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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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Retirement saving tips for children during National Save for Retirement Week

We’re in the midst of National Save for Retirement Week, which is a good opportunity to revisit your retirement savings and make sure you’re on track.

We’re in the midst of National Save for Retirement Week, which is a good opportunity to revisit your retirement savings and make sure you’re on track.

We’re in the midst of National Save for Retirement Week . And while I admit it’s not quite as exciting as Peanut Butter Lovers Month (coming up in November), it’s a good opportunity to revisit your retirement savings and make sure you’re on track.

I’ve done that myself, and thanks to a whole lot of help from the market, I liked what I saw. And so instead of ramping up my retirement savings efforts — I already mostly practice what I preach — I’m using this week as an opportunity to get my kids off on the right foot.

Sure, I talk to them about money plenty. But we don’t talk a great deal about retirement, mostly because — at age 17 and age 19 — the subject makes them groan. Retirement seems very, very far away.

And it is. But as I have witnessed first hand, it creeps up fast. And it’s never too early to be prepared. Here, the lessons I plan to pass on to my kids this week, in case you want to share them with your own.

Earlier is better. When it comes to retirement, when you save is every bit as important as how much you save. I know that a few examples help to drive the point home for my kids, so I did a little math. If a 20-year-old starts putting $50 a month — a reasonable amount — away right now, he’d have over $130,000 saved by the time he reaches age 65 (that calculation uses a return of 6%, a standard assumption these days). If he waits 20 years, until age 40, to start saving, he’ll have to save four times that much each month to hit $130,000 in retirement.

That’s not to say that $130,000 is enough to float a retirement. But it shows the power of compound interest: In the first example, he only contributes $27,000 — the other $105,000 is from interest. In the second, $60,000 is saved out of pocket and $76,000 is earned as interest.

Don’t sabotage your efforts. I don’t hide the fact that I’ve made mistakes from my children, so I’ll no doubt share the story of my first 401(k). I amassed roughly $2,000, quite a bit on my $11,000 salary straight out of college. But when I left that job for greener pastures, the concept of rolling over my 401(k) into an IRA was lost on me. Instead, I cashed out, paid the taxes (ouch!) and spent the rest on new clothes. The lesson calls for more math: Had I left the money invested, I’d have an extra $20,000 for retirement, without contributing another dime. Running those numbers now, the flub still stings. I want to make sure my kids don’t make the same mistake.

Savings success is more about habit than skill. I have a Money Rule about this: The secret to successful investing isn’t talent or timing, its temperament. What it means: Smart investors ignore the short-term volatility and stay the course, buying even when things look bleak and sticking to plan rather than chasing winners when the market is soaring. Saving a little bit each month — and increasing that amount as often as you can, even if in small increments — is more likely to get you to retirement with money in your pocket. Timing the market, picking hot stocks, or pulling out when things get rocky will only get you burned.

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A conversation about retirement planning with my husband

If meeting with my accountant to pay taxes was enough to make me crawl under his desk and start popping anti-anxiety pills— you cannot imagine how much fun I have planning for retirement with my husband.

If meeting with my accountant to pay taxes was enough to make me crawl under his desk and start popping anti-anxiety pills— you cannot imagine how much fun I have planning for retirement with my husband.

If meeting with my accountant to pay taxes was enough to make me crawl under his desk and start popping anti-anxiety pills— you cannot imagine how much fun I have planning for retirement with my husband.

Conversations with my husband, Zeb, go something like this…

He leads with, “We need to sit down and talk about our retirement contri—"

“Did you know that the Earth is 92,960,000 miles from the sun?” I interrupt.

“Robin, seriously. Donna called and she needs to know how much—”
(Donna is our financial advisor. She leaves me voicemails saying, “Roooobin, it’s me again. Just seeing if you got my message earlier this week, or the week before. OR the week before. Call me back… or I’ll call you back. Again.”)

“Did you know that it would take 30-40 billion marshmallows to reach the moon?”

I do everything short of tap dancing on the kitchen table to distract and/or postpone “The Conversation.”

Talking about retirement planning sends my brain into wild fantasies of living off the grid. If we simply gave up on modern life we wouldn’t even need to plan. We could be those people you read about online: living in a 150 square foot trailer built out of recycled materials and dumpster diving for perfectly good food in the dumpsters behind grocery stores.

Zeb was raised on a farm with no air conditioning. He could totally be self-sufficient! He can plow a field with mules and has a thumb so green, I’m pretty sure that giant on TV is green from envy. I’ll pickle and can stuff to eat for the winter. Learning to gather seeds and berries can’t possibly be that difficult.

Then I remember I prefer clean manicured nails to nails caked in dirt. It comes back to me how much I value a decent bottle of wine and a nice rib-eye over trail mix– even the kind with chocolate chips in it. If a single night of camping is my worst nightmare, perhaps talking about our future is preferable to spending our golden years eating ramen noodles and soggy canned vegetables.

Our retirement plan has been very straightforward and simple. Since we married almost seventeen years ago, we have contributed the maximum amount our employers would match. The only exception being the times we were working part time to work our way through college. We try to give the maximum allowable into our accounts without paying a tax penalty.

October 19th-25th is National Saves for Retirement week . It’s a great opportunity to sit down to look at your savings plan for the future.

In addition, Wells Fargo has an online calculator which allows you to plug in all of your pertinent information and see if you’re on track for your financial future.

So go ahead and get your game face on— set aside time to sit down to plan for your retirement. Because nobody wants to live off of ramen noodles or without Wi-Fi, you’ve worked too hard to get ahead!

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Start saving for retirement early

Click to access an interactive “Cost of Waiting” graph on Wells Fargo’s Financial Advisor Insights eMagazine.

Click to access an interactive “Cost of Waiting” graph on Wells Fargo’s Financial Advisor Insights eMagazine.

It seems patronizing to say that young workers have to start saving for retirement early, but is it?

Retirement sits on the shoulders of today’s adults like no previous generation. Our grandparents and some of our parents not only had pensions, but full confidence that Social Security would be enough of a supplement to meet their needs. We have IRAs, 401(k)’s, SEP’s and Keogh’s that we have to fund ourselves. Social Security will likely be around, but how much of our living expenses it will cover is much more of an open question. And then there’s healthcare, the wildcard in the equation. According to Fidelity it’s estimated to add another $220,000 in expenses to the bottom line of a 65-year-old couple through their retirements.

That’s the macro explanation about why it’s better to start saving for retirement today rather than tomorrow. But inspiration often comes from going micro – looking at the details of what you’ll have if you get into the retirement saving game sooner rather than later. Take a look at this interactive graphic created by Wells Fargo that calculates retirement savings by annual contribution according to the age you start saving.

So, the question becomes, “How much should I save for retirement?”

If you start at age 20 and save $83 a month or $1000 a year, by the time you’re 60 you’ll have more than $300,000 (this assumes an 8% annual gain). That’s a nice sum of money – and a very different scenario than one facing the saver who didn’t start until age 30 (she’ll have just $133,000), 40 ($54,000) or 50 ($18,000 – yikes!)

Of course, the more you can save each month, the better off you’re likely to be. If you can save $5,000 a year (or $417 a month) from the time you’re 20, you’re looking at $1.4 million at age 60. Look at the difference, though, if you do it for just 10 years less. At 30 years, your total drops to less than half that amount — $612,000. And it’s a steep slope from there. With 20 years of saving you have just $247,000; and with 10, $78,000.

One thing to remember – it’s more important to start, than to start with a particularly high (or particularly round) number. Few people can start saving thousands a year in their 20s; many more can amp up their savings as their earnings increase in their 30s, 40s and 50s. So, here’s one more example to show you the power of just doing something when you’re young.

Say you start at age 20 and save $500 a year for the first 5 years. At age 25, you bump up your contribution to 1000 for another 5 years. At 30, you go to $1,500 and so on, bumping up your contribution by $500 every 5 years. By the time you’re 60, you’ll have put away almost $400,000. And if you can keep saving for another 5 years beyond that at the same rate, you’ll have closer to $600,000.

So, start saving today. Make your contributions automatically so that you don’t miss a month unintentionally. Put them in tax-deferred accounts where they can grow as quickly as possible. And visit your accounts once a month to see how well you’re doing. Trust me. The progress you make when you start saving for retirement early will inspire you to do more.

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4 tips to help your decision to rent or buy

Whether you’re looking for new dwellings because of a new job, desire for a change, or even retirement, it makes the rent-or-buy decision a little more complicated.

Whether you’re looking for new dwellings because of a new job, desire for a change, or even retirement, it makes the rent-or-buy decision a little more complicated.

Should you rent or buy a home? Over the past decade, the housing market has been a roller coaster ride. Down. Way down. Up a little bit. Up big. Whether you’re looking for new dwellings because of a new job, desire for a change, or even retirement, it makes the rent-or-buy decision a little more complicated.

Granted, mortgage rates are still extremely low – despite climbing from record lows, they’re lower now than they were a year ago, with the average 30-year loan sitting at 4.12% as I type this — which makes taking advantage of them compelling. But the decision to buy or rent is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a financial one. How do you decide what’s best for you? Take a look at these factors:

The cost. This seems like a no-brainer, but many people falsely assume that renting is cheaper than buying. In fact, the opposite is often true, particularly with the low mortgage rates I referenced above. According to this research from Trulia, on a national average buying is 38% cheaper than renting. Of course, introducing the real factors of where you plan to live can change the math significantly, but there are calculators to help you make the decision. I have one on my website , as does Wells Fargo. I also like this interactive feature from the New York Times .

Where you’re headed, and how long you’ll be there. If you’re moving somewhere brand new, I generally recommend dipping a toe in the water with a rental — it will give you time to figure out where in your new city you want your home to be situated. Plus, if it turns out to be not quite the right fit, you have the freedom to try somewhere new without having to unload real estate before you make your way out of town. How long you plan to be in the property is a factor, too — if you buy, you generally want to stay in the home for at least five years to make the purchase worth it.

Your financial situation. If you’re entering retirement, you may not have a good handle on what your cash flow will be like, which means flexibility is important, at least for the time being. You could buy a home that is way below your budget, with payments you know you can afford, or you could rent so you have the option to move if your financial situation fluctuates (for better or worse — you may find you can afford, and want, more space).

Your patience. Which is to say, whether you want to deal with lawn maintenance and leaky faucets (or worse, a leaky roof). A simple phone call takes care of these if you’re a renter; as an owner, you’re responsible for the repairs, or, at the very least, hiring someone else to deal with them.

Of course, being responsible for maintenance also gives you complete control over your space — as an owner, you can make major changes to your home without answering to anyone else. Bring on the purple paint!

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My new found anxiety around money

My husband and I met with our accountant to file our taxes, I started out sitting in a chair but when my assistant came in to help I gave up my chair. I gladly slid to the floor and as close to the desk as possible. My accountant offered to get another chair

My husband and I met with our accountant to file our taxes, I started out sitting in a chair but when my assistant came in to help I gave up my chair. I gladly slid to the floor and as close to the desk as possible. My accountant offered to get another chair

Four years ago I never would have guessed that I’d be popping anti-anxiety meds in my accountant’s office because I made so much money as a writer/blogger that I was having to form a sole proprietorship. I wouldn’t have dared to dream that I would write a best-selling humor book…— four years ago I wouldn’t have even called myself a writer.

I’ve wanted to be a writer my whole life, but for the first thirty years I never would have said that out loud. It was a little embarrassing to want to be a writer and have no idea what I wanted to write about. I assumed to be a successful writer you must have, at the very least, a subject. So I read voraciously, kept journals, worked as an ER nurse until my husband got a job that moved us out of state.

Away from our large extended families I started writing daily emails about the antics of my two young daughters. Aubrey and Emma’s personalities were emerging and I didn’t want their grandparents, aunts and uncles to miss a thing. They encouraged me to write a book, but I assumed everyone on the planet thinks that a book should be written about their grandchildren!

But then my family started forwarding my emails to people I didn’t know and I got feedback from strangers, and I had an epiphany— I had finally found a subject and my blog, Robin’s Chicks , was born. My blog quickly gave birth to a weekly newspaper column and the outline for my first book poured out of me as I balanced a laptop on my knees and my third daughter at my chest.

I signed with a literary agent and began the process of publication. On November 31, 2011 Ketchup is a Vegetable & Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves was born, within two months it was an Amazon bestseller and ranked #1 Top Rated by Reader Reviews in two genres: Parenting & Families and Humor Essays. Then the really miraculous started happening: I was making money.

Good money.

Scary money.

Scary, because I hate numbers. Scary, because for the first time in my life I was self-employed and in charge of paying my own taxes, employees and managing a business.

My husband and I met with our accountant to file our taxes, I started out sitting in a chair but when my assistant came in to help I gave up my chair. I gladly slid to the floor and as close to the desk as possible. My accountant offered to get another chair.

“Oh I’m fine!” I said quickly.

My assistant laughed, “She wants to hide down there!”

I dug through my purse looking for an anti-anxiety pill, something I’ve only had to do a few times in my life and swallowed it without water before snapping a picture under the desk— people tend to think I exaggerate the shenanigans in my life and I knew that eventually even this humiliating experience would find its way to the page and obviously, I’d need graphics.

Once my accountant realized that I was so freaked out that I was popping pills under his desk, he asked me a few more questions and told me that I could go. He had everything he needed.

Four years ago, the thought of running my own business, the fear of handling the money, the taxes and doing all of things that I’m not good at… all of that would have kept me from following my dream.

If you have a dream, don’t worry about the details, yet. Simply start. You don’t have to know how to do it all right now, take baby steps. You’ll learn as you go. Recognize your shortcomings and hire professionals to do the work for you (and to drive you home from the accountant’s office after you catch a prescription buzz under his desk.) But don’t let fear keep you from stepping outside the status quo and doing something that seems impossible… If I had done that, I’d never be able to say out loud, “I’m a writer.”

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Choosing a 529 college savings plan

It’s no secret that college costs are rising at an alarming rate. And it’s not only the cost of tuition, but book fees, housing, meal plans, etc, etc, that are also growing. So being myopic in terms of saving for college could lead to BIG headaches for your children down the road. However, with some planning via choosing the right 529 college savings plan, those pains can be easily sidestepped.

A 529 plan, named such after the section of IRS code that established these kinds of plans in the 1990s, is by far the most popular saving option used for paying for college.

Let’s take a look at the perks of these plans: Money invested grows tax-deferred, and distributions, provided they pay for the beneficiary’s college expenses, are exempt from federal taxes. There may be state tax breaks as well. The person who establishes and funds the plan—most often the parent—retains control of the account, meaning you can change the beneficiary at any time. If Johnny decides not to go to college but his little sister Sarah wants to become a doctor, you can use all of the money for her. And the best plans offer a range of investment options, many of which are age-based, which means you can be largely hands-off.

That said, there are many plans to choose from. Although your state offers a plan, you’re not limited to investing there, which means that if you live in Wyoming but like the looks of Nebraska’s plan better, you’re free to invest there instead. So how do you pick what plan is best for you? Joe Hurley, the founder of Savingforcollege.com helped me pull together this advice:

Look at your own state’s plan (or plans) first. Some states have only one plan available; others, like Colorado, have several. And many offer some kind of tax incentive to residents who invest in-state. In New York, for example, contributions of up to $5,000 per year per individual (up to $10,000 per couple if married filing jointly) are deductible on your state income taxes. Does a state tax advantage outweigh the other plan considerations we’ll discuss next? “It largely depends on the age of your child,” says Hurley. “Over a longer period of time, the investment performance is more important than the deduction. If your child is older, a deduction becomes more valuable because there’s less time to make up the difference in performance.”

Consider plan performance. Based on Hurley’s comment, it’s no surprise this comes next on the list. It’s crucial because the way gains or losses compound over time have a direct impact on how much you have when college rolls around. The plans you are considering should share past plan performance on their websites, or you can take a look at performance rankings on Hurley’s site.

Weigh investment options and fees. These days, more and more 529 college savings plans are using index funds, so a comparison of performance may leave you with many similar choices. That’s when the plan’s fees and expenses become even more important, says Hurley. To compare fees, you can use Savingforcollege.com’s comparison tool, or look at the site’s fee study, which compares ten-year expense totals. Consider the types of underlying investment offered by the plan, too, and how aggressive or conservative they are. Age-based options, which slowly lower the amount of risk you are taking as your child approaches college, can vary widely. Some may shift out of stocks completely by a certain age; others keep a higher percentage of stocks right through college. You want to be comfortable with the amount of risk taken by your plan.

Non-qualified withdrawals are subject to federal and state income tax and a 10% penalty.

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Who Pays On The First Date?

The question of who pays on the first date is no longer cut and dry.

The question of who pays on the first date is no longer cut and dry.

Times have changed since I last dated. It’s no longer cut and dry when it comes to who pays on the first date. A few months ago Jean Chatzky wrote about “These days – who pays for the wedding?” In an era when parents are trying to retire, kids are trying to pay off student loans, and the economy is in the dumps how do you decide who pays for the wedding? I loved this post and decided to take the idea in an entirely different direction. Specifically I’d like to address some dating tips for the part before marriage – dating.

As you may remember from my “Starting over” previous post, I am divorced. Recently I have actually started dating again (pause for applause and cheers) and realized very quickly not to assume the man will pay anything. When I was younger and dating most of the men paid, and it was great. But dating today now as an older (and much wiser) woman I realize that some guys might have financial circumstances and may be dating on a budget issues that because of have strapped their dating budget (child support, tuition) or that the woman may make a significant amount more. So I try to be flexible when the check comes.

Part of this preparedness comes from the fact that I was raised to be very self-sufficient. Tips on dating are one thing, but being the lifelong lessons of being prepared came first. My dad taught me how to drive a stick shift so I can get myself out of any situation (as long as there is a car available), I always carry cash and credit cards in case of emergency (or a forgetful date), and I always have my phone charged and ready. You just never know what can happen and I feel more secure knowing that I have the ability to leave if things get uncomfortable or if the guy, let’s say, forgets his wallet (and yes, this happened to me).

Finally, don’t let this question ruin your first date. Be present and enjoy it! If things go well and this first date turns into a relationship of course you can work together to figure out who pays for what, when and where. Because as we’ve all heard so many times before, honest and regular conversations about finances help you stay on the same page and prevent surprises. And the only surprises I like are flowers and candy.

So what do you think about the “rules” around who pays on the first date?

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