5 Signs You’re Not Ready to Be a Stay-at-Home Parent

It's a big decision to stay home after having a baby — but doing so isn't an option that is right for every mother.

Sometimes new mothers have a hard time deciding if they want to return to work after their baby is born, especially after bonding with their child during maternity leave. Sometimes there is no choice — like if you’re a single parent or your family can’t afford to live solely on your partner’s salary — and there’s not much left to do but head back to the office.

Women who have the option to stay home with a baby may have trouble weighing the pros and cons. As hard as it is to decide, there might be some fairly obvious signs that you’re actually not ready to be a stay-at-home mom. Of course, these tip offs apply to all those prospective stay-at-home dads, too.

Here are a few signs you’re not ready to be a stay-at-home parent.

1. You Have a Budget But Don’t Follow It 

Having a budget is one thing, but following it is something entirely different. Just because it looks like you have your finances under control on paper, if your credit card statements tell a different story, you might need to reconsider staying home, at least until you can get your spending under control. (Curious how your credit card debt is affecting your credit? You can see a free snapshot of your credit report here.)

Having a baby is bound to bring in even more expenses (according to the Department of Agriculture, the current cost of raising a child through age 17 is a whopping $233,610), so if you already have trouble following a budget — or you haven’t updated your budget yet to include everything your baby will need — you may want to consider seeing what following an updated budget would be like for at least a month before deciding if you can afford to live on one salary.

2. You Haven’t Saved for Retirement Yet/You Have No Retirement Savings Plan if You Quit

It’s no secret that Americans are worried about retirement. In fact, one recent survey found that 56% of Americans lose sleep over saving for retirement, while another found that 38% of millennials find retirement to be a significant financial stressor. Even if you have started saving but it’s been a few years since you’ve checked in on your progress, it may be time for a bump in how much you put away … something that will be much more difficult to do if you decide to leave your job.

Of course parents who decide to stay at home do have options when it comes to retirement (spousal IRAs, self-employed retirement funds and rollover accounts, to name a few). But if you don’t qualify for them, don’t care to look into them or can’t afford to put anything else away if you leave your job, it’s probably best to reconsider leaving until you can. You can read this guide to learn more about IRAs.

3. Your Partner’s Health Insurance Options for You & Your Baby Are Subpar at Best

While the future of healthcare is a little shaky right now, there’s one thing you can safely assume no matter what happens — you and your baby will need some. Newborns spend the first six months of their lives visiting a pediatrician at least once a month (often much more frequently in their first few weeks), and new moms, in particular, will have plenty of check-ups with their OB as well. These aren’t things you’ll want to do without health insurance, so if your partner’s options for you and your child don’t stack up, staying on yours until something better comes along is a good idea.

4. Your Emergency Savings Account Is Minimal

You might think having three months worth of bills covered in an emergency account is great — and it is — but it might not be enough if you’re considering leaving your job. Experts recommend having at least three to six months’ worth of bills covered in an emergency savings account, and that doesn’t really take into account all the extras that come along with having a baby. If you’ll be moving into a house from an apartment for more space, assume that you’ll have random projects pop up that will start draining that emergency fund quickly. If your partner can afford to keep funding the account to cover for any withdrawals you take or to provide you with more of a cushion that’s one thing, but if the account has been stagnant for a while and your family can’t afford to put anything else away right now, maybe a better idea is to stay at your job and slowly build up the emergency account a bit more so that when/if the time comes that you leave your job, you’ll feel more secure knowing your emergency funds are all there.

(And, if you don’t have a savings account at all, you’ll want to start socking away dollars ASAP. No need to panic, though: This piece will help you create an emergency fund in 30 days or less.)

5. You Struggle Spending All Day Alone with the Baby During Work Leave

Let’s be honest — babies are tough to take care of. So if you find it difficult to stay positive while on maternity or paternity leave, that might be a sign that you’re not quite ready stay home full time with a baby. Working is about a lot more than just a paycheck — it’s about having some time to yourself (funny how commutes suddenly become a wonderful thing) and with other adults, and it’s about having a job to do that both stimulates and fulfills you. If you don’t think staying at home with a baby will do all of those things for you, it’s probably best for you, and your family, if you head back to work.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: g-stockstudio

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13 Ways to Save at Babies R Us

Taking care of baby is expensive. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save at the nearby Babies 'R' Us.

Whether you’re a first-time parent or a pro at parenting your multiple kids, the truth is taking care of little ones comes with a hefty price tag. If you’re on a first-name basis with the customer service rep at Babies R Us, you could probably benefit from our list of ways to save at this kids’ goods superstore.

1. Start at the Source

Don’t miss the Babies R Us savings center, chock full of daily deals in the ‘today’s deals’ section.

2. Shop the Sales

It goes without saying that shopping the clearance section will save you some cash, and the Babies R Us clearance section online is a great way to get started.

3. Become a Rewards ‘R’ Us Member

Rewards R Us members earn one point for every $1 spent at Babies R Us and Toys R Us stores, and 125 points earns you $5 in R Us Rewards. You can bank your points up to $200 in R Us rewards for future purchases.

4. Put Together a Registry

If you’re expecting, putting together a registry with Babies R Us will get you up to 10% back on purchases made from that registry if you’re a Rewards R Us member — even if you made the purchases yourself. You’ll also receive a 10% completion discount certificate to finish purchasing the rest of the items from your registry.

5. Search for Coupons in Your Local Paper

Your local Babies R Us may be having its own sales, which you can learn about through your local paper. You can also select your local Babies R Us location online and look for weekly ads containing coupons there.

6. Double Up on Coupon Savings

Check out coupons available directly from Babies ‘R’ Us and on sites like RetailMeNot, then try searching for manufacturer coupons for products you’re interested in. Babies R Us will let you stack your coupons, which could greatly add to your savings.

7. Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Sign up for the Babies R Us newsletter for sales notifications and coupons, and follow the brand on Twitter and Facebook to never miss a sale.

8. Trade in Your Old Baby Goods

At least once a year the company has a trade-in event that could earn you savings. For example, from now through Feb. 20th, Toys R Us and Babies R Us are hosting a Great Trade-In Gear & Furniture Event, where trading in your old gear will score you a 25% off coupon on a new item, or 30% off when you use your R Us Credit card.

9. Provide Your Contact Information at the Store

While it’s frustrating to be constantly confronted with fliers from stores where you’ve given out your email or home address, if you’re hoping to score deals on baby goods, it doesn’t hurt to share that information with Babies R Us. At least once a month a flier comes to my home, and while I’m not always looking for baby gear, the attached coupon that comes with the flier is always appreciated.

10. Open an R Us Credit Card

If you know this store will be on your monthly hit list, it might be worth signing up for an R Us credit card. When you open the card, you’ll start with either 15% off your purchase that day or a special financing option, plus you’ll earn two points per every $1 spent at either Toys or Babies R Us (125 points = $5 in rewards), and you’ll get 10% off on in-store purchases every Thursday when you use the credit card.

Want more details? Check out our Babies R Us credit card breakdown or visit our full credit card review center.

11. Use the Price Match Guarantee Program

Babies R Us will price match your in-store purchase on identical items from any of its competitors, including Amazon, Baby Depot, diapers.com and Target, among others (in-store and online prices are eligible). Find the full list here.

12. Buy in Bulk to Save on Shipping

A purchase of $19 or more will earn you free shipping at babiesrus.com. If you can’t wait the four to six days for delivery you could always opt for the free in-store pick-up option (when available). This way, if your items are in stock, you can pick them up all together in the same day, usually in under an hour. Using this method allows you to pay for your items online before picking them up, meaning if anything is on sale or cheaper online (which occasionally happens), you’ll be able to score that deal.

13. Use Outside Sources

Search discount sites like Gift Card Granny and Groupon, which often offer vouchers or gifts cards for stores at discounted prices. Keep in mind that sometimes these transactions aren’t immediate so they’re best for items you don’t need right away.

Want more brand hacks? Check out our roundup of 7 ways to save at Macy’s.

Image: FatCamera

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5 Things Having a Baby Taught Me About Money

A new mom and personal finance expert shares the new money lessons she learned from baby.

While I’ve always been pretty financially conscious (you don’t become a personal finance writer by not caring about these kinds of things), it wasn’t really until I had a kid that I started putting some of the financial advice I’ve always heard into practice. Plus, I picked up plenty of new tips.

Here are five of the biggest things I learned about my finances after I had a baby. They don’t only apply to people with kids, though. In fact, I wish I’d taken some of them into consideration a little bit sooner.

1. Sometimes it’s OK to Spend Money to Save Time … or Your Sanity

While I’d never advocate for frivolous spending, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s OK to spend a little bit extra on something that will either help save time or make your life just a little bit easier. In my Mom Life, that has taken on all kinds of forms: From big-ticket items like forking over the cash for a nanny (as a freelancer I could just as easily be stingy and try to fit all my work into nap times, nights when my husband gets home or the weekends, but why make it so hard?) to deciding to finish our basement (a large chunk of cash upfront, yes, but with all the visitors we have coming to see the baby, and all the toys that are steadily taking over the house, this is a sanity saver for sure) to the small — and sometimes silly — but necessary, like investing in travel covers for our stroller and car seat so they don’t get ruined when they’re chucked carelessly under planes.

2. Time Really Does Fly, so Start Saving for Retirement Today

It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the day-to-day minutia when you have a tiny baby that depends on you for her every want and need. But every now and then, when I get five seconds to myself, I’m able to look back through the photos on my phone and see how much my daughter has grown. Can she honestly be six months already? You’re probably saying, “I already know time goes quickly. It’s been [insert amount of time here] since I graduated from college,” but really, there’s nothing that sets up a ticking clock quite like a quickly growing child. My point is, although I have always kept the mantra “the earlier you can start saving for retirement, the better,” tucked somewhere in the back of my mind, I now fully grasp the truth behind it.

For example, my daughter was born in July 2016. Had I invested just $100 on that day into a retirement account, by the time I’m potentially ready to retire in 30+ years, that measly $100 could grow to more than $900. Now imagine I invested more than $100, and did so every single month instead of once? Behold, the power of compound interest.

3. Things Change, so it’s Important to Revisit Budgets & Goals

Having a child would be an obvious change to anyone’s budget, but for me, becoming a parent just reinforced how important it is to not only have a budget and savings goals, but that it’s equally as important to revisit those things on a fairly routine basis. Before I was married, for example, my savings goals consisted of essentially two buckets: Emergency and travel. (Ah, the good ol’ days.) When I got married they became: Emergency, travel, move/house. When we started thinking about kids, a fourth “baby” bucket was added. You get the picture. Since buying a house, we’ve added “home repairs” to that list, too, and believe me when I say we’ve already tapped into that one mightily.

The beginning of the year is a great time to check in on your current budget and savings goals and update as needed, but don’t be afraid to shift things around as often as you need to remain comfortable.

4. Finding What Makes You Most Productive Will Be to Your Advantage

I’ve always considered myself an organized person, but I really kicked it into high gear when my daughter was born, and that’s helped my career as well. As I planned to re-enter the workforce after taking a couple months off when my daughter was born, we didn’t yet have a nanny, but I wasn’t willing to wait to get started. Enter the key to my success: organization. As a working mom without a nanny — and then even when we did find one — I realized quickly that if I was going to get anything (let alone everything) done that I wanted to in a day, I better have a plan. For some people (ahem, me) that might mean making daily to-do lists where items can be crossed off. Others might find reminders set for specific times of day helpful, or setting calendar appointments.

The point is, most of us need a little help keeping on task throughout any given day, whether it’s with personal or professional goals. Learning the things that will get you moving more quickly and efficiently will help you power through your to-do list and streamline your day. Remember: Time is money, so make the most of yours.

5. It’s OK to Use Your Savings for What You’ve Saved For

I’ve always felt more secure when I had savings in the bank, which at times has meant going without things I could have really used, even if they were the exact things I was actually saving for in the first place. Silly, I know, but once I was able to start putting money into savings I loved to watch it grow — and I equally hated to watch it dwindle.

Fast forward a couple years and some of those savings buckets have to be spent — hello mortgage down payments, health insurance deductibles to give birth and any number of house repairs. These days it seems like I don’t have the option of whether to spend money in my savings … for the good of my family, money must be spent. And that’s OK. The whole point of saving up for something in the first place is so that when the time comes to actually purchase the item — whether it’s a house, a vacation or that really extravagant computer bag you’ve had your eye on — you’ve done your due diligence and can buy it outright, rather than go into credit card debt over it (and, if you already have, you can find tips for getting rid of those balances here). Coming to grips with this earlier could have saved me a lot of unwarranted angst.

Of course everyone is different when it comes to money management, but hopefully at least a few of the revelations I’ve had about finances over the past six months might be able to help you out, as well.

For more money lessons, visit Credit.com’s personal finance learning center.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: SolStock

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9 Items New Parents Might Not Actually Need

items-new-parents-might-not-actually-need

Expecting a child is an exciting time in a couple’s life. It is fun to plan and get everything ready in anticipation of the little one’s arrival.

Of course, if you are on a tight budget, that can make planning more difficult or even sometimes stressful. While you will register and hopefully receive some of what you need from friends and family, there will be many items you need to buy.

I recall when I was expecting my first. I registered for all sorts of things which were on the list I was provided by the store. Many I received and some of them, I honestly never really used. I felt horrible that people spent money on things that we didn’t really need.

After having had three kids, I know the items I consider non-essential, but still see a lot of new moms asking for them. That is not to say that you can’t purchase them. However, if your budget is tight, these might be some things you can ask for on your registry, but, if you don’t get them, you don’t rush out and spend your own money to buy them, especially if doing so will land you in debt.

1. Wipes Warmer

Not only is this really not needed, many warmers tend to dry out the wipes, which can result in waste. Who wants to spend money on wipes just to have them dry up and get thrown out? (I sure didn’t.) If you want to, you can use your own hands to warm the wipe for a minute.

2. Changing Table

This is convenient, but you really don’t “need” one. If you want a designated area to change your baby, you can purchase an inexpensive changing pad and secure it to a low dresser instead. That way, you are not stuck with an expensive piece of furniture that you will never use again.

3. Diaper Disposal System

These may seem convenient, but they are not a must. Not only do they not always keep the smell out of the room, but you also have to pay for expensive refills. Instead, have a trash can in the room you will most frequently have diaper changes. Take the trash out at the end of each day (and you can flush the solid waste by shaking the diaper into the toilet as your baby gets older).

4. Specialty Detergent

This is one I fell for myself. I was told I had to get the special detergent for my baby’s clothes. Instead, opt for a free and clear brand of detergent. It will be free of dyes and perfumes, which are the products that can irritate sensitive skin. Best of all, you will save time, as you can wash baby’s clothes in with everyone else’s and not have to do extra loads of laundry.

5. Bassinet

These are so pretty to look at, but there is not any guarantee you will use it. Even if you do, it is for a relatively short period of time. Instead, consider getting a pack ‘n play with the removable bassinet on the top to use instead.

We actually had a couple of pack ‘n plays (received both as gifts). One was smaller and was kept upstairs and then we had another in our family room. Both had the bassinet and were used for naps when our kids were very small. As they got older, we then had the playpen to use to set them in when needed.

6. Baby Food Processor

There is no need for a special appliance to create your own baby food. You can use your own food processor, blender or magic bullet to make the food. It works exactly the same and saves you the cost (and space) of having an additional item in the kitchen.

7. Baby Shoes

Adorable? Yes. Necessary? No. Babies do not need shoes until they get closer to learning to walk. So save your money and purchase them when they are bit older.

8. Bottle Cleaning System & Sterilizer

Your dishwasher works perfectly fine when it comes to cleaning bottles and nipples. Many even have a sterilizing option built in (which is just a very high heat setting that can kill germs). Skip the fancy system and use your dishwasher to clean bottles and they will be perfectly fine for baby to use.

9. Baby Towels

The everyday towels you use on yourself are perfectly fine for drying your little one. Just wrap them up tightly in it and cover that little wet head if you are concerned about your little one catching cold.

Your baby needs just a few things when they are first born and the most important thing is your love and attention. The other things — they are just things.

Anything else you would like to add to our list?

[Editor’s Note: Don’t let yourself overspend on your new little bundle of joy. You can use this free tool to track your financial goals, like building good credit, each month on Credit.com.]

Image: kupicoo

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3 Big Money Mistakes Your Freshman is Likely to Make

College is a time for adventure, growth and learning, but it can also be a time for silly financial mistakes if your freshman isn’t careful. This will likely be the first time your kid is out in the world on her own, so it makes sense that she’ll want to try new things. But her actions might come with some serious and long-lasting financial consequences unless you can help point her in the right direction first.

Here are five mistakes college freshmen often make when it comes to their finances — and how you can help your child avoid them.

1. They choose a college without considering the price tag

While it’s true that going to a good college is important these days, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your kid needs to go to the most expensive college to score his dream job after school. If your kid has always dreamed of going to a specific, but expensive, school, sit down with him at least a year or two out of applying to talk about how he’ll pay for it. The U.S. government recently launched the College Scorecard, where you can easily search for a school and see how its students fare financially after graduation. It might change his mind if he sees most students graduate from his dream school with tons of student loan debt. If your kid is willing to be a little flexible, you might want to point him towards one of these 20 most rewarding colleges for student loan borrowers, which ranks the best schools for generating the highest income after accounting for loan expenses.

2. They apply for credit cards before they learn how to use them

Luckily it’s gotten much harder for banks and credit card companies to market credit cards to students on college campuses. But the temptation to apply for credit will still be there. The second your kid applies for a credit card, she starts building a credit history that will follow her for at least the next seven years. A smart way to give her experience with some supervision is to add her as an authorized user on your credit card account. You can keep track of her spending habits and she can start building credit while she’s still in school. But don’t just pay the bill off each month without question. Talk to her about her credit score, what a credit report is for and how interest works. If you think it’s a good idea for your kid to dip her toe into the credit card world independently, consider starting her out with one of these best credit card options for college students. 

3. They never learn how to budget

The road to financial security starts with one simple building block: a budget. Unfortunately, budgeting isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone — especially for college freshman who may be trying to balance a job, classes, parties, and outings with friends. While your college kid probably won’t have a ton of disposable income to work with, it’s still a good idea to talk to him ahead of time about how to set up a budget, even when it’s just a limited amount of money he’ll be dealing with. If they can stick to a budget, they can also avoid costly mistakes like overdrawing their bank account, which can lead to all kinds of painful fees. During that conversation you can discuss the importance of an emergency savings account (because even college kids need an emergency savings account), how to divvy up income into necessary expenses and fun money, as well as how, once he graduates, he’ll likely need to put some extra money aside for retirement savings, as well.

The post 3 Big Money Mistakes Your Freshman is Likely to Make appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

3 Big Money Mistakes Your Freshman is Likely to Make

College is a time for adventure, growth and learning, but it can also be a time for silly financial mistakes if your freshman isn’t careful. This will likely be the first time your kid is out in the world on her own, so it makes sense that she’ll want to try new things. But her actions might come with some serious and long-lasting financial consequences unless you can help point her in the right direction first.

Here are five mistakes college freshmen often make when it comes to their finances — and how you can help your child avoid them.

1. They choose a college without considering the price tag

While it’s true that going to a good college is important these days, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your kid needs to go to the most expensive college to score his dream job after school. If your kid has always dreamed of going to a specific, but expensive, school, sit down with him at least a year or two out of applying to talk about how he’ll pay for it. The U.S. government recently launched the College Scorecard, where you can easily search for a school and see how its students fare financially after graduation. It might change his mind if he sees most students graduate from his dream school with tons of student loan debt. If your kid is willing to be a little flexible, you might want to point him towards one of these 20 most rewarding colleges for student loan borrowers, which ranks the best schools for generating the highest income after accounting for loan expenses.

2. They apply for credit cards before they learn how to use them

Luckily it’s gotten much harder for banks and credit card companies to market credit cards to students on college campuses. But the temptation to apply for credit will still be there. The second your kid applies for a credit card, she starts building a credit history that will follow her for at least the next seven years. A smart way to give her experience with some supervision is to add her as an authorized user on your credit card account. You can keep track of her spending habits and she can start building credit while she’s still in school. But don’t just pay the bill off each month without question. Talk to her about her credit score, what a credit report is for and how interest works. If you think it’s a good idea for your kid to dip her toe into the credit card world independently, consider starting her out with one of these best credit card options for college students. 

3. They never learn how to budget

The road to financial security starts with one simple building block: a budget. Unfortunately, budgeting isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone — especially for college freshman who may be trying to balance a job, classes, parties, and outings with friends. While your college kid probably won’t have a ton of disposable income to work with, it’s still a good idea to talk to him ahead of time about how to set up a budget, even when it’s just a limited amount of money he’ll be dealing with. If they can stick to a budget, they can also avoid costly mistakes like overdrawing their bank account, which can lead to all kinds of painful fees. During that conversation you can discuss the importance of an emergency savings account (because even college kids need an emergency savings account), how to divvy up income into necessary expenses and fun money, as well as how, once he graduates, he’ll likely need to put some extra money aside for retirement savings, as well.

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The Hidden Costs of Raising a Toddler

Toddler mess

It may not seem like it when you’re in the middle of another long, sleepless night, but your precious newborn will soon be an energetic toddler. And as any parent who’s gone before you will attest, toddlerhood brings with it a whole new set of challenges – and a whole new set of costs. While the challenges will likely come as no surprise (though that won’t make them any easier), the costs might catch you off guard. For while plenty is written about how much your newborn will cost and how to prepare for it, far less is written about preparing for the considerable costs associated with toddlerhood. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of some of the costs you can expect, as well as a handful of strategies for keeping them in check.

The big expenses

Extra living space

If you’re a relatively new parent, chances are you’ve been warned at some point or another that once your little infant starts walking, it’s all over. That’s true on so many levels, including, in some instances, your ability to “make it work” in your tiny apartment. A child on the go is a child in need of space. (And that’s to say nothing of how often said child becomes a big brother or big sister at some point during toddlerhood.) Assess the needs of your family, and be honest about whether you can truly make it work in your current living space once you have a toddler on the move. If you can’t, the time to start budgeting and saving for that extra living space is now.

Daycare and Preschool

If preschool or daycare is a cost you’ll be incurring for the first time during toddlerhood, it’s one you’ll need to meticulously plan and budget for right away. Daycare is expensive. Preschool is expensive. Period. There’s no way around it. The ballooning cost of daycare is well documented, and the cost of preschool isn’t far behind. Estimates vary depending on where you live, but it’s safe to assume you’ll be looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 a month (or more) in added expenses.

Updating many of your child’s belongings

Toddlers outgrow things like crazy. Their clothes, their toys, their infant car seats, their cribs, and just about anything else designed for infants. In other words, there’s a whole lot of new coming into your life in the not-distant-future. And new is not free.

The hidden costs

None of what we’ve outlined so far should really shock you. But a bigger living space, enrollment in preschool, and a collection of new clothes and toys are really just the tip of the toddler-cost iceberg. A host of additional costs hover beneath the surface, including:

Medical Expenses

A not-so-funny thing happens when your toddler starts hobnobbing with other toddlers on a regular basis: They get sick. A lot. Whether it’s through co-pays or prescriptions, or lost pay on account of missed work, the costs can add up quickly.

Food

Most toddlers tend to have ravenous appetites. Don’t underestimate just how ravenous either. You’ll need to stock the fridge with more food – and restock it more often – than you ever have in the past. Prepare for a higher grocery bill – 20 percent higher and up is not out of the question.

Cleaning and Repairs

Toddlers’ appetite for food is matched only by their appetite for destruction. They don’t call it the terrible twos for no reason. Toddler proof your home and car all you want, but if they can get a hold of it (and they will), they will break it, or spill it, or stain it – or all of the above and then some. After a while, the cost of all the professional carpet cleanings, interior car washes, and replacement plates adds up.

Entertainment

If you handed a toddler a new toy when you started reading this article, chances are she’s already bored with it. Toddlers need infinitely more attention and entertainment than babies, and sometimes (most of the time), the toys in the house just aren’t enough. You’ll need to budget for memberships and activities – such as zoo and museum memberships – to keep your toddler occupied and yourself sane.

Keep costs in check with these steps

The good news is there are many steps you can take to keep the costs of toddlerhood in check, including:

Budget and save now: Don’t assume you won’t be hit with these costs. You will. It’s the cycle of life. Prepare now, and be glad you did later.

Buy food in bulk: Toddlers may eat a lot, but they’re not exactly foodies. In fact, most toddlers tend to eat the same thing over and over. Use that to your advantage by buying their favorite non-perishables in bulk to drive down your grocery bill.

Accept hand-me-downs: There are few guarantees in life, but here’s one of them: If you know parents just getting through toddlerhood, then you know parents who cannot wait to give away all the stuff they no longer use. Toys, clothes, double strollers – you name it. Take advantage. It’s free to you and it’s new to your child. That’s a win-win, folks.

Call the doctor first: Nowadays, most doctors will gladly talk to you over the phone and tell you if it’s really necessary to come in on account of that sniffle. And more often than not, it isn’t. So, make the call first, and save the time, the gas, and the co-pay. As often as toddlers get sick, the savings will add up quickly.

Eat as a family: Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll cook for your kid first, put him to bed, and then cook for yourself. You won’t. You’ll get exhausted, you’ll order in, and you’ll repeat that routine until you’re spending more money on takeout than you did before you had kids. Cook once, eat as a family, and enjoy the savings.

Enjoy the great (and free) outdoors: The wonderful thing about toddlers is they don’t know the difference between Disneyland and your neighborhood playground. Being outside is joyous for them, and it’s free for you. What did I say earlier about a win-win?

Look, toddlerhood is a period marked by chaos (and lots and lots of love, too). But, as with anything else, through proactive planning and smart budgeting, you can keep the financial chaos to a minimum. So, start planning now and the terrible twos won’t be so terrible on your wallet.

The post The Hidden Costs of Raising a Toddler appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Top 6 Options for a Custodial Account

How Much Baby’s First Year Will Cost You

If you want to invest on behalf of your child, one way to do it is through a UGMA or UTMA. These custodial accounts are taxable investments that function like any other taxable account once you have the beneficiary and custodian established.

What to consider first

Before committing to a custodial account, you should take some time to reflect on both the goal of the account and your financial goals when saving for your child. Custodial accounts, by law, will be handed over to your child when he or she reaches the age of majority as defined by your state, probably 18 to 21. Your child will be able to determine how and when the money is spent, which could be reason enough for you to to choose other investment vehicles. You also will only be able to use the funds in the account for the benefit of the child while he or she is a minor. There are no take backs with custodial accounts.

These accounts no longer provide a tax advantage, so opening a UGMA or UTMA should no longer be considered a way to dodge a tax obligation. A 529 Savings Plan for college may provide more of an advantage if you’re looking for tax breaks.

A UGMA or UTMA will also be counted towards your child’s federal financial aid for college. The money in the account will be counted towards your child’s assets and must be included on FAFSA forms. This could be restricting the amount of financial aid your child gets if your household income doesn’t already preclude him or her from being eligible. 529 Plans on the other hand have minimal impact on financial aid eligibility.

Once you decide to use a custodial account

As the custodian, you will want to pick the best brokerage when opening the account, and as with any other investment account, that means finding the one with the lowest fees.

Vanguard

When it comes to low fees, Vanguard is the cream of the crop. Its funds have notoriously low expense ratios, and its accounts boast zero transfer, advisor or enrollment fees.

Fees:

Minimums:

  • The minimum investment options will depend on the mutual fund in which you are interested.

Schwab

Schwab makes a concerted effort to stay competitive with Vanguard. Its funds also carry low expense ratios. It also includes some other outside ETFs in this no-fee category regardless of the size of your account, but the trades you do have to pay for are slightly more expensive than Vanguard.

Fees:

  • Trading fees on Schwab funds from within a Schwab investment account are zero. $8.95 per online trade; $0 per Schwab ETF online trade in your Schwab account
  • No account service, transfer or advisor fees unless you start moving into managed portfolios.

Minimums:

  • There is a $100 minimum required to open an account.

Fidelity

Fidelity’s custodial account tends to have higher expense ratios, but you can trade Fidelity funds at zero cost like the previously mentioned options.  It does have some other options in the no-trade-fee category, and the funds that do require fees carry a slightly lower fee schedule than Schwab.

Fees:

  • No annual account fees
  • No trading fees for most Fidelity mutual funds
  • Trading fee on non-Fidelity accounts is $7.95, which is lower than Schwab and TD Ameritrade

Minimums:

  • $2,500 minimum investment

TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade’s custodial account is largely not as cost-effective as Vanguard, Schwab and Fidelity, but fees are few, and when they exist they are still low compared to some other options on the market.

Fees:

  • No annual account, enrollment or advisor fees
  • No trading fees for most TD Ameritrade mutual funds
  • $75 fee to transfer away from TD Ameritrade
  • 100+ ETFs with no trading fee, but $9.99 per trade fee on other investments

Minimums:

  • No minimums to open an account

TradeKing

TradeKing comes in strong with an offer to lure you away from other brokerages, but once you get there, it doesn’t really stack up.

Special Offer:

  • TradeKing covers up to $150 in transfer fees if you want to move from another brokerage.

Fees:

  • No annual account fees
  • No trading fees for TradeKing mutual funds
  • $50 fee to transfer away from TradeKing
  • $4.95 per trade fee on the lowest ETFs or $9.95 for the lowest mutual funds. While both are cheaper than TD Ameritrade, it and others offers some zero trade fee options on other investments

Minimums:

  • No minimums to open an account

USAA

USAA’s custodial account and brokerage services don’t compare to the big three at the top of this list, and the expense ratios on its own funds are much higher. It does have low fees, though.

Fees:

  • No annual account fees or maintenance fees
  • No trading fees for TradeKing mutual funds
  • $20 to $70 fee to transfer away from USAA depending on whether or not it’s a partial transfer or leaving entirely
  • Trade commissions for the lowest-level members are $8.95 for ETFs and can be as low as $0 on mutual funds for “No-Load No Transaction Fee Funds”, though the next tier of “No-Load Transaction Fee Funds” jumps up to $45.

Investment Options by State

The vast majority of states have implemented UTMA, the law that says custodial accounts can include investments in physical assets such as real estate or fine art. If you live in any state except for South Carolina, you will be able to open a UTMA account. Residents of Washington, D.C. can also open this type of account.

Those in South Carolina can still open a custodial account. They will just have to do so under the older law: UGMA. The UGMA allows for investments in securities only. While South Carolina is the only state still operating under the UGMA, the territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands also operate under their own versions of the older statute.

When you sign up for a custodial account with your brokerage, they will be able to confirm which statute you fall under based on your residence, along with the state-specific age that your child will take control of account funds.

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What Is a Custodial Account, and Should You Get One?

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If you’ve ever thought about starting an investment account for your child or purchasing real estate in their name as part of a long-term financial plan, you’ve probably come across the term ‘custodial account’ before.

If the phrase scared you away from actually looking further into your plans, you shouldn’t let it. In actuality, setting one up can may be as simple as talking to someone at your bank for help.

Before you get started, it’s good to be a bit familiar with the ins and outs of custodial accounts. For starters, there are two different types.

  1. Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) accounts: These types of accounts are good for investing in securities and can usually be transferred fully over to your child when they turn 18 (although the exact age will be set by your state).
  2. Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts: Also good for securities, the UTMA accounts can also be useful for real estate, and typically transfer to your child at around 21 years of age.

There will be certain tax restrictions that come with opening these types of accounts, as well. For example, of the three parties involved (donors, custodians and minors), there can be multiple donors on a single account, but each will only be eligible to contribute up to $14,000 a year before they begin to incur a gift tax. (Keep in mind that in this case, donors and custodians can be, and usually are, the same person.)

Of course there are some circumstances where you’ll want to shy away from opening a custodial account. If you’re interested in learning more about these types of accounts and when it’s best to use them, check out this piece for more information.

The post What Is a Custodial Account, and Should You Get One? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

5 Things to Reconsider Putting on Your Baby Registry

stephanie pregnant_lg

Babies sure do need a lot of stuff.

Luckily for first-time moms, a baby shower provides the perfect opportunity to stock up on most of the goods you’ll need (not to mention the ability to celebrate your soon-to-be-bundle of joy with all your loved ones, of course). On the other hand, the physical act of registering for what you need can be daunting … at least it was for me. My first tip — after having gone through it myself — would be to never go it alone. Bring a trusted mom with you who has been-there-done-that to help you out.

Another thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that for as shiny, cute and fun as everything in that baby store may look, some of it will be just downright unnecessary. The trick to walking away from your shower feeling prepped for the baby is to carefully curate what you put on your registry, so that you know your gifts will really come in handy when your little one arrives. To that end, here are a couple things that you might want to consider leaving off your registry. Of course every mom will be different, and a registry is a personal thing, but in my experience (and those of my friends and family who have gone through it), avoiding the following things can help you ensure that what you get is what you really need.

Item 1: Clothing

It’s not that you won’t need clothing, because you will, but the truth is itty bitty baby clothes are so darn cute, you’d be surprised how many people will throw them in as add-ons to their shower gifts, anyway. On top of that, baby clothing is one of the easiest things to borrow from friends and family whose kids have outgrown their own. The point is, even if you leave those adorable onesies off your registry, you can be all but assured that you’ll receive some anyway, or at least be able to find them for free elsewhere.

Item 2: A changing table

Specific changing tables are somewhat of an antiquated notion these days, when it’s just as easy to register for a regular dresser (which your child can use right up until the day she moves out of your home) and throw a changing pad on top of it for as long as you need to. One thing you might want to consider adding to your registry, though, is a portable diaper caddy that you can keep elsewhere in your house, that way you don’t have to keep running to the baby’s room for necessities every time she needs to be changed.

Item 3: A breast pump

Even if you’ll be using bottle-feeding, most moms still need to have a breast pump on hand for when they go back to work or when they simply aren’t around and the baby’s caretaker needs access to breast milk. Electric or manual breast pumps and all the accouterment that goes with them can be expensive, though, so before throwing the latest and greatest version on your registry, check with your health insurance company to see if you qualify to rent one for free (which many people do, thanks to the Affordable Care Act).

Item 4: A wipe warmer

Why have someone drop $20 to $40 on a gadget to warm up wipes for your baby when you can simply hold the wipe in your hand for a minute or two before using to warm it up? This is definitely one item that’s worth waiting until you actually have your baby to determine whether or not you absolutely have to have it.

Item 5: A bassinet

Bassinets can be beautiful, but in actuality your baby will grow out of one pretty quickly, so it’s probably not worth the cost. Instead, if you want the baby to stay in your room with you for a while before putting her directly into her crib, you might consider something like a Pack ‘n Play that easily folds up and can travel with you, and that can be used as a playpen for the baby when she’s awake, as well.

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