.

But here’s the interesting thing.  The two boys have done most of their shopping together.  So I’m not around to make sure things like shoes actually fit.  Ryan came home with a pair that are one size too big.  It was the only size left.  And the basketball shorts he bought will fall to his ankles the moment he slam dunks.  He insists both are fine.

Nathan bought a hat similar to one he already owns, I reminded him.   “Oh yeah,” he says.  He’s planning on returning it.

So I sent them out into the world to learn about staying within budget.  But they may be learning a few other things as well.   As far as I’m considered, I think I got a bargain.

The Risk Continuum

Nathan finally did it.  He bought his first shares of a public company.  Not the company he was orignially looking at.  That was Pacsun and those shares have tripled in value in the few months he waited. No, instead, he bought several shares of Walmart.  He likes how environmentally conscious they are and believes that they can have a big impact in this area.

I like that he’s given serious thought to his investment.   And I like that it is in concert with his value system.  He’s concerned about the environment and sees that Walmart has taken climate shift seriously.  Although, no doubt, the bottom line plays a role here, we still all benefit.

Buying his first shares was a big deal.  He’s a pretty conservative investor because he works hard for his money.  And we all know that on the risk continuum, stocks are at the risky end.  It’s all about how much risk you’re willing to take on.

Mutual funds are less risky and the boys have been steadily adding to their Vanguard 500 Index fund since 2005.   But after one of my money classes last year, they have both been interested in testing the stock market waters.   The trick is to decide the balance. 

Since the boys are still in their teens, their time horizon is longer than it is for me and John.   So they can take bigger risks than we can.   Although Ryan’s company stocks take up 13% of his portfolio and Nathan’s only takes up 8%, they both only recently began investing this way so they are taking it slow.  

But, as Nathan learned, taking it too slow can mean lost opportunities.  What they need to do now is decide how much of their portfolio will be in individual stocks and begin the balancing act.  This will give a pretty clear picture of where each sits on the risk continuum. 

But what a great position to be in.  Teenagers armed with information that can shape their financial life 30 years from now.  If only I knew then what I know now…

The Emergency Fund

Along with a car comes responsibility.  At 16, Nathan was fully aware of this in theory but in the few weeks he’s owned his own car he’s experienced the hands-on side.

First came the need to keep the gas tank full.  If he wants to go anywhere.  Although he researched a car with decent gas mileage, his gets an average of 22 mpg, when the money is coming from his wallet, the desire to drive all over town was no longer that important.  He actually car-pooled to a baseball game with a friend’s family in order to save on gas money.

Then there’s the interest in finding extra money to help pay for things like gas.  Nathan has always been a hard worker and has never turned down the opportunity to make a few extra dollars.  But now that he’s paying for his own gas he’s been seeking out ways to earn even more money.  He has added on to his soccer reffing schedule and has made sure that Tom, our neighbor, is aware that he’s available for hire.  Tom pays $15/hour.  That’s good money to a teen.

Next came the unexpected circumstance.  This is the hard one to teach in advance.  Telling your teen that he needs to keep an emergency fund for…anything, is like telling them that you’ve decided to plant petunias in the front yard.  It’s irrelevant to their life and not very interesting.  Until they need to pay for four new tires because the ones that came with their car are balding.

$379.65  later and a greater appreciation for that emergency fund, Nathan is, as I write, raking leaves for Tom.

Let the Shopping Begin

Nathan and Ryan received their back-to-school budget.  But first they had to submit a list of the things they were planning on buying.  Their budget, $325 each, is meant for all their clothing needs for the new school year.  Shoes included.

Ryan received his money in cash.  He was so excited to have that much money in cash, he took a picture of it with his phone.  Wait til he sees how much $325 really buys.

Nathan got his money in the form of a check.  He is the proud owner of a brand new checking account with debit card.  So he needs the practice depositing checks and keeping track of his expenses.   Until now, Nathan has spent his entire life dealing with cash.  I am confident that he understands the abstractness of “plastic money”.

At 14 and 16, the boys are old enough to shop on their own now.  They’ve learned how to comparison shop, wait for sales, and shop certain stores.  In fact, Ryan mentioned yesterday that there was no way he was going to shop at the mall because the prices would be too high.

Giving them the freedom to make their own choices shows them that I trust them to make good decisions.  They’ve made enough poor choices in the past to be experienced in this area.  And they love the responsibility that comes with this independence; it makes them feel grown up.

So now that I’ve looked over their list to make sure that they’ve included things like socks, it’s up to them.  They don’t have to spend all the money before school starts.  I told them that waiting to buy a new pair of jeans until the fall may save them some money.  It’s amazing how much teenagers can grow in just a few months.  And if they end up with money left over, it’s theirs.

But that means that until the spring I will not respond to I need a new pair of…  They’re on their own.  And frankly, I don’t think they’d have it any other way.