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5 Ways to Make Extra Money

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Staff writer, Jason Butler, is a freelance writer and blogger at The Butler Journal, based out of Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently in the process of paying off $72,000 worth of loans and credit card debt!

A lot of people don’t make enough money at their full-time jobs. If you’re in that category, there is one of two things that you can do.

The 1st option is to complain about your situation and do nothing. If you’re reading this, I don’t believe that you’re the type of person.

The second thing that you can do is to find a way to make some extra money. In today’s post, I will share with you five possible ways to make extra money.

Get a Part Time Job

The 1st and probably most conventional way to make extra money is to get a part-time job. Retail and restaurants are usually good places to start. They should be flexible enough to let you work after you get off your full-time job or on the weekends.

eBay

One of my favorite ways to make extra money is to sell items on eBay. You can make decent money on eBay depending on what you’re selling. People will buy almost anything. If you’ve never sold anything on there before, I’d suggest that you take a look at their site. You can find a niche you love, find great deals at garage sales, and resale on Ebay for 50%+ profits!

Wash Cars

People can be lazy at times. I had a friend who used people’s laziness to his advantage a few years ago by washing their cars. It was a pretty good side hustle for a college student. He was charging people $15 -$20 per car and averaging about 8-10 cars per weekend. That was pretty good money for a college student. I think anyone can do this hustle, though. You just need a few supplies and some decent promo skills (signs in your area and free ads on Craigslist).

Uber

I figured I’d stay with cars. The fourth way to make extra money is to drive with Uber. Uber is a company that allows people to use their own vehicle to take people places. The more you drive, the more money you can make. I had a friend who used to make $600 a week driving people place to place. Look into your area’s insurance laws before starting just in case though.

Yard Work

Another great side hustle is to do yard work. People are always looking for someone to cut the grass or trim the hedges for them. A lot of people are busy or just physically able to do this type of work anymore. That’s where you come in. If you have some tools and a truck, you should be able to get started in no time. You can advertise on Craigslist or let your neighbors know about you through free sites like Nextdoor.com.

Those were just five ways to make extra money. There are much more out there. You just have to find one way that works for you.

Do you need to make any extra money? Have you thought about trying any of these ways? Please share some more ideas too!

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My Kids’ Stagnant 529 Plans

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

When I went to college (too many years ago to count now), my parents didn’t have a college savings plan. But my parents had more than just a wing and a prayer when it came to financing my college education… and it didn’t involve a 529 plan.

529 plans became a “thing” in 1996 – by which time I was already in high school. For a while, they were very trendy – when I was pregnant with my daughter, our financial adviser at the time asked if I wanted to set something up for her before she was even born (before she had a social security number! I politely declined). But eventually, I did succumb to 529 madness – and I’ve regretted it ever since.

If you don’t know how a 529 plan works, here’s a quick blurb from the IRS:

“[A 529 plan is] A plan operated by a state or educational institution, with tax advantages and potentially other incentives to make it easier to save for college and other post-secondary training for a designated beneficiary, such as a child or grandchild. Earnings are not subject to federal tax and generally not subject to state tax when used for the qualified education expenses of the designated beneficiary, such as tuition, fees, books, as well as room and board. Contributions to a 529 plan, however, are not deductible.”

In other words, a 529 college savings plan is basically akin to a Roth IRA when it comes to tax-free growth.

But the real question here is, does your child need a 529 plan? Is it worth YOUR time, energy, and – most importantly – investment?

For my family, the answer is increasingly no. Here’s why:

1) When you invest in your child’s 529 plan, that money can ONLY go towards education expenses. While that doesn’t simply mean tuition, it does tie your hands, especially if you ultimately have a child who eschews college for the military, the workforce, etc.

2) If you invest $50,000 into your child’s 529 plan, you can rest assured that every dime of that $50,000 will go to the school they ultimately attend. However, if you put that same $50,000 into one of your retirement accounts, FAFSA can’t touch it, and your family’s estimated financial contribution will be dependent upon your family’s income, not the assets in the 529. More on this later.

3) For most investors, the typical lead time on a 529 plan is maxed out at 18 years (ie, you start contributing at birth, and start withdrawing at age 18, when the child goes to college). On the flip side, retirement investing is typically longer-term (ie, you start investing at, say, 25, but don’t plan to make withdraws until your 60s). That gives you significantly more time for your investment to grow.

4) Because of points #2 and #3 above, it makes far more sense to invest in your 401k or Roth IRA retirement accounts before sinking a dime of your money into a 529 plan. If you still have extra money left over after maxing out these retirement vehicles, then by all means, invest in the 529!

So how did my parents pay for my school without any type of college savings plan? And how does that differ from someone whose parents used a 529 plan? Let’s take a look at 2 examples from within my own family:

My scenario

My dad – who, full disclosure, is a CPA – chose not to save a lick of money for my college years. I always found this to be an interesting choice, since from a very young age, I became transfixed by the idea of attending a prestigious (re: expensive) East Coast school. I often wondered how my parents would pay for it. I needn’t have worried.

When I got into my dream school and my parents filled out FAFSA, our estimated family contribution was about $25k/year. However, my school of choice gave me a small scholarship and a few grants, which brought it down to closer to $18k/year. My parents were able to pay – on average – $14k/year, and we took out a loan (back when student loans were slightly more affordable – interest rates have since skyrocketed) for the remaining $4k/year. I graduated with just shy of $17k in debt.

My cousin’s scenario:

On the flip side, there’s one of my cousin’s, whose parents started stocking away for her education when she entered kindergarten. When 529 plans became available in the late 90s, they transferred that money into a 529 account, where it continued to grow for about 10 more years. (I’m about 8 years older than my cousin, so part of the financial differences in our situations are caused by age and fluctuating college costs). By the time she went to college, her parents had saved about $75k – but they failed to max out their individual retirement accounts first.

They filled out the FAFSA forms, and by the time my cousin graduated four (and a half) years later, the entire $75k was gone, and she still had roughly $5k in student loans. Oh – and her parents were years behind in their retirement planning, because they had put her college ahead of their retirement.

This all goes back to the tried and true saying that while you can borrow money to pay for college, you can’t borrow money to pay for your retirement. So while a 529 plan may be a great option for you and your family, make sure you do the math, run the scenarios, and ensure that you aren’t robbing Peter (yourself) to pay Paul (your child’s college education).

And as for my kids?

Yes, they have 529 accounts, but I haven’t put a lick into them in 2 years. Once you open an account and put money in it, you can’t really do anything with it (ie, I can’t transfer it to my Roth) – although my new adviser and I continue to look for loopholes to make that happen legally and without paying a penalty! I plan to help put my kids through college, but I’m doing it the way my parents did it. After all, sometimes father really does know best.

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The Best Financial Advice for Every Year: Age 22

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

This is the third in a monthly series about specific age-by-age financial advice for 20-somethings. You can find the rest of the series here:

Advice for 20-year-olds

Advice for 21-year-olds

If you’re 22 right now, chances are either your parents or grandparents are “Baby Boomers” – members of the generation born between 1946-1964. These Post-WWII babies came of age during the 60s and 70s, years of turbulence and change. One of those changes happened in 1978, when Congress passed a revenue tax that, among other things, created what we now know as 401(k) plans. That means the oldest members of this generation were 32 when this revolutionary retirement-savings tool was introduced; the youngest members were still young teens.

So maybe it isn’t surprising that the Boomers – who didn’t grow up hearing about 401(k) plans and other retirement savings options on a regular basis – are now facing a major retirement crisis. According to many reports, the average Boomer on the verge of retirement has between $25,000-$100,000 in their 401(k), a paltry sum when you consider that retirees are living longer than ever.

Why does this matter to you, as a 22-year-old? Because, and I’m taking a shot in the dark here, you probably don’t want to end up broke in what are supposed to be your “Golden Years.”

Retirement Savings

The path to a financially stable retirement starts young – in fact, the younger the better. Play around with this investment calculator (there are many like this out there on the Internet, but this is my favorite), and you’ll see that starting to invest in your early 20s as opposed to early 30s can have a monumental impact on your savings down the road.

Why is 22 the perfect age to start a 401(k) account? Because many Americans – particularly the increasingly large college-educated cohort – will start their first full-time job upon graduation at, roughly, age 22. And when you’re negotiating that first job, you should do it with your future investments in mind.

Here’s what I mean by that:

Say you’re offered a job paying $35,000 a year and health benefits. Now another company offers you $32,500 a year plus health benefits AND a 401(k) employer match.

On first glance, you might take the higher salary and be happy with it. But depending on your employer match – and how much money your budget allows you to put into that 401(k) account – you might be leaving money on the table. An employer match can be a very lucrative option that, because of a whole bunch of complicated tax policies that at age 22 I’m pretty sure you don’t care about (but if you do, click here), doesn’t cost the company all that much money but still has a large benefit for you.

So my advice to all you 22-year-olds (or anyone who just starting their first full-time “adult” job): if you have the option to start a 401(k) plan through your employer, do it. Save early, save often. And if you don’t have the option to start a 401(k) plan at work, be sure to set aside money on your own – whether by funding an emergency account or starting a Roth IRA – so you don’t fall behind.

Trust me, your 65-year-old self will thank you for it.

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The Best Financial Advice for Every Year: Age 21

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

This is the second in a monthly series about specific age-by-age financial advice for 20-somethings. To check out my advice for 20-year-olds, click here.

Age 21 is full of major milestones: you can legally drink, you can legally gamble, and any vestiges of “childhood” – like parental consent for marriage or having a provisional driver’s license – are officially a thing of the past. But with all of these new freedoms comes new responsibility as well; that applies to managing your finances as well.

My financial advice for 21-year-olds is simple: have a plan. When I was 21, I was heading into my senior year of college; my husband was 21 when he graduated. For many of us, 21 is a pivotal age – it marks not only the official, legal end of childhood, but for many, it marks the end of your formal education.

So at age 21, it’s crucial that you take stock of where you’re at financially, and where you want to go. By age 21, you should know:

  • The exact amount of your student loan debt. American student loan debt now tops $1 trillion, and the majority of students will leave college (note I didn’t say “graduate from college” – if you took out loans, you’ll have to repay that debt whether you graduate or not) owing money. If you don’t know exactly how much you owe and the terms under which you’re expected to repay it, you’re already one step behind;
  • Any other debt obligations you’re facing, whether that be credit card debt, a car loan, or something else;
  • Approximately how much money you can expect to earn once you’re out of school. There are a lot of great websites out there that will give you estimated incomes for jobs based on location, education, and a variety of other factors. It’s critical that you know how much money is coming in, otherwise you won’t know how much money can go back out to pay bills, fund an emergency savings account, or just have fun;
  • How to construct a budget. This includes everything from your rent and debt repayment obligations to expenses for gas, food, utilities, telecom, clothing, etc.

Once you’ve figured out the four steps above, you’ll have the knowledge to enter adulthood with both eyes open. I knew far too many 21-year-olds (my husband among them) who entered adulthood with no idea how to manage their finances; his parents had always done it for him, and when he graduated, he found himself completely clueless how to do it himself.

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The Best Financial Advice for Every Year: Age 20

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

This is going to be the first post in a new series I’m writing about the most important financial moves you need to make year by year throughout your 20s. So naturally, what better place to start than with age 20 itself?

I don’t have a very clear memory of my 20th birthday. I remember 19 (my dormmates took me to dinner at a fun tapas restaurant just off campus); I remember 21 (I danced with a member of our college basketball team who is now an NBA star while the band serenaded me with “Happy Birthday” at my favorite frat’s annual spring party); but 20 must have been rather unmemorable, because for the life of me, I can’t remember a thing about it.

But what I do remember about those early years in college is a message my dad literally repeated about a dozen times each August as we made the 8-hour drive from my hometown to campus: No matter what free stuff they offer you, do NOT GET A CREDIT CARD.

Now, that seemed very unfair, coming from a man who had several credit cards to his name. I thought it was very hypocritical of him to tell me I couldn’t have a credit card when I saw him use one on a regular basis. But I heard him loud and clear; what he was really saying was, “If you get a credit card, I will not pay for it.” So, being the rule follower that I was (and still am), I said no to the free t-shirt, the free ballcap, the free frisbee, and the $50 credit on my first month’s statement.

For you see, although I graduated from college with modest student loan debt, I entered the adult world with absolutely no credit card debt. Not only that, but by the time I finally did get my first credit card – about a month after graduation – I was so paranoid about racking up huge bills that I only used it when I knew I had enough cash in my checking account to cover my purchases.

In other words, I learned how to handle credit with maturity. I never used my credit card to book a flight to Cancun over spring break with some of my sorority sister (though I know many who did); I never used my credit card to buy hundreds of dollars in clothes and shoes (though I know many who did). My dad put the fear of God into me, and the ultimate lesson was one of responsibility.

So the most important money move you need to make as a 20-year-old? It’s the same advice my dad offered me years ago:

No matter what free stuff they offer you, do NOT GET A CREDIT CARD!

Note from Crystal:  I have slightly different advice – get a credit card with no annual fees and good rewards as soon as you can, BUT never charge anything you wouldn’t have bought with cash you have AND never carry a balance.  Then you can build your credit without falling into astounding consumer debt.  Willpower is crucial – if you think you’ll be a big spender, no credit card!!!

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The “Baby Recession” Is Over

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

It was September 14, 2008. Lehman Brothers was still – technically – in business. And I was in labor.

The signs of economic collapse had been plentiful: gas prices had been on a crazy roller coaster, up one week, down the next; Bear Sterns had already collapsed months prior; homes in my neighborhood – which once sold in a matter of days – remained up for sale in an increasingly stagnant market; my employer had already been through its first round of layoffs, and unemployment across the country was climbing towards double digits.

But unbeknownst to me, the subsequent economic recession wasn’t the only recession in America at the time. Apparently, there was an overlapping “baby recession.” Starting in 2007, America’s birth rate entered a prolonged drop, which we’re only now pulling out of. According to the latest government data, 2014 was the first time since 2007 that the birth rate went up (though it’s still below pre-recession levels).

Why is a high birth rate important? Just ask Japan. The nation is in the midst of a decades-long drop in birth rate, which has put it on the verge of economic ruin. It’s meant a population that is disproportionately older, putting a strain on social and economic systems. The Japanese birth rate has stagnated at just 1.4 (that means 1.4 live births per woman of child-bearing age); by comparison, a healthy birth rate is closer to 2.1 – just enough to keep a country’s population gradually on the upswing. The US birth rate, at 1.9, is far from Japan’s catastrophic levels, but after nearly a decade of declines, it’s nice to see it moving in the right direction.

Last year, I wrote a post about whether or not anybody is ever really ready to have a baby. At the time, I said that my family’s decision came down to 3 main points: health of our relationship, professional concerns, and financial situation. For so many people, the Great Recession of 2008 (and beyond) absolutely crushed their professional and financial security – and anyone who’s ever battled through tough financial times knows that all that stress can put a strain on your marriage or romantic relationship.

So in hindsight, I guess it’s not surprising that a baby recession overlapped the actual recession; what is surprising is that I had two children during that period, and somehow failed to realize what was going on beyond my own front door. Yet the proof is all around me: my daughter’s class at school – the first group of children born during the Great Recession to head off to kindergarten and first grade – is significantly smaller than the older grades in our district.

What about you – did you realize there was a “Baby Recession” going on? Did you alter you or your family’s plans because of the tough economic times?

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Budgeting After a Raise

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

If the Great Recession taught Americans anything about personal finance, it taught us how to be unapologetic pessimists. Case in point? Although GDP, unemployment, and stock market averages have climbed back (or, in some cases, beyond) pre-recession levels, you’ll still routinely see the talking heads on TV lamenting on the sorry state of our economy. Sure, there’s still progress to be made – too many people working part-time who’d rather be working full-time, depressed wages for the middle class, etc. – but to hear these folks talk, you’d think it was still 2010.

When you surf the web, you see plenty of articles talking about how to manage your family’s budget through a crisis: job loss, medical bills, sky-high debt. But what you don’t see is a lot of financial advice for how to manage your money when something good happens. How does budgeting change when you’ve received a raise, a bonus, an inheritance?

Plan After a Raise

That’s the situation my family found itself in a few months ago. My husband and I were both fortunate enough to earn substantial raises which increased our household income by about 20%. And we didn’t know what to do with it.

For a few pay cycles, we let that extra money just sit in our bank accounts. We had the gratification of knowing it was there, but the money wasn’t doing anything for us. So we started to toss around some ideas:

  • Paying down our mortgage. Paying down debt is usually a good thing; however, we’d bought our house when interest rates were at historic lows (we’re locked in at 3.67%). We knew our money could do more elsewhere;
  • Adding more money to our retirement accounts. These raises meant that for the first time in our adult lives, we could max out the annual contributions to both of our Roths and one of our 401(k) accounts. But we knew that once the money was diverted to those retirement accounts, we’d be unable to touch it (well, for another 30 years, at least!);
  • SPEND IT! I think this is the complete opposite reaction to letting it just sit untouched in our checking account, but it’s another knee-jerk reaction that many people experience after getting an influx of cash. My husband bought an expensive new phone that he’d been pining after, and I splurged a little on my wardrobe. In a way, I think it was helpful to get it out of our system. We came, we spent, we felt a little guilty – and probably won’t make a habit of it in the future;
  • Engage in lifestyle inflation. This is similar to simply spending the money, but it’s a little bit more insidious. Lifestyle inflation tends to creep up on you; maybe you start dining out a few more times each month, add in a Hulu Plus subscription, and get addicted to $15/class Pure Barre workouts, and voila! You’ve succumbed to lifestyle creep. You may even figure out a way to work those items into your monthly budget, at which point they start to feel completely valid.

Ultimately, my husband and I sat down and discussed what we wanted to do with this extra money from a big picture perspective. We don’t carry debt beyond our mortgage (but if you have personal, student, or credit card debt with a high interest rate, this should be your starting point), so we saw this as an opportunity to really shore up our budget and investments. Here’s how the money has been allocated:

1) 30% of it is going directly to our retirement accounts; we don’t even see the money in our checking account, because it’s funneled off right from the get-go;

2) 20% is going to a newly created “vacation” account. We’ve really slacked on traveling over the past few years as we climbed the corporate ladder (I hate that phrase, but it applies here), and want to use this money to ensure that we’re seeing the country and experiencing new places and things with our children;

3) 40% is going to our renovation budget. We’re in the middle of renovating our home, and have done much of the work ourselves. But there are certain things – like taking out walls, running complicated electric cables, or moving plumbing fixtures – that are beyond our area of comfort, let alone expertise. At least over the next year or so, we’ll use this money to ensure we can hire professionals when the need arises to make sure a project is done right. Eventually, once the major reno projects are finished, we’ll siphon a large chunk of this money off into our retirement accounts;

4) 10% is our “discretionary” fund – in other words, our fun money. We knew that lifestyle creep was inevitable, but we felt that by setting aside a certain amount of money in this way, we’d at least be able to keep it in check.

Have you ever experienced an influx of money? How did you learn how to manage that money, so that it worked in your favor?

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Helping the Syrian Refugees

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Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

It’s being called the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. So if you want to donate to the plight of the Syrian (and Iraqi, and Kurdish… the list goes on) refugees, how can you do it safely, responsibly, and – perhaps most importantly – effectively?

There are hundreds of thousands of global charities out there, all begging you to donate. But not all charities are created equally. Some donate virtually every penny of your money to the cause; others donate just pennies on the dollar. The tough part is sorting the good from the bad… and the downright ugly.

Thankfully, there are websites devoted to helping you make the right choice with your charitable donation. Three of the best are Charity Watch, Charity Navigator, and GiveWell. These organizations are constantly rating charities to help you determine not only how much of your donation actually makes it to those in need, but to help you see exactly what your money will provide once it reaches its destination. For example, you could donate through a big name like Amnesty International or a lesser known charity, like the American Refugee Committee. What’s the difference?

According to Charity Watch, Charity Watch: Amnesty International of the USA spends $14 in order to raise $100… then turns around and spends 20% of those funds on overhead – things like employee salary, public relations, advertising, etc. Charity Watch: American Refugee Committee – which, confusingly, often goes by ARC, the same acronym as the American Red Cross – spends just $5 to raise $100, and only spends 10% of its annual yield on overhead expenses. In other words, if you gave $250 to each organization, ARC would get $25 more to the people you intended to receive it.

If you’re looking for a great way to get involved in the global – and, specifically, the Syrian – refugee crisis, these fact-checker sites have already done much of the work for you. Just click over to their pages on Syria to find out how you can make a difference.

Charity Watch

Charity Navigator

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Start as you Mean to Go On

When you are starting out on a career, retirement seems so far away. In one way it is, but in another it isn’t. It is never too early to start to plan financial provision for retirement. You may think it is difficult to save anything just after you have finished college with so many demands on your money; rent, automobile, general bills and student loan to settle. In some ways that is true but it is important to look at your finances and make wise decisions from the start.

Credit Cards

You will have been eligible for your first credit card when you reached 18 years of age. Suddenly you will have credit which allows you to buy without handing over cash. Your initial credit limit may well have been fairly low but it will rise if you use your card wisely, paying promptly each month anything from the minimum required to the full balance. The responsible thing to do is to pay off the full balance then you will not be tempted to live beyond your means. In reality the signs in the USA, and indeed in many countries where the population has credit cards, are that users build up credit balances. Often these balances have become difficult to manage and at the end of each month a high rate of interest is applied.

True Cost

When you look at your finances have you got a credit card on which you have built up such a balances? Just because others do that it does not mean that it is wise to do so. You may think you are buying a bargain so that you have an excuse for buying something on offer when you cannot really afford it. It is not a bargain if you add the interest that you will be paying each month until you have paid the bill in full.

Your logic in buying may be that you face a number of bills anyway so taking a little credit over a few months is no bad thing. The problem is that you may well slide into do this as a matter of habit and suddenly find your balance is way beyond the amount you wanted it to reach. Providing for retirement is likely to be something that is dismissed as unimportant if you are struggling to live within your existing means anyway.

Consolidate Your Problems

You really should act; ironically one of the things you can do is to borrow. Personal consolidation loans provide the means of paying off debt that is incurring a high rate of interest. If you have a regular income, you can apply for a realistic installment loans online which will not carry such a high rate of interest, even if you have a poor credit score. Lenders are far more concerned that you can afford the future repayments; that is the case you need to make. As long as you use the loan to pay off your credit card balances and other liabilities carrying a high rate of interest your one monthly payment on your consolidation loan will be less that the sums currently going out of your account each month.

Budget Now and Forever

This whole exercise should be part of your strategy to get your finances in order. A budget which identifies your income and expenditure will soon show you your current position. If you manage to get rid of credit card debt that is one reduction on the expenditure side. You may decide that you can save money elsewhere as well. It does not automatically mean you will have to make major sacrifices but perhaps you can cut back on your social spending. Utilities and insurance are also areas to look at where possible savings can be made.

Once you reach the point where you are comfortable that you have addressed your expenditure problems you may well be in a position to save a little each month. There may still be many calls on your money; the need to save a deposit to buy real estate, your recognition you need an emergency fund, and of course retirement. No one is suggesting it is easy to manage your finances especially early in your career but it helps to start out with a discipline approach that you follow in the years to come. It can be almost guaranteed that you will have fewer problems in the years to ahead if you have a financial plan.

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The Education Funding Debate

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

Let’s put this out there right now: I’m a Liberal. I am a rainbow-heart T-shirt-wearing, climate change-embracing, immigrant-loving Lib with a capital “L.” At least, I always thought I was…

Maybe Less Liberal than I Thought…

My foray into reexamining my political bent began innocently enough, with an article in my local newspaper. The front page headline blared, “District Could Lose 18% of State Education Funding Over Next Three Years.” Wow, I thought to myself, that sounds pretty serious. As I read the article, I discovered that our financial situation was part of a broader state-wide plan to revamp education funding. Sparing you the gory (and boring) details, the basic idea was to rob Peter (wealthier districts like mine) in order to pay Paul (poorer districts, which in my state encompasses both urban and rural schools).

My husband and I moved to our district a few years ago, as our oldest was getting ready to start kindergarten. We chose the district because (A) it has a solid tax base which (B) leads to solid schools. In fact, our school district is a staple on World News & Report’s annual “Best High Schools in America” list. We knew when we moved in that we’d be paying higher property taxes than districts in other parts of our area, but that money, in turn, would go directly to our local schools, ensuring their stability and success.

So when I read about the state’s plan to slash that funding – to take our money an reallocate it to districts elsewhere – the progressively-minded liberal in me turned pointedly red in the face.

It’s not that I’m against giving equal opportunity to poorer-performing schools in under-funding districts. Go ahead, increase my state’s income tax or our sales tax, something that’s going to affect all taxpayers equally (or, at least, proportionately). But asking – no, ordering – my school district to take away some of our funding to give to another district seemed blatantly unfair.

Ok, now I know what you’re thinking: how on earth can she fault an already failing education system for being unfair? Isn’t she reaping the rewards of classism? Of her access to good education?

Indeed I am. But I have good reason to worry.

Our Worries

When we moved to our current district, we were coming from a state where education dollars are meted out on a county-wide basis. Although we lived in one of that state’s largest counties, it still encompassed a large area of urban, suburban, and rural dwellers; likewise, it brought together people of all races, creeds, and socio-economic backgrounds. At first, I thought this was wonderful. Then I started hearing stories from inside the school district, from students, parents, teachers, and administrators. The result of spreading the money evenly across every district in the county was that every school could afford to put books in the library; none of the schools could afford to hire the “best” teachers at the expense of a neighboring district; everyone had, in theory, access to the same resources.

But that didn’t mean the county had solved the problem. Because while each school had access to the same resources in the classroom, what the students were bringing into the schools each day were vastly different. Students in more affluent neighborhoods were bringing parents with stable jobs who could provide adequate housing, proper clothing, access to tutors and after school activities, healthcare, and healthy food; students in the less affluent areas were bringing in the baggage of gunfire in their streets, parents who worked two or three jobs to meet ends meet but were rarely home to help with homework, less than adequate healthcare, food, clothing, and housing. In reality, they were coming from two very different worlds.

So, no surprise that the schools attended by the affluent schools did ok; they weren’t great – after all, the district had cut the arts and many languages and upper-tier courses to accommodate funding cuts – but they weren’t failing, either. But the interesting thing was, even though schools in the same county were receiving the same funding, they weren’t performing any better than they were when the financial support was inequitable.

Basically, it boils down to this: our schools aren’t failing because School A spends $2,000 per student and School B spends $4,000. Our schools are failing because poverty is a serious issue in this country, and throwing money at the schools, rather than the problems our children are bringing into the schools – violence, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthcare, little or no preschool, lack of support at home – isn’t going to solve the problem.

Poverty is real. Hunger is real. Sickness is real.

So at the end of the day, I’m still a Liberal. I still believe there are social injustices in the world, but I also realize that these are social injustices that money alone cannot fix. We need to completely change our way of thinking, we need to change the culture. We need to craft policies that will support families and children, to give them the right start, so that, down the line, equal funding can and does make a difference.

Because right now, robbing from Peter to pay Paul isn’t benefiting anybody.

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