Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Thrifty Thinking: 4 Financial Hacks for College Grads

College graduation is upon us, and for all of the book-learning new grads have accomplished over 4+ years, there is one subject area they are not likely to have mastered:

Finances.

Between paying down that college debt and simply making rent at the start of the month, determining how and where to take control of a financial life isn’t exactly covered in Marine Bio.

Tony Steuer, financial expert and award-winning author of the new book, GET READY!: A Step-by-Step Planner for Maintaining Your Financial First Aid Kit is sensitive to how truly overwhelming finances can be, and has devised a list of the 4 most critical things every recent grad should know about managing their financial life.

Here are his 4 simple financial life-changers:

Actually read the documents. All insurance policies are not the same. Prior to signing any financial documents, read carefully, and importantly, be sure that what you think is covered is actually covered. For example, renters insurance policies do not cover floods. Floods are covered under their own policy.

Watch your debt -- and avoid consolidation. Be wary of college debt consolidation loans. A debt consolidation loan is actually a refinanced loan with an extended repayment period, which means it will take longer to pay off your debt, and it does not mean that your outstanding debt amount is reduced.

Make a plan before acting. As life requires major purchases, always plan first. Start by considering what your goals and priorities are.This includes paying off college loans, saving for retirement, buying a home and taking a vacation. Write them down, and keep it somewhere as a guide star.

Tackle one thing at a time. Keep it simple. Once you know what is the most important - do it, but don’t overload. Take on one financial ambition at a time. Don’t set up a retirement fund, apply for two credit cards and book a trip to Aruba in the same day. While random bursts of energy may have helped you write that term paper, it’s best to make clear, purposeful and well-informed financial decisions, slowly...

Thrifty Thinking: 4 Ways Divorce Could Affect Your Retirement

Couples going through a divorce have numerous personal and financial issues to work out, from who gets the house to how custody of the children will be handled.
But one significant area of concern that can be easily overlooked is that a divorce also involves issues that could affect your retirement.
“That can be true even if your retirement is still years away,” says Andrew McNair, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and founder and president of SWAN Capital (www.SWAN-Capital.com). “One of the big pitfalls in any divorce is the failure to cut emotional ties from the divorce negotiations. That’s only natural. But unless you have a third party who can help everyone take a step back and say, ‘Financially, does this make sense,’ it can be very tough.”
McNair says just a few of the ways retirement and divorce become interlocked include:
  • IRAs. Since an IRA is an individual retirement account, only one name appears on the account. But that doesn’t mean it’s off limits during a divorce, McNair says. “Everything that you acquire during the marriage, no matter whose name it's in, is typically considered marital property,” he says. During a divorce, McNair recommends evaluating the financial drawbacks to having your IRA included in the assets you plan to retain post-divorce. It’s important to remember, he says, that the money in an IRA can’t be accessed before you are 59 ½  without paying a penalty.
  • Pensions. Maybe you earned a pension at your job and your spouse didn’t. But just as with the IRA, pensions and retirement plans are marital assets, McNair says. In general, the portion of the pension that you earned while you were married is subject to division. “Depending on which state you live in, it’s possible that even the portion of the pension you earned before you were married could be viewed as a marital asset,” he says. “That said, it may still be possible to keep your pension intact and offset it with other assets.”
  • Social Security. There are plenty of rules that govern your Social Security benefit, and the rules for married couples can carry over into divorce. For example, McNair says, if your spouse has worked and if you have been married for 10 years or more, then you have options. You can get a benefit that is equal to half your spouse’s Social Security, or you can draw your own benefit, whichever is higher. Either way, your spouse retains 100 percent of their benefit. This is an automatic guarantee that falls under Social Security rules, he says, so it’s not a negotiable point during the divorce.
  • Qualified Domestic Relations Order. Pensions, IRAs and Social Security are something people are familiar with, but you may be thrown by this one. During a divorce, a QDRO (or Qualified Domestic Relations Order) is the legal document that divides up a qualified pension or retirement account (including 401(k)s) during a divorce. “There are a lot of nuances that go into a QDRO,” McNair says. “To protect your assets, you want to be sure to get qualified advice in this area from a specialist.”
“In negotiating the financial issues in a divorce, despair can set in and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” McNair says. “Concentrate your energy on problem solving. Emotions are understandable, but you don’t want to let them run wild and govern your decisions.”
About Andrew McNair
Andrew McNair is the president of SWAN Capital (www.SWAN-Capital.com), an independent financial services firm in Pensacola, Florida. He has experience in the fields of retirement income, wealth preservation, and long-term care and has a strategic partnership with an attorney for estate planning services. McNair also is the author of Tithe: A Living Testimony and Don’t Be Penny Wise & Dollar Foolish. His financial commentary has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fox Business, Market Watch and Kiplinger.

Parenting Pointers: Preparing for the Future for Your Special Needs Child

ANNETTE HINES is the author of Butterflies and Second Chances: A Mom’s Memoir of Love and Loss and a founding partner of the Special Needs Law Group of Massachusetts. She brings personal experience to her practice as the mother of two daughters, one of whom passed away from mitochondrial disease in 2013. This deep, personal understanding of special needs fuels her passion for qualityspecial needs planning and advocacy and drives her dedication to the practice. Recognized as a Distinguished Citizen by ARC Massachusetts and cited for public service by both the Massachusetts State Senate and House of Representatives, Hines works tirelessly on behalf of people with disabilities.
I had a chance to do a great interview with her.
What's something parents should do early on to help provide a secure future for a special needs child?
The first thing parents should do early on to provide a secure future for a special needs child and for their entire family is to start pulling together their team. First, they should look to their trusted professionals and advisors such as attorneys and financial professionals tohelp guide them. Then they need to pull together their clinical and technical team to advise them on specific special need s issues relevant to their child so they can learn to be the expert in their child. Next, they need to pull from their community such as the girl scouts and boy scouts, after school and library programs, church and synagogues and so much more. Last, but so important, look to their families to develop strong team members, remembering that sometimes it’s difficult for grandparents to accept special needs in the same way that parents do and they may need more time and flexibility to do things in their own way.

By following these guidelines you’ll assure yourself of having a strong safety net and of not feeling so alone – a feeling all too common for parents of young special needs children. And if disaster strikes your family, you’ll be ready.

Where are good places to go to stay up to date on the latest medical or educational research and legal issues regarding special needs children?
Parent groups are always the best places to go for resources and sometimes disability specific organizations can be very helpful as well. For example, www.thearc.org, is a national organization that has great information about their state chapters that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Since my daughter passed away from mitochondrial disease, I spent lots of time working with www.mitoaction.org. Their website was very educational.

But because I was very lonely, I sought out many in-person meetings and conferences as a way to connect with other families that were going through similar experiences like mine. It can be very difficult to get out for an evening or a Saturday morning, never mind a whole day or several days! But if they have child care, or stipends or scholarships, and if you can make it happen, it can really be worth your time to go to an event that both families and professionals attend together. You learn the latest information and you are able to get those human connections you need to keep from going crazy!

Why is it important to have a plan for transition from child to teen to young adult?
Educational services are an entitlement in our country. That means that if our children need certain services to access their education (and we can prove it!) then our state needs to provide those services no matter what the cost. However, that is not true of adult services once our children age out of the educational system and become legal adults. It is true that as their parents we no longer have a legal duty to support them, house them, feed them, or physically care for the them. But in many instances, if we let them become a ward of the state, there are just no good options anymore and there is nowhere for them to go. That is at the very basic needs level of the pyramid.

But who wants that for their children? We want our children to thrive! All our children! Special needs or otherwise. And that requires very careful planning and very diligent advocacy because personal and governmental resources are scarce. We have to start thinking about this early and build on it from year to year as our children grow. Just as you don’t suddenly say in your typical child’s senior year, “hey, let’s start planning for college”, you also don’t start planning for transition to adulthood for special needs child when they are in their last year of school.

How can families make sure that other children in the family aren't overlooked?
This is truly a tough question to answer and it will be different for every family. But it lies in the fact that every family member is an individual and is important to the family and the whole family cannot serve one person. Each kid needs to have their thing that makes them special. Maybe its ballet or kung fu or soccer. But the thing that makes them special can’t be that they are great to their special needs brother. They have to have their own identity. And mom and dad need to have their own stuff that interests them too. You still have to take vacations, even if modified. You still need to do holidays, even if modified. You have to live – it’s really important to show your kids that your family has traditions and customs just like every other family does. 

Book Nook: Mosquito Creek Detective Club

Seven ordinary kids have extraordinary adventures as they recognize and unravel clues missed by experienced adults. The main characters—three girls and four boys—are inquisitive and observant in solving each mystery by sourcing all clues and using their own ingenuity, often with help from a major supporting character who has Down syndrome…
This is the premise of the Mosquito Creek Detective Club. I had a chance to review Mosquito Creek Inn, and I liked it. It appealed to both of my daughters as well. It was easy enough that reluctant readers can get through it, and involving enough that strong readers will enjoy it. You can learn more in the book trailer below.




Book Nook: The Dolphin's Secret - A Meditational Journey for Children

I recently had a chance to review The Dolphin's Secret: A Meditational Journey for Children by Meryl Best Lowell. This how-to storybook introduces children to mindfulness techniques for easing anxiety and promoting happiness.

The book is a child-friendly introduction to Yoga Nidra, a form of guided meditation with mindfulness techniques. It was written to help children learn to feel calmer and happier. The story takes the context of Meri the mermaid and Aloha the dolphin, and is designed for children 4-8 to be used be rest time or bedtime. It's a fun, easy to way to help kids visualize calming techniques and breathing.

Some parents might find it a little over-the-top if they aren't in favor of things like meditation and mindfulness, but for those who are looking for a way to encourage these practices in their kids, it's a good book.


Soul Sustenance: What a Great Word Devotionals for Grads and Moms

I previously posted about What a Great Word - a devotional book that helps readers focus on a certain word each day and what it means in the context of Christian faith. I really enjoyed it, so I was happy to review two new versions of the same type of devotional.

A gift book offering inspiring devotional thoughts, quotes, and prayers intended to encourage and challenge those who are graduating from high school and college, or those simply moving in a new direction.

The perfect gift for Mother’s Day offering a fresh perspective that helps readers focus on one word in Scripture each day to strengthen their faith and see God’s hand at work.

Both of these are great for the target audience. I like the quotes in the book for grades - and while it is most appropriate for a time of transition related to high school or college, it is also appropriate for those completing a different type of transition, whether it's completion of a vocational program or some other important "completion" milestone.

The one written for moms is also good. Most moms can use a pick-me-up at some point, and this book manages to choose words and discuss them in a way that will resonate with all moms, no matter what stage in life. With universal applications, moms who are at the beginning of parenting, almost empty nesters, or those with grown children will be able to get something out of this book.

Fun Freetime: Rain or Shine Activities That Are Sure to Be a Hit for the Whole Family

Warm weather and longer days are right around the corner, which could mean more sunshine along with sun showers. Spring gives us the perfect reason to plan for a weekend getaway or plan some fun activities with the whole family right at home. In this video, lifestyle and travel expert, Julie Loffredi will share her favorite family-friendly activities to kick start the fun, rain or shine!

Some of Julie’s tips will include:
  • PLAN A TRIP: There’s no better way to get a jumpstart on the warmer weather than by escaping the cold! Pick a spot on the globe and book a weekend getaway the whole family can enjoy!
  • RAIN RAIN GO AWAY: A stormy afternoon might sound like a good day for a movie, but it's also a perfect opportunity to bring out some fun games and toys and play with your children.
  • NIGHT SKIES: Venture out after dinner and discover the night skies by locating your favorite stars and constellations. A little fresh air before bedtime is always nice!
  • GIVE BACK: Whether you’re organizing a food or clothing drive or cleaning up a park, volunteering as a family can be a rewarding way to bring everyone together.

For more information, visit: www.betterstuffforlife.com

MORE ABOUT JULIE LOFFREDI:
Julie Loffredi is a journalist and award-winning television news reporter. She has appeared on NBC TODAY show, CNN, ABC Good Morning America, Fox News Channel, Hallmark Channel, NBC 30, ABC 6 and Fox Providence and others. Julie’s vast experience crosses over into many media platforms – TV, radio, and online. Her reporting work is currently featured on FoxNews.com, USAToday.com, ABCNews, Oyster.com, Clark Howard, The Points Guy, Huffington Post, Yahoo! Travel and others. Julie is also viewed as a media expert and is a Continuing Education Instructor at Rhode Island School of Design. She was recently nominated as “Entrepreneur of the Year” by Newport Chamber of Commerce. In addition to her television work, Julie is also an artist and photographer.

Produced for: Booking.com and Spin Master

Book Nook: What Will You Do, My Deer?

So many kids get asked: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" For some kids, they've always wanted to be a teacher, or firefighter, or police officer. Other times, the answer a kid gives morphs into a different career - from movie star to stage manager, from astronaut to science teacher, from artist to graphic designer. Sometimes, what we want to do even as adults changes: I started college with the idea of being a pediatrician and now teach multiple subjects; my husband was going to teach music and does IT instead, my in-laws were theatre majors who became a daycare provider and an electrician, and my father was an art major who is now a toolroom supervisor.

Maybe the focus shouldn't be so much on a career aspiration, but rather on a set of values or an idea of constantly striving to be the best we can be wherever we are, whether it's the final stop on a journey or somewhere on the way. I got to review a book by Kathryn Hast, What Will You Do, My Deer?, that explores the possibilities for not just “becoming something,” but also, for doing something—for doing something good

The book reflects career exploration, adventure, growth, development, and more. It's a great story to start little kids dreaming about what they can be, but also remind older kids (and even adults) that there's always a need for a sense of wonder, progress, and love.

            The author, a mother of two young children and MFA in writing, wrote the children’s book in one sitting, after a frustrating (adult) day at work. Teaming up again with the ever-talented illustrator, L.M. Phang, Hast’s third release is a bit divergent from her first two works. While familiar illustrations from Otis Grows and Batty Betty are peppered throughout,What Will You Do, My Deer? shines the spotlight this time much more on the reader, encouraging questions, imagination, and dreams.
“It dawned on me when I was writing it—in a hotel room after a terrible conference—that the question of ‘What will I be when I grow up?’ is omnipresent for all of us,” Hast says, “And that the answer ultimately is: It doesn’t matter.” What Will You Do, My Deer? is a kid’s book that reminds us all that it’s not about any one profession or career path; it’s about having the courage to be “curious and kind.”

Kathryn Hast has a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in writing and a Master’s degree in Education. She is from York, Pennsylvania, and she lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband and two children. She has one dog named after a Beatles song, and one that barks at the television.

Learn more at www.lujubooks.comFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

What Will You Do, My Deer? can be purchased from www.lujubooks.com and Amazon.

Money Makers: How One Mompreneur Went From 500 Square Feet to $8 Million

By Jeanne Foley, Co-Founder of The Groomsman Suit.
A little more than three years ago I was living in a New York City apartment, about to give birth to my first child and simultaneously launch a startup called The Groomsman Suit. The thought of becoming a ‘mompreneur’ was exciting and completely terrifying at the same time.
The responsibilities that come with children and family can often be a barrier for women who are interested in starting a business. The moment you learn that you are going to be a parent your priorities immediately shift. You think about what changes have to be made before the baby arrives, and what will it take to get there. Once the baby arrives, increasing expenses make it more difficult to leave a steady income to start a business of your own. 
At the same time, I believe if you have a great idea, unwavering passion and the ability to overcome adversity, then go for it.  Women should not be afraid to chase their dreams or feel limited in what dreams are achievable by also wanting a family. d
Whether you agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In or Michelle Obama who famously said, “Women can’t have it all,” both women have done great things.
As a mompreneur, my co-founder and I generated $2.5 million in sales in 2018 and are projecting $8 million in sales this year.  It has not always been easy or perfect, but I am one of countless examples of women who manage both a business I’m passionate about and a family.
Based on my first-hand experience over the last three years, here are 5 tips for aspiring mompreneurs:  
  1. Have a solid plan with initial low risk:
If you are debating the pros and cons of trying to start a business while managing a family, having a solid plan is important before taking the leap. I learned about Kickstarter where anyone could offer a product for pre-order. Since the launch of Kickstarter, thousands of successful businesses have received funding they needed to get off the ground and even grow into multimillion-dollar companies. This was the route we chose to launch The Groomsman Suit. It mitigated the risk of making a major financial investment and allowed us to measure marketplace interest.  If you have an idea and don’t know where to start, try to find a way to test it out with as little financial risk to validate the concept or product.
  1. Find a Co-Founder who supports you in and out of the office:
Finding a business partner can seem impossible, but the right person might be right in front of your nose; a good friend, family member, or colleague that you have work experience with.  While passion can override experience in many cases, it’s important to have a good understanding of the business you are getting into, what your strengths are and where you will need the most help. Most importantly, as a new mom, learning how to navigate this new lifestyle with added responsibilities, you will need someone who will cheer you on, push you through the tough moments and keep you on track. With the right partner, things will get done exponentially faster and get you to a point of financial freedom much sooner. When searching for a partner, consider who you trust and who in your network has the skills that you don’t but are essential to your business. In my case, my childhood best friend Diana was it. She had a business background and interests that complemented my fashion background. 
  1. Start with triple the money you think you need: 
Whatever you think it will cost you to get up and running, double it (triple if you can) but don’t let it get in your way. If you don’t have a lot saved up, I’d suggest trying to save up at least enough to allow you to cover your essential expenses for up to six months, preferably 12.  You don’t want money to be the reason you have to stop working on your business full-time since momentum means everything to a start-up. Just like a baby, it will require a LOT of attention and nurturing.  Fundraising is another avenue. It’s a lot less complicated than it sounds but more complicated than asking your family or friends to borrow some money.  But to do it the right way you need a lawyer.  If you have proof of concept and simply need funds to boost sales or get to the next level, this can be a great option. 
  1. Find a work/life balance that works for you:
Owning your own business doesn’t mean that you will have more time to spend with your kids. If that is your primary goal, it may not be the best option.  However, you will have flexibility to spend your time doing things for the business, for your family, and even blend them a little (or a lot), like I do.  There will be times when one or the other will suffer, but you will find ways to make it work.
  1. Define what success means for you: 
Some mompreneurs may want to be the next Ariana Huffington (mother of two) or billionaire Spanx founder Sarah Blakely (mother of four) and others may want to run a business that is rewarding but not entirely consuming.  Ultimately, it is good to set goals before you begin and determine what success looks like for you, no matter how big or small.
Starting a business has many highs and lows but the simple act of starting a business is a huge accomplishment. My advice to anyone considering becoming a mompreneur would be to follow your gut, trust yourself, get a comfortable baby carrier, and find a friend to lean on.
Go for it, momma!
About Jeanne Foley
Jeanne is co-founder of The Groomsman Suit, the first e-commerce company offering stylish, high-quality suits and tuxedos men can own for less than the cost of a rental.

The core line is available in five styles and seven colors for just $194. TGS was co-founded by Jeanne and her lifelong friend Diana Ganz after Jeanne's personal experience planning her own wedding. With no other options to affordably outfit their groomsmen, she and her husband were forced to go the rental route only to be disappointed by the logistics, poor fit, and price. Jeanne’s fashion industry experience combined with Diana’s award-winning business background has proved to be a perfect fit.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Book Nook: While Grandpa Naps

A moving, funny, elegant meditation on love, childhood, and one's place in a family.

Gilbert spends a sunny summer afternoon obediently keeping watch over his napping grandpa to shoo the pesky flies away. Unsure of exactly how long he's really supposed to sit there, watching for non-existent bugs, he passes time contemplating his ever-changing family: His grandma Sarah recently died, a new baby is on the way, his siblings and cousins race in and out. While the temptations to abandon his post beckon, Gilbert's loyalty to his grandpa stays true, and his quiet dedication finds a sweet reward.

Naomi Danis is the managing editor of Lilith magazine, independent, Jewish & frankly feminist. Her fifth book for young readers, While Grandpa Naps, is inspired by a true family story. She finds hope in small acts of kindness, especially by children, that often go unnoticed in our busy world. Like her previous, I Hate Everyone, only quieter, While Grandpa Naps explores the sometimes surprising experience of love. She lives in Forest Hills, New York.

Junghwa Park is a happy and whimsical illustrator based in Jersey City, New Jersey. With the dream of becoming an artist, she immigrated to America when she was 17. She graduated with a BFA in Illustration from School of Visual Arts in 2014. Her illustration is inspired by her home in South Korea, with its nature, family farms, crafts, and organic way of life. She has illustrated for various clients, including Pottery Barn, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. Her life’s mission is to share her happiness with the world, which she loves doing through her art and crafts.