kids, cell, phone, texting, technology, parents, paying

Taming Technology - Book Excerpt

Question: I was wondering how you deal with kids and technology, particularly cell  phones and texting. I remember reading in your books that you do not allow texting at the dinner table, but how does your family deal with kids and cell phone plans, etc? Thanks so much!!

Answer: You ask a great question and we actually answered it in our upcoming book The MoneySmart Family System. So we’ll give you a preview here:

Taming Technology
The use of technology can be a blessing or a curse to a MoneySmart family. There are always newer, faster, and more expensive electronic “must-haves” being advertised. Our kids are besieged with messages from their friends that if they don’t have the latest and greatest techno-gadget, they are a social outcast. Technology has, in many ways, become a status symbol for this generation. We need to have a balanced and intentional approach to the use of technology in our homes, or we’ll find that the technological appetite of our culture will take us to places we don’t want to go. In this section we’ll share how we’ve tamed the techno-monster in the areas of TV, gaming, music, computers, and cell phones.

Managing Cell Phones
We simply don’t pay for our kids to have cell phones. But with more than 85 percent of kids between the ages of fifteen and eighteen “owning” a cell phone, we are definitely going against the flow. We know that it is easier for some families to keep track of their kids with phones, but we don’t think that way. Spending $100 to $175 each month for a family plan with multiple phones, texting, and data is not within our budget. Once again, if you do this and can afford it, are you setting your kids up with an expectation that you will continue providing well into their twenties? Or are you setting them up for an expense that they may not be able to afford when they’re finally on their own?

If you think your child must have a cell phone for safety reasons, consider a limited, prepaid phone. It’s cheaper and can’t be easily abused—too much talking or texting simply turns the plan off earlier and they’ll have to do without. It’s kind of like teaching them to budget their money, except they’re managing texts and talk time. We have a very limited prepaid cell phone plan on what we call the “family cell phone.” It costs us less than $60 per year and is only used to communicate with other family members.

Phones at Night
It’s important to limit your kids’ use of cell phones at night. One family we know “docks” all phones, including the parents’, at 9:00 p.m. in a specific spot in the kitchen. No phones in the bedrooms at night. Kids need their sleep and to be able to set boundaries on communicating with friends.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / 01.27.14

stressed out over car loan to family

Lending to a Niece for a Car—Went Flat

Question: I bought a car for my niece, but didn’t have the cash so I put it on my credit card. It was only $5,000 but my niece has stopped making payments to me and offered to give me the car back. She says the car is only worth about $1800 now. What should I do?

Answer: This may sound heartless, but repossess the car and sell it. If your niece has stopped making car payments to you she may also have stopped making insurance payments as well. It’s your property, and it’s her lesson to be learned. If the title is in her name, get her to sign it over to you. When it sells, deduct what you receive, from what she owes then make out a ledger sheet outlining what she still owes and when her payments are due. Have her sign a written agreement saying that she will repay the balance and hold her to it. Even if she doesn’t fully pay you back, you’ve recouped some of the costs and hopefully given her a real life lesson in the costs of careless borrowing.

A few of other things:

1)     Before you sell: Do your research about the worth of the car. Your niece has been careless when considering the cost of buying a car, she may also be inaccurate in assessing its value. When you do sell, only accept cash—no monthly payments from the new buyer.

2)     Pay it down: Take the money from selling the car and immediately pay it on the outstanding balance on your credit card. Don’t even think about spending a penny of it. It may be possible to negotiate a lump sum pay off at a reduced amount, so ask the question of your lender. If they say ‘Yes’ you win, if not, you need to keep paying.

3)     Count your blessings and learn YOUR lesson: Right now it looks like this lesson might cost you $3200. That’s not terribly expensive, but it can be if you choose to “help” out a family member again. Remember that the banks probably turned her down for a loan for good reason, that’s why she came to you for a loan. Leave the lending to the banks and just love your family members—maybe bake some cookies, but don’t lend any money. Cosigning or lending to family members rarely turn out well financially or relationally. If you follow our advice, you’ll never be in this place again and your financial future will be much brighter.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

Pets on a budget

Sick Pets on a Budget

Question: One of our cats got really sick and we tried to help her, but she finally had to be put to sleep. The vet bills added up to a couple of thousand dollars, which we didn’t have.  She’s gone, we’ve grieved, and now we’re struggling to make the payments each month. Do you have any advice to pet lovers?

Answer: Many people forget that pets cost much more than food and water. Other expenses include: micro chipping, neutering / spaying, licensing, immunizations and vet bills. Add to all of this miscellaneous supplies, toys, repairs (to your home), carpet cleaning and training and you’ve basically assumed the cost of raising a child.

To combat the “unexpected” expenses of pet ownership, we created a separate category for pets in our budget. Every two weeks we put aside a predetermined amount of money for pet care. Every family will have different values and financial limits, so how much you save is up to you. But you’ve got to save something for your pet.

We know that some of you may disagree with this, but for our family and budget this is what works. When an emergency or illness occurs, we let finances be our determining factor. Spending money you don’t have, never helps the situation. If our pets require surgery, and we don’t have money saved to cover it, we’ll have to choose to put the pet to sleep. Please don’t think that we’re hard hearted. Our German Shepherd’s all have lived to a ripe old age and we’ve cared for them well, and sobbed when we had to say good bye. We love our pets, and they are an integral part of our family, but they simply aren’t people. Plus there are so many wonderful pets waiting for homes through rescue groups that trying to keep a very old, or very sick animal alive, seems like it might be for our own emotional well being, but not the animals.

The Kids are Home from College - Hold onto your Wallet

Q. My two college kids are home for the summer and they’re eating us out of house and home. Not only that but whenever we go out to dinner all of their friends want to join us. Even though my husband is a doctor and I’m a nurse, this is becoming very costly. Am I wrong to feel resentful about my kids’ friends freeloading off of us?

A. No you aren’t wrong to be concerned. Kids should learn to pay their own way. You have many options to consider, you’ll simply need to spell out some guidelines.

Option 1) If you don’t want to buy all of the young adults a meal, sit down with your kids and explain that when you go out to dinner, it will either be “family only” or on special occasions, they may bring one friend each. But it all needs to be communicated in advance. No last minute substitutions or begging.

Option 2) If you’re going to agree to feed your kids and their friends, select different or less costly restaurants, such as fast food restaurants or all you can eat buffets and order water to drink. If you go to a more expensive restaurant, explain that you’ll pay for the main meal, but not for appetizers, drinks or dessert. If they want the extras, they can pay for it. Living with limits is a real life experience.

Option 3) Instead of eating out, bring food in. Pick up Chinese food, pizza or a rotisserie chicken; bagged salad and a tub of ice cream. There are plenty of take out options. Or search the grocery store freezer case for some other prepared food that is simple to cook up. It is one of the fastest growing sections in the store.

Option 4) Turn the tables on them. Continue to take them out once in a while, but have your children (and their friends) buy and prepare a meal for you and your husband at least once each week. Young adults will willingly fall into the dependent role and allow you to meet their every need . . . until you decide to stop. They are fully capable of participating in the purchasing and preparing of the food they eat,

Whatever options you choose, make sure you are teaching your young adults to stand on their own feet financially and not training them in an entitlement lifestyle which they may not be able to sustain or afford on their own. And remember that true friends will stick with your kids even if you stop feeding them fancy steak dinners.

Stop feeling resentful and be resourceful—you’ll feel better and your kids will grow up to be more appreciative.

Ashley Nuzzo

Far More with Far Less - Ashley Nuzzo

We met Ashley Nuzzo and her husband Sal backstage while waiting to appear on the Doctor Phil Show several years ago. We've kept in touch since then and are happy that Ashley has agreed to share a small part of her frugal journey with us. 

We're hoping that as you read, you'll be encouraged to not only embrace the frugal lifestyle, but to visit Ashley's website and save more money as a result of her research.

Far More, with Far Less

By Ashley Nuzzo,

I am about to let you in on what is probably the biggest understatement of the 21st Century with respect to my life and, more than likely, yours as well – I am doing far more, with far less. This statement rings true in just about every facet of my life. In May of 2008, I became a stay-at-home mom, leaving behind the massive five-figure income that one achieves from being a fifth-grade teacher! As we became a one income family, I found myself squeezing every last penny out of our meager household income. I began doing far more, with far less.

During the first nine months as a single-income family, we found ourselves relying on my analytical prowess as a numbers person to learn to stretch pennies into dollars, and dollars into…well…more dollars. We did this through some aggressive strategies in the use of coupons, sales, and taking advantage of promotional programs at stores such as Walgreens and CVS. Over time, I was able to see my savings figures go sky high, while my out-of-pocket expenses plummeted. I was truly doing far more, with far less.

As I increased my dollar stretching skills, our stockpile of free or almost free resources grew and grew and grew. I realized that my bargain hunting talent had increased to the point that I had accumulated much more than our family could possibly use. Should I stop or was there something else I should do with my new-found passion?

We decided to start giving back out of the abundance we had been given. Although we experienced a reduction in salary, we suddenly an increase in resources. I wanted to get these items, which I received for free or for very little, into the hands of  those who are not able to make ends meet or who couldn’t afford to put dinner on the table. Truly, we don’t need of 50 tubes of toothpaste, nor do we need 60 boxes of rice. I not only shared my excess, but I started sharing my knowledge on my family’s personal blog. That blog evolved into a couponing blog where I shared what I’ve discovered with my friends and with the help of the Dr. Phil show to helping thousands of families do more with less.

 As a couponer, I’ve learned that accumulating multiples of coupons is critical. I began subscribing and buying numerous Sunday papers. I pulled coupons from the shelves of grocery stores, and cut every coupon found in every magazine I read. I was stockpiling coupons in addition to stockpiling the items I was buying.

The secret to coupon success was to use the coupons on sale items. If I needed spaghetti sauce and had a great coupon, I bought the sauce when it was on sale for buy one, get one free or when it was steeply discounted. I also utilized the rewards found at national drugs stores like Walgreens and CVS. I learned quickly that reward cards were my friend and allowed for exclusive savings and returns that I had been missing. Best of all, these loyalty programs are absolutely free!

My new skills not only saved us hundreds of dollars each month, but allowed me to fill not only the needs of my home, but the needs of others. Just as much as my talent has blessed others, the excitement they experience when I share my talent blesses me. With the extra money saved, my husband and I have found ourselves make changes that we did not think possible on one salary. We have paid off both of our cars and are moving on to putting additional money toward our mortgage.

Giving back is something I’ve always believed goes hand in hand with my savings. It’s not about getting as much as I can (though it is fun!); but about seeing where God gives you opportunities to give to others.

I am truly doing far more, with far less.


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