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Who’s the Boss of Your Finances?

Written by Richard Barrington - Leave a Comment

When it comes to financial decisions, do you feel like the boss or like it’s your first day on the job?

If you don’t feel in command, it’s understandable. Millions of people with no background in finance are called upon to make a series of very important financial decisions: making a budget work, saving for college, financing a houseplanning for retirement, strategizing on investments, etc., etc.

Many find this responsibility intimidating — and unfortunately, that sense of intimidation can contribute to poor decisions.

It helps to learn a thing or two about finances; but even before you do that, a little attitude adjustment can increase your chances of financial success. You have to resolve to take control of your financial situation, and there are several ways you can act on this resolution.

People don’t feel in command of their finances

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) polled people on how much command they feel over their financial decisions by asking them to describe themselves as if they were playing a role in a corporation. Here are the results:

  • Just 8 percent felt in command enough to describe themselves as the CEO of their finances.
  • 30 percent felt some degree of confidence, describing themselves as middle managers on their way up.
  • 35 percent saw themselves as entry-level employees just trying to catch on.
  • 26 percent felt overwhelmed and wished they didn’t have the job.

In other words, more than half of those surveyed (the last two categories of respondents) did not feel in command of their finances.

The need for confidence

This lack of confidence in the ability to make financial decisions becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When people lack confidence, they tend to make bad decisions. Here are three significant ways that a lack of confidence damages financial decision-making:

  1. Avoidance. The failure of many people to do even rudimentary retirement planning is not simply because they didn’t get around to it. Consciously or subconsciously, people tend to avoid getting started on tasks they feel are going to be too difficult for them. Because people lack confidence in their ability to take on retirement planning and other major financial decisions, they ensure failure by never even getting started.
  2. Acquiescence. You may deal with a number of financial professionals in your lifetime — bankers, investment advisers, planners, etc. Most of them will probably know more about the field than you do, and many of them will have something to sell. That’s a dangerous combination. It leads to consumers agreeing to sales pitches simply because they don’t feel qualified to disagree.
  3. Indecision. People get whipsawed by financial market volatility. They open up an investment account in search of higher returns, but then pull back when they start losing money. They only get back in when the market has climbed back up enough for it to feel safe. This failure to choose a course and stick with it leads to bad investment returns, and bad financial decisions in general.

In essence, the lack of confidence reflected in the NFCC poll results stems from the feeling that you don’t have command over your finances. You need to counter that by actively taking control.

Taking control

Here are seven ways you can act more like a CEO than a trainee, and take better control of your financial situation:

  1. Don’t let anyone pressure you. The more someone tries to make you feel you have to take their recommendations or act within their deadlines, the more you should make it clear that you will make your own decisions on your schedule.
  2. Don’t accept an answer you don’t understand. People feel intimidated when they don’t know as much about a subject as the person talking to them, and financial salespeople count on this. Remember, the boss does not need to know all the technical details. Keep asking about the essentials until you know enough to make a decision.
  3. Talk it through. Good bosses seek input and feedback before making a decision. Talk your financial issues through with your spouse, peers, or mentors both to get ideas and to test your thought process.
  4. Don’t take comfort in other people’s failings. Sure, plenty of people have made a mess of their finances, but you shouldn’t use this as an excuse to make poor decisions as well. Leaders lead; they don’t try to hide in the crowd.
  5. Stay informed. Rather than try to gear up for a decision every once in a while, it helps to keep regular track of your finances and the broader economic environment.
  6. Analyze mistakes. Don’t hide from your errors. Own them and learn from them so you can avoid them in the future.
  7. Repeat successes. Don’t chalk success up to luck. Instead, figure out what you did right and make that part of your process.

Contrary to how people in the NFCC poll feel, you are the boss of your financial situation. You owe it to yourself to start acting like it.

Published on July 21st, 2014
Modified on July 18th, 2014 - Leave a Comment
Filed under: Planning

Silence Not Golden in Intergenerational Family Finance

Written by Jeffrey Steele - One Comment

The last time I ran into one of my favorite cousins, the conversation soon turned to which far-flung family members she had recently heard from. She divulged she hadn’t yet heard from my youngest cousin, her younger brother, about his recent trip to Southwest Michigan. That was not new, as she’d called another of my cousins, her older brother, two weeks earlier and had yet to hear back.

“Have you heard from my sister?” I asked.


“Has my sister heard from you?”


“Has Uncle Bill heard from Uncle Jack?”


“Has the cat heard from the dog?”


“And vice versa?”


As you can tell, the family is not the best at keeping communication channels open. But I’m not sure that’s a serious charge, because that issue appears to be a pain point for many families. And from what I gather, lack of communication is never more acute than when it comes to discussing money issues.

This was reinforced during a recent lunch with one of my editors. Her mother is in her 70s, the editor said, very sharp and youthful. But she will not discuss cash. I commiserated, recalling for her my first attempt to talk with my dad about family finances, and what specifically might happen in the event of his passing.

His response to my conversational overture was to take me to task for waiting so long to bring up the topic. Then he clammed up to a degree that would have made Marcel Marceau appear chatty. He uttered virtually nothing for years about wills, trusts, savings accountsinsurance policies, retirement accounts, pensions, home value, powers of attorney, living wills or burial wishes.

Cat’s got their tongue

Vanguard Financial Advisor Services recently took a deep dive into this issue of non-communication between family members regarding finances.

In Vanguard’s Investment Commentary podcast series, Kristin Barry of Vanguard Financial Advisor Services revealed “two-thirds of boomers have disclosed little to no information about their wealth to their children.” What’s more, only about half of those working with financial advisers have formulated any plans to get their family members talking it up with their financial advisers.

Not long before, Fidelity Investments had also commissioned a study of this topic. The Fidelity Intra-Family Generational Finance Study Executive Summary examined the attitudes among more than 1,100 U.S. parents and their adult sons and daughters.

Among the key findings was that young adults experience emotional and financial stress resulting from lack of communication with their parents. Almost seven in ten parents and six in ten of their adult sons and daughters say they are more comfortable talking with third-party financial professionals than one another. And while almost 19 in 20 (94 percent) of parents and their adult offspring agree on the importance of having explicit discussions about wills and estate planning, those conversations often end up exhibiting, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, all the depth and clarity of a mud puddle.

The result is a predictable inter-generational disconnect on all manner of things familial and financial. For instance, adult offspring underestimate the value of their parents’ estates by more than $100,000. Almost 97 percent of older adults say they will not need help from their children, while almost one quarter (24 percent) of adult sons and daughters anticipate having to help their parents.

The number one reason parents cite for not conversing on retirement plans with adult sons and daughters (cited by 30 percent of respondents) is that they don’t want the younger folk to depend too much on inheritances. Meantime, the top reason cited by the younger generation (40 percent) for the intergenerational silence is that their parents’ money concerns really are none of their business.

Even the issue of the timing of financial conversations is fraught with discord. Ninety percent of parents and their adult offspring agree such conversations are important, but only about 30 percent agree on when they should be held. A much higher percentage of adult kids than their parents, for instance, believe talks should be held before the older folks retire.

Talk it up

There are significant benefits to breaking through the impasse and opening the lines of clear communication. And they go beyond money, Fidelity says.

More than 85 percent of older adults reported they enjoyed increased peace of mind after having detailed conversations with their adult offspring.

Clear majorities also stated that they felt those detailed discussions benefited the adult sons’ and daughters’ emotional state (67 percent) and financial future (61 percent), and also were likely to result in improving the financial lot of the grandchildren (52 percent).

To break through that taboo about talking money with family members, the Vanguard Podcast recommended a few different strategies. One is to start the talk without any actual dollar figures bandied about, which may have a way of loosening up everyone’s tongues. Another is to encourage a more educational exchange, in which older family members offer insights on getting the most from savings, or juggling marital and financial differences, as a way of easing into heavier money talks.

Talking about money with family may not be the easiest thing to accomplish. But managing a substantive conversation on the topic can help make everyone feel better, and that’s worth a lot.

Who said talk is cheap?

Published on July 16th, 2014 - One Comment
Filed under: Family & Life, Insurance, Retirement, Saving & Investing

The Cost of More

Written by Suba Iyer - One Comment

We have become a nation of “more is better.” We want more of everything — more toys for our kids, more cars in the driveway, more shoes in the closet, and more bathrooms in the house. Our houses, garages, dumpsters and lives are filled with Stuff. With a toddler around, I’m very tempted to fill the house will cute clothes and fun toys. Sometimes I stop for half a second to consider the cost of buying something, but I often don’t consider the true and total cost of “more.”

Purchase price cost

First, of course, there is the actual cost of buying the item I want. Sure, I shop around to compare prices, but I often forget the sales tax. For some objects, such as cars, this can be significant. Then there may be additional insurance costs as well — replacement value for that new piece of jewelry, for example. Of course, we pay off our credit card every month; but if you don’t, there will be some interest charges and late fees for that new item as well.

Opportunity cost

Even if I get the best deal in town, pay cash and don’t have other charges on the purchase price, I lose the opportunity to use that money for something else. Even the filthy rich can’t afford ALL of the things they want ALL of the time and have to make choices. My choices would be to delay using that money, saving it or investing it, so that it would earn interest or dividends for us in the future.

Maintenance cost

Once I have that item, I need to take care of it. Some things require more maintenance than others but all require some. Maybe it is an art object that has to be displayed and dusted once a week. Maybe it is a motor vehicle that requires oil, gasoline, tuning and service occasionally. Whatever the item, there will be some kind of cost to maintain it.

Time cost

If you are a smart shopper, you spend time comparison shopping to get the best price. For items less than $20, I don’t spend a lot of time. If it is more than that, I spend quite a bit of time comparison shopping; sometimes I even obsess about it until I buy. If I am buying used, I have to spend time to locate the item, negotiate and go pick it up.

I also spend time dealing with the results of “more” – picking up all those toys my daughter spreads out every day. The more choices she has, the messier the house becomes; doing the maintenance mentioned above; figuring out how to discard the items when you no longer want them, etc.

Storage cost

The more I have, the more space I need for storage. We moved into our current 2,400 square foot home a year ago. When we moved in, it was practically empty — large open spaces, lots of closet space, only cars in the garage with lots of space to move around even after storing the things used once a year.

Now, after just one year, we have so much Stuff, we could never go back to our 700 square foot apartment without getting rid of a significant amount of it. At least I am not wasting money renting storage. I used to rent a storage space paying $70 a month. When I was cleaning it out after having it for one year, I calculated the value of the items in there. It was less than $1,000. I pretty much wasted a thousand dollars to store Stuff worth a thousand dollars. When we get storage, it is with good intentions. I told myself that I would only be temporarily storing it for a month, until I had a chance to sort through the Stuff. One month became one year. For some people, it goes on for years.

Emotional cost

Stuff bogs you down. You can’t leave your home without worrying that someone will break in and steal all your good Stuff. You get attached to it and can’t part with it, especially if the Stuff happens to have precious memories attached to it.

Stuff gets in your way. Your home becomes so jam-packed that you can’t move around freely. You have trouble getting to (or even finding!) that certain thing that you know you have and need to use. One of the reasons we go out so much to eat is because I don’t find my dining room relaxing with so much Stuff lying around. Needless to say, restaurant spending is one of our major budget busters.

Have you considered what the Stuff you buy is actually costing you?

Published on July 14th, 2014
Modified on July 12th, 2014 - One Comment
Filed under: House & Home

5 Creative Backyard Summer Activities for Kids

Written by FCN Staff - Leave a Comment

This post comes from Rachel Beger at our partner site Zing!

School’s just about out for the summer, and that can only mean one thing: “Mom, I’m bored!” Ideas run out fast, especially when you’re not looking to leave the house every day, and you have a budget to abide by. These five backyard activities will be your summer survival guide when boredom sets in for the kids and you don’t have the time or budget to come up with fun things to do.

Outdoor Twister

Twister is a classic game that’s fun for the whole family, but setting up the mat outside can be quite difficult when wind and slippery grass come into play. Instead of using the mat the old-fashioned way, spray paint the round circles onto your grass.

You’ll need either a piece of poster paper, a large piece of sturdy paper or even a brown paper bag to create your circular stencil. Next, take a round object with about an 8-inch diameter (e.g. plate, bowl, bucket, oatmeal container), and trace the object onto the paper. Cut out the circle, and you’ll be left with your stencil.

Once you’ve created your circular stencil, lay it on the grass and begin to spray. You probably won’t want to let your kids do this due to the toxins in spray paint. The typical Twister mat has 24 circles, six of each color. The circles should be around 3 inches apart. To play the game, use your spinner from the original game if you have one. If not, make one with paint chips.

Interactive Driveway Board Game

Revamp your board game days by creating an interactive board in your driveway. No pieces, no problem! Kids will be their own game pieces in this game.

First, you’ll need to make the board. Using chalk, kids can draw out a long, winding path with a start and a finish, creating as many spaces as they want. Older kids may want a longer board and younger kids a shorter one, depending on their attention span. Randomly write “+3,” “-2,” “+5” and “-7” on the board, leaving about a third of the spaces blank.

Next, you’ll need some giant dice. Here’s how you can make your own!

  • Take an empty, cube-shaped tissue box and cover it in newspaper or durable paper.
  • Color on all the dots of a piece of dice with a marker.
  • Tape all the edges with postal or duct tape to ensure durability.

Now that you have your game board and dice, you’re ready to play! Each player rolls the dice and moves that many spaces. If you land on a space with a plus or a minus, you’ll follow the space’s command (for instance, if you roll a 2 and the space you land on says “-3,” you’ll move back three spaces). Players can only move forward or backward once per roll. First player to the finish line wins!

Homemade Bubbles

Blowing bubbles is always good for a few smiles, but it doesn’t exactly scream “summer excitement.” Mix up your own homemade bubble concoction and get creative with your bubble blowers.

Homemade bubble recipe:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 cup of dish soap
  • ¼ cup of corn syrup
  • Empty gallon jug and wide plastic container

Get creative by using household items to blow bubbles. Cookie cutters are easy to use, or get more advanced and create your own shapes with colorful pipe cleaners, copper wire or a water bottle. To use a plastic water bottle, cut off the bottom of the bottle with a good pair of scissors (adult supervision recommended), then dip the open end into the bubble solution and blow through the mouthpiece. This will be a great activity to get the kids off the couch and outside in the sunshine!

Outdoor Bowling

Going to the bowling alley in the summer usually means one of two things: rain or dangerously hot weather. Here’s how you can enjoy the timeless game even on a nice summer day!

What you’ll need:

  • 10 empty 2-liter bottles
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • A soccer ball, basketball or other large ball

Once you’ve filled all your 2-liter bottles about halfway full of water and food coloring, find a flat area of grass or a driveway to set up the game. Arrange the bottles in a triangle. If you choose to play on a driveway, you can draw lines to symbolize the gutters of the lane. Depending on the age of the children, you can make the fault line as close or far back as needed.

Most importantly, this fun activity involves little cleanup: Just store the bottles in the garage for the next time the kids want to play!

Glow-in-the-Dark Ring Toss

Enjoy warm summer nights with this glow-in-the-dark game of ring toss.
All you need are glow sticks and a stand. If you don’t have any glow sticks in the house, Walmart sells a 100-pack of assorted colors for $10.48.

No need to go out and buy a metal post to stick in the ground; search your house or garage for something that will work. Try using a small shovel, an outdoor solar light, a large stick, a 2-liter of pop or anything stable and tall enough.

How to play:

  • Form teams of two and give each player three rings (the teams should each have a color).
  • Have one player from each team throw a ring, and rotate.
  • After all of the rings are thrown, count how many are on the stand from each team.
  • The team with the most rings wins!

I hope these games help occupy some of those “I’m bored!” moments you encounter this summer while your kids are out of school. Enjoy!

Know of a creative and fun outdoor summer game for kids? Post it in the comments section below!

More stories from Zing:

Five Feng Shui Tips to Help You Sell Your House

Tips for Transitioning to Dorm Life

The History of U.S. Money

Published on July 11th, 2014
Modified on June 26th, 2014 - Leave a Comment
Filed under: House & Home

What to do When the Stock Market Crashes

Written by William Cowie - 3 Comments

The Dow Jones Industrial Average index hit 17,000 in the last week — a new record — and the S&P 500 Index followed suit. As is usual any time a stock market record is reached, the boo-birds make their appearance. “This is it!” they cry. “This is too high; a crash has to follow.” Well, something like that.

Of course, the boo-birds are right about one thing: The market always falls after it reaches a record high. The only problem is the market doesn’t drop immediately after each new record is set. It keeps going up … till it eventually does fall.

It always does. The history of the economy and the stock market are replete with cycles of booms and crashes. If you want to see a chart of the economy, you can click this link. The stock market cycles have the same wavy appearance. Both have the ups and downs we’ve become accustomed to, at least intellectually.

Why do you care about the stock market, especially if you are not a stock trader or investor? Most Americans’ retirement funds, be they in pension funds, 401(k) plans or IRAs of various descriptions, are tied up in stocks, directly or indirectly. You may remember how the Great Recession impacted those quarterly statements you received in the mail. So, whether you are active in the stock market or not, chances are it affects your wealth.

What do you do?

In general, there are two broad answers, depending on how close you are to retirement. If you look at the stock index chart in the link above, you’ll notice the time between peaks (and valleys) usually is around ten years. That means if you hang around and do nothing for ten years, more or less, you’ll find yourself having recovered all of the losses a crash would have inflicted on you.

That makes ten years a good cut-off point when considering your options:

More than ten years from retirement

Do nothing. Well, not nothing. You actually keep on investing. Warren Buffett, the world’s most successful investor, loves the periods when the market is down, because he always buys. And when the market is down, all his purchases are bargains. If you look at it like that, it makes sense.

The problem is that it’s hard to look at it like that. Why? Because we’re psychologically wired to feel good — rich, even — when we see the value of our home and investments go up.

But you shouldn’t, for two reasons:

1. The gain in wealth is unrealized. That means it’s not cash in your hand. And, as we all know, what goes up can come down. The only value that matters is the price when you sell.

That often leads people to sell assets when their value has gone up, “to lock in the gain.” There’s a problem with that, though: What do you do with that gain you locked in? If you sell your home, you need to buy another one. If you sell your bonds and stocks, what do you do with the proceeds? Chances are you’re not going to blow it all on a cruise around the world or a long weekend in Las Vegas. You need to invest it somewhere else.

Therefore, there is nothing to feel good about when you hear the value of your home or investments went up, unless you have a better thing to invest it in if you sell.

2. It’s a temptation to waste money. So you feel rich when you see the value of your home and investments soaring. But your daily grind continues unchanged. That creates a tension within you: “How come I still have to grind my little behind off, day after day, putting up with all the crud at work when I’m getting rich on my investments?” Maybe your car is giving you trouble. Maybe your home appliances are beginning to cost money. Maybe your clothes just feel old and out of style. This tension between the unchanged daily grind and the reports telling you you’re getting rich has many faces.

But those faces usually all lead to the same temptation to spend money — buy a new car, a nicer home or new clothes, go on a shopping spree or a long-deserved vacation. That’s right. We start using the “deserved” word a lot more when we see our net worth going up. (Funny, that in a recession, we don’t feel we deserve anything and we’re happy just to keep our jobs, or get one if we got laid off.)

The bottom line is that, unless you plan to retire in the next few years, just keep on going on with your investing. If anything, try to invest more when prices drop.

Less than ten years from retirement

This gets a little trickier, because the odds are that the stock market will not have recovered by the time you retire.

However, if you think about it, what are the chances you’re going to liquidate your entire life’s savings the very day you retire? Small, I’ll bet. You will be much more concerned with the monthly cash flow to cover your expenses. That means dividends and interest.

If dividends are your main interest, you are (again) unconcerned with the movement of the stock market. If, for instance, you have invested in Dividend Aristocrats, your monthly income is safe. It doesn’t matter if the stock market drops because those are stocks which have paid increasing dividends for more than 25 years. In other words, they have proven their stability by paying growing dividends through at least two prior recessions.

In other words, if you are getting close to retirement, the focus of your investments should be shifting to stocks (and other investments) which will provide you with the monthly cash to meet your needs.

And, if you do that right, you won’t have to worry about the stock market dropping.

We know the next stock market crash is coming soon. Just how soon, nobody knows. But, whether you’re retiring soon or are still a ways away, there is no need to panic when that happens.

Published on July 9th, 2014 - 3 Comments
Filed under: Saving & Investing

How We Use Our Time

Written by Richard Barrington - One Comment

I’m a financial analyst, not a philosopher, and yet in my writings about money I often touch on the subject of time. Generally, this is because the two are somewhat interchangeable with one another — some people sacrifice their free time to plunge headlong into their careers, while others sacrifice income to have more leisure time.

Time and economics are related in other ways, as I was reminded when I perused the results from the latest American Time Use Survey, released a few weeks ago by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. How Americans spend their time is in many ways driven by economics — consumption habits, career stage, qualifications, and social status. Here are some observations about some of the study’s findings:

  1. Most like TV better than their friends. On any given day, 79.4 percent of Americans watch television, for an average of 3.49 hours. In contrast, only 36.8 percent socialize or communicate on any given day, and even then only for an average of 1.95 hours.
  2. It’s no wonder we are out of shape. 73.8 minutes out of the typical American’s day is spent eating and drinking; just 18 minutes is spent exercising.
  3. People shouldn’t be so tired. Despite being out of shape, the average person should not claim to be exhausted. We hear about the rigors of modern life, but it turns out that Americans sleep more than they work. The average person sleeps 8.75 hours a day, while the typical worker puts in an average of 7.55 hours — and that’s just the 43.2 percent of Americans who work on any given day.
  4. Some people must be fibbing about their phone use. According to the survey, just one person in five spends time on the phone or engaged in correspondence by e-mail or regular mail on any given day. Supposedly that one person in five spends an average of just 43.2 minutes on these activities. Presumably then, the legions of people you see every day who seem to have a phone surgically attached and continually in use were too tied up on the phone to answer this question. Either that, or they didn’t think texting was included in telephone usage. (The wording of the survey category does look a little outdated.)
  5. Mrs. Cleaver is alive and well. Do you think gender roles have changed radically since “Leave it to Beaver?” Guess again. Women are more than twice as likely as men to be engaged in housework on any given day, and in total spend more than three times as long doing housework than men do.
  6. A second job can ruin your weekends. Roughly a third of all Americans work on weekends, but this number jumps to just over half when it comes to multiple job holders. Taking on a second job is an economic necessity for many, and your weekends off may be the first thing to go if you need to do this.
  7. Your college degree won’t necessarily get you off the weekend shift. It might be under very different circumstances, but folks with a bachelor’s degree or better are about as likely as those with less education to work on weekends. In fact, having a bachelor’s degree makes you slightly more likely to be found at work over the weekend, with 34.0 percent of bachelor’s holders working on weekends, compared with 32.6 percent of high school graduates with no college degree, and 32.8 percent of people who did not graduate high school.
  8. Workload peaks between ages 35 and 44. People in that age group spend an average of 4.82 hours a day working (if that sounds low, it is because this average includes people who don’t work). This falls off slightly, to 4.66 hours a day, between the ages of 45 and 54, and then more sharply between the ages of 55 and 64, to 3.62 hours. People 65 to 74 work an average of just 1.15 hours a week.
  9. The telecommuting trend is an evolution, not a revolution. Perhaps the trend towards telecommuting has been overstated because one of the groups best positioned to take advantage of it are people who write about these things. However, over the past ten years the percentage of employees who physically show up for work has edged down only from 88.8 to 85.0 percent. Telecommuting has freed up few more part-time workers, as the percentage that of this group showing up at the workplace has dropped from 79.3 to 74.4 over the same ten years.

That’s a diverse group of observations, but I could tie them together this way: Our habits and circumstances often drive how we spend our time more than conscious choice does. However, the more we can take control of the use of our time, the more satisfying that time is likely to be.

Speaking of which, thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you found it time well spent.

Published on July 7th, 2014 - One Comment
Filed under: Productivity

Tips for First-Time Campers

Written by FCN Staff - Leave a Comment

This post comes from Lilly Keyes at our partner site Zing!

Since June is National Camping Month, I’m sure you’re desperate to get out there and start roasting marshmallows. If you’ve never been camping before, there are some things you should think about before you start rubbing sticks together. I mean, have you ever seen anyone on a sitcom try to put up a tent? It hardly ever goes well the first time. But don’t fret! There are some simple things you can do before you leave to ensure your camping trip’s a breeze.

Scour the Internet

What activities do you want to do while camping? Is it important to be near a beach? How about hiking? Make sure to take the possible activities you want to do into account when choosing a campsite. Once you decide, look up campsites in that area. Ask yourself how close you want to be to town and how rustic you’re willing to be. Is a nearby convenience store or shower important to you? If they are, make sure the campground you choose has these. Also, look at a map to see where your individual campsite will be. If you’re dying to hike, try and get a site near the trails. And, like everything else, read the reviews before you choose!

Look Out for Deals

Some states offer programs for first-time campers, and, speaking from experience, they’re awesome. Park rangers help you set up your tent, provide you with necessities like camping stoves and s’mores roasters and check in to make sure everything’s going smoothly. And you get a discount on your campsite. What’s not to like?

Pop Some Tags

When you’re making your initial list of things you need for your first camping trip, buying everything at a big box store could get pricey. If you make second-hand stores your first stop, you could save a lot of money. If you don’t have the major camping essentials like a tent or sleeping bag, borrow them from your friends and family before you make any big purchases. If you decide you want to make camping a major hobby, then head to the camping store with your credit card in hand. Your bank account will thank you.

Better Safe than Sorry

Always take extra precautions when camping, especially for the first time. Store your food high and out of reach for the wildlife in your area. Despite how cute it might be, the last thing you want is to come home and see a bear eating your dinner for you. Also, pack clothes for a wide variety of weather scenarios. I don’t care how many times you checked the weather on your iPhone before you left; you’ll be happy you have your rain jacket if an impromptu thunder storm hits.

Sleep Tight

It’s hard to enjoy your camping extravaganza if you’re cranky from sleep deprivation. The ground is a lot harder than you think, so an air mattress or soft pad to go under your sleeping bag is crucial. You can even use those foam floor tile puzzle pieces that are popular in kindergarten classrooms and playroom floors. Anything helps. Whatever you do, don’t leave your tent open, no matter how warm it gets during the day. The bugs will find you.

Check Your Pantry

There’s all sorts of camping hacks you probably already have and just don’t know it! Did you know dryer sheets make great (and delicious smelling) fire starters? And that an old prescription bottle makes a great mini first aid kit? Or that, when added to a campfire, sage makes a great mosquito repellent? There’s all sorts of household camping hacks that you can check out at sites like Buzzfeed or Pinterest.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, it’s the perfect time for you to grab your tent and get out there! Even if it’s your first time camping, as long as you do your research and come prepared, you’ll have a great time. Happy camping!

More stories from Zing:

Five Feng Shui Tips to Help You Sell Your House

Tips for Transitioning to Dorm Life

The History of U.S. Money

Published on July 4th, 2014
Modified on June 26th, 2014 - Leave a Comment
Filed under: Travel

A Pearl of Wisdom About the Burden of Wealth

Written by Jeffrey Steele - Leave a Comment

I don’t know how the reading list looked in your high school English classes. But in mine, the teachers clearly believed we kids should absorb books that achieved, to quote Woody Allen, “total heaviosity.” These serious message novels were chosen to shake us out of our suburban-bred complacent lethargy. They were profound. They were penetrating. They were pithy.

They exhibited great gobs of pith.

On a reading list that included Catcher in the RyeThe Heart is a Lonely HunterThe Grapes of WrathTo Kill a Mockingbird and The Old Man and the Sea, the academicians tossed in a slim John Steinbeck volume called The Pearl.

Those of you who’ve read The Pearl probably recall the basics. The protagonist, Kino, is a poor fisherman who finds a huge lucid pearl and realizes he’s stumbled on great wealth. But the pearl isn’t the answer to his dreams; it’s the start of his nightmares. After a string of events involving his trying to exchange the pearl for the vast sums it’s worth, he finally realizes the bauble is a curse, not a blessing and he … well, I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t yet read this classic.

The heavy message was unmistakable. In a world that values moolah above all else, it is wise to remember that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

In the past week or two, a skein of news stories has convinced me that among those who’ve read and taken The Pearl to heart are legendary music maker Sting, actress Keira Knightley, world-famous investor Warren Buffett and a great many other ultra-rich folks whose gigantic bankrolls are equaled by their grave concern about the weighty burdens of jaw-dropping affluence.

A stinging announcement

Few missed the announcement that Sting, worth more than $300 million, won’t be leaving his sons and daughters much in the way of inheritance.

“I certainly don’t want to leave them trust funds that are albatrosses round their necks,” he told interviewers. “They have to work. All my kids know that, and they rarely ask me for anything, which I really respect and appreciate.”

Speaking of appreciation, I came away from that news item with deeper regard for Sting. He worked his way up from a working class neighborhood in Great Britain to international fame and fabulous wealth, and apparently recognized along the way that making it on your own is a lot more rewarding than having millions handed to you. He won’t deny his kids a chance at a similar joy ride.

Was it just coincidence another story with a related message appeared almost the same day? That was the Telegraph story about a survey of the super deep-pocketed, many apparently readers of The Pearl. “One in seven billionaires or multi-millionaires is worried their wealth could be depriving their children of drive and ambition, says a survey that affords a rare glimpse into the minds of the ultra-rich,” the piece by social affairs editor John Bingham reported.

Bingham went on to note that the report, “The Meaning of Wealth in the 21st Century,” by law firm Withersworldwide, surveyed 4,500 mega-rich individuals from North America, Asia and Europe and included detailed interviews with 16 families who have been all but buried in a canyon of cash.

Among the wealthiest of those surveyed, the concern that lurked just after concerns about their own health was what effect insane riches would have on their sons’ and daughters’ determination to make their way in the world.

“For many parents, the main concern is that great wealth will scotch the individual ambition of their children,” Bingham quoted the report as stating.

And that could result in them indulging in too much Scotch.

Oracle’s observation

It’s possible that before he became the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett also immersed himself in a dog-eared paperback copy of Steinbeck’s novella.

Buffett long ago went on record to assert that his sons and daughters wouldn’t be in line for zillionaire status upon his passing. He didn’t intend to leave them much, he said, intoning something along the lines of, “I want to give them enough to do something, but not so much that they will be able to do nothing.”

Back in Britain, actress Keira Knightley just may be another fan of The Pearl. In spite of having amassed an estimated net worth of $50 million in the pursuit of moviemaking, the 29-year-old thespian and model keeps herself on a tight financial leash, allowing herself an annual allowance of a mere $50,000.

“I think living an [expensive] lifestyle means you can’t hang out with people who don’t live that lifestyle,” Knightley opined in an interview with Glamour magazine. She added of big money that, “It alienates you. Some of my best, most hilarious times have been in the least luxurious places.”

To which Us Weekly, hewing the predictable line, editorialized, “Um, what?”

Um, nothing. Knightley would probably get on well with Buffett, who’s been heard to observe that prodigious riches bring with them diminishing returns.

The insight my high school’s English teachers would have wanted us teens to absorb is that when it comes to wealth, enough may be enough.

As pearls of wisdom go, that’s a real gem.

Published on July 2nd, 2014
Modified on June 27th, 2014 - Leave a Comment
Filed under: Planning, Retirement

Essential money tips for new college grads

Written by Suba Iyer - One Comment

Graduation is the theme all around my neighborhood. It is a time of excitement and big dreams. Unfortunately in most cases, personal financial sense is not a taught at college. Once out of college, going from living broke to a big paycheck every month can easily encourage lifestyle inflation and a downward spiral of bad financial habits. Hence, it is essential to establish a good personal finance foundation to avoid getting trapped in a lifetime of debt. Here is a checklist I would hand over to a new graduate to make sure they start on the right path.


  • Learn to network efficiently: Invest time in networking. Learn about your colleagues. Find a mentor and build relationships at every level, both above and below yours.
  • Start a case study file: By “case study file,” I mean make a list of all your accomplishments rather than a list of projects you worked on. For example: Cut 20 percent of production costs while maintaining the same product quality. Include information on which project and what you did to achieve that. This will be of great use in many situations like an annual review, a salary negotiation or a new job search. In addition, keep your resume updated at all times.
  • Promote your personal brand: As a job candidate, 86 percent of potential employers will look at your social profiles, so spend some time cleaning up all your social media profiles.


  • Create a budget: You might feel like you are flush with cash going from a student’s pay to a full-time-job’s pay. Create a budget even before you get your first paycheck. Continue as much as possible to live like a student and set money aside for your future goals.


  • Pay yourself first: The first bill you should pay each month should be to you. Before you pay for your groceries, before you pay your mortgage, before you do anything else, put money aside in your savings. Most people will wait to pay all the bills and save the money left over. It is fine in theory, but the problem is there is almost never anything left over. If you pay yourself first, even if it seems impossible initially, you will learn to live with what is left over. This way you will always spend less than you earn.
  • Borrow a book or two on finances: Knowledge is power. Arm yourself with as much personal finance knowledge as possible. I recommend “I Will Teach You to be Rich” by Ramit Sethi, if you are just starting out.
  • Start an emergency fund: Establish a rainy day fund as soon as possible. Start with $1,000 to cover small emergencies, then move on to saving ‘X’ number of months’ expenses to make sure a sudden job loss or illness won’t put you in debt.
  • Think five and ten years ahead: Right now your 20-year-old self might say that you are never going to get married or you will always be renting. But in five or ten years, it is very likely you would have changed your mind completely. Do yourself a favor and start saving for standard goals anyway — a wedding, down payment for a house, or your dream vacation. If you don’t end up spending money on a wedding, you can always reallocate it to another goal.


  • Get started today: Time is the most powerful ally when it comes to investing. Many people keep waiting to learn everything about investing to start. Don’t get stuck on debate minutiae. Get started with some basic, low expense, index funds — total stock market or life-cycle funds. As you learn more about investing, you can adjust them accordingly.
  • Don’t pass up free money: If your company offers a 401(k) plan, especially with matching funds, take full advantage of it. Sign up to contribute the maximum. That way you will never see the money in your wallet, you won’t miss the money, and you won’t be tempted to spend it.


  • Manage your debt: If you have student loans or credit card debt, pay them off aggressively, starting with the highest interest rate loan.
  • Avoid consumer debt: I do not believe credit cards are evil, but they are not for everyone. Understand the pros and cons of credit cards. Do not buy things you cannot afford. If you want something, save for it.
  • Build your credit: Unless you are determined to pay everything in cash, you need decent credit to get a good interest rate on your loan, whether a car loan or a mortgage. Even if you are in the cash camp, it is still a good idea to maintain a great credit score as it is now used by utility and insurance companies to give you preferred rates.


  • Insure adequately: When you are in your 20s, you might feel invincible and be tempted to skip health insurance to save money. Don’t! Accidents happen, and so do sudden illnesses. If your company offers health insurance, that is most likely the cheapest option. If you are under 26, you can also check the cost of insurance as a dependent on your parents’ plan. If you are single with no dependents, you probably don’t need life insurance, unless you have a loan that someone else co-signed for, if that is the case, insure yourself at least to cover that loan amount.

Nobody cares more about your money than you do. By setting up a good financial foundation, you are setting yourself up for success.

If you can go back and talk to your newly graduated self, what advice would you give yourself?

Published on June 30th, 2014
Modified on June 25th, 2014 - One Comment
Filed under: Credit Cards, Education, Insurance, Planning, Real Estate, Saving & Investing, Working

Must-Have Websites and Apps for Parents

Written by FCN Staff - Leave a Comment

This post comes from Dawn Jamison at our partner site Zing!

One of the most exciting things about being a new parent is learning about all of the wonderful toys and technologies that exist for kids! The apps and websites my friends have told me about have truly been lifesavers. I don’t know what I would do without having these great resources at my fingertips. Whether I’ve had questions about my daughter’s development or questions about my sick baby, these have come in handy.

Here are four web sites well worth saving to your favorites list.

This site is popular among expectant moms because it tracks the development of their fetus and also tells moms how to take care of themselves during pregnancy. The site boasts trusted advice from pediatricians and experts around the world on all things babies. It provides feedback from an online community of moms and parents. The instructional video clips are very helpful too!

This website is intended to help parents raise healthy children and influence manufacturers to produce safer products for families. gives parents answers about children of any age. The site features all things pertaining to kids and parenting, including information about your child’s growth, news stories, blogs and consumer information.

This website is run by Public Broadcasting Service and focuses on providing quality child development through programming, videos and activities. This site also provides free interactive learning games for kids and fitness and food advice for parents. Your children can watch cartoons and listen to songs while learning basics like numbers, letters, colors and shapes.

If you’re the type of person who relies on feedback from reviews, you’ll love This review site provides parent reviews on everything from products, toys and furniture to foods and more. It is a great resource for new parents who don’t know where to go for advice on baby products. It’s also helpful for people who aren’t parents and need to purchase gifts for kids. It even has a section called “Diaper Bag Essentials” for newbies.

You know how people say, “there’s an app for that” about everything? Well, I’m starting to think it’s true! Here are four phone apps that are must-haves for parents.

Mom Maps

This app helps parents find kid-friendly fun and activities when away from home. The Mom Maps directory has more than 19,000 locations in 18 metro areas. These include parks, playgrounds, restaurants, museums, indoor play areas and more. The directory is powered by a large community of mom-mappers and well-traveled parents.


This awesome app lets you track and review your caregiver’s actions throughout the day. You can see your baby’s feeding schedules, diaper changings, sleep times and even pictures taken by your caregiver. It also is an easy way to keep track of your child’s growing milestones such as a first tooth or first steps. This app also has a cool calendar feature to sync your schedule and baby-related appointments.


This app is designed to save users money because they can see trending deals, limited-time offers and find coupons for items of interest. This app isn’t tailored to parents, but it’s a valuable tool when it comes to buying pricey items like formula, diapers and wipes. The app sends you deal alerts and reminders so you don’t miss out!

Baby Monitor Apps

As I geared up to spend about $150 on a baby monitor system, I learned about these cool baby monitor apps. They allow you to turn your phone or computer into an alarm and detect noise around your sleeping baby. There are various versions of baby monitor apps such as CloudBaby Monitor by iTunes, Dormi for Android phones and CodeGoo by iPhone.

If you have other valuable websites or mobile apps to share, post a comment below. I’m sure other parents will appreciate you for sharing your resources!

More stories from Zing:

Five Feng Shui Tips to Help You Sell Your House

Tips for Transitioning to Dorm Life

The History of U.S. Money

Published on June 27th, 2014 - Leave a Comment
Filed under: Family & Life

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