MONEY Travel

5 Money-Saving Tips for Road Tripping Families

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Blend Images - Jon Feingersh—Getty Images

There's an art to saving money on the road.

With four kids between the ages of 1 and 12, Loralee Leavitt is a cost-savings ninja when she hits the road.

Leavitt, who hails from Kirkland, Washington, estimates that she has gone on more than 30 road trips with her growing family, logging over 60,000 miles, to places like Utah, Colorado, Arizona and California.

From packing their own food, to staying in state parks, to scouring for last-minute hotel deals, the family has made an art of saving money. Their piece de resistance: A trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park that did not cost more than $400 total.

“It is easy to spend more than you expect,” says Leavitt, author of “Road Tripping”. “But if you prepare it right, it can be a lot of fun, and very cheap.”

More Americans are planning road trips around the United States. In fact, 65 percent of those polled report they are more likely to take a road trip this summer than they were last summer, according to a recent survey by booking site Travelocity. And when you single out parents, a whopping 81 percent said they were more likely to hit the road with the kids this year.

Be careful, though. While a domestic road trip might appear like an affordable alternative to traveling abroad, costs can easily spiral out of control.

A recent study by travel site Expedia found that Americans expect to pay an average of $898 per person for a weeklong trip within their own country, hardly chump change.

To keep a lid on summer road-trip costs, we canvassed financial planners for their best tips, culled from personal experience. Here’s what they had to say.

Use Apps to Your Advantage

Not that long ago, travelers squinted at printed maps and missed exits. These days, there is no excuse for not using smartphone apps.

Google Maps, for instance, will get you from Point A to Point B without getting lost and racking up unnecessary mileage. GasBuddy will locate the cheapest local stations where you can fill up the tank. Apps like RoadNinja and Roadtrippers can tell you about local amenities and help plan your route, and HotelTonight or Hotels.com can locate last-minute lodging discounts nearby.

Get Campy

Ditch the hotels, and stay in campgrounds, says financial planner Therese Nicklas of Braintree, Massachusetts.

By camping in state parks with her family of four for around $10 a night, and cooking their own food, Nicklas estimates they save about $150 every single day.

You don’t have to pitch a tent every night. Consider an occasional splurge at a hotel with a pool, hot showers and free breakfasts.

Diehard money-savers might enjoy so-called “dispersed camping” permitted in many national and state forests, where you set up away from designated campgrounds. No amenities, but no fees, either.

Also consider an annual pass from the National Park Service, allowing you access to more than 2,000 sites nationwide for $80.

Hold Money-Saving Competitions

Adviser Niv Persaud of Atlanta has an innovative idea: Make budgeting a game with your kids instead of a chore. “For each dollar they save, on coupons, special deals, or cheap gas, they earn a star,” Persaud says. “The one with the most stars at the end of the trip gets to pick the location for the next family vacation.”

Forget Flights and Car Rentals

Whatever savings you realize by staying domestic could be wiped out by airline bookings and car- or RV-rental fees. So do what David MacLeod did, and schlep to your destination in your own car, even if it’s a long distance away. The planner from Fullerton, California recently took his family all the way from southern California to Montana in their trusty Honda Odyssey, saving $1,000 in the process.

Bring Your Own Food

The silent killer of many family travel budgets: Eating out. Nip that in the bud with a cooler or two stuffed to the brim with snacks and quick meals.

“A simple gallon of milk, box of cereal, yogurts and fresh fruit can provide a great breakfast at 1/4 of the cost of eating out,” says Janice Cackowski, a planner in Independence, Ohio. She also advises eating out only at lunch, when restaurant prices tend to be much lower.

Above all, don’t be scared off by the idea of being in a car for so many hours with your kids. Magic occurs when families actually spend time with each other. “Something wonderful happens: You pay attention to each other,” says Leavitt.

MONEY Workplace

What YouTube Star Michelle Phan Learned From Her First Job at a China Buffet

How To Keep Your Social Media Game Sincere - 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival
Steve Rogers Photography Internet personality Michelle Phan attends How To Keep Your Social Media Game Sincere' during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 16, 2015 in Austin, Texas.

The makeup advice guru and 3 other YouTube celebs dish on their first paid jobs.

Not long ago, Americans megastars only came from places like network television shows or Hollywood films.

These days, they also come from somewhere else entirely: YouTube.

While old-media outlets like newspapers have been losing subscribers, YouTube celebrities have been gaining them by the busload.

For the latest installment in Reuters’ monthly “First Jobs” series, we asked a few of the top YouTube stars to discuss how they came from nowhere to cultivate millions of adoring fans.

Michelle Phan

YouTube subscribers: 7.8 million

Specialty: Makeup advice

First Job: China Buffet host

“I was 16 years old, and wanted to help my mom with the rent. There was a restaurant called China Buffet in Tampa that hung a ‘Help Wanted’ sign outside, so I went in and ended up hosting every Friday and Sunday for $6 or $7 an hour.

“My favorite dish was lo mein, which was so greasy. But I was a teenager then and could basically eat whatever I wanted.

“What I learned from that job was how to greet people and make eye contact. I used to be a very shy introvert and never even spoke to people, so it was that job that first gave me the confidence to talk to strangers.

“That was my first legal job, but even before that my brother and I used to sell candy at our school, charging for lollipops and chocolate bars in the gym and the auditorium. We made a good amount of money, too: In two months, we made $600 that we used to buy computer parts and build our own computer. I have always been a hustler like that.”

Cassey Ho

YouTube subscribers: 2.35 million

Specialty: Fitness tutorials

First job: Candy seller

“Back in middle school, every time I used to trick-or-treat, I would take all the chocolates and microwave them and then make my own little chocolate creations. My friends all liked them, so I started charging them for it.

“Later on in high school I added cookie sandwiches with buttercream inside, and everyone went nuts. It became a whole enterprise, with five employees working for me. I was known as “Cassey the Cookie Girl” all over campus. That business even helped me get a Fulbright scholarship.

“It’s ironic that I now run a fitness blog. My friends accuse me of having planned it this whole time, of making them fat and then getting them back into shape.

“I learned that if you create a product that has value, you can definitely start charging for it. I also learned that people not only buy because they like the product. They buy because they like you.”

Matthew Santoro

YouTube subscribers: 4.3 million

Specialty: Amazing facts and top 10 lists

First job: Deli counter

“I worked at a Canadian supermarket called Loblaws, essentially frying chicken for a living. I worked my butt off all the way through high school and university, saving up enough to pay my tuition and graduate with no debt.

“I had never had a job before, and handed in a resume with hardly anything on it. But my mom suggested that I send a thank-you card after the interview, and that must have been what got me the job. It was the only one they got.

“I came in not knowing anything, and just learned on the job. Most of all, I got to know how to deal with angry customers. People would come in just fuming mad, and you had to know how to defuse that situation. That skill translates very well to everyday life.

“The number-one question I got at the deli counter was whether or not I ever got sick of fried chicken. And the answer was always no. It’s tasty and delicious. What’s not to like?”

Bunny Meyer

YouTube subscribers: 5.2 million

Specialty: Beauty tips

First job: File clerk

“My first job was as a clerk at an oil-and-gas company, and I actually got fired at it.

“They hired me to do a special project, putting me in a huge office stacked floor-to-ceiling with boxes, and I had to put sticker labels on them all. They thought it was going to take me all summer.

“But when I get a task to do, I like to see how fast I can do it. So I challenged myself and finished within a week. They were completely surprised and said they had no more work for me. They had to let me go.

“What I learned was how important it is to find a job where you can work at your own pace. I like to work very quickly, uploading videos almost every day.

“These days, that kind of diligence and effort pays off. But before, that just wasn’t where I belonged. I could never see myself having a desk job again.”

MONEY Kids and Money

70% of Rich Families Lose Their Wealth by the Second Generation

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT with Jessica Walter and Portia de Rossi
Carin Baer—20th Century Fox Licensing/Everett Collection Scene from Arrested Development with Jessica Walter and Portia de Rossi

A little honesty might help preserve the family fortune.

When Stephen Lovell used to visit his grandparents as a kid, it was like entering the world of Cole Porter or The Great Gatsby.

People dressed in tuxedos and sipped cocktails. They owned boats, airplanes, a hobby farm. Not to mention a lavish mansion in Ontario, Canada, and a summer home in Southampton, New York.

He estimates that his grandfather, who founded the John Forsyth Shirt Co, had a fortune of at least $70 million in today’s dollars. But through a combination of bad decisions, bad luck, and alcohol dependency, the next generation squandered that money.

“I think about it all the time,” says Lovell, a financial planner in Walnut Creek, California.

Indeed, 70% of wealthy families lose their wealth by the second generation, and a stunning 90% by the third, according to the Williams Group wealth consultancy.

U.S. Trust recently surveyed high-net-worth individuals with more than $3 million in investable assets to find out how they are preparing the next generation for handling significant wealth.

“Looking at the numbers, 78% feel the next generation is not financially responsible enough to handle inheritance,” says Chris Heilmann, U.S. Trust’s chief fiduciary executive.

And 64% admit they have disclosed little to nothing about their wealth to their children.

The survey lists various reasons: People were taught not to talk about money, they worry their children will become lazy and entitled, and they fear the information will leak out.

When I asked financial planners why the wealthy are so poor at passing along money smarts and why second- and third-generation heirs turn out to be so ham-handed, the answers were surprisingly frank.

A sampling: “Most of them have no clue as to the value of money or how to handle it.” “Generation Threes are usually doomed.” “It takes the average recipient of an inheritance 19 days until they buy a new car.”

Yes, the statistics may be grim. But just because most wealthy families see their fortunes evaporate within a couple of generations does not mean yours will. Some strategies to avoid it:

Talk Early and Often

You may think you are encouraging hard work by not disclosing wealth to your kids, but that really just fosters ignorance.

If you have just never talked about money, get over it, and give your kids a crash course in financial literacy. Many financial institutions, including U.S. Trust, offer specialized learning materials and courses to get heirs up to speed.

That goes for grandkids, too: Instill smart money lessons in them, and you have pushed family wealth forward another 30 or 40 years.

Discuss the Will

If you are ready for true transparency, take it up a notch and bring up the elephant in the room: the will.

“Parents and grandparents should communicate the whats and whys of their will in a group setting, with all their children present, long before the will is read,” says David Mullins, a planner in Richlands, Virginia.

That way, you can hash out any issues as a family beforehand. It is better than after the fact, when the patriarch or matriarch is not around to explain or make adjustments, and things devolve into all-out legal war.

“Trust me, siblings will find out who got what,” says Mullins. “Without proper communication, this can destroy families.”

Create a Roadmap

Almost one-quarter of baby boomers think their kids will not be able to handle wealth properly until the ripe age of 40. And almost half of wealthy individuals over 70 agree.

That is why you should give your heirs a financial roadmap in the form of a family mission statement, advises U.S. Trust. You can lay out what you expect in terms of spending, saving, and giving back, as well as pass along strategies for building wealth.

Stephen Lovell wishes his mother had that kind of roadmap.

“How did my mother blow it?” he says. “She just didn’t know any better. And now we all live with that regret, every day.”

MONEY migraines

Don’t Let Migraines Hurt Your Finances

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Getty Images

Americans lose an estimated 113 million work days to migraines.

If you have never experienced a migraine, consider yourself blessed by a thousand angels.

Sarah Hackley wishes she could say that. The Austin-based writer and editor suffers from headaches so severe, “it feels like someone is jamming an ice pick into my temple while dropping an anvil on my head.”

Nowadays, she gets attacks at least twice a week, sometimes daily. But twice in her life time, the 31-year-old mom of two has experienced migraines that lasted for an astonishing two years.

Migraines may not exert just physical pain or emotional duress. They could hurt the pocketbook, too, and blow up the most careful financial planning.

Hackley quit her job, working part-time from home, and has spent many thousands of dollars visiting specialists around the country. She isn’t saving much for retirement.

“Migraines are a huge deal for your finances, because they influence what you can do,” says Hackley, author of “Finding Happiness with Migraines.”

Saving is already hard for most Americans. Throw in a debilitating condition that can leave you bedridden, wracked by pain, sensitive to light, noise or smells, and unable to work. How will your bank account fare then?

“Part of the suffering is that migraines take such a huge hit on people’s lives and finances,” says Carolyn Bernstein, clinical director of the Comprehensive Headache Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Brookline, Massachusetts.

“You are unable to go to work, you are using up all your vacation time, and you are prevented from being able to advance in your career,” Bernstein says.

Costs to Wallet, Life

These recurring headaches torture a surprising number of people – about 36 million Americans, or 10 percent of the population, according to the New York City-based nonprofit Migraine Research Foundation.

Each year, that translates to 113 million lost work days, a cost to employers of $13 billion, and $50 billion in annual healthcare services.

Migraines can torpedo finances at multiple stages of your career. They can affect your education, by encouraging sufferers to drop out; your prime earning years, by hampering productivity and promotions; and your golden years, with the pain pushing you into early retirement.

“When migraines are out of control, they can set people up for a lifetime of underachievement,” says Dr. Richard Lipton, vice-chair of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.

Part of the challenge is that migraines are mysterious and individual in nature.

Still, there are a few key strategies migraine sufferers can use to minimize the financial hit.

Don’t Suffer in Silence

“See a doctor and get treatment right away,” advises Lipton.

A tailored personal strategy might include taking preventive medication on a daily basis, avoiding triggers that could range from missing meals to getting irregular sleep or drinking alcohol, and having additional medication on hand for when the migraines hit.

To control ongoing healthcare costs, consider medical savings accounts. You will be forking out for everything from deductibles to co-pays to out-of-network services, and you should at least be using pretax money to cover all that, saving you on the order of 30 percent.

Bernstein provides this example: If you are on three different medications to control your migraines, each one with a co-pay costing $10 a month, that’s $360 for the year.

Add in physical therapy 10 times a year, each session with a $25 co-pay, for another $250 annually. Other treatments like acupuncture could prove effective, but might not be covered by your insurance plan.

Protect Yourself

If attacks are causing you to be away from work fairly consistently, you may be seen by higher-ups as someone who cannot be counted on, and miss out on plum assignments or promotions. Or worse, be first in the firing line if there are staff cutbacks.

As a result, “ask your doctor for a letter to give to your Human Resources department,” advises Bernstein. “That way you won’t get penalized for having migraines. Once it’s documented, you have some degree of protection.”

As for Sarah Hackley, she is able to work only a few hours a day, or a migraine is triggered, laying her out for a full week.

But with the help of doctors and fellow sufferers at online communities like Migraine.com, she can at least manage her money and her migraines.

“It’s an expensive condition, but all the support out there is invaluable,” she says. “You can’t put a price on that.”

MONEY stocks

Millennials Prefer Hot Tech Stocks While Gen Xers Shop for Dividends

Tesla Unveils New Battery System
Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, with a graphic unveils suite of batteries for homes, businesses, and utilities at the Tesla Design Studio April 30, 2015 in Hawthorne, California.

Among the top picks for young adults aged 34 and younger: Apple, Facebook Inc, Tesla Motors Inc, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

It seems America’s youth have found a hero, and he is 84 years old.

For those aged 34 or younger, their No. 2 favorite stock – behind only mighty Apple Inc – is none other than Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

This is according to new data from the brokerage TD Ameritrade, which took a snapshot in May of the individual equity holdings of every one of its retail clients (not including mutual funds and exchange traded funds, which themselves hold baskets of different securities).

When it came to picking individual stocks, the results showed a generational difference. Millennials, who are pegged as tech-obsessed upstarts, favored the stocks of their own time. Aging baby boomers, who are stereotyped as stubbornly set in their ways, and Generation X, which is stuck in the middle, mostly favored what they know best, that is, dividend stocks.

Among the top picks for young adults aged 34 and younger: Apple, which accounts for a whopping 11.7 percent of their equity holdings; Facebook Inc, at 1.9 percent; electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA), at 1.1 percent; and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, at 1.1 percent.

For all those aged 35 years and older, Apple reigns supreme in their portfolios as well, with a share of 9.4 percent. Other popular stocks include General Electric Co, at 1.7 percent; AT&T Inc, at 1.4 percent; and Exxon-Mobil Corp, at 1.4 percent.

No mystery there: Follow the dividend.

“Older clients tend to search for higher yield,” said Nicole Sherrod, TD Ameritrade’s managing director of trading, since dividend-paying stocks provide a steady income stream as boomers start easing into retirement.

“So you see energy companies like Chevron, and healthcare names like Johnson & Johnson, and telecoms like Verizon, all of which they are very familiar with and have been investing in for years.”

For the youngest generation, however, it is all about what is hot now.

“It’s a demographic that is very much into tech, so it’s not shocking that it tends to skew much higher in their portfolios,” said Sherrod.

“Take something like Tesla: It’s something hot that millennials covet, and although they may not have the purchasing power to buy the car yet, they can certainly buy the stock.”

Who Has It Right?

But the underlying question: Do America’s respective generations have their equity mixes right? Or is some rebalancing in order?

To find out, Reuters took the trove of TD Ameritrade data to Patrick O’Shaughnessy, a portfolio manager with Stamford, Connecticut-based O’Shaughnessy Asset Management and author of the book “Millennial Money: How Young Investors Can Build a Fortune.”

His No. 1 concern for both generations: Back off on the Apple, guys. Not because of poor fundamentals, but because of serious overweighting.

“Those Apple percentages are crazy high,” O’Shaughnessy said. “In comparison Apple is around 4 percent of the S&P 500, so that is a huge individual position for both age groups.”

O’Shaughnessy also warns millennials against loading up on the latest sizzling tech stock, say Alibaba, and advises them to look hard at underlying valuations. In many cases price-earnings ratios have shot sky-high, and just do not represent smart buys.

If millennials remain determined to invest in the sector, they should instead look at stodgier tech names like Microsoft Corp, he said. With proven revenue streams, stock buyback programs, and growing dividends, tech’s old guard should prove safer harbor if market storms hit.

O’Shaughnessy’s final tip for investors: Look abroad. Since the U.S. market has “killed every other market for five years,” that likely means many investors are now overweight in American stocks. As a result, bulking up your portfolio with more international names would be wise.

Whether it comes to millennials, or Gen Xers, or boomers, each generation seems to be investing in what it knows. Generally speaking, that is a good thing – and happens to be a favorite principle of Warren Buffett himself.

MONEY

Don’t Let the Cost of a Haircut Ruin Your Relationship

Haircut
Alamy

Never mess with the hair budget.

Here’s a little marital tip: When financial experts say couples should compromise on absolutely everything, there are times when you just need to split hairs.

For instance, just try to tell your spouse how much he or she should spend on getting their hair done.

Guaranteed nuclear war.

I asked my social media followers about the way couples should handle the significant costs of getting one’s hair done, and the reaction was fiery.

A sampler: “There are some things you don’t share with your spouse, and hair cost is one of them.”

“It costs to look this good … and no, hubby doesn’t need to know, nor does he ask.”

“Smart husbands don’t mess with the hair-doing budget.”

“Two things men should only address if they have something good to say: hair and weight.”

Haircare, in particular, seems to be an intensely personal subject for couples. Throw money concerns into the mix, and it can lead to the financial equivalent of a really bad hair day. Indeed, financial arguments are by far the No. 1 one predictor of divorce, according to research by Sonya Britt, a professor at Kansas State University.

There is no doubt the costs of haircare can add up, and quickly. U.S. spending on hair services in 2014 amounted to a record $46 billion, estimates Parsippany, New Jersey-based consulting firm Kline & Co.

The average salon client drops $67.17 per visit for hair services, according to American Salon’s Green Book industry report. That’s a repeated cost, of course, with men going to a stylist 11.2 times a year on average, and women dropping in 12.9 times annually.

“As a woman you grow up feeling like expensive hair treatments are mandatory, almost like you’re being shamed into it,” says Dr. Phoenyx Austin, a fitness expert in Washington and author of “If You Love It, It Will Grow” and the children’s book “Love Your Hair.”

“You don’t want someone telling you you’re spending too much money. It’s a very touchy subject.”

That said, Austin says the final tab can easily get “out of hand,” when you are combining pricey appointments with expensive take-home products. She knows of women who spend up to $1,500 a month on their hair.

Elaborate Procedures

Costs can disproportionately affect minority communities, where haircare procedures tend to be more elaborate. The average cost of getting extensions or weaves, according to the Green Book: A whopping $487.25 every time, up $137.29 in a single year.

Austin, who is African-American, went for a more natural look years ago, which saves a ton of money on processes like chemical straightening. But if times are tight and there is room for your family’s salon budget to be cut back, she advises that you look in the mirror first.

“The worst thing is to come at your spouse complaining about a salon bill, when you’re shelling out lots of money on other stuff,” she says.

“Make sure to frame the discussion that any cutbacks will go into family savings, or to your kids’ college. That’s a good way to massage it into the conversation.”

Samantha McGarry once went into battle on the subject, and the skirmish was brief and decisive.

“At one point, my husband said something about the cost of getting my hair done,” says the 47-year-old public relations executive from Framingham, Massachusetts. “So we had a little conversation, and now he knows to focus on other areas.”

If times got really tough, McGarry would find room to trim spending and try more do-it-yourself coloring jobs. Truth be told, McGarry doesn’t spend crazy amounts on her hair: $120 every now and then on a cut-and-color. She certainly does not want that budget shorn.

“It’s about feeling beautiful, it’s about having ‘Me Time,’ it’s about all of that,” McGarry says. “Spouses should probably steer clear in order to keep the peace.”

MONEY Budgeting

Here’s Why More Americans Are Saying ‘I Do’ at City Hall

Couples head toward the Historic Dade City Courthouse to say their marrige vows.
Zuma Press—Alamy Couples head toward the Historic Dade City Courthouse to say their marrige vows.

It may be the best wedding gift of all.

When Scott Oeth was thinking about proposing to his girlfriend, Linda Hardin, he knew the stats. The average wedding costs in 2014, according to popular website The Knot, were a whopping $31,213.

That’s when the Minneapolis financial planner thought, No way.

Lucky for him, his bride-to-be was thinking exactly the same thing. So last year the couple arranged for a courthouse wedding, a celebratory dinner at their favorite steak house, covered as a gift by his new in-laws, and a backyard BBQ reception later in the summer for 100 guests.

Total cost: A paltry $1,250.

Oeth, 43, says he wouldn’t change a thing. “It was all wonderful, and we had such a great time,” he says. “I don’t think that most people who spend tens of thousands on traditional weddings could say the same.”

More newlyweds seem to be thinking like Scott Oeth and Linda Hardin. Courthouse and city hall ceremonies now account for between 3 and 4 percent of marriages, up from 2-3 percent a couple of years ago, according to industry resource The Wedding Report.

Financially speaking, toned-down weddings make a ton of sense. After all, think of all the other places newlyweds could spend that money to get their marriage started on the right financial foot, Oeth says.

Fully funding IRAs for both spouses. Paying off high-interest credit cards. Getting rid of student debt. Starting a 529 college-savings plan for young children. Saving up for a down payment on a first home.

“Expensive weddings are like a subprime mortgage crisis of the heart,” says Laurie Essig, associate professor at Vermont’s Middlebury College and “Love, Inc.” columnist for the magazine Psychology Today.

Noting that most young people have student loans, Essig says, “It just doesn’t make financial sense to be taking out even more debt to have a lavish wedding.”

Those typical expenses, according to The Knot, include $14,006 for venue rental, $2,556 for the photographer, $3,587 for the band, and $555 for the cake.

In many urban centers, costs can be much higher than those national averages. In Manhattan, for instance, the typical wedding bill comes to a wallet-punishing $76,328.

Of course, it is no mystery why people are so willing to pay through the nose for their Big Day. Marriage is seen as a once-in-a-lifetime moment that couples want to memorialize with one spectacular day.

Forgoing Extravagance

When you think of financial alternatives to a fancy wedding, it is hard not to see the logic of forgoing the extravagance.

“Of course, it doesn’t make sense to spend all that money,” says Essig. “But marriage is a magic ritual, and magic will always outweigh more pragmatic stuff, like going down to city hall and filling out forms.”

Many spouses-to-be are afraid to bring up the idea of shaving wedding costs, for fear of appearing like a cheapskate, hurting their partner’s feelings, or angering in-laws at a highly emotional moment.

Get over that reticence and have a money conversation, experts say.

The so-called wedding-industrial complex may not like it, but there is no law against buying a used dress from a thrift store, or getting a vintage ring, or having the ceremony in a park instead of a grand ballroom, Essig suggests.

Even if your wedding is a quick and simple affair, always check local regulations beforehand, advises Christen Moynihan, editorial manager of the website Broke-Ass Bride. There might be waiting periods after acquiring a marriage license, or specific ID requirements for getting all the necessary approvals, and you do not want to be caught off-guard.

A ceremony in front of a justice of the peace might only run a couple of hundred bucks. “There was a time when low-cost weddings and courthouse ‘I Dos’ were scandalized, but in recent years there has been much higher acceptance for weddings to take place in whatever way the couple envisions,” Moynihan says.

Scott Oeth and Linda Hardin redirected some of their wedding savings toward a fabulous honeymoon on Kauai. Since they are cost-conscious, they bought a travel package through Costco and got free first-class flight upgrades because of Scott’s Delta Medallion status.

Total cost for the fairytale honeymoon? Around $3,000.

MONEY

Making a Charitable Donation? 20% of Firms Will Match Your Gift

charity donation boxes
Getty Images

After the Nepal earthquake, Facebook matched $2 million in donations made through its site.

When Nigel Glennie saw the images coming out of Nepal after the earthquake in late April, he just had to do something.

When he heard that his company, Cisco Systems, was offering a dollar-for-dollar match on donations (up to $1 million), he figured his money could do twice as much.

“It’s a multiplier effect,” says the 41-year-old Australian communications executive who lives in San Francisco. “I donated a little more on behalf of my family, because we knew we were getting that extra match.”

Matching programs for charitable donations have proliferated after the Nepal quake. A number of major companies like Cisco announced lavish matches: Facebook matched $2 million of donations made through its site, while Google gave $1 million and another $750,000 in matches for employee contributions.

In fact, 20% of U.S. firms match charitable contributions, a 2014 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management shows. Another 1% planned to do so in the next 12 months.

“Research has found that it does tend to motivate people,” says Holly Hall, features editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Big names can prompt more action, says Eric Friedman, author of Reinventing Philanthropy. If Facebook has selected a Nepal charity for a match, for instance, then donors assume that Facebook has done its due diligence, and that the charity is an effective one.

Matching programs can make plenty of sense for individual donors: If every $1 you give can be matched by $1, or even $2 or $3, then you have automatically amplified your potential impact.

However, a whopping $3-for-$1 match does not generate any more contributions than a simple dollar-for-dollar match, Hall says.

Nonprofits have discovered that matches can provide a shot of adrenalin. Microfinance site Kiva, for instance, handles a daily average of about $300,000 in loans to small-scale entrepreneurs around the world. But on days when loans are matched, “loan volume can go up to $3 million,” spokesperson Hania Abu-Eid says. “So we are talking about a match day being 9-10 times more than a standard day.”

David Nelson, a former wide receiver for the NFL’s New York Jets, has witnessed the power of matching programs first-hand at the charitable organization he runs, I’m ME, which cares for 10 orphans at a facility in Haiti.

Every time there is a matching promotion, “we’ll see people who were going to donate $50, decide to give $100, making a total of $200,” he says. “It also encourages people who weren’t going to give at all, to give a little, because that gift is being doubled.”

Other observers, however, inject a note of caution about all the charity matching offers that are filling your inbox. Just because your dollar is being doubled, does not necessarily mean that the cash is being used wisely.

“It can be like getting a two-for-one deal on a terrible car,” says Dean Karlan, a Yale University economics professor who has studied the effectiveness of matching programs. “The matching offer isn’t really what donors should be paying attention to. They should be paying attention to whether the charity is doing effective work, and getting evidence of their impact.”

One way to do that: Visiting a site like Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits based on factors like how much cash is being gobbled up by administration costs. There are sites that narrow down the choices as well, like GiveWell, which spotlights a handful of specialized charities like the Against Malaria Foundation that it deems the most effective.

The latest updates are found on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s site, which compiles corporate aid roundups for everything from the Nepal quake to the Syrian refugee crisis.

As for Cisco’s program, employees have donated about a quarter of the company’s $1 million goal so far, Glennie says. “The images are so tragic. You hear about all these personal stories from family and friends in Nepal, and you have to help.”

MONEY Kids and Money

How to Save on Your Kid’s First Cell Phone

Children are getting phones at younger ages than ever. But the earlier you give in, the longer you'll be paying wireless bills.

When Dallas mom Jan Valecka’s twins hit that contentious tween age, the rite of passage she dreaded most was a relatively new one: when to get them cell phones.

“They were starting to see all their friends get smartphones and iPads,” says Valecka, a financial planner at her own firm. “They started lobbying hard.”

She caved when they started 5th grade and got them basic cell phones. The boy-and-girl twins are now 13 and in 7th grade. Their upgrade to smartphones costs Valecka about $75 a month each.

Valecka is hardly alone in dealing with the emotional and financial consequences of giving kids smartphones. A quarter of U.S. 8-and 9-year-olds now have them, according to the 2015 Parents, Kids & Money survey by Baltimore money managers T. Rowe Price. And a new study from Pew Research Center discovered that only 12% of American teens age 13 to 17 do not have a cell phones of any type.

To make the correct call, though, do the math to be sure you are ready for far-reaching consequences. After all, it’s not just a one-time purchase that parents are agreeing to, but a stiff monthly charge that could last for many years to come.

If you get your 12-year-old a plan that costs, say, $50 a month, that will set you back $4,200 though age 18. And that’s not even including any ancillary costs like equipment and upgrades, repairs and app purchases. Data overages, especially if your kids are heavy video watchers, could inflict significant extra damage.

Indeed, 23% of households report paying much more for their kids’ phone plans than they originally expected, according to a study by the National Consumers League.

That doesn’t have to be the case if you are thoughtful about how your decisions will affect household finances. Here are some suggestions:

1. Start with baby steps

A basic cell with phone and texting capability can be very reasonable indeed; Sprint, for instance, offers a WeGo starter phone for only $9.99 a month.

There are also prepaid plans available, with varying restrictions on minutes and data, and low-cost handsets. T-Mobile, for instance, offers a $40-a-month prepaid plan with unlimited talk, text and data on its own network, and 1 GB of nationwide LTE data. With hard limits in place, parents are essentially saving themselves from any unwanted bill surprises.

Consider it something of a trial period: If your kids prove responsible with their new gadgets, and aren’t constantly calling or texting their buddies late into the night, then you can talk about graduating to more elaborate phones and plans.

When you are all ready, every major carrier offers a version of a family share plan, like Verizon’s More Everything and AT&T’s Mobile Share Value. Additional lines cost less money than standalone packages, but contracts are often involved.

At that point the training wheels are off—and if you are sharing your family data package with your teenager, be prepared to blow through some usage limits.

2. Have the money talk

“The question that must always be discussed is, ‘Who will pay for what?'” says Mark La Spisa, a planner with Vermillion Financial in South Barrington, Illinois. “It’s critical to talk about it in advance of a child receiving their first phone.”

For an 8- or 9-year-old, it is unfair to expect anything beyond a token contribution. But teens who have their own income from part-time or summer work can start chipping in to cover part of the bill.

Also consider who the phone is really benefiting. If it is mainly for the parents’ peace of mind, that’s one thing. But if it is only for their enjoyment, and parents are not deriving any benefit at all, then “then they should be footing the bill,” says personal finance expert Gail Vaz-Oxlade, author of Money Rules.

3. Resist the lure of the constant upgrade

For her own kids, Vaz-Oxlade pays the bills, because she wants to get in touch with them. But she draws the line at hopping on the “hamster wheel” of getting them the latest-and-greatest gadgets on the market. That’s just throwing away money, in her opinion.

As a result she, her son and her daughter are all still using trusty iPhone 4s they got a few years ago.

MONEY Sports

4 Ways to Beat the High Cost of Bicycling

bicycle riders
Gallery Stock

Becoming an avid biker can be good for your health. But between the gear and the outfits, you could find yourself spending an unhealthy amount of money.

If you want to ask Jonathan Cane what he loves most about cycling, you might have some trouble catching up with him.

Chances are, the 51-year-old triathlon coach will be pedaling at 20 miles per hour on his Trek Domane, deep in the forests of New York’s Harriman State Park or alongside the cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades.

“There’s something nice and pure about being on two wheels,” says Cane, a Harlem resident who typically rides around 100 miles a week. “It’s like being a kid and getting on your bike for the first time.”

In fact, for many, cycling is not just a pastime—it’s something of an addiction. And it can be expensive.

Americans spent $2.3 billion on bicycles in 2013, up 4% from the year before, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. Meanwhile, also in 2013, we spent $188 million on helmets, $669 million on apparel, and even $75 million on special bike shoes.

When you separate out enthusiasts who ride an average of 140 miles a month, they spent an average of $1,622 on a new bike in 2014, according to the American Bicyclist Study from consulting firm Gluskin Townley Group.

Even if you subtract the bike itself, top biking buffs still forked out an average of $1,659 on other bicycling-related products.

All those lofty numbers don’t surprise Jonathan Cane at all. “If you see a pack of 50 guys racing around the park, that’s probably a quarter of a million dollars worth of bikes right there,” he says.

Throw in maintenance, other accessories like gloves and gear, along with a few race entries here and there, and you’re very easily looking at over $1,000 a year, he says.

Ben Davidson, an artist from British Columbia, Canada, spent almost $10,000 on his cycling habit in the past year, purchasing two bikes and doing a 1,000-mile charity ride for a children’s hospital.

“I’m not the best person to ask about saving money on bikes,” Davidson says. “It’s the one thing I love to spend money on.”

Thanks to a spike in city living, plus growing amenities for cyclists like bike lanes and European-style rideshare programs, there are more bike aficionados like Cane and Davidson than ever: The number of bike commuters grew by 40% between 2000 and 2010, according to the Sierra Club.

But you don’t have to go broke in the process. Here are a few strategies to cut your cycling costs.

1. Buy used

If you don’t know the first thing about bicycle mechanics, it probably makes sense to buy new, along with the manufacturer warrantees and routine maintenance checks.

If you’re handy, and want to save potentially hundreds or even thousands of dollars, there is no shame in buying a used bike.

In fact, during the recent recession, used-bikes sales exploded, says Gluskin Townley Group co-founder Jay Townley, and now comprise around a quarter of the total market.

Local bike shops often act as exchanges for used bikes, and you can feel more secure about your purchase there, says Townley. For deeper discounts, check out eBay or Craigslist, but buyer beware.

2. Use timing to your advantage

As this epic winter finally recedes and racing season starts up, you can forget about getting amazing deals. Especially since top manufacturers are increasingly insistent on fixed pricing, says Townley.

But the end of the racing season, like October, is when riders typically sell bikes and gear as they plan ahead for next year. That’s when to pounce.

3. Forget top-of-the-line

Yes, you could certainly spend $5,000 on an ultralight racing bike that will have your buddies drooling.

Unless you’re Olympics-bound, take it down a notch and get a perfectly excellent high-performance bike for $2,000 or less. If one pricey bike weighs two pounds less than a cheaper alternative, why not just lose two pounds yourself and save thousands of dollars, asks Cane.

4. Be immune to peer pressure

Some bike stores are rather snobbish, Cane says, and won’t give you the time of day unless you’re a muscled Adonis who’s ready to pay for the most elite gear.

Forget them, and stick to your budget. In fact, if you have a friend who’s an experienced rider, bring him or her along for any shopping excursions. They will know the lingo, what you really need and what you don’t, and won’t let you get bamboozled by salespeople who are just salivating over fat commissions.

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