Financial Literacy - Families and Finance
Ellie Kay
smart spending
Family learns to spend less, live more

q_v2.gifWhy do you think Americans today find it so hard to save in comparison to, say, our grandparents' or our parents' generations?

a_v2.gifI believe we have lost what our grandparents or parents had in their generation because of the huge amount of credit that's been available to us. Families learned if they wanted something, they didn't have to wait and pay cash for it, they could get it now.

With the credit card reform that we have right now, people are screaming that APRs are going up and everyone is going to have to pay annual fees. Well, there's a generation that doesn't understand that when credit cards first came out they were issued by banks to the very best customers only, they had an average APR of 20 percent and everybody paid an annual fee. So it was more egalitarian in its approach and that's probably what we're going back to.

q_v2.gifAs the spouse of a former career military officer, describe the unique financial challenges that military families face and how they differ from those faced by the average civilian family.

a_v2.gifThere is a misconception by people who do not have families in the military that everything is paid for, that they have health care, they have housing and they get salaries. This is true to a certain extent. However, enlisted military members especially do not make an exorbitant living.

One thing that impacts these families is that they move so much. Where you might have a dual income in most families, there is a gap in employment for that (military) spouse that can last anywhere from six months to the entire three years that they may be at an assignment where they can't find a job. When they have to move to high-cost areas like Europe and the value of the dollar goes down, the cost of living allowance allocated to military families sometimes takes a while to catch up.

This is the kind of situation that military families find themselves in. They have tremendous challenges financially.

q_v2.gifBy all accounts, you've built a successful life for yourself and your family. To what do you attribute this success?

a_v2.gifOne of the reasons that we've achieved financial success is that there is this law of reciprocity that exists. When we give out in certain areas, whether it's volunteering time or donating money to worthy causes, it eventually comes back to us. That's the philosophy that we've had.

Over the first 15 years of marriage, we were still able to donate over $100,000 to organizations that we believed in. Being able to contribute to the community in a way that has a positive impact on people both at home and abroad to us is living a rich life.

q_v2.gifYou've volunteered over 10,000 hours of your personal time for various causes. Why is volunteerism so important to you and how do you manage to balance time between your family and your work schedule?

a_v2.gifBack when we were a one-income family, I didn't work outside the home. So I had a lot more opportunity while the kids were in school to give back. In terms of balancing it with family life, I've always prioritized time with my children and my family over volunteer work. What I found was that there's lots of ways that the family could volunteer together.

One of the things we did was we clipped coupons and donated them to the base where they could be used by service members. They would go shopping with me. Then they would help me pack up the groceries and we would take them to the homeless shelter. The things we did together provided a natural balance for the home and family life in terms of volunteering.

q_v2.gifWhat tips can you offer to families saving for more than one child's education?

a_v2.gifFrom the time they are in elementary school, you teach them a good work ethic. We taught all of our kids that their job is homework and as soon as they came home that's what they did. But we also encouraged them to pursue their passions.

Our children at this point are on target to graduate from college debt-free because they've either earned scholarships or were involved in work-study programs.

We also saved and contributed to their college education financially. On a practical level, contributing to a 529 (education savings plan) or a Coverdell (education savings plan) is something that's important.

q_v2.gifYou once wrote that it was an important milestone for you to go skydiving by the age of 40. What motivated you to want to do that and was it worth it?

a_v2.gifI'm a person that likes adventure. I like the whole idea of trying things that may scare you considerably but help you conquer fear and overcome it.

That's why I wanted to do it. It was an exhilarating experience and I've since repeated it. It keeps things interesting and it was 100 percent worth it.

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