When to give a child a smartphone
March 6, 2018

Parents in modern society are struggling with the answer to when or if they should let their children have a smartphone, but recent research from Influence Central shows that the average age in the U.S. is now only 10 years old. This age is down from age 12 just five years ago. A prevailing theory for this trend is the fact that parents are already letting children play with their smartphones and are getting tired of sharing, which suggests that the kids have access at an even earlier age.

Despite this alarming trend, other research from Common Sense Media has shown that 50 percent of children with smartphones admitted they might be addicted to them, and more than half agreed with their parents that they used the devices for too long. In these cases, it is clear that having a smartphone is creating problems among children and The New York Times explains that they often lead to distractions from schoolwork, family time, and other face-to-face social interactions.

Problems stemming from smartphone use do not take long to rise to the surface, and many parents have decided that it is better to wait as long as possible before handing the devices over so that kids can learn self-control and responsibility before opening the door to an always-on society. It should be noted that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, the area that controls impulses, doesn’t finish developing until the mid-20’s and exposure to these devices could lead to issues with impulse control later on.

Still, the pull of smartphones is relentless, and their saturation in society means that those left without can suffer from a severe fear of missing out on what is going on with their friends. A recent report from the Pew Research Institute has shown that nearly three-quarters of teens have access to a smartphone as of the year 2015 and many parents likely have a difficult time keeping their children away from their social circles that have since moved into the online space.
Parents that want to delay giving children smartphones do have some options such as giving them ‘dumb’ phones that have only talk and text capabilities. This allows them to connect with their friends while avoiding the games, internet access, and other distractions that come with smartphones. If that’s going too far, there are also smartwatches that allow kids to make calls to a few select people along with messaging.

Moneywise: Put retirement before future college funding
March 2, 2018

It is more important to securely fund retirement accounts than to save heavily for a child’s college education, according to USA Today. This might sound selfish to those who think preparing their kids for the future is a more noble goal. But, in fact, it is wise. While children can take out student loans to pay for college, it is unlikely that parents can finance their way through retirement.

College students have many options to pay for their education and having a fully funded savings account might tempt the family to place less importance on free grants and scholarships that will often require more work up front but don’t have to be paid back.

Keeping track of a child at a theme park
February 28, 2018

One minute you are holding your kid’s hand, and the next, he’s gone.

At a crowded theme park, jostling crowds or just a busy kid can quickly turn a fun day into a terrifying experience for child and parent.

That was one mother’s fear as she struggled to hold on to her child at a theme park and she came up with a clever solution.

Michelle Walsh solved the problem that day by writing her cell phone number on her child’s arm. But later she improved upon the idea, creating the SafetyTat, a temporary tattoo for kids.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the plan worked well for one family touring a huge science center. In an instant, they lost track of their 4-year-old daughter. Then, just as quickly, the mother’s cell phone began ringing: Security had the child at the front desk. The tattoo worked.

SafetyTats are sold in children’s stores, amusement parks, travel stores, and online at safetytat.com.

You can get sticky labels with a place for a phone number and medical information. Customized water-based tattoos can also be ordered online.

What is a financial caregiver?
February 22, 2018

As people age, it is not uncommon for them to need extra medical supervision as well as help with day-to-day tasks around the house to keep their standard of living.

One area of care that doesn’t always get the most attention is finances. According to USA Today, about 92 percent of caregivers are having to take on the responsibility of managing bank accounts, insurance claims, taxes, and investments. Also, these same caregivers are spending $190 billion out of their own pockets each year to help provide financial stability for their loved ones in cases where their needs exceed their means.

As family members approach the time when they will need extra support, it will be beneficial to start planning early for issues that will likely come up. Long-term care insurance, for instance, is usually only an option when a person is still healthy, and it can provide more opportunities for care once things become more difficult.

Likewise, many continuing care retirement communities offer ways to ensure proper care over many years, but they often require the person to move in before significant issues develop. In both of these cases, a lack of planning can lead to more substantial costs and an inability for the care recipient to live where they want to.

As mentioned, financial caregivers often end up entirely managing the finances of their loved one, and this will usually require navigating insurance products that they might not be familiar with personally. Finding resources on how things work at an individual’s state and local level can be challenging. It is helpful to be able to reach out to people who are in a similar situation to find a support system for information sharing. While not all financial advisors are equipped to deal with these kinds of cases, it is possible to find a willing and knowledgeable agent to help at least keep the financial boat afloat for as long as necessary.

At the other end of the spectrum, individuals who are wondering whether or not they might need help in the future should be acting sooner rather than later. U.S. News recommends considering the legal process necessary to create powers of attorney for financial and medical decisions that make sense for everyone involved. In these cases, trust is the most important thing to consider as giving another person complete control over one’s financial life could open the door for mishandling or outright abuse. In some cases, a trusted financial advisor can be employed to help watch over the big picture to ensure that family members are not acting selfishly.

Flour doesn’t last forever
February 21, 2018

If you buy flour in December for special baking, you will probably have some left over in February.

The good news is that, if you’ve stored it in an air-tight container, it’s probably still good for Valentine’s Day cakes.

A good rule of thumb is to throw away wheat flour in four to six months, according to Eat By Date. Self-rising flour, which has baking powder in it, has a shorter shelf life.

Corn flour can last up to a year.

Buying the right amount helps prevent waste. One five pound bag of flour equals 17.5 cups.

Elite schools are targeting more rural applicants
February 20, 2018

Long overlooked among the more selective colleges, potential students living in rural areas are becoming more sought after to help bring more diversity to campuses and to help address the obstacles that have prevented them from entering in the past. According to the New York Times, only 29 percent of college-aged kids in rural areas are currently enrolled compared with 47 percent of the urban population. More alarming is the fact they are represented less in the competitive schools and tend to enter community colleges and state programs.

The rural perspective creates some of this gap with the idea that college degrees are less relevant or useful for the types of jobs usually found outside of cities. These students may feel like they are facing the choice between getting an education and staying in the area in which they grew up. Similarly, many rural high schoolers admit to having low expectations in general over schooling and seldom have the same drive to enroll in college as their urban and suburban peers. For many, merely graduating from school and learning a skill such as welding is their idea of normal. With this in mind, many college-focused organizations are striving to make college aspirations more realistic and desirable by spreading awareness and making information about higher education more accessible.

To be fair to rural students, The Wall Street Journal points out that they have also suffered from little direct outreach from colleges, especially the elite schools, in the past, and enrollment has risen more slowly than that of the urban population. Many schools have tried to boost diversity over the years by targeting underrepresented groups such as ethnic minorities and people with lower socioeconomic status, but lower income rural populations have not benefitted much from these policies. In fact, studies have shown that poor rural kids are often overlooked because of factors such as a lack of advanced placement classes and extracurricular activities that selective schools value, despite excellent test scores. Even leadership roles in traditionally rural organizations such as 4-H and Future Farmers of America work against these students.

Money and Personal Finance
February 7, 2018

Match cards to leisure
Look for credit card rewards that match your leisure activities. It’s a good way to discount the things you buy anyway, according to The Simple Dollar. A frequent Amazon shopper could take advantage of the company’s 5 percent cash back card for Amazon Prime members.

Other cards offer points for dining; perfect for the person who likes to try new restaurants. Capital One offers a gaming card that offers points on PlayStation store purchases. Some cards have online shopping portals offering fitness and sports gear.

Transfer balances with caution
Know all the details of the offer if you plan to use a splashy credit card balance transfer offer.

Here are three points to look at:

Deferred interest: With this plan, if you haven’t paid off the balance by the time the introductory offer expires, you’ll be charged retroactive interest for the entire amount.

New purchase rates: Never make a new purchase on a balance transfer card. According to Forbes, new purchases can and will be charged a fat interest rate.

Missed payment penalties: Always set up automatic minimum payments. If you miss one payment on your transferred balance, you will lose your low-interest deal.

Little economies: Saving on soap
Save money on hand soap by making your own gel foam. Buy a big jug of gel soap and then fill your soap dispensers about half way full. Swirl for 30 seconds. Now you have gel foam. It will still get you clean, but it really stretches the soap purchase, according to The Simple Dollar.

How to make cheap (or free) stock trades
One of the most significant obstacles that potential investors face when they are trying to start building their wealth are the fees associated with trading stocks, exchange-traded funds, and other investment products. According to Clark Howard, keeping costs low in general is one of the best ways to ensure that money is working for the investor instead of the broker and can add up to thousands of dollars over time.

For example, purchasing a $100 stock with a commission of $10 means that the stock would need to appreciate in value by 10 percent just to break even on the trade. Purchasing 10 shares at once lowers this amount to a much more comfortable one percent, but that requires much more money up front.

Luckily, the trend towards low-cost and even free stock trading has been rising in recent years, and it is now possible to find many options to save money initially and over the long term. These options include services with commission-free trades and no fees as well as commission-free trades with fees.

The relative newcomer Robinhood, offers entirely commission-free trades and currently charges no fees to their users with no account minimums. Billed as a way for young, beginner investors to get started with very little money or complications, their platform is only available on smartphones and has a no-frills design with only the most basic information and stock analysis. The company doesn’t want to overwhelm new investors, and removing the fancy tools that other brokerages offer allows them to keep costs low.

Some other exchanges have jumped on the commission-free bandwagon but have decided that they have to charge some fees to make a profit and stay in business. To make up for the costs, one company, Acorns, puts a twist on how users fund their accounts and tries to make it as fun and painless as possible to get started. Investors simply chain their credit and debit accounts to the service and every time they make a purchase it is rounded up to the nearest dollar. The difference automatically goes into the Acorns account and a stock purchase is made whenever it hits a $5 threshold. At $12 per year, the profits can be upside down at first but quickly rebound to gains over the years.


Facts to teach your new teen driver
February 5, 2018

Teen drivers are inexperienced, usually distracted, and impulsive, statistics show. That’s every single teenager, from the A student to the wild child.

That won’t come as news to the insurance industry, which charges high rates for teen drivers. But, teens might not know the dangers of their own inexperience. Parents who are teaching their kids to drive might point out some sad truths.

First, teens have a lot of car accidents and car accidents kill.

Of all age groups, 16-year-olds have the highest crash rates, and a full third of all deaths among 13- to 19-year-olds are likely to occur in a car crash. In fact, more than 3,000 people die in car accidents every single day.
Second, teens are unusually distracted behind the wheel.

According to dosomething.org, more than half of teen drivers admit they use a phone while driving.
More worrisome is that texting can take eyes off the road for almost five seconds — a lot of time for something to go wrong. Car and Driver Magazine did a study on this and found texting while driving had the same effect as driving drunk.

Teens must learn to leave their phones unanswered while driving. That’s a lesson adults can learn too since 27 percent of adults have read or sent a text message while driving.

Third, driving around teen friends can be deadly. Fatality rates increase with each extra passengers in the car. It’s dangerous for the driver and for the teen rider. Fewer than half of teens say they would speak up if the driver was scaring them.

Teens must also recognize that their inexperience can get them into trouble. Driving in poor conditions such as snow, fog, or rain can be dangerous and teens must give the task their complete attention.

The danger of financially dependent children
February 4, 2018

As many as 73 percent of parents with adult kids have given them money during the previous year, according to Time.

It’s one statistic that hints at the reality of young adults who remain financially dependent on parents. According to The Simple Dollar, this is defined as any child that requires constant financial support from their parent to maintain their lifestyle even if they aren’t currently living in the same house.

The situation becomes a financial hardship on parents who will have to work longer years to support themselves as they age.

One of the most common issues with adult children is that they fail to move out on their own, even after college. In fact, Business Insider points out that about 29 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds will move back in with their parents after graduation.

Living at home costs young adults, too. In Australia an estimated 25 percent of young adults aged 20 to 34 still live in the parental home. A household income study revealed that young adults who left home after age 25 earned $6,000 less per year than those who left home earlier, according to the Herald Sun.

Mortgage interest deduction and the new tax plan
February 4, 2018

A new tax plan passed by Congress in December 2017 allows taxpayers to deduct mortgage interest up to $750,000.

This is lower than the previous limit of $1 million. The limit only affects new mortgages, not existing mortgages.
Since the median list price of a home is $270,000, most homeowners won’t be affected by the limit decrease.

The new limit is expected to affect about 1.3 percent of new mortgages on very expensive homes, usually in expensive housing markets such as coastal areas.

The new limits on deductions aren’t expected to affect many people nationally, according to realtor.com. That’s because homeowners can only take the deduction if they itemize and only about one-third of taxpayers do that. Of those that itemize, just over 21 percent use the deduction. However, it will affect high-cost markets in local areas.

Experts are divided as to the impact of the new tax plan on housing. Some see the tax changes as encouraging renting in high-cost areas, causing housing prices to fall. On the other hand, with a higher standard deduction, taxpayers in lower brackets could find themselves able to buy a home. That could push prices up, according to realtor.com.