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  • Three Ways to Make Saving for College Simple

    Thanks to RBS Citizens Financial Group for this informative sponsored post. You can read the full CFO disclosure policy here.

    As a parent, one of the most important things you can do for your child is help pave their way into the future – and for most that will mean getting a college education. With education costs on the rise, establishing your college savings plans as early as possible is extremely important. Consider setting up a designated college savings account that will accumulate interest on your hard earned contributions. Here are three things you can do to make saving for college easier for you and your family:

    1. Start college savings plans early. When it comes to setting aside money for your child’s education, you cannot begin too early. Many parents wisely start funneling money into an account designed to fund their child’s future long before first words are even spoken.
    2. Put money into a college savings account on a regular basis. No matter how you want to save money for your child’s education, you should try to put money into the account with each paycheck. Designate an amount that you are comfortable setting aside and have it automatically deposited into the account of your choice. Some popular college savings accounts include:
      • Traditional savings accounts: Although it may not be specifically designated as a “college savings account”, an interest bearing savings account at your bank is really all you need to start a monthly habit of investing in your child’s future. Ask your bank about features like automatic savings account transfers, which can help you to commit to paying yourself first every pay period.
      • 529 accounts: Maybe the most well known method of saving for college, 529 college savings accounts provide college savings with a tax advantage. Money can grow in the account tax-deferred and all money saved in the account can be withdrawn by the beneficiary of the account tax-free as long as it’s being applied to qualified higher education expenses.
      • College savings account: Making monthly contributions into a college savings account provides you regular savings with interest, and some banks even offer incentives for regular contributions.
    3. Add high interest savings accounts into your college savings plan. One way to add even more money to your college savings plan is to utilize high interest savings accounts. Take a portion of what you’ve been saving for college and transfer it into a high yield account for an amount of time you are comfortable with. This will give you the opportunity to earn a bit more on your money, and diversify your savings portfolio.
      • Certificates of deposit: Opening a certificate of deposit (CD) for your children can provide them with a high interest way of saving for college that will continue to accumulate interest every term it is renewed. If desired, after the date of maturity funds can be removed from the CD and invested into an alternative savings product or used for other educational needs.
      • Money market accounts: For high interest savings with a slight bit more flexibility than CDs when it comes to withdrawals, money markets can be an attractive college savings account alternative.

    Start making college savings plans today

    Just the fact that you are thinking about saving for your child’s college career shows that you are on the right track. If you are ready to get started, a good first step is to visit your bank and talk through the options available to you. Commit yourself to regular contributions and know that you are well on your way to helping your child open doors in the future.

    Living in a Cash Society

    I’m on my way home today (yay!), and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, and hugging my husband and children. But I enjoyed my time in Japan, and on a personal finance front, I couldn’t help thinking about the cash society that Japan still is (my last trip here was nearly 10 years ago). At a time when I rarely use any cash and completely failed at an all-cash experiment a few years ago, I was fascinated that cash is still the most common method of payment.

    Japan is known for having one of the highest personal savings rates, and given the prominence of the use of cash, I can’t help but think that the two go hand in hand. After all, personal finance bloggers and experts emphasize how using switching to cash from credit cards decreases spending by forcing you to be aware of exactly how much you’re spending. Money Saving Mom is my favorite example, since she is not only a shining example of cash-only success, but also regularly publishes success stories from others.

    However, I also can’t help noticing that personal safety is still less of an issue in Japan than it is in the U.S. Many women carry bags without zippers, because they don’t have to worry about someone reaching in to take the contents. I’d guess that most people carry a fair amount of cash with them, without worrying about being mugged. (Although, I have noticed that some areas are a bit more sketchy than they used to be – maybe a side effect of the recession?)

    Paying with cash in Japan has brought back reminders of what I dislike about using cash – the accumulation of loose change, how much longer it takes to pay because you’re hunting for bills and the correct change, and the time it takes to put away any change while the store clerk politely holds the bag out. (And that’s one thing that hasn’t changed since the last time I was here – the unfailing politeness of store clerks especially always stands out to me as there’s such an extreme contrast to the U.S.)

    All in all, I will be very happy to be home and to go back to using my credit card to pay for purchases. However, I’ll continue to try to be as aware of my spending as I would be if I were paying with cash.

    Where do you stand on the all-cash system of personal spending?

    Banner ad via Logical Media.

    Marriage & Money: Be a Team

    A friend of mine is going through a difficult time right now – her marriage is on the rocks, and while there are many reasons why, the big one that comes out every time we talk is money and the fact that she and her husband have lived well beyond their means for years at this point.

    One thing that strikes me is that it’s impossible for them to tackle their financial problems right now because they’re not doing anything together. And I realized that all of the “we did it” stories I’ve read about couples who’ve achieved financial success have one thing in common: They did it together.

    That’s certainly true in my own life. When I wrote about becoming debt-free except for the mortgage, I used the word “we” to describe the steps we took. And while I mostly handle the day-to-day money management for our household, we make decisions together. For example:

    We agree to live beneath our means so we can save money.

    We discuss decisions that involve spending larger amounts of money, like the kids’ summer camp.

    We set priorities together, and work toward a mutual goal, such as paying for private school.

    In the last few years, my husband and I have paid off all of our non-mortgage debt, established a comfortable emergency fund, and positioned ourselves so that I could take a huge pay cut to work from home. None of these goals could have been achieved if we weren’t on the same page, working as a team toward the same goal.

    So the lesson of the day is: Your family’s financial success requires everyone to work together as a team.

    Banner ad via Logical Media.

    When you’re in the red

    It’s been a time of big expenses for us, as we’ve paid for our property taxes, income taxes (we owed some this year), plane tickets and more. That means we’ll spend a couple of months “in the red” – that is, spending more than we’re bringing in. And even though we have the money in savings (and some of the expenses were actually budgeted for), spending more than we make causes me great discomfort and even a little anxiety.

    A big part of that is my personal lack of income – as a blogger, I don’t make anything close to what I used to make as a lawyer. But there’s not a whole lot I can do about that now. So . . . here are some tips for coping psychologically when your expenses suddenly outweigh your income:

    Stem the tide – Spending can be like a break in the dam. First there’s a slow trickle, but the pressure builds up and boom! – there’s a big hole in the wall. The trick is to patch the dam before the hole gets too big. You can do that by questioning every expense, and asking yourself if it needs to be made right away, or if it can wait for a while.

    Cut back where you can – Things like eating out, gourmet groceries, a night out at the movies, and so on can almost always be put on hold while you get your finances back on track. For me personally, this often means limiting shopping solely to the grocery store for perishables only, and not stocking up on something I don’t need immediately, even if it’s a good price.

    Bring in some extra income – This is one of those times when doing little things to bring in extra income can have a bigger impact on your mental state than your actual bottom line. You can sell some stuff on Amazon, eBay or Craigslist, have a yard sale, or take surveys (I like Pinecone Research best). And that’s just a few ideas – there are many other ways to bring in a little money.

    Declutter – It never ceases to amaze me how much better I feel about everything by decluttering a room, closet or other area. In this particular situation, it’s a good reminder of how much I have, how little I need, and that everything is going to work out just fine.

    Maintain perspective – Sometimes spending money makes sense, whether it’s paying the taxes to avoid paying even more in the form of a penalty, or going on a rare trip to see family. The purpose of saving money is precisely so that it’s there when you need it – at times like this. Keeping that in mind helps to relieve the anxiety of seeing the balance in your bank account go down!

    Banner ad via Logical Media.

    Final March 2012 Shopping & Cash Experiment Update

    I did a modified all-cash experiment for my grocery and drugstore spending in March, and ending up going over my $500 budget (as I predicted I would last week). The total stands at $568.23, although I think I’m missing a few Walgreens purchases using the Friends & Family coupon on Friday, and the final total should actually be more like $590.

    My spending in the past few months was also around $600, so that just seems to be the right amount for my family. As I neared the end of the month and that $500 mark, I realized that I wasn’t willing to give up those things that would put me over – namely, the organic and hormone/antibiotic-free products that I choose to buy, stock-up items like butter, and donation items that will be put to good use in the coming weeks.

    For example, I’ve begun stocking up for the post office’s Stamp Out Hunger food drive in May. And Challenge butter was $1.49 at Ralphs through Saturday, so I bought 12 pounds last week. We’ll use it all in the next six months or so, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get that much RBST-free butter that cheap again now that Ralphs has eliminated double coupons.

    So I don’t regret going over budget at all. And I don’t regret doing the cash experiment either. I did find that I was inclined to spend less when I was using cash, and I could have kept my costs down if I’d made different choices. That realization alone made the whole experiment worth it – it’s nice to know that I’m not mindlessly spending money on groceries, toiletries and household items. The amount I spend is a good balance between keeping expenses minimal while still accomplishing my priorities of serving my family organic and hormone/antibiotic-free products, and helping others. ^_^

    Banner ad via Logical Media.