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Coin Jars and Our Toddler

As parents we hope that by the time our daughter leaves the house she has a healthy view of money. She’s a toddler now, so  we want to keep it fun and help her as she learns the fundamentals of math. Piggy banks are a big part part of that right now.

Counting Pennies in the Piggy Bank

My husband and I grew up with coin jars and piggy banks. I remember going on walks with my grandma and searching for coins on the ground. We either competed to see who could find the most combined our found change to grab some candy (back when it was cheap, lol).

For our baby daughter we have two little banks in her room – one was a gift from a dear friend and the other is my old piggy bank that my mom saved all these years. They are cute and our little girl enjoys ‘feeding’ her piggy some coins every now and again.

Having  piggy banks gives us a chance to have some fun with money and learn about numbers. She loves to count coins (not too concerned with explaining the differences between a nickel and a quarter – that’ll come later) as she put them in.

When the banks fill up we take the money out and deposit it into her savings account. Basically it’s where we keep her gift money from family and friends for future use. Hopefully as she gets older we can help her find ways to stash her cash and grow it faster. For now, though, it’s tucked away and slowly accumulating with each contribution.

Thoughts on Kids and Money

I’d love to hear from you guys about how you introduce money with your kids. How many of you have coin jars at home? When did you start? Growing up, what things do you remember your parents teaching you about money?

Have an eBay Account? Change your Password

Yesterday morning eBay announced that they had been hacked and customers information such as’ names,  addresses, birth dates, and passwords may have been compromised. Even though the passwords were encrypted, the company is advising all customers to change their passwords to be safe.

Protect Yourself and Your Passwords

There is no guarantee that you will never be hacked, but with a few simple precautions you can make it that much harder for criminals to harm you.

  • Never use personal information in your password. Though you may remember your password easier, do not include your child’s name, a family’s birth date, or your  other personal information.
  • Have different passwords with accounts. With some many online services, it can be so tempting to use the same password. That can put your personal information in danger as
  • Don’t use a default password. Even with stories of massive cyber attacks, some people still use easy passwords like ‘password’ and ‘1234’ for their accounts. While having something you can remeber is important, you need to be more proactive with creating passwords.
  • Use two step verification. In addition to logging in with your username and password, two step verification requires that you also give a code that is sent to your phone. Slightly more work, but it can significantly secure your accounts.

So if you have some time today, go ahead and make those changes.

Make Stronger Passwords

How can you create a stronger password without making it obscure and completely impossible to remember? One way to make your password memorable and harder to break is using pass phrases or sentences.

Let’s say you use the phrase ‘eat more foods’. When you swap in numerals and symbols it becomes ’3a+m0r3f00d$’. It looks more complicated, but it’s just as easy to remember as the original phrase.

Beware of Phishing Attacks

Now that personal information is out, you need to be on guard for password phishing. Scammer may contact you through email and ask you to change your password. The link included will most likely take you to a site site that looks just like eBay, but it will be their site.

To make sure you are changing your password on the real site, go to eBay yourself and enter your new password.

Thoughts on Protecting Your Passwords

I’d love to hear from you. How do you keep your passwords safe?

Photo Credit: eguidry

Saving Money on Your Prescriptions

Whenever I get a money question from you guys, I try my best to give some practical solution. Recently I got a money question, but it wasn’t from a reader, it was from a family member who was having a hard time with some medical expenses.

What she is paying out of pocket for her prescriptions right now is killing her already tight budget. I went ahead and tried to find some solutions for her and since I know that far too many people are in a similar boat, I wanted to share what I got here on Couple Money.

Talk with Your Physician

I think the first step you should take is talking with your doctor(s) over your financial situation. I know that it may uncomfortable or embarrassing, but part of your doctor’s responsibility is helping your get the care you need. If you can afford your medicine, you’re more likely to not stay on your regimen which can be more serious complications down the line.

Your doctor may be able to offer solutions that you would have a hard time finding on your own. If you don’t want to make an appointment, go ahead and ask for the doctor to have a phone consultation with you.

Go Generic (if Possible)

Some pharmacies, like Wal-Mart’s $4 prescriptions,  have programs that offer low cost generic medications that can significantly lower your costs. Talk it over with your physician and see if generics are the way to go. There are times you can make the switch and not see a difference, other times, your physician will recommend sticking with your brand name medication (that doesn’t mean you can’t still save, see below).

Shop Around for the Best Price

Speaking of pharmacies, prices can vary place to place so shopping around can be rewarding. GoodRx has an app that can do the search quickly and easily for you. It can also find coupons for you which is a nice bonus. Kiplingers included GoodRx as one of their top money savings apps. It’s free and it is available for both Android and Apple phones.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance(PPA)

PPA helps qualifying individuals get the medicines they need by searching for patient assistance programs. You can call them or go to their site and  give them a list of the medications you need help with. They do not charge for this service.

Thoughts on Prescription Medicine Discounts

I really hope this helps you or a love one save money on your medication. Please feel free to share this post with anyone who could use it. For those who have gone through this situation, what helped you?

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Knocking Out Your Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt has become common for some families. Recently NerdWallet did an analysis data from the Federal Reserve and others on average households’ credit card debt. They found that the average household has $7,087 and when you look at just the indebted households it comes out to $15,191.  Families not only have to deal with the balances, they typically have to pay high interest rates on them, making it harder to get out of debt.

What if you are one of those families and you’re tired of having your paycheck being devoted to just keeping up with the bills? There are ways you can take control of your finances and gain your financial freedom.

Find Out Exactly How Much You Owe

This may seem like a obvious step, but you may be surprised with what you find out like discovering that your interest rate had shot up on one of your credit cards. Once you have a list all your creditors, the interest rates, and the total amount you owe, it’s time to get organized. You can use free online tools like ReadyForZeroFinovera (read my review here) or Mint to pull that data for you or if you prefer, you can use  a debt reduction spreadsheet.

Create a Spending Plan So You Stop Using Credit Cards

When I had credit card debt, taking the cards out of my wallet was a easy and effective step. I had less temptation to rely on them when I wanted to make an impulse buy. I was creating a barrier for myself and improving my finances. For others, you may have to lock them away or shred them to stop using them.

Tucking away your credit cards isn’t enough.  You can’t get out of debt if you keep going back into it. That means that the two of you need a spending plan that will avoid having to rely on credit cards in between paychecks. It has to be realistic and sustainable.

Choose a Payment Plan That You Can Keep

The wonderful thing with getting out of debt is that there are several different routes you can take to reach your goal. Use either a debt snowflake, snowball, or even an avalanche to work your way to being debt free. Just use a method that works well with your spending habits.  Highest interest rate method is the financially sound decision and lowest debt is the psychologically empowering decision.

I went for the debt snow ball method (lowest balance first) to give myself a win quicker and to keep me on the plan. When we were married and were paying off the car loan early, we relied on one another to keep motivated.

You two can set up payments through your credit union or bank so you don’t have to constantly worry about whether you did it while juggling your regular responsibilities.

Staying Motivated While Getting Out of Debt

Speaking of encouragement, most of us can appreciate rewards. As humans we all need incentives to do something. For some people seeing the numbers go down on their debt is motivation enough to continue. For me, it was celebrating each credit card pay off. Everyone has something that can keep them focused.  It doesn’t have to be big or expensive (no need to undo what you did), it just has to be special.

Thoughts on Paying Off Credit Cards

I hope you’re revved up to tackle your debt. For those who have conquered your credit cards, what tips do you have on paying off debt? 

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How Bad Investing Habits Can Kill Your Returns

With April wrapped up and my estimated taxes paid, I decided to follow my own advice and check into our retirement accounts to make everything was being  distributed according to our plans.

Last week I did some ‘spring cleaning’ and sold some stocks. I had bought years ago based on surface level research (aka reading and digging around the web). They had all increased since I had bought them which was a plus, but they didn’t match my target asset allocation, so I sold them.

The goal is for me to remove bad investing behavior, such investing based on the emotion and hype and instead focus on building  a solid and sustainable portfolio.

Avoid Bad Investing Behavior

There can be a huge difference between investment returns vs investor returns.  Why? Most cases, the reason is human behavior. While we may know what we should  be doing, we tend to react to news about the market in a very emotional way, such as buying or selling at the wrong times.

You’re Not an Investment Guru

Even if we think we are more knowledgeable than the typical investor, studies have proven we’re more likely to benefit from following a systemic approach with investing than going with our ‘instincts’.  David Swensen, Yale’s investment portfolio manager who has track record of great returns, has commented that regular investors simply don’t have the resources to keep up with the market by stock picking. He advises a portfolio with diversified mix of index funds.

  • 30% Domestic stock funds
  • 20% Real estate investment trust
  • 15% U.S. Treasury bonds
  • 15% U.S. Treasury inflation-protected securities
  • 15% Foreign developed-market stock funds
  • 5%   Emerging-market stock funds 

Too Much Noise

Everyday we are bombarded with the people and experts declaring the biggest stocks to buy (or sell). Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint) it’s mainly noise that you can ignore. The concept of noise vs signals is recognizing the inconsequential and useless information  and instead finding the actually meaningful information and using that to adjust your portfolio as necessary.

How can you cut back on the noise?

  • Remind yourself of your plan. Keep a post it or note about what your target asset allocation is for your portfolio. Have your reasons why you chose this accessible so you can refer to it when you’re tempted to chase a ‘hot tip’.
  • Check the data yourself. News pieces tend to focus on the narrative or story, but that doesn’t give the whole picture. You have to be comfortable with the data behind the story. Does it make sense to you? If you don’t feel comfortable understanding it or perhaps with the argument, then hold off on acting on the ‘tip’.
  • Be selective with your sources. Choose your investing sources widely and ask yourself,  what is the credibility of this site or show? What is their goal  and how do they make money? And yes, that includes personal finances blogs. A good many (including Couple Money) have some sort of partnership with companies, that doesn’t necessarily make it bad, but you should factor that into your decision.

Not Having It Automatic

The last major mistake investor makes is not having a plan or schedule for their contributions and instead trying to time the market. It’s impossible to predict the market, so most times, it’s better for you to go ahead and just make regular investments. One way to take care of that is to automate them.

Once you’re set with your contributions, you can fine tune it by having a schedule to review and adjust your portfolio’s holding so you maintain your plan. My husband’s account at Betterment takes care of that for him. If your broker doesn’t offer automatic re-balancing, then set it on your calender to check up on your portfolio on a quarterly basis.

Why is it important to keep your asset allocation in check? Asset allocation is about maximizing your portfolio’s return while minimizing your risk. If you are willing to knock out your bad habits and focus on your goals and the fundamentals, you can boost your returns.

Not Getting a Portfolio Review

Even if you think things are going well, it’s also handy to do a check up on your portfolio to make sure things are truly squared away. Besides making sure that your asset allocation meets your plan, you should also see if there is a way you can lower your fees. Personal Capital offers a free portfolio review so you can eliminate excess fees from your 401(k).

Thoughts on Investing

I’d like to hear your take on investing . How many of you have automated your investments? What has worked well for you?