The Mystery Charge – A Teachable Moment

The cell phone bill came in.  It was a little higher than usual, not by much, but enough to get me looking for the reason why. 

I consider the cell phone bill a fixed expense.  Technically, it’s not since there is always the possibility that we could go over minutes at which point the charges skyrocket.  I know this.  Two teenage boys with their first girlfriends and, well, let’s just say they finally understood what I meant by girls can be expensive

But even so, we pretty consistently pay around $98/month, give or take a few pennies.  So it’s a fixed expense in my budget.

Both boys pay for their portion of the bill.  John and I take care of the family plan charge which leaves the boys with their $10 extra line charge and $5 unlimited texting fee.  That plus taxes and surcharges and the kids each owe me $17.04 monthly.  It’s a steal, really.

I located the extra charge.  It was for $5.99 and showed up under Ryan’s portion of the bill.  Ryan recently upgraded to a new phone.  His second in three years.  That’s what happens when kids have to pay for their own stuff.  They discover that they really don’t need the whiz-bang latest technology.  The old stuff works just fine, thank you very much.

Since the rest of us were not charged this fee, I figured it had something to do with Ryan’s new phone.  But instead of me picking up the phone to figure out what was going on, I decided it was time for Ryan to handle his own inquiries.  He’s 15 and quite capable.   He was also quite willing.  Again, when you have to pay for your own stuff, a $5.99 charge is worth looking into.

So he dialed the number and talked with the representative.    Here’s what he found out:  Apparently, out of the goodness of their hearts (it wasn’t in the contract), TMobile decided to enroll him in their insurance plan for his new phone.  It was $5.99 a month and would cover the cost of a new phone minus the $40 deductible (he’s familiar with deductibles) should he lose his.  He asked me what he should do.

“Have you ever lost your phone before?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied.

“Well, there’s always the chance that you will.  Is it worth it to you to pay six dollars a month on top of a $40 deductible should you lose your phone?   That’s up to you to decide.” 

I could tell he was thinking really hard about it.  He had his old phone for three years and never lost it.  He’d been scared that he had a couple of times, but we always found it.  Besides, his new phone cost him $150 plus taxes.  Minus the deductible, that would leave $110 that he was insuring at $6/month.  He decided it wasn’t worth shelling out the additional money. 

He finished his conversation with the representative who reversed the charges for him.  But the lesson is not over.  When the next bill comes in, I’ll have him confirm that it was reversed.  

Dealing with this sort of thing is definitely not fun.  It’s time-consuming and a hassle.  But I’m thrilled that both boys are at the age where they are capable enough to handle these on their own.  It puts them one step closer to being ready to go out in the world on their own…and do okay.  Sort of a bittersweet moment for me.

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Kids Earning Money? Set Up a Roth IRA

I took Nathan and Ryan to our broker this morning to discuss Roth IRAs. Both boys have jobs and I thought it was time to have them begin thinking about their retirement. John and I decided to match any money they made this summer, dollar for dollar, and, well, my boys have never been known to turn down free money. They were all in.

I could have easily set up their custodial accounts online but I wanted the boys to have the experience of meeting with an expert. Besides, I’m not all that familiar with Roth IRAs, I had a few questions to ask, and I wanted them to learn right alongside me.

Our broker started by asking the boys what they already knew about Roth IRAs. Nathan volunteered that it was a retirement account that they wouldn’t be able to touch until they were 65 (turns out it’s 59 1/2). Ryan offered the fact that taxes were taken out before the money gets deposited into the account allowing for the money to be drawn tax-free later on. I was proud of both of them for being able to discuss the basics of these types of accounts.

I know it’s hard for many kids to even entertain the notion that one day they will be retired. It’s even harder to get them to begin to prepare for it. I’ve been lucky in this area with Nathan and Ryan. They’ve sat in enough of my money classes to know that they are in the best position now to set themselves up for financial freedom later in life. A little sacrifice now can pay greatly later.

When our broker started talking about the compounding effect of money, and having money work for them, Nathan and Ryan started to smile. They know all about it. In fact, once kids see the power of compound interest, they’re usually quite interested in making those sacrifices.

We then got into risk management. The question posed both boys was What would you do if your account value dropped by 10%? Sell, stay put, or buy more? It was an interesting question and I was curious what each would say…although I already knew.

Ryan said he’d buy more. Nathan said he’d stay put. Ryan has made a killing on his stock picks this year; he’s a little bit more of a risk-taker. Nathan is simply not willing to lose money if he has a choice. This fits in with the next question: When are you looking to retire? Under any other circumstances this would have been an odd question to pose a 15- and 17-year old. But we were in his office to discuss retirement, so it was totally appropriate.

Ryan wants to have the option of retiring when he’s 40. Nathan said he probably wouldn’t retire any time before 55. With this information, our broker created personal target funds for each of them. Then he printed them out. That alone was worth the 45 minutes in his office. The boys were fascinated with these pieces of personalized information and devoured them in the car ride home. Very cool.

And me, all I could think about in that car ride was how I was jyped of information when I was a teenager. Had I known then what I know now, I’d have left that office in my flip flops ready to head out to the beach and work on my tan.

Teaching Kids to Set Financial Goals

Long story short, kids who know how to delay gratification tend to grow up to be adults with higher paying jobs, have happier relationships, are physically healthy, and are persistent in their pursuits. Let me know if you want the details to this longitudinal research.

Using money, we have an unbelievable way to help our kids learn to delay gratification. It’s all about setting personal financial goals.

There are three types of goals kids can set:

~to purchase a specific item
~to save a certain amount of money
~to reach a certain account balance

Giving kids a reason to set a financial goal is important. This gives them an incentive and a concrete reason to save. Goals, like saving for a coveted toy, are more tangible to young kids. Tweens and teens can begin to work towards saving a certain amount of money which is can then be used as their investing money. Kids LOVE the idea of doing something as grown-up as investing. And if they see how much money can grow over time due to compound interest, they’re usually quite excited to get saving.

Goal duration should be short for young 5-6 year olds, maybe a week or two. These kids need to be successful in reaching their first goal because it will encourage them to set another one. As they get older, increase the time. You may even want to consider matching them dollar for dollar. Not only is this a good motivator, but it allows them to reach “pricier” goals faster.

Another strategy for getting your kids to reach their goal is to introduce them to some Above-and-Beyond jobs. These are jobs that your kids can do around the house to earn extra money. This has the added benefit of teaching kids the value of a dollar as when they work for money, it tends to have greater meaning.

Having kids set financial goals is the foundation needed for them to be ready to set goals such as saving for a car, or for college, or (it’s baaack) saving for a down-payment on a house. That’s a lot of delayed gratification! But it’s so worth it. You’re teaching your child life skills so necessary in today’s society!

And achieving a financial goal that they set out to do gives kids such a sense of personal satisfaction. It’s a joy to watch as a parent. Let’s not deny our kids (and us!) this opportunity.

Yippee! I’ve Got Money! A Letter to Teens

I was asked to contribute an article to a book being published on kids and financial literacy (will share more on that later). Apart from being thrilled to have been asked, I happen to love writing, so I jumped at the chance. My given topic was ‘kids and budgeting’ and is a little longer than I usually post. But I think you’ll find it easy to read. Here we go:

~

Nice. You’ve got money. And if you’re like most teens, the first thing that comes to mind is to take that money and spend it. That’s reasonable. After all, you worked hard to get it. You did work hard to get it, didn’t you? But before you call all your friends and set up a date with the mall, ask yourself one question. Do I want to think like a millionaire or do I want to think like someone who lives with mom and dad when they’re 30?

You’re pretty savvy, so my guess is that you chose to think like a millionaire. Good. Because you’re going to learn some important stuff that will allow you to build wealth so that you can have and do the things you want. But always keep one thing in mind. Being rich in money is nice, but it’s also important to be rich in friends, compassion, knowledge, generosity… Then, being rich in money is so much more meaningful, for you and others.

Okay, we’ve got priorities straightened out. Now let’s get to the thinking-like-a-millionaire part. Most millionaires become millionaires because they are savvy in the art of managing their money. And the first thing millionaires do when they manage their money is to pay themselves first. It seems like a silly thing to do since the money is already theirs, but paying themselves, or in this case, yourself, first simply means that you are going to take some of your money and sock it away into savings. Then leave it there. No touchy the money. You’ll see why this is important in a minute. So decide, right now, how much of your money you will put into savings each month. A lot of millionaires started by putting aside 10% of their income. But you decide what works for you right now. You can always add more later.

Okay, pay myself first. Check.

Next, it’s always a good idea to share a little of what we have. Some like to give to their church, others like to donate to causes that are near and dear to their hearts. Whatever you choose, decide how much you want to give and how often you will be giving. It’s often easiest if you do it monthly, similar to how you put money into savings. And, hey, your parents may even be willing to match your donating dollars. They like it when they see you doing things to help others. So ask them.

But does that mean that you have to give money? No. Giving of your time and energy is just as valuable. At some point, though, maybe when you’re earning just a little bit more, you’ll want to re-visit this and make a commitment. Either way, you’ll discover a very important thing. Sharing makes people happy. And being happy is contagious. So share. It’ll make the world a better place.

Share time or money. Check.

Now, since you are a millionaire-in-the-making, you need to figure out where your money is coming from and where it is going. In other words, you’re going to track your income (money in) and expenses (money out). It’s going to take one month to gather enough information to be able to see patterns in your habits, so grab a notebook, use KidsSave or print out a recording sheet by visiting here and start recording. Every single penny you spend or bring in gets recorded. Yes, I know, it’s a hassle. But it needs to be done. Think: millionaire.

Then, when you have one month’s worth of data, look for patterns in your spending habits. If you like, you can create categories using colored pencils. (If you used KidsSave, print out your registry.) Items like soda, chips, and gum would go in a ‘snack’ category and can all be colored, say, yellow. Video games, itunes, and that new Wii controller you just bought would go in an ‘electronics’ category and colored…red. You get the idea. Expenses that are the same each month like your cell phone bill, remain in their own category. They are fixed expenses. And remember your charity and automatic savings? Consider those fixed expenses, as well.

Add up the totals for each of your expense categories. Then add up all the categories in expenses. That’s about how much you spend each month. Next, add up all the categories in income. That’s about how much you bring in each month. Subtract expenses from income. That’s how much money you have left over. No, duh. Want more money left over? Keep reading.

Keep track of my income and expenses. Check.

Okay, so you’re interested in ending up with more money. The good news is, it’s not that hard to do. And it can make a huge difference in whether or not you reach millionaire status and how quickly you get there. Here’s how.

Go grab that list of expenses you carefully recorded for one month; it’s time to take another look. This is where it can get interesting, so hang on. Choose one of the categories, like electronics, and look at the total amount you spent during that month. Now multiply that number by 12. That’s about how much you can expect to spend on electronics for the entire year. Do that with the other expense categories. Pretty eye-opening, huh? Time to reduce spending?

Start by taking a real close look at all the things you spent money on. Not happy about blowing a bunch of money on snacks at the mall? Great. Stop doing it. Wish you hadn’t bought those funky sunglasses that you never wear? Then think twice about putting out money for things you don’t really need. Not that you don’t get to have some fun with your money. Treating yourself is important. Just be aware of where your money is being spent. There’s a saying that goes “It’s better to tell your money where to go than to ask it where it’s gone.” So pay attention.

Alright, reduce spending. Check.

Okay, are you sitting down? Because this is the part where I bring up the ‘B’ word. Adults do not like this word. A lot of them even cringe when they hear it. But you’re not afraid. You’re a millionaire-in-the-making which puts you into the tough category.

Deep breath.

Budget.

Budget? Yup, budget…a plan for your money. It’s hard to become a millionaire without one so let’s just hit it straight on. Besides, when you see what’s really involved, you’re going to wonder why so many adults haven’t taken the plunge.

The first thing you need to do is track your income and expenses. Done. Then you need to create income and expense categories. Done. Next, you need to subtract your expenses from your income. Done. OMG! The budget’s done. No kidding. You just need to make sure that you’re meeting all your objectives of saving and spending carefully and that, then, pretty much sums up how to create a budget. Sheesh, what’s up with these adults?

Create budget. Check.

So, when you created your budget you discovered some extra money. Money that was left over after you subtracted your expenses from your income. Beautiful. Now we get to the fun part, the building-wealth-to-become-a-millionaire part. The part where you learn how to make money work FOR YOU, instead of you working for it.

Remember that pay-yourself-first money you’ve been saving? Here’s where it comes into play. You’re going to take that money along with the extra savings you just found in your budget and begin to invest it. But here’s the deal. The money you invest is money that you won’t be able to touch for awhile. I’m talking several years. In fact, the longer you can leave it alone, the better. Let me give you a quick example.

If you started saving $100 every month when you were 18 years old, and you invested it where it received 6% annual interest, by the time you turned 65 you would have $313,187. If you did the same thing but were receiving 10% annual interest, you would end up with $1,281,919. The secret is something called compound interest. Compound interest is money that grows on itself. Remember Einstein? Pretty smart, right? Well Einstein knew how special compound interest is. He called it the greatest force in the universe. Over time small amounts of money become large amounts of money. And if you keep making contributions while not touching any of it, yowza, it’ll take off like a bat out of H – E – double hockey sticks. Sick.

And what should you invest in? Lots of things. The key is to diversify. That’s when you divide your money into different investments. CDs and bonds are a good place to start. I also recommend mutual funds. When you’re ready you can begin investing in individual companies in the stock market. And maybe one day you’ll move on to real estate. But do your research first. Always do your research. http://Www.bankrate.com and http://www.fool.com are great places for that.

Begin my investing portfolio. Check.

Well there you have it. You’ve just set yourself up to become a millionaire. You are in control of your financial future. How cool is that? It’s very cool because that puts you into an elite group of people. A group of people with a millionaire mindset. You’re on your way to great things. Keep focused. Know your goals. Follow your dreams. Go get ‘em!

Is It Worth It?

Ryan just spent $204.44. He didn’t do it lightly. That’s because he knows just how long it took him to earn that money. His one-day-a-week paper route earns him $11/week. That’s 19 weeks of folding and throwing papers.

But he also gets $10/week in allowance. Enough to help him get some of the things he wants, but not everything. (That explains the paper route.)

With the allowance, his total time was reduced in half. To a 15-year old, that’s still a long time. The good news is, he had the money saved already. But knowing the work hours needed to spend the money is a good way for kids to understand the value of the dollars they’re considering spending.

Ryan came in to my office this morning wanting to know whether he should buy an iTouch, which was $180 (minus shipping). I had no idea he was considering this; I don’t even know what an iTouch is. But Ryan rarely spends his money, so I was glad to see that something had piqued his interest.

“What are the pros and cons of getting the iTouch?” I asked him.

We set out to make a list. This is an excellent way to have kids think through a decision.

His pros:
-the iTouch can use lots of apps
-30 hours of battery (his current iPod is so old he only gets one hour of use out of each battery charge)
-it’s more stylish
-it holds 8 gigs

His cons:
-the $180 cost (he told me this counted as two cons)
-he already had an iPod
-he doesn’t really need the 8 gigs

I was leaning towards having him buy the iTouch but I didn’t want to make the decision for him. Then he throws out, “Or I could get the iPod nano fifth generation which is $60 cheaper.”

He said that he wouldn’t be able to have the apps on the iPod.

“You really like playing games,” I reminded him and his eyes lit up.

“That’s like the main thing,” he replied. That’s when I knew it was the iTouch or nothing.

Letting go of money can be just as hard for some people as saving money is for others. Teaching kids this balance is important. I couldn’t stand it any more.

“Buy the iTouch,” I said. “You’ve worked hard for the money and deserve to spend some of it on something that you’re going to get a lot of joy using.”

Within five minutes I received an email from eBay for the purchase of an APPLE IPOD TOUCH 3RD GEN 8 GB MP3 PLAYER WI-FI + BONUS.

I’m not sure who is more excited about the purchase. Saving money is good. But knowing how to spend it wisely is just as important. I’m glad to see that Ryan is developing this healthy balance.

Tapping Into Kids’ Desires to Be Grown-Up

One of the best ways to teach kids anything is to get them actively involved. Take check writing, for instance. Although most of us have turned to online banking as a way to pay bills, there are times when the only way to get money to someone is through a check. This actually happens a lot to parents: soccer sign-ups, picture day, fee for art class supplies, field trips, and on and on.

So the next time you find yourself pulling out your checkbook, instead of you filling in the information, have your tween or teen do it. Of course, the signature will still need to be yours.

And here’s something fun. Have your child practice his/her signature. Tell them their signature is unique and is an expression of who they are. They’ll be using it on many important documents, like checks, when they’re older. Practicing their signature makes them feel grown-up. Let’s tap into that to teach them an important life skill.

Saving: It Takes a Plan

I’ve been doing a little work with a group of foster kids ages 17-19. One of my goals has been to get them to see that their daily actions can influence their future. So at one of our last group meetings we talked about goal setting.

I had them write down their goals for one-, five-, ten-, and twently-years. That begs the question…what are you doing right now to reach those goals?

But this most recent meeting was about their daily spending habits. How you spend your money today can impact your dreams for the future. Before I even arrived, I asked the group leader to have the young adults keep track of their spending for two weeks. ALL of their spending. This is usually a pretty unpleasant task so I never know if anyone is going to follow through.

When I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had all done it…in one form or another. One girl arrived with an envelope filled with receipts. Oh happy day. The lesson is so much more meaningful if it relates directly to their lives.

I started by having them highlight things on their recording sheet that they didn’t really need to buy. It was very interesting to see that they were all pretty honest about their spending habits. One girl spends $25/week on cigarettes and she’s not willing to give up smoking. So I did a little calculation to show her that she spends about $1300/year just on cigarettes. Eyes lit up.

Another girl spends $2 on yogurt covered pretzels from the vending machine every time she goes to class. That’s $10/week. She admitted that she didn’t really need to buy a snack and she was considering moving down the snack chain and buying regular pretzels instead since they were cheaper. One of the other girls offered that it would be even cheaper to buy the pretzels in bulk and bring her own little baggie to snack on. Now that’s a savvy consumer!

But what really impressed me was that a lot of them were already taking steps to curb their spending. Some had reduced their thermostat setting, others cut back on their fast food intake, one had reduced her car insurance policy. And most of them were using a cheaper cell phone provider, MetroPCS, which made me smile because I had done some financial literacy work for them last year.

I’d like to think that their reduction in spending was a result of the work I have done with them, and maybe some of it was. But I think the real reason is simply out of necessity. Times are tough and looking for ways to save has become an on-going activity. It was interesting, though, that after taking a close look at their spending habits, they found additional ways to cut back.

Another of my goals for this class was to get them to start an emergency fund. A minimum of three months worth of expenses is recommended. And now that they had found little areas to save, it made coming up with the plan easier. By the end of class, they had each had a plan to help them establish this fund.

I am hopeful that this group is on their way to managing money in a way that will allow them to live in the future they each want. They’ve had a crummy start to life. They deserve a better future.