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Moms’ Corner: Environmental Impact of Our Children’s Clothing

 

Share with us @tryverima or comment below what choices you are making to ensure sustainability.  

As a concerned mom worried about the health of the earth our children will inherit, I often have conversations with my kids about ways we can make small changes to lessen our negative environmental impact.  The other day we were driving home from Southern California and we passed a ranch where there here literally hundreds of thousands of cows crowded into muddy pens either standing at the feeding stalls or just lying in the dirt.  A couple miles up the I-5 and we see herds of cattle grazing on grass, roaming freely on the hills.  The children and I discussed everything from animal welfare, to choices we could make with our money ranging from eating a plant based diet, to cutting back on red meat and the different tiers of meat ranging from conventional to organic, to grass-fed, pasture-raised, etc.  We also take care to purchase organic (locally grown when possible) produce, compost our food scraps (thankfully, our city collects it, I have not yet started my own compost bin), recycle what materials we can.  But one aspect I have not fully explored is the environmental impact our clothing choices have on our planet. 

The statistics are bleak.  The fashion industry is accountable for 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions.  This is more than both the aviation and shipping industries combined!  Cotton is an incredibly water-intensive crop that requires enough drinking water for one person for ten years to produce a single pair of jeans.  Additionally, cotton fields only make-up 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land, yet use 10% of the pesticides and a staggering 22.5% of chemical insecticides used in the entire agricultural industry. 

Unfortunately, the move to man-made materials still leaves us with hard choices.  My kids live in stretchy gym pants and moisture-wicking tops and polyester is inexpensive, lightweight, easy to clean, and durable.  But approximately 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the polyester fibers and a polyester shirt produces more than double the carbon dioxide than it’s cotton counterpart.  Not to mention it takes hundreds of years to decompose while releasing microfibers into our water supply with every washing.  UGH!

So what is a mom supposed to do especially with three children who grow out of clothing every season, every year?  Here are some ideas I am thinking of implementing to try and make small changes. 

Buy Less, Buy Better Quality

It is just so easy to grab a couple t-shirts from Costco, Target, Zara or H&M or hop on Zappos, or Amazon and be done with our kids’ wardrobes, but some studies estimate that nearly 40% of our wardrobes go unworn.  Do our kids really need 20 t-shirts when they only wear the same 7 or so of them?  Additionally, (and I am so guilty of this) purchasing items to try them on, and then returning them can essentially double the carbon emissions from transporting the good back and forth.  I think we may need to take a page from our childhoods, go to the local shop, purchase a couple of pairs of pants, a some shirts, and be done.  Our kids don’t need 5 pairs of jeans (actually neither do I) and please don’t mistake clearing out your closets as permission to purchase more clothing! 

Pick brands committed to sustainability

Many companies are starting to get the sustainability memo and we should reinforce their good behavior by supporting them with our consumer dollars.  Some companies are turning towards organic cotton (which eases pesticide use, though still very water-heavy) and recycling the polyester/using recycled polyester.  Companies like Patagonia do all of the above.  They will repair items for free, use organic cotton and earth-friendly dyes, sell used items and then recycle the items that are no longer wearable.  Because of all of these factors, a significant portion of my children’s wardrobes come from Patagonia.  Additionally, the good quality assures that items can pass from my oldest son to my youngest.  And if they need repair, Patagonia will do that as well! 

Look for companies that are on the forefront of Bio-Couture: fashion made from environmentally sustainable materials such as wood, bamboo and fruit. 

Set-up a Hand-Me-Down Chain

We are all too familiar with the pristine clothing that no longer fit our children (or in my case, my children just refuse to wear) and luckily I know some great families with younger/smaller children to hand down the items to.  Additionally, we are grateful to the families who hand-down to us.  In fact my particular daughter will more readily wear clothing that she knows an older girl (who has way cooler taste than I do apparently) has worn vs the items I pick out for her. We even hand-down the hand-me-downs.  You can also join your local Buy Nothing Group and post the items you would like to give away.  If you have an active group, most items will be taken off your hands rather quickly!  And lastly but perhaps not leastly: PRIMARY COLORS ARE YOUR FRIENDS!  My children’s birth order is boy-girl-boy, so even within my own family we hand down plenty.  For bigger ticket items like winter coats and ski-gear, I only purchase primary colors which means all kids can wear them! 

Shop Second Hand

Ok, this is one I have to work on.  Most moms are too busy to browse through racks of used clothing to cobble together wardrobes for our children.  And some moms like me, don’t really enjoy shopping and would rather go online and just buy a t-shirt in each color.  Or sometimes, we have something specific we are looking for (example: kid needs navy slacks for a choir concert) and I just need to go somewhere I am sure will stock it.  For moms who enjoy browsing for clothing, make a list of local thrift and second-hand shops, and make it the first go-to before heading to the large box-stores.  And for those of us who are more retail-adverse, check out sites like www.thredup.com which allows you to sort by brand, size and item type. 

Donate/Consign Clothing

So, I know especially here in the Bay Area, a lot of us moms are guilty of just scooping heaps of clothing into garbage bags and dropping them off at Goodwill.  There is nothing wrong with this and Goodwill does many good things for the community.  Same as the Salvation Army.  You may also want to consider finding some local organizations and then donating to women/children’s shelters. 

Recycling at the End of Life

So, approximately 11.3 million tons of textiles end up in our landfills each year. . . . basically 70 pounds per U.S. citizen.  So, if you have exhausted the options above, check out some of these programs that will recycle textiles. 

Terracycle  is a company that allows you to purchase a box, fill it with your textile waste and ship it back.  The contents will be appropriately sorted, up-cycled and recycled.  The downside to this is that it is quite expensive.  An 11x11x20” box will cost you a hefty $123. So, more reason to only purchase what we need/use!

Council for Textile Recycling has a locator that will help you find where you can recycle textiles. 

Nike has a Reuse-A-Shoe program where they set up bins outside some of their retail locations.  They will accept athletic shoes (sneakers) of any brand which are then ground up and used to make playgrounds and courts. 

Patagonia, as I mentioned above, will take Patagonia threads back and recycle it and give you store credit. 

Whatever you decide for your children, even making one or two of these choices for our families is a good start.  Share with us what steps you have taken to ensure a more sustainable future for our children! 

Share with us @tryverima or comment below what steps towards sustainability you are taking in your family.  

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Moms’ Corner: Summer Safety Tips

 

Share with us @tryverima or comment below your best summer safety tips!

With the last couple days and weeks of school coming to an end (Congratulations Mamas, we made it!!), summer plans are looking to remain on target thanks to mass vaccination and lowered transmission rates.  But many of us are going through our awkward re-introduction to society phase, and with it comes remembering some summer safety tips that perhaps just were not on our radar last summer.  While this is not a comprehensive list by far, I am simply highlighting a few that are at the forefront of my mind whether it be due to my local news or the age of my children. 

Beaches, Riptides and Sneaker Waves

I live in Northern California where the Bay Area is notorious for its unpredictable waves.  Over the pandemic, I took my family out to hike and explore several beaches including Big Sur, Half-Moon Bay and Santa Cruz.  What I didn’t realize is that this past year alone, there have been 12 fatalities in the Bay Area from unsuspecting people getting swept up in a wave.  Just a few months ago, my moms group was seeking drones equipped with cameras as a family desperately searched for their 12 year old son who was swept to sea.  And it’s not just CA.  With Hawaii once again teeming with tourists who may be lulled into a false sense of security by the crystal blue waters, always respect the ocean and the tremendous power it wields.  Some things to keep in mind:

  1. NEVER turn your back on the ocean.  This is important to teach our children as well.  I know, it’s hard and little children will inevitably break this rule which is why:
  2. Have small children wear life jackets even when just playing in the sand.  This article discusses US Coastguard-approved jackets and if you’re not a strong swimmer, you may want to consider one for yourself. 
  3. Watch this video on how to spot riptides, and familiarize yourself and your family with what to do if caught in one. 
  4. While we might imagine lazy days at the beach burying our heads in a juicy novel, make sure you clearly communicate with other adults exactly who is watching the children. 

Swimsuit Colors

I recently came across this article on lifehacker.com which tested out the visibility of different color swimsuits in pools and lakes.  As a mom, my top criteria for swimsuits was sun-protection, utility and comfort.  Admittedly after that I considered aesthetics and it didn’t occur to me that the color of the swimsuits could effect safety.  Certain colors (light blue and white) all but disappear under water, while neon pink and neon/bright orange remain the most visible.  The articles makes note that, “Trained lifeguards will obviously be looking out for much more than swimsuits in varying colors and shades, but particularly for the untrained eye, a brighter colored suit may help you more quickly spot a child who has fallen into the water or notice they’ve been under longer than they should be. “

Just a moment while I go order brand new swimsuits for the fam. . . .

Teens and Driving

Without exaggeration, my newly minted 14 year old just last year hit the 4’9” height recommendation that got him out of a booster seat.  So when my youngest child pointed out that next year his big brother could begin to learn how to drive, I was startled to say the least.  AAA examined the data from 2008-2018 and not surprisingly, the summer months of June, July and August tend to have the highest levels of teen driving accidents.  The most common cause of accidents include speeding, drinking and distractions (phones, friends, etc.) so it is important that we not only reiterate these points with our teens, but model them as well!  My children have called me out when I *may* have been driving a bit too fast, or glanced a text message coming through.  It is important for them to realize that the “glimpse” could make all the difference in the world, so I promise to do better myself, for the sake of my children. 

That said, while telling kids NOT to do something is important, it is equally important to have a plan B to safely get out of a situation when they DO it regardless.  Some families I know use codewords to help kids get out of uncomfortable situations.  A child can text, “x” to a parent and the parent will take that cue to either call or text telling the child that s/he needs to come home asap thus giving him/her an excuse to leave an uncomfortable environment.  Also, if your child has been drinking, hopefully they know that they can text/call you or another trusted adult for a ride at anytime.  It’s definitely worth it to have that open conversation with some trusted adults in your child’s life so we known they will always have a safe place to turn. 

Image from Naviaux Labs UCSD

Ticks and Lyme Disease

This one may seem random, but the universe is telling me to include it.  As many of you know, my son has PANS/PANDAS and his is triggered by the strep bacteria.  But a great many PANS children are triggered by Lyme disease and recently a friend’s child was diagnosed with Lyme after months on fatigue, brain fog, joint pain and anxiety.  That night, I watched Netflix’s documentary on Amy Tan and her struggle with Lyme, only to learn that other celebrities such as Amy Schumer, Just Bieber, Alec Baldwin and Bella Hadid have all spoken openly about their Lyme diagnosis.  And just to nail the point home, the very next morning, as I sat to write this blog, I found a TICK crawling up my bedroom wall right in front of my desk!  So consider this my PSA: CHECK YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY (furry four-legged ones too!) HEAD TO TOE for ticks after spending a day outside in grass or in the woods.  I know my family has definitely spent more days hiking through the pandemic, so do not forget this crucial step at the end of the day.  This comprehensive guide is an important read especially considering that according to the CDC, 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and/or treated for Lyme each year.  While this number may be higher than the actual number of infections each year (as many are treated prophylactically to avoid Lyme infection) it is still a large number that warrants caution on our part as parents.  And to my California peeps. . . yes, unfortunately Lyme is on the rise even here in CA, so for peace of mind, just do a quick check. 

As I mentioned earlier, this is by far a comprehensive list.  Just some things that have come up on my radar recently.  And while by no means is this meant to strike fear in anyone, I hope it just puts things on your radar so you and your family can enjoy a safe and happy summer! 

Share with us @tryverima or comment below your most trusted summer safety tip! 

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Moms’ Corner: Happy Maycember!

 

 

Share with us @tryverima or comment below how you are surviving the end of the school year! 

Happy “Maycember” moms!  Moms with school-aged children fondly coined the term Maycember to reflect the craziness (similar to the holidays in December) the month brings.  From Teacher appreciation lunches, Mother’s Day, to end-of-year parties, recitals, performances, tournaments, team pizza parties, graduations. . . . etc, our calendars are packed.  For myself, add in the additional two children with May birthdays, and we have a perfect storm. 

This past weekend as I was rubbing spices into the pork shoulder for the carnitas for my son’s birthday party burrito bar, my husband waltzed into the kitchen and simply asked, “Why are you doing this?” 

The short answer of course was the fact that due to the pandemic and Maycembers past, my Kindergartener had not had an actual birthday party with friends and games since he turned one.  (yes, yes, cue the mommy-guilt. . . .that’s a whole separate blog!) And after the past year the kids just had, and with things starting to return to normal here in Northern CA, I decided to throw him a small backyard gathering with four of his buddies.  But, my husband’s question was not asking why I was giving him a party, but rather why did I put it upon myself to have a homemade burrito bar as opposed to ordering 2 cheese pizzas for delivery and calling it a day.  So, this started my wondering if us moms bring the craziness upon ourselves? 

 

The easy answer is yes.  The cupcakes for the bake sale don’t have to be Pinterest worthy.  A box of Betty Crocker with some sprinkles on top will do the trick, as will a box of *gasp* already  made supermarket cupcakes.  Why do I care if my son’s socks match, and what IS this need I have to have all the laundry folded in a very specific way?!  The more complicated answer? My hormones made me do it.  I recently listened to Abigail Tucker, author of “Mom Genes” on a segment on NPR where she discusses the physical changes in the female brain that occur during pregnancy and after birth and the idea that mothers become, ”enthralled, in every sense of the word” with their babies, with a strong need to “do anything at all for your child, at every given moment.”

So clearly, it’s not just me and I am in good company here.  But then, my question is how is it that some women are able to balance full-time demanding careers while meeting the needs and wants of their children and still get a full night’s sleep, while other moms (ahem. . . like me) are up until midnight baking those darn cupcakes?  What mental-flowchart can I run through my head so I don’t end up running myself ragged trying to see to every aspect of my children’s lives? 

The best place to start would probably be to determine, is it a need or a want?  Obviously, I need to provide my children with healthy, nutritious meals.  I want it to look appetizing and taste delicious.  But does it need to be Instagram-worthy?  Nope.  The problem is though that this soon gets murky because where is the Joie de vie if we only do things out of necessity and not out of pleasure, beauty, or love?  I don’t think anyone would argue the merits of a beautifully prepared meal and the pleasure it brings to people even though they could meet all their nutritional needs with steamed brown rice, boiled chicken, and raw broccoli. 

Another example is that I love the decorative pillows that adorn our beds.  They provide a pop of color, make the bed look inviting and luxurious while helping pull the look of the room together.  My husband and children however, find them annoying, taking up real estate and just another chore to take them off the bed to sleep and place them back on the bed each morning.  Clearly, those pillows are a want and not necessary. . . but if they bring me joy, then shouldn’t they remain?

This brings me to another screening question I could possibly use which is to quote Marie Kondo, “Does it bring me joy?”  In the case of the pillows, they do bring me joy, so the pillows on my bed should remain.  However, since they do not bring my children joy, I should just stop wasting my energy, time and breath reminding them to make their beds “properly” pillows and all. 

Last weekend, my daughter’s ballet school was recording each class’s dance piece to compile an end-of-year video in lieu of the spring recital.  My daughter is physically petite and her costume (borrowed from the school) was too long in the bodice and thus scrunching up at the waist causing folds of fabric.  Was it functional? Sure.  But did I take it upon myself to remove the tutu from the bodice, shorten the bodice, and reattach the tutu until 2:30am?  You bet I did.  Did the entire process bring me joy?  Believe it or not, it really did. 

So moms, first we must decide of something is a need or a want.  And if it’s a want, then we need to determine if it brings us joy or not.  If baking those cupcakes for the bake sale brings you joy, then by all means bake away!!  But if it’s just stressing you out, then just buy some cupcakes, or donate the money.  Don’t give a second thought to judgement from others (it’s probably only in your head and if it’s not, who cares what those other moms think anyway. . . . unless those other judge-y moms are your friends, in which case you need new friends)!  It is also important to recognize that the “joy” we speak of is fluid!  So while baking those cupcakes on a lazy Sunday afternoon may bring you joy, baking them at 11:00pm on a Monday night may not.  In which case at that point, you give yourself an extra 15 minutes on Tuesday morning to pop into the Wholefoods and pick up a dozen cupcakes!  As for the burrito station at the birthday party?  It was a huge hit, the kids loved them, ate well and that brought me so much joy. 

Please share your tips with me in the comments below, or by tagging us @trryverima, how you are keeping your mama bear/Mary Poppins/Martha Stewart complex in check!

 

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Moms’ Corner: Saving For College 101

Share with us @tryverima or comment below what savings choices you’re making for college and why. 

This week, in continuing with our college for kids series, we are connecting with Dr. Grace Kim, DVM, AFC candidate about how to save and pay for higher education for our children!!  Grace is a busy mom of three children, wife, licensed veterinarian and now entrepreneur, having started Richer Life DVM to help people get their financial lives on track.  (Last week we kicked off our planning for college series with a blog and Clubhouse talk with Jean, who worked as an admissions officer at Princeton and Yale, and is currently working on the *other side* as a  college-admissions counselor at a prestigious high school in the Bay Area).  

Grace wrote this informative blog about the basics of different college savings plan, and we will go more in depth this Wednesday, May 19 at 4:30pm Pacific on our live Clubhouse conversation.  

Written By: Dr. Grace Kim, DVM, AFP candidate

Updated May 2021 on Richer Life DVM

Being in a profession that is no stranger to student debt, college savings became a priority when we were expecting our first child, as I think it should for many of those that expect their children to attend college.  

First, let me hit you with some scary statistics.  Not for shock factor, but simply to let you know what the actual numbers look like right now in 2021 according to collegedata.com.

Cost of college tuition and fees:

Private colleges: $37,650/year

Public college (in-state residents): $10,560/year

Public college (out of state residents): $27,020/year

Cost of room and board:

Private colleges: $13,120/year

Public colleges: $11,620/year

Then there are other expenses, such as books/supplies,  transportation, and personal expenses.  

As you can see, if you want to attend a four year college, the average price can range from approximately $20,000-$50,000 per year. Multiply these numbers by four, and that’s how much one can expect to pay for a four year college degree.  The estimated costs of attending the most expensive colleges in this country are $70,000+ per year. Compare this to the most recent United States median household income, which was $68,703.  

Remember, we are talking about the cost of college NOW.  As you can guess, college tuition costs have far outstripped inflation and wages.  If you are expecting to have children or have young children at home, you can expect that these numbers will continue to rise.  I have absolutely no idea how this is sustainable, but this is the trend that’s happening right now.

What if your little one decides that he/she wants to attend veterinary school?  Or any other postgraduate program of study?  Well, you’re looking at a lot more $$.

How can anyone afford this?  Yes, there are those families who can actually pay out of pocket due to their high income status.  But for the vast majority of families, they will need to look at other sources.  Outside of family contributions, you are looking at two options: scholarships/grants and loans.  Yes, these will decrease the amount that you need to pay up front, but even if you were expected to pay just half of actual college expenses, you can imagine how burdensome this will be for many families. 

I remember filling out the FAFSA form for college, not quite grasping the concept of how much all of this was going to cost.  I also remember the financial hardship that my parents experienced during my first semester.  I had younger siblings still living at home, and my family’s expected contribution was not in line with reality.  They did everything they could on their end by also taking out parent loans, and I did my part by working during school and over the summers to help defray costs.  I was completely on my own by the time I went to veterinary school, and all of this schooling resulted in six figure debt.  Having gone through this experience, I can confidently say that planning for educational expenses is always a good idea.

Mr. RLDVM and I decided that once our children were born, we were going to start saving college ASAP.  We both saw the value of education and realize the sacrifices our respective parents made in order to provide us with our educational opportunities.  We are now in the position to do the same for our children, and due to our level of financial literacy and careful planning, we are on track to pay for college with less stress and anxiety.

A QUICK NOTE BEFORE SAVING FOR COLLEGE

Before diving headfirst into saving for college, look at your overall financial situation.  Namely, are you saving for retirement by maxing out your 401(k) (or equivalent retirement accounts) and contributing to your IRAs?  If you are not saving for retirement, then prioritize this first before saving for college.  Although not the ideal situation, there is always the option to take out loans for educational costs.  There is no such option for retirement. You can read about my reasons why I want you to start thinking about retirement NOW by clicking here.  I am pretty certain that your kids would rather take out student loans than stress about financially supporting you during your retirement.  

Other financial obligations to consider is having an emergency fund (usually 3-6 months of expenses) and having a spending plan in place so that you can figure out how much you can actually set aside for college savings. 

That being said, if you feel like you are ready to start saving for college, start ASAP.  The earlier you start this process, the more time you will have to see the beauty of compounding as you watch your account value grow over the years.

THE 529 PLAN

The most popular savings vehicle for college are 529 plans. These are tax-advantaged plans that you will typically see sponsored by states.  There are also some educational institutions that offer 529 plans. Why are they so popular? The reason they’re so popular is because the money that’s put into the plan grows tax-free, and you can take the money out tax-free. It’s basically a “retirement account” for college.

There are 2 different categories of 529 plans.

  1. Pre-paid plan: Essentially, you pay for college up front in today’s dollars.  This is great from a financial standpoint because as mentioned beforehand, it’s almost guaranteed that tuition will continue to rise significantly.  However, you are usually tied to either one educational institution or a limited group of educational institutions. If you’re positive that your little one will attend State U and see no reason to attend any other college, you can consider this.
  2. Savings plan:  This is more commonly used compared to the pre-paid plan.  In this scenario, you are investing your money in mutual funds.  You are then free to use this money for any qualified educational expense, which currently includes college tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and computers.

WHICH 529 PLAN?

There are quite a number of 529 plans out there, so it will take some homework to figure out which one to sign up for.

First, you’ll want to research the 529 plans that are available in your state.  This is because they may offer a tax deduction on your contributions.  Any way you can lower your taxes is always worth looking into.

Next, you can start researching other state plans.  Yes, you can sign up for any 529 plan, regardless if you are an actual resident of that state.  When looking at plans, you will want to pay close attention to the types of investments they offer and their fees and expenses. 

  1. Types of investments: Many plans will offer age based options that will invest more heavily in stocks while the child is young, then will automatically switch over to more fixed income (bonds) investments as the child gets closer to college age. You can typically choose your level of risk (conservative, moderate, aggressive).  This is very similar to target retirement funds that will automatically change your asset allocation based on how close you’re getting to your retirement.  There will also be some static options that are not based on age for those that like to pick their own investments.   You should also check out the fund managers that are in charge of the underlying investments.  Seeing fund managers like Vanguard, Schwab, and Fidelity can give you piece of mind that the investments are being managed by reputable companies.
  2. Fees and expenses: Usually these fees include account management fees and the fees associated with the underlying investments (expense ratios).  The lower the number, the better.

In a nutshell, if you are comfortable with their investment options and the expense ratios are relatively low, then you’ve found a good plan.  

What about direct-sold 529’s versus advisor-sold 529’s?  If you are comfortable opening up an account on your own, direct-sold is the best way to go.  Advisor-sold 529’s rely on a broker, and you will be paying extra broker fees. The only situation where you should be getting an advisor-sold 529 is if you already have a financial advisor.  Just understand that you will be paying more for this option due to extra fees.  Even if you have a financial advisor, you can still absolutely go with direct-sold 529’s and set it up yourself.  Many 529 plans offer quite a bit of information on their website to help you get started.

Lastly, compare your in-state plan(s) with out of state plans. Here is a good website to start your research.

What if you get a great tax benefit from your in-state plan, but you like the investment options and lower fees of an out of state plan?  If you have the means to do so, you can sign up for more than one plan for the same beneficiary.  You will have to make some calculations to see if this works for you, but if the state plan has decent investment options and the fees/expenses aren’t excessive, fund the state plan just enough to get the tax benefit, then put the rest in the out of state plan.

529 PLANS- PROS

  1. As mentioned earlier, these plans grow tax free and you can withdraw the money tax free.  Your state plan may offer a tax deduction as well.  
  2. You can have more than one 529 account for the same beneficiary.  You just have to make sure that you don’t incur the gift tax if you contribute more than $15,000 annually (per individual, per beneficiary).  
  3. You can change the beneficiary to other family members.  If you have multiple children, this can be helpful as one child may need more money for college or postgraduate education than another.  Many plans have broad descriptions of “family member,” so you are not just limited to your immediate family members.  You can even use the 529 for yourself if you decide to go back to school.  
  4. There is no income cap, so wealthy families are certainly taking advantage of this option!
  5. The money is no longer restricted to just college.  The tax bill that was passed in December 2017 now allows money in a 529 plan to be used for K-12 private education (tuition only).  You will have to check with your individual plan to see if they will allow the funds to be used in this manner.

529 PLANS- CONS

  1. You can only use the money for qualified educational expenses (tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and student loans with a limit of $10k).  As of now, travel, transportation costs and health insurance are not considered qualified educational expenses.  You will still need to pay for college related costs, but it won’t be as massive as trying to also pay for tuition and room/board.
  2. If you have to withdraw money for other, non-educational purposes, you will be subject to a 10% penalty and and you will be taxed on any earnings.  
  3. Your child will possibly qualify for less financial aid.

For me, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.  There is a reason that 529 plans are so popular, and hopefully more and more families will be encouraged to save for college using these plans.

OTHER WAYS TO SAVE FOR COLLEGE

  1. Coverdell Educational Savings Account (ESA): Like 529 plans, Coverdell ESAs offer tax free growth and tax free withdrawals.  They also used to offer the advantage of covering K-12 educational expenses, but as mentioned earlier, Congress now allows 529 plans to also cover K-12 private education.  The biggest difference is that you are capped at contributing $2,000/year per child, whereas you can save significantly more in a 529 plan.  There is also an income cap; your eligibility to contribute to a Coverdell ESA starts phasing out if you have a modified adjusted income of $95,000 for single filers and $190,000 for married filers (tax year 2017). 
  2. UTMA (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act) and UGMA (Uniform Gift to Minors Act): These are considered custodial accounts.  Essentially, these are protected savings accounts for minors, so it is not limited to just educational expenses.  Little Junior will reach a certain age (depending on which state you live in- usually between the ages of 18-21) and will now have complete and total access to the funds in these custodial accounts.  You cannot tell Junior that he must spend this money on college tuition, or any other college related expenses for that matter. He has the freedom to spend the money however he’d like.  I think you’d have to have a very mature, trustworthy college aged kid to feel comfortable with this arrangement.  Some other negatives are that you must report income from this account on the child’s tax return, the accounts are non-transferable, and they will count against financial aid eligibility.

Bottom line: If you are intent on saving for college, 529 plans offer the greatest benefits.  Coverdell ESA’s are also a good vehicle that you can use as long as you’re ok with the contribution cap and you are within income eligibility requirements. UTMA and UGMA custodial accounts have too many negatives when using them as strictly college savings accounts.

Have you started saving for college? Did you find the process difficult? If you are currently using your 529 for your college aged child, please share your experience!

 

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Mother’s Day 2021

 

Share with us @tryverima or comment below your favorite Mother’s Day Gift you have ever given or received.  

Last year Mother’s Day 2020, I wrote about what moms really want for Mother’s Day. . . and to think at that time, we honestly thought we had been in the pandemic for *so long*.  I still stand by all the points I mentioned, but this year got me thinking what are some practical ways families can celebrate Mother’s Day that fills mom’s bucket and leaves her feeling loved, appreciated and refreshed? 

The 2020-21 school year highlighted just how much moms do, and just how much we rely on moms to fill in all the gaps when it comes to family and especially families with young children.  So, my approach is two pronged.  First, a list of ideas of things we can do to spend the day with Mom, without actually making more work for mom.  (So yes, a huge mess in the kitchen to scramble a couple eggs is not going to work unless there is a clean-up plan that follows it). Secondly, a few weeks ago we discussed time-saving hacks for busy moms, and fellow Verima moms and I discussed our favorite time saving gadgets.  So for those of you who want to give mom a gift she’ll actually appreciatively use (think less, “here’s a vacuum for you to clean with” and more, “here’s a vacuum that will clean for you”), I’ve attached a list of our Verima team’s favorites that buy us precious minutes throughout our week. 

Take a Hike

Plan the destination and have the kids lay out their things the night before.  Sunday morning, dad/partner and kids can pack up (or pick-up) a picnic lunch, and with no complaining, no lost shoes or hats, no asking mom where X is, we hop in the car and then go for a family hike.  The day is about mom, so be mindful of what she may like for lunch and take note whether she prefers beaches, mountains, rocks, or forests.  It’s a win win because the whole family spends time together, everyone gets some exercise and mom doesn’t have to cook or do dishes. 

Plan a Bike Ride to a New Restaurant

A few weeks ago, my husband found an outdoor restaurant garden that he thought we would like.  The entire family biked 7 beautiful winding miles there, enjoyed a delicious lunch and then biked the 7 miles home.  Everyone was tired (good tired!), fed and relaxed.  In fact the kids enjoyed it so much, we did the same ride again last week.  Bonus points because they now love riding their bikes to destinations so we get exercise and family time.  

Create Art/Color Together

I lack talent when it comes to drawing, painting, sculpting.  . . . but I enjoy it and I find it soothing. Problem is most moms don’t have the time to sit down and engage in it, and then we dread the clean up involved.  This doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.  My kids love when I just sit next to them and color.  I have a friend that will buy a roll of craft paper, tape it to a wall in the kitchen and together draw, color and paint a mural together.  Buy a canvas paint hands and feet and make prints together.

Write a Book Together

For young children, you can interview them to have a keepsake memory of their answers.  What do you love about Mommy?  What is your favorite thing to do with Mommy?  What does Mommy do each day?  How does Mommy take care of you?  What would you do if you were a Mommy? 

For older children, ask them to write about a day or moment that they remember being happy with mom or their favorite memory with Mom, and what was it about the moment that made it so special? 

All children can then illustrate their books.  We will love spending that quiet time with our kids, while also gaining insight into what is important to them as well as taking a snapshot of what they are like at this specific moment in time.  That said, if you prefer, all of the above can be captured on video and edited together to make a sweet keepsake to watch. 

Plant a Garden, Tree or Flowers Together

This one is another gift that keeps on giving.  Family time spent outside, beautifying your home helping the planet and/or growing your own vegetables, flowers or herbs.  My children love our garden plot and will weed, water and pick with zero complaints.  And when they are done gardening, the will continue to happily dig and play in the dirt.  This way, each year you can see your tree grow/bear fruit and your flowers bloom. 

I hope some of these ideas help you find a fun and bonding way to celebrate moms this year.  I especially love the last three since they can be done with grandmothers as well.  In fact, I think for my own mom, she would love a small letter from her adult daughter telling of a favorite memory with her either from my childhood or adulthood.  Or if you and the kids showed up at your mother-in-law’s with some pretty spring flowers and a few tools to plant them by the mailbox or front door. 

And as promised, just in case you live too far from your mom or mother-in-law, or if your love language is gifts, here is our much awaited list of our favorite time saving gadgets.  I would love to hear back from you, the best Mother’s Day gift you’ve ever given or received. 

Instant Pot Ultra 60 Ultra 6 Qt 10-in-1 Multi- Use (I just need the 6 quart but I know it comes in 8 Qt)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06Y1MP2PY/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_api_glt_fabc_7B80Y5RN2B2PHP1T65BG

Roborock S6 Pure Robot Vacuum and Mop, Multi-Floor Mapping

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BC1RJRV/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_api_glt_fabc_63SNXVVF48DDVAZTM9SR

Cosori Air-Fryer

COSORI 14-in-1 Smart Large Air Fryer Oven XL 7QT with 6 Accessories (there’s smaller versions … but I love to that the XL can fit a while chicken!)

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08L39951F/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_api_glt_fabc_WT2CMQEDVDDM3CDQV0Y8

HomeSoap UV Sanitizer

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07Z9NZHBR/ref=cm_sw_r_sms_api_glt_fabc_Y6TPZ0725GYGSN0XRPJR

Pasta Pot with Strainer Lid

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005PPP7MQ/ref=twister_B07WW2KDP2?_encoding=UTF8&th=1

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Favorite Parenting Tools and Strategies

 

Share with us @tryverima or comment below your favorite or best parenting tools

I was recently sharing with a young mother how I used to handle toddler meltdowns and it occurred to me that while I have written previous blogs on parenting tools I like to employ, I haven’t consolidated them.  So, here are my top five.  My eldest is now a young teenager, so I am now navigating how to apply these to older children.  I would love to hear back from you about your favorite parenting strategies. 

Say “YES!”

One of the most useful pieces of parenting advice I got when my eldest was a toddler was from my good friend Art who suggested I try and make the answer “Yes, “ whenever possible. If he asked for ice cream 15 minutes before dinner, rather than, “No, you’ll spoil your dinner, “ the answer instead was, “Yes! That sounds like the perfect dessert for after dinner.  What flavor would you like?” 

 

More than simply avoiding the meltdowns, this strategy helped my child feel heard and gave him a sense of ownership over how his day went. Simultaneously, it forced me to listen to my child’s request and evaluate what he was really asking. “Mommy, can we go to the park? “  My answer would be, “Yes, I want to spend time with you too, why don’t you help me with the chores so we can have fun together sooner than later?”

Of course, there were hard “no’s” such as “No, you can’t hit your sister with a wooden spoon over the head,” and “I understand you are upset, but No, you may not be disrespectful towards others.” 

 

The Power of “Yet”

My children were extremely blessed to have the opportunity to attend Bing Nursery School which is part of the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University.  Esteemed Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset is pervasive in Bing’s philosophy and my children have benefited enormously.  According to Professor Dweck, a growth mindset means children believe that “intelligence can be developed through practice, learning, good mentorship from others. “ 

Professor Dweck discusses how children with a fixed mindset believe that “their basic talents and abilities are just these fixed traits.  They have a certain amount of intelligence or talent and that’s that.”  She then explains that the danger in this is “The wrong mindset, can make them afraid of challenges, afraid of effort, afraid of setbacks.“  

At Bing, I observed my children’s skilled teachers masterfully engage with my frustrated then three year old using the power of “yet” to ensure that the task at hand was not simply something he couldn’t do, but rather something he wasn’t able to do. . . . yet.  I have taken this skill with me and use it to this day well into my eldest’s middle school years.  

 

Last year he was introduced to solving for a variable in an equation.  He was frustrated and yelled, “I just can’t do it. “  I carefully replied back to him, “Of course you are having trouble doing it now.  You don’t have the skills to know how to do it YET. . . that’s why you go to school. . .  to learn how! “  It was important for me to further explain to him that once he became frustrated, his brain would actually block itself off from learning new concepts.  Once he understood that he wasn’t expected to already know how to do these math problems and that he was capable of learning how to solve them; this changed his entire mindset because he was given permission not to understand something, and given the confidence that he can learn it.  Of course, he needs constant reminders, but as a result, he is now open to new challenges and can embrace the frustration of a steep learning curve as a discovery opportunity.  

Give Choices

Children very often have their entire days dictated to them from what time they have to wake up (in time to get to daycare, school, mom to work, etc.) what they eat, when they eat, etc. down to what time they have to go to bed.  I try and give my kids as much choice as possible throughout their days.  Of course, it is all within a controlled environment.  I purchase all of their clothing, but they pick out what clothes they want to wear each day.  (Yes, even that pair of shorts that didn’t make it into the give-away bin that’s two sizes too small in the middle of January).  I stock the pantry and refrigerator with healthful snacks, they are free to pick out anything they want.  Here’s a list of outdoor activities we can do (hike, bike ride, rollerblade, pickleball, jump rope, etc.) what’s your choice for today? 

 

 

By giving choices to our children, we are giving them some power over what happens in their lives.  Most parents know, that power struggles can get ugly so it’s helpful to give them power in age-appropriate ways.  When my children were younger, we would play games where they got to be the grown-up and tell me what to do.  Another favorite game of theirs was we would drag out a large bin of stuffed animals and I would say teasingly say, “Whatever you do, do NOT make a mess!” Which would be their cue to promptly grab and throw the stuffies all over the room creating a *huge* (but very easy and quick to clean-up) mess. 

I’m still navigating how to give my teen more power and choice throughout his day.  I did find though that a good place to start was to empathize with the simple fact that, yes sometimes it really stinks to have to do everything you are told to do (by parents, teachers, coaches) all day long.  Which brings me to my next and perhaps most important tool:

Empathize

Many times our kids just want to be heard.  They want to express something to us and they want to be sure we understand how they are feeling.  Whether it’s a two-year old’s tantrum, a 13 year old’s melt-down or a 40 year old’s tirade, for the most part they are the result of our expectations not being met.  Simply letting your child know that you understand how frustrating/annoying/maddening/embarrassing/difficult whatever they are facing is for them, helps them feel heard and understood. 

The important thing with with empathizing is that we are not changing the situation for them.  We are not solving the problem for them.  We are simply sitting quietly with them, acknowledging their feelings, allowing them to feel those feelings and understanding why those feelings are there.  When my six year old was sorely disappointed that his playdate had to cancel, I didn’t rush to make a new one, I didn’t plan something else in its place.  I just held him and let him know I understood how sad he was feeling that he would not get to see his friend that day.  And he felt a little bit better knowing that I understood how disappointed he felt. 

 

“Earlier” Bedtimes

While this strategy isn’t always feasible, I had to include it because it has given me some of my favorite and most precious times with my children.  None of my kids were great sleepers when they were young.  And even now, they still fight me about going to sleep.  But one thing I did notice is that they would get awfully chatty at night, talking about their day, telling me what was on their minds, what they were excited about.  And I loved hearing about it, but part of me would be trying to hush them because it was now an hour past their bedtimes and they had school in the morning.  So I started allotting time for what I call, “chit-chat and cuddles”. Some nights, I have whichever child’s turn it is that night, change into their pajamas and get ready for bed about 5 minutes early.  I also change into my pjs and we cuddle in bed and read a few bedtime stories.  Then it’s lights out and I actually let my kiddo just ramble on and on about whatever is on their mind.  This has helped us have some real bonding conversations, meaningful connections and given us insights into each other as people.  Sometimes, it winds itself down and my child will fall asleep peacefully, other times they require a gentle reminder that it really is time to stop talking and get some sleep.  But every time, my child feels loved, heard and connected. 

I hope some of my tips can help you amazing mamas out there.  Let’s keep sharing and talking so we can start implementing strategies that work for us and help us be our best parenting selves.