Eric Braun
Grows on Trees
How old does a kid need to be before she starts learning where money really comes from?If she’s old enough to ask why your car looks older than her friend’s family car or why she can’t have her own phone or — why, oh, why — can’t you go out to her favorite restaurant every single night (or any of a million other spending-related questions) the answer is probably now.Or yesterday.Saving, setting goals early To help children learn about money and start building a foundation of financial... more
The tax benefits of camp
Parents face many factors when deciding whether — and where — to send a kid to summer camp. Do the dates work with your family’s travel plans for the summer? Will your child miss out on a lot of sports or other activities at home? Will she make friends at camp?Will you choose a camp that focuses on sports, religion, outdoor... more
Tax breaks for Minnesota families
Parents face many factors when deciding whether — and where — to send a kid to summer camp.Do the dates work with your family’s travel plans for the summer? Will your child miss out on a lot of sports or other activities at home? Will she make friends at camp?Will you choose a camp that focuses on sports, religion, outdoor activities,... more
Hello from Future You
What if you could peer into the mirror and see your future self peering back? It’s you, but you have wrinkles, bags under your eyes, gray hair. How startling would it be? More important, how would this sight change you?This isn’t speculative fiction. It’s something a team of researchers cooked up as a way to help young people make better... more
The earlier the better
When our two sons, who are now 15 and 13, were getting old enough to start thinking seriously about money (a few years ago), they asked some really interesting questions.They ran the gamut from careers (could they get rich as writers?), advertising (young kids have a hard time telling the difference between ads and entertainment),... more
A guide to teacher gifting
What’s that heavy weight you’re carrying over your shoulder? A big bag of gifts — or your holiday stress?Wow, it’s heavy this year. And why not? There’s plenty to stress about: Who will get mad if you don’t split up your family visiting time just perfectly? Will everything ship in time? Should you let Grandpa give the kids more... more
Buying a car
Like me, you may think of the car-buying process as something like grocery shopping at a box store on a Sunday afternoon, only worse. You know it’s going to be painful, but you grit your teeth and get it over with. Sure, you go home with what you need afterwards, but they didn’t have everything you wanted, and you probably spent more... more
Helping kids help others
Most of us want our kids to be generous and thoughtful, and we want them to have a broad view of the world. So why not encourage them to donate some of their money or allowance to a worthy cause?Figuring out how much to give — and who to give it to — is good practice for kids learning to be smart and deliberate with money.The... more
Apps for saving easily
The New York Times headline said, “Apps That Make Saving as Effortless as Spending.”So, of course, even though I don’t consider myself a very big spender, I couldn’t resist clicking. What’s not to like about effortless saving? On my journey of chasing the click bait, I learned a few things about both saving and... more
How to actually save more
A recent morning after a harsh storm, I came outside to find a huge branch had fallen out of a tree and into our yard.By “huge branch,” I mean it was thicker than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s thigh and longer than a minivan. Somehow, we’d all slept through the massive snap and crash it surely made. (Those sounds must’ve blended in... more
Don’t let toddlerhood break your piggybank
Now that I’m a few years out of the woods, it’s pretty easy to wax nostalgic about the toddler years.I even get a little jealous when I hear about someone’s early morning toddler dance parties (even if they occur at 5 a.m. sharp) or when I see a heavy-lidded dad pushing a stroller to the park on a Sunday morning when any reasonable... more
Four fun ways to cut costs as a family
Saving money as a family fun activity? It sounds suspicious, I know.After all, “saving” isn’t the first thing you think of when you’re looking for fun things to do with your offspring. But you can have a good time together while also getting the whole gang on board with cutting costs. Try any of these as a family project. With older... more
Our giant family grocery bill
But he was waiting to hear from friends who were planning to get together. Even when I added the extra temptation of getting burgers on the way (usually a slam dunk to get our kids to hang out with us), he still said no. Like many teens, he suffers from FOMO — fear of missing out. That left me alone with my FOGO — fear of... more
Spring cleaning for your credit score
Dreading spring cleaning this year? Here’s an idea: Instead of scrubbing, scouring and laundering, consider polishing your credit score instead.Your credit score is a number between 350 (very high risk) and 850 (very low risk) that lenders look at to determine how much of a credit risk you are. Your rate has to be really low in... more
A flood of marketing
Ever think about the sheer volume of marketing our kids are  exposed to? Me neither, most of the time. But the other day, I stumbled across (OK, I was on Twitter) a comprehensive study of media use by young people (tinyurl.com/study-mn). Among other things, I learned that kids age 8 to 12 average about six hours of “... more
What do you want to be?
Like most parents, sometimes I get to feeling anxious about money.And sometimes this anxiety gets tangled up with angst about my career choice. I mean, sure, I like what I do. But writer/editor isn’t the most lucrative of careers. Would I be happier if I were making tons of money as a podiatrist or a high-powered corporate lawyer? Or... more
7 affordable winter activities
We had that nice, long, warm fall. Remember? Shorts and T-shirts in November! So it feels a bit, well, complainy, to complain about the cold now. But it is cold! I don’t like it. When that jerk Jack Frost is out prowling the neighborhood, many of us feel tempted to set up camp in front of the TV or on the sofa with a book. But, deep down... more
Special-needs trusts
The responsibilities and choices that come with parenting a child with a severe disability or developmental delay are intense, immediate and pressing. Saving for your young child’s future may seem like one thing you can put off for now. Unfortunately, it isn’t something you should ignore: Someday your child with special needs... more
7 ways to raise an entrepreneur
Recently, one of the young girls on my block  rang my doorbell. She was selling homemade cupcakes. The price was reasonable, the treats looked delightful and my neighbor was beaming with obvious pride. Of course, I bought a few.Half an hour later, her sister rang the doorbell. She was selling homemade dog treats. These things... more
Your off-the-grid savings guide
We all know Facebook isn’t famous for filling our lives with intelligent ideas. So imagine my surprise and delight the other day when I came across an FB advertisement for a device called the Bluapple that promised to save me $640 per year on groceries. Finally! All those hours spent on Facebook — liking family photos of people... more
Mom, how much money do we have?
Recently, my friend Jennifer was talking with her 7-year-old son, Jackson, about his allowance. She was introducing the spend-some, save-some, donate-some system, and he was excited about this step toward being a more responsible big kid. Jennifer said the conversation was breezy yet earnest as they talked about what he liked to use... more
The best $50 party
My boys are 13 and 11, which means I’ve thrown roughly two dozen birthday parties over the past decade or so (no wonder I’m so tired). I’ve never been a skilled party-giver, but nor am I a fool. In those years of experience, I’ve learned a thing or two about birthday parties. And so, if some cruel twist of fate were to subject... more
Financial SPF 10 for families
Believe me, I know how it happens. You’re in a hurry. You’re only going to be in the sun for a little while, no big deal. Besides, you’ve exposed your precious hide to the elements before, and nothing bad happened. It’s hard to get worked up about consequences that might be waiting in the future. (And of course as soon as you... more
Camping: splurge or save?
When friends visit from out of state during the winter and complain about the weather, I don’t try to convince them they’re wrong. Minnesotans know winter here can be more than tolerable if you embrace it by getting outside and skiing, running or even fat-tire biking. But it’s a rare outsider who can be convinced of that while... more
Resell that old baby stuff
A couple weeks ago, we had some friends over for dinner. Their younger son came, too, and our boys were charged with entertaining him while the grownups hung out doing grownup things. The guys rose to the challenge by digging through their bins and shelves for toys that a younger dude might be interested in. That turned... more
You break it, you buy it?
Picture this: You call your 7-year-old for dinner, and she comes running into the dining room, even though she knows your house rule is no running inside — and drops your iPhone on the floor. Boom, cracked screen. Or how about this: While emptying the dishwasher, your 10-year-old gets a little hyper and puts all his weight on the open... more
Top 10 to-do's for new parents
When you have a newborn in the house, who wants to spend their limited non-baby attention span on financial planning? Answer: Nobody. Unless you’re a financial-planning geek, in which case you’ve got this wrapped up already. Go ahead and watch Better Call Saul and sleep soundly tonight. Well, maybe not soundly — you’ve got that... more
Mindful family spending
Most of us try to be mindful about how we spend our money. We compare prices, and we evaluate things like ingredients, features and benefits. As parents, we’re not only being prudent stewards of our family’s finances, we’re also setting an example for our kids. That’s why it makes sense to take mindful spending to a higher level:... more
Save some green in 2015
You know how New Year’s budget-tightening advice goes. You hear you should make coffee at home instead of stopping at the coffee shop — the one where the barista greets you with your very own personalized joke-of-the-day — and you can save about $3,700 a year. But of course you miss your daily joke, and it’s a scramble to make your... more
Avoiding tech-gift pitfalls
One of the biggest sources of holiday stress, at least for me, is gift giving — especially when it comes to kids. As parents, we want to make our children happy, but we don’t want to spend a million dollars doing it. Many of us are also wary of overindulging our budding consumers. Shouldn’t our kids experience a healthy dose of... more
How to raise savvy consumers
In 1977, when I was in first grade, all I wanted for Christmas was a pair of Zips tennis shoes. The commercial that ran during Saturday-morning cartoons (tinyurl.com/zips1977) was brilliant. It opened with a boy lacing up a pair of bright orange Zips on his front steps and an announcer saying in a weighty voice, “When you put on a... more
Saving for college doesn't have to be daunting!
What happens when you start to think of sending your little one off to college? If you’re like most parents I know, your thoughts quickly flit from Pomp and Circumstance — and I can’t wait to see where she ends up! — to a sick, empty feeling in your stomach that comes from thinking about the cost.Paying for college. The mere idea... more
Don't spend a bundle on Baby
All parents want what’s best for their kids, and we feel guilty when we skimp on them, even if money’s tight. But new parents are especially vulnerable. They’re stressed out, sleep-deprived, bubbling with hormones, and they’re pretty sure they’re making lots of mistakes. Who could blame them for spending big on the deluxe crib-... more
Making allowance work
The other night, my 13-year-old came up to me while I was working at the computer. “I have done the math,” he said. “And you owe me $92.”Whoa, what? He was right. Last week I’d borrowed $40 when I needed cash. The other $52 was because my wife and I had forgotten to pay his allowance of $13 for four weeks running. Sure, it... more
Save money on school clothes
$2.97. I felt a swell of satisfaction as I cut the price tag off the superhero T-shirt. What a steal. But the feeling was short-lived. After my most recent hauls from the clearance racks were outright rejected by my kids, I figured this shirt would never see a chocolate ice cream dribble or muddy sleeve.Keeping kids clothed with the... more
Talk money before your trip
Many car conversations this frigid winter have centered on Disney World. “How warm is it there?” my 5-year-old would ask. “How long would it take to walk there from Minnesota? Do you remember my favorite rides, Mom?”  Last fall, my family went to Disney World with “Meemaw” and “Peepaw.” It turns out, this type of multi-... more
Watching for signs of child identity theft
Parenting philosophies abound. But one aspect of parenting we can all agree on is that protecting our kids is a big job. A hot stove, the neighborhood bully, crossing the street — parents are forever looking out for things in life that could hurt our precious kiddos.For this mom, the unseen threats are even more frightening, which... more
Teach Your Kids Financial Literacy
April is Financial Literacy Month, but as parents, we know teaching money matters is a year-round affair. Each trip to the store. When a child asks us about how much the house is worth. After handing over allowance. There are plenty of opportunities to talk about money. The problem is, money conversations can be uncomfortable and... more
How to make tax time less taxing
Tax time. If you’re like many Americans, you want to rush through them, or outsource them and be done. That is, until next year. But rushing through your taxes or failing to plan can mean costly mistakes, added hassle, or tax breaks left on the table. For parents with kids at home or in college, there are provisions in the tax... more
Good enough money management
Good enough. It’s a concept that doesn’t get much attention in a world fixated on Pinterest-inspired perfection. But it’s become a popular parenting topic. Good enough is a sanity saving concept for parents who fail live up to their own unrealistic expectations. It’s permission to say no when you really don’t have time to volunteer, to... more
Special delivery
Babies. What an excellent excuse to make googly eyes, goofy sounds, and to splurge on adorable newborn outfits. Is your favorite person about to give birth? Chuck the outfits, the booties, and the bottles. What every new parent does need is more time and more money. Both are in short supply.Unfortunately, you can’t add hours to the... more
Moms and money
Money. Mom. Two “M” words that are inextricably connected in many families.For kids, it's "Mom, can I have some money?" or "Will you buy me that?" For mom it's, "How can I afford this?" and "College costs how much?"When it comes to money, mom is unique. She plays her own role in the family money management, whether she's earning it,... more
Food budget follies
Put your money where your mouth is. I knew when I had three kids that I’d spend loads on diapers and the equivalent of a second mortgage on childcare. And I’d heard parents of older kids complain about their astronomical grocery bills. But it wasn’t until this summer, when my kids would lumber in and I’d find myself writing to the... more
Financial heart-to-heart
My husband once described money as “a necessary evil.” Yet the poor guy married a woman whose career is to write about the green stuff. Even when I’m not working, I find myself compelled to talk about our finances—a lot. What’s working, what isn’t, what’s next; what we dream of doing, what we probably should do instead.Money talk happens... more
YOYO finances
Resources are limited. That’s the basic truth that Atlantic writer Theodore Ross addressed in a recent article about why it’s hard for parents to calm down when it comes to raising their kids. He says, “Anxiety around childrearing originates from “America’s YOYO (You’re On Your Own) parenting world.” Continuing, he says, “It may... more
It starts at home
When I read stories of children who start charitable foundations at age nine, or donate their birthday gifts to homeless kids, I can’t help but wonder what makes these givers so different from my seemingly selfish brood. My kids seem to possess little interest in helping others, focused more on how to increase their collection of LEGOs... more
Education credit
Like the unwelcome arrival of Christmas decorations on store shelves in October, back to school displays of crayons and backpacks crash summer vacation months every year. I don’t like thinking about back to school while basking at the beach, but some of the best deals are to be had right after the fourth of July.As it is with most child-... more
Saving for college
For many parents, setting money aside for higher education begins before they select a daycare or preschool. It’s no wonder: College is expensive. Whether we’re talking about state schools or Ivy Leagues, a calculator once told me I’d have to save an amount nearly double our mortgage to cover tuition for my young kids (late night pizzas... more
Making the move
What do you get when you add rising home prices, still-low interest rates and insufficient inventory? Blooming consumer confidence and a growing interest in buying and selling homes, that’s what. Breathless news stories about the housing recovery certainly catch my attention. We’ve been considering a move for years. But there are so many... more
The definition of rich
“Mom, are we rich?” I thought I was prepared to answer this sticky, complex money question. But then my six-year-old asked. And I blew it. First I tried to change the subject. Then I said no, only seconds later adding a caveat about how we are richer than most people in the world. Followed by a monologue about how some people look... more
Getting your financial house in order
Tax time forces you to think about your finances. How much you earned, how much you donated, how much you owe, or how much Uncle Sam owes you. Before I put my forms away, I always take a moment to think about the year ahead and how my tax situation may or may not change. The exercise is eye opening, and always inspires me to get my... more
Building your financial foundation
Women have a unique set of challenges when it comes to financial success, stemming from two facts: While stay-at-home-dads certainly aren’t a novelty anymore, women tend to do the bulk of the caregiving for relatives young and old, which reduces earnings. Not to mention women on average earn less than males do. Women also tend to live... more
Paying down debt
Carrie Rocha didn’t set out to be a get-out-of-debt guru. She just knew that her own family finances were a mess and they needed to eliminate their $60,000 in debt.After successfully wiping out what they owed in two and a half years, without a windfall, Carrie wanted to share the tricks she and her family learned along the way and... more
Good gift cards
I’ve heard the complaints that gift cards are impersonal, thoughtless presents. But I’m a huge fan of the versatile goodies and I’m far from alone.Gift cards top the wish lists of six in 10 Americans, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual holiday survey. TowerGroup estimates gift card sales will reach $100 billion this... more
The spirit of thrift
It’s easy to get carried away this time of year. The festive decorations, the lengthy wish lists from kids, the padded advertisements from sales-hungry retailers. Each holiday season I spend more than I intended. But this year, I’m trying to adopt a new spirit of the season—the spirit of thrift. For inspiration, I turned to Lori... more
Second-hand selling
Nothing makes me happier than purging a big pile of old kids clothes and toys. Living in a small, 1920s home with three kids, storage is always a challenge. So despite my penny-pinching ways, I get a sick thrill when my son’s pants are two inches too short or my daughter decides dresses are so last year. Out with the old and in with as... more
Marvelous money apps
Remember way back to when you actually had to balance your checkbook by hand and track expenses on a spreadsheet? When you had to call or drive from store to store to compare prices? Or pull out a workbook to teach your kids about money? All of that has changed with the explosion of smartphone apps that make money matters a cinch.Here... more
Back to school bargains
For deal-seeking parents, back to school is a season second only to holiday shopping. Retailers start offering deals on backpacks, glue, and designer jeans in July. Competition is fierce. And if you play the game right, you can score several products for next to nothing. Here are some tips for the determined back-to-school shopper.Dig... more
One click
Paper or plastic? I almost always choose plastic, as far as payment type is concerned. It’s a habit I developed years ago, as credit card companies fought for consumers using increasingly rich rewards. For me, it started with frequent flier miles—we paid for our honeymoon flights to Banff with our Worldperks miles. When it became... more
Job jump
“At least I have a job.” Bet you’ve heard that refrain plenty since the economy took a tumble. But as the employment picture improves, it’s a less convincing reason to drag yourself to work. Help wanted ads and networking happy hours will start calling your name. And with a lot of skill and a little bit of luck, you’ll be offered a new... more
Your investment statement
Last year, the stock market felt like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, with its dramatic ups and downs. Yet at the end of the year, U.S. stocks pretty much ended up right where they started.For much of 2012, the market has largely taken a chill pill, giving nervous investors the confidence to start investing in stocks again. That’s good, right... more
Stylish, yet affordable
I love the mall. I used to spend hours there during a lazy weekend, browsing sales racks and people-watching. Then I had kids, though my mall rat ways weren’t automatically upended. I’d stroll my daughter along with me, and quickly learned which department stores had the nicest bathrooms for a feeding break. Then came toddlerdom and... more
Tax time tips
If you’re like me, you have a folder filled with rumpled receipts saved for tax time. Many of these scraps of paper are covered in the chicken scratch of hastily recorded charitable donations. I’m talking about the stuff—the garbage bag of kids clothes or the unwanted rocking chair that you finally removed from the basement.Then tax... more
Unsung heroes
Moms are notorious for comparing notes—and price tags—when it comes to big kid expenses (strollers, cribs, even breast pumps). But they’re quieter when it comes to everyday lifesavers, those cheap but dependable items that help quash tantrums, clean up spills, and save sanity. Maybe it’s because the stuff is so totally ordinary it seems... more
Baby budgets
It’s a lot of money: $226,910, to be exact. That’s the estimate for how much a middle income family will spend raising a child in the first 17 years. Add college into the equation, and the sum becomes downright terrifying.It’s no wonder that birth rates ebb and flow with economic concerns. Latest data show births in the U.S. have... more
10 tips for holiday spending
$704.18. That’s the average amount that holiday shoppers say they’ll spend on gifts and seasonal items, according to the annual holiday survey from the National Retail Federation. That’s slightly less than the amount shoppers forked over last year to celebrate the season, but still a sizable sum, especially in this economy.
 The survey... more
Make saving a habit
It pained financial consultant Sam Renick when client after client came into his office saying they wish someone had taught them early in life about the importance of investing. His parents taught him about saving when he was a child, but he knew many young people aren’t so lucky.So he created Sammy Rabbit, a lovable character who... more
College cost conundrum
With four years of college tuition rivaling the cost of a house, and so many college graduates struggling to find a job, it’s no wonder there’s a growing chorus questioning whether college is worth the ever-rising cost.
Well, let’s just put those nagging voices to rest. According to a Georgetown University study quoted in a recent paper... more
Should I stay or should I go?
This well-known song by The Clash goes through my head as I obsessively pore over real estate listings. With three kids and a big dog in a 1,400 square foot house built in the 1920s, moving up is a big temptation. 
The thought of buying a bigger house is something entertained by many growing families. But with the housing downturn it’s... more
When is a daily deal not such a deal?
Groupon. Crowd Cut. Living Social. Plum District. These daily deal sites and many others crowd our in-boxes each morning with offers on ballet lessons, professional family photographs, and getaways over school break.
Boasting discounts of 50 percent off or more, they offer a variety of tempting deals, designed to help merchants attract... more
Financial future
Talking about what happens to your family if tragedy strikes is certainly no picnic. But planning to protect your family through tough times is one of the most important ways to show your love. Here are three must-haves for young families.Emergency savings Cash cushion. Rainy day fund. Whatever you want to call it, having money set aside... more
Best money books for summer
Let’s be honest. Your summer book list isn’t crammed with money titles. But I’m guessing your financial skills could use some time in the sun. 
Admittedly, the following reads aren’t the mindless ones meant for skimming at the lake. But they won’t put you to sleep — and they’ll teach you a thing or two. For your teenMoney Sanity... more
Making a statement with money
When you think of teens, “willingly absorbs advice from parents” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. And yet, here we are, charged with teaching our soon-to-be young adults about budgeting, saving, and using credit wisely. It’s certainly not something kids are guaranteed to learn in school. It’s not necessarily a subject... more
Saving pennies online
Sunday is payday at our house. Each week, my seven-year-old and five-year-old receive a $2 allowance. At least, that’s the plan. But like many people, I pay for nearly all purchases with plastic. When payday comes for the kiddos, there’s a mad search for small bills. After several weeks in a row of rummaging through my purse for change... more
Camp costs
Summer camp can create experiences that last a lifetime. But the expense! Weekly fees for sleep-away camps in Minnesota cost $325 to $780, on average. Day camps are less, but still run between $100 and $275 per week, according to the midwest office of the American Camp Association. For parents used to paying for childcare or private... more
Affordable childcare solutions
When our two youngest were in daycare, we paid more for childcare than we did for our mortgage. And while I’m morbidly curious, I wouldn’t dare to calculate the total amount we’ve spent so far on babysitters, preschools, and summer camps!Three out of four Minnesota households with at least one kid under age 13 use some form of child care... more
New Resolutions
I admit it. I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. If I see something I’d like to change in my life, I’m more apt to tackle it right away, no matter what month it is. But for many, money matters top their list of desired changes going into the New Year. Need some direction? Here are some worthy goals.Resolve to …Plan for next holiday.... more
From stock to stockpiling
Chances are your child’s holiday list isn’t brimming with educational toys. But why not sneak in a gift that will teach them something about money? Here are some ideas:Bank itPiggy banks have gone beyond the single slit for spare coins.  Some banks now have four compartments — for spending, donating, saving, and investing. Parents... more
College costs
Most parents, myself included, hope to be in the position to help our children with college costs when the time comes. But that doesn’t mean we’re in the position to save for that five- or six-figure expense while also footing the bill for swim lessons and summer camps. Did you know there are ways to put money away for college... more
Slash your grocery bill
After going through several pounds of fresh fruit in a single weekend, I calculated how much money we ate in berries, bananas, and apples: at least $20 worth, according to my mental math. The older my three kids get, the harder it is not to blow my food budget!I’m a natural coupon-clipper, but lately I’ve been trying to improve my game... more
Painless ways to cut the budget
Hopefully your family hasn't personally experienced a job loss or pay cut in this gloomy economy, but chances are you know someone who has. Even if you feel relatively removed from this recession, saving money is on most everyone's mind, thanks to the dismal headlines. But there comes a point when you feel you can't cut anymore. If you'... more