Why I Have a Financial Advisor: Money Series Pt 5

Now, it may seem weird to you that I have a financial advisor – especially since I used to be one and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I’m sure it won’t be any surprise to anyone that my mother is my financial advisor. What can I say? It saves on fees.

Well, the reasons I have my mother manage my money versus managing it myself are largely the same reasons most people have a financial advisor. And those are because I don’t have some combination of the following:

1) Time
2) Interest
3) Ability
4) Resources

(For the record, mine is a combination of 1 and 2.) With that said, here is my inside scoop on what to look for in a financial advisor should you choose to have one.

Disclaimer: I am a financial advisor and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own family. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your family. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) Make sure you like the person. This seems like such a stupid reason. After all, there are plenty of likable people out there who should NOT be financial advisors. But ultimately, you’ll be discussing the details of your financial life as well as your hopes and dreams for the future (because let’s be real – that all requires money). If you don’t like your financial advisor, it’s going to be pretty difficult divulging such intimate information. Plus, you’ll be talking to them at least a few times a year. If you don’t like the person, you’ll put off meeting them, likely not follow their advice in a timely manner, and in general, waste everyone’s time.

2) Don’t get hung up on “The Best.” Just like the rest of life, “The Best” is a moving target and different for everybody. Whether it’s “The Best” advisor, fund, or stock, you’re most likely not going to have it. Or have it at the wrong time. There is no way out of the thousands of financial advisors you are going to have “The Best.” Even if you’re a gazillionaire, you’re not. Settle for good and competent. You want reasonable returns (whatever that means to you), sound advice, and a responsive attitude.

3) Don’t pay for a financial plan. Pay for advice and management. This is not to say that paying for a financial plan is a waste of money. Indeed, if you are confident that you will hold yourself accountable to following every single item on your plan, then, have at it. But let’s be real. You most likely won’t. Instead, you’ll have paid approximately $1,500-2,000 for a fat pile of paper that just sits on your shelf collecting dust while your financial house is still in shambles. Then a few years later, you’ll go through the cycle again.

Save everyone the trouble. Pay an advisor to manage your money. I wouldn’t necessarily give them full discretion over your funds (that seems unnecessarily trusting), but do follow their advice. Usually, this translates into a monthly fee. Think of it as having an advisor on retainer. Not only do you get to call them up and ask for advice any time you want, you also have someone actively looking at your account and managing it in a way that is consistent with your desires.

4) Along with #3, avoid paying per transaction/by commission. Now, realistically, some products are commission only. (eg: Annuities, life insurance, REITs) But for the most part, this way, you know that the advisor is recommending you buy/sell something because it really IS a good thing for your account (and not because they get paid a commission). As for annuities, life insurance, and REITs, they all have their place and can be good for you depending on your situation. Annuities and life insurance get pilloried quite often but in reality, I have highly recommended their usage. (Annuities especially since despite the higher cost, it’s the closest thing most people will get to a pension.)

5) Have as much of your assets at one place. I don’t mean one fund or one stock. I mean, have as much of your assets as possible held with the same financial advisor. Why? Because they will have a fuller view of your financial life and can give you better advice if they have the big picture. Also, it sounds awful, but financial advisors are only human. They will pay more attention to more money (because you are a bigger client). If you spread out your assets across several advisors, you are pretty much guaranteeing no one will look at your stuff.

Ok, that’s it for now. If I think of more, I will add it to this post or write another one. For those of you with financial advisors, what has your experience been? And for those of you without one, why haven’t you gotten one yet?

ETA:A friend asked me a great question on FB that I wanted to share with the rest of you.

I want to get started! Where do I start? It’s long overdue. How do you know which advisors are for you and your best interest? I thought of reading up on stock trading and understanding it, so I can do it myself. Signing up on Etrade? Talk to me. Lol.

Here’s my response:

I’d start by asking friends (especially those who are wealthier than you). Check out their recommendations. Or you can just walk into a Schwab, TD Ameritrade, or Ameriprise and ask for a broker on duty. Or, keep your eye out for seminars and attend some. Once you have some names, google and interview them.

Most advisors will talk to you and get to know you without charging you. If they do, run away. If they recommend you open an account or buy something with them before getting to know you, run away. Find out how they get paid. How do they decide or evaluate what is a good stock or fund? How do they determine when to sell? How often will they review your account? What type of clients are they looking for?

Also, trust your gut. If someone makes you feel uneasy, run. They may be perfectly honest but if YOU don’t feel comfortable, then they are not for you.

Most advisors end up with a book of business that looks like them. So you want to look for someone who is similar to you (except has time, interest, ability, and resources to do investments). You want someone who has similar values and world view.

Thanks for asking! Hope that helps. Feel free to ask more questions.

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My Children Are Not Me

Every now and then it hits me. My children are actual people. With their own thoughts and ideas and opinions and preferences. That are completely separate from me. Also, possibly, their thoughts might not be aligned with my own.

They’re only 3.75, 2, and 9 weeks old! How are they not thinking what I want them to?

But the WEIRDEST thing of all for me is to realize that my kids have FEELINGS. And that I can hurt their feelings. 😦 In other words, not only are they people, they are persons. I don’t know why that makes a difference to me, but it does.

Yesterday, I was not proud of how I handled a situation with Cookie Monster. I basically yelled at him to hurry up, eat, and to stop annoying me. Multiple times. And every time I yelled at him, he would cry or shut down. Then I would yell at him to stop crying. (Because being yelled at to stop crying always makes it easier to stop.) While I was yelling, I knew I was being a complete jackass and tried to stop. I even walked away a few times. I would come back reasonable for like, five seconds, and as soon as Cookie Monster wasn’t behaving exactly like I wanted him to, I started yelling at him again.

Finally, I yelled so much at him that even though he had two more bites to finish his dinner and then revel in the glorious tastiness that is dark chocolate covered pretzels, he decided that he no longer wanted them and headed upstairs. He gave up something he really wanted because his jerk of a mother made the price of obtaining it too high.

I felt terrible. I apologized for yelling (but not for wanting him to finish his dinner). Helped him finish the dinner and gave him 1.5 pretzels. (He wanted more but he was really being a pill so I didn’t give him as many as he originally would’ve gotten if he had just eaten his GD dinner already.)

The rest of the evening went pretty good. However, when it came to bedtime, he kept wanting me (even though I was taking care of Glow Worm). Hapa Papa cuddled with him a long time, but Cookie Monster just wanted me. I went into his room, held him and hugged him and just looked at my beautiful boy and listened to his day, said his prayers with him, and enjoyed his company. After that, he was perfectly fine with me leaving and him falling asleep on his own.

I keep forgetting that my boy is a person in his own right and not just an extension of myself. I forget that when I yell at him and put all this pressure on him that he crumbles (who wouldn’t?) and digs in and just cries and cries and cries and is pretty much incapable of hearing anything I say to him let alone doing anything I want him to do. I forget that after I’ve done so, he needs extra cuddles and attention from me to reassure him that the center of his universe still loves him and adores him and thinks he is important and that what he has to say is important. 

I feel like shit. I am so humbled. I’m a pile of humbled shit.

But it is a good reminder that my children have feelings – and that they are capable of being hurt. That my words and attitude and behavior matter to them. And that even when I’m a complete asshole to my Cookie Monster and the cause of his pain, he still looks to me to relieve him of that pain.

Both Cookie Monster and Gamera come to me for comfort even if I am the one who just spanked them or slapped them lightly on the hand. I only have to barely tap Gamera’s hand and she’ll burst into tears. There is no way that she is even in any pain! But despite that, they will come to me and say, “Ow!” even though I’m the one who caused the owie! And then, all it takes is for my all-mighty kiss on their owie and all is forgiven and healed. In fact, I think I’m forgiven even before I kiss them.

I have to remember that their trust in me is precious. That I have to take great care not to abuse that trust and to earn and keep it every day.

Not that I have to be perfect. I mess up quite often and have to apologize a lot to my kids. However, the over-arching consistency to my behavior has to be kind, understanding, and good so that when I do royally screw the pooch, they are still secure in the knowledge of my love and that my blow up is more the exception than the rule.

In the past, I would yell at my kids and say that Mommy was mad and not happy. Now, every time they sense I’m about to scream at them or am taking deep cleansing breaths, one of them will ask, “You happy, Mama? You happy?” That usually knocks some sense into me. How sad that my own children are checking in with me to make sure I’m happy – as if that is what they should be concerned about (or even what is ultimately the point of the Universe). I am now far more careful about what I say.

Also, I really have to stop saying, “I don’t care!” when they are whining at me because even though it is true that I don’t care at the moment, I never want my kids to think that I really don’t care. I am reminded of a thing I saw on Facebook about parenting small children. (One of the few times I read a meme and didn’t want to punch the poster in the face.)

Here’s the gist: If we ignore our children when they are small because what they tell us doesn’t seem “important,” we are guaranteeing that our kids won’t share the truly important things to us when they are older. Why? Because the “unimportant” things they told us when they were small were actually important to them.

Anyhow, this post is just to remind myself to not be such a jerk to my kids. How sad that this requires a reminder. Maybe I just have a case of the Mondays. Tuesday will be better!

Wait, How Is This My Life?

When I was free and unencumbered with children, I would read articles by SAHMs about how they would have to do laundry every single day. I couldn’t fathom it. I only did laundry when I ran out of socks or underwear (my two limiting reagents). As a result, I had at LEAST a month’s worth of socks and underwear just so I only had to do laundry once a month. It’s not like I sweat a lot or was in any way physical so my clothes really didn’t get very dirty.

Fast forward to now and wouldn’t you know it? I do laundry almost every single day. Sometimes, multiple loads. I don’t even understand HOW? I mean, I wash the cloth diapers every day because right now, I have two kids in diapers and use a lot of them as burp cloths. Fine. That’s to be expected. But how do I have multiple loads? My kids have a reasonable amount of clothing. So do Hapa Papa and I. And yet, there it is. ME DOING MULTIPLE LOADS OF LAUNDRY EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Yes, that was CAPSLOCK worthy. Because seriously? WHAT THE HELL AM I WASHING?

And it’s not just the laundry. I am constantly doing dishes. Now, part of that is because I only have so many bowls and plates and utensils that are kid friendly. The other part is that I’m home all day so we use dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Occasionally, I’ll use the dishwasher if we have a lot of people over or I’ve been lazy all day and just wait for the end of the day. But usually I hand wash because there’s a much faster turnaround and if I waited until the dishwasher was full, I’d wait forever.

Now that I think about it, I am doing more dishes now because I am finally forcing my kids to feed themselves so instead of a communal bowl from which I shovel food into my kids’ mouths (and mine), we now all behave like semi-civilized people and all have our own bowls, cups, and utensils. I may have to rethink this strategy since it causes me more work. I just have to decide whether it is more work to wash dishes or to feed my children (who have perfectly functioning hands) while holding a two month old. *sigh*

Don’t get me started on vacuuming! Thankfully, I have a handheld vacuum that I can use to hoover up the endless supply of crumbs (I cheat and vacuum the table) that find themselves over EVERYTHING. And it’s not just because of the kids. I seriously can’t tell whether Hapa Papa or one of my kids ate somewhere because they ALL leave crumbs. I get why my babies do. It’s Hapa Papa that I’m having trouble accepting. Of course, I’m spotless and crumbs never fall from my lips. I am a swarm of locusts and all food is efficiently consumed with no waste whatsoever.

I know I tell the kids to pick up their toys (I’ve gotten a little slack with this since it’s hard to enforce while nursing), but lately, Cookie Monster and Gamera think it’s hilarious to launch their cars and planes and trains into the air and smash and crash them into EVERYTHING so they’re all over the floor, in couch cushions, under the couch, under the table, etc. Then, they’re obsessed with “Eggy prizes” (basically, stuff in Easter eggs) so now I have a bunch of old Easter egg halves and teeny tiny toys all over my carpet. WHY DID I KEEP THESE STUPID EGGS? Oh yes, because I’m cheap and intend to use them for next Easter.

I would read articles of mothers eating their children’s leftovers as their only sustenance and think, “That’s insane! I LOVE food! This will never happen to me.” And yet, now, I have their leftovers for lunch because they rarely finish everything on their plates and it seems wasteful to throw it away but stupid to keep because it’s not really enough for another meal. When my kids spit something out or drop something on the floor, I don’t even think twice about shoving whatever it was into my mouth because it is faster and easier than getting up to throw it away in the garbage. (Ugh. I want to gag just thinking about this, but yet, it doesn’t bother me while it’s happening. Laziness trumps yickiness.)

I’m not really complaining (I don’t think). I don’t really mind doing these things because I prefer an ant-free house that is reasonably tidy and clean and non-sticky. I also like clean dishes, diapers and clothes and not stepping on a toy in the middle of walking across my home. I see doing these activities as a holy thing (when I really think about it, not while I’m in the middle of wiping up another mess) because it is a way to love and serve my family.

It’s just that when I stop and actually examine my daily activities, I’m a bit bewildered. I went to college for this?

Two years ago, I was reading Christianity Today’s Hermeneutics blog and one of the writers referenced a book called, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work,” by Kathleen Norris (note: Amazon affiliate link). It changed my life and perspective forever about what I and millions of other women (and let’s be fair, men, too) do on a daily basis.

Norris calls all the cooking and cleaning “Women’s Work” because that is historically what it is called. What she addresses is that because this type of work has been historically performed by women, it is thus looked upon with contempt and deemed worthless. Norris posits that our daily work of laundry, cooking, cleaning is actually worship and holy. That what we do to take care of ourselves and others can be both an act of indifference or an act of supreme love. That the work which is looked down upon in the eyes of society is actually a beautiful and vital thing.

Our society values the grand, big gestures. The sweeping acts of bravery and heroism. But there is a heroism in the small, every day acts, too. In fact, I would argue (as does Norris) that these small, daily acts of cooking and cleaning are in fact, more necessary than the big acts of history-making. After all, whether or not you are doing something epic or mundane, you need sustenance, clean clothes, and clean living spaces.

I cannot tell you how happy and joyful this book made me. After all, who wants 90% of what they do all day to be deemed as lowly or simple? Now, to be honest, I’m not cleaning a toilet and thinking to myself, “OH JOY!! What wonders this be!” However, I do feel as if I am contributing something of worth to our household even if I’m not the one making the big bucks. After all, I may use Hapa Papa’s paycheck every day, but he damn well uses the toilet every day, too.

Anyhow, the beauty of these small, daily activities is that it is not limited to just SAHM or parents. Most people (unless you are so rich you have a housekeeper, chef, and someone to wipe your ass) have to do some measure of tasks that can feel like drudgery. Be encouraged. You are doing something important and nurturing, if for no one other than yourself.

How I Survive Each Day as a SAHM

A lot of my working mommy friends often ask me how I manage to spend all day with my kids without going crazy. They say that weekends or vacations are hard and that my job at home is tougher than their job at work. While I don’t think that is true – and I’m not interested in a Mommy War or a “Which job is harder” conversation – staying at home with small toddlers can be trying for even the most patient person (and I am definitely not that person).

The reason why it’s so hard for my working mommy friends on weekends, sick days, or days off (let’s be real, until your kids are older, it’s definitely not a vacation, at least not in my understanding of the word) is because it is not something they do every day. As a result, they have no built in survival skills (unless you count TV or an iPhone). If I had to work at a “real” job every weekend or vacation, I would have a tough time, too. After all, I wouldn’t have years of recent working experience to know how to navigate my day, tasks, schedules, meetings, etc. It’s a completely different skill set and you’re mostly in survival mode until Monday and that really isn’t enough time to sit down and think about how to approach your day.

Here then are some of my tips to making it through the day with your kids without going insane. (Of course, YMMV.)

1) Have a plan. There is something about a day clear of anything on the schedule that strikes terror into my heart. Nothing makes a normal 14 hour “work” day feel like a 100 hour day like nothing!

I try to have activities planned in the mornings since Gamera naps in the afternoon (sadly, Cookie Monster hasn’t napped since he was 2.5). Afternoons I may or may not have a play date or run errands. I try to schedule activities that are fluid because nap times are pretty fluid at our house. I also count going to the grocery store as an activity. If you’ve ever taken kids to go grocery shopping, you know it can be quite an ordeal, but for sure it breaks up the day.

I also enjoy having things that require driving time. Nothing easily kills an hour or so like commuting somewhere fun! Besides, being bored in the car is a skill set that every kid needs. Otherwise road trips are a nightmare.

2) Have a schedule. It’s similar to having a plan, but slightly different. Because I’m anal retentive, I like repeated events and know that a Monday means X-type activities and a Tuesday means Y-type activities.

For example, right now, Cookie Monster has preschool in the mornings twice a week. On one of those days, I try to schedule a play date with a friend who has a kid around the same age as Gamera. On the other, I try to take her to the park (with Glow Worm in the Ergo baby carrier). One morning a week, I have a Mandarin Language Playgroup at my house. On another morning, all three kids and I take a Mandarin Mommy and Me class. The last day is usually kept free for appointments, impromptu play dates, and general flexibility. Occasionally, I have a play date scheduled in the afternoon after Gamera’s nap.

Again, you’ll note that most of my planned activities are scheduled for the 9am-2pm window. I find that by the late afternoon, I’m too tired or harried and thinking about dinner and the closeness of Hapa Papa coming home or my mother visiting that I rarely schedule anything.

3) Sign up for a class. It doesn’t have to be a fancy/expensive Mommy and Me class or anything. Local libraries and many businesses (Pottery Barn, Barnes and Nobles, etc.) have story times. Cities have less expensive programming through their Parks and Recreation departments.

4) Join a mommy/parent group. Meetup.com is a good resource for finding local parenting groups – as is Google. The key to this is to make sure you join a group that has a consistent meeting time with a few key people committed to going every week. If you do join a weekly group, commit to going every week. Consider that time sacrosanct and do your best to avoid scheduling other activities during that time. It’s hard enough to make friends – let alone when chasing after babies. So, the more time you spend with the same group of people the better. Plus, if people sense that few people are consistently coming, they drop off and then instead of a thriving group, you have a group of flakes.

When I first ventured out to meet new mommies, I joined two groups. One of them, I consistently went to every Thursday morning. The other one was at a time that was a little harder for me so I went maybe once every few months. The first group thrived well until the kids started preschool and disbanded because scheduling was much harder to coordinate. The second group had perhaps twice as many members but the group leader had such a difficult time getting people to show up. It was a lot of work for her and even though she planned a lot of fun activities, because people (including myself) did not prioritize attendance, the group fizzled out.

Remember, you get what you giveThe more you involve yourself, the more you will get out of it. Friendships with other parents takes effort and your children won’t have a good time until they get comfortable with the other kids. That won’t happen unless you do the work and provide the necessary amount of time for your babies to get to know the other ones.

5) Know your local parks and recreational activities. Most areas have dedicated kid-centric activity sites/newsletters. Avail yourself of them. Integrate a few that you really enjoy into the regular part of your routine. Make note of the things you can do at a moment’s notice that don’t require planning. (eg: feeding ducks at a local plaza/pond; visiting pet stores; going to a favorite park)

6) Have a few friends you can regularly meet with for play dates. Nothing kills time like being with good friends. When the mommies are eating and hanging out, the kiddos are playing, too. That’s why I liked babysitting one of my friend’s daughters. Built in play dates!! I barely had to pay attention to the four toddlers/preschoolers because they entertained each other and time flew by. Plus, they’re easier to watch when there are more parents – as well as more kids. Sounds counter-intuitive, but let’s just say that if there are other children around to amuse yours, you don’t have to!

7) Have a few friends on speed dial/text. Being a SAHP can be very isolating. When you can’t physically be with friends, texting and internet enabled smartphones are life-savers. You feel less alone and lonely. The best part, you can gripe about your husband or kids and have pretty much guaranteed sympathy. Support and compassionate friends are super helpful – especially during the witching hours of the late afternoon when your kids are tired and hungry.

8) Be flexible. It goes without saying that unexpected (as well as unwelcome!) things happen all the time. The happiest SAHPs I’ve encountered are people who go with the flow and recognize that life is prone to mishaps. The more flexible you are when the inevitable shit happens (sometimes, literally) and the more able you are to laugh at yourself (even in hindsight), the happier you will be.

9) Get enough sleep. I suppose that is the case for all situations, but it is vital. Time moves like molasses when you’re tired. Plus, being sleep deprived makes you cranky and short-tempered, and increases the likelihood of mistakes. It took me over three years to figure this out. Once I started sleeping when the kids did, my life was transformed. Yes, it does cut into your “feeling like a grown up” time, but it’s that or be Hulk Smash all the time. I have found that if I go to sleep earlier a few nights a week, I can stay up later the other nights and not have it hit me too hard.

10) Don’t over-schedule/commit yourself or your child. I try to schedule at most one thing in the morning and one thing in the afternoon. Any more than that, I feel harried, hurried, and cranky. I don’t end up enjoying myself as much, and because I’m not as happy, I yell more and as a result, my kids are unhappy.

11) Build enough time around activities. Similar to #9, when I feel rushed or pressed for time, I start yelling and screaming at them to hurry up. That makes everyone feel better, right? For some reason, I used to have an aversion to getting somewhere early so I would try to time things just right and get somewhere exactly on time. Trouble is, I always overestimated my ability to drive quickly, underestimated how long it would take me to get somewhere, and was always late. Hapa Papa used to joke that I spoke English and Time spoke Spanish so we never understood each other.

Now, I build in at least an extra half hour to leave the house. This will account for most last minute poopy diapers, potty breaks, and general mishaps that eat through those thirty minutes like you wouldn’t believe. I’m also more on time now than I ever was before children. Additionally, I don’t have to speed and put my kids (and car insurance premiums) at risk!

Clearly, I don’t have the monopoly on how to be a SAHP. These tips are just what works well for me and have worked well for me in the past. Who knows what the future will bring – especially when Cookie Monster starts kindergarten.

What do my parent readers think? Whether working or staying at home, is there anything you would add? Disagree with? Would like some advice on? (Not necessarily from me, but from other readers.) Post your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to reading them!

My Lazy Veggie Ways

I’m taking a break from the Money Series for the moment. Never fear (or my apologies) – it’ll come back later this month. I’m just feeling a little burnt out on writing about money matters (not to mention a little bored) and no one wants to read a post that sounds forced and obligated. That makes a potentially boring topic even MORE stultifyingly dull.

Anyhow, today’s post is about vegetables. That’s infinitely more interesting than saving for retirement, amiright? And not just vegetables – it’s about hiding vegetables in smoothies. The sexiness in this post is unreal. Prepare to have your mind blown!

Disclaimer: As usual, links to products are my Amazon affiliate links. 

My kids, especially Cookie Monster, are somewhat picky eaters. (They’re not extreme picky eaters, but enough so that it annoys the crap out of me and affects my enjoyment of meal times. I am working on this and will report the results in a later post.) It’s a trial to get them to eat their vegetables so I cheat. I hide them in smoothies (I know, not a novel idea).

Here’s what I do. I pile in a bunch of veggies and fruit into my VitaMix and blend on high. Sometimes, I will add plain yogurt and/or milk. Because the VitaMix pulverizes everything, it’s very thick and can almost replace a meal! To make a more juice-like drink, I just add more water or milk. I usually serve this in a cup as a smoothie with a cool reusable lid and reusable straw. (I got sick of my kids spilling as well as “wasting” the smoothie with a smoothie mustache that they would wipe off onto a napkin. The straw is also a lot softer so they don’t cut their lips/gums on a plastic straw. Yes, it’s happened. My kids are talented.)

If I have extra, which I usually do, I will pour into reusable squeeze pouches that Cookie Monster LOVES. In fact, he loves them so much that even after downing a pint glass of the smoothie, he’ll demand to eat a squeeze pouch of the same thing he just drank. It’s ridiculous and makes his poo AWESOME the next day. (It does help with constipation, though!) I chose these pouches because from the reviews, they don’t explode or leak. I haven’t had a problem thus far. Like all reusable pouches though, it’s hard to get the edges clean so I’ve used either a butter knife or chopstick to scrape at the food gunk. I hand wash even though they are dishwasher top-rack safe.

I also freeze them in popsicle molds to make popsicles. I first started with standard popsicle sized molds by Tovolo, but my kids can’t finish them. Cookie Monster finds them too cold and will only eat a few bites. The good thing with these molds is that I can shove a partially-eaten popsicle back into the mold and store in the freezer until he finishes it. The bad thing is I think it’s taken a year for him to eat just ONE. These are popular with play dates, though. (I don’t serve the ones he’s gnawed on already, obviously.) Tovolo also makes really fun-shaped molds like rocket ships and ice cream cone shapes.

When I switched to the small NUK popsicle molds, I had much better luck. I really like them because Cookie Monster and even Gamera can finish it in one sitting. Their handles are super-easy to hold and catch a lot of drips. Plus, they’re fun colors. You can even break apart the molds so you can shove them in any random corner of the freezer.

It’s so silly but even though it’s basically the same smoothie, my kids like them in different formats. Go figure. I’m down with whatever puts veggies and fruits in their goldfish cracker filled bodies.

If I have enough popsicles/pouches, I will fill a re-usable tumbler for Hapa Papa to take to work as breakfast. I’m still working on remembering to do this.

In addition to the smoothies, I will also occasionally make veggie breads (from this carrot cake recipe). My mom juices and she will freeze the leftover fiber/pulp. I will either put these into the smoothies or use them in my veggie bread. I pretty much use this recipe except I also add the vegetable pulp, one or two smashed bananas, and a cup of chocolate chips. I also don’t include the walnuts (I’ve used finely chopped pistachios) and use regular unbleached organic flour instead of pastry flour. I would give you measurements, but I don’t have any. I just dump at will. 😀 It usually makes two bread pans worth of Veggie Bread. With two cups of organic sugar in it, it’s hard to mess up. I would freeze the leftovers if there were any. I usually consume an entire loaf by myself.

To give you some ideas of what to put in the smoothies, I’ve included a bunch of the fruits and veggies I use. I often just buy bags of frozen organic fruits from Costco. (Especially for berries since it’s just too expensive to juice fresh ones.) I often also wash grapes or fruits that I will forget to use in time and freeze them in small baggies.

Just remember to have a good ratio between sweet fruits and the sometimes bitter veggies. You can also add honey if you think it’s not sweet enough. Remember, too, that I have a VitaMix so it liquefies seeds and tough fibers. If your blender isn’t quite as powerful, of course, adjust accordingly. Again, I don’t do measurements. I just shove as much stuff in the blender as possible without it exploding. Obviously, these are not all-inclusive. 😀

Fruits

– Globe grapes (with seeds)
– Bananas
– Apples
– Mangoes
– Avocado
– Pineapples
– Watermelon (especially the rind without the green peel)
– Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.)

Vegetables

– Carrots
– Celery
– Spinach
– Mixed salad greens
– Kale
– Beets (including tops) (turns the smoothie an awesome magenta color)
– Chard

Anyhow, hope this is helpful! Gamera tends not to drink as much of the smoothie unless it’s thinned out with more water. She doesn’t care for the fruit pouches but will devour the popsicles. So if your kids don’t go for the smoothie, perhaps they prefer its other incarnations.

I’d love to hear your ideas, too! Let me know in the comments what has or hasn’t worked for you. Thanks in advance!

Testing God: Money Series Pt 4

Obviously, you don’t have to believe in God to be a charitable person. (And many people are generous because they’re just good people!) But the reason why I make our family give away Hapa Papa’s hard-earned cash is because of a college Bible study on Malachi 3 (because I’m not good people!). Before that, it’s not that I was opposed to the idea of tithing or giving, but since I didn’t make any of my own money until after college, it wasn’t particularly applicable. But the study, particularly the following verse, rocked my world.

Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

– Malachi 3:10 RSV

The tl;dr version is basically God telling the Israelites to stop cheating Him out of His tithe (usually the first part of a harvest) and to trust that He will provide for them (and abundantly, at that) by having more of the harvest come in.

If you think about it, when you’re a farmer, it’s totally poor financial planning to give the first and best portions of your harvest to God versus keeping it for yourself to provide food for your family or as seed for the next planting. But God commands His people to do so as a way to remind them that everything they have is from God and that He alone provides. In fact, God almost begs the Israelites to put Him to the test so He can prove to them that He keeps his promises by lavishing them so incredibly with blessings – to the point of overflowing!

It sounds absolutely terrifying.

Now, I tithe not to bribe God to give me more stuff (although I am not averse to it – I’m not totally bonkers), but to remind myself that God has provided generously to my family and will continue to provide for us – regardless of me doing something as counter-intuitive as giving our money away. Since my first paycheck, I have chosen to tithe approximately 10% of my income. It’s funny how being faithful with my pitiful $11.50/hr starting salary helped with being faithful with ever-increasing amounts of money. (That’s a concept I also remember from my college days. I am pretty sure it was Pastor Ken Fong who taught this to me, but I can’t be sure. Either way, super helpful.)

True fact: Even though Hapa Papa is totally an atheist, he said his respect for me as a Christian went up when he found out that I tithed on a regular basis. It was early in our relationship and made a big impression on him. Now, it makes a big impression on his bank account. (Ok, not really that big. I don’t want it to seem that we give more than we actually do.)

So you see, other than the benefit of getting more blessings from God, you can get prospective spouses, too! Tithing is AWESOME!

Of course, it’s all fine and good to give money, etc. but I do think there are some responsible ways to go about it. Here then are some of my tips and reasoning behind our giving. (I’m pretty sure these work regardless of your religious devotion, but I could be wrong.) Obviously, just because this is how I’ve forced Hapa Papa to give doesn’t mean that this is the method proscribed by God and if you do not do so in the same manner, you will be smited/smitten/smote/smoted. Your theological mileage may vary.

1) Make sure your financial house is in order. Don’t be giving money away if you cannot afford to do so. If you have mountains of debt, I’m not sure it’s good policy to give away money that robs you of providing for your family/kids/rent etc. This is not to say that you cannot/should not give if you do have debt, but be sensible about it. And who is to say that the only way you can give is monetarily?

2) Donate to places that are responsible financially. There are a lot of groups that spend more money on advertising and fundraising than they do helping the cause for which they are advertising and fundraising. I want to make sure as much of my dollar as possible goes to whatever I’m supporting. You can look into a charity’s financials through sites such as: Guidestar or Givewell.

3) Give deeply vs broadly. In the past, I would give small amounts to many charities/worthy organizations. But now, I am more focused on selecting a few groups and giving more concentrated amounts. For example, instead of giving $10 to ten different groups, I would prefer to give $100 to one group. Nothing wrong with giving a charity $10, but $100 may be a bit more effective.

4) Give with purpose and planning. When I first graduated college, I chose to support friends who went on staff at InterVarsity (the Christian group I was part of at UCLA). I did so because I wanted to love my friends as well as thank the organization that made such a huge impact in my life. I also chose to support and contribute to friends who became missionaries (either in an urban or international setting) through groups like Servant Partners.

However, my philosophy towards giving has evolved a bit. I still support some of these folks and I enjoy reading and hearing about how my money helps my friends do college and urban ministry. But a lot of these types of para-church ministries are very fuzzy in terms of results and doing good. How do we measure success in these areas? Yes, people convert to Christianity or their lives are changed, but that is a lifetime commitment. Life is long and prone to many twists and turns. Who knows how it will turn out?

I think relationship based ministries are important – that’s why I still support my friends. But now, I try to focus on organizations that have very discrete and measurable results. I tend to give money to groups such as my local food bankHeifer International, or World Vision. Next year, I’m thinking of adding the Hamlin Fistula Organization. What I love about these organizations is that I know exactly what I’m getting – and people are benefiting in a specific way. I give $450 to the Fistula organization and one woman gets a fistula (basically a hole caused by childbirth complications between a woman’s vagina and bladder/rectum that causes constant leaking of urine and feces) fixed. I give $100 to the food bank and they can buy 100 lbs of food. I really love how the very necessary needs of people are being met in supremely practical, boring ways.

Figure out what type of person you are and how you want your money to have impact. I like both “soft” relational results as well as practical, nitty-gritty results. That’s why I split my giving.

At the end of every year, I decide which organizations I want to support for the next year and decide what amount I want to give each month. Furthermore, it comes in very handy when people/causes to whom you don’t want to donate ask for money. I always tell them, I have planned out my giving for the year already and although I am sure their cause is very worthy, I only give to organizations that I have researched and vetted. They are welcome to give me information about their group and I will consider them for next year.

4) Budget for miscellaneous donations. With that said, every year, I have friends running marathons for cancer or asking for donations for causes that are meaningful to them. I want to support my friends so I make sure I donate to a few of these as well.

5) Set up giving on an automatic basis. Just like it’s much easier to auto-pay your bills or savings, it’s much easier to automate your giving. That way, you don’t forget, it’s in smaller monthly increments, and you don’t miss the money (as much).

6) If you are tithing or donating on a percentage basis, figure out what number to use. By that, I mean, do you use pre-tax or post-tax salary? Pre-benefits or post-benefits? I don’t think there is a right or wrong number to use. Just choose the one that sits on your conscience the lightest and be consistent with it. Personally, I am lazy and somewhat cheap, so I just use whatever number is deposited into my bank account (and that is the post-tax and benefits number).

7) Make giving a priority. Every time we have an added expense (eg: preschool) or a set back (eg: a layoff), Hapa Papa always mentions that we could lower our giving. I always immediately nix the idea. Not because I’m a good person, but because I know that I often spend foolishly. So, I am not about to “cheat God” when I could just spend in a more judicious manner. Also, it helps that so much of our giving is automated that it’s already built into our budget.

You’ll notice that I don’t mention anything about teaching my kids to give. I haven’t really started to teach my kids about money or giving – but in the future, I will. When that happens, I’ll likely blog about it. But for now, I’m leaving that blank and to other experts. 😉

You’ll also note that I do not give to a church (which is what most people think of when they think of tithing). This is mostly because I do not currently belong to a church. However, when I did attend church, I gave on a more sporadic basis. In the future, I may also give to my church of choice because it will support their many services and activities from which I directly benefit.

Anyhow, this post was not just an excuse to brag about how generous I am with Hapa Papa’s hard labor. When I was just starting to give money to charities I was pretty clueless on the practicalities of the matter and since all my friends were newbies just like I was, it wasn’t a particularly helpful bunch. Hopefully, this post can help you choose to give in a useful and practical manner. After all, it is your money. You should steward it wisely.

Protecting Your Family: Money Series Pt 3

Sometimes, in the midst of nursing Baby3 or holding Gamera or staring at Cookie Monster, an insidious sliver of fear sneaks in and attempts mightily to dampen and ruin the joy of having my children. Sometimes, it is a nameless, general fear of suffering such as thoughts of my kids getting cancer, or getting hit by a car, or abused, etc. Other times, it’s a fear of my own death or Hapa Papa’s and that our demise will cause suffering to our children. (Yes, I know. My brain can be my own worst torture device.)

Once, when Cookie Monster was around fifteen months old and we were re-sleep-training him, he was crying super hard from his room. As any parent who has sleep-trained before knows, listening to your precious baby scream bloody murder is utterly horrible. Of course, I let him cry but my sadistic brain forced this scenario into my head: What if someone came into our house and murdered Hapa Papa and I and it was a weekend so my mom wouldn’t swing by our house until Monday and Cookie Monster was stuck in his room because of the gate and we were dead and covered in blood and he’d be crying and starving and thirsty and surrounded by our dead bodies for at least three days until my mom came by and it warped his brain and he turned into Dexter?

Hapa Papa woke up to me weeping in bed and Cookie Monster crying in his room. He thought something horrible had happened (something horrible did happen – albeit fictionally) and when he found out why I was weeping, he just shook his head sadly. I told you. I’m crazy.

Anyhow, two things bring me comfort as I teeter on the brink of hysteria obsessing over such happy occasions.

1) Statistically speaking, the odds of something happening to my kids or my husband and I are very slim. After all, the majority of people that I know of made it through childhood mostly in tact and live relatively normal, normally allotted suffering-type lives. So, just playing the odds, everything will be fine.

2) I beg God to be merciful and ask for more faith that no matter what happens, to believe and cling to the hope that God is good and will take care of me and my family and loved ones regardless of circumstances. This is very difficult so often, after praying, I resort to Method One of playing the odds. I know. I have such little faith.

These two courses of action are all mental and usually helpful in the middle of the night (which is when these fears sideswipe me the most). However, they are very impractical in terms of daily living. Thankfully, I am a financial advisor and though I am slow to take my own advice in the more morbid areas of my profession, at least I know what to do.

So, here are some steps I’ve taken to financially protect my family in case something happens.

Disclaimer: I am a financial advisor and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own family. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your family. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) Get enough life insurance. What amount is enough? That depends on whether you have kids (and how many), a spouse who works or stays at home, your spend rate, etc. For us, we took out approximately 10x Hapa Papa’s earnings on his life and 5x his earnings for my life in a combination of term and permanent insurance. We took out insurance on me even though I don’t work because while I may not bring in income, I do provide a service of monetary value (eg: childcare, house cleaning, etc.).

We got a combination of term and permanent insurance because although it is cheaper to just have it all be term insurance, we realized that term insurance is like car insurance: once you stop paying, you have nothing. Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have term insurance (or car insurance), it just means that you’re paying for something that admittedly, you never want to use, but once the need for it passes, you have no actual asset. So, the permanent insurance, although it is more costly, at least builds up as a monetary asset. Plus, if the need ever arises, we can “borrow” from the asset.

We also split up the total amount insured on Hapa Papa into several chunks. (eg: Instead of buying one policy of a million dollars, you buy two policies of $500,000.) We did that for two reasons.

a) In case we can no longer afford the payments on insurance, we can drop one or more of the policy amounts but still be covered with life insurance – albeit at a lesser amount. This is particularly important because we are young and healthy now, so our premiums are much lower. If we only had ONE large policy and could no longer afford the payments, we would have to drop the entire policy, then re-apply when we are older and perhaps LESS healthy – thereby, having higher premiums for less insurance.

b) In the case that we get older and no longer need as much insurance because the kids are grown or no longer under our care, we can drop one or more policies without having to re-apply for a smaller amount (for the same reason as above).

2) Get a will and living trust (as well as Power of Attorney, Health proxy, etc.). The living trust will help prevent our assets from going into probate (as long as they are titled in the name of the trust) and being tied up by the courts. It will also help us avoid some taxes and make the management and division of our assets clear and well delineated. The trust provides for the guardianship and financial assets for our children in case we both die. This seems MOST important to me since my children are young. However, obviously, the document will still be useful when they are grown.

One of the most important aspects of our trust were the disinheriting instructions. I wanted to make sure under NO circumstances was my father, his mistress, or their children could have any possibility at inheriting our assets or children. I realize that in order for there to be any chance of my dad getting my assets or kids, multiple branches of both my and Hapa Papa’s families would have to be wiped out, in which case, we have bigger problems than inheritance issues, but I believe in being prepared.

3) Get adequate umbrella insurance coverage. If you own a business or home, it helps to have this just in case some litigious-happy person gets injured (physically, mentally, emotionally, psychically) while on your property. While one can hope the people you invite into your space aren’t the suing type, as they say, “Hope is not a course of action.” Indeed, that is good advice in most life situations.

4) Get disability insurance. Whether through your work/employer or through  a company like Aflac, it’s a good idea to have some sort of disability insurance. You are more likely to be disabled than to die so, you know, it’s good policy to have it. (See what I did there?) That way, you’re not just running down your savings, you have 60-80% of your income coming in.

5) Make sure all your beneficiaries are up to date. This is pretty important. I am embarrassed to say that until we finally got our living trust done last month (it took me three years and three kids to finally get this taken care of!!), I hadn’t reviewed our beneficiaries since I opened our accounts. Hapa Papa had some of his IRAs going to his father – who passed away almost four years ago! I had some of my accounts benefiting my brother and my mother. Needless to say, I changed that RIGHT AWAY. (It’s all going to be mine, MINE, MINE!)

Anyhow, these are the things that we are doing to protect ourselves financially. Please note that most of these processes are time intensive (eg: getting health exams for life insurance, noting all your assets and accounts for the living trusts, etc.) but totally worth doing. You don’t want to have your family hung out to dry just because you were too lazy to carve out a few hours to get your financial house in order.

Incidentally, because I was so freaked out about the possibility of Hapa Papa and I dying while Cookie Monster was trapped in his room by himself, I began to run through scenarios of how we could prevent it from happening. I thought, perhaps I could call/text and check in with my mother every morning and evening so she would know we were still alive and didn’t have to run to our house and check on Cookie Monster.

I know this sounds entirely insane – and rightly so. However, if we didn’t have life insurance, living trusts, and etc., I really would be insane. If you don’t have this stuff squared away yet – get to it (even if you don’t have kids). Don’t leave a financial mess for your loved ones to navigate through. Do every one a big favor and get your shit together.