Money management with kids, and the power of matching

This post was sponsored by Scholarshare.

For a recent birthday, one of my sons got a twenty-dollar bill from a family member. His eyes lit up when he opened the gift. He was excited about his newfound wealth. He pocketed it. 
A few days later, one of our neighbors came over after our kids had been playing across the street at their house. She had $20 in her hand.
Guess who had just left his new twenty clutched in the sticky hand of the neighbors’ four-year-old? 
My kids are terrible managers of money. He wasn’t being generous with his money, in a that-toddler-could-really-use-some-cash kind of way. He was doesn’t realize the value and wanted to share with a friend . . . a friend way too young to be trusted with money.
Savers? Not my kids. No yet, anyways. Had he kept up with that money and had a chance to spend it, he probably would have come home with $20 worth of candy and gum. And don’t get me started on what happened when I sent my kids to school with money for the book fair. (Spoiler alert: no books were purchased but we are now in possession with more bobble-head pens and plastic pointer than I know what to do with.)
Mark and I have a lot of work to do when it comes to educating our kids on money management.
We feel like they’re not quite old enough to earn an allowance, so they don’t really have much money to manage. But we talk about being smart with money a lot.
For instance, we live in Southern California. It’s a driving culture. Cars are a big deal here, and we’re certain the day will come when our kids begin the countdown toward getting their drivers license. We’ve been letting them know that they should not expect to walk out the door on the morning of their 16th birthday and see a shiny new convertible out in the street, wrapped up in one of those SUV-sized red bows.
That was never my experience and it won’t be theirs.
However, we HAVE been talking about helping them purchase a used car. We talk about it in terms of matching: Whatever each kid can save toward the cost of a car, we will match exactly that amount. My parents made this deal with me and it was a great incentive. It puts half the financial responsibility and all of the initiative in their hands.
We’ve also been thinking about matching with our kids college savings plans through Scholarshare, California’s 529 plan. We already do automatic monthly contributions for each of our four kids. But what if we tied ourselves to some sort of self-imposed matching program?
• When our kids are old enough to earn an allowance, what if we also put a matching amount into their plans?
• When we give our kids birthday presents, what if we matched that amount dollar-for-dollar with a college savings plan contribution?
• What if we asked family or friends to contribute directly to our kids’ accounts with an eGift, and then matched it ourselves?
• Or what if we allowed our kids to save their own money in their college savings plans, with a match from us?
I love setting up automatic contributions for our kids’ plans because I don’t have to think about it. But there’s also some value to keeping it front-and-center as our kids grow, and finding ways to save even more. I’m hoping that as we implement some matching with their college savings, it will impress upon them the value and importance of that money being set aside for their education. 
Do you do any kind of money matching with your kids?

Is a college degree still worth it?

This post was sponsored by Scholarshare.

Mark Zuckerberg didn’t finish college. Neither did Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. But chances are, someone at my local Starbucks DID finish college…and now she’s putting her degree to work making lattes.

As for me, I attended both college and grad school. I have a master’s degree. But do you know where the bulk of my income comes from these days? My blog.

I didn’t go to college to learn how to be a blogger, because blogging didn’t exist in those days. I have a degree in musical theater that I only use in the car or in the shower when I’m busting out some showtunes. I have a degree in psych and only a tiny foot still in the door of that world.

Is a college degree still worth it? It’s a question we asked ourselves before opening Scholarshare 529 college savings accounts for our kids. Tuition is through the roof. Wages are falling. Student debt is at an all-time high, and most college grads leave school with thousands of dollars in student loans. And this book says 36% of college students don’t demonstrate any significant improvement in their learning while attending a university.

Would my kids be better off entering a non-degree training program for a specialized skill, like computer coding? I’d hate to spend all that money only to end up with a kid who isn’t using a degree that cost more than my car.

I think that’s still a question every family has to answer, but for us, the answer is still yes.

  • A recent report shows a 14% to 15% rate of return for a bachelor’s degree since 2000. That’s still a good return on investment, any way you look at it. 
  • People with a college degree earn 84% more over their lifetime than those who only have a high school diploma. 
  • In 2013, those who had a four-year degree averaged 98 percent more an hour than people without a degree. 
  • Overall, unemployment is lower for college grads than it is for high school grads. Some majors and careers—like engineering, business, healthcare, and computer science—have even better potential.

So you can save for college and pay all those skyrocketing costs but have better earning potential over your lifetime. Or you can avoid those costs, skip college, and earn less over your lifetime.

It’s not right for every personality or every kid, but I know which path I’d choose for my own children. The one with a greater potential reward. To end up with a well-paying career, college seems the path with the least risk and greatest upside.

I’m an educator. I believe in the power of education to teach people to think critically, to open their minds to new ideas, and to prepare for the workforce. Education stimulates you to ask questions and evaluate concepts. It helps you make connections. It exposes you to fantastic resources and greater opportunities. Our economy today isn’t based on manufacturing like it used to be—it’s now based on knowledge and information. College is a foot in that knowledge economy door. So I think college is valuable…but I don’t think it’s worth going into extreme debt in order to pay for it. Especially for some majors. (I’m not sure a $100,000 degree in French Literature is going to pay off.)

But I do think it’s worth it to save for some kind of post-high school education for my kids, whether it’s a certificate from a community college to a master’s degree like mine. Scholarshare 529 accounts can be applied to all of those scenarios.

That’s why we did it for our four kids.

What’s your view? Is a college degree still worth the money? Will you encourage your children to pursue a four-year education?

Lessons about maternal health from Merck for Moms

Sponsored by Merck for Mothers and BlogHer

A few weeks ago at BlogHer ’14 I had the chance to attend a seminar given by Merck for Mothers on global maternal health. It was an eye-opening experience.

We learned that every 10 minutes, a woman in the U.S. nearly dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Most of these deaths are preventable. That’s why Merck created Merck for Mothers, a 10-year initiative designed to reduce maternal mortality around the world, including the U.S.

One of the goals of Merck for Mothers is to raise awareness about the importance of pregnant women and their loved ones talking to a healthcare professional about potential pregnancy complications. In the U.S., three of the leading causes of these deaths are:

  • Preeclampsia (severe high blood pressure)
  • Embolism (pulmonary blood clots)
  • Post-partum hemorrhage (severe bleeding during or after giving birth)

A doctor spoke with us about these complications, but the most compelling part of the day was hearing from the random sampling of women in attendance… other bloggers like myself… who had personal experiences with these complications. In a room of about 50 people, several women had experienced pre-eclampsia or post-partum hemorrhaging. Nearly everyone in the room knew someone affected by these complications. (My own sister had hemorrhaging after one of her deliveries.)

Any woman can be at risk for pregnancy complications, regardless of education, fitness level, diet, or general health. Tragically, women still die from complications experienced during pregnancy and childbirth. Merck for Mothers has created an acronym of the three of the leading causes of these deaths: P-reeclampsia, E-mbolism, and P-ost-partum hemorrhage… or “PEP.” They are encouraging women to pledge to have a “PEP Talk” with loved ones who are expecting, and to encourage them to chat with their healthcare professional about potential pregnancy complications and their signs and symptoms. Hopefully, as more conversations happen around these conversations, women can be educated and prepared to respond if symptoms arise, and more women can seek the treatment they need to reduce maternal mortality.

You can visit or Merck for Mothers’ Facebook page or Twitter page to learn more.

Merck, through its Merck for Mothers program, and BlogHer have sponsored this post. It is for informational purposes only and not intended to provide or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

How to get kids to pack their own lunches

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This post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds.

Kids are picky about food. I’ve gone one really adventurous eater (see my #FoodieJafta tag on instagram), but for the others, pickiness seems to be an inherent trait that they were born with.  We can work our way around this pickiness at home—usually—but it gets tricky at school.

I remember trading lunches with other kids back when I was in school. But with teachers and cafeteria monitors walking around and a much greater sensitivity to allergies and dietary needs, those days are gone. Which I am totally cool with, by the way. Because, seriously, I don’t know who made that kid’s lunch, and I don’t know where their hands have been. But still, there really is no way for me to know if my child is eating the food I have so lovingly packed. They could easily be throwing it away just because it’s not what they wanted that day.

I’m trying to find my way around this, and have come up with probably the most brilliant/lazy parenting move we’ve ever made: We make our kids pack their own lunches. Whenever possible, kids like to have a say in things that affect them. And we’ve learned that our kids are much more likely to eat food that they have chosen and prepared themselves. Even if it’s the same food I would have made them. Over the summer, when kids are at home, we champion autonomy and want them to make their own lunches. Now, with school coming soon and all four of my kids being there five days a week, you can believe they will still be packing their lunches. Even my youngest can do her part to make her lunch for the day.

During the school year, we pack our lunches at night. It’s the easiest way to avoid any stress. I’m not a fan of morning routines that involve running around like crazy people trying to find socks and load up backpacks before heading out the door. I’m not really a fan of mornings, period. So when everyone is ready for bed each evening, they head to the kitchen and pack their lunches. It gives them responsibility for their decisions. They have learned that, if they don’t like their lunch, there is no one to blame but themselves.

We supervise the process, of course. If I left it up to my kids, they’d be eating chocolate and cereal all day long. So we’ve set clear guidelines about what is acceptable in their lunches. This is the best way to avoid whining and help them know what is healthy. We’ve made a chart for them, and it’s hanging in the pantry. Five different options go into their lunches: a starch/protein combo, fruit, veggies, snack, and water. We have a designated shelf in the pantry and a bin in the fridge so everyone knows where to grab what they want out of each category.

Yes, this requires a little more planning and prep on my part, but I know the day will soon come when they can do this without ANY supervision from me (or from the chart). We use the term “snack” because there are so many other options than candy bars or chips. Protein bars, string cheese, fruit leather, or almonds are a much better option. All of my kids love almonds which is great for me since almonds are so much healthier.  (Check out Blue Diamond’s “Facts” page for more information about the health benefits of almonds.(

We also have designated a lunch-making area. We’ve put within reach most of the things they will need to make their lunches (like reusable bags or containers, napkins, cutting boards, lunch boxes). They assemble everything and clean up the area when they’re done. After the school day ends, they’re also responsible for cleaning out their lunch boxes. I know I don’t want to clean out their soggy sandwich crusts or other trash. Making them do it themselves seems to be the best way to teach them how disgusting it is to leave unwrapped food in a small, enclosed box all day long. THIS IS WHY WE EAT ALL OUR FOOD, KIDS.

Does this whole process work? Most of the time. For one thing, my kids will find anything that prolongs bedtime each night…even the cleaning-up part. So far, there has been very little complaining about this process. I love that they are learning life skills. And I especially love that I don’t have to pack four lunches every day. It seems to be a win/win at our house.

What about you? How do you handle school lunches?

This post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds.

Teachable Moments While Saving for College

This post was sponsored by Scholarshare.
I mentioned a couple of months ago that Mark and I had opened up Scholarshare 529 college-savings accounts for each of our four kids. With our oldest being nine years old, college really isn’t that far away. I know. We should have started saving for it earlier. Waaaaaaay earlier.
But now that we’ve done it, we’re finding that it has become a great way for us to teach our kids all kinds of civic lessons related to college, money, and the future. We’re all about finding good teachable moments with our kids. Just the fact that they know we’re doing this for them has led to some fun conversations. Here are a few of the things we’ve discussed:

The value of education.

Mark and I each have Master’s degrees. I teach college courses. Obviously we’re fans of higher education. When we told the kids we had opened up accounts to help them pay for college, it accomplished something pretty important: It suggested to them that college was in their future. Now, it won’t be the end of the world if one of our kids chooses a career path that doesn’t include college, but we want them to have every opportunity available to them. And there’s no denying that a college degree is valuable in the long term. To have them picturing themselves going to college now is a good thing.

The possibilities in their future.

Thinking about college makes my kids think about their future. I’ve caught them talking about how they might use the money in their accounts. They’re asking themselves questions: What do I want to be when I grow up? Where could I go to college? How could I help pay for college? I love anything that gets them imagining those kinds of things. Giving them ownership of that future is a huge milestone. (Especially if they end up getting a job to help cover some of those college costs.)

The limitations of debt.

When Mark and I were going to school, we ended up paying for most of our college costs ourselves. The result was a couple of advanced degrees…and a whole lot of student debt. Seriously. We just finished paying off our student loans in 2013. The truth is, paying off those student loans meant we entered our careers and marriage already saddled with debt, and that can be difficult for a lot of families. It certainly was for us. We saved, scrimped, relied on a lot of hand-me-downs, and somehow made it work. Telling our kids we don’t want them to have the same debt we had is a good way to teach them about debt itself—and how to stay out of it.

The importance of saving.

I love watching the way my kids’ personalities have developed. One might spend his allowance money immediately on whatever captures his attention. He could blow it all on gum. Another will save and plan and make the most out of her few dollars. They come by these financial personalities naturally. But we’re always teaching them about why it’s important to save money, and to live within their means. When they see us putting a few bucks into their accounts every month—for the distinct purpose of them someday going to college—it teaches them the value of saving.

The world of investing.

I’m no financial genius, so I’m enjoying learning about mutual funds, the stock market, compounded interest, and all of those things along with my kids. Each kid has varying levels of interest and math understanding, of course, but it’s been fun to show them how X amount of money per month plus X% interest could equal $XX,XXX when they’re ready for college. Their eyes light up at those numbers. If I’m not careful, I may find that one or more of them has opened a day-trading account somewhere. Is it wrong that I’m hoping one becomes a millionaire investment banker some day so they can take care of me in my old age?

I thought registering for ScholarShare would help alleviate my guilt at taking so long to start funding my kids’ educations. (It did.) I thought opening accounts with automatic withdrawals would be easy and efficient. (It was.) But I didn’t expect it to come with so many great opportunities to have conversations with my kids.
If you’re saving for your kids’ college, what do you tell them about it? Have you discovered similar teachable moments or conversation-starters resulting from it?