Stance: Studies on the Family

Brigham Young University Student Journal

Category: Family Finance

Is Mint by Intuit Right for You?

The word finances makes many newly-married couples cringe in fear. While everyone recommends budgeting, saving, watching credit scores, and tracking financial growth, these tasks bring with them extra time and energy demands that are often unrelenting. New and old families alike know they are supposed to do those things, but often do not know how to get started. And that is where the age of technology comes in! Over the past few months I have been using a very popular mobile app called Mint by Intuit to help me wrangle in those pesky tasks and hopefully plot a course of financial security. I will be going through some pros and cons of this service and hopefully allow those looking for a way to budget efficiently decide if this product is the right choice for them.

Pros:
  1. The user base is huge! To be honest, the reason that I am reviewing Mint is that it was one of the first apps that showed up when I searched for budgeting tools on the iOS app store. The good news is when an app has a large active user base, the company that manages that platform is more likely to keep the app up-to-date and to respond to suggestions and emerging technologies. This puts users in a good spot since they know that they are syncing their personal financial information with a widely used and respected service and not some shady back-alley app.
  2. It is free! This has to be on this list. An app gets put in many people’s good graces, including mine, when it can be downloaded for free. And the free train doesn’t stop there; the service does not have any premium or “pro” features that require a subscription service, meaning it is a truly free app—not one of those sneaky mostly-free ones.
  3. Automated! Using technology is supposed to make life easier, right? Well in this case, the answer is yes! Once you sync your bank account to this secure application, Mint does the rest! It creates charts and tracks spending patterns automatically and religiously. Before using this app I did not know to the exact percentage point what I was spending on entertainment, but now I do. With the information that is ready at your fingertips immediately after signing up, it is simple to start making plans and adjusting habits to align better with your financial goals. My wife and I were able to see that we were doing super well on some categories (food, clothes, and movies) but could use some work on others (eating out).
Cons:
  1. Ads. While the service is completely free, we do live in a world where money, unfortunately, does not grow on trees. As such, Intuit has decided to display banner style ads throughout the app and saturate the “Suggested Investment Products” feature of the app with its own systems. So while I revel in the app’s freeness, I do note that purchasing any other services strictly from the in-app recommendations without any third party advice is probably not the most recommended course of action.
  2. Automated. I know this appears on both lists, but for good reason. The automation does wonders on productivity, but I kept feeling like I was missing out on truly learning how to budget and plan the family’s finances. When the system was doing everything for me I realized that while I had great information now, I hadn’t learned anything. For those that want to learn budgeting, and not have it done for them, there may be better options explored in the future.


All in all Mint is a great product. It looks clean, it is easy to set up and use, and it has provided me with wonderful information that my wife and I have begun to use to our advantage. It truly is important for every family to budget and work toward financial security. With that being said, Mint just may be the right app for you to get on that road to financial success.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

BY JOSHUA HANSEN

A: Aspirations as a Married Couple

You spend your whole life planning what you want to do and be for the remainder of life, and then . . . BAM! You get married, and everything changes. It’s a challenging experience to try to take two lives with two plans and merge them into one. In some cases, there has to be a lot of compromise so that the two partners can live their idea of a fulfilling life.

When I was deciding to marry my husband, Tyler, I thought integrating my plan into his life would be pretty easy. My plan in life was to grow up, go to my dream college studying the thing I love, marry the love of my life, have some cute little kids, and otherwise insert myself into his plan. I thought my plan was very conducive to married life. This plan would have worked out great, except that life doesn’t always go as planned, and I didn’t have a back-up plan.

Shortly after I married Tyler, I realized that the thing I was studying was not something I loved. This was problematic because I was almost done—and if I wanted to insert myself smoothly into Tyler’s plan, I had to graduate when he did, or not at all; so changing my career track was not an option at that point.

Another problem we encountered was the fact that Tyler’s plan wasn’t fully developed. Sure, we knew the basic outline: graduate from college, get a master’s degree, get a job. But, all of a sudden, we started figuring out that the track he was on would not lead him to the career he thought it would. We applied for internships, but he didn’t get any because he just wasn’t in the right field (even though he’s brilliant, and any company would be lucky to have him).

These problems led to many nights of stress for Tyler and worrying for me. Sometimes we’d lie in bed about to go to sleep, when I would start worrying out loud and end up in a fit of tears. Why aren’t things working out for us? I’d ask. Why didn’t everything go as planned?

Now, I still don’t have the solutions to our problems, but I have a formula for dealing with aspirations as a married couple that I recommend to anyone having similar issues.

First, you have to talk to each other. You have to get together and write down the things you enjoy doing, the things you could see yourself doing as a career, your ultimate dreams and goals.

When you’re done with that, I recommend that you rank the things on your list in order of importance to you. Talk about the things that you feel are non-negotiable, and things you wouldn’t mind doing without. Work out possibilities for the future, and how those things might affect your relationship and your family.

Then you have to make a plan together. And not just one plan, but several that range from broad to specific, from semester to fifty years, from ideal to worst case scenario. This could take several hours, so make sure you have a block of time set aside for doing this, or else you could end up scratching things out at 3 o’clock in the morning.

The last step is making a plan of action for right now. What will you do today to set you on the right path? Even if it’s just research, it will help you out in the long run. Decide on a timely plan for both of you, and help each other out. Remind your husband when his internship application is due. Encourage your wife to look for opportunities to acquire new skills. Take it day by day—if you always make sure you’re on the right trajectory, you will eventually end up where you want to be.

BY CARI AVERETT

Budgeting: Where the Real “Adulting” Begins

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Photo by Investment Zen

 

Budgeting is a fairly new development in my life. For years my financial planning was based on guestimation and knowing when my next paycheck would come through. I got by, but things completely changed for me two years ago when I took a family finance class. Since I’ve started budgeting, I have found a rewarding feeling of financial responsibility while still being able to do the things that I love. People make “adulthood” sound like the worst fate that you could ever face, but being financially responsible is an extremely rewarding experience that comes with more freedom than many of us have ever had. If you’ve never budgeted, please, please, pleeeeease try. I promise, you won’t regret it! Here are some ways to help you get started.

Make a plan. Take the time each month to estimate your income: how much you make per hour multiplied by how many hours you anticipate working (when I’m not sure, I like to estimate on the lower side because then it’s like a bonus if I earn more than I budgeted). Once you’ve got that, list all of your expenses. Some things are easy (like rent and insurance payments), but others are trickier. How much do you think you spend on groceries? What is an acceptable amount for you to spend eating out each month or going to the movies? Budgeting bums some people out, but keep in mind that this is your budget. Figure out how much you want to spend eating out a month, but also figure out how much you want to save so you can go crazy on your birthday. It’s all about staying organized so YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO not about keeping you tied down. If you find that your budget was totally impractical, then rearrange some things. It’s a living, breathing document, not something that’s set in stone.

Plan for every dollar to go somewhere. While I was growing up, my financial mantra was to spend as little as possible so that I could save as much as I could. My first inclination in budgeting was to figure out how much I needed for my expenses and then to save everything else. This isn’t the worst way to handle your money, but it’s a hard way to live. I would feel guilty about any purchase that wasn’t 100% necessary to my survival. In my family finance class (shout out to Jeff Hill from BYU’s School of Family Life), I got some great advice that has helped me not get frustrated in my budgeting attempts. The first piece of advise is to assign a category for every dollar that I planned on earning. This meant that I would plan to pay my rent, my insurance, and my groceries, but I would also plan to pay into my savings account, into my eating out category, and into my travel fund, just as if they were other bills. Once I had an assignment for all of my money, I felt so much better. I could spend money on whatever I wanted, guilt-free, so long as I planned for it. Being responsible means more than just hoarding everything you can to stay on the safe side; it means realizing how much you have and working within that boundary.

Plan for the unexpected. I think we can all relate to the frustration that comes when we take the time to make a plan, but then things do not go according to the plan. I have definitely felt this while budgeting, but Dr. Hill taught me a solution that is simple and makes everything so much better. He encouraged us all to make a miscellaneous category on our budgets. It is too hard to plan on every expense that will come your way in a month. Unexpected things come up: your roommate’s birthday, your car’s oil change, or your dream coat goes on sale (just buy it now, it’s an investment). Since it’s impossible to plan for everything, just plan on making a miscellaneous category. By creating a miscellaneous category that you never plan to spend, you give yourself a cushion that allows life to happen. You can buy a birthday cake, take care of your car, and get that coat without feeling like a failure.

I love budgeting! It is such a simple thing, but it makes a huge difference in my day to day life. I sincerely hope that you give budgeting a try. It is 100% worth the effort!

 

You Work Hard For The Money, So You Better Spend It Right

Tips on Money Management

dollar-1362244_1920Most married couples typically fight about three things: kids, sex, and money. These areas carry a lot of weight, and can cause a lot of stress if things aren’t the way you’d like them to be. Since I’m only writing a blog post, and not a novel, I’m only going to focus on two of these issues today.

Difficulties with money can be daunting and frustrating, but breaking things down and taking them a day at a time can really help with conquering the troubles that you are having. In fact, studies have shown that being financially stable is not so much about how much money you make, but about how you learn to manage it.

Here are a few helpful tips to help you and your spouse get your financial feet planted firmly in the ground:

1. Listen to the counsel of the Lord.

Screen Shot 2016-10-24 at 1.43.15 PM Since the time of Abraham (and most likely before even that), the  Lord has been giving us counsel about how to wisely manage our  money. This starts with paying a full tithe. It is important to  remember that all we gain in this life actually belongs to the Lord.  Paying tithing helps us show gratitude for this, along with  expressing trust in our Heavenly Father that He will keep His promises.

He has told us that he will “open the windows of Heaven, and pour [us] out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). I don’t know how he makes it work, but as I have seen this principle work time and time again in my own life, I know that when we work to pay a full tithe the Lord will ALWAYS take care of us. The Lord has continued to give us counsel from the current prophets and apostles more specific for our day.

2. Stay out of debt.

This can be difficult in our world of credit cards, same-day loans, and easy- access online shopping. However, avoiding consumer debt allows us to practice and exhibit self- control, and increases our capacity to take care of our families, serve others, and exercise our agency to keep the commandments.

The Brethren have expressed that there are three things for which it is acceptable to go into debt, and these are a modest home, a modest car, and education. However, even in these circumstances, we should still do our best to practice wise money management, and avoid excess.

Written By: Rian Gordon

Kids and Money

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Becoming an adult (at least in age) will quickly teach you one thing, if nothing else: living can be expensive. What seemed like a huge investment of cash as a kid is suddenly just a fraction of your rent and other bills. It’s a difficult transition time if you’re not prepared for it; the question is, how can families help their kids prepare for their financial future?

Look for advice on parenting online, and you’ll quickly find any number of sources who will tell you all sorts of contradictory things. This is especially true when it comes to kids and teaching them how to handle money: should they be given an allowance? Should they have to earn it? How can you help kids learn whether they can afford expenses, and how to budget and save up when they can’t? I was curious what other people thought, and only a few minutes of searching showed me that people think pretty much everything imaginable about this topic. There was, however, one thing that was fairly consistent: parents need to learn to be open with their children about family finances.

This might be one of the most important things that we can do to help children learn from our examples. If you don’t have money in your budget for fast food that day, it helps to be upfront about it and tell the kids. If they want a toy or game that you can’t pay for right then (or don’t want to, of course), help them learn about saving money for future purchases.

Children probably don’t assume that you have unlimited sources of money, but if you act like you do they won’t learn as quickly how to deal with their own finances. Seeing their parents’ care with financial things, kids will pay more attention to how money is spent: what mom and dad buy, what they don’t, and when they do (This has the additional bonus of being an incentive for parents to stick to a reasonable budget!). It’s much better to be able to learn from others’ actions than to have to struggle through things for ourselves. Kids will still need to develop their own habits, of course, and like I mentioned there are plenty of online sources that have innumerable suggestions about that, but kids will have a good place to start from the things they discuss and observe with their parents. Like so many other things, learning to budget and save starts in the home.

—Sam Watson, Editor, Stance

Entertaining Kids on a Budget

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There’s a sad fact of life that everyone has to learn eventually: doing awesome things can cost a lot of money. The good news is that kids usually don’t care how much it costs to do something fun. For example, most children can be just as happy visiting a free playground as they would be doing something much more expensive and involved, especially when they’re young. The other benefit to simple entertainment options is that they involve less standing in line, less being “on your best behavior” for kids who have a hard time staying still, and less stress for the rest of the family overall. The important thing is to spend time on the things that kids enjoy, not how hard it was for us to plan and carry out the activity.

With that in mind, here are some ideas for cheap or free activities to do with young children that will be more fun and less money for everyone:

  • Rent or borrow a new movie: Most families end up having a few well-worn movies that the kids love to watch, but it’s always nice for everyone to have a fresh story to enjoy. Instead of paying to go to the theater and getting pressured into buying that $4 tub of popcorn, try renting or streaming a kid’s video at home and setting up your own “home theater” (trust me, the popcorn from the grocery store can be just as good). Almost everything about this is more convenient than actually going to a movie theater.
  • Family picnic: Next time you think how nice it’d be to go to McDonalds and get the kids some food and run-around-time, I’d suggest first that you stop and think seriously about all of the better places you could get food. Second, try using what you have at home and setting up a fun outdoor picnic lunch for the kids, either in your backyard or somewhere close by like a neighborhood park. It doesn’t even have to be outdoors! Kids love novelty.
    • If picnics aren’t your thing, or if you have slightly older kids, try baking or barbecuing together instead of visiting a restaurant.
  • Set up a treasure hunt! It can be a simple map, a series of clues, or anything else that will lead them around the house and/or the yard to find some kind of “treasure.” It can be almost anything; in my family, my younger siblings loved doing this even when the treasure ended up being just a toy that they already owned. It’s the experience that’s the fun part!

Not only are these ideas less stressful for the parents, but they can also be helpful for children. There are some fun things that you can’t do at home and have to pay for, and I’m sure that everyone will want to do those every now and then, but showing children that it’s important to think about the cost of activities first will help them have better habits in the future with their own personal finances.

 

—Sam Watson, Editor, Stance

Simple Savings

money-619019_640I mentioned in my last post that a “slow and steady” approach to saving is the most beneficial way for us to prepare for our long-term financial future. However, there’s another, equally gradual thing that we can do to help our family finances stay balanced: cutting expenses. This is important because even saving twenty dollars a month can add up fast, and losing track of twenty dollars a month can really end up hurting your situation if you’re not careful.

I want to look at ways that we can cut expenses without cutting back too much on our current lifestyle. As long as we’re not going too crazy with the spending right now, this isn’t as hard as it might sound!

Some of the biggest areas where families have to spend money are in mortgage or rent payments, transportation, food, and clothing needs. Obviously, getting a cheaper house or a more gas-efficient car can help you spend less money, but let’s look at the simpler things first.

Food:

Many people believe that you spend less money on food when you have a plan for your meals, and the evidence seems to support that, with some people claiming they’ve seen up to a 50% reduction in their grocery bills!

Taking a little bit of time to figure out what your family will eat in the coming week or two lets you shop more effectively; you know exactly what you’ll need for the recipes or simple meals that you’ve planned, and you won’t have to buy a lot of stuff in the hope that you’ll get enough meals out of it. Planning helps you waste food less. If you’re willing to put more time into it, you can even research what types of recipes, food choices, and stores will be the cheapest. Like with a lot of other things in life, planning ahead with your grocery shopping is worth the time it takes!

If you want to make the planning even easier, there are plenty of helpful websites online that have pre-made lists of meal ideas on a budget. If you want a place to start, try somewhere like http://www.allyou.com/food/budget-meal-planning.

Other ways to save money on groceries are, of course, coupons and sales, which can also be found or researched online quite easily.

Clothes:

The “MoneyTalksNews” website says that Americans spend on average $1,700 a year on clothing and accessories. Since this is probably more than we need to be spending, the website also offers helpful tips on reducing that cost. Here’s a few of them that I thought were especially helpful; the rest can be found through this link: http://www.moneytalksnews.com/23-tips-for-saving-money-on-clothing/

  • Buy out of season. You can always find discount winter clothes once spring has come around again, and with a little planning ahead, you can get ready for the next year’s winter at a much lower cost!
  • Buy clothes that fit now. Sure, you’re probably planning to lose some weight (a lot of people are, me included), but as the website points out, it’s a big gamble to buy something a couple sizes too small in the hope that you’ll fit into it later. It’s safer (and more comfortable) to buy things that you’ll use now.
  • Hem your own clothes instead of going to an expensive tailor. I think that this applies to all types of clothing repairs; if at least one person in the house knows how to do basic sewing repairs or changes, the family can save a lot of money by fixing or repurposing old clothes as something new.
  • For women, the site suggests that you shop in the men’s section if you need something unisex, like a hoodie. While I’d never have thought of this, it’s true that men’s or children’s clothing is usually priced cheaper than women’s. Fair? Probably not. But good to be aware of!

 

That’s some of the stuff that’s helped other families cut their expenses. Try out a few of these ideas, and see if they work for you!

 

—Sam Watson, Editor, Stance

Be the Tortoise–Patience in Finances

Finance 2If there’s one thing that’s hard to learn, it’s patience. I even remember a time when I realized how impatient I was being and how I decided I wanted to change my attitude. The funny thing was the first thought I had after that realization: “Okay, I want to be more patient. How can I learn to be patient as quickly as possible?”

I laughed at myself when I realized how ironic that thought was, but I think it’s a common thing that we live through—it’s human nature. It’s normal to want to see results immediately: it can be really encouraging to see a positive outcome happen quickly because of a choice you made. It helps provide motivation for similarly healthy choices in the future.

The problem is, some of the most important things in life take a long time to show major results. Our relationships with others, our health, our education, and our finances—all of these things require a long-term commitment in order to grow. We might see some benefits rather quickly, but we won’t achieve our end goal until quite a while after we start.

Just like we can’t expect to suddenly be in perfect shape once we start exercising, we can’t expect to have enough money to retire as soon as we start saving. Patient accumulation of savings has to be a habit that we develop, not an occasional worry-fueled expense. We have to recognize that we’re building up our future financial security—just like patient and diligent exercise will build up our future physical health. It’s difficult, but we need to learn that, when it comes to things like this, “slow and steady” really is the way to go.

 

—Sam Watson, Editor, Stance

One Paycheck Away?

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Financial worries are one of the biggest causes of stress and difficulty for families today. One researcher in 2013 found that the top indicator of future divorce for a couple was if they argued about money, especially early in their relationship.

Even more recently, an interview with a homeless man in San Francisco was posted online. The man has “an MBA in finance from Stanford” but has been homeless for ten months. How did this happen to him? In his words, “We’re just one paycheck away.” 2

This concept is part of the reason that finances are such a worry for those trying to support a family. When we’re living from paycheck to paycheck, missing just one of them could definitely have difficult or even disastrous consequences.

The good thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

What’s the solution? It sounds pretty intuitive: as soon as you get paid, save some money from your paycheck, preferably a set percentage. And when you start to earn more money, start to save more money.

Saving a percent of your income instead of an amount means that every raise or bonus you get will help you in the future, and your spending habits will not increase as much right now. It’s the principle of ‘waste not, want not’—an investment for the future of a family.

Although this is simple, it’s not an easy habit to start if we’re like most Americans. Financial advisors have noted that an increase in salary or income typically means that a family will also increase their spending to match it. If we don’t save our money right when it comes, we’ll probably end up finding another use for it, and at the end of the month, we won’t have anything to put away into savings. This behavior comes from the same part of human nature that a credit card company takes advantage of when they raise a credit limit to entice people further into debt: With more money available, why not relax a little and get the things you couldn’t pay for earlier?

It’s an attractive idea to be free financially, but that freedom doesn’t come when we’re able to spend as much as we want. Financial freedom comes when we don’t have to worry about missing that next paycheck. By learning to live with what we have now, we’re preparing our families and ourselves for the future.

—Sam Watson, Editor, Stance