One of my favorite financial bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache, wrote an excellent article last week about how spending a ton of money on our kids and financially supporting them long-term might put them at a disadvantage. I couldn’t agree more. My own family sounds a lot like MMM’s. My parents raised four kids too (although they didn’t start having us until their 30s), and all four of us are financially savvy, responsible adults now. We all know how to fix things, work on our houses, buy everything we need secondhand, etc. No student loans or car payments for any of us, and we’re all big fans of walking or biking wherever we need to go. Three of the four of us work from home (not having a commute is pretty awesome). My parents did help us pay for college, but they encouraged us all to attend an in-state school (we all did), and get as many scholarships as possible (we knew throughout high school that we had to maintain grades and activities that would secure scholarships, so we did). My parents helped with living expenses, but our overall college costs in excess of scholarships were pretty low. None of us had a car until after graduating from college. All four of us have been financially independent from our parents since before we were 20 (we all graduated from college when we were 19).
Fast forward several years, and I now have two little boys of my own. My husband and I are taking the approach of preferring to give our boys time rather than money. Our older son will be five next month and we’ve only ever enrolled him in one activity – he played soccer last fall, which cost us $60 and involved biking to practice one afternoon each week, and biking to games on Saturday mornings for six weeks. Almost all of our boys’ stuff is secondhand (Goodwill and Craigslist), and we’re all pretty happy with the lifestyle we currently lead. We are definitely not the sort of parents who would buy our kids cars when they turn 16, or fully fund an out-of-state college education. We did set up 529 plans when each boy was born, and we’ve been automatically contributing $100/month to each plan. By the time they are ready to go to college – which they will probably want to do, given the environment in which they’re growing up – there will be a decent amount in those accounts to help fund an in-state degree. We will actively encourage in-state schools as the only realistic option (there are lots of good ones here, and paying out-of-state tuition for an undergrad degree seems ridiculous – college is what you make of it, regardless of where you go). We’ll also look at other options as the years go by, such an online education programs (who knows what that will look like 13 years from now?), community college for the first two years, living at home while going to college, etc. We’ll make sure that our boys know from a very early age that they are responsible for a portion of the costs of their education, and let them know that outstanding grades, community service, leadership roles, etc. are a good way to stand out on scholarship applications. We have a lot of years to go still, but laying the foundation for that sort of thing early is probably a good idea. You don’t want to wait until your kid is 16 to let him know that you expect him to pay for part of his education or get a significant amount of scholarship money.
Anyway, the MMM article is great. Current and future parents should check it out – and then remind themselves that it’s possible to have your child’s back and set him or her up for a successful future, without spending a mint in the process.
I also wanted to share an article from the Smart Asset blog about how we should stop using coupons. It’s good advice, and something that has rung true for me for many years. I remember going to the store with my mom when I was a little kid, and being fascinated by the coupon sharing box in the back of the store. People would leave coupons they didn’t need, and pick up ones that they wanted to use. I loved hunting through that box to find coupons for things I thought we should buy, and I was fascinated by the idea that you could get a better price on things just by giving the store a coupon. But I see it differently now. I know that coupons are marketing tools (why else would they print them?!) and I know that there aren’t very many coupons for things like fresh produce or nuts from the bulk section. The few things that I do buy prepackaged (like chia seeds or hemp seeds, for example), I’ve found are much less expensive if I order them online in large quantities. I have a five pound tub of hemp seeds auto-shipped via Amazon every three months – that’s a better deal than buying the little 8 ounce bags at the grocery store, even with a coupon. The fact is, there are very rarely coupons available for stuff I buy. When they are, I’m happy to use them. But I’m never going to buy something I wouldn’t otherwise buy, just because I have a coupon for it. If there are coupons available for stuff you would buy anyway without the coupon, then by all means, go for it. But if you’re buying stuff just because you have a coupon (especially if regular store sales on other brands might provide a better price), you might be getting tricked by the marketing magic of coupons.
And lastly, some of you might be interested in the most recent post from Kristen’s Raw. She’s no longer vegan. After ten years of veganism, she’s switching to something new. She hints that it might be Paleo or something related to that, although we’ll have to wait and see what she shares in future posts. Predictably, she’s gotten a lot of backlash on the web, but she’s also received a lot of support. I’m curious to see where she goes with this, as I’m sure a lot of other people are too. My own family was mostly vegan for about a year, around 2009-2010. But for the last couple years, we’ve been leaning more towards eating a lot less grain, and more animal products. Veggies have always been the central part of our diet, and will continue to be, regardless of what other changes we make. The only “rules” we have that will likely stand the test of time are to eat lots of veggies, and to avoid processed junk food. I can definitely tell that I’ve gotten wiser over the years when it comes to food. I no longer believe that there’s any one “perfect” diet or way of eating that will work for everyone (except for the stuff I mentioned about veggies and processed food. I would say those apply to everyone, but they’re also not exactly rocket science – more like common sense). Although we’re not vegan or vegetarian, I still love the recipes from Kristen’s site and from Oh She Glows, and make dishes from those sites several times a week. Personally, I’m tired of labels and diets that become such a strong part of a person’s identity that they start to take over the person’s life. If your diet is the first thing you think of when you describe yourself, that might be taking things too far. Life is about a lot more than food, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. EDIT: In case there was any confusion, that last part is not directed at Kristen. Rather, I’m reacting to some of the posts I’ve seen in the last few days where people have criticized Kristen for following the path that works best for her family, rather than sticking to the way she had been doing things, even though it wasn’t working for her. Some of the criticism has come from people who I would say might be a bit too focused on diet. Once you start focusing that much energy on what someone else is eating, you might have taken it to far. I think it’s great that Kristen has the courage to change course when she found that what she was doing was no longer working for her family. It’s not easy to do that, especially when you have a large online audience.
Enjoy the links and have a fantastic day!