Back to school...

It’s that time of year again… back to school!  Many families have already packed up the 1st lunch bags, shopped the sales to find folders for $1, or drove hours to send off college kids for the 1st time.  You might be thinking “back to school” is over, right?  Well it isn’t.  Back to school is just the beginning of the most expensive time of year.  School photos, uniforms, clubs, sports, instrument rentals, tuition, etc. are all things that will plague your mind and your budget for the next 9 months.  We’ve only just begun!

back to school

I wanted to take a few moments to give you some tips for tackling this time of year, so you don’t lose your mind and all your money.  Here we go!

For those families with students still at home here are a few things to remember as you begin your school year…

1.      Create space for the unexpected.  I’ve been budgeting now for 20 years.  I have tracked my spending and double checked my account, but sometimes I forget things.  We all do.  Give yourself a bit of wiggle room or misc. money to catch those times when you forgot to add in the orchestra cello repair fee to the budget (yep I just did that!).  Life happens and you don’t need to stress about it.

2.      Decide what is most important.  There are tons of activities, sports, events, etc. for our kids to participate in.  Don’t waste your time or money on activities that your child doesn’t enjoy, takes up a ton of time, or causes him/her to lose focus on the reason they are in school – learning.  It doesn’t make sense to be so involved in expensive activities while grades are suffering.  Take a moment to consider what your schedule and budget allow so there is some balance to your child’s life.

3.      Just say NO!  Yep some of my readers saw that one coming… 😊 Do you really need to buy those school pictures that you never do anything with?  How many pairs of unworn jeans are already in the closet with tags on it? Maybe your son just needs a new pair every month instead of 10 pairs at the beginning of the year.  Kids grow like weeds, remember?  Teach your kids that you have set up healthy boundaries with money so that spending frivolously isn’t your family reality. 

For our families with college kids (like me now!) read on…

1.      Consider giving your student a certain amount of money at the beginning of each month for them to manage.  Don’t transfer money every other day just because they ask.  Teach your student to manage their checking account with enough money so they can buy food, clothes, entertainment, etc. for a full 30 days.  Show them that you trust their ability to figure it out on their own and allow them to try.  They may stumble and overdraft but that is a lesson they won’t soon forget.  It is in these moments that young adults begin to see what boundaries look like.  This is great practice for the future when they must manage more money entirely on their own.

2.      Be mindful of tuition bills especially if your student is taking out loans.  Colleges and universities don’t need to tell the parents how much the student is taking on in loan debt.  My parents had no idea how much my student loan debt added up to when I graduated!  Inquire about their need to take out these loans.  Evaluate how much you can help and then make sure your student understands what the total student loan balance will add up to and what that monthly payment could look like.

3.      Allow your young person to get a job.  Working is empowering.  It helps you manage your time better.  And of course, every college kid needs to feel like they have the freedom to order pizza at midnight while they are studying.  Also, if your student works while in college they can help pay for books, activities, and possibly tuition or rent to reduce your out of pocket costs and the need for loans.  Working is a win/win in my book.

Well now you know that back to school is a journey not a date.  Let’s plan to make this your student’s best year yet while you stay in control of the financial impact as best you can.

Why Financial Wellness Matters – and It Should to You and Everyone


In 2003, the United States Senate designated April as Financial Literacy for Youth Month. It ended up being designated National Financial Literacy Month to highlight the importance of financial literacy and teach Americans how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits.

 Don't you want more for you life than what you have today?  Many people want to travel, debt out of debt, put their children through college, or just enjoy a nice dinner out without guilt or bank overdrafts.  Living free of financial hardships is impossible. However, with discipline and planning you can life your best life no matter where you are right now.  Just get started.  Making an effort to tackle your finances one step at a time is the best place to start.  Your personal goals are why financial health should matter to you!

In honor of such an important month of the year, I'd like to give you a few ideas to improve your financial outlook.


Having a challenge sticking to a budget?  Why don't you just begin with a reality check?  Review one month of expenses in your bank accounts.  Add up transactions by category like groceries, dining out, clothing, gas, etc.  Then make small changes to categories that are negatively impacting the progress towards your goals.


Looking for extra money each month?  Cancel unused subscriptions like the gym.  Shop your auto and home insurance to see if you are getting the best deal.  Review your utilities like cable to ensure you aren’t overpaying.  Check into Netflix and Hulu.  Clip coupons for groceries.


Concerned about sending your kids to college? Gather information about 529 plans in your state.  Talk to other families with college-age students to understand what to expect.  Task your high schooler with researching local scholarships and/or programs that help with college funding.


Not sure you are going to be ready for retirement?  Look into your potential social security benefits.  Contact your 401k plan administrator at work.  Decide on if you will invest at least up to the match to get your free money.  Talk to a financial planner about your options for improving your retirement outlook.


No matter where you are in your financial journey there are always steps you can take to improve.  Commit to change at least 1 habit that will help you go further faster. 


Now may also be a good time to take my online email course, “21 Day of Healthy Habits.”  To learn more click here.


If you need help determining your best next steps contact me to schedule a 30-minute debt-free strategy session here.

The ABC's of Back to School without Breaking the Bank


As we get ready to send our kids off to school, it's hard not to think about the growing costs of educating our children. There are school supplies, clothes & shoes, activities and a whole variety of things that inevitably come up along the way. Fortunately, this transition back to school doesn't have to break the bank if you follow these three guidelines:

A - Analyze Your Needs. What do your children really NEED? There's a difference between needs and wants and it's especially important to keep this in mind when it's back to school time. First, you need to take stock at what you have already on hand. Look at what they currently have (underwear, socks, clothes, supplies, shoes). Second, make sure that the NEEDS are taken care of first. Once the needs are taken care of, if there is money left in your budget, then choose one special thing to start the new year with. It's easy to get carried away with all of the cute and trendy items available but after the first day hype settles down, what's important is that your child have the right tools to get their studies completed.

B - Budget and Plan. You already know what many of your expenses will be so make sure you budget for them year round instead of a huge lump sum at the last minute. Be sure to consider regular supplies like pencils and paper but don't forget about pictures, clubs, lunch money, book fees, yearbooks,  uniforms, and things like these that are always a part of the back-to-school spending.

C - Make Choices. Your child may want to be involved in everything but the reality is that every activity costs money. There may be uniforms to buy, activity fees, snacks, and of course there's even transportation to consider. In order to preserve your bank account (and your calendar!), it's best to make a choice. Choose one activity and be "all in." Instead of focusing on what they don't get to do, make the effort to focus on the one special activity that you are involved in. The biggest thing here is to know what you can finance before you decide what you will do or be involved with.

These are three thoughts to help you stay on track even with back to school expenses in your budget. Keeping these in mind will help you from breaking the bank.


How to Keep the Kids Busy Without Breaking the Bank

CampIcostalottaIt's summertime for the kiddos which means you need to find something to keep them busy. Whether that means summer camps or activities at home, entertaining our young family members can put a dent in the budget. Be sure to read on to get some helpful tips to make sure that you don't end up sending kids to CAMP ICOSTALOTTA. 1. Plan ahead. Tracking expenses through programs like Quicken allows you to easily look back at what you spent last year. Knowing what you spent before can give you a starting point for what you should plan to spend this year.

2. Prioritize what the kids are really interested in. Involve them in the decision process and encourage them to choose camp and activity choices that they are truly interested in. You don't want to spend money sending them to a camp or other activity that they don't really want to do or won't enjoy.

3. Get them involved in activities that are free or inexpensive. Many museums and zoos offer free days so check the local calendars to see what options are near you.

4. Keep the kids busy by letting them find creative ways to make money. Keeping them busy doesn't have to cost you money.  Have them do yard work, run a lemonade stand or walk dogs and they can earn money instead!

5. Seek out volunteer opportunities. With their extra time, summer is a great time to get kids involved in giving back within the community. Contact a local charity organization and see what help your kids can do. Getting involved will give them a sense of purpose, keep them busy and help the organization all at the same time!

6. Don't forget to see what their friends are doing. If they have to make a choice in activities, they are more likely to do things that their friends are doing too.


Give Them a Gift That Keeps Giving After the Graduation

It's such an exciting time for so many teens as they prepare to graduate from high school. While diplomas are being prepared, you might be wondering what makes a good gift for the graduating senior. Cash is often a "go-to" gift but instead of cash, I invite you to consider a gift that will provide them a financial benefit for a much longer period of time. It's alarming to know that the average student loan debt is over $23,000 so it's important to help our children get off to a good financial start. This is why I recommend the Graduate's Survival Guide or the Graduate and Go Bundle, both available from to help your teens prepare for life after high school. In addition to this gift, here are a few other thoughts to consider as you get ready to celebrate their big day (or even prepare for a graduating teen a year or more from now!):

1. Make scholarships a priority. Not all scholarships are academically based so look for scholarships of all kinds and in all amounts. They all add up to help relieve the financial burden that a college education can bring.

2. It's ok for kids to work! Encouraging your children to work a few hours a week in high school not only gives them a little money to spend (and save for college!) but it also teaches them valuable life skills like responsibility, discipline, and time management.

3. Start an emergency fund now. It's never too early to start an emergency fund. Get them started now and teach them what constitutes an emergency (not a craving for pizza at 2am before an exam!) and they'll be prepared when the inevitable happens.

Share these tips with your proud teens along with the advice they'll get from the Graduate's Survival Guide and you'll be giving them a gift that keeps on giving after the celebration has faded.

Training Requires Repetition

Ok so I’m going to tell on my family today. :) A few years ago, I confided in a friend of mine that my daughter was not obeying me immediately when I asked her to do something. Time and time again, I’d tell her something and she’d not take it seriously or conveniently “forget.” For those of you who know my girls don’t try to figure out which one it was because they have both behaved like this at some point. The point is that we all have. I truly believe that the bible is the divinely inspired word of God and it says “train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” So when my friend told me that training requires you to repeat the process over and over again I sank in frustration. I mean who really wants to repeat themselves 5,000 times before a kid gets the point?! I just wanted to tell my daughters what to do and then have them actually do it right then. What is so hard about that? Nothing really if you’ve been trained! Here’s the definition of train: to develop or form the habits, thoughts, or behavior of (a child or other person) by discipline and instruction

My daughters are in the middle of being trained to do what we ask, learn personal responsibility, and eventually initiate good behaviors on their own. So to expect them to get it right on the 1st try is unrealistic. Training takes time, repetition and discipline. Here’s the thing. We all need training in an area or two. My clients come to me because they need training in tracking their spending, creating and living by a budget, as well as learning how to get out of debt. It takes repetition to make anything a habit you do without thinking. Budgeting is no different. If managing your money has been hard for you until now here’s what I want you to do. Breathe… and try again. Maybe you need a coach on your team to help you avoid pitfalls and hold you accountable. Maybe you need to take a class that will give you the instruction you need to finally be successful. Or maybe you simply need to decide that 2013 is the year you will commit to being consistent.

If this has resonated with you and you are ready to make some things happen in 2013. I want to hear from you! Email me today. I also want you to take action.

Next Thursday January 31st, 2013 at 7pm EST I am having an Encore call for "The 10 Reasons You “Don’t Have Enough” and the Key Ingredients to “Having More Than Enough.”

I received such a great response that I am doing it again! I will also be offering a special gift for those on the call… so register today. If you registered for it already I have you on my list and you will receive the call-in info. “See” you on the call!

Merry Christmas!

I am so grateful to God for sending Jesus. He was the ultimate gift. His example is what we need to follow after every day. This picture is of my family hiking the Great Wall in Beijing on our summer vacation to China. Yes, we went to China and paid CASH! It was an experience I won’t soon forget. I am so thankful to God that we had such a wonderful opportunity. We had some wonderful Christian neighbors we stayed with and took us around the major tourist attractions. It truly was the trip of a lifetime! I wanted to share some of the things I learned while I was there. The things made me appreciate our country and the God that we serve.

  • Freedom of religion is not to be taken lightly. I can praise my Heavenly Father anytime I want! Many times I will be in company when I do it too because more than 75% of Americans proclaim Christ. In China however, that number is less than 30% and finding a church is even more challenging.
  • I learned that privacy is relative. In China, you never know who is watching your comings and goings. The government is highly involved in your life. In America, most of the time we can feel secure when we close our door at night. That isn’t the case everywhere.
  • We are definitely a wealthy country. No matter what the dollar is worth, how the stocks perform, or what the unemployment rate is; we make a lot of money overall. Did you know that the average annual income in Beijing was $2715 in 2005? That is less than unemployment benefits in Arizona! No wonder they have shared living spaces, one child per family, and eat simply!

This holiday season I purpose to be thankful for God’s many blessings and look for ways to share that with others. Our trip to China was outstanding but also a fantastic reminder of how blessed we are. Not only is Jesus the reason for the season but frankly He must be the reason for everything. This Christmas make sure that everything you do has Christ at the center and helps others to acknowledge Him as well.

Merry Christmas!


How much should you spend on groceries?

The size of your family and your household income are big influences on your grocery spending. Some experts believe that $200/adult and $150/child for the month is reasonable. Personally I believe that is a lot of money especially given that the U.S. average household income is $50,000. I like to give guidelines to people based on percentages of income. For instance, all food for the home including groceries, dining out, school lunches, etc should be between 5-15% of your take home pay. Higher income households will be able to have steak more often if there are also fewer mouths to feed. Lower income households may spend closer to the 15% of their income on food simply because the income is not as high. If you use this rule of thumb and your percentage is higher than 15% you have reason to be concerned because the food category is cutting into other living expenses. But of course you need to eat and you or your children shouldn't feel deprived when doing so. If you are spending 20% of what you bring home on food each month that is an indication that more income is needed to take care of your size family or you need to do some serious couponing and reduce dining out. If that is the case, you will also feel the squeeze in your budget in other areas like mortgage/rent, transportation, etc. You can also try several of the following things to reduce the food budget: 1. Shop wholesale markets (Costco and Sam's) religiously for items you use a lot. 2.,, all match the store's sale items to the weekly newspaper coupons. If you clip coupons try these sites once and see big savings. 3. Always have a running list of items you need in the home so you don’t go shopping blind and overspend. 4. Plan your meals and write the items you need on your running grocery list. This way you will only buy what is necessary. 5. Reduce dining out or use for deals.

Food is necessity but it doesn't have to cramp your style and take all your discretionary money for the month. With a plan and a purpose you can feed your family on a reasonable amount.

6 Tips for Back To School!

Yes it is that time of year again… Back to School! Have you adequately prepared? Most of the time, we haven’t. Somehow we just have too much fun relaxing, vacationing, and in general enjoying the break from the usual routine. Well I have news for you… School starts at about the same time each year so why not plan accordingly? Christmas is always on December 25th but we don’t seem to realize that until Thanksgiving dinner is before us. How about we make preparations for what is ahead by starting now? Since my kids started school this week, I have no choice but to plan for the next year. Our school shopping is done! Here are some tips to consider when the summer is coming to an end:

1. Before you spend any money. Look at what you already have. Make your kids clean their rooms, open the drawers, and take inventory. This goes for clothes and school supplies. Now that you know where the gaps are all you need to do is purchase those missing items. 2. Create a storage tub with all unused school supplies. Stock up at Staples and Office Max when certain supplies are 1 penny and then dump them in the tub so you know where to look when you need it. 3. Buy clothes in larger sizes throughout the year when they are on clearance. This way you don’t need to budget a large amount for clothing on the heels of your vacation. 4. Get an idea for what activities, electives, and sports your kids want to partake in early. Next, determine what makes sense for your schedule and budget. Finally, inform your kids what they can participate in before the sign up date. Then they know their boundaries ahead of time. 5. Summer is expensive with vacations, camps, activities, etc. We have to keep everyone busy right? Well, why not save for these events throughout the year? Sign up for your dependent care account at work so you get a tax break. Only put in the amount of money for child care, camps, etc that you know you will spend because the money is gone at the end of the year. Also, open a vacation savings account. Add up what you spent this summer and set aside the monthly amount automatically. 6. Shopping is easy when you have to buy school uniforms since it is all the same. However, it can be costly. Scout out families with kids either older or younger than yours and consider a clothing exchange. And definitely save the older siblings clothes for your younger ones.

Budgeting is the key to success with money. It helps you plan for what is ahead and gives you a basis for change when the unexpected happens. Preparing to send your kids to school is no different. Budgeting will relieve the stress and in turn put the power back in your hands. Here’s to a great school year!