Archive for the ‘Consumer Issues’ Category

Here at F4Y:TB, we tend to focus more on avoiding financial mishaps. That is by design. I believe that my energies are best spent helping young people learn the skills and gain the tools needed to avoid as many financial setbacks as possible. Because of the time I’ve spent in the financial field, I don’t have a cautionary tale about when I hit the bottom or how I clawed my way to where I am financially. My personal money story is much like the majority of people’s. If you are looking for the other kind of narrative, there are many awesome bloggers out there who fit the bill. What I provide is professional advice, accurate information, catchy music, gratuitous pictures of excessively cute animals, and hopefully a laugh here and there, all while trying to make sure you don’t make the mistakes that get so many others in trouble.

All that being said, it happens to many people every day. Maybe you made the colossal error of trying to with the credit arbitrage game and missed a payment because you forgot about it. Maybe you “won” that thing from e-bay that you don’t really need, but you kinda thought it might be cool so you bid on it just for fun but not really. Or maybe you lost a job, or got sick, or worst of all, you just got unlucky. Whatever happened, you are now financially screwed and all the “spend less than you earn” just isn’t helping right now! So what do you do?

Whatever happened, you are now financially screwed, and all the “spend less than you earn” just isn’t helping right now!

First, don’t panic! Chances are that you are already panicking, so your first goal is to stop panicking. When you panic, you are more likely to make a wrong choice that makes things worse than if you face your problems calmly, with reason rather than emotion. While we’re at it, are you really in as bad a situation as you initially thought, or did you panic and things are bad, but not yet drastic?

Second, if you find yourself in a worst case scenario position, you have to do some serious assessment to see where things went wrong. Some PF guys will say it doesn’t matter where things went wrong, you are trying to fix that they went wrong. I get the impulse, but this is a short-sighted way of looking at things, and chances are good that you will wind up back to doing wherever it is you are trying to stop. Instead, look at where things started to unravel. What happened? What changed? Was it something you did or had control over, or was this something that was going to happen, and nothing you could do would stop it? Honesty is key here. Lying to yourself won’t work. You’ll know you’re lying, and you are only delaying your ability to help yourself out of a serious problem.

Third, STOP! Whatever happened to put you in bad shape, if your actions or inaction contributed to your current situation, stop doing whatever it was that you were doing. At this point I’m not saying to do the opposite, all I’m saying is to stop what you are doing.

Next, look at your alternatives. A lot. Most people, when drowning, will reach for anything to pull them back to the surface. If you are actually in the water, that’s just fine, but if you are drowning in debt, or in some other financial issue, most people find that the rope they thought they were reaching for was actually a thick chain connected to an anchor that will pull them even further under. You are already in a f%*#ed-up situation. Waiting a day or two to finally get yourself to break a very difficult cycle won’t do much more damage. It will do significantly less than some of the impulse decisions many people make to get themselves out of a mess. Do the research in to all your options, not just the ones that seem easiest or quickest or even least painful. Sometimes, suffering through something is a viable option, and sometimes even the best option ultimately.

Finally, communicate! I get that financial problems can be embarrassing. This is something that seems so simple that you should be able to breeze through it. It isn’t. And even if it were, whenever a crisis hits, communication is the key to surviving it, even if you can deal with things on your own. Find people who know their own stuff and communicate with them. I’m not saying to ask them to bail you out; in fact I’m specifically saying you shouldn’t ask people to bail you out of financial problems. When you do, you put that person in an awkward position which will affect your relationship. Look, if someone can help you and wants to help you, they’ll make the offer all on their own, without you asking for it. Be careful who you choose to communicate with, however. You want to confide in people who are a) worthy of your confidence, b) successfully away from the type of situation you are experiencing, and c) willing to be a shoulder to lean on. If you can find one of those people, you are in great shape.

We’ve all heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that is true almost all the time. Sometimes all the prevention in the world just isn’t enough and you need to find a cure. Keep in mind that finance is not a simple thing, that success is not simple, and that fixing your situation probably won’t be simple either. There is a reason that medicine tastes like it does.

If you find yourself truly falling financially, there isn’t a whole lot that is funny or witty.  Take a second to step back and regain your perspective and realize that there is a song this awesome exists.  Enjoy

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Quick! Name three things that are handy to always keep around! Just name the first three things you can think of.

You probably came up with a bunch of things. As I tried it, keeping in mind that I wanted to limit it to three, I came up with my Leatherman© tool, some sort of a conveyance for water (like a cup, bowl, or pot), and a writing instrument.

Then I started to pick that idea apart.

 

What good does a pen do if I’m in the

middle of the ocean?


 

How about a pot if I’m in a crashing

airplane?


 

I realized that the three things that I thought were important, quite often, weren’t. Most of you could probably review the first 30 things on your list, instead of the first 3 and come to the same conclusion.

Pretty simple once you think of it, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong, but the truth is nothing is always useful all the time.


 

If it’s true for

 “stuff”, what

 about for financial advice?


 

Well, put simply, yes.

One problem that many people have when trying to either set things right or get out of financial problems is that their circumstances might be different that those the author had in mind when he or she came up with the advice in the first place. Because they are so desperate for success or even just progress, they follow the advice regardless of how relevant it is for their situation. They do it unquestioningly, and when they inevitably get setback or fail, they begin to blame the messenger instead of the fact that they were following great advice, just at a different time.

Is there any way to make the professionals’ advice useful all the time?

Well, if you have the kind of access that allows you to be in personal contact with somebody, you can ask the question you need answered and the advice given should be useful. Of course, if you had direct access to a personal finance professional and you were still able to manage getting yourself into trouble, perhaps advice isn’t what you need.

You could also hope that the person you get your advice from is prolific enough to have covered several topics from several different directions that you can find their thoughts on almost any subject. This might be one of the best ways to make sure you are following the best advice at the best time. This works, as long as you are willing to do the research to find the best answers to your questions.

A third way would be to find several sources by multiple people to answer your questions. Imagine how cool it would be to have a group of advisors instead of just one. Of course, having a chorus of voices sometimes makes it more difficult to hear the one you need when you need a quick answer.

Regardless of how you do it, you need to do your best to make sure that you aren’t left carrying a pen the next time you find yourself adrift in the middle of the ocean.

Speaking of having a chorus backing you up…, enjoy!

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Pop Quiz:

Question:    How do you get a giraffe into a refrigerator?

Question:    How do you get an elephant into a refrigerator?

Question:    The Lion King is hosting an animal conference where all the animals attend, except one. Which one doesn’t attend?

Question:    There is a river you must cross, but it is used by crocodiles. You have no boat. How do you get across?

Now, I’ve heard this as a really dumb, bad joke, and also as an ice-breaker for training. I’ve used these questions when hiring employees, but not necessarily in the way they are intended. Most people get most of these questions wrong, but we’ll get to that part later on.

The other day, as I was doing dishes, I noticed that the floor was really wet in front of the sink. After initially thinking F4Y: The Wife spilled water all over the floor (which she didn’t), I looked under the sink and noticed the cabinet floor was also soaked. To be fair, the sink wasn’t leaking profusely, but there was a steady drip when I would run water. There are words that grown-ups use when they are frustrated, and then there are words that the immature or the uncreative use. I used all of those words and I made up a few new words. I had some problems.

1.    I needed to call a plumber to fix my sink.

2.    I needed to talk to my landlord because technically fixing this problem is his problem.

3.    I still had a sink full of dishes that needed to be washed.

4.    I hated my house because there is always something wrong.

5.    I didn’t want to talk to my landlord because I knew he’d say something that might make me explode and move out (which would be really stupid considering how long we’ve been there, how reasonable the rent really is, and how the house has some good things going for it like a really large yard for entertaining).

The teacher in me wanted to look at this as I would any other word problem, but I couldn’t see how being able to figure out the markup on a sweater or how to calculate the area of a trapezoid would be helpful here.

The dude in me wanted to set the place on fire and blame a faulty wire, but then I’d have a whole new set of problems, including finding a new place to live and paying alimony on a teacher’s salary because I destroyed my wife’s sofa.

The Personal Finance guy in me decided on fixing the most important problem that I had the power to fix right then. My problem was that water was dripping on my floor. This was something I could change immediately. I took an aluminum pan and put it under the pipe that was leaking so I could finish the dishes without doing further damage to the floor.

So stupid it’s simple.

So simple it’s stupid.

Too often, I read stories about readers who are just drowning in problems dealing with their finances. My heart breaks for them. I try to give the help and advice that I can, and I know my friends in the PF world do the same. But sometimes, and I’m guilty of this too, we tend to over-think the solution or lose focus on the real problem. In fact, I bet many of you reading this initially thought that I should call my landlord first. Great advice, but it wouldn’t have solved anything immediately. I still had a sink full of dishes that needed to be done, and I still had a pipe that was dripping on my floor. Some people might have suggested calling the plumber first. That still wouldn’t have solved my most immediate problem immediately.

So when you read stories, or hear from your friends or family members, and they ask you for some advice, remind them to stick to the most important problem that they can solve at that time, and put off dealing with problems that you can’t solve, or problems that the solutions won’t solve your problem.

Back to our animal friends:

I’m going to give you the answers and the reasoning behind each. Again, this sounds trite and a little silly, but if you actually listen to the rationale, and try to put it in practice with other questions, you’ll find that many problems wind up being much simpler to solve than you initially thought.

Answer One:        You open the door, put the giraffe in, and close the door.

This question tests to see if you do simple tasks in a complicated way.

Answer Two:        You open the door, take the giraffe out, put the elephant in, and close the door.

You probably said, “Open the door, put the elephant in, and close the door.” Sounds good, but you have to deal with the giraffe in the last question. This question checks to see whether you are able to think through the consequences of previous actions.

Answer Three:    The elephant. You put him in the refrigerator earlier, remember?

This question tests your memory.

Answer Four:        You jump in the river and swim across; perfectly safe because the crocodiles are at the Lion King’s meeting.

This question tests to see if you learn from earlier mistakes. You over-thought the other questions already; hopefully you figured it out by the last questions.

When talking about elephants, there is only one song that fits in the refrigerator.  Enjoy!

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So I’m in class the other day, and a student asks me if it’s a good idea to move in with a roommate. He’s planning on getting a place away from his family until he can effect reconciliation with his parents, and he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to afford a decent place on the salary he plans on making. His choices are to get a cheaper place, which would put him in jeopardy of ruining his chances of success; making more money, which he doesn’t see as a viable option given the current job market and his particular work history; or getting a roommate.

Okay, I have to admit that I’m floored at the question. First, this kid is incarcerated. Most kids in his situation don’t have a long view of life, and would never even consider what he is contemplating. Second, he appears to have given this some real thought and has, in my opinion, nailed all the probable choices he has. Third, I got the impression that he wasn’t my biggest fan, so I was a little shocked that he would even ask my opinion.

I’ve talked about the process of moving out before, but I’ve never really covered the idea of moving in with a roommate. There’s a reason for that. Quite honestly, the only roommate I’ve had has been my wife, and there is a huge difference between a regular roommate and a spouse. There are expectations you might have for a roommate that you wouldn’t have for your spouse, or significant other, and vice-versa. That being said, let’s give it a shot.

 

What a roommate is:

A roommate is, in the simplest terms, another person who will share and occupy the same space as you while they take on the burden of a portion of the total expenses involved in living in a particular situation.

Notice I didn’t say they split the expenses with you? Notice I didn’t say they are in any way subservient to you? Good. There’s a reason. Let’s look at it this way: You and Bob (Bob is someone who also wants to live in the same place, but they can’t afford to do so by themselves either) move into a new house. There is a master bedroom with an attached bathroom, and two other, smaller, bedrooms that share a bathroom. You and Bob decide that the living room, kitchen, and garage are all common areas, and you decide to split the rent for those areas. You’re a nice person, so you let Bob have the master bedroom. Is it fair to you that you are paying the same amount for less house than Bob? Of course not, so you and Bob agree that Bob will pay an extra $25 a month for the extra space. Bob may be paying more than you, but this is actually more fair than if Bob didn’t, and just because Bob is paying more, doesn’t give Bob more power or control than you have.

In general, I suggest you choose as a roommate, someone you feel comfortable living with. Someone who shares many of the values you have, especially in the subjects of cleanliness, punctuality, work ethic, and appropriate volume levels for music when someone is sleeping. This doesn’t have to be someone of the same gender, but you definitely want to consider any sexual tension that might arise from a potential roommate. Sure, it sounds good to bring in the really hot chick (or dude, depending on your preference), and they might be just as into it as you are, but think ahead to when the shit hits the fan and you are no longer an item, but you still have to share a small space. Life without risk is boring, but I’m not sure that isn’t a little too much risk.

I also suggest you are careful when moving in with a friend, for many of the same reasons. If you have been friends with someone for a while, you probably know how reliable and responsible they are. Good friends are great, but many good friendships have been ruined when one friend couldn’t meet the responsibilities needed in order for both parties to keep up with the rent.

 

What a roommate isn’t:

A roommate isn’t your friend. Sound confused based on what I just said? Let me explain. A roommate is a contractual living arrangement. You might find a friend to be a roommate, and you might even become friends with your roommate that started off as a stranger, but don’t assume you are automatically friends with your roommate. To this end, don’t take advantages of your roommate that you would feel okay with taking of your friends. It sounds cliché, but don’t eat their food unless they tell you they are okay with it. Don’t lock them out with the tie or sock or whatever on the doorknob unless you have already worked out this system beforehand. Don’t burden your roommate with your personal problems. Make a fart policy right up front, so there are no surprises later on after your semi-monthly broccoli and cabbage binge.

A roommate isn’t your mother. Unless you work out some arrangement when it comes to housework, assume that you are going to have to clean up after yourself, and your roommate will have to clean up after themselves.

 

Making roommate situations work:

1. Put it in writing. The characters in CBS’Big Bang Theory” have a roommate agreement that covers everything from use of the common areas, to rules for bringing in “hook-ups”. I’m not saying you need a document that is quite so detailed, but having most of the major responsibilities for each roommate spelled out in an agreement that everybody signs off on is a great way to avoid problems later.

2. Spell out consequences. What do you do if your roommate is $50 short on rent one month? Are you willing to piss off your landlord by withholding rent altogether? Are you going to cover the difference? Whichever you do, spell out the process for you to be remedied before it becomes an issue. You agree to cover your roommate, but they will have to make payments to you every week, or you might have to look for a new roommate.

3. Use common sense. If you are living on your own (even with a roommate), presumably you are smart enough to know that some things are common sense. Don’t go rifling through your roommate’s stuff. Don’t deliberately try to piss them off so they leave and you can keep the place all to yourself or with a new roommate. Don’t bring your significant other to stay for 20 out of 30 days and still expect your roommate to want to pay for half the rent even though he is only one-third of the occupants.

4. Be respectful of your roommate. They might have rituals they do that don’t make sense to you. I personally, before I leave the house, still have to go through a ritual to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. My wife laughs, but other roommates might start looking at me like I’m a little off-balanced.

5. Be flexible. I guarantee you that shit is going to go wrong eventually. It happens. How you react is more important than the event itself. Don’t take out on your roommate your frustrations about something unrelated. Also, don’t flip out about every little thing they do that annoys you that day. Maybe you are having a bad day and are hyper-sensitive to what would normally be a non-issue.

Nothing says roommates to me like this song, enjoy!

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Much to the chagrin of kids everywhere, schools across the country are dusting off marker-boards, straightening out rows of scissors and rulers, and setting up disgustingly saccharine displays with scalloped, corrugated, border trim depicting ancient blackboards and apples. Parents are flocking to discount stores to buy paper and notebooks, malls to buy the newest fashion for their little models, and electronic stores to buy data sticks, tablet pc’s and the newest “i-device” from Apple.

As much fun as all that is, and I personally love the smell of new school supplies, what students need, almost more than new shoes with lights and skate-wheels in them, are strong study skills. I’m all for studying and study skills, but I think a lot of adults need them just as much when it comes to personal finances as their kids do. The following is a list of skills that will work just as well for students of history and math as they will for people looking increase their own financial literacy.  Advice for students is in red, while advice for personal finance is in blue. 

1. Tape a copy of study guides for classes somewhere that you will see it often. Maybe the inside of your locker, or even to the cover of the book for that class. Also put up copies near your computer at home, or in other places that you are sure to see them. Doing this helps you to study without making it a chore. You have the ability to read a few lines while you are doing normal, everyday things. Repetition of information is the best way to learn it.

1. Keep pictures of things that you want to have near your modes of spending. Saving up for a new motorcycle? Wrap a picture of your dream bike around your credit card. Want to be out of debt completely, try keeping a copy of your latest credit card statement, with the balance owed circled in red where you can see it. Don’t think of it as shaming yourself into not spending, but think of it as providing a visual incentive to make better spending choices.

2. Make an appointment to study. With soccer practice, football games, church meetings and whatever else goes on in life, (like ditching all that stuff to hang out at the mall with the hot person you want to be seen with by everyone but your parents), it’s easy to forget to make time for actual studying. Make an appointment so you make sure you have time to study. Of course, that’s only half the battle. The other half is for you to actually meet your appointment.

2. Just like students, you need to make an appointment to reconcile your statements, plan your budgets, and pay your bills. Mrs. Finance For Youth has a schedule where she wakes up on Saturday morning, boots up the computer, makes a cup of coffee, and proceeds to pay any bills that came in during the week, reconcile any spending that we have done, and makes plans for the next week (like writing rent checks to be delivered on time, or checks to the gardener, or even allowances for herself and yours truly). Having a set time takes away a lot of stress and uncertainty because she can focus what is truly important and not worry about it again throughout the rest of the week.

3. Start your study sessions with your most difficult subject first. When I was in school, there were some classes that came easy to me. Like almost anything but math. It made no sense to start by studying for P.E. (which basically meant playing outside anyways), or even English (which I was really good at for some reason), when I had a subject that was so much more difficult and therefore demanded more time from me. I never learned this trick in school, but I do suggest you start with that hard class and use studying for your favorite classes as a reward later on.

3. Start paying that ugliest bill first. Maybe it’s the one with the highest balance, or maybe it’s the one with the highest interest rate. It might even be the one you are furthest behind in paying. Whichever it is, try to knock it out first, so that you can see easier bills in the future.

4. This one should be a no-brainer, but show up to school every day. All the studying in the world is only going to get you so far. When you show up to class, you will get information that might not be in the study material. You also get the benefit of learning the information that the teacher is going to test you on. Personally, I frequently use the phrase, “So, if you see a question on the test that says…,” which I follow by giving the students the answer that I’m looking for.

4. Show up to work! In general, you get paid when and only when you work. Some people have time off for vacation for which they get paid, and sometimes you are just too sick to be any good, but for the most part, work=pay! Think long term. Maybe you can get away with not being at work every day right now, but when you are looking for that promotion, your boss will take your attendance into consideration. It may be that the difference between you and another employee is that you are known to show up to work and the other person is known to slack off.

5. Don’t try to cram! Okay, we’ve all done it, but it almost never works out well. Instead of pulling one all-nighter on Sunday, just before a huge test, block out an hour or two every day to study throughout the week. Doing so will increase the likelihood that you will retain important information, cause less harmful stress to your body and health, and ultimately put you in a more relaxed state where success is more attainable.

5. People sometimes try to cram personal finance knowledge too. It doesn’t work here either. If you are already in debt up to your ass (assuming you own livestock), or higher, you aren’t going to get out of it instantly. Set out a plan that allows you to survive, but that still attacks the problem. You need to give yourself space to be able to succeed, but you need to also build in room for the occasional, inevitable setback. What happens too often is that people try to cram in “smart” financial decisions to such an extent that they are bound to give up and fail.

For many parents, this is the first year that they are dealing with the whole school thing. For others, back to school just means another haircut and a picture of your little one standing outside the front door, dressed and ready to go to school. Try instead to share some great strategies with your children on how to be successful, whether by my tips above, or others that you might know from other places. Let them know that you are also going to start something new and exciting to help the family. Make school and personal finances whole family events where you all share the journey and the rewards. Your kid gets good reports for a month and you pay off one credit card bill? Go for a round of miniature golf or something that the whole family can enjoy!

Nothing says back to school like this video.  Enjoy!

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In every parent‘s life there comes a time when they need to sit their child down and have a serious talk about life. Some parents make a big deal and production about it, buying visual aids and showing their kids the tools that they use. Other parents pretend that this isn’t happening, or at least that it isn’t happening yet, all the time realizing that they are risking their children having to learn the facts from people who don’t have their best interests in mind, or even worse, from the streets.

Of course the above holds true for many sensitive and difficult subjects, but only one can truly rise to the level of being called “THE TALK”. We’re talking about finances here.

Earlier, at the beginning of summer, we discussed some choices about how to handle the idea of allowances for kids. You can read about them HERE, HERE, or even HERE. Some parents thought that this was the end of the story, and not something way closer to the beginning. The truth is, your kids are going to need to learn how best to handle serious issues like the smart use of credit, planning for the future, making and sticking to budgets, and even how to deal with life when your plans blow up on you. This is when it can get a little messy for parents and their children alike. Hopefully I can give you a few tips to make this less difficult on everyone.

You really can be too young: Many of the bloggers out there and some of the “gurus” will tell you that your kids are never too young to learn about these issues. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’m all for teaching kids about money issues in ways that are age and developmentally appropriate. I could try to talk to my 6-year-old nephew about the finer points of an interest-only mortgage, but I’m sure he’s more interested in seeing what his nostrils look like when you shine a flashlight through them (That may not be strictly true, but I always get a kick from the flashlight thing). You should stick to basics that you can deliver in small enough chunks that they can understand, but with just enough detail that you don’t lose them. If you just can’t help yourself and you absolutely need to talk about topics that are probably over their head, the best way is by teasing the more advanced topics in the course of the more basic (and appropriate) lessons.

A little mystery is better than total disclosure: Remember the first time you heard, saw, heard about, learned, or discovered that your parents had sex (that is if your parents have had sex, unlike my parents, who never have and never will, thankyouverymuch)? Yeah, you don’t want to put your kids through that when it comes to money issues. Some parents might struggle to keep their finances healthy. Having kids, in and of itself, is an expensive proposition, but by no means the only reason parents might not want to divulge too much. Maybe they made some bad choices, maybe life got a little hairy, but the kidlets don’t need all the details. If you want to purge your soul, see your clergy, a psychologist, a bartender, or whoever, but don’t burden your kids with too much detail into your own finances.

Try to let your kids guide the direction of the conversation: Just like the other “talk”, one area where parents frequently screw up is by misunderstanding the questions that their children may have. A kid might ask where babies come from, and a parent will start the conversation with, “Well, sometimes Daddies make special drinks for Mommies that help Mommies get sleepy…,” when all the kid wants to hear is “from the hospital”. No kid wants to hear the first story. No adult wants to hear that (with the exception of some members of the local police, but that is another story altogether.) Kids have an amazing ability to communicate to adults what they are ready to grasp. Sadly, adults generally suck at interpreting what the kids are saying. My best advice here is to ask a lot of questions about what kids are curious about or need help understanding. Give them a broad, basic answer, followed by some more questioning to see if that helps to answer their questions, and then a more detailed response. Lather, rinse, repeat as necessary.

Showing is better than telling: Kids get lectured at enough at school. I personally make sure of that. They learn very early on how to tune out when they feel another lecture coming on. Try to avoid adding to the lectures they will have to sit through by developing activities that will help them see what happens. There are games on the internet that can be used in a pinch, but these are generic, and might not be the best fit for your child. Of course, this will mean that you have to be engaged with your child, but most parents who are planning on teaching them about personal finance are probably already pretty well engaged already.

And finally,

Be prepared: Before you get to the point where you need to have “the talk”, be prepared with the accurate information and some ideas about how you would answer questions. This means you might need to invest a little time and a little money on reading materials. You’re reading Finance For Youth: The Blog
already, so that is a good start! Another place where you will get good information that is definitely not over someone’s head is by reading my book, Finance For Youth: The Book, available through www.finance4youth.com. Am I saying that my stuff is the only stuff you should read? Absolutely! However, I know that would be incredibly unlikely, so I suggest that you supplement F4Y products with products from your second favorite personal finance person.

Having “the talk” is going to be strange. There is no way around it, but it doesn’t have to be so uncomfortable that you postpone it until it is too late. Remember, postponing leads to your kids needing your money long after they should be on the way to creating their own lives, and nobody wants that.  Also remember that if you get stuck having to give the talk, and it gets awkward, you can always just tell your spouse that your kid ate the pie!

 

 

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