Welcome to The Simple Nickle!

Clueless about your money? Do you want financial security, but don't know where to start?

The Simple Nickle is a free web-based program to help you easily understand and control your finances in less than 15 minutes a day! We'll guide you step-by-step; it's as easy as checking your email! We'll also give you easy-to-understand financial education starting with the most basic aspects.

The End of This Blog

Well, I've become a statistic. I've become one of those bloggers who starts their site and then gives it up after a few months. Yes, the simple nickle will be no more, at least not in it's current, active form.

"Why?" you ask. Well, the short answer is 'time.'

The long answer is that I don't have the time to devote to this blog that I want to. I barely had the time to post regularly, but I made it work. However, to have a successful blog you must do more than just post. You must create a network and community, promote your blog in a variety of venues, learn to ins and outs of blog web design, learn about online marketing, respond to and engage your readers, etc, etc, etc.

As a mother of two young children, the wife of a busy MBA student, and someone with many other interests outside of blogging, I just can't give this blog everything it needs without feeling like I'm neglecting other important things. Which is sort of a let-down, because I really liked doing it!

The other consideration is that my target audience--people who don't know much about finances, are overwhelmed by it's sometimes complex presentation, or those who don't know where to start--seem to be in those situations by choice. If that weren't so, this blog would have been wildly popular with all those who claim the above reasons for not having finanial security. I just didn't feel like I was really helping the people I wanted to. Or I'm just not that engaging of a blogger, which I can also admit.

The long answer finished, I'm sad to see it end...so I've decided to become a pseudo-blogger, for lack of a better word. I will probably write and post articles occasionally, and I would like to help other financial bloggers out by offering them as guest posts, for FREE, if there is interest. We all need a day off now and then, right? I will leave the blog up for anyone who has found it useful to come back to, but there won't be much new content.

To my RSS subscribers, let me also recommend some other great financial blogs to check out:

(There are many other great blogs out there, but I've found theses to be helpful, fun, and welcoming. Enjoy!)

To my SYSTEM subscribers, the whole program is posted, so feel free to continue the simple steps...you will just need a bit more self-discipline to do them without the email reminders!

Overall, it was a great experience. I learned that I really enjoy this kind of writing and want to continue doing it. I learned that there are many talented financial bloggers out there who I will continue to read and learn from. I can cross off one more thing from my 'Things To Do Before I Die List.' I can say 'Thanks!' to everyone who supported and benefitted from the site, and wish you well on your financial journeys, where ever they may take you.

Tips for Mixing Finances and Family

Growing up, my family didn't talk about money very much. It's not that is was taboo, it was just not a common topic of conversation. We had occasional discussions about saving, credit cards, spending, allowance, and things of that nature.


Most of what I have learned about money came later, on my own, when I realized there were better ways to manage my money. What a waste of my youth! The formative years with the family are a prime time to learn about finance. And with the family being the central unit in our society, who better to learn about and work out your finances with?

That being said, talking about money and such isn't always easy. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Talk about money with everyone in the family...meaning spouse and kids. Don't think that anyone is too young, not interested, not smart enough, etc. Give them a chance to understand, and they'll surprise you. Money can be extremely interesting(you're reading this post, aren't you?).

Have common financial goals. You and your spouse should be on the same page when it comes to retirement, but have you ever discussed it? Your retirement might not be interesting to the kids, but what about a family vacation? Make a date with the family to talk about what kinds of goals you have for your money, or if you don't have any goals yet, make some.
Give the kids/spouse a reason to be on board. This ties in with the goal setting. How does managing the money in the house affect them? They need reasons to want to save their money, work hard, learn about finances, etc. It's helpful to outline how good finances affect them personally, as well as as a part of the family. For example, your 16 year old will want to know that consistently saving will eventually get him or her that car. Your college student should know that their credit history will follow them for years, and can hurt Mom and Dad if they're on a joint account.

Teach money skills and thinking. We deal with money everyday, so there are a plethora of opportunities to teach financial managment skills. Do you teach your children what you're doing when you pay the bills? How about when you use your credit card to make a purchase? Does you spouse know anything about your investment plan, or you path to getting out of debt? Take these daily moments and use them! You'll be amazed at how much easier it is to teach in the moment than out of the blue.

Here are some more ideas from a neat series by other financial bloggers, and one of my own:


Family and finances should go hand-in-hand. I think that following these simple tips would result in less failed marriages, more debt-free young adults , and more financial confidence in kids, all things in short supply right now. How do you talk about money with your family?
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Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

This healthy soup is delicious and exciting...and did I mention how easy it is? Just dump everything and go, and by dinner time you have an amazing meal waiting for you.

Prep time: 10 min.
Ready in: 6-8 hours

Servings: 8
Price per serving: $.65

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (frozen or thawed)
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes(lime and cilantro or mexican style preferred)
1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups water
1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Directions:

Place chicken, tomatoes, enchilada sauce, onion, and garlic into a slow cooker. Pour in water and chicken broth, and season with cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Stir in corn and cilantro. Cover, and cook on Low setting for 6 to 8 hours or on High setting for 3 to 4 hours. Serve hot with sour cream and tortilla chips.

Investing: Where Do I Start?

Investing is something that anyone-yes, even you-can learn to do. But where do you start? The beginning is always a very good place. Answer the following questions and you'll be on your way down the exciting investment path:

How much high-interest debt do you have?

The answer should be 'none.' The reason for this is that you are not ready to invest if you can't afford to spend the money you are shelling out. Compound interest, or interest paid on money already earned as well as on the original money, will work against you when you have high-interest debt. Instead, you want it to work for you.

How much money do you have to invest?

Knowing this will help you to figure out your options. Some investments require a certain amount of money to start investing. Others have no minimum requirement. When you know how much you have, you can choose accordingly. If you aren't lucky enough to have a large chunk of money just laying around, you can accumulate one over time. Begin by automatically paying yourself a set amount each month through direct deposit or transfer. Pay yourself as much as you can, and in no time, you will have a sizable sum to invest with.

How much risk can you take?

Investing means risking. However, the amount of risk is up to you. Generally, the greater the risk, the greater the possibility of return, and vice versa. It's also generally true that the more time you have to hold the investment, the more risk you can handle because you can weather the ups and downs. It is so important to be honest with yourself on this question. Investing is a life long process, and you don't want to make yourself sick over it.

Are you investing for the short or long term?

Unfortunately, we don't all begin investing when we are in junior high. You may be 5 years from retirement, or 50. You may need your money at any moment, or not for another 20 years. Knowing what and when you are investing for will help you determine the best investment options for you, and those decisions ought to change over time with your needs.

Are you ready to learn a little?

All good investing requires a little research. It is never wise to blindly follow advice about what to do with your money. Luckily, it's easy to learn about investing. A great place to start is at Yahoo! Finance online. They have more information about finances than you can shake a stick at, much of it aimed at those new to investing. Another good place is The Motley Fool, at fool.com, where they give you the basics with a sense of humor.

For those less inclined to the Internet, there are endless books about the subject. Personal Finance for Dummies is an excellent first source. If your employer offers retirement plans, that can be a great place to get your investing feet wet. You can quickly gain a good understanding of investment from these sources.

If you've decided that you're ready to start investing, you're already well on your way. Add action to that determination, and you're ready to get your money growing.

What kinds of things have kept you from investing?

Articles you might also enjoy:

What is an Investment Vehicle?

How To Build a Financial Safety Net

What is Interest? A Story of Grasshopper and Wise Master

Mom's Blogging Carnival!

Welcome to the February 18, 2008 edition of Mom's Blogging Carnival. Thank you to all the talented writers who submitted articles for this edition. We received 46 submissions and 30 of these have been accepted for publication in this edition of the carnival. A big thank you to Deborah for allowing me to host this edition. Happy reading and happy blogging!

Dawn Adams presents Homeschooler. Homemaker. Feminist? posted at Day by Day Homeschooling.

Micellaneous Mum presents Premenstrual Syndrome for (ex)beginners posted at Miscellaneous Adventures of an Aussie Mum, saying, "PMS is a nasty time in the month for any woman!"

Babies

Lightening presents The Birth of a Mother posted at Lightening Online, saying, "Some reflections on the birth of my firstborn, 10 years to the day after he came into the world."

Business

Louise Manning presents Maternal skills posted at The Human Imprint.

Pat B. Doyle presents How I Increased My Feedburner Subscriber Number By 47% In One Day posted at Pat B. Doyle.

Carole Fogarty presents Your Wealth Location for 2008: posted at THE HEALTHY LIVING LOUNGE, saying, "The East location of your home carries an auspicious energy this year which can attract abundance and prosperity into your life and we all need a little bit of that."

Andrea J. Stenberg, The Baby Boomer Entrepreneur presents De-cluttering Your Mental Spaces posted at The Baby Boomer Entrepreneur by Andrea J. Stenberg, saying, "Worry and unfinished tasks create mental clutter that kill our productivity."

Children

Joanne presents 10 Adoption Profile Tips posted at Forever Parents.

Angela presents Applying a Firmer Hand With Greater Love: Supporting the Strong-Willed Child posted at Reality Testing, saying, "My first child? She helped me develop some confidence as a parent. My second one? She keeps my ego in check. Parenting a strong-willed child, I've learned, can be a nightmare or a blessing of sorts. The choice is really mine."

Health

Peta Fletcher presents 15 Tips For Losing Weight After A Twin Pregnancy posted at Twin Blog.

Homemakers

The Simple Nickle presents Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Dark Molten Chocolate Cakes posted at the simple nickle, saying, "These individual chocolates cakes are perfect for Valentine's Day or another special occasion: simple, delicious, and always impressive."

Tea Party Girl presents Would You Help Me Answer a Question? posted at Tea Party Girl, saying, "I talk about my struggle running a home and ask for feedback from your readers on the number one problem they face running a home."

Other

What Works For Us presents Purge-atory posted at What Works For Us.

VH presents Friday Frugal Crafts: Kiddie Pottery...or Parents' Deco Tiles posted at Funny about Money.

Holly Ord presents Do You Know What’s in Your Cosmetics? posted at Woman Tribune.

Tali presents The Veil Fetish Pinup posted at The Pinup Shop Blog, saying, "A lot of noise has been raised in the feminist and Muslim communities over the art of Makan Emadi and the appearance of a new “misogynistic male fantasy”: Veil Fetish"

Customized Girl presents Best Spring Break for your Buck! posted at CustomizedGirl Blog, saying, "This article has some great ideas on how to save money for spring break."

Parenting

Cellobella presents How to know if you’re a good mother posted at SultanaBlog, saying, "Reflections on the importance of giving young mothers positive feedback and how lonely it is as a new mom."

Renae presents Preserving Sanity posted at Life Nurturing Education.

Joanne presents Adoption Life Books posted at Forever Parents, saying, "Your childs lifebook is their story. It's their past, present and future. It's a record of their life though words, photographs, memorbilia, artwork and more. There is no wrong way to do a lifebook. It's really more of a concept."

Our Blogs presents Raising Boys and Protecting Their Feelings posted at A Guide to Raising Great Kids.

Carole G. McKay presents A Blind Eye posted at McKay Today, saying, "A lifesaving message."

Tracy presents Dear Paige posted at Mommy Weirdest.

Relationships

Karen Alonge presents thoughts on breaking up posted at postcards from nowhere.

Tip Diva presents Top Ten Tips - A Day With No Valentine posted at Tip Diva, saying, "Hey, you. Are you going to be single and alone for Valentine’s Day? Yes? Well, you don’t have to mope around. Whether you usually like the day or think it’s some Hallmark conspiracy, a single night doesn’t have to go to waste. Here’s how to make a no-date Valentine’s Day great."

Travel

Christine presents Our Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) Travel Plans posted at Me, My Kid and Life: An American Single Mom Living in France.

Debbie Dubrow presents DeliciousBaby Journal Watching Myself on the News posted at Delicious Baby, saying, "How an article on my blog about old, damaged child safety seats at an international rental car agency spawned two undercover news investigations and lead to a sweeping change in that company's corporate policy."

Marsha_tm presents Romance without Reservations, LA Style posted at Kango Blog, saying, "Romantic getaways aren't just for Valentine's Day. And sometimes they don't take a lot of planning, either..."

Work

Rebecca Suzanne Dean presents How To Research 5 Times Faster posted at Rebecca Dean.

Sophia Levis presents How I made $45,624.08 Last Year Writing on the Internet posted at Sophia's Blog, saying, "Sophia Levis talks about her life as a work-at-home mom, how she has experienced success in her career, and how others can experience the same."

That concludes this edition. The next edition of the carnival is scheduled for March 3, 2008 and will be hosted at Go Girlfriend - Travel With Confidence. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Mom's Blogging Carnival using our Carnival Submission Form.Past posts and future hosts can be found on our Blog Carnival Index Page.

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Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Creamy Cilantro Dressing on Salad

This post was featured at This Wasn't in The Plan, A Pot of Gold, and World Famous Recipes.

Creamy Cilantro Dressing on Salad

BEWARE! This is the best salad dressing you've ever had. It can be highly addictive, and goes well on more than just salad: fajitas, as a dip for veggies or bread, etc. Did I mention that it's fast and easy, too? This recipe is much cheaper in the summer when you make the salad from scratch, or if you get any of the special ingredients on sale.

Prep time: 10 min.
Ready in: 10 min.

Servings: 8
Price per serving: $1.14

Ingredients:

For salad:
2 bags of pre-made salad

For dressing:
1 package Hidden Valley Buttermilk Ranch dressing mix
2 medium tomatillos

1/2 cup mayonaise
juice of 2 limes, or to taste
1/4 bunch of cilantro, or to taste
1/2 jalapeno pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper, or to taste

Pour salad into bowl. Throw all the dressing ingedients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Dressing will thicken a bit as it sits. To adjust thickness, either add milk(thinner) or sour cream(thicker). This recipe is very flexible according to your taste; for example: we like ours loaded with cilantro, but others may not.

Check back each Friday for more inexpensive recipes for around $1 per serving!

Articles you might also enjoy:

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Dark Molten Chocolate Cakes

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Baked French Toast

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Simple Beef Stroganoff

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Butternut Squash Soup

Spending POP QUIZ: Food

This post was featured at The Skilled Investor and Frugal Law Student.

The last thing you thought your were going to get on this site is a pop quiz. If you're having a flashback to high school, don't be dismayed. This one isn't graded. In fact, no one will know your score except you.

Even though your grade on this quiz isn't public, it does give you useful information that can help improve your financial life, and by corollary, your life in general. Come closer, take a deep breath, relax, and take our little quiz:

Open up your Mint online account(read more about Mint), or online checking and credit card accounts, or grab your statements from last month. Use a rough estimate to answer the following questions:

  1. How much money did you spend on eating out last month?

  2. How much did you spend on groceries?
  3. How much did you spend on lunch for the kids?

  4. How much did you and/or your spouse spend on lunch while at work?

And you're done! That wasn't so bad, was it?

Now, let's use our knowledge for good. Were you surprised at what you spent? Where did you do well? Where can you spend less? What are you going to do with that extra money? Important questions, powerful answers.

For example, last month I see that we spent $48 on fast food. That averages out to be about once a week for our family. That's more than I realized! If I ate fast food half as often, I would save about $25 a month. Using this handy calculator, I found that in two years, that $25 a month could turn into $653. Over ten years it could become $4,604, and over thirty years it could become $37,507! That is one habit that really pays off, and we'd be healthier, too.

I'm not the only one who has discovered how much we can save by making adjustments to our food bill:

Have you found other great ways to save on your food bill? How did you do it? What was the result?

Our little quiz is now done, and unlike high school, the outcome was really quite helpful. How did you do?

Articles you might also enjoy:

Top Ten Ways to Save at the Grocery Store

How To Curb Impulse Buying

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Dar...

Does Your Costco Card Really Save You Money?

Does Your Costco Card Really Save You Money?

This post was featured at Broke Grad Student, Frugal Law Student, Modern Sage, All For Women, Are You Going To Be This Way The Rest Of The Time I Know You?, WESH2 Orlando, The Money Blogs, and Pinching Copper.

I was at Costco recently and was told it was time to renew my yearly membership. I obliged, having a cart of things I needed to purchase, but that $50 membership fee really shocks a frugal person like me.

The renewal got me thinking: is my Costco membership worth $50 dollars? Are most people's memberships? I decided to do the math.

First, the rules:

  • I only considered the kinds of things I regularly buy from Costco. Although it's probably true that you can get a load of laminate flooring at a better price than a flooring store, this is not something I can count on buying anytime soon. I didn't count the kinds of things I rarely buy there either, like ketchup and toilet paper, since Costco makes you buy enough to last for years.

  • I compared the prices at Costco to the cheapest prices I could find elsewhere. If I can buy something for less outside of Costco, I will.

  • I also did just rough estimates of how often I buy the things I do. For this exercise, I'm too lazy to go back through my purchases from a whole year.

  • Finally, we are a family of 4, including a toddler and a baby.

Regular purchases made at Costco versus somewhere else:

Milk: 2 gallons at $5.16 vs 1 gallon at $2.98 at grocery store. Savings of $.40 per gallon, about $60 per year.

Formula: 2 cans at $17 vs 1 can at $11 at Wal-Mart. Savings of $2.50 per can, about $180 per year.

Diapers: 200 diapers for $35 vs $19 for 92 diapers at Wal-Mart. Savings of $.03 per diaper, about $72 per year.

Gas: $2.88 per gallon vs $2.95 per gallon at Sinclair or Maverik. Savings of $.07 per gallon, about $60 per year. (I want to note here that we can easily get gas from Costco without going out of our way. If that weren't the case, I'm not sure it would make a real difference.)

Baby Wipes: 8 packages(88 count) at $15.49 vs 1 package at $2 at Wal-Mart. Savings of $.07 per package, about $1 per year. (This one sort of made me laugh, but a dollar's a dollar, right?)

Total Annual Savings: $373
Less membership fee: -$50
Net Savings: $323

Wow! What a difference one store can make! I knew there was a reason I loved Costco other than their $1.50 hot dog/soda combo.

Obviously, we get the majority of our savings from the fact that we have a baby. But even if we bought just milk and gas alone, we would still save much more than the cost of the membership. As our family grows, I anticipate buying more of our groceries from there as well, taking advantage of the bulk quantities. And although I didn't count big ticket items, over time, the savings would really add up. I guess we are destined to be long-time (satisfied) Costco customers.

Articles you might also enjoy:

Finally! An EASY Way to Track Money and Spending

Ways to Save Money: Entertainment

5 Smart Financial Moves for Teens

Retirement Savings: What If You Get Divorced?

Ways to Save Money: Beauty and Fashion

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Dark Molten Chocolate Cakes

This post was featured at Health Plans Plus and It's all for the best.

Dark Molten Chocolate Cakes

These individual chocolates cakes are perfect for Valentine's Day or another special occasion: simple, delicious, and always impressive. They can be made ahead, too. Watch a helpful How-To Video over at kraftfoods.com.

Prep time: 15 min

Ready in: 30 min

Servings: 6
Price per serving: $1.20


Ingredients:

1 pkg. (6 squares) Baker's Bittersweet Baking Chocolate
10 Tbsp. butter
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup flour
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks

Directions:

PREHEAT oven to 425°F. Grease six 6-oz. custard cups or souffle dishes. Place on baking sheet.

MICROWAVE chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on MEDIUM (50%) 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir with wire whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Add sugar and flour; mix well. Add whole eggs and egg yolks; beat until well blended. Divide batter evenly into prepared custard cups. At this point, you can cover the cups and keep them in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Remove and let stand one hour before baking.)

BAKE 14 to 15 min. or until cakes are firm around the edges but still soft in the centers. Do not overbake! Let stand 1 min. Run small knife around cakes to loosen. Carefully invert cakes onto dessert dishes. Sprinkle lightly with additional powdered sugar and garnish with raspberries, or top with whipped topping, if desired. Serve warm.

Check back each Friday for more inexpensive recipes for around $1 per serving!

Articles you might also enjoy:

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Baked French Toast

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Simple Beef Stroganoff

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Butternut Squash Soup

Top Ten Ways to Save at the Grocery Store

What is an Investment Vehicle?

Investing uses all kinds of strange and complicated words and phrases to describe perfectly simple things. One of these often used phrases is 'investment vehicle.' When I first heard this phrase, visions of Ferraris danced in my head. While it's true that some cars will increase in value after you buy them, that isn't quite what that phrase means in the investing world.

It's a strange phrase, but has a simple meaning...and we like when things are simple!

According to Investopedia, an investment vehicle is "in general, any method by which to invest." So why don't they call it an 'investment method?' The world may never know.

Basically, an investment vehicle is a place to put money. Examples are stocks, mutual funds, bonds, money markets, real estate, etc. An investment vehicle could even be a business of your own or a collectible such as jewelry or art. Remember it like this: an investment vehicle is a way to drive your money on to bigger and better things.

Investment vehicles are as diverse as motor vehicles. Some are flashy, risky, exciting, and even dangerous. Others are steady, safe, and will be sure to get you where you want to go. As in life, a Porsche (or a single hot stock) can really get your heart racing, but when you need to get the kids to soccer practice (or pay for their college), a minivan is more practical.

How you choose your investment vehicles is up to you. It depends on your situation, risk tolerance, amount of money, goals, and other factors. You can ask a professional advisor, or better yet, you can choose them yourself by learning about this fascinating and exciting subject. Of course, knowing what an investment vehicle is is a great place to start.

If you want to learn more about investing, but don't know where to start, join our SYSTEM. Phase 5 is all about investing, and will get your started with daily simple steps.

Articles you might also enjoy:

How To Build a Financial Safety Net

What is APR?

Fix Your Finances in 15 Minutes a Day

What is Interest? A Story of Grasshopper and Wise Master

Finally! An EASY Way to Track Money and Spending

This post was featured at The Financial Blogger and A Pot of Gold.

The first financial advice usually given when you want to better control your money is 'track everything you spend.' There are tips for writing it down, spreadsheets, organizing receipts, software programs, etc.

What do these methods all have in common? They are a major pain! They are tedious! They can be confusing and unappealing! Are these attributes conducive to forming a habit? No.

For those reasons, I have never been a fan of personally tracking every single thing you spend...until now. Some people with my same feelings and observations, and a lot of tech know-how, came up with a better way. It's called Mint, at mint.com. (I would like to point out here that I am not getting paid to write about this site. I genuinely think it's great and want to review it so others can get their mitts on this amazing service.) Now, where were we?



Mint is truly 'refreshing,' as they say on the site, making money management easy, fast, and--dare I say it?--fun. It's a web-based application for keeping up with your finances, making it easy to access from anywhere you have the Internet, and automatically up-to-date on all transactions (you don't have to update it yourself, hooray!). It has oodles of great features:

Free: I wouldn't have even considered it if it were otherwise.

Fast: I signed up and had a full breakdown of my expenses, my balances, where I spent where, and more in less than 3 minutes. This alone is a marvel. Beyond that, you merely log in with your email address, and in less than 30 seconds you can check your financial health. When it's that quick, you can easily check it every day...a great habit that will improve your finances immensely.

Easy: All I had to know was my email address, my zip code, and my account numbers and passwords for my bank(s) and credit cards. I didn't have to search around the site to figure things out either; it's easier than email.

Safe: The site is big on security and privacy, using the latest technology available, and not asking for any personal information. Their site interfaces directly with the service provider your bank or credit card company use, so those at Mint don't even see your information. You can read more about their security here.

All-knowing: Well, not really, but it puts your information together in such a way that you learn more about your finances than you thought possible in such a short amount of time. It tells you:

  • how much you have in each account.
  • how much debt you have and where it is.
  • where you spent everything you spent by check, debit or credit card (obviously, it can't track where you spend cash, but it can tell you when and where you received cash).
  • when big transactions have gone through, and when checks have cleared.
  • if something out of the ordinary has happened in any of your accounts.
  • how much you spent in different categories (for example: how much you spent last month on groceries, or how much your utilities cost for the past three months).
  • how your spending compares to others in your area, state, and the nation.
  • what your budget might look like (yes! It creates a budget for you!).
  • and oh so much more!

Truly, Mint is a brilliant site. It has a couple of drawbacks, but really only a couple. Currently, it cannot link to investment or loan accounts, but I believe that service is forthcoming. Also, the site comes up with customized ways to save money, but these usually resemble sales pitches from financial institutions. In its defense, Mint's suggestions probably would really save you money, and the site has to make a living somehow.

For the first time, I am easily and quickly tracking my spending. It has already positively impacted our family finances. Now that you know about this site, you have no more excuses for not knowing where your money has gone. But rather than feeling like a chore, it feels great!

Articles you might also enjoy:

An Overview of Tax Software

How To Curb Impulse Buying

Top Ten Ways to Save at the Grocery Store

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Today's Two Cents:

A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.

--Jonathan Swift

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving

This post was featured at Stop The Ride, Being Frugal, Lightening, Pancake Recipes, Girls Just Wanna Have Funds, Harvest of Daily Life, and Alabama Frugal Mom.

Baked French Toast

The perfect dish for breakfast or brunch, this decadent french toast is made the night before. It easily feeds the masses and will have them asking for more.

Prep time: 15 Min
Cook time: 40 Min
Ready in: 10 Hrs

Servings: 9
Price per serving: $0.55

Ingredients:

1 (1 pound) loaf French bread(day old is best), cut diagonally in 1 inch slices
6 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup half-and-half cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup

Directions:

Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, milk, cream, vanilla and cinnamon. Dip bread into mixture and arrange the slices of bread in the bottom of the dish. Pour the remainder of the mixture over bread slices, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar and corn syrup; heat until bubbling. Pour over bread and egg mixture. Bake in preheated oven, uncovered, for 40 minutes.

Check back each Friday for more inexpensive recipes for around $1 per serving!

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Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving: Butternut Squash Soup

Top Ten Ways to Save at the Grocery Store

Long Distance Running and Personal Finance

This post was featured at The Skilled Investor.

We've all seen them: those early morning, up before the dawn, running in freezing cold or scorching hot conditions, dressed in funny clothing, die-hard runners. Incredulously, they seem to be enjoying it. Many people feel this same unbelief towards their money; they can't believe that they could enjoy running their finances the way those joggers enjoy running their daily route.

As a runner, and one who runs the family finances, I can tell you that it is possible! The more you know about your finances, the more fun it is to manage them. There is much to be learned about personal finance from long distance running:

It has to be done one step at a time. It's not possible to run any other way. The same is true of running your finances. If you think about all there is to do, it's easy to be overwhelmed. Instead, start with one small step--perhaps saving money in one new way, or learning a bit about investing--and build from there. Before you know it, you'll have covered miles.

It helps to find a mantra. A mantra is a commonly repeated word or phrase, literally an "instrument of thought," and is thought in Hinduism to contain "mystical potentialities." Mantras are very important during long runs; they are repeated over and over to get you through difficult stretches and help you find inner strength. Why not have a mantra for getting through difficult financial stretches? Our mantra is 'happiness is living beneath your means.' Choose your financial mantra and unlock the "mystical potentialities" of your money. Here are a few other ideas:
  • I will not be a slave to debt.
  • Make it automatic!
  • I want it, I don't need it.
  • I am responsible for how my money is used.
  • I control my money, it doesn't control me.
It takes time...sometimes a long time. I have run long distance races of varying lengths, but they all took time to complete. No matter how fast you run, you can't finish a race at the drop of a hat, and you can't fix your finances in a day. Deep in debt? It will take time to get out. Saving for retirement? That takes time, too. It once took me almost 4 hours to finish a race, but I did...and that's what matters.

Small investments up front make a big difference later. When you are new to running, the first advice you usually get is 'Get good shoes.' The small investment of new running shoes will result in big rewards: incentive to get out there and run, less and more minor injuries, faster recovery from lesser injuries, sticking to your routine longer, and finally fitness, weight-loss, etc. Likewise, investing now will allow your money to grow more than if you invested it later, with amazing results.

The more you do it, the easier it is. As much as I love to run, when I haven't done it in awhile, it hurts like mad! The same is true for learning about your finances. If you just read about it now and then, it can be confusing and overwhelming. If you find a way to learn regularly, you'll find that things make sense, stick with you, and become applicable to your financial life.

These running principles will lead you to financial fitness. And when you see how fun it can be to manage your money, perhaps you'll think about donning spandex for regular 5am runs in the middle of January. Then again...maybe not.
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An Overview of Tax Software

This post was featured at Don't Mess With Taxes.

"In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes," said Benjamin Franklin. However, filing your taxes doesn't have to feel like death, or make you wish for it. Instead, the frugal and motivated filer can use tax software to do the hard work for them.

Tax software is specially designed to take the confusion and guess work out of filing your taxes. You still need to collect all those pesky forms and records, but the software helps you with the rest. They have a user friendly system of asking you a question, and then prompting you where to find the answer. You put in the information, and the software does the figuring and decision making about what to do next. Before you know it, your taxes are done! You then have the very doable task of either printing up the tax forms or even submitting them online for a faster return.

Many tax preparation programs have great features such as remembering your past tax returns, error checks, and more. Some even offer tax assistance on investments, retirement planning, and small businesses. There are several versions of tax software out there, and many of them are also available online. Here are some of the best:
  • Intuit TurboTax: This is one of the original and most popular programs. There are several versions available, depending on your tax needs. Cost is $20-$75. TurboTax can also be used online, with extra cost to e-file.

  • H&R Block TaxCut: A comprehensive program offered by the tax specialists. Cost is $20-$80. TaxCut can also be used online, with extra cost to e-file.

  • Free File through the IRS: While not technically a software program, Free File is a government program allowing individual taxpayers making less than $52,000 to file their federal taxes online for free. This is done through participating companies' online software programs. See their site for more information.

Want more information about different tax software? Check out the Online Tax Software Review at Top Ten Reviews, or Tax Preparation Software Reviews at ConsumerSearch.

Tax software is an easy method for filing your taxes, saving you time and money. For those with complicated taxes, a tax professional should always be consulted. However, the average filer will be greatly rewarded by using tax software.


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Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving

Simple Beef Stroganoff

Another hearty meal, this dish comes together in a snap for those hectic nights. If you get any of the ingredients on sale, this meals is even more inexpensive.

Prep time: 20 Min
Cook time: 10 Min
Ready in: 30 Min

Servings: 4
Price per servings: $1.16

Ingredients:

1 (8 ounce) package egg noodles
1 pound ground beef
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup (fat free works, too!)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Prepare the egg noodles according to package directions and set aside.

In a separate large skillet over medium heat, saute the ground beef over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until browned. Drain the fat and add the soup and garlic powder. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and combine the meat mixture with the egg noodles. Add the sour cream, stirring well, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Check back each Friday for more inexpensive recipes for around $1 per serving!


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What Does it Mean to be Financially Secure?

This post was featured as a guest post at Polliwog's Pond, and was featured at I've Paid for This Twice Already, Millionaire Mommy Next Door, Girl's Just Wanna Have Funds, The Dividend Guy, FIRE Finance, and Change Therapy.

Financial security has as many definitions as there are candidates for the upcoming presidential election. For some, it's vaguely 'being a millionaire.' For others, it's having an income that's greater than what they have now. And for seemingly millions of people, it's winning the lottery.

Rather than a specific quantity of money, I believe that financial security is living by certain principles. Imagine financial security as a great tent. It keeps you warm, dry, and protected as long as the ropes and stakes holding it up stay in place. If a rope comes free, the tent can't do it's job as well. Financial security is knowing that if a rope or stake comes loose, you'll be able to repair it, and restore stability to your tent.
For me, and I dare say for many, these ropes and stakes are as follows:

1. Financial security is knowing that you can earn money if you need to. Can you get and keep a job? Are you able to create a stream of income that comes when you aren't working? Do you have the skills or training to work if the need arises? Whatever your method, being able to generate your own income is an important part of being financially secure. Many people depend on a spouse as the main income earner, which is great when you both work together. But should you encounter one of the three Ds--death, divorce, disability--are you in a position to make money on your own?

If you answered 'no,' take some time to think about how you can learn to earn an income; through formal education, certification, self-taught investing, starting a small business...there are a myriad of ways; which one works for you? It's easier to learn to do these things while you can plan for them and share the financial load, rather than if you are suddenly on your own.

2. Financial security is knowing that you are debt-free. This one seems like a no brainer. If you don't owe money to anyone, you are unrestrained and secure...and free to use your money the way you want to. Paying off debt can be a long, hard process, but have you ever met anyone who is out of debt that says, "I wish I still owed that money!"? Of course not! Make a promise to yourself today that you are going to fix that part of your tent--quit racking up debt, and instead, start paying it off.

3. Financial security is knowing that you can control your spending. This is a vital skill in life. Controlling your spending doesn't mean that you have to live a draconian life and not spend a dime. On the contrary, it means spending when it counts, and not spending when it doesn't. Even people with millions of dollars have ended up broke, because they didn't know how to spend less than they earn. Happiness is living beneath your means.

4. Financial security is knowing how to save for things you want. Because you don't take on needless debt, and you control your spending to be within your means, does that mean you can't have any fun? No! Saving your money to get something you enjoy is an enjoyable process in itself. There is a great feeling of accomplishment when you are able to purchase something special, free and clear. Delayed gratification also has it's own reward; would Christmas or a birthday be half as fun without all that anticipation?
If there is something you want, but can't afford right now, make a plan to save for it. Putting money aside for it in a methodical manner will get you to your goal before you know it, and give you financial self-confidence as well.

5. Financial security is knowing the people you love and things that are important to you are protected against big uncertainties. We can't predict what will happen in the future, we can only be prepared for it. Insurance is the name of the game here. Insurance is a necessity for protecting your loved ones, and for protecting your money. A major catastrophe can leave you in financial ruins. Learn about your insurance needs, or talk to someone you trust, and take care of them. That's how you take care of your loved ones, and your money.

6. Financial security is knowing that when you retire, you'll have money to live on. Retirement is far away for many(or it seems far away), so it's easy to put off thinking about it. This is a mistake! Time is your greatest ally when it comes to getting ready for retirement: more time means more money socked away, and more compounding on interest you are earning. There are endless resources out there for preparing for retirement. Choose one and get going so your golden years can be truly golden.

When you consider these six principles, you see that financial security is not having loads of money. It's living in a way that gives you control over your money and allows you to use it to make your life enjoyable.

Read this great poem, Nobody writes poetry about financial security, for another perspective. What does financial security mean to you?

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Today's Two Cents:

More than seven-in-ten Americans say they worry about money.

--Pew Research Center

Ways to Save Money: Entertainment

This post was featured at The Loco Mono Website and A Child Chosen.

We all like to have fun, but some of our favorite forms of entertainment are also the most costly. You can have fun and save money. Here are a few ideas:

  • Borrow movies rather than renting them. Watching movies at home is a great way to spend time with your loved ones. If you rent one movie a week, it can really start to add up, not to mention late fees. A cheaper alternative is to borrow movies from friends, or the local library. If you absolutely can't give up the latest releases, find a RedBox in your area. You can rent the newest DVDs for just $1 per evening. Potential savings: $125-$175 per year.
  • Give up your satellite or cable TV. The average price for expanded cable is $42.76 per month, and even more for digital cable. Satellite television can run from $20-$90 per month, and that's not including installation fees, or the cost of the equipment. If you aren't locked into a contract with your provider, consider giving up the cable or satellite TV. If you are locked into a contract, weigh the difference between cancelling, and just letting your contact expire. Let's be honest, with all those channels, is there every really anything worth watching on? Try the basic channels, and you'll find that you get used to it very quickly and are satisfied. Potential savings: $240-$1080 per year.
  • Go out to eat one less time each month. Eating out is an American pastime these days, and our shrinking savings and growing waistlines can attest to that. When you eat in, you eat an average of 50% less than at a restaurant, and you save dollars per serving. If you eat out just one less time each month, you'll save money and calories. If you absolutely can't give up eating out, think about going out to lunch, rather than dinner. Many restaurants serve lunch until 4pm, with savings of around $2-$3 per dish. Potential savings: $48-$360 per year.
  • Go to the movies one less time each month. It's no secret that movies are a money-making business, but with ticket prices topping $10 in some parts of the country, the industry is taking a lot of your money. By cutting out just one theater visit per month, you'll be able to keep your wallet a little fatter. If you absolutely can't give up your movie theater experience, consider going to the matinees for about 2/3 the price. Potential savings: $80-$240 per year.
  • Borrow magazines from the library. Did you know that your local library has a subscription to dozens of popular magazines. You can read the latest issue right there at the library, or check out past issues to take home with you. Depending on how many magazines you buy, and which ones, your library could help you realize big savings. Potential savings: $20-$200 per year.

Entertainment doesn't have to cost you a bundle. You can save a lot of money and still have a great time. How do you save money on entertainment?

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving

This post was featured at GreenStyleMom.

Butternut Squash Soup

This hearty soup is really quite delicious, perfect for cold days. Besides being low calorie, squash is a great source of vitamins and fiber. This is a great option for a 'meatless' main dish...satisfying, but saves you money and calories.
Prep time: 15 min.
Cook time: 25 min.
Ready in: 40 min.


Servings: 4
Price per serving: $0.83


Ingredients:


1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup diced onion
3/4 cup diced carrots
4 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 1 squash)
3 cups chicken broth
salt and ground black pepper to taste
ground nutmeg to taste


Directions:


In large pot, cook and stir the onion in oil until tender. Mix the carrots and squash into the pot. Pour in vegetable stock, and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender. In a blender or food processor, puree the soup mixture until smooth (I use a hand blender in the pot). Serve warm with a dash of nutmeg.



Check back each Friday for more inexpensive recipes for around $1 per serving!

Work Hard + Work Smart = Wealth and Success

This post was featured at The Dividend Guy, Savvy Frugality, The Gonzo Papers, and The Skilled Investor.

While attending a university commencement, I received some sage advice that I will always remember. Ira A. Fulton, a self-made millionaire and active philanthropist, gave the commencement address. In it, he advised the graduates to 'work hard, and to work smart.' I have often reflected on these words, realizing that in today's world, just working hard won't always get you to where you want to be.


As I've considered this advice, I have come up with some tenets that will always hold true to the spirit of 'working hard, and working smart.'

Work Hard

Avoid get-rich-quick schemes. This seems obvious to me, but would these scams be so prevalent if people always avoided them? If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. I have yet to meet a successful or wealthy person who didn't work hard to get where they are. Things that require no work on your part should cause you to wonder, 'Is there any value in the result?'

When at work, give your employer your full attention. Working hard also means working honestly. If you are getting paid for working 40 hours a week, you need to be wholly 'present' for those 40 hours. While on the job, do you spend an unreasonable amount of time away from where people can reach you, on the internet, taking coffee breaks, etc? If so, can you really expect to become truly successful at your job? Working honestly also creates good karma, which I'll touch on again.

If you aren't employed, work hard at keeping what comes into the house. I stay at home, and don't earn a paycheck, but that doesn't mean that I don't work hard. I do work hard, and my work has value. Besides raising children to be contibuting members of society, I save money aggressively by constantly learning to be economical, invest that saved money in diverse ways, and am steadily increasing our family's net worth. Despite not being the family breadwinner, I work hard at being successful, and at gaining wealth.

Work Smart

Increase your efficiency and productivity. Entire books have been written about this subject, so I'll just add this: do whatever works for you to increase your productivity--prioritize, once-a-week planning, use a timer, take breaks, create routines--but don't get so caught up in figuring out what to do that you waste a lot of time.

Get educated. Constantly learning is one of the best and most literal ways to 'work smart.' A high school degree won't get you much these days, with average earnings at $28,645. Those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,554, and those with advanced degrees earned an average of $78,093. Taking the time to get a degree can prove very beneficial. In addition to formal education, self-led education can be invaluable. Learning about running the small business you've always wanted to start, or figuring out the best investment strategy for yourself are great ways to start 'working smart.'

Keep your eyes open for new opportunities. On the job and in life, opportunities will come and go, and you've got to keep an eye out in order to catch them. Working hard and honestly at your job is one way to align yourself with these opportunities; you'll stand out above others around you. Having a long-term plan with goals is also a smart way to achieve success and wealth.

Get your money working for you. One of the best ways to 'work smart' is to get more work done during the 24 hours we are all alotted each day. There is a limit to human capacity, but money can work on your behalf 24/7 without fatigue, and it doesn't even charge you anything. Find ways to invest your money so it can grow while you work, and accelerate your path to wealth. On the flip side, avoid debt, because that money is working tirelessly against you.

The path to success and wealth is being traveled by hard working people...but it's also traveled by smart working people. Are you one of them?

How To Build a Financial Safety Net

This post was featured at Dollar Frugal.

Nothing will bring you greater peace of mind in an emergency than knowing you are financially secure. A financial safety net is often the difference between going into debt-sometimes life-changing debt-and keeping your head above water. Not only is this safety net vitally necessary, but it's within anyone's means; it only takes a little planning, a little discipline, and a little time. But where to begin? Financial planning can be quite intimidating, but far from impossible. Here is a step-by-step plan for your own financial safety net:

Step 1: Investigate insurance. Insurance is of the utmost importance because it can off-set or even prevent a financial emergency. If you have others who depend on you financially, it is important to have both life insurance and disability insurance. Life insurance provides income in the event of your death, and disability, should you become injured and unable to work. Check with your employer to learn what insurance programs are available. If you are self-employed, speak with an insurance expert at a company you trust to see what options you have.

Perhaps the most important insurance to have is health insurance. In the United States, health care costs are astronomical and can ruin you financially. Protect yourself, and protect your money.

Step 2: Lose the debt. What good is a safety net if you're already at rock bottom? Decide now that you've had enough of debt, and make a plan to eliminate it from your life. Begin by identifying areas where you can cut costs and save money. This could mean anything from cutting up credit cards, getting better rates on your insurance, downgrading to a more affordable car or home, etc.

Once you find ways to save, apply that money to your highest interest debt first. Once you pay that off, apply all that payment money to your next highest interest debt, and so on. Once you are debt free...

Step 3: Build an emergency fund. An emergency fund is money used for just that: emergencies. It is not for splurges and other expensive luxuries. This fund is an important aspect of your financial safety net, providing you with a chunk of money to be used when life throws unexpected and unpleasant surprises your way. Try to save 3-6 months worth of living expenses, or more if possible. This fund will keep debt at bay, and help to protect your assets and your credit score.

This money is best kept in a money market, where it can be accessed easily and quickly, and where it can earn a little money for you while it sits unused. Online money markets, such as through INGDirect or HSBC, offer you interest rates as high as 5% for keeping your money with them, helping to build your fund even faster.

Step 4: Invest for the future. The final step is building a safety net for your financial future: retirement, children's education, whatever that may be. Once your debt is controlled and your emergency fund in reserve, you can begin socking away cash for the future. Great ways to do this include contributing to your 401(k), a Roth IRA, 529 savings plans, and others. Research on your own, or talk with a financial adviser to map out a course for your future finances.

Completing these four steps will provide you with a financial safety net so you can feel secure...no matter what life throws at you.

Cheap Eats: Recipes for Around $1 Per Serving

This post was featured at A Pot of Gold.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches



A quickly prepped, easy, and tasty recipe. It's also great for a crowd. If you get any of the ingredients on sale or make them yourself, the recipe is even more inexpensive.


Prep time: 5 min.
Cook time: 6-8 hours
Ready in: 6-8 hours


Servings: 6
Price per serving: $1.16


Ingredients:


1 (2 pound) pork roast
1 onion, sliced or chopped
1 18 oz. bottle of barbecue sauce
8 hamburger buns


Directions:


Place pork roast (frozen or thawed) and onion in crockpot. Pour bottle of barbecue sauce over roast. Cover and cook on low setting for 6-8 hours. Shred roast and mix well. Arrange hamburger buns inside up under broiler and broil until toasted. Spoon pork onto toasted hamburger buns and serve warm.

Check back for more inexpensive recipes for around $1 per serving!

What is APR?

This post was featured at DebtFree-Revolution.

APR...that ubiquitous number you see all over your junk mail and credit card statements. Although it's often in the fine print, it has big meaning for your money.

APR, or Annual Percentage Rate, is the amount of interest, plus fees, that you are charged for borrowing money. The APR is a way to compare what it would cost you to borrow money from different lenders. It is often different than just the interest rate, and represents the true cost of borrowing that money.

This is where the APR gets really important. The APR is a reminder that spending money you don't have doesn't come cheap. For example, if you charge $1000 on your credit card this month, and don't repay that money within the grace period, you will be charged interest and fees. Let's suppose those interest and fees total an APR of 20%.


If you choose to only pay the minimum monthly payment, usually 4% of your bill, you are going to continue getting charged interest and fees on that borrowed money. If you continue to pay only the minimum payment each month, it will take you over 7 years to repay that $1000! In addition to taking so long to be free of that debt, you will have paid over $500 dollars in interest...more than half of what you borrowed in the first place!

Your APR suddenly seems very imporant, doesn't it?

Cheer up...there is one way to be able to ignore your APR altogether: pay your credit card balance in full each month. If you haven't borrowed any money at the end of the grace period, you can't be charged any interest. Brilliant! Your APR could be 237%, but you wouldn't be charged a dime as long as you paid your credit card off every month.

And a few more important points about APR:

  • Many credit cards offer low 'introductory' APRs. Be wary and read the fine print; the low rate will often jump to a high rate after a certain amount of time...sometimes as little as one month.

  • There may be different APRs for late payments, cash advances, or for charging lower or higher amounts on your card (tiered APRs). Check the fine print for information on these as well.

  • A good credit score will allow you to get a better APR, and a low credit score may stick you with sky-high rates.

  • Sometimes your APR can change. If your APR is fixed, you will receive notice before this happens, but a variable rate can change without warning.

If you owe money on your credit card, use this calculator to figure out how much it's costing you and how long you'll owe that debt. Knowledge is power, and knowing about APR will save you time and money.

5 Smart Financial Moves for Teens

This post was featured at anja merret, Confessions of a Novice, and The Skilled Investor.

It hasn't been long since I was a teen. Now that I'm an 'adult,' there are many things I wish I had known and done during my high school years, particularly when it comes to money. Not only would starting then have given me precious time to sock away and grow the money I had, it would have given me invaluable practice for when I had more serious cash and obligations to deal with. Smart teens will take advantage of this time and make these smart money moves:

1. Learn the value of a dollar. This does not mean knowing that a dollar is worth 100 pennies. It means knowing what a dollar will buy, what it takes to earn money, and how to get the most from the money you earn and keep. This is the most essential step in becoming financially successful. Teens with no concept of the power of money are unable to make good decisions about what to do with it. A great way for teens to learn this is by getting a job and/or having to pay for things on their own. This will quickly teach them about the 'real world' of money.

2. Learn to save. This goes hand in hand with learning the value of money. Regularly saving money is a vital part of finances that seems to be going out of style here in America. Teens today must learn to save if they are to ever be financially stable. Whether a teen has a job or gets an allowance, they should be encouraged to save a set amount of all their income. When the time comes to make a purchase larger than a $15 DVD, she will be proud that she was able to buy it on her own.

3. Get a savings and checking account. This is the place to hold those regular savings. The purpose isn't so much to protect or grow assets, as it is to teach teens about how money moves around in the world, and how to keep track of it. It can also be the first lesson in investment as they learn that money can make more money, but not if it's sitting in a can on your dresser.

4. Get a credit card and learn how it works. Credit cards are a way of life these days. No teen should be deprived of the opportunity to use one while still under the watchful eye of an adult. Many naive college freshmen have racked up serious debt because they used their first credit card without a clue.

Teens would be wise to get a card with a low limit, make affordable purchases, and always pay off the balance due each month. This will help them to understand that credit cards are for building credit and protection of transactions, not for purchasing things you don't have enough money to buy. They will also quickly learn the consequences of late payments, as well as high interest rates, should they choose to only pay the minimum payment.

5. Get a Roth IRA and learn the basics of investing. Although teens may give you a glossed-over look when you say 'retirement,' learning to plan for their financial future while they are young is a very smart thing to do. They have the most important financial ally on their side: time. Learning about risk, the power of compounding, the plethora of investment options available and more will start teens down the right financial path early.

Consider opening a Roth IRA for a teen with a job. This will give them the chance to practice what they have learned about investing, and their little nest egg will grow tax-free over the next decade. Parents can give their kids an even greater advantage by funding part of their teen's Roth IRA, as well: match the amount the teen earned, or up to $5000, whichever is less.

Teens can really make some smart financial moves when given the guidance and opportunity to do so. Even if they roll their eyes about 'financial responsibility,' they will surely show some excitement at watching their money grow.

Today's Two Cents:

Lack of savings and too much debt are the biggest conflicts among couples.

--The Allianz Women, Money and Power Study, 2006

The Gross Net and Your Income

Gross? Net? What in the world do these words have to do with your money?

A look at your pay stub will show your pay divided into these categories: gross pay and net pay. Let's look closer at these seemingly unrelated terms.


Gross pay is what you are paid before any taxes or deductions. A good way to remember: it's just gross how much you get paid before taxes come along. The term gross actually comes from the Old French term gros, meaning 'large.' And compared to what you actually get to spend, your gross pay certainly is large.


Net pay is what you are paid after any taxes or deductions. In other words, it's what you get to take home and spend. A good way to remember: after they take out all those taxes, you run around with a net trying to catch what you can. In this case, the word net is a variation of neat, coming from the Latin nitidus, meaning 'clean, elegant.' And like that, your pay is neatly pared down to the surprising sum on your check.

Don't let strange jargon deter you from understanding your finances better. Ask someone today if they know why their income is called what it is. When they're scratching their head, then you can teach them something new.