Save Your Family

Grave

I don’t attach much importance to dreams.  They are just there to make sleepy-time less boring. Last night, I had a dream where I spent most of my time trying to prepare my wife to run our finances before telling my son that I wouldn’t be around to watch him grow up.    That’s an unpleasant thought to wake up with.  Lying there, trying to digest this dream, I started thinking about the transition from “I deal with the bills” to “I’m not there to deal with it”.   We aren’t prepared for that transition.   Last year, we started putting together our “In case of death” file, but that project fell short.    The highest priorities are done.   We have wills and health directives, but how would my wife pay the bills?  Everything is electronic.  Does she know how to log in to the bank’s billpay system?    Which bills are only in my name, and will go away if I die?   Is there a list of our life insurance policies?

I checked the incomplete file that contains this information.   It hasn’t been updated since September.  It’s time to get that finished.  Procrastinating is inappropriate and denial is futile.   Here’s a news flash: You are going to die. Hopefully, it won’t happen soon, but it will happen.  Is your family prepared for that?

The questions are  “What do I need?” and “What do I have?”

First and foremost, you need a will.  If you have children and do not have a will, take a moment–right now– to slap yourself.   A judge is not the best person to determine where your children should go if you die. The rest of it is minor, if you’re married.   Let your next-of-kin, your spouse keep it.  I don’t care.   Just take care of your kids! Set up a trust to pay for the care of your children.   Their new guardians will appreciate it.  How hard is it to set up?   I use Quicken Willmaker and have been very pleased.  Of course, the true test is in probate court, and I won’t be there for it.   If you are more comfortable getting an attorney, then do so. I’ve done it each way.    You can cut some costs by using Willmaker, then taking it to an attorney for review.

It’s a sad fact that often, before you die, you spend some time dying.  Do you have a health care directive?   Does your family know, in writing, if and when you want the plug pulled? Who gets to make that decision?   Have you set up a medical power of attorney, so someone can make medical decisions on your behalf if you aren’t able?  Do you want, and if so, do you have a Do-Not-Resuscitate order?  Willmaker will handle all of this, too.

What’s going to happen to your bank accounts?  I’m personally a fan of keeping both of our names on all of our accounts.   I share my life and my heart, I’d better be able to trust her with our money. If that’s not an option, for whatever reason, fill out the “Payable on Death” information for your accounts, establishing a beneficiary who can get access to your money if you die.   Do you want your spouse to lose the house or the car if you die? Should your kids have to miss meals?  Make sure necessary access to your money exists.

Does anybody know what you have for life insurance? Get a copy of the policy and make sure your spouse and someone else knows what company holds it and how much it is worth.

Now, it’s time to make some lists.   You need to gather account numbers and contact information for everything.

  • Bank accounts. List every bank and account you own.  Checking, savings, CDs.
  • Investment accounts. Again, every company, every account.
  • Mortgage and car payment information.
  • Life insurance. Get your policy numbers, contact information, beneficiaries, and amount of coverage all in one place.
  • Credit card accounts. Every card, every company.    If it’s just your name on the account, your spouse will need to send certified death certificates to stop collections.  Otherwise, she’ll need to pay the bills.
  • Utilities.  Get the account number for the electric bill, the gas bill, water/sewer/garbage, cable and phones.
  • Other bills. These include car/home insurance, Netflix, memberships and anything else you pay.
  • I’ve included the account information for my web host, registrars and websites. Some of it is salable, some of it is income-generating.
  • Car titles. Put the actual titles in the pile of lists.
  • Property deeds. Keep these here, too.

Non-financial information to list:

  • Online accounts. Any financial sites that would be useful, or any community sites you would like to have informed about your death.  Your online presence is a part of who you are.
  • Email accounts. Will your survivors need to interact with anybody potentially contacting you?   They will need your username and password, or most big providers won’t let them in.
  • Social media. How many networks do you participate in?  Do you want to disappear, or should all of your Facebook friends know your dead?
  • Blogs. Do you have a blog that needs an announcement?   Does it generate income?  Could it be sold?
  • Contact list. Who else needs to be informed of your demise?  Don’t make your loved ones hunt for the information.

Now, take all of this information and put it in a nice, fat envelope and lock it in the fireproof safe you have bolted to the floor.  Make a copy and give it to someone you trust absolutely.   Make sure someone knows the combination to the safe or where to find the key.

Your loved ones will appreciate it.

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Delayed Gratification

I work daily to raise my kids to be more financially responsible than I have been.  One of the most difficult pieces has been to explain the benefits of delayed gratification to my children. It’s hard enough, as an adult, to take delayed gratification to heart.  For a child?   It seems to be almost impossible.

My son wants an XBox 360 Elite.   Good for him.  He wants to renegotiate the terms of his allowance to get it faster.  Currently, every other time he gets an allowance paid out, it goes into his bank account, to be mostly untouched.  The other times he can do as he pleases with his money.   We are enforcing a 50% long term savings plan. Now, with a medium-term goal in mind, he wants to keep all of his money, and only put gift money into the bank account.

Should we let him tap his bank account for a shiny new bauble?  It’s been building for a while, so it’s delayed, right?   I don’t think that would accomplish much. Like any other 10-year-old, his interests change often.

Should we let him change the terms of our agreement, speeding a medium-term goal at the expense of his long-term savings?  My wife and I haven’t had a chance to discuss this, but my initial reaction is not to allow it.   His savings has the potential to turn into a decent car in a few years, if he wants.  That would be a car he knows he earned.

Last week, when we were at the store, he asked if he could borrow some money to buy a game.   I don’t expect him to carry his money around everywhere, so I would have allowed it, if he would have had the money at home.   He didn’t.   His plan was to pay me what he did have as soon as we got home, then work his butt off for a few days to earn enough extra to pay it back.   I won’t be a credit agency for my kids, so I said no.  He was disappointed, but, by the time he had earned the money, he no longer wanted the game.   I consider that a win, but I don’t know that he learned any lesson other than “Dad’s a jerk.”

Someday, when his life launch is smooth due to a lack of debt-dependence, he’ll look back on these lessons and smile.

I hope.

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Is Your Budget Doing More Harm Than Good?

Do you stress over your money?

Is your spouse under the impression that you are constantly fighting over money?

Are you constantly fighting over money?

Have you completely eliminated your quality of life?

Do you spend hours each week analyzing where your money has gone?

A total budget can have a negative effect on the other parts of your life. If your spouse isn’t 100% on board, maybe he/she needs some “blow money” that doesn’t need to be tracked.  If you aren’t spending enough time with your children because you are tracking expenses and adjusting your budget every day, you need to automate something, or at least loosen your standards.  Maybe tracking every penny isn’t the right method of budgeting for you.

Don’t let the perfect budget destroy the rest of your life. If money is still a fight, you’re going to need to compromise on something, now, or you’ll end up compromising with the help of a divorce attorney.

Don’t forget, you are living now, not in the future.   Plan for the future, but live in the present.  There is a balance there, somewhere. Find it, or you and your loved ones won’t be happy.

Update:  This post has been included in the Money Hacks Carnival.

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Bribes vs Rewards

Rewarding good behavior

Rewarding good behavior

What’s the difference between a bribe and a reward? It’s a question that has been heavily on my mind lately. As a father of three–1, 3 and 10–motivating children occupies a lot of my thoughts. Is it possible to motivate a child and reward good behavior without resorting to a bribe?

First, let’s look at the definitions:

bribe n.
1. Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person’s views or conduct.
2. Something serving to influence or persuade.

re·ward n.
1. Something given or received in recompense for worthy behavior or in retribution for evil acts.
2. Money offered or given for some special service, such as the return of a lost article or the capture of a criminal.
3. A satisfying return or result; profit.
4. Psychology: The return for performance of a desired behavior; positive reinforcement.

In my mind, a reward is given either as a goal for planned activity or a surprise for good behavior.  When used for surprises, it should never be common enough to be expected.  If a child is only behaving because she is expecting a reward, it is bribed behavior.  She should always be surprised to get the reward.

Using a reward for goal setting is no different than collecting a paycheck.  Is my company bribing me to do the work I do every day?  They plan to reward or compensate me for the work I plan to do for them.  While that my be blurring the line between compensation and rewards, it is valid.  My future paycheck is the motivation for my current work.

Bribes, on the other hand, are reward for bad behavior.   If my three-year-old is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store and I promise her candy to stop, I have just taught her that the “reward” for a public tantrum is candy.   This is reinforcing negative behavior, which will only escalate in the future.   If a temper tantrum earns a candy bar, what will she get for hitting Mommy with a frying pan?

The line is further blurred by preemptive bribes.  If I tell my children there will be candy when we get home if they behave in the store, it’s still a bribe.   Promising dessert if my son cleans his room is a bribe.

So what is the difference?

Bribes reward negative behavior. Whether that is actual behavior or anticipated behavior, bribes provide a reward for it.  If you use a treat to end or preempt bad actions, you are bribing your child.

Rewards celebrate positive behavior. A promised treat for going beyond expectations or a surprise for excellent behavior is a reward.  It should never become common, or the child will discover that withholding the positive behavior will generate promises of larger rewards.  The goal is to reinforce the good to encourage positive behaviors even when there is no likelihood for reward.

For example, my son’s school is part of a reading contest.   Over a two month period, if the students read 500 pages outside of school, they will get tickets to a basketball game.  If they are in the top three for pages read, they will get personalize jerseys and on-court recognition.  My son did the math and was reading enough to surpass the 500 page goal, but not enough to get into the top three.   I offered a prize  if he made it to 2500 pages.  In my opinion, that’s a reward.  He was already going beyond the requirement.  I have provided motivation to push himself beyond what he thinks he can do. That’s positive reinforcement of good behavior.

On the other hand, when my eight-year-old was refusing to eat dinner, we offered a cookie for dessert if she ate well.    That’s reinforcing negative behavior by giving a reward for misbehaving. A bribe.

Rewards are positive responses to positive behavior to motivate future good behavior.   Bribes are rewards for negative behavior, real or anticipated, that only serve to encourage more bad behavior in the future.

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