My college roommate Maddy knows the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) system well. Maddy used federal student loans to finance her undergraduate and graduate degrees. As a high school teacher, she’s dedicated a large portion of her school’s homeroom curriculum to making sure her students enter college with a better understanding of how personal finances, credit, and loan amortization work. I got together with Maddy to chat about her experience navigating the federal student loan system from start to finish and to find out what advice she has for parents and students today.
Moorea: To start off, can you tell me what degrees you have, where you went to school, and how you financed your college expenses?
Maddy: Sure. I have a BA in English from the University of Oregon, a master’s in teaching from Oregon State University, and a master’s in English from Portland State University. My undergraduate degree was funded about 30% by scholarships and 70% by federal student loans. My graduate degree from OSU was paid for 100% with federal student loans and my second graduate degree from PSU was paid for by federal loans and a tuition program through my job that covered $1,000 per term.
Moorea: Do you remember what your thought process was when you were 18 and deciding to take out your first student loan?
Maddy: Yeah, there was no thought process. I answered all the questions on the FAFSA with my mom, and at the end of the application, I clicked a box that said “Yes, Accept.” There was a very basic loan counseling page that I read, but it didn’t mean much at the time because I didn’t understand the concept of amortization. It was 2009 during the financial crisis, and everyone was taking out student loans. Debt was the expectation.
Because my parents’ expected family contribution was high, I didn’t qualify for subsidized loans (loans that don’t accrue interest until after graduation) despite them not paying anything towards my college. I didn’t know my student loans were accruing interest the whole time I was in school.
Moorea: You’re in charge of writing your school’s curriculum. Are you doing anything to prepare your students to make financial decisions after high school?
Maddy: Yes! In addition to a traditional personal finance and college prep curriculum, I walk through how to fill out the FAFSA with students page by page. I do a cost benefit analysis with students where we compare the cost of tuition at three community colleges, three states schools, and one private university. I walk my students through how many hours of a minimum wage job you’d have to work to pay off the loan over a 10-year period and explain how loan amortization works.
Moorea: What advice do you have for students and parents to help offset the cost of college?
Maddy: Consider completing your general education requirements at community college. Many Oregon students qualify for free community college through the Oregon Promise Grant.
If you’re considering attending a state school and your high school covers the cost of community college classes or offers College Now classes, take these because the credits will transfer to a university.
If you’re considering a more prestigious school or private college, focus on taking AP classes and sitting for the AP exams.
All students should volunteer as it looks good on college, scholarship, and job applications.
While it is a highly valuable asset in life, college education is a big expense, and families should discuss and plan with their financial advisor to determine how to proceed with this important life decision. If you want assistance with this planning process, please reach out to us.
Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Merriman. The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.
Making the decision to bring a child into the world and create a family of your own is a major life milestone to be celebrated. With this very exciting step can also come a lot of uncertainty and what-ifs about how to prepare for the coming months and years ahead. Without the proper planning or conversations about the future, it can all start to feel overwhelming or unmanageable. The good news is that whether you are planning to become parents soon or further down the road in your relationship, there are ways to start securing your financial future now to set yourself up for success wherever your life journey takes you.
Build an emergency fund
No matter what stage you’re in when it comes to your relationship or life in general, creating a sound financial foundation for yourself is a wise idea. Although your financial allocation might already be spread thin from paying off your loans, car payments, mortgage, rent, and other monthly bills, it’s important to have a plan for an emergency. Of course, you do need to stay on top of bills and scheduled payments; however, as new parents, it’s especially important to have a financial safety net should something unexpected happen.
This is also smart budgeting practice for individuals and their families. If it takes more than a month to set aside around $500, you might want to take a closer look at your spending habits. A reasonable goal is to have about six months’ worth of financial coverage to pay all your bills and expenses should you have no other source of income for a time. This might seem like a lot initially; however, after facing a worldwide pandemic, you can see how it would be beneficial to have an emergency fund to protect your family in the event of a crisis, job loss, or other outstanding circumstance.
Ensure healthcare coverage
Depending on your profession, it’s possible that you have healthcare coverage and benefits. If you are an entrepreneur, on the other hand, or work for yourself, it’s essential that you have the appropriate coverage for your situation. Talking with your spouse or partner in this case might be helpful to determine if you need separate or additional coverage for your family’s needs. There are various options available to get health insurance as an entrepreneur or if you are self-employed. Getting ready to start a family is a great time to ensure you have the appropriate coverage for the coming months.
Secure a life insurance policy
There are various ways to go about financial planning and investing in your future that will allow for less anxiety should you experience an unanticipated circumstance. It’s recommended that soon-to-be parents or new parents secure a life insurance policy as a way to protect your loved ones, allow for peace of mind in the present, and create financial assurance should you not be around to support your family.
Additionally, life insurance rates increase by about 8% annually, so it’s best to secure financial protection now if you think you’ll have dependents later. Ideally, the best time to shop for life insurance is before you become pregnant or in the earlier months of pregnancy since health complications can arise during pregnancy. But if this is not the case for you, there are still options to help you get affordable rates. Many people misunderstand how much life insurance they need and opt for whatever is available through their work or employer. Experts recommend a death benefit of at least 10–15x your annual income to prevent your family from being underinsured. Often with an employer or group policy, you will not be given this much coverage.
Get in the habit of budgeting
As mentioned, having a clear understanding of your financial situation is extremely critical if you are planning to become parents. Knowing where you stand in terms of monthly income versus expenditure plus additional investments will help you determine if you will need to cut back when the baby comes. Not only does a newborn require all your time and attention, but they also can be expensive. From clothes, food, and supplies to furniture, strollers, and doctor appointments, your finances will certainly be impacted.
Based on your relationship and situation, you and your significant other can decide on a budgeting method that works best for you. Getting into the habit of budgeting your finances before bringing a baby into the picture is a great idea if you are not used to accounting for all your expenses. If you are newer to budgeting for yourself or with your partner, it might be worthwhile to research some of the best budgeting methods as one style might be more naturally suited to your lifestyle. If you feel like budgeting is taking over your life or forcing you to change too much, you might be less likely to stick to it. Finding a sustainable way to manage your finances will help you get started and improve as time goes on without sacrificing more than you are willing to.
Work with a professional
If you are approaching a major life event such as starting a family and you don’t feel confident to organize or prepare your finances on your own, you are not alone. With so much to consider during a time of transition, finances are not something that you want to fall by the wayside. Consider hiring a financial advisor who can help set you up for success and provide you with reassurance that you are making all the right decisions for your situation. Should you decide to change jobs soon, you will want to evaluate your savings and retirement plans, all of which a financial planner can help you sort through.
Plan for retirement
If you do decide to meet with an advisor or professional to assist you in your financial planning process, they will be able to guide you through some of the opportunities available to you, including investing, savings, and retirement options. Most companies will have programs in place to allow for easy contribution into a 401k program or another type of retirement account. If you are an entrepreneur or work for yourself, once again, you will be responsible for setting up the appropriate accounts for future retirement savings. If you or your spouse wants to save for retirement as a stay-at-home parent, you’re going to want to factor in that you won’t have an income for a certain amount of time. Since everyone is unique in their wants and needs, you should discuss some of the finer details with your partner to determine the best path for your lifestyle and financial situation.
Create a college fund
It might feel far off to start planning for your child’s future education before they are even born, but doing so will make a major difference in your financial future if you intend to support them for this experience. Whether you plan to co-sign their loans, cover their expenses, or split the cost of college with them, it’s going to be a large financial investment and commitment. Depending on the school and program they attend, you might be stuck paying off college loans for years after graduation. By starting a college savings account before you have to take on the expenses of having a newborn, you can begin your financial journey ahead of time before life gets busy.
As new parents or parents-to-be, your list of priorities is sure to be extensive. With that being said, having a stable financial situation can allow you to celebrate exciting life events while navigating the challenges that come alongside them. By planning early and having conversations with your significant other about the months and years ahead, you can set yourself up for financial success and peace of mind, allowing you to enjoy these special milestones.
Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.
Over the 25 years or so that I have been practicing and serving families, one of the crucial points that has surfaced time and again with clients is one that tends to occur after a spouse or family member has passed away, and they seek out our help. Quite understandably, most people have little or no experience in settling an estate and essentially do not know what needs to be done. There are a myriad of actions to be accomplished, each one of them important, and no one knows in what order tasks need to be completed, let alone how to weave through the legal dynamics. So what can we do to help?
About 10 years ago, I finally grew so frustrated with not being able to help several of my client families settle estate matters after a death that I decided I was going to solve the matter myself. I went back through all of my estate planning books to seek out as many action items as I could locate. In addition, I went through dozens of other legal and financial websites to gain as much knowledge as I could. The problem was not in locating information on estate settling but rather not to drown in the vastness of it. Ultimately, I realized that my task was to consolidate and distill as much information as possible into a short and clear format that we could share. The result was a composition of knowledge written in simple English that went through peer review multiple times to create a master end-of-life checklist.
The “Checklist: After a Death Occurs” was constructed to assist our clients and their families so they could understand most of the basic estate settling matters that must be pursued after a loved one has passed. The document is arranged in a priority-driven format, so from top to bottom, front to back, the most important estate marshalling activities are listed first. The current iteration is about six pages long and contains an additional short checklist at the end for a surviving spouse.
There is also a third checklist that we created in addition to these main two. The third list is a pre-mortem checklist for someone who is ailing or terminally ill, designed to assist family members with estate matter topics while the individual is still alive. We hope these tools will be useful to you and your family, and we would love to hear back if they help.
Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.
One of the great things I get to experience as a financial advisor is that many of my clients have achieved such good financial security that they are able to help their relatives financially. One of the best examples is grandparents wanting to help their grandchildren. The usual starting place for grandparents is helping to build an education nest egg, usually in a 529 plan.
When their grandchildren get older, my clients will often pose the question of how to help them out without just giving them money directly. Below is a typical conversation. Loving parents can be interchanged with loving grandparents with the same effect.
Client: Eric, our wonderful 20-year-old granddaughter just finished her second year of college and is doing very well. We are so proud of her. We want to help put her in a better financial position for after college, but her parents do not want us to spoil her. Is there anything we can do for her?
Eric: Does she have a summer job or work while at school?
Client: Yes, she is working at a local nursery tending the plants over the summer. She loves the job as she is a biology major.
Eric: Great! One way you could help her is to fund a Roth IRA for her.
Client: Really?! She can have a Roth IRA?
Eric: Yes. Since she has earned income, she can contribute to a Roth IRA.
Client: How much can she contribute?
Eric: She can contribute up to the amount of income she makes with a maximum of $6,000. Let’s say she makes $2,500 over the summer; she could contribute that amount to a Roth IRA.
Client: That is very interesting. Why would she want a Roth IRA?
Eric: There are a lot of reasons, but the big one is that she will have an account that will grow tax free; and by starting at such a young age, she will have extra years for it to grow until her retirement.
Client: I don’t think many 20-year-old kids these days are really that interested in retirement accounts.
Eric: That’s true, but I like to show the miracle that is compound interest and how small deposits made now can turn into large amounts of money in 45 years at retirement. If your granddaughter were to invest $3,000 for the next five years and earn 7% interest until age 65, she would have over $387,000.
Client: That’s amazing! But still, thinking about retirement is a difficult concept for young people.
Eric: True. Another great aspect of a Roth IRA is that it can help with a first-time purchase of a home. There are certain rules in place to allow contributions, including up to an additional $10,000 of a Roth, to be used for the first-time purchase of a home. A Roth account has a great amount of flexibility.
Client: That is wonderful!
Eric: I have helped many grandparents with making contributions to their grandchildren’s Roth IRAs. Some grandparents will match the contributions their grandchild makes to their Roth IRA to incentivize them to save money. Others will just make the entire contribution as a reward for working a part-time job. Either way, the grandchild will benefit. It ends up being a wonderful legacy that can be used by the grandchild to further their financial situation. Also, it can teach them the benefits of saving money. When they start careers down the road and can fund their 401k, they will have already experienced the benefits, and the education and experience can put them on a great path to financial security. I have received rave reviews from people who have put one of these plans into motion and have seen the benefits.
Client: What about her brother who is 16 years old and working at a grocery store?
Eric: Even better—more time to grow, although an adult will have to act as custodian on the Roth IRA until the age of majority.
Client: How do we get started?
Talk to your Merriman Wealth Advisor if you are interested in looking at Roth IRA options for your children or grandchildren. We can help with the custodial set up and investment recommendations.
Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Nothing in this presentation in intended to serve as personalized investment, tax, or insurance advice, as such advice depends on your individual facts and circumstances. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.
As a dad and a financial advisor, I find myself constantly trying to explain how money works. In my opinion; budgeting, investing, and creating income are topics that should be equally important to my 8-year-old daughter as they are to a 50-year-old client. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, access to financial literacy tools for money management are not a mainstream part of our educational system. With more and more resources available at our fingertips, it is my hope that the next generation will grow up already knowing how to save and plan for retirement way before they get their first job.
Take my daughter for example. Last summer, my then 7-year-old asked me what I do for work (I’m a financial planner). It turns out, her friends were all talking about what their parents did for a living, so naturally my daughter wanted to join in on the conversation. Up until this point I had always told her that I helped people get ready for retirement, which I summed up as a “summer vacation that never ends”. She didn’t give it much thought until other kids started talking about how their parents owned a restaurant, helped people get better as a doctor, or worked on getting packages delivered faster as an engineer at Amazon. When my daughter told her friends that her dad helped people get ready for a never-ending summer break, she got a lot of “Huh?” faces.
I then decided to have a more in-depth dialogue with my daughter around what I actually did. The basics of how investing works seemed like a good place to start. So, using the tools we had at our disposal (crayons, blank paper and a 7-year-old’s imagination) I set out to explain what a financial advisor does. It started with a simplistic explanation of what the stock market is, and by the end of our first conversation, my daughter had learned the rhyme: “Stocks make you an owner, and bonds make you a loaner.”
This was progress! After a few more arts-and-crafts sessions, we had created a story explaining how investing in the stock market works, and it was starting to resemble a book. At this moment, I told my daughter we should try to publish our book so other children could learn about investing, and she turned to me and said, “Dad, you can’t just publish a book. Only authors can do that!” Challenge accepted!
Fast-forward six months, and our rough draft was polished into a finished book. Today, you can find “Eddie and Hoppers Explain Investing in the Sock Market” on Amazon! As a dad and a co-author, I’m very proud of my daughter for helping me create this story and for helping me make the book a reality.
After the book came out, I figured my daughter would stay interested in financial literacy, but I should have known asset allocation and risk management weren’t exactly the most exciting topics for an 8-year-old. I had to find a way to introduce financial topics into everyday life.
Money management for a second-grader is pretty simple. My daughter’s main income sources are: A monthly allowance, gifts from relatives for birthdays/holidays, plus she had a lemonade stand last summer that netted a respectable profit. The problem wasn’t earning the money, the problem was keeping track of it and then remembering how much she had when she wanted to buy something.
So, as a dad/financial advisor, I did what comes natural… I created a spreadsheet to track everything. Turns out, spreadsheets are also pretty low on the list of things that my daughter finds interesting. This is when I had my a-ha moment. I did a quick internet search and found a lot of options for tracking how much a kid earns, spends and saves. Last summer when I was trying to teach my daughter what I did for a living, I did a similar search for children’s books that discuss financial topics and found very little. That’s what inspired me to write our book. Thankfully, this time I was able to find what I was looking for when searching for an app that could help me teach my daughter about budgeting.
Ultimately, I decided to use Guardian Savings with my daughter because it has the right balance of simplicity and effectiveness. Guardian Savings allows my wife and I to be ‘The Bank of Mom and Dad’. My daughter finally got organized, and she consolidated all her savings from the half-dozen wallets, piggy banks and secret hiding spots, so she could make her first deposit. More importantly, when we’re at the store or shopping online and my daughter finds something that she must have, we’re able to open the app and let her see the impact of making an impulsive purchase. Plus, as the parent, I get to decide what interest rate my daughter will earn in her account. Not only do I get to have a conversation about what interest is, but she gets to experience the power of compound interest by seeing her savings grow each month. Talk about a powerful motivational tool!
In this day and age, the idea of teaching your child how to balance a checkbook is outdated. The next generation will live in an entirely digital world. Apps are the new checkbook, and it may be a good idea to teach your children personal finance in the same environment they will be in as adults. Already a digital native, my daughter impressed me by how fast she learned how to use the app, not to mention the principals of saving and smart spending that are encouraged throughout the interface. In a few years, I’ll be able to discuss what asset allocation is and how a Roth IRA works, but for now I’m happy that my daughter can get practice making budgeting decisions and building a strong understanding of the basics. Financial literacy has to start somewhere and the sooner that foundation can be made, the more confident a child will be when it comes to managing money as an adult.
Why is it that when the words “children” and “finances” are mentioned in the same sentence, parents brace themselves like they are about to hear the punchline to a really bad joke? Well, it may be because children and finances are often characterized as two major topics that can cause stress and frustration.
This stress and frustration may be a roadblock, preventing parents from having an open dialogue about finances. Being a financially smart family is so important.
We want to tear down that roadblock and give you a road map to help you, your teens, and even young children develop great financial habits. When every member of your family understands basic finances and sets financial goals together, everyone feels more financially confident and accomplished.
An American Psychological Association survey questioned parents on their relationship with their children and finances. The results revealed that only 37% talk often with their family members about the subject of finances.
Why is it that the vast majority of parents don’t talk about finances with their kids? Maybe most don’t know at what age to begin. Maybe they don’t know what to say. Or maybe they think talking about finances as a family isn’t important
Whatever the reason, you may find yourself as a parent in one of these three categories, needing an extra push to establish some basic familial financial habits. For you and all your children, let’s take a look at some ways to help everyone under the same roof get a better handle on the family finances without feeling the need to be an accounting professional.
Financial Tips for Young Kids: Show How Far Their Dollars Go
Do you often find yourself with your kids at the store having to say “no” to the many toys and candy bars that they have pulled off the shelf? Maybe you want to reward your kids with a little something, but they don’t always understand why that $40 limited edition Lego set may not be in the budget.
That’s because they are used to you being the gatekeeper of their spending. Instead, teach them how to be the gatekeeper of their own spending by giving them a bit of financial freedom under your supervision.
Financial freedom for an elementary- or middle-school-aged child should be exercised through simple, intentional actions. It can be as simple as giving them a small amount of money with the intention of letting them have the final say in how they spend it.
This simple action encourages thoughtfulness and awareness about the cost of something they want, which helps them feel a sense of financial freedom while still under your supervision.
Example: Say you want to reward your child by giving them $5 to spend at the store however they would like. Point them over to the dollar section or by the checkout, making note of the price tags that are displayed. Weigh the options of getting several small things versus one larger item.
They will feel empowered by the challenge of seeing how far their dollar can stretch. This sort of freedom helps them develop the habit of thoughtful spending, and it keeps Mom and Dad from always having to say, “No!”
Practical Goal: Take your child to a store of their choosing at the end of the week (if they’ve earned it) and give them a set amount of cash to spend however they would like. Help them weigh their options and select something that they are happy about.
Financial Tips for Teenagers: Responsibility Comes with Freedom
It’s time to make the pivot from the gatekeeper of all of your teenager’s expenses to a partner in their expenses. Teens are now at that stage of life where they are capable of earning a bit of income, and they need some extra help learning how to manage it.
Whether you and your spouse decide to give them a bit of weekly allowance or encourage a summer job, teens are entering the arena of earnings and need help with spending. It is important to establish basic habits now to help them feel confident in their spending habits in the future.
One of the most valuable skills that can help teens feel more confident with their money is helping them develop financial observational skills. This includes being aware of how much things cost, keeping track of where their money goes, and planning on how to save towards something they want.
This sounds basic, but these observational skills can help them become more thoughtful in their spending. The simple act of slowing down and thinking about how they should use their money will instill confidence and prevent impulsiveness.
Plus, you’ll be able to set financial boundaries with your teens while still giving them freedom to do what they want with their money.
Here is a list of different things you could do to help your teens become more financially observant and responsible.
#1 – Create a Savings Plan for Something Expensive
If your teen has their heart set on buying a more expensive item, brainstorm ways to make it happen. Help them make a savings plan or even suggest splitting the cost with you. Remember, you are their partner; you are there to encourage them, not control them.
#2 – Think of Their Money as a Budget, Not a Limit
Each week, take a few minutes at dinner to ask your teen about what they’ve spent that week. This will help them start thinking of money as a budget, not a limit. Ask them if they were happy with how they spent their money or if they wish they had used their money in a different way. All answers are great for learning.
#3 – Start Off with an Allowance at First
If your teen does not yet have any sort of income, consider giving them an allowance each month—an allowance that is contingent on something that you and your teen decide together. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from earning money and choosing how to spend it that teens should begin to experience.
Practical Goal: Read these three examples together with your teen. Talk through how these examples can establish good spending habits, then select at least one of the examples to implement in the following week together.
Financial Tips for Parents: Take Charge of Your Finances and Give Wisdom
As parents, you and your spouse are in charge of leading financial conversations. Including your children in certain financial decisions can help you and your children be on the same page when it comes to money.
It’s not necessary for them to be aware of all financial decisions between you and your spouse. Kids and teens won’t understand high level concepts yet, but you can help your kids be more conscious of money when they have a say in casual, familial financial decisions.
A familial financial decision could be something like comparison shopping for family car insurance plans, but think of ways to involve the kids in that process that is appropriate for their level.
The first step to create an open dialogue with your children is to help them understand how their financial actions make a difference. When your kids feel like their voices are being heard and taken seriously, they will be more likely to actually want to talk about financial matters.
Just talking about how to spend your Saturday night together, weighing options and assessing price points of different activities, can help them better understand why sometimes the decision to do something is “no” and other times “yes.” Familial financial unity begins with frequent, honest discussions.
Example: Let’s say that you and your family decide to save up for a family vacation. Each member of the family decides how they are going to help contribute to this family goal.
Your youngest one may choose to eat at home instead of getting that after-school Happy Meal. Your teenager may volunteer to babysit the younger kids longer once a week so that a parent can get a few more hours in at their part-time job.
The parents can include a vacation savings allotment in the family budget as a way to slowly work up to the goal. With everyone playing a part in the goal, each family member can feel like they are contributing to the vacation.
Goal: Pick a family activity that appeals to everyone, figure out the estimated cost, then list out ways that everyone would be capable of contributing. Each week, check in on everyone’s progress to see how close you and your family are to that specific goal.
Now call your family together and set your goals in motion!
Written exclusively for Merriman.com by Madison Smith
Madison Smith is a personal and home finance expert at BestCompany.com. She works to help others make positive financial strides in their lives by providing expert insight on anything from credit card debt to home-buying tips.