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Should we spend money on experiences?

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Does spending money on experiences or things make more sense? Is there a correlation between money and happiness? There are things that we need, no doubt, to make our lives easier and more comfortable. There are things that we want and when we possess them, we truly enjoy them, and the money well spent. But sometimes our hard earned cash is better used when we spend money on experiences. Because, in our minds, we can relive them over and over again. So, it’s not always a question of choosing one or the other but instead a matter of spending money wisely. This is a perfect example of how to spend money.

What is the relationship between money and happiness? Well, let me first ask you, what was the first concert you ever went to? I’ll bet you don’t have to think very long – and neither do I. I went to see James Taylor play at a theater in Pittsburgh with my best friend Susan Rosenberg. Yes, I was one of those girls – and so was she – who at 14 or 15 knew every word to You’ve Got A Friend. This is why, I suppose, it meant so much to me when my husband surprised me with tickets to see James Taylor in a wonderful open-air theater. I’ve written before about how spending money on experiences trumps spending money on things but this one I lived. We pulled off New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway, parked our car amidst the tailgaters, and headed in. We grabbed a beer to share (they were 24 oz. – who drinks beers this big?), looked over the line-up of upcoming acts, and found our way to our row.

I don’t mean to brag and I don’t want tell you how to spend your money or for you to go on a spending spree and lose sight of your goals. But, our seats were so good that I shot a few pictures and tweeted them out from the audience, like the one above. What I didn’t do was ask my husband how much the tickets cost. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to know. Over the past few days I’ve shared with friends the line-up of songs, the feel of the crowd and the amazing number of stars. I’ve had Shower the People playing on a constant loop within my head. And I’ve thought a lot about my friend Susan, who passed away this year, and how much she would have loved being there with me – and vice versa. But even if they were as expensive as a trip to Broadway, they were worth it and it was truly money well spent. It’s like I always say, Money Rule #1: Personal finance is more personal than it is finance.

What are you experiences? What do you think?

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Women are making great strides

Despite the fact that many of us feel our progress in the workforce has been glacial, women have made great strides over the last several decades.

Despite the fact that many of us feel our progress in the workforce has been glacial, women have made great strides over the last several decades.

Despite the fact that many of us feel our progress in the workforce has been glacial, women have made great strides over the last several decades. Over the years that I’ve been working, I’ve personally seen many changes firsthand, and I see the pride that many women feel in their own professional accomplishments reflected in the latest Wells Fargo Affluent Women Retirement survey. It’s good to see that these women have a great sense of pride around earning money. A majority (93%) say they “enjoy making and accumulating money” and 94% say “I’ve worked hard to create my wealth.”

I remember a conversation with my husband when our children were young. I had just returned home from the office, exhausted and as usual, worrying that I wasn’t handling either work or family very well. He told me that while he had never discussed it with me before, my ability to provide for our family was a great relief to him. He knew that if anything happened to him, I would be able to care for myself and our children. I’ll never forget how that made me feel – I was a strong and equal partner in our relationship, and in our financial life.

For many women, however, this is not the case. This survey found that women are primarily in charge of the money decisions for the household, and about eight out of 10 manage the household budget, purchasing decisions and pay the bills. But while they are doing a lot of work in seeing where their hard-earned money goes, just 46 percent are taking primary responsibility for choosing and managing investment accounts. The good news is that the younger women surveyed, those in their 40s, are managing their investments more, at a rate of 56 percent. And hopefully they will continue that trend by being involved in the investment decisions which will greatly impact their lifestyle in retirement.

While there may be skepticism about the stock market, two-thirds of affluent women credit the stock market for their wealth. More than three-fourths feel the stock market is the best way to grow savings for the long term. They even get excited watching their assets grow through good investments rather than earning it and saving it. This is an encouraging shift that’s taking place.

Some other interesting findings from affluent working women:

  • 62 percent believe that women can “have it all” when it comes to balancing their career and family; however that is the goal for only 38 percent of them
  • 58 percent are struggling with work-life balance

Over my life, I have found that you constantly have to adjust your priorities as life comes at you. I had a manager who told me that in life you will have to juggle a lot of balls, and the important thing was not to drop the glass ones. There is sacrifice involved and that’s why you have to prioritize what matters most—at the time you may be struggling with work-life balance as many women are.

What does “having it all” mean to you? Is that your goal? How are some ways you deal with work-life balance?

Stocks offer long-term growth potential, but may fluctuate more and provide less current income than other investments. An investment in the stock market should be made with an understanding of the risks associated with common stocks, including market fluctuations.

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5 benefits of charitable giving

Here’s some good news: As a country, we’re very philanthropic — over 95% of households give to charity, at an average of nearly $3,000 annually, according to statistics from the National Philanthropic Trust.

That’s great news, not only for charities, but also for ourselves. Research shows that giving back — whether with money or your time — helps us simultaneously as it helps the causes we’re supporting. How? Let me count the ways:

Giving makes us happier, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review. You’re likely to get more of a mood boost from giving money to others rather than spending it on yourself. As a bonus, the actual amount contributed doesn’t seem to matter, which means you can give as much as you can afford and still feel good about it. And although this research didn’t say so the research I conducted for my book The Ten Commandments of Financial Happiness did, giving time through volunteering provides an uptick in happiness as well.

It promotes gratitude. When you give to charity, or volunteer your time, it can highlight all of the good things going on in your own life. It gives you perspective and that shines a light on all that you should be grateful for. If you want to make the most of this, take the time every night to write down three good things that happened in your day. At the end of the week, go back and read them. You’ll start to notice a pattern of good things happening in your life and that will give you an even bigger gratitude boost.

It sparks a chain reaction, potentially causing others to up their generosity game. We’ve all heard of someone whose day has been brightened by a pay-it-forward effort — the driver in the car in front of you picks up the tab for your dinner at the drive in, or someone in line for coffee pays for the next person. These pay-it-forward sprees have gone unbroken for days, like the case of this Connecticut Starbucks that kept it up through over 1,000 customers. Generosity leads to more generosity, and that’s never a bad thing.

It keeps us healthy. According to the Cleveland Clinic , giving can lower blood pressure, decrease stress levels, help alleviate depression and increase self-esteem. I’d say much of that goes back to the happiness boost we get from giving — when we feel good mentally, we’re more likely to feel good physically.

It’s tax deductible. Okay, so this last one is a little self-serving. But if you itemize your taxes, giving to a tax-exempt charity can save you a bit of cash. You can deduct any cash donations, as well as money spent volunteering (but not the cost of your time). You can also deduct the fair market value of goods donated. Be sure to get a receipt for any property or money you donate.

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Is generosity in your genes?

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I have always assumed that the American spirit of giving to those less fortunate was a consistent bond we all share. On a recent business trip I stumbled across an article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy that was shocking. This article debunked my naive perspective. A few facts – the rich are not the most generous, the highest givers in our country earn between $50,000 -75,000. In addition there are strong regional differences. The top two states for giving are Utah (10.6%) and Mississippi (7.6%) (Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina round out the top five) and the bottom two states for giving are Maine and New Hampshire at 3.3% and 2.5% respectively. Wealthier people who live in more diverse areas give more than people who live in homogeneously wealthy neighborhoods and more religious areas of the U.S. are more generous.

In my upbringing, I did experience a weekly tithing ritual and that was how I learned to calculate 10% of any number, something that has helped me in tipping since that time – I just double the tithe amount. So, I would fall into that category of being impacted by religious upbringing. So how does our family decide on our charitable giving and the amount? We are actively trying to get to a 10% number. As our income increased, our giving did not match, so for the last several years, we have tried to be more deliberate and increase our gifts until we get to 10%. We currently are at 8% as a family. We were recently told by our advisors that we are one of the largest givers in their book of business – and I thought they were just paying us a compliment – but maybe they were being honest!

What would it mean if all of America will give 1% more to those charities that are meaningful to them? Think of the impact that would have on our country. What would it offer to the next generation? I say, let’s start a generosity movement….what do you say?

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Six tips for how to save money during the holidays

If this holiday season has your head is spinning and you're at a loss for how to save money during the holidays faster than the Sugar Plum Fairy can pirouette, you’re not alone

If this holiday season has your head is spinning and you’re at a loss for how to save money during the holidays faster than the Sugar Plum Fairy can pirouette, you’re not alone

If this holiday season has your head is spinning and you’re at a loss for how to save money during the holidays faster than the Sugar Plum Fairy can pirouette, you’re not alone. We’re all at a loss when it comes the latest holiday gifts. Between the iPad 2, Kindle Fire and Wii Fit, toys seem more high-tech and high-priced than ever and many families are still reeling from the recession. “How can I afford to fulfill my kids’ wish lists if I couldn’t even take a vacation this year?” you might be wondering.

Well, my first piece of advice is to stop worrying. There are several tricks to save money to things you can do get through the holiday season without breaking the bank or abusing the eggnog. Here are some of my favorite holiday-savings tips on how to save money on holiday spending:

Create a holiday budget and stick to it. I normally suggest spending no more than 1.5% of your annual take-home pay on holiday gifts purchases. If you’re using credit cards to pay for everything, this is an amount that can be easily paid off by February. This also means that if you allot yourself $100 dollars per recipient but spend $150 on Mom’s cashmere sweater, your dad or brother might have to get that $50 DVD set instead of that $100 golf set. Over-spending on each person is the easiest way to break your budget.

Make a holiday gift list; check it twice. You should know what you’re buying, who the recipient is, and how much you want to spend per item well before you walk into the store. This will help you stick to your budget (see above) and prevent impulse purchases!

Treat holiday gift giving it like a research project. It may not sound fun, but do your homework, and give yourself enough time to do the work. If you rush, you’ll make hasty decisions that will cost you. Find out which stores are running promotions, and don’t be afraid to go to multiple stores to get the best deal on a certain item. If you don’t see what you’re looking for while you’re out, don’t force yourself to buy something just because you’re in a store. Wait, brainstorm some more, and get it next trip.

Don’t shop if you feel like Scrooge. If you’re in a bad mood, you are more likely to use retail therapy to feel better. Don’t do this! Remind yourself of your long term savings goals and that retail therapy is just a feeling. When I feel grumpy while shopping, I just leave and do some holiday cooking. The stores will still be there when I feel better the next day.

Use gift-cards to your advantage. If you’re like me and have a small stockpile of gift-cards left over from birthdays and other holidays, now is the perfect time to use them. It’s like bonus cash, and no one will ever know you bought their gift using a gift card.

Team up. If you’re looking to save money, talk to your siblings or cousins about doing a group gift for someone. An LCD TV may be outside your price range, but divided amongst your seven cousins, it suddenly becomes reasonable — and Grandpa will be thrilled. EBay Group Gifts makes it even easier to do this: it digitizes the process so you’re not running around collecting money from everyone.

Do you have tips for saving money how to save money during the holidays? We’d love to know! Share them.

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3 steps on how to be grateful when life gives you lemons

Trust me, I’ve always been an advocate for finding gratitude even when life gives you lemons, but I’m willing to admit that there are situations when it feels near impossible to turn on the holly-jolly.

Trust me, I’ve always been an advocate for finding gratitude even when life gives you lemons, but I’m willing to admit that there are situations when it feels near impossible to turn on the holly-jolly.

Growing up, we were all taught to be grateful. During the holidays it’s hard not to be bombarded with overly jolly messages of giving thanks. Trust me, I’ve always been an advocate for finding gratitude even when life gives you lemons, but I’m willing to admit that there are situations when it feels near impossible to turn on the holly-jolly. Emotions like heartache, dissatisfaction and grief can be overwhelmingly large walls blocking out the light in the dark that would allow you to see the path to gratefulness.

For most Millennials, money is an emotionally charged subject that holds us back from feeling positive and free. Dissatisfaction with entry-level salaries, stress from our mountain of student debt and resentment for having to turn down dinner offers from friends, all create a depressing storyline that never seems to change. We’re just not sure how to be grateful for that.

But here’s the thing. We are all in control of our own stories. It’s up to you to figure out how to be grateful in every situation. You’re the author who decides how you feel, and how you feel effects what you do, and that outcome reveals a new feeling for you to take action on, and so the cycle keeps evolving.

When you’re in the throws of a difficult situation it’s imperative that you break the bad feeling cycle in order for the condition to improve. Of course this isn’t easy to do, but if you follow these three simple steps you will be given the tools you need to start tearing down the emotional blockages to find the light in the dark.

Pause and greet the situation. When a negative event aggravates your money story it’s natural to want to moan, complain, get angry and lash out. When these emotions bubble up, freeze and acknowledge them with respect and curiosity, like you would a stranger. Then talk aloud about what’s going on in order to prevent yourself from getting swept down the emotional river.

I thought I had enough money to make it this month, but my eye doctor visit was way more than I thought it would be. This is stressing me out because now I don’t think I can go out to dinner with my friend.

Surrender in order to make room for what can be. Surrendering is not a weakness. Rather it’s the brave thing to do when you realize your resources are low and you know you can’t win the battle, but that doesn’t mean that the war is over. Acceptance allows you to let go of the pain from the past, freeing up your mind to think creatively and productively about your next move.

I recognize I can’t afford to go out for dinner, but I don’t want to miss my friend because of that. Maybe she would be up to coming over and cooking with me. We could even choose a recipe together out of that cookbook I rarely get to use.

Use your tools and start excavating the light. Now that you’ve stopped yourself from floating down the emotion river, and accepted your situation, you’re in a better frame of mind to write the next scene of your story. When you choose an action that gets you closer to happiness, or even just hopefulness, giving thanks is easier to do.

I’m excited that my friend is coming over; it will be much easier to talk to her in a quiet and more intimate place.

From now on, when life gives you lemons, acknowledge your emotions, accept the situation and make some lemonade. Then, take time be grateful.

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Tips on charitable giving that won’t hurt your bottom line

When you find a cause you wholeheartedly support, it’s easy to jump in with both feet and your wallet open. But the key is to give as much as you can, without sabotaging your own financial needs — or your long-term goals, like retirement.

When you find a cause you wholeheartedly support, it’s easy to jump in with both feet and your wallet open. But the key is to give as much as you can, without sabotaging your own financial needs — or your long-term goals, like retirement.

Giving to a charity you believe in is an investment of sorts — not the kind you put in your portfolio, but the kind you make in your psyche. People who give back have been shown to sleep better and exercise more. Giving back has been known to make us healthier and happier. And that means, in a round about way, that giving back can improve your bank account balance — happy people earn more money, according to a recent piece of research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

When you find a cause you wholeheartedly support, it’s easy to jump in with both feet and your wallet open. But the key is to give as much as you can, without sabotaging your own financial needs — or your long-term goals, like retirement. Here, how to strike a balance:

Work it into your budget. Research from Giving USA suggests that those who give generally hand over an average of 2% of their disposable income. To settle on an amount you feel comfortable with, you first have to know what your disposable income is — and many people don’t. That means creating a budget and including charitable donations as a line item. Start by listing out your monthly take-home pay, then subtracting all of your monthly expenses (it’s okay to estimate, but when in doubt, round up). Include savings as an expense, and aim to save 10% of your income. That exercise will give you a feel for how much you can afford to give to a cause you support without sabotaging your own savings.

Make it automatic. Once you’ve decided where you want your money to go, and how much you want to give, make your contributions automatic. That way, you can be sure the money gets where it is supposed to go each month. Giving monthly will also help you stay on track. Otherwise, you may wind up with little left to contribute at the end of the year. A site like JustGive.org can help you do that through automatic deductions to the charity you choose, and many charities now accept automatic contributions as well by charging your credit card or debiting your bank account on a regular basis.

Give your time. If you can’t afford to give as much as you want to, you can always give of yourself. Talk to your favorite causes about what you might be able to offer. And if you have special skills — say in accounting or public relations — be sure to mention them. The same, too, goes for giving items. While cash is king, many charities will take donations of clothing, canned goods, even old cars.

Don’t forget the tax advantages. The fact that your donations are deductible (assuming you itemize on your tax return) can help you give more. Charity Navigator has a helpful calculator on its website that can help you determine the net cost of your donation, as well as the tax savings, based on your tax bracket. Let’s say your tax rate is 25%. A $100 donation actually ends up costing you only $75, after the tax deduction. Perhaps that means you can bump your donation up a notch.

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Stop punching a time clock and start pursuing your passion

If you want to stop punching a time clock and getting paid to pursue your passion, you have to be willing to take a few risks

If you want to stop punching a time clock and getting paid to pursue your passion, you have to be willing to take a few risks

If you want to stop punching a time clock and getting paid to pursue your passion, you have to be willing to take a few risks.

It took my husband, Zeb, and I, seven years to finish college. It wasn’t because we lacked the intellect or were partying too hard— it was because we were paying for it ourselves. We were fortunate in that I was on the Alabama GI Bill— because my dad is an injured Vietnam veteran, the state of Alabama paid my tuition and book fees for my college career, up to my last two semesters. But Zeb’s books and tuition came straight out of our pocket, as did our mortgage and other living expenses.

We worked multiple part-time jobs and Zeb took off a few semesters, simply to pay the bills and save for returning to school. We took advantage of Pell grants and any sort of financial aid available to us, decreasing our need for loans. We did leave school with some debt but it wasn’t overwhelming.

Because Zeb sat out semesters, I graduated before he did and began working fulltime as a nurse. We had health insurance! We could pay the bills without trying to figure out what we could pay late without being penalized! I didn’t have to put items back at the grocery store because our budget was so tight!

When I got my first paycheck, I sat in my car and cried tears of joy.

Some people say college is the best years of your life. For us, real grown up life was like a Caribbean vacation compared to the seven years we spent constantly working nights and going to school during the day.

I worked full-time while Zeb finished his degree in Building Science and was pregnant by the time he graduated and was offered a full-time job in Savannah, Ga., making more money than we had ever seen. His salary, although modest, was twice what I had been making as a nurse.

By the time we moved to Savannah, I had given birth to our first daughter and was pregnant with our second. We quickly realized the cost of childcare for two kids was going to take a large chunk out of my salary. Since I had always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, we decided it would easier to start with one income, than for me to go to work and become dependent on two incomes then eventually have to cut back. We were used to a tight budget but we were still making more money than we ever had.

I loved being at home with my kids and the older Aubrey and Emma became, the funnier my days became. Our extended families were so far away, I began sending short stories about the hilarity of everyday life with my two girls.

Sidebar: I always, my whole entire life, wanted to be a writer. But because I wasn’t drawn to fiction and had no interest in being a reporter, I pursued nursing instead. It was stable and reliable.

As I began getting feedback from family and friends, I realized I had found something to write about. I started a blog and began outlining a book.

We moved again, had ANOTHER daughter (I KNOW!) and I continue to write. I realize in hindsight, I began treating my passion like a serious business. I read every book I could get my hands on about writing, how to get an agent and how to build my brand as a blogger.

I loved being a stay-at-home mom and anybody who tells you it’s not a fulltime job is a liar, liar, pants on fire. But I planned to go back to work as soon as our youngest, Sadie, began kindergarten.

I wrote constantly. My desk was in the middle of the girl’s playroom, I interacted with them as I wrote. I wrote while they were in preschool. I wrote with my laptop balanced on my knees while I nursed Sadie in the middle of the night. In two years, I had built I website with a solid following and had signed with a top tier literary agent.

We moved AGAIN, (but didn’t have another daughter!) and I slowly started making money as a blogger. It wasn’t an income but it definitely supplemented Zeb’s salary and made life a little easier.

I continued to treat blogging and writing as a business, which required a little overhead. I began traveling to blogging and writing conferences, to learn more and connect with people who could help me advance my career. I’m not going to lie— I felt guilty. I loved what I was doing so much that I worried I was going to spend more money going to conferences than I would ever make writing.

I was wrong.

By the time Sadie started 4K, my first book, Ketchup is a Vegetable & Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves had been published and I began getting monthly royalty checks which were more lucrative than the salary I had made as a nurse.

We didn’t foresee that the time I spent as a stay-at-home mom would turn into an opportunity to pursue my passion. But I am beyond grateful that I took a risk by believing in myself and treating a hobby as a job.

It was risky to pay babysitters for two years so I could write. It was possible the money I spent on conferences would turn out to be a vacation pursuing my favorite hobby. But, if you want to stop punching a clock and getting paid to pursue your passion, you have to be willing to take a few risks.

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Five tips for a smooth transition to a new job

Here are five tips to help you ease the transition to a new job, whether that means navigating office fridge politics or fitting in with new co-workers

Here are five tips to help you ease the transition to a new job, whether that means navigating office fridge politics or fitting in with new co-workers

According to research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, younger baby boomers — those born between 1957 and 1964 — held an average of 11.3 jobs between ages 18 and 46. Twenty-six percent of those tracked held 15 jobs or more. And separate BLS data says that the average worker stays at a job an average of only 4.4 years.

Switching jobs frequently is clearly the norm these days, but that doesn’t make adjusting to your new environment any easier. Here are five tips to help you ease the transition, whether that means navigating office fridge politics or fitting in with new co-workers:

Listen. As the new kid on the block, it’s important to take a backseat for a while. Sure, you’ve been in the business a long time and you may have ideas you think should be implemented. They’re probably good ones. But don’t just jump in and suggest changes. Instead, spend some time learning the ropes and listening to your coworkers and superiors. You’ll find out if your ideas are something that they’ve tried in the past with no success.

Adapt. The ability to go with the flow when changing jobs is critical. Every company’s culture is different, so it’s important to be open and flexible to a new way of doing things. That might mean refreshing your skills to learn a new computer system, or wearing a pair of heels instead of the casual clothes you’re used to.

Innovate – respectfully. Once you’ve settled in, it’s fine to bring up changes or suggestions that you think would positively impact the company’s bottom line. Carefully start up a conversation about why you think a change would be beneficial and how it could be implemented, then listen to the feedback you receive.

Revisit your finances. A job change often comes with a salary change — ideally an increase, but perhaps you’ve left a job that left you unfulfilled for one that is satisfying but involves a pay cut. Either way, it’s important to take a look over your finances and see what should change. Maybe you need to cut back, or perhaps you can contribute more to a new 401(k).

Take advantage of benefits. Talk to your HR department about any perks that come with your position, like tax-advantaged ways to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses or childcare, or stipends to offset commuting or public transportation costs.

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Are you saving for something as opposed to for someday?

Personally, I wish I had spent more time teaching my children about the discipline of saving and the financial security it can bring.

Personally, I wish I had spent more time teaching my children about the discipline of saving and the financial security it can bring.

National Save for Retirement Week has gotten me thinking about my own savings journey, especially when I was in my late 20’s – the age of today’s millennials. I have always been a saver, but in my early working days, I was usually saving for “something” as opposed to for “someday”. Contact lenses, a bicycle, for example, when I was in college, and later, as a new wife, saving for a car or a home purchase. But saving for the unexpected was really not on my screen.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I was a new mother who had decided to take a sabbatical from work and return to school. At that time, I was thinking about staying at home with our daughter and working part time after I finished an accounting program. My husband and I had some savings, so I wasn’t too worried at the time.

Then, eighteen months later, my husband was laid off as a recession hit his industry hard, and suddenly we were parents with an eighteen month old, a mortgage and no income. It didn’t take long for us to run through our savings – but we absolutely did not want to ask our parents for help. My parents still had three kids in college, and my husband’s parents were retired and would only be able to lend us money, if that. So we borrowed against the cash value of our life insurance, worked hard to find jobs and thankfully were both employed before we ran out of money.

So what did I learn? First, having savings for those unforeseen situations is absolutely essential and we should have prepared better for that. And secondly, it felt really good, once it was all over, to have been able to get through a tough time as a couple and figure it out for ourselves. We learned from adversity and I think that we grew up a lot as a result of that challenging time.

As I think about my boomer cohorts, however, and our millennial children, I believe most of us wouldn’t hesitate to rush in to help our children financially through a time like this – and I think we have raised our children to pretty much expect it. While most of my generation would never have asked our parents for financial help, I think we are guilty of having raised our children to do exactly that. Personally, I wish I had spent more time teaching my children about the discipline of saving and the financial security it can bring. I learned the hard way, but I have had a disciplined approach to saving ever since – whether it’s for retirement, college educations…. or a broken down washing machine!

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