So You Got A Stimulus, Now What?

By now, most Americans have received a boost in the form of a stimulus, in this case, free money from the federal government to combat financial woes stemming from coronavirus. Now that you have money you didn’t have before, what do you do with it?

The most likely option is to spend it, as intended, to stimulate the economy. However, now is not really the time for an impulse purchase, so spending it on practical things like rent or food makes the most sense. If you are one of the 40 million filing for unemployment, spending your stimulus on basic needs becomes a clear-cut choice.

The next option is to save it, that is, if you have sufficient income to meet existing financial obligations. For those with an ample emergency fund and no need to dip into it, it might be time to invest more money towards your long-term goals. If you don’t already have a comfortable rainy day fund set aside, then add that stimulus cash to your rainy day fund.

For those not needing to rely on stimulus money, consider sharing it with others or donating to a cause you believe in. Perhaps it’s the mom-and-pop store you frequented before quarantine or the religious institution where you now join weekly service through Zoom or a non-profit organization that is suddenly without as many donors as before. No matter who you give to, your support not only provides for them, but it also lifts the economy as a whole.

Share, Save, Spend. Sound familiar? These are the 3 financial pillars we frequently talk about. You don’t have to choose just one either. You could use that stimulus money in two ways or all three! For those who did not receive a stimulus check or received less than the full amount, that’s ok. The 3 S’s still apply to you too, even though you have to rely on your own pocketbook.

While a stimulus provides a nice boost, the key is to not depend on having one. That way, if and when you get a stimulus, you have choices!

Homework: Do some research to find out what Americans did with their stimulus. Does this match your predictions?

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Spare Change

In the modern day of cashless transactions, cash still remains a popular mode of payment. According to the US Federal Reserve in 2019, cash ranks as one of the top two payment methods, used in 26% of transactions, just behind debit cards (28% of transactions). For children who don’t have a bank account yet, cash probably accounts for 100% of transactions. If cash is used so often, counting money is important for everyone, whether spending money or receiving money.

Take the following QUIZ to see how your children do when handling cash:

  • Do they know how to limit spending to what’s on hand? (i.e. Can $15 cash buy a $20 toy?)
  • If they get change back from a purchase, can they quickly verify that they received the right amount?
  • Working the cash register, can they count money quickly to make sure that the customer paid correctly?
  • If there are no dollar bills but a lot of quarters available, can they produce the right amount of change?

If your children need to brush up on these skills, or if they are just starting to learn about cash, below are several ideas that might help.

Ages 3-6: Sort change by denomination. Use clear containers/jars or an empty egg carton to separate pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters (or your own country’s currency, for international readers). Or whenever you have spare change, give them a coin and ask for the name of the coin and amount, letting them keep whatever they identify correctly.

Ages 5-9: Ever heard of the muffin tin coin counting game? Write small amounts onto paper cupcake liners (for instance, $1.10 on one liner, 88-cents on another liner, 63-cents on another liner, etc). Pop the liners into a muffin tin, and then provide a bunch of loose change for the children to fill each liner with the correct amount in change.

Ages 9-12: Now that multiplication and decimal numbers have been introduced, learn to add tax and/or tip. Looking at a menu, what can you order with $15, assuming you account for tax and tip? If you pay with $20, tally the change due using bills and coins. Take a handful of past store receipts, and calculate how much change you get back if you paid with the closest denomination of 10 (such as paying $30 for a receipt totaling $25.79).

What children can comprehend about cash depends on their age, but starting early will empower them to make their own decisions around money. When children become adept at counting cash, they can mentally tally against their budget when shopping or dining out. Keeping to a budget allows them to live within their means and save for the future. That’s why understanding cash is so important to becoming financially independent!

Homework: Try one of the activities above. For older kids who want an extra challenge, work with parents to decide on a spending limit the next time you dine-out or order food delivery. After everyone else in the family has selected from the menu, choose your own item(s) from the menu that will allow the total after tax/tip to remain under the limit.

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The Download On Deals

What does “saving money” mean? Setting aside money for the long term is typically how we define savings, but another important discipline for building wealth is finding savings when we spend money. When you pay less than full price, you are saving money. One transaction may not seem like much savings, but many transactions together add up to big savings.

Spotting deals can take some work. Fortunately, with some practice, it becomes easier. Here are tips to help you become a better spender, and by that, I mean a better saver.

  1. Read the fine print. Often, sales and coupons have exclusions, so make sure you read the fine print ahead of time.
  2. Have a plan. Just like writing out a grocery shopping list, circling items in the weekly ad or compiling all coupons before starting to shop will allow you to capture every deal.
  3. Stack those deals. One of the best feelings you get from shopping is when you stack a coupon on top of a sale. Qualify for a rebate afterwards, and rise up to the ranks of a pro shopper!
  4. Choose an alternate. If you’re not crazy about the brand name product, you can get more for your money with generic. Or go with a substitute, like buying groceries that are in season instead of ones that are not.
  5. Be patient. Sometimes the things you want are not available at a lower price right away, but you know the price will come down in time. If you can go without that item for a little longer, wait.

Although getting the best deal requires some effort, the satisfaction you get is worth it. Once you’ve had some practice, being a smart shopper will become second nature!

Homework: Set a spending limit to buy all the groceries you need this week. Involve kids by giving them $10 to purchase some of the necessary categories on your list. For example, if fruit is one of the categories, they can choose whichever fruit(s) will last one week. Challenge them to get as much leftover change as possible on the entire purchase.

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Needs Vs. Wants

This week’s lesson is a short one, but a very important one: Needs Vs. Wants. Everyone has both things they want and things they need. But when faced with spending a finite amount of money, needs come first.

Learning about needs and wants starts at a young age. The good news is that you can learn the difference without spending any money at all. Use everyday situations to guide your decisions. For instance, what will you eat for dinner? Instead of choosing only dessert, which you may want, pick an item from each food group you need: grains, proteins, and vegetables. Another example could be how you choose to spend your time. Are you doing necessary chores and homework or playing games or watching TV instead? We have needs and wants in everyday life. Knowing the difference and putting needs first will come in handy when it comes to spending money wisely.

Homework: Take inventory around the house or at a store, and identify which items are needs and which items are wants. If the difference between both is still confusing, there are many helpful kids’ videos on “Needs Vs. Wants.”

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“Playing” With Cash

With all the cashless ways to use money in this day and age, it’s difficult to show kids the value of a dollar. Substitutes just aren’t the same. Do you sense the same satisfaction from earning an extra $500 when it is deposited directly to your account instead of visiting the bank with a paycheck? Would you buy that $20 sweater if you only had $15 in your wallet vs. pulling out a credit card? When a friend pays back via Venmo for a coffee that you bought with your parents’ money, do you still return the money to your parents?

The old adage is true:

It’s never too early to teach kids about money.

Before children enter the world of direct deposit, credit cards, and Venmo, get them acquainted with cash. What do bills and coins look like, how do you make change, how do you get money, and what choices do you have with money? If your children are still too young to do math, play a game of “pretend” with them. Run through the following exercises with just $1 dollar. Wouldn’t you rather have children learn with $1 dollar than make mistakes when dealing with much more money later on? Exactly. Start NOW!

Exercise 1: From Earning to Spending

Ask your children to create an ad for a product or chore task that you can buy for $1 dollar. Pay $1 dollar once the product or service is sold, and then ask them to spend that $1 dollar on themselves, whether it be for food or a toy. Challenge them to spend $1 dollar on something they need (like lunch), not something they want (like candy). Maybe they can find a way to get both?

Exercise 2: Saving Money

Give 50-cents to your children, and ask them to hold onto the money for a week. Tell them that you will double whatever remains at the end of the week. Each day that week, tempt them with a treat, such as ice cream, and charge 5-cents for it. If they can hold onto the entire 50-cents for a whole week, you will match all 50-cents, so that they are rewarded with $1 whole dollar at the end of the week. If they are tempted into spending down to the last 15-cents, you match 15-cents, so they end up with only 30-cents.

Exercise 3: Borrowing Money

This exercise is easier with an allowance, so let’s play out that scenario first. As the creditor, you offer to lend 90-cents, if your children deduct 25-cents from each allowance payment for the next 4 payments (totals $1 dollar to demonstrate interest charged on the 90-cent loan). Do they take the loan?

If there is no allowance to repay from, opting into the loan means your children agree to do one extra household chore every week for 4 weeks. If that chore is missed in any of the 4 weeks, the “credit score” takes a hit, which means no more loans. Was the loan worth it?

Homework: Try one or all of the exercises above. What lessons did you learn?

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