Key Concerns Blog

Sharing our passion of finances and food.

Everything I Needed To Know About Money I Learned From My Mom

Posted on October 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

It’s true.  My parents, in particular my mom, thought that learning about money was essential to good parenting.  As a kid it was somewhat frustrating.  My friend’s mom would not only buy birthday presents for her friends, but would buy her a matching toy so she wouldn’t feel left out.  In college, I was with a friend whose dad asked her, “Do you need any money?”  She said no, and her dad pulled out his wallet and handed her $150 in cash.  My eyes bugged out of my head and I couldn’t help to think, “How much money would she have received if she said she did need money?”  But I digress.  My relationship with money and my parents looked different than a lot of my peers, and I am better for it.

From as young an age as I can remember, the house rule was that half of any money given to us went into the bank.  One of my grandmas always sent $20 in a birthday card (a huge sum of money to a five-year-old in 1984).  We would go to the bank, fill out a deposit slip, and put half that money into my account.  We would record the deposit, I would get a sucker from the bank teller, and then we would go to Toys-R-Us to get a new toy.

When I got older, that idea of saving half my paycheck hung around.  Half my earnings from jobs, babysitting, lawn mowing and snow removal went straight to the bank.  The other half went to my expenses that were defined: my going-out money (to a teenager that is considered an expense), trips I went on without the parents, gas and repairs for my car, and anything else I wanted.  I don’t remember my sister or me asking for spending money.  It just wasn’t done in our house.

My sister and I were introduced to investing in high school.  We started mutual funds with our money from our summer jobs.  I think it made the idea of investing less scary and just something that is done.

In college, I was so fortunate that my parents paid for my tuition.  Well, they put the money into my account, and it was my responsibility to make sure it made it to the University on time.  They also paid for housing.  When I lived on-campus, they gave me money for my dorm fees.  When I decided to move off campus, they gave me the equivalent of dorm fees.  I had to decide how to spend that money, and anything over and above that amount was my responsibility.  I also had to pay for books and transportation.  And beer.

Upon graduation, my parents said I could move back home.  They they told me how much rent was going to be.  It was below market value, but my independence was more important.  Had it been free, it may have seemed more tempting than to move out and start my own life.

When I got married, they sat me down and told me point blank how much money they were contributing.  This allowed me to budget, and also to feel free about what I wanted and didn’t want for my wedding.  I could spend money how I saw fit, and knew where my financial responsibility would start.

As a kid, this education seemed excessive.  My sister and I often commented about how if dad could work a few days of overtime, he could give us the same amount of money that our summer job would pay us.  I see now that that wasn’t the point.  The point was to connect money and work, and then use the money we earned in a responsible, thoughtful way.  As a result of this, my first thought is to save money.  The only debt my husband and I carry is a mortgage, which we plan to pay off early.  We spend time and energy thinking and planning where our money goes.  What we do with money is deliberate.

I am now a parent, and my oldest child is five.  She is at an age where she wants a lot, and is beginning to understand the concept of money.  I also live in a community where many of her friends have more stuff than her, and always will.  I enjoy buying her new things that make her happy, but I want to raise children that understand money and delayed gratification.  I also want to instill in my kids an idea of the power of money, not for consumerism, but for good.  I want them to have generous spirits as well as being responsible people.  It’s a lofty goal, but I see from my childhood that teaching money skills is as much a parenting goal as anything else.

Erin’s Little Ice Cream Shop

Posted on July 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

I’ve written before about my son’s food allergies, and because of them, I have started making our own ice cream. I bought an entry-level Cuisinart ice cream maker and have gone to town making homemade ice cream. Our favorite flavor is mint chocolate chip, and I’ll include the recipe below.

I’m going to be brutally honest here: I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated with my generation, the generation just older than me and the generation that’s younger than me. I’m frustrated with the lack of planning that people do, and in general, the complete and total lack of energy that people spend on their finances and their futures. It makes me nauseous, both for those who are unprepared, but for our economy in general. We are all worried about the boomers, with their expensive medical costs as they age and any lack of planning that they’ve done, but I think that they are going to be much better off in retirement than Generation X, Y, and the Millennial’s. Many of the boomers still have pensions, they’ve seen much rosier economic times than us, and haven’t gone to college in a time where it’s virtually unaffordable for all but the very rich to go to a state school without graduating in debt.

So why talk about ice cream? Because as I watched my beautiful, yet simple concoction of cream, milk, sugar, mint, and vanilla spin around in the ice cream maker, I contemplated a new career. What if I opened an allergy-friendly ice cream shop? I could hand make the ice cream, there would be no nut contamination, I could have gluten-free cones, and even dairy free options made from coconut milk, right? It would be the exact opposite of what I’m doing now; it would be instant gratification for customers, a simple product that I don’t have to twist people’s arms to come buy. Sure, I’d be contributing to the ever-expanding waistlines of Americans, but I’d be helping kids with food allergies enjoy a traditional family outing that they’d otherwise not be able to do. What’s not to love?

I told my husband, one of the most practical men I know, my idea. While he wasn’t immediately sold on it, he didn’t shoot me down. He did ask why I would want to do what sounded like an incredibly taxing job to him. I explained my frustrations about how I can’t get younger people at all focused on planning for their futures. They avoid, they act ashamed, and they don’t want to meet because they think that they aren’t on the right track. Or, they think in a magical place in the future, they will suddenly have enough money to start saving, not realizing that their 20s are flying by them and they are more concerned with going to all of their friends’ Vegas bachelor parties.

If I sound a little cynical, it’s because I am, which is not my normal personality.

So, back to my ice cream shop and financial planning frustrations: My husband agrees with me that our generation is heading down the wrong path, from a financial perspective. Some of that is our own doing, some of that we’ve had help from a mix of bad parenting and a bad economy. My husband says, “So, you know there is the huge problem out there, and because it’s big, you want to turn the other way and open an ice cream store?” Yes, yes I do. Except I don’t. I really want to help people prepare for their futures. I want to show them the opportunities that they have when they are young to be on the right path so that they have options when they are no longer young. I want to educate them on investing so it’s not this big, scary thing that they avoid doing.

So, how do I reach people in their 20’s and 30’s? How do I help them take time and energy away from their already busy lives and spend some time focused on their futures? How do I help younger people prioritize so that they aren’t waiting around for their parents to kick so that they have some money? I am asking these questions in all seriousness. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at eshelton@keyconcerns.com, or leave a comment below. Thanks!

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Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Posted on in Recipes

Ingredients:

2 Cups Heavy Cream

1 Cup Whole Milk

3/4 Cup Sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon mint extract

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

To prepare:

Mix all ingredients except chocolate chips until sugar is dissolved.  Place in refridgerator for at least one hour to chill.  Pour into ice cream maker.  After about 10 minutes, add chocolate chips.  Continue to run ice cream maker until mixture is frozen.   Eat some (if you like it a little soft), or put it in the freezer for a few hours until it hardens.   Some add green food coloring, but I prefer as few artificial ingredients as possible, so understand that this will be white.

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But It’s An Investment!

Posted on June 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

I was getting a haircut a few months ago, and my hairdresser and I were discussing different brands of flat irons. We both have very curly hair and choose to straighten it from time to time. I told her that I had bought a nice one since I didn’t want to damage my hair. She said, “Good. It really is an investment.” I chuckled a little, but kept my mouth shut. For her, maybe a flat iron is an investment. After all, she can appeal to more clients if she owns a good one, and purchasing it can allow her to make more money. But for me, all it will do is straighten my hair.

I hear this term “investment” thrown around a lot. I hear it on advertisements for all sorts of products- shoes, clothes, cars, and furniture. I hear it for services: “Protect your investment- have your carpets cleaned by the best!” Now, let me be clear: there is value in purchasing high-quality items. My flat-iron, for example, probably damages my hair less than a cheap one. Your carpet, while not an investment, provides you a clean, comfortable place to live. There is value to that. Keeping your car maintained can lengthen the life of it and save you money in the long run. But saving money is not investment.

The dictionary definition of investment is “The purchase of property with the expectation that its value will increase over time.” We invest in the stock market expecting those stocks to increase in value. We purchase property with an expectation that the property will increase in value. We even invest in ourselves by paying for education with the expectation that we will increase our earning potential. All of these investments are subject to risk of losing value, but with sound investing, we expect they go the other way. My flat iron, on the other hand, has very little value on the open market today. Its only value is its ability to control my hair during high-humidity.

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What Gets You Excited About Saving?

Posted on May 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

I love a deal.  Some people think that women are self-deprecating when their response to a compliment is to say, “Oh these?  I got them on clearance for $20.”  Me, I am excited and proud of my ability to save a buck.  Take, for example, my five-year-old daughter.  She just learned to ride a two-wheeler.  She needed a new bike, and I am sort of a bike snob and didn’t want her riding just any old bike.  I also didn’t want to spend $200 on the bike that I wanted her to have.

I stalked Craig’s list for a good used bike.  I was shocked at the amount of money that people were asking for bikes that were not any good.  I found one possibility, only to learn it had already been sold.  As a last-ditch effort, I looked on eBay, and I found exactly the bike I wanted her to have.  It was the price I wanted to spend.  And then I saw it- Local Pickup Only.  I almost didn’t even click on it to see where the local pickup would be, but I did.  It was in Wixom.  I think I did a happy dance.

I emailed the owner to see if we could meet on a day that I was already driving through that area.  He was available and would be glad to sell me the bike.  I just saved another $20 on gas!  So I got the bike I wanted, spent less than a third of what it would cost new, and combined the pick-up with another trip and spent nothing on the gas.  Score!

Best of all, the bike is a huge hit.

Ali-Bike-Pic

What about saving makes you excited?  Is it seeing your accounts grow?  Do you brag about a great deal?  Getting more excited about saving than spending can put you in a great place financially.  It can change your outlook on wants versus needs.  It also will make your purchases very conscious purchases instead of frivolous.

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Sue’s Chicken Stew

Posted on February 25, 2013 in Recipes

(Soup at Open House)

Chicken StewChicken Stew with Biscuits

2002, Barefoot Contessa Family Style, All Rights Reserved

Prep Time:  30 min

Inactive Prep Time: –

Cook Time:  45 min

Level:  Intermediate

Serves: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
  • Hint: Oil and Season chicken breasts night before and store in fridge.
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups medium-diced carrots (4 carrots), blanched for 2 minutes
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen peas (2 cups)    (I used green beans and corn)
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

For the biscuits:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chicken into large dice. You will have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and the heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, onions, and parsley. Mix well. Place the stew in a 10 x 13 x 2-inch oval or rectangular baking dish. Place the baking dish on a sheet pan lined with parchment or wax paper. Bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the biscuits. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Add the half-and-half and combine on low speed. Mix in the parsley. Dump the dough out on a well-floured board and, with a rolling pin, roll out to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out twelve circles with a 2 1/2-inch round cutter.

Remove the stew from the oven and arrange the biscuits on top of the filling. Brush them with egg wash, and return the dish to the oven. Bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the biscuits are brown and the stew is bubbly.

Note: To make in advance, refrigerate the chicken stew and biscuits separately. Bake the stew for 25 minutes, then place the biscuits on top, and bake for another 30 minutes, until done.

 

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Putting Life into Focus

Posted on January 11, 2013 in Articles

Chris1

Before Halloween, I was eating Peanut Butter Cheerios for breakfast.  I think they are so delicious; I could eat a whole box.  My 18-month-old son was very interested as well, so I gave him a few to play with.  He didn’t put any in his mouth, but he was playing with them at the table.  He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and a few seconds later broke out in hives all over his chest. Chris2 I took a picture to show the doctor, who said without hesitation, “Yep, that’s a peanut allergy.  Here’s a prescription for an epi-pen and an allergy protocol for exposure.”  Two weeks later he had a blood allergy test.  As expected, he tested positive for a severe peanut allergy, and also came back positive for tree nuts and eggs.  When we met with an allergist, I asked, “Now, just how crazy do I have to get?”  Her response: “Very.”  All those food labels that warn about “possible peanut contamination” or “shared equipment”pertain to us now.  And parties?  Well, it’s fine to say he can’t eat nuts.  But if anybody else wants to eat them, they need to wash their hands and face before they touch him.  Or touch anything that he may touch.  So in a nutshell (he he…pun intended), just don’t have any nuts at a party, and by the way, it’s the day before Thanksgiving.

I’m a rather analytical person.  If I have a problem, I do some research and I talk to people that are knowledgeable on the topic.  I read books, joined an organization on food allergies, and became better friends with a woman with a 13-year-old son with a severe peanut allergy (who is still alive and has had only two reactions since his initial diagnosis at 18 months old, so she’s doing something right).  All the research and specialists say the same thing: you have to be a little crazy.  You have to read labels, bring your own cupcakes to parties, and avoid certain places such as Chinese restaurants and ice cream shops.

This crazy level of vigilance was not relaxing over the holidays.  It did not allow me to sit back and enjoy the moment.  I made nut-free baked goods, one that attempted to copy a store-bought cake that my husband’s family enjoys.  It did not taste good.  We had to ask well-meaning hosts to put away popcorn that could be contaminated and had to watch out for bakery-baked cookies that were brought.  With all this, he still had a mild allergic reaction, and we’re not entirely sure to what.

Sometimes I feel crazy like this with financial planning.  I look at most people’s current situation and wonder how they are going to reach their dreams.  There are so many obstacles that this generation faces that the World War II generation and the Boomers did not.  Traditional pensions do not exist for most people.  College costs are soaring.  People in their 20’s who need to be saving for retirement are faced with a challenging (to say the least) job market and are completely buried in student loans.  Health care costs are at an all-time high.  On top of this, our politicians are doing everything in their power to make Social Security insolvent by the time we reach retirement.  Where’s my epi-pen for this insanity?

Finances can make you crazy.  The same level of vigilance is needed for budgets, daily bill paying, and retirement planning as is needed to prevent an accidental exposure to allergies.  Because of this, we recommend seeing a professional- someone who can help you make sense of it all, and someone who can take the crazy investing burden off your shoulders.

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What Do Bakers And Financial Advisors Have In Common?

Posted on December 19, 2012 in Articles

Our family has a long time tradition of baking a variety of goodies for the holidays.  One of our most requested treats is Almond Roca candy.  It’s not your typical holiday cookie (it’s like a heath bar) so people generally assume it’s more difficult to prepare.  Actually, the recipe is quite simple – there are only 5 ingredients in the toffee.  The process really isn’t too difficult, either, as long as you have a candy thermometer.  The difficult part is the timing of it, because it goes very quickly.  Planning for each step is crucial.  I’ve learned through practice to prepare “stations” so that the whole process runs smoothly.  Isn’t this similar to financial planning?  People generally think of planning for retirement as a daunting task.  As long as you have a good, sound plan each “station” of your life can run smoothly.  Planning for these stations is something that financial advisors, just like bakers, have perfected through education and practice.  A good financial advisor has lead many clients into a smooth, successful retirement and therefore can help you to plan for yours.  While I cannot blog out a generic financial plan for every individual to follow, I can share my process for Almond Roca candy.

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Almond Roca Candy Recipe

Posted on in Recipes

Ingredients:

1 cup salted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1 ½ cups sliced or slivered almonds chopped in food processor, separated
1 (12 oz) package milk chocolate chips

Directions:

Station 1:         2-3 qt saucepan, wooden spoon, candy thermometer and oven mitts.

Station 2:         cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil and placed on a rack or
trivet (cookie sheet gets hot!), open bag of chocolate chips,
½ cup almonds and a knife for spreading chocolate.

Station 3:         empty sink

Combine butter, sugar, water, corn syrup and 1 cup of the chopped almonds in a 2-3 qt. saucepan. 

Cook over high heat. Once this starts boiling you will need to stir it constantly.

It will get very hot; I use an oven mitt for my stirring hand and one to hold onto the pot handle as well.  Boil over high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 290°.

 Quickly pour onto foil covered cookie sheet.

Place pot and thermometer into sink and run water into it.  If you can get the water into the pan before the toffee sets clean-up is easier.  Smooth toffee out over cookie sheet into about ¼ inch layer.

Pour chocolate chips over hot toffee.

Put spoon into pan with water in the sink.  Chocolate chips will melt from the heat of the hot toffee.  Smooth the melted chips evenly over the toffee.

Sprinkle with the remaining almonds.

Cool completely.  I place mine in refrigerator to cool.  Break into pieces and enjoy!

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The $100,000 Procrastination

Posted on November 5, 2012 in Articles

I talk to people all the time about money. I try to get them to get their finances in order, pay down debt, have an emergency fund, and save for their futures. And I hear excuses. Sometimes I don’t hear excuses because I simply hear nothing. We talk about this in the office- why can’t people get their financial lives in order? It’s so important- more important than ever, especially for those who are not going to receive traditional pensions upon retirement. Then I realized I was just as bad.

Over the summer I started looking into mortgage rates. Rates are at historic lows and I thought it would be a great time to turn my 30 year loan into a 15 year loan. I ran the numbers ten different ways to see what would work the best. I found out that at minimum, my husband and I would save over $100,000 over the course of our loan. And then I walked away from the process.

See, I was busy. My daughter started school, work was busy, home life was busy. I had all the excuses that I have heard from clients at the office. And they didn’t feel like excuses, I genuinely was busy. I just put the entire process on hold. One day my husband asks me, “How’s the refinance process going?” I stumbled. I picked up my phone and called the agent I am working with and started the process over.
I thought about walking away and doing nothing. After all, doing nothing is a decision as much as taking action. And then I thought what a ridiculous mistake that would be. Because I was overwhelmed with life I was going to spend an extra $100,000 on my house? That’s real money!

I understand where clients are coming from when they don’t take action. I understand, but I urge them still to think about the consequences. Not saving now, not paying down debt, or not taking advantage of an opportunity can be a decision that swings your future economic situation by quite a bit.

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