Category Archives: Family Finance

Tips for Moving with Children

Last month I got to sit down with my friends at Northwood Realty for a Think Tank session on moving with children. To be honest with you, it’s something I haven’t done yet–partially because our current housing situation is affordable, and partially because Holy Overwhelm.

I have moved a lot, though, in my pre-kid life. It was great to sit down with a bunch of other moms who had been through the ringer, and real estate agents who had done it themselves as parents and helped their clients through the process more than a few times.

I feel a lot better about the whole thing now, and better prepared for next year when we take the plunge.

What we came up with was a treasure trove of knowledge gained from first-hand experience. Here’s some of the best of it:

Such a wealth of knowledge on how to move with kids! Actually feel prepared now!

Smart Prepping for a Frugal Move with Children

We’ve been saying we’re going to move “next year” for a couple of years now. But this time we mean it.

How do I know?

We’ve actually started going through our stuff. Doing so early means we won’t have to move as much–which will save us money. It also means that we’re able to list and sell all our extra stuff before the big day.

It’s a smart move, too, because it means as the seasons roll around, we’ll be able to pack progressively. Once those winter coats are off for the last time, they’ll get packed up. That’s one less box we’ll have to worry about come late Spring.

I picked up some additional tips about moving prep from the fine mothers and real estate agents at our Think Tank, too:

  • If you don’t know where to donate something, especially kids’ toys, clothing or gear, think Women’s Shelters. They often have women and children rotating in and out and always have a need.
  • Pack smaller boxes so everyone can help with the move. I always packed larger boxes and went into beast mode on moving day so it wouldn’t take as long, but now that we’ll have kiddos along for the ride I see the value in going small.
  • Get free boxes at the grocery store or other retailer that frequently receives shipments. They’re typically really strong and most places just break them down at the end of the night. You might have to come after close, but usually if you ask a manger if you can take some off their hands they’ll be more than happy to help.
  • Label and color code. It’s smart to label each box according to which room it will go into. That way, if you have friends coming to help, they won’t be guessing as to which room “Johnny’s Trophies” should end up in. But if you have preliterate children, using colored tape to coordinate with each room can be super helpful, too.

Buying a Home with Children

One thing that really surprised me was that, at least in the South Western PA market, it doesn’t really matter financially when you move. The price difference in housing is negligible, so you should do it whenever works best for your family.

Helping Kids Transition

If you want to move in the summer, though, it was advised that you start looking early. And if you want to move in the summer to help your kids transition, there were some great tips to make things run more smoothly:

  • Enroll your children in sports in their new district–and do it early. This helps them get to know people so they have some friendly faces on their first day.
  • Involve your kids in the house hunt. This can help them feel involved–and also alert you to safety hazards you may not have noticed. I will note that when my parents did this, they picked what I thought was the wrong house. And I still hold it against them. Kidding! Kind of.
  • Hire a sitter to come with you on the house hunt. This way the kids can stay involved, but the show can go on if there’s a meltdown. Pay the babysitter per house–it’s more motivating for them to stay on that way!
  • Get the children’s bedrooms set up first. It will help make their new surroundings more comforting.

Get Your Money Straight

Many of these tips go for any house hunting endeavor–it’s important to have your budget straight. When you’re figuring out how much you need to have saved before buying a home, don’t forget to look beyond the down payment and monthly mortgage payments. You’ll also need money for:

  • Closing costs
  • Home inspection
  • Escrow
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Any applicable HOA fees
  • Hand money

It’s important to be honest with your real estate agent about your financial situation, too. Many of the agents at the Think Tank said this is hard for people, because money and pride go hand-in-hand. But your agent is there to help you, and has a fiduciary duty to act in your best interests. If you’re not completely forthcoming, it will all come out anyways–potentially messing up a deal or resulting in lost time looking at houses you can’t truly afford.

SPECIAL NOTE FOR PA BUYERS: You cannot receive gifts to cover costs in the home buying process in the state of Pennsylvania. If you live in another state, be sure to check your local laws before banking on any gift money.

You’ll also want to get pre-qualified before shopping. In markets like the one we have in Pittsburgh, sellers won’t even look at your offer if you want a contingency clause added while you try to find financing.

Selling a Home With Children

Keeping your house ready for last-minute tours is stressful. Keeping it clean and ready with kids? That’s panic-mode stressful.

Here are some top-notch tips I gleaned for prepping your house to move:

  • Keep all the toys in one room. And make sure it isn’t on the ground floor if at all possible. While in reality your children may have taken over the house, no one wants to buy that reality–even if they have kids themselves. Let them fantasize.
  • Get some laundry baskets ready. Got a call from your agent saying that someone wants to come see the house in an hour? As in one hour? As in sixty minutes from NOW? If you have a couple of laundry baskets ready to go, you can round up all the toys, books and other odds and ends your kids have taken out of that dedicated room, throw them in the basket, and then throw them in the trunk of your car as you get ready to leave.
    Last-minute showings can be inconvenient, but staying flexible is key in helping your home sell quickly.
  • Don’t worry about seasonality. At least in our local housing market, there is no best time of year to sell. In fact, the agents we spoke with said the holidays were one of their favorite times to sell because the houses were done up so beautifully for the festivities. (January is also when a ton of companies do relocations, so there are generally plenty of buyers.)
  • Animals are more of a distraction than children. If you have pets, you may want to temporarily house them somewhere else. If the buyer isn’t a dog person, they may have a hard time overlooking your German Shepard while they’re trying to fall in love with your house. Or the litter your cat spilled outside the box after you meticulously cleaned it up before loading your laundry baskets into the car.
    Temporarily housing with a friend or family member is also less stressful for your furry friend, too. Strangers can be scary–especially when your pet doesn’t fully understand what’s going on.

Protect Yourself

Again: strangers can be scary. While you hope the buyer’s agent is looking out for you, you simply don’t know who is going to be in your home. Be sure to lock up any:

  • Cash
  • Checkbooks
  • Credit cards/Banking information
  • Jewelry
  • Firearms
  • Medication
  • Anything else of value or potential harm

Ready to List!

Ready to list? Here’s some things you can do to help get your house off the market quickly:

  • Have an open house immediately after you list. This helps create pressure.
  • If you can coordinate listing with your vacation, you’ve got an ideal situation. You clean your house before you leave and have nobody to mess it up for a week–or however long you’re gone. The realtors cited many examples where the home sold before the family was even back in town!
  • Continue promoting even if you have a contract. Because, unfortunately, contracts do sometimes fall through.

Have you moved with children?

Would love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

 

 

 

*I have been compensated for my time at this event and the writing of this post.  Regardless, all opinions are 100% my own and 100% honest.*

LEGO® Brick Fest Live! Review

This looks so cool! Glow-in-the-dark legos at LEGO Brick Fest Live!

Did anyone take advantage of that promo code to go to LEGO® Brick Fest Live! this past weekend?

If you didn’t–you missed out! It was such an incredibly fun day with so much to do. In the days leading up to the event, I got an earful about how cool the races were going to be, and how I better be ready to take pictures of the crashes. (Because that’s the coolest part of racing, I suppose!)

Obviously, when we arrived, that was the first thing we did. They had pre-made platforms which you built your car on top of–in four minutes. It was intense.

Racing cars at LEGO Brick Fest Live!

To  be honest, I wasn’t sure how well that vehicle was going to do. It didn’t look hyper aerodynamic even though it was super cool looking. Much to my surprise, watch who comes in first in the second race!

We also got to contribute to a couple of large-scale LEGO cities–including one that glowed under black lights–at the Inspiration Stations.

LEGO Inspiration Station at Brick Fest

These LEGOs glow under blacklights.

There were so many vendors there. I was a little bit oblivious to how many groups and businesses are built around the LEGO industry.

One that my kiddo was immediately attracted to was this station with remote control car bases that could be controlled through an app on your phone. I told them we might have to wait and ask Santa for this one if they still want it around Christmas time (it was $50), but we did get to try it out while we were there. It was pretty darn fun.

While we were there, we got to see some fine art and learn a little history:

I never knew the history of the Rosie the Riveter poster! Super interesting, and cool LEGO rendition.

And play in ALL the brick pits:

Brick pits at LEGO Brick Fest

To top it all off, we played nine holes of LEGO mini golf and got to contribute to the mosaic wall. There were patterns you could use to make a variety of cool images. We picked the Poke Ball:

LEGO Pokeball pattern

One thing to note: we were finishing up our mosaic at quarter to close. If you’re going to do any collaborative projects, I’d recommend doing them earlier in the day as they were starting to tear down right as we were putting ours up. We didn’t have any tantrums or anything over it, but I can see how something like that may happen.

This is our second year running attending a LEGO event. They’re so fun, and you get a lot of bang for your buck with the tickets. We did get our tickets for free in order to facilitate this review, but I’d be happy to pay the ticket price for a day full of fun like this one. Can’t wait to see what next year may hold!

Cities Where You Can Still Catch LEGO Brick Fest Live!

The event’s over in the Steel City, but you can still catch it if you live in any of the following areas. Click here for exact dates.

  • Scottsdale, AZ
  • Austin, TX
  • Denver, CO
  • Portland, OR
  • Pasadena, CA
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Richmond, VA
  • Houston, TX
  • Baltimore, MD

3 Tips for Moving on a Tight Budget

Saving this for our next move! Great tips on how to move on a tight budget.

Moving house is stressful for a wide number of reasons.

One, you may have to start packing while you’re still working a full-time job and taking care of a family.

Two, you may have a lot of things to pack, but no clear idea of how to go about it.

Three, you may have fond memories of your current home and circle of friends and feel a little depressed about leaving it all behind.

And four, you may have to do things in a hurry, perhaps because of a job relocation.

There are lots of things to consider when moving house. Fortunately, there are also plenty of simple, effective strategies to help you get things sorted out quickly so that your move will go smoothly. Here are 3 big ideas to make your move easier:

1. Figure out how you’ll move.

It’s important to figure out the logistics of your move before you take any action. A clear idea of how you’re going to move will make it easier for everything else to fall into place.

Deciding on how to move usually boils down to figuring out whether you should do-it-yourself or hire a reputable professional business like the North American moving company. If you’re thinking of spending as little as possible to move, you might assume that it would be more labor intensive but less expensive to do it yourself. While you might be right about how much work is involved in doing everything yourself, you could be wrong about it being cost-effective.

The only reason making your own move appears cheaper is because you don’t see all of your costs totaled up ahead of time. Instead, you’re dealing with multiple costs that occur over a stretch of time. For instance, there are the costs of hiring a moving van, buying your family and friends’ thank-you lunches and dinners for volunteering to help you move, the cost of moving equipment and materials, checking in at weigh stations, increased tolls and so on.

Since these costs accumulate in a random, often unpredictable way, they could add up to more than you had reckoned. By comparison, professional movers usually have a streamlined process that often results in large cost savings for the consumer.

Besides the financial costs, you also have to consider the cost of time and labor. If you’re planning on a DIY move you have to ask some hard questions.

  • How much time do your family and friends have available to help you with your move?
  • Will you be coming home exhausted from work in the evening and then start packing until midnight for weeks on end?
  • Will your family and friends have enough time to come over and help you out with everything that needs to get done?
  • Will things get packed properly and loaded safely or will hasty packing result in plenty of breakages of some of your best stuff?
  • Will you be able to find enough strong people to move the large, heavy appliances and furniture into the truck?

Many of these problems could be alleviated if a professional moving company sends over some able bodied people to help you pack your stuff.

2. Minimize how much stuff you have to move.

If you’ve lived in your home for a long time, you’ve probably accumulated a lot more stuff than you realized. When you look around your apartment or house, you might be surprised to come across things you no longer like or need. You’ll discover clothes that just don’t fit anymore and electronic gadgets that are now obsolete.

You should consider decluttering as much as you can. It’s a total waste of time and money to pack and transport all this excess to your new home.

Here is a simple strategy for decluttering:

  1. Empty out a room so that you have plenty of free space.
  2. Go around the house and collect everything that you don’t want to take with you and dump it into the empty room.
  3. Use four large boxes to sort through what you now have in the spare room. You will need a box for trash; a box for recycling; a box for donations to family and friends; and a box for putting everything you can’t make a decision on in the moment.

3. Avoid spending more than necessary.

Don’t buy boxes, but simply collect boxes from local stores who throw or recycle their boxes after they have received a shipment of new products. Also, cut off all your utility bills before your date of departure because many utility companies won’t pro-rate your invoices. Otherwise, you might be paying for an extra month of services.

These 3 big tips will help mitigate some of the stress of moving. Moving houses is often considered a major life stressor, exhausting both physically and emotionally. In fact, it’s considered as difficult as relationship breakups, divorces, and starting a new job. And, of course, it becomes even more stressful if you have a limited budget and a tight deadline to meet.

 

 

This post is contributed and brought to you by Abby Locker.

How to Hire a Nanny: Book Review

How to Hire a Nanny: Your Complete Guide to Finding, Hiring, And Retaining Household Help

 

I just happen to be incredibly lucky. I have kids, but I live close to family. Our income, while not huge, allows my husband to stay home with our children during the week.

What does all this mean?

We don’t have to pay for childcare. The living-near-family advantage was something we consciously chose to pursue, but we’re aware that not everyone has that luxury.

We have some extra stuff going on at home that requires full-time attention. When our kids were younger, and I was in school, our family helped us meet those unique needs very frequently by watching our kids while he was at work and I was in class–or studying.

Without these advantages, we’d likely have to hire in-home care until everyone was in at least elementary school.

With our specific income situation, there’s no monetary advantage to my husband going back to work Monday through Friday.

But for many, childcare is one of the only options to make providing for the household possible. A lot of those households choose to hire a nanny. Your kid gets 1:1 attention, and they get it in your home. There are a lot of positives to this type of childcare setup.

Many times when people hire a nanny, they don’t know what they’re doing. When someone works in your home, you become an employer, and you have to keep things above board.

How to Hire a Nanny

To learn more about this process, I recently read the third edition of How to Hire a Nanny: Your Complete Guide to Finding, Hiring, And Retaining Household Help.

It was intense. There is so much more to this process than I would have ever imagined. Because you become an employer, you have to make sure you’re well-versed in equal employment laws, workers’ rights and taxation at the federal, state and local level.

You also want to make sure you’re actually a good employer–one who people want to work for. You are, after all, leaving your child alone with them for hours everyday. They’re the last employee you want feeling complacent or apathetic. You want your nanny to feel appreciated and excited to do their job well.

I learned a bunch of interesting tidbits across every area the author, Guy Maddalone, covers. Here’s a few.

The Legalities of Hiring a Nanny

“Hiring a nanny” means different things to different people. I hadn’t really thought about hiring a nanny versus an Au Pair versus a mother’s helper, but you really should. Each job description holds different job responsibilities, and in some cases, that will even change the surrounding employment laws.

I also learned that you and the nanny can’t just decide amongst yourselves if she/he will work as an independent contractor or a W-2 employee. There are rules, and most nannies will fall under the W-2 classification for IRS purposes.

You have to be careful about what questions you ask during the hiring process. While some are obvious (e.g. don’t ask an applicant which religion they practice,) others are not so obvious.

For example, it’s illegal to ask someone the name and address of their nearest relative in case of emergency. This can open up the door to discrimination as the employee may now be in a situation where they’re revealing something about their national origin or sexual orientation.

Instead, after they’re employed, you can ask them the name and address of the person to be notified in case of emergency.

There were dozens of other illegal questions that surprised me, too. They made sense after I read them, but if I was hiring someone to work in my home, I might have innocently and accidentally crossed a legal line without knowing it.

You can hire immigrants.

I did know that you can legally hire immigrants, but Maddalone reviews a litany of different visa programs and what the hiring and labor laws are within the context of each program.

Immigrant hires don’t have to hold a green card, necessarily, but you do have to pay a legit paycheck, meeting minimum wage requirements and any other labor and tax laws applicable to your area.

Because immigrants are commonly willing to work under the table, especially when they’re waiting in a long queue to get their documentation sorted by the Federal government, this population has been heavily taken advantage of in the past.

Aside from wage theft and other illegal pay practices, I was saddened to read about the rate of emotional, verbal and physical abuse in these work situations. Over ninety percent of victims don’t report the abuse because they don’t want to lose their income. Forty-two percent were also/independently afraid that if they did, their employer would get violent with them.

NOTE: If you find yourself in this situation as a nanny, you do have rights–citizen or not. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential help. Keep in mind that your online activity may be monitored by your abuser.

You need an employee handbook.

I wouldn’t have thought of this either, but you need a work agreement delineating all the “What ifs?” in your working relationship. You should also address specifics in an employee handbook.

This isn’t only for legal purposes. It helps maintain a happy relationship between the nanny and the family. If, in the heat of the moment, you have different expectations about pay or responsibilities, your conversation could get heated, damaging a relationship with someone who is really great with your kid.

If those expectations are laid out beforehand, everyone knows what to expect, and a confrontation born out of frustration is less likely to happen.

One example given was family travel. If you’re expecting the trip in and of itself to be payment, but your nanny is expecting to get paid for watching your children even though she/he is in a different setting, you’re going to butt heads.

You need to figure things like that out from the get-go so they don’t get out of hand when emotions are high.

Maddalone includes a sample work agreement and other employment documents in the back of the book.

Taxes

There were two major things I learned about taxes that blew my mind. The first is that even if you’re a W-2 employee, your employer doesn’t necessarily have to withhold taxes from your paycheck. You could end up owing quarterlies.

I’ve literally never heard of that before, but it’s something to watch out for. And if you’re employing someone, you definitely need to tell your nanny if you’re not withholding as the employer.

The second interesting tax code tidbit I picked up was that sole proprietors are one of only two groups who can deduct nanny costs from their gross income. That’s a big write-off—don’t miss it if you qualify!

Other Random Tidbits I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know

  • It’s smart to have your nanny familiar with all security systems, including codes. They’ll be there most of the day, and if you’re paying to keep your place secure, their familiarity with the system will be your first line of defense.
  • If your nanny is full-time and they’re using your car to drive your kid around, they should be listed as a driver on your auto insurance policy.
  • Drug users tend to gravitate towards jobs that have traditionally had a hard time enforcing drug-free workplace policies—like domestic work. So watch that closely.

Who is this book best for?

There’s at least a thousand more things I can’t relay to you in a book review–you need to pick up a copy yourself if you’re thinking about hiring someone to help with childcare. This tome is a knowledge mine, and could keep you from inadvertently breaking the law or making a bad hire.

If you’re not hiring a nanny, but know someone who is in one of these life situations, Maddalone’s book would make a great gift:

  • Expectant parent(s). Everyone thinks they know how they’re going to handle work/their career before baby comes, but so much can change after the birth. It’s good to be prepared.
  • Parent reentering the workforce after taking a couple years to spend with their child(ren).
  • Parents who are relocating to an area where they might not have as much support from family and friends.
  • Parents trying to decide between daycare or a nanny.
  • Anyone who is thinking about starting a family, placing serious consideration on economics.

Share Your Nanny Experience

I’ve never had to enlist paid childcare, but I know a lot of you have. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments. Have you come up across any legalities/best practices you hadn’t considered before going through the process? How did you go about the hiring process?

 

 

I have been compensated for my time reading this book and writing this review. Regardless, opinions are 100% honest and 100% my own.

Free Services & Experiences for Military Families

These are some huge freebies for military families. Busch Gardens, anyone?

I grew up in a military family. Then I grew up and was in another military family. There are some fun things about the culture: you get to travel (AKA moving every few years,) you learn to establish deep friendships quickly and you get discounts just about everywhere you go.

Then there are more serious things. You have to move every few years—you get no say in the matter. You put up with weird spousal schedules as duties rotate.

You say goodbye to family and friends when they deploy, always trying to squelch the seed of fear that sits in your belly, because you’ve known and loved people who haven’t returned, but you cannot allow that seed to grow. Its far-reaching vines would consume you, and right now you need to be strong.

Today I want to remember all those serious things. I want to remember all the sacrifices that military families are currently making. I don’t know if I could do it again, but I’m so grateful that they are.

In that spirit of gratitude, I’m going to do what I do best: find free stuff. The below experiences and services are 100% free to active-duty military and their families. Go out there and have fun. And stash all the money you’ll be saving in your TSP!

Free Tax Filing

I know, I know. I’m a little late on this one. But you can get your taxes filed for free on base every year. Just keep in mind that being a tax preparer is often a seasonally-assigned duty—make sure the supervisor checks your preparer’s numbers!

PenFed Credit Union Membership

PenFed is a national credit union that has a field of membership open to active-duty miliary (and retired) families to join. They offer great rates, and stand behind their commitment to the military, not only through their programs and financial services, but also through their charitable arm The PenFed Foundation – which offers programs for the military like The Military Heroes Fund, The Asset Recovery Kit (ARK) and the Dream Makers Program.

Join today.

Free YMCA Membership

Active duty military members and their families get free membership at the local Y. To join, request an eligibility form from Military OneSource.

Free Wedding Dress

If you or your spouse-to-be has been deployed in the past five years, or has a deployment around the corner, you’ll want to head to a Brides Across America exhibition. At these events, active duty women or soon-to-be military spouses are given free wedding dresses for the big day.

This year there are still events scheduled in Colorado and Florida. There were also events in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia in 2017.

Want to show your appreciation to military families? Donate a dress here.

Free Family Portrait

Sometimes you aren’t home very long before you’re gone again. Those moments are precious, and so are the memories that go along with them. Operation: Love Reunited is a network of photographers spread across the country who provide their services to military families for free.

If you’re a photographer and want to join their ranks, you can do so here.

Free Entrance to National Parks

The National Park Service and Federal Recreational Lands do not charge active-duty military for annual passes.  Just show your military ID at any of these sites and they will issue you one for free.

If you’re not in the military, you can get into National Parks for free on designated days. Find out when they are.

Free Access to Select NJ Beaches

Apparently you have to have a badge to go to the beach in New Jersey. Fortunately for military families, these badges are issued to you for free in many, though not all, municipalities.

Free Admission to George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum

Located in Dallas, Texas, active-duty military and up to five of their family members get free admission to this unique museum.

Free Admission to MoMA

Active-duty military members and their families get into this iconic museum for free. All the time.

Free Admission to the San Diego Zoo

My biggest regret about my trip to San Diego last fall is that I missed the zoo. Military families don’t have to, though. Active-duty members get in for free, and if you talk to your MWR on base before you leave, they may be able to get you heavily discounted tickets for the rest of your family, too.

Free Admission to Amazing Theme Parks

Under the Waves for Honor program, active-duty military families can go to the following theme parks for free, as long as they register online before they go:

  • Sea World—San Antonio, San Diego and Orlando locations only.
  • Busch Gardens—Tampa & Williamsburg locations only.
  • Sesame Place—This is a Sesame Street theme park outside of Philly.

Vet Tix

Vet Tix is a platform where people donate tickets to various concerts and events to have them claimed (for free) by active-duty military and veterans. You can check out the current selection here.

 

*This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. The views expressed in the article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. PenFed Credit Union is an Equal Housing Lender and is federally insured by the NCUA.*

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