Wednesday, August 16, 2017

20 Back To School Family Finance Tips for Kids K-12

Kid headed to school.

It’s back-to-school season.

Let’s kick it off on the right financial foot.

Whether you’ve got kids headed to kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, or high school, you’ll find an idea or two to try here:

  1. Start money conversations by kindergarten with these classic books — The traits, habits, and behaviors that lead to financial well-being start to gel as early as preschool. Here are nine books to get your youngster headed in the right direction.
  2. Roll out the Premium Price Rule while back-to-school shopping — Impulsivity and peer-pressure can blow a hole in the back-to-school budget. Focus your kid on value and get some shared skin in the game with the Premium Price Rule.
  3. Go refurbished on the back-to-school computer — The sooner your kids learn they don’t need the latest, greatest shiny object, the shinier their financial futures will be. If your kid needs a computer for school, it’s a perfect opportunity to make that point. Here are some key things to consider when going the refurbished route.
  4. Fix your kid’s allowance — Are you doing allowance right? Here’s a six point checklist to find out. The beginning of the school year is a good time for a tune-up.
  5. Boost college savings with an allowance — It seems counter-intuitive that giving kids an allowance could help parents save for college. Here’s the behavioral finance trick to making it work.
  6. Pay for studying, not the grade (if at all) — Do you have an opinion on paying kids for good grades? Either way, you’ll want to check out this study. It might change your mind.
  7. Plan your lost coat strategy — It’s inevitable. Your kid is going to lose a coat at school this year. At least once. It can get expensive. Here are some ideas for planning your parental response.
  8. Get your kid a card by middle school — The data from our family finance site shows that middle school is the perfect time to start putting plastic in your kid’s hands. As long as it’s the right plastic, with the right controls, no risk of debt, and plenty of educational features. Check out the age distribution data for FamZoo cards.
  9. Show your kid the average price of a homemade sandwich — Your kid could save you almost $500 during the school year by eating a homemade sandwich instead of a quarter pounder with cheese. Here’s the data.
  10. Pay your teen to brown bag it for lunch — As kids get into the teen years, frugal habits like the brown bag lunch come under pressure. Here’s one way to make the brown bag lunch cool, or at least profitable, for your teen. You can afford the bribe. You’re already saving over $500 with the homemade sandwiches (see above).
  11. Use real stats to set fast food boundaries — Brown-bagging it or not, junkets to the local fast food joint are a classic teen rite of social passage. Use these purchase statistics to set reasonable boundaries.
  12. Get ready for that Starbucks peer-pressure — The data from our family finance site pinpoints when kids start to feel the pressure (or desire) to head off for Starbucks. How you can prepare.
  13. Help kids rehearse for awkward money scenes with friends — “Come on, let’s go get pizza. It’s only 10 bucks. You can afford it!” When it comes to your kid’s money dialog with friends, ditch the improv. Here’s how to script a solid response ahead of time.
  14. Help your kid embrace a frugal persona — The “strategy of identity” can help people form desirable habits. Here’s how to apply the strategy to your kid’s money habits in the face of peer pressure.
  15. Encourage your kid to learn to code — If you have any opportunity to expose your kid to writing software. Do it. Here are 223,054 reasons why.
  16. Put your kid in charge of a narrow budget — It’s shocking how many kids enter college with zero experience managing a budget. Don’t let that happen. Try this simple strategy this school year.
  17. Reward your student with a spot bonus — Spot bonuses. They always make you feel appreciated as an employee. They’ll make your kid feel appreciated too. Catch your kid doing something good this school year. 56 examples from real parents.
  18. Don’t necessarily discourage a part-time job — It’s a shame that fewer and fewer students are holding down part-time jobs while in school. Here’s evidence we should reverse that trend.
  19. Show teens there’s a scholarship for that — Your kid may think that scholarship opportunities only exist for math and science whizzes. Not true. There's a scholarship out there for darn near anything. Even drawing ducks. Show kids how to find them.
  20. Review 529 statements with your teen every quarter — Here are 6 valuable lessons your teen can learn from 529 statements if you’re willing to make a 15 minute investment every 3 months.

Kids aren’t learning much about personal finance in school. So, if you only do one or two of the above, you’ll still get a gold star in my grade book.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Post Wants On The Fridge To Chill Your Child's Spending

Purchase sticky on fridge.

I love the delayed gratification system Joanna Hampton’s parents instituted for purchase requests over a certain dollar amount:

  • Write the desired purchase on a piece of paper. Sign it. Date it.
  • Post the paper on the family fridge.
  • Wait the agreed upon number of days.
  • Make the purchase. Or not.

Often, the bloom falls off the rose long before the waiting period is up.

The duration was 30 days in Joanna’s case, which seems a bit long. Pick what makes sense for your kids. In fact, you might scale the waiting period with the price: over $20? 2 days. Over $50? A week. Over $100? A month.

The digital variation on the fridge setup would be to have your child register the desired purchase in a text message, or in a shared google sheet, or on a shared google calendar, or via a money request in FamZoo.

Fridge or no fridge, it's a simple, effective system for putting the chill on instant gratification.

Looking for some other tips for delaying gratification? Try:


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Pay Your Kid To Do Some Dirty Work

Dog with mouth open wide.

In my anonymous tour through recent transactions on our family finance site today, I found this gem for an industrious 11 year old:

Bonus cleanup of dog throw up $5.00

One parent’s dirty work is another kid’s economic opportunity.

I won’t regale you with the keywords I used to locate similar transactions, but it turns out the bowser barf bonus comes up (so to speak) from time to time. Payments range from $3 to $5.

And barf pays better than the other end. The average pup poop patrol payment hovers around $1.00.

Or, you could shift to rats:

Change rat bedding $1.50

And finally, number two apparently beats number one according to this item:

Empty pee bucket $0.25

Hmm, I don’t want to know either, but let’s assume it’s on a farm somewhere!

On the less dirty and more lucrative side of the ledger, we have:

Washing Dogs and Cleaning Kitchen $13.00
Upholstery cleaning $25.00

Wondering how much to shell out for that dirty job? You might be able to calibrate your offer based on this payment data for more normal chores.

If you can’t think of any dirty jobs for your kids to do, how about some dangerous ones instead?

Otherwise, challenge the kids to come up with opportunities themselves. And let them negotiate their own compensation. It’s good practice.

Once the kids master some dirty work around the house for you, they’ll be ready to level up to a sucky summer job for somebody else next year.

Why push your kid to take on crappy work? It builds character. And, it pays.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Replace Chore Charts With Money Requests To Promote A Proactive Work Ethic

Boy washing car

It’s a dog-eat-dog work world out there!

Workers need to be proactive problem solvers and savvy negotiators to thrive in today’s increasingly entrepreneurial, gig-oriented economy.

So, how do we encourage those skills in our kids early on?

Try ditching the parent-driven allowance and chore systems. Put the kids in charge instead.

That’s what we’re seeing some families do on our family finance site.

Parents are putting the onus on the kids to:

  1. Identify work that needs to be done around the house.
  2. Do the work.
  3. Negotiate payment.

How do I know? I sifted through some recent (anonymous) money request data from FamZoo.com. Here’s a sampling:

Child Request Parent Response
$10.00

“Mowed lawn front and back.”

Approved $10.00.

“Thank you!”

$16.00

“Monday: Worked 3 hrs Add $1 because I put G*** to sleep in the bed. Total owed: $16.”

Approved $16.00.

(Nicely played with the proactive bonus work.)

$2.00

“I helped T*** with the plants, and I am awesome so I deserve it anyways.”

Approved $2.00.

“Lucky I didn’t decline.”

(Looks like a shot across the bow from Mom to polish up those negotiating skills!)

$10.00

“I helped you with gardening stuff yesterday for 3 hours... ($2.50/hour + $2.50 for no whining!)”

Approved $10.00.

“Thank you! I couldn’t get done so quickly without you!!! And the No Whining is SO NICE ;).”

(Clever touch with the no-whining surcharge.)

$5.00

“I helped clean up the pool deck.”

Approved $15.00.

“You worked really hard. Thank you for all of your help! You deserve $15 instead of $5. Love, Dad”

(Ka-ching! Over-delivery scores the big payoff!)

$250.00

“I would like this because I am the best human being on this planet. No one can ever out do my awesomeness or be as good as me! (Plus I also really want a laptop and a phone and a shopping spree) Please keep this notified in your mind! Warm Regards, Your Favorite child of all times.”

Declined. $0.00.

(As they say, talk is cheap. No results, no money!)

These parents don’t have to remember to make allowance payments or set up chore schedules. If the kids need money, the ball is in their court. The rules are simple: Identify work that needs to be done, do it, and negotiate your own compensation.

Sounds like a pretty appealing system, doesn’t it?

Forcing kids to be proactive problem solvers and savvy negotiators today will give them a leg up in the business world tomorrow — from dog-eat-dog to top dog.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Build Your Teen's Credit Score With A Secured Card

Teen holding secured credit card.

Your kids will probably be caught off guard the first time someone inquires about their credit history. For my kids, it was that first apartment rental in college. So building a solid credit score early can be a smart move. It’s also an important part of your child’s financial education.

Prepaid debit cards are excellent financial training wheels for kids and teens. They’re safe and accessible. But they don’t build a credit history.

Credit cards build a credit history. But safe and accessible for teens? Not so much.

Teens can do a lot of serious financial damage with a credit card in a very short period of time. Like when a kid racked up $7,625.88 on his parent’s credit card playing Xbox games.

Legally, a teen can’t get a credit card as an independent cardholder until age 18. But even then, most teens won’t qualify. They have to be able to demonstrate a sufficient steady source of income outside of Mom or Dad. Most can’t meet that bar.

You could add your teen as an authorized user on your own credit card, or you could co-sign for your teen on a separate card. But both routes put your own credit history (and budget) at risk.

Consider a secured credit card instead.

A secured card requires an up-front deposit. That security deposit dictates the credit limit on the card. Often they’re the same amount. If your kid falls behind, the card issuer can dip into the deposit to cover delinquent payments or late fees. When the card is closed or upgraded to a regular credit card, the security deposit (less any delinquent obligations) will be returned. The rules on this will vary and are spelled out in the cardholder agreement, like this one from Discover.

But before applying for the secured card, consider imposing two prerequisites for your teen:

  1. A sustained responsible track record with a debit card. If your teen can’t pass the No-Decline Challenge, he isn’t ready.
  2. The security deposit in hand. Make your teen come up with the security deposit, not you. If your teen can’t save the few hundred dollars required, she isn’t ready.

With the prerequisites met, you can check out sites like Magnify Money to compare secured credit card offerings. At the moment, the top pick is the Discover it Secured Credit Card.

I culled through the user reviews of the Discover card and found a few things to look out for:

  • Applying might be a hassle. “Applying for the card is like enlisting in the military, all the documentation required is ridiculous.”
  • Slow payment posting can cause unexpected declines. “The fact that it takes 10 days to adjust your available balance after the payment is taken out of my checking account, is a killer for me.” That means your teen could be bumping up against the card limit and getting purchases declined well after a balance payment is made.
  • Stinginess with limit increases. “I figured my limit would be increased as I use it and time passes but nothing has changed.”
  • Lengthy graduation period. “I have to wait a whole year to be converted to an unsecured card.”

To circumvent any issues with card limits and ensure your teen can pay the card off in full every month with low utilization, I recommend a hybrid strategy:

  1. Use the secured card in conjunction with a prepaid card.
  2. Put a few predictable or fixed recurring billings on the secured credit card that fall well below its limit and can be comfortably paid off each month.
  3. Leave the remaining discretionary spending on the prepaid card to stay on budget and avoid any risk of debt.

On budget. No debt. A solid credit score. Your teen is set.

And your teen’s eventual landlord won’t be coming after you as the cosigner for the rent either. Bonus.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Base Your Kid’s Movie Theater Budget On Real Data

Kid at movie theater.

Will a twenty cover your kid’s typical movie theater outing?

It should comfortably do the job in most cases.

How do I know? Whenever a kid carrying a FamZoo card makes a purchase at a movie theater, the transaction is tagged with a Merchant Category Code (or MCC) of 7832. Assuming kids don’t hit the theater more than once a day, I can tally up all the transactions with an MCC of 7832 in a single day for a given (anonymous) kid to see what the total spend for each visit was. Then I can look across all such visits in a time period to get some interesting aggregate data.

Here’s what I found for June, the peak theater month for FamZoo card carrying kids:

The average spent per theater visit was $19.22.

The percentage of visits requiring a five, ten, twenty dollar bill or more were:

$5 or less 8.3%
$10 or less (but over $5) 19.2%
$20 or less (but over $10) 37.8%
Over $20 34.6%

Some other fun facts:

  • 15 years old was the average age for kids making a movie theater purchase.
  • 91 cents was the minimum purchase made in a visit. Weird, what in the heck can you buy for 91 cents at a movie theater?!
  • $81.16 was the maximum spent. Let’s hope some friends were included in that one!
  • 62.8% made just one purchase in the theater, presumably because the ticket was on mom/dad, or they stayed away from the snack bar.
  • The maximum number of purchases in a visit was 7. Wow. Hungry?!

So, if your kid is figuring movie costs into a discretionary spending budget, $20 sounds like a reasonable round number to use per visit. Or, if you’re funding a one-off excursion, you might state up front that anything over $20 is your kid’s responsibility. (It’s the old premium price rule technique.)

Either way, a twenty should cover your kid’s next theater visit.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review 529 Statements With Your Teen Every Quarter

High school grad headed to college.

How much does your teen know about the 529 account you opened for college savings?

Nothing?

Or, maybe you’ve mentioned it once or twice, but you aren’t sure it really registered.

That’s the norm. Pretty dry stuff for a teenager.

I have a radical suggestion.

Review your 529 statements with your teen. And do it every quarter.

Yes, your initial sessions will be received with eyeball rolls, yawns, or worse. But keep up the good fight.

Through your consistent and repetitive efforts, your teen will gradually learn the following:

  1. How much college costs. Circle the ending balance on the latest statement. Your teen’s eyes may light up the first time. Mine’s did. Now, ask your teen to name a favorite university. Google the annual tuition. Divide your current balance by the tuition figure. That’s how many years you can afford right now. Buzz kill.
  2. Where it makes sense to apply. Armed with the sobering perspective from step 1, your teen will naturally start thinking more carefully about where it makes sense to apply. Maybe starting in community college would be appropriate. Maybe it’s time to look into scholarships. Did your teen know there are scholarships for just about every interest? Even drawing ducks. Who knew?
  3. How saving and investing works. This one will take some time to soak in, so be patient and start simple.

    Note how much money you’ve contributed to the account this period. Talk about how you’ve worked college savings into the family budget. If your contributions are automated, point out how that makes it easy to stay on track. If relevant, talk about how relatives have graciously contributed too.

    Now zero in on the Investment Summary section. Talk about how the 529 funds don’t just sit there. You’ve put the money to work through investing.

    Talk about how, early on when college was still far off, you had a pretty decent percentage in a low cost stock market index fund. That gave you a good shot at growing the money over time, even if the market went up and down a bit along the way. Circle the Total Portfolio Earnings entry to highlight that growth to date. Explain that now, with college getting closer, you’re shifting funds out of the market to reduce risk.

    Here’s where, over several 529 review sessions, you can communicate incredibly valuable lessons about basic investing principles in a relevant, tangible, repetitive way.

  4. What a tax-advantaged account is. When you circle the portfolio earnings, scribble the words “tax fee” nearby each time. That’s one of the special things about a 529. The investments grow tax free. This will remind your kid to always be on the lookout for tax-advantaged investment opportunities — like that Roth IRA account you helped your teen open with that first summer job. Right?!
  5. What a qualified withdrawal is. Circle the Withdrawals line item. Explain that it may be zero now, but eventually you’ll be seeing how much is being pulled out each quarter to pay for school. Keep reiterating that the withdrawals are for qualified expenses only! Tuition? Yep. Books? Yep. Spring Break? Nope. Withdraw funds for the wrong thing, and you’ll be looking at some nasty penalties. Good to know.
  6. Gratitude. If you stick with your 529 reviews, this could be the biggest bonus of all. You might start hearing some crazy talk from your teen, like: “I need to take this college thing more seriously.” And, perhaps: “I really appreciate what you’re doing here.” Or, possibly even: “Maybe I should start putting part of my summer paycheck in the 529.” Stranger things have happened!

So, that’s 6 valuable lessons your teen can learn from reviewing 529 statements for 15 minutes every 3 months. Tough to beat those quarterly returns. Ready to make the investment?


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Find The Best Age To Give Your Kid A Prepaid Card

Age Distribution Chart for FamZoo Kids Using Prepaid Cards

A prepaid card can be a great option for kids just learning the money management ropes.

It’s safer than cash.

It’s smarter than handing over your own credit card.

It’s often cheaper than bank debit cards which have insanely sneaky overdraft fees.

And the more innovative cards include some great educational features — like parent-paid compound interest.

The bottom line: prepaid cards are excellent training wheels for adult-centric banking products like bank debit cards and credit cards.

But what’s the right age range for kids to be using prepaid cards? Data from our family finance site yields some insight.

Check out the chart above. It shows the current age distribution of children using FamZoo cards.

The sweet-spot is near the boundary between middle school and high school. Makes sense.

Some kids start using prepaid cards as early as preschool, but that’s unusual. Usage ramps steadily upward through elementary school and the pre-teen years.

Since most card offerings require the legal cardholder to be at least a teenager, you may be wondering how so many kids in the chart can be under 13. In the pre-teen case, kids use what we call “on behalf of” cards. The parent is the legal cardholder, but the card is dedicated to the child’s financial activity. Here’s how it works.

After the early teen years, usage ramps back down again through the end of high school and into college.

That said, even as older kids transition to traditional bank accounts, many retain their prepaid cards to keep a collar on discretionary spending and coordinate with parents throughout college.

In fact, usage can extend beyond college too. As Monte, a FamZoo reviewer on Facebook, points out: “Not just for children! FamZoo [prepaid cards] have helped my fiance and I use the envelope method for budgeting on hobbies. With a weekly allowance we can save, donate, and spend guilt free money all within a shared budget.”

Whether used as training wheels for youngsters or a budgeting tool for oldsters, prepaid cards are becoming an increasingly familiar fixture in the standard money management toolbox.

Maybe it’s time to get one for your kid.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Teach Your Young Gamer To Budget

Gaming Loot Microtransaction

Kids pay money to play online games.

But you already knew that. You recognize the names in their transaction alerts: EA, Minecraft, Roblox, Steam, Blizzard, Riot Games, XBox, G2A.

Kids also pay money to buy tchotchkies for their gaming avatars — skins, potions, weapons.

You may already know that too. If not, check out sites like realmstock.com — a marketplace for trading in-game items.

But did you know kids are even paying money to watch other kids play online games?

Yep, that’s a thing. Check out Twitch. Find a live streamer. Look for the subscribe button (probably upper right), and check out the options. Kids pay to get badges, emoticons, ad-free viewing, and other “benefits”.

In fact, one 14 year old FamZoo cardholder paid a total of $134.97 in the last 30 days watching other gamers game. Yikes.

Why do I know this? A Monday article piqued my interest in what kids are spending on gaming these days. The Wall Street Journal reported that gaming providers like EA are charging less for the games themselves while reaping huge profits from the little microtransactions inside the games.

And just how much are gamers spending on in-game microtransactions? A mind-blowing $71 Billion worldwide in 2016. That rivals the entire GDP of Cuba!

The article prompted me to dig into the FamZoo data around gaming related transactions by our child cardholders. That’s what alerted me to the Twitch trend mentioned above.

Some other discoveries:

  • The average spending in the last 30 days by teen gamers using FamZoo cards is $27.41.
  • The most spent in that same period was $262.09 by a 16 year old.
  • Some kids pay money to play chess online. Yes, that was my favorite discovery.

Obviously, gaming companies smell a profit opportunity with our kids.

Me? I smell a financial literacy opportunity.

Try this with your young gamer:

  1. Review the gaming related transactions over the last month.
  2. Agree on a monthly gaming budget. Use the data from step 1 as a point of reference, but not necessarily a benchmark — note the average monthly teen spending mentioned above.
  3. Track spending versus the budget each month. As they say, “What gets measured gets managed.”

You might even consider a separate prepaid card dedicated to online gaming. Load it each month with the agreed-upon budget. Any attempts to overspend will be harmlessly declined.

So, whether your kid is paying for games, paying for do-dads inside games, paying other gamers to game, or all of the above, you need to get your head in the game as a parent. Know what your kid is doing. Then, use your kid’s gaming habit as an opportunity to pass along some critical personal finance basics.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Stop Tolerating Fs On Your Kid’s Card Report

Dad and kid with prepaid card report

Kids aren’t making the grade when it comes to successfully transacting with prepaid cards.

Just take a look at these stats from FamZoo cardholders.

I sampled kids from active families who have:

  • used a card for at least 3 months, and
  • have made 20 or more purchase attempts in the last 90 days.

A decline percentage of 3% means that for every 100 purchase attempts, the cardholder would likely experience 3 declines. If those 3 declines were incurring average bank overdraft fees, the cardholder would be facing over $75 in penalties. Ouch.

Here’s how the kids break down by purchase decline percentages, which I bucketed into subjective grade levels:

Decline Percentage Percentage of kids Grade
0% 19.0% A+. Bravo!
5% or less (but over 0%) 12.1% B. Getting there.
25% or less (but over 5%) 32.8% C. Lots of work to do.
50% or less (but over 25%) 16.1% D. Pretty darn awful.
Over 50% 19.7% F. Yikes!

That’s a lot of kids bringing home bad money habit report cards.

I’ve written before about the 6 month Zero Decline Challenge as a test for bank account (or credit card) readiness. The good news is 19% of the kids from this sample are at least half way there. But the majority are nowhere close, with 19.7% flat out flunking.

I’ve also suggested assessing a parental overdraft fee as a way to curb declined transactions. It looks like the Bank of Mom/Dad would be clawing back a ton of fees from these kids!

But maybe you’d rather offer the carrot instead of applying the stick. A reward to encourage the good behavior instead of a penalty to curb the bad.

If so, consider paying out a bonus for making the grade each month. Of course, it’s your call as to which grades warrant a bonus and how much, if any.

To help kids make the grade, offer this simple study guide for avoiding declines:

  • Check the balance before a purchase. Most cards have handy apps that make checking the balance easy for kids.
  • Watch out for recurring bills. That’s where lots of the kids are going astray with declines. They sign up for services like Spotify and forget to leave a buffer on their cards for when the next billing hits.
  • Remember the PIN. Not only will the wrong PIN yield a decline, but 3 PIN strikes and you’re out. Help your child pick a memorable but secure PIN.
  • Locate the card security code. Typically, it’s on the back next to the signature panel. The code is a security measure intended to reduce fraud when the cardholder is not present for the purchase — like when purchasing online.
  • Match the billing address. Make sure your kid knows the address on file for the card. That’s the address your kid will need to supply for the billing address when purchasing online. If the two don’t match, the transaction will be declined.

After mastering those points, your child will be on the road to an easy A+.

Whether you opt for the carrot, the stick, or just a discussion when it comes to declines, make sure to pay attention. Ignoring bad habits won’t improve them. Turn on card activity alerts to detect declines right away, and coach your kids in real time.

Raising your kid’s money habit grades early will pay big dividends in the future.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Get Your Kid A Just-In-Time Card For Smarter, Safer Spending

Phone with money request for prepaid card.

More and more parents are ordering “Just-In-Time” spending cards for their kids.

What are those? Prepaid cards used only at the moment of purchase.

Here’s how it works.

Normally, the balance on the Just-In-Time card sits at zero. Earnings from a kid’s chores, odd jobs, allowance, or part-time work accumulate in a separate short-term savings bucket. That savings card or account is never used for purchases directly.

When the child wants to make a purchase, she:

  • Checks the balance of her savings to ensure sufficient funds.
  • Requests an immediate transfer from her savings to her Just-In-Time card for the required amount.
  • Waits for her parent to approve and complete the transfer.
  • Makes the purchase using the freshly loaded Just-In-Time card.

Once notified of the purchase, the parent can return any remaining funds to savings and bring the Just-In-Time card balance back down to zero.

Sound like too many steps?

With the latest app-driven card offerings, the cycle can be competed in real time with just a few taps on a smartphone. More often than not, requests from my kids are sent, received, and approved (or not!) while waiting in line at the register.

Why bother with the Just-In-Time card two-step at all? Four solid reasons:

  1. Reduce impulse buys. Now your child will have to stop, consider, and justify each purchase. He can’t just swipe a loaded card willy-nilly on a whim.
  2. Increase dialog. No more silent purchases. A little discussion (often minimal) will accompany every purchase. More money discussions means more money skills. It also means more comfort with financial transparency — your child’s future spouse or partner will appreciate that. And, as Ron Lieber says: “Every conversation about money is also about values.” Bonus.
  3. Increase earnings on savings. Your kid’s money will spend most of it’s time in savings. If you’re offering a healthy parent-paid interest on his account, the funds can grow nicely. Further incentive not to spend.
  4. Thwart fraudsters. Chipotle, Target, the local restaurant, the gas station down the street, that weird gaming site: they’re all places your kid might use his card. What else do they have in common? They’ve coughed up payment card data to fraudsters.

    The chances keep increasing that any card your kid uses will be compromised and have its data sold off on the dark web. Down the line, someone somewhere will probably use that stolen data to hit your kid’s card with a fraudulent transaction.

    Fortunately, his Just-In-Time card has zero dollars on it. That fraudulent transaction will be declined. You’ll see the alert. You’ll order a replacement card without hassling over lost funds. Easy-peasy.

    Meanwhile, your kid’s savings card hasn’t been used anywhere, so its funds are safe.

With a Just-In-Time card, moving money at the very last moment will help your kid hold onto money over the long haul.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Show Kids What The S&P 500 Looks Like

S and P Index Map

Today’s Headline:
Financial stocks lifted the S&P 500 as the index notched a fourth consecutive session of gains.

You and your kids hear the names in the headlines almost daily. The DOW. The NASDAQ. The S&P.

“Dad, what’s the S&P?”

“It’s a stock market index.”

“Oh...What’s that?”

“Ummm... Ask your mom.”

The next time it comes up, don’t dodge it. Don’t pass the buck. But, don’t try to explain it either.

Sit your kid down in front of the interactive map at FinViz.com and show her instead.

  1. What are all those little tiles? Each tile is one of the 500 companies in the S&P 500. Fly over a few with the mouse. Recognize any?
  2. Why is the Apple tile called AAPL? Those initials are like the company’s nickname on the stock market. It’s called the ticker symbol.
  3. Why is AAPL so much bigger than the others? The more valuable the company, the bigger the tile. Apple is killing it. (That’s why they’re building a spaceship for their headquarters.) Can you find Starbucks? Disney? Nike? (Hint: Look in the Consumer Goods section. See the groupings and sub-groupings?) How do the company sizes compare? Any surprises?
  4. What do the colors mean? Green means the company got more valuable today. It’s stock price went up. People were willing to pay more for a share of the stock at the end of the day than at the beginning. Red means it’s value went down. Grey means it didn’t change. Mouse over the company’s tile to see a pop-up chart of how the price fluctuated throughout the day. Who are the big losers? The winners? Any surprises? There’s always a mix.
  5. But some of today’s losers seem like great companies. Did they just have a bad day? Use the little pull-down menu on the left to change the time frame to a longer period. Try 1 month, 2 months, 6 months, a year. What do you notice? What companies are green over all the periods? What about the overall color of all the tiles together? How does that change as the periods change? What’s more likely to be green over time: all the tile colors mushed together or one tile chosen at random? Try picking a few to see.
  6. So who picks these 500 companies anyway? Some group of nerdy economists. They get together and choose the 500 large companies they think are most representative of the overall U.S. economy. How do they figure that out? Go ask your mom...

Why does it matter if your kid knows what an index is? Because one of the world’s richest men and greatest investors, Warren Buffett, has some sage advice: invest in a low-cost S&P 500 index fund.

Now your kid knows what the S&P is and why buying all the stocks in it is a smart play (see #5 above).

And when your kid opens a Roth IRA with that first summer job, she’ll know exactly where to invest the funds for the long term. Move over Warren.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Pre-Negotiate Your Teen’s Summer Paycheck Savings Split

Teen On Job In Rickshaw Bagworks Factory

Parent: “How much did you save from your summer job last year?”

Teen: “Umm, nuthin’.”

Sound familiar?

Time for a preemptive strike before summer rolls around again.

As Warren Buffett says, “Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving.”

So, negotiate a savings split deal ahead of time.

If your teen agrees to save 27.68% of every paycheck this summer, you will agree to do one or more of the following...

OK, so that last one is more of a mandate than a negotiation. It reminds me of Chris Rock’s definition of allowance.

With the negotiation (or mandate) firmly in place, make sure your teen has separate spending and savings accounts (or cards) ready to go.

When the job starts, help your teen automate the paycheck split if possible. Many employers support splitting direct deposits percentage-wise between multiple accounts. If not, turn on activity alerts for your teen’s main account so you’ll know to manually transfer the right percentage to savings as soon as each deposit hits.

The added payoff for these summer paycheck splitting experiences? Your teen will be more likely to get an early jump on employer matched retirement savings plans later as a young adult. It will just feel natural. Smart move.

So, what should your teen do with all the accumulated savings at the end of the summer?

Start a Roth IRA, of course.

Then, 50 years from now when someone asks your teen: “How much did you save from your summer jobs?”

The answer could very well be: “Oh, about a hundred thousand dollars.”

Compounding over decades for the win!


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Clean Up Your Kid's Spotty Bill Payment Record

Teen with Spotify decline transaction.

51.8% of Spotify’s attempts to bill kids on FamZoo prepaid cards failed in the last 90 days. Yep. Over half. Yikes.

The reason for the vast majority of those failed attempts? Insufficient funds on the card.

Here are the full stats for the Spotify billing attempts:

48.2% Successfully billed. Golf clap.
43.7% Billed amount exceeds card balance.
3.0% Billed to lost card.
3.0% Incorrect card expiration date entered.
1.2% Incorrect card security code entered.
0.9% Failed address verification.

By comparison, in the same 90 days, 98.4% of Chipotle purchases were successful. Hmmm.

Clearly, lots of kids aren’t ready to plan ahead (beyond their next burrito) and responsibly handle a recurring billing arrangement.

But who cares? FamZoo prepaid cards don’t charge any overdraft fees. What’s the harm?

The harm is the habit.

Kids who develop a habit of missing online subscription payments now might be cavalier about missing regular rent payments later. Or student loan payments. Or credit card payments.

That means late fees, mounting debt, and tanking credit scores.

All bad.

So, make sure you’re nipping your kid’s bad payment habit at the bud. Here’s how:

  1. Add responsibility for a recurring payment. Put your kid in charge of handling a regular monthly payment — Spotify, Netflix, a share of the family data plan. Don’t forget to increase your child’s budget based allowance to accommodate the increased fiscal responsibility. Remind your child to maintain a buffer on the card to safely handle the billing when it hits.
  2. Assess a penalty for misses. Review your child’s transactions each month or set up real-time activity alerts so you know when payments have failed. When they do, tack on a penalty. Consider it an overdraft fee from the Bank of Mom or Dad. Missed payments need to hurt.
  3. Insist on a proven track record. Is your teen claiming readiness for a checking account or access to a credit card? Your teen will need to prove it first. Six straight months with zero subscription payment failures feels like a good prerequisite.

Remember, a spotty Spotify record now might mean a spotty credit score later. Make sure your kid faces the music early.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Help Kids Squeeze More Than Money Out Of A Lemonade Stand

Squeezing lemonade.

I know it’s Spring because the lemonade stand deposits are trickling into kids’ accounts at FamZoo.com. A typical entry for an 8 year old reads:

4/24/2017 Cash deposit from lemonade stand $7.00

The deposits from last lemonade stand season — typically late March through September — yielded these fun facts:

  • The average lemonadepreneur was 11 years old.
  • Earnings deposits peaked in June and September.
  • Deposit sizes for transactions containing the keywords “lemonade” and “stand” fell within these ranges:
    Min: $0.50
    Max: $56.10
    Average: $11.47
    Median: $7.00

But lemonade stands aren’t just about lining your kid’s pockets with extra spending money. Don’t let your kid miss out on these additional golden opportunities:

  • Understand the equation: profit = sales - expenses. Don’t gloss over the expenses part. If you let your kids just bank the total sales, you’ll be robbing them of a valuable business lesson on profitability. Show them how to estimate expenses and create an initial budget. Let them know you’ll be fronting the seed capital, but they’ll be reimbursing you for expenses afterwards.
  • Learn sales and marketing techniques. For classic examples, see what Chris taught his 6 year old daughter about getting outside her comfort zone and attracting customers in his thoughtful post: Grown Up Lessons From A Lemonade Stand. At minimum, your kid will meet some new people. That alone is a good thing.
  • Develop some grit. Kids get bored and frustrated when initial strategies fail or sales hit a lull. Chris’ daughter did. But he helped her refine her approach and stick with it. End result: “the lemonade stand was her favorite part of the day.” Good lesson.

So this year, help your kid squeeze more than money out of that lemonade stand.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Make Teens Bank The Deductible Before Driving

Teen driver.

Have a teen nearing driving age? Susan N. shared this brilliant personal finance tip on Facebook:

“We required our teens to have the deductible in the bank before they could drive our cars. Only one (so far) has had to pay the deductible.”

A teen “Driving Deductible Fund” is a smart idea for at least three reasons:

  1. It gives your teen some shared financial skin in the game — even when your teen won’t be purchasing a separate car. A financial stake fosters appreciation, accountability, and, in this case, caution! If your deductible is huge, consider mandating a reasonable fraction instead.
  2. It provides a mini education in how insurance works. Your teens will suddenly become keenly interested in the ins and outs of insurance policy deductibles if they actually have to save up for one before getting their hands on your wheels. (If your kids are younger or have no interest in driving, try setting up a family phone insurance company to deliver the lesson instead.)
  3. It’s a great way to introduce the best practice of maintaining an emergency fund. Just think how much less consumer debt we’d have if people learned about emergency funds in their teens!

So, what if you’re lucky enough to have a teen who navigates to young adulthood without exhausting the fund? Roll it over to a general emergency fund or, if your teen is eligible, a Roth IRA.

Even throw in a parent match to sweeten the pot. After all, your kid’s good driving spared you some expenses and a whole lot of parental stress.


Check out these related car finance tips for educating teen drivers:


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Fully Fund Your Working Teen’s Roth IRA

Teen holding free Roth money from Mom and Dad.

Did your teen pull down a paycheck last summer or during the school year?

Then, it’s time for you to establish a Family 401(k).

Here’s the quick recipe:

  1. Open a Roth IRA account for your teen (custodial account if under 18).
  2. Contribute up to the max possible. That’s usually the total of what your teen brought home since most earn less than $5,500 (or whatever the current IRS Roth contribution limit is).
  3. Invest in a low cost index fund. VTI is my personal go-to choice.
  4. Review, rinse and repeat each year.

Decades from now, your adult child will be sitting on a sizable nest egg — even if your kid falls off the contribution wagon during young adulthood. Compounding over the long haul is that powerful.

But there’s one big problem, you say.

It’s step #2. Your teen already blew all those paychecks on fast food, online games, and streaming music. There’s no money left over to contribute.

Now what?

Just gift the contribution money to your teen. If you can’t cover it, hit up the grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Huh? Why should you just hand over free Roth contributions to your teen? Isn’t that sending all the wrong messages?

Not in my book. Think about it.

Even if you as the parent gift the entire contribution, here’s why it’s a neat way to pass money to your kids while signaling all the right messages:

  • It’s contingent on getting a job and bringing home a paycheck.
  • It shows the power of patient investing and tax free growth.
  • It’s a great excuse to talk to your kid about investing every year.
  • It increases the probability your child will quickly jump on future matching opportunities, like an employee 401(k) plan.
  • It puts your kid solidly on the path to a financially independent future.

The bottom line: funding (and even fully funding) your teen’s Roth IRA now is a lot healthier than plopping a large lump sum in your kid’s lap later when you kick the bucket.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cut Your Kid In On A Share Of The Coin Jar

Coin Jar With Share Note From Dad

While researching anonymous transaction data on our family finance site today, I stumbled across this delightful deposit for a 7 year old:

03/20/2017 $8.62 For counting Dad’s coins

I love it! Use your spare change jar to creatively engage your youngster in some personal finance basics.

Offer your kid a deal. If she stacks your spare coins into neat little $1 piles, you’ll let her keep a hefty share.

Convert her piles into crisp dollar bills, or deposit the equivalent sum right into her account.

She’ll be surprised how much money accumulates in a change jar over time. I bet $8.62 was an exciting windfall for that 7 year old.

It’s an important personal finance lesson: even micro savings can add up to significant sums over time.

In fact, if the sum is anything north of trivial, encourage your child to split the bounty between spend, save, and give buckets. (See tips on choosing the right percentages here.) Separating funds into purpose-driven partitions is an effective money management technique. Help your child form the habit early.

So, don’t let your change jar just sit there collecting coins. Use it to dispense some valuable financial wisdom to your kids.

P.S. Got teens? Try setting up a swear jar, and let the proceeds flow to the family instead!


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Audit The Household Utility Bill With Your Kids

Kids Running Through Water

Quick quiz. Which utility costs your family more?

  • Water,
  • electricity,
  • gas,
  • garbage/sewer, or
  • cable/Internet?

Yeah, I wasn’t quite sure either.

I actually thought water would top the list since we’ve been living through a severe multiyear drought in our area. Nope. Electricity and the cable/Internet combo are neck and neck at the top. In fact, our combined sewer/refuse charges are more than double our water cost!

And most kids probably don’t realize all those things cost anything at all.

Why?

Ummm. Because you never told them!

The next time your utility bill arrives. Call the kids over. Ask them to guess how much each utility costs. Reveal the numbers. It can be a real eye opener.

If your utility bill is like mine, it actually has some pretty interesting details inside. The data and charts make good fodder for a family finance discussion.

I can see the monthly usage trend for electricity, gas, and water over the past year. One stays fairly flat. One dips in the summer. One dips in the winter. Challenge the kids to explain the seasonality.

I can see a usage comparison to the previous year. Electricity and gas are up from last year. Water is down. Why? What can we do as a family to reduce usage? Do we really need every light on in the house? Can we wear our sweatshirts instead of cranking the heat?

I can see the average daily cost for each utility by month too. How do the daily tallies compare with what your kids make in weekly allowance or odd job payments or birthday checks? How does the monthly total compare to your teen’s summer job earnings? Those comparisons will get their attention.

You and your kids might be wondering how your utility costs compare to what others are paying. Check out Numbeo to look up costs in your area. Move.org shares stats for typical US families in Utility Bills 101. How does your family stack up? Are there logical reasons for exceeding the averages?

If the utility audit bores your kids, there’s one sure-fire way to get their attention. Propose divvying up the bill and charging each kid for their fair share like we do with our cell phone data plan. Suddenly, utilities just got a lot more interesting!

Interested or not, your kids will at least be more informed. It’s important to know that the everyday basics we often take for granted cost money.

After all your quick quizzes on the utility bills, your kids will be more prepared for the big test someday: venturing out on their own financially.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pick An ETF To Make Investing Lessons Fun And Smart

Child holding Disney egg from basket

The classic way of teaching kids about investing is all wrong. Sure, owning a share of Disney (or some other favorite company) makes investing familiar and interesting. But it’s a dumb investment strategy.

The smart investment strategy is to buy your kid a low cost, broad market index fund. But that’s pretty abstract and boring.

That’s why I’ve suggested setting up a competition between a familiar stock and an all-market index fund to get the best of both worlds — like my son’s competition between CMG and VTI.

But a dad named Allyn offers a simpler way to keep investing lessons fun and smart. Here’s what he did with his daughter:

“Just a month or so ago she started with her first ‘investment’ in FDIS (with her own money and a ‘matching grant’ from her parents) as it holds pieces of the few companies she knows by name and likes (most notably Disney and Apple).”

Brilliant! Buy an ETF containing a basket of familiar stocks instead of betting on a single favorite stock.

The top 10 holdings in FDIS right now are: Amazon, Comcast, Home Depot, Walt Disney, McDonalds, Priceline, Starbucks, Time Warner, Nike, and Lowes. Most of those are names your kid can relate to. And, the expense ratio of FDIS is nice and low at 0.084%. Diversified. Low cost. All great investing messages for your kid to absorb.

If your kid has a specific interest, you might be able to find a decent targeted ETF to match. Gaming enthusiast? Maybe GAMR. It’s smarter than just picking one gaming stock. But be careful. The more narrow, the more risky. Keep an eye on the expense ratio too.

So, pick an ETF instead of a single stock to teach your kid about investing. You get familiarity and diversification all in one neat little package.

That makes your child’s introduction to investing both fun and smart.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Make Saving Money Right Again!

William Shatner Video Thumbnail

Our Micro Money Message series delivers favorite family finance tips in a quick video format. Each one is designed to help you encourage your kids to adopt responsible and thoughtful money habits.

Here’s a listing of the first 35 episodes:

  1. Take Your Time With Money Decisions — Help your kids avoid hasty money decisions like silly purchases or risky investments.
  2. The Two-Way Power of Philanthropy — Challenge your kids to a random act of helpfulness this weekend.
  3. Luck And Work Go Hand In Hand — Show kids the relationship between luck and work.
  4. Know Your Money Leaks — Teach kids to mind their little money leaks so they can keep their financial boats afloat.
  5. Tell Your Dollars Where To Go — Show kids how to tell their dollars where to go rather than asking where they went.
  6. Own The Whole Market — Picking individual stocks is like finding needles in a haystack. Instead, follow this simple recipe for getting your teens in the investing hunt.
  7. Use a Hybrid Card Strategy — Credit cards build a credit history, but they don’t prevent debt. Prepaid cards prevent debt, but they don’t build a credit history. So which one is best for your older teen?
  8. Spark The Independence Flame — A simple recipe for sparking the flame of financial independence within your child.
  9. Let Kids Choose The Spend-Save-Give Allocation — How to help your kids strike the right financial balance.
  10. Prompt the Philanthropy Discussion With Great Quotes — Make philanthropy a regular part of your kid’s vocabulary and give that Giving Jar a whole new meaning.
  11. Convert Prices To Work Units to Teach Kids The Value Of A Dollar — A simple way to make kids appreciate the value of a dollar.
  12. Use The Rule Of 72 To Turn A $20 Birthday Check Into $1,280 — The Rule of 72 is a great way to teach your kids what money invested today could be worth in the future.
  13. Play The Sweep-To-Savings Game With Your Teen — An easy way to gamify frugal spending habits with your teen.
  14. Reward Your Kids With Mom/Dad Dollars — Paying for chores can be an expensive and questionable proposition — unless, of course, you’re printing your own money. Here’s how and why to do just that.
  15. Give Your Teen Cash Back Rewards For NOT Spending — What’s in your teen’s wallet? Here’s how to deliver a parent-financed cash-back bonus card that rewards your teen for NOT spending.
  16. Run A Family Banking System With Prepaid Cards — Prepaid cards are excellent financial training wheels for your kids. Here’s how to set up a family banking system with prepaid cards that teaches your kids good money habits without the risk, hassle, or hidden fees of credit cards and bank debit cards.
  17. Put Some Pain In Your Kid’s Cashless Payment — Here’s how to put a little “pain” in your teen’s cashless transactions to foster cash-like spending habits. No pain, no restrain.
  18. Add An Emergency Fund To Your Kid’s Money Bucket List — Why wait until your kids leave the nest to teach them how to take the first baby step out of financial distress? How to introduce your kids to emergency funds now.
  19. Teach Kids A Simple Secure PIN Strategy — Kids struggle with proper PIN management. Here’s a simple recipe you can teach them to create and remember secure PINs.
  20. Use Reimbursements To Teach Teens The Value Of A Dollar — Make teens active participants in the everyday expenses you’re picking up. That way, they’ll know — and appreciate — the real value of a dollar when the day comes for everything to be on their nickel.
  21. Make Kids Journal Their Money Requests — Here’s another way (aside from a budget-based allowance) to put the brakes on impulsive extra money requests from your kids.
  22. Tell Teens To Take More Risk — There’s one area where teens need to pump up the risk if they’d like to enjoy a healthy future: investing. This video gives parents a recipe for getting them started. It’s called the Family 401(k).
  23. Make #GivingTuesday Your Kid’s Annual Habit — Here’s a recipe for instilling a philanthropic habit in your kids by anchoring it to the annual event known as #GivingTuesday.
  24. Turn Why Into How When Kids Whine About Money — How to turn whining into problem solving when your kids want to buy something.
  25. Hold Teens Accountable For Big Fines With A Parent Payment Plan — When teens incur bigger fines than their accounts can handle, parents often pick up the tab. Here’s a better solution.
  26. Nudge Your Kid’s Charitable Impulses With Giving Data — How much are your kids allocating to charitable giving? This data might be just the nudge your kids need to up their charitable games in the new year.
  27. 6 Reasons To Stop Giving Cash To Your Teens — Are you still handing cash over to your teens? Here are 6 reasons to replace the dollars with a card. Get clean, safe, transmittable, tracked, online, and real with a prepaid card instead.
  28. Make Kids Pay The Sales Tax — Kids often don’t have a clue about how much things cost or that sales tax even exists. Here&rsquos a clever and affordable way to make your kids mindful of both.
  29. Let Kids Gift Service Bucks Instead Of Stuff — If you want your kids to be thoughtful gift givers, but you don’t need any more stuff, here’s a solution.
  30. Set Up A Smart Competition To Make Investing Lessons Fun — Betting on a favorite stock is fun but stupid. Buying an index fund is smart but boring. So how do you make smart investing lessons fun for kids? Here’s one way.
  31. Try A Use-It-Or-Lose-It Allowance For Obsessive Young Savers — Some kids have a spending problem. They don’t spend at all. Here’s how you can help a young obsessive saver loosen up the purse strings a bit and enjoy money instead of just hoarding it.
  32. Bill Kids Weekly For Their Share Of The Best Deal — Here’s how you can pay for your kids’ up-front or family subscription plan to get the best deal while still holding them accountable for their fair share.
  33. Offer Kids A Savings Match (With Strings Attached) — Encourage your kid to save by offering a matching contribution, but attach some strings to send the right message.
  34. Reward Your Kid With A Spot Bonus Today — A spot bonus is a great way to brighten a kid’s day. Here’s what other parents are doing.
  35. Encourage Kids To Be Name-Callers When Saving — Teach your kids that name-calling is a bad habit, except when it comes to saving money. Here’s why.

Episode 36, Make Saving Money Right Again, just went live. Check it out.

Here’s the transcript:

Hey, Bill here. As always, thank you for the nice mentions on social media.

A recent survey of 7,000 American adults found that 34% had zero dollars in a savings account.

And, a whopping 69% had squirreled away less than $1,000 in savings. That’s worse than 62% the year before. American adults are trending in the wrong direction on savings.

It made me wonder how our kids are doing.

So, I ran some numbers on FamZoo.com.

Here’s what I found: in a sampling of 6,515 kids, 44.3% had zero dollars tucked away in a separate FamZoo.com savings account. That’s about 10% worse than the adult survey stat.

We can do better.

If you need some ideas, stop by FamilyFinanceFavs.com. You’ll find tons of my favorite savings tips for kids of all ages.

You know, William Shatner has one of my favorite savings quotes: “If saving money is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

But, hey, let’s make it easy on our kids. Let’s make saving money right again. Then, we can reverse the savings trend for the next generation.


Want to turn these tips into action? Check out FamZoo.com.