On Holding Each Other Accountable

wedding photo

Over the weekend, John and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary. It was a low-key day as we donated blood in the morning and later went out to dinner with Monica. In past anniversary posts, I shared discussion points and tips for merging finances and wedding planning tips. This year (with #FinCon14 happening now!) I can’t help but reflect on what a great accountabl-a-buddy John is. I wasn’t sure about going to FinCon this year. It’s in New Orleans, so there’s the cost of the flight, hotel, food, and conference (blah blah blah, excuses excuses). Do I want to grow Fiscally Chic? Certainly! But I was hesitant to invest in myself and the business. Fortunately, John talked some sense into me and I’m excited to learn some new blogging tricks and meet other fantastic financial bloggers. If you’re there, I’d love to meet you!

Everybody needs someone (OK, probably multiple people) in their life to help encourage, challenge, and hold them accountable. That’s why people have personal trainers, coaches, mentors, financial planners, spiritual directors, etc.

Who in your life is helping you become the best version of yourself?

We Can Pickle That

quick refrigerator dill pickles

A couple weeks ago, I shared that we’ve been trying our hand at pickling. Each year, it seems like we have an over-abundance of one vegetable. The first year, it was zucchini. Last year was tomatoes. And 2014 is the year of the cucumber (and dill). One weekend we picked 14 cucumbers! We’ve probably picked about 800 this summer, give or take 100.

quick dill pickle brine

Knowing we could only eat so much cucumber salad, I sent a distress call to Instagram asking people for recipe ideas. Stephanie responded with tzatziki and pickles. Since we also have a plethora of dill in our garden, I wanted to try to make dill pickles. She referred me to Ted Allen’s quick refrigerator pickle recipe. Less than an hour later, I was leaving Target with 2 quart-sized mason jars and extra lids. After Monica went to bed, I made my first batch of pickles.

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How to Start Saving for College

how to start saving for college

Last week, Monica started in the toddler room at daycare. And while we’re several years away from paying for college, we also started to make some progress on her college savings fund. Up to this point, any money given to Monica sat in her savings account, accumulating a few pennies of interest income at a time. It was time to put these funds to work. Here are several ways to start saving money for college, in addition to what we chose.

529 Plan

One of the most popular ways to save money for college is through a 529 plan, named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code. The 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan sponsored by states, state agencies, or educational institutions. Earnings on withdrawals for qualified for higher education expenses are exempt from federal and state taxes. Additionally, if you invest in the state 529 plan where you are a resident, there may also be a state tax deduction (subject to recapture under certain circumstances, check your plan document to be sure). There are two types of 529 plans: college savings plans and pre-paid tuition plans. This chart from FINRA does a great job comparing the two:

Spoiler alert: We live in Illinois and chose to go with Bright Start, an Illinois 529 college savings plan. Bright Start is a bit more DIY, in comparison to Bright Directions which is an Illinois 529 plan available through investment professionals. Another option was to invest in a 529 plan from another state (for example, Vanguard has a 529 plan through Nevada), but then we would lose any tax advantages from being an Illinois resident.

Another benefit of the 529 plan is that anyone (parents, grandparents, other relatives, etc.) can contribute to the plan up until the account value reaches $350,000 per child. There are some nice gift and estate tax benefits in doing so (as of September 2014):

  • Contribute up to $14,000 ($28,000 for married couples) per student each year, or up to $70,000 ($140,000 for married couples) prorated over a five-year period to someone’s existing account, without incurring a federal gift tax.
  • Grandparents, relatives and friends can open their own 529 plan for a student, contribute $14,000 ($28,000 for married couples) per student each year, or up to $70,000 ($140,000 for married couples) prorated over a five-year period, and not incur a federal gift tax.
  • Contributions to 529 plans are also excluded from an account owner’s estate when taxes are assessed

UGMA/UTMA Custodial Accounts

The Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) and the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) are types of custodial accounts that are set up by an adult on behalf of a minor. All of the money in these accounts is turned over to child once they reach the age of majority (18 to 21, depending on the state in which the account was opened) and they can use the funds in any way they choose. You can contribute $14,000 per year, per child without incurring a federal gift tax.

There are a few benefits to UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts, mainly the multitude of investment options and no limitations on contributions. However, unlike the 529 plan, UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts are not tax-deferred and the overall taxation can be a little tricky. The first $950 of earned income from investments in a UGMA/UTMA is generally tax-exempt. The subsequent income up to $950 is generally taxed at the child’s rate. Any income earned over $1,900 is generally taxed at the parent’s rate.

And then there’s the whole control issue. Once the child is a legal adult, they can do whatever they want with the investments. So while you may have hoped your child would use the money for college, there’s no guarantee they’ll be responsible with the funds.

Investment Accounts

You can also put money away for college in a brokerage (investment) account with somebody like Fidelity or Vanguard. This gives you the most investment options (like mutual funds or individual stocks) and control over the assets. Plus, there are no contribution limits. But then you’ll have to pay federal and state taxes on the earnings each year.

Your Roth IRA

Yes, a Roth IRA account is generally used to save for retirement, but you can pull out your contributions to pay for college and just pay the tax on any gains. And keep in mind, you can only contribute $5,500 to a Roth IRA per year (or $6,500 if you are over the age of 50).

Savings Accounts

Sure, you can always put money away for college in a savings account, but the returns are very very low. Though one benefit of checking accounts, savings accounts, money market deposit accounts, and certificates of deposit is that they’re covered by the FDIC, up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each account ownership category.

 

While saving for your child’s college education is extremely generous, it’s more important to save for your own retirement first. There’s no guarantee your child will go to college, but I’m pretty sure you’ll want to retire one day. Plus, students have several options in paying for their college education: student loans, work-study programs, scholarships, community college and then 4-year school, etc.

Overall, our current focus is to save for our retirement and pay down our mortgage. When we met with our insurance agent to purchase life insurance, he gave us some excellent advice: work on paying off our mortgage (and any additional debt) now. While our mortgage interest rate is 4%, we’re at the point in our loan amortization where about 50% of our monthly payment goes towards interest. Ugh. And that’s even with additional principal payments. As we continue to make larger than scheduled principal payments, and the occasional lump sum payment, our mortgage will shrink and we’ll have less interest to pay. Right now, if we follow the amortization schedule we’ll be done in May 2037 (yikes!). If we just make our additional principal payments of $231 (and no lump sum payments), we’ll be done in August 2031. When Monica is 18. And about to enter college. (eek!)

pink shoes

Little Happies: Pink Shoes Edition

My friend Stephanie hosts a lovely little link-up called Little Happies where bloggers can share the little happy things going on in their everyday life. I thought I’d finally join in and share some of the happiness in my life: For the longest time, I’ve been on the hunt for new black flats. I looked online…

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fiscally chic on blogger 2014

Welcome!

Hi! Welcome to the newly redesigned home of Fiscally Chic! This redesign and move to self-hosted WordPress has been a while in the making. To be honest, I first started thinking about WordPress at the 2011 Financial Blogger Conference and then again in 2013. I wanted a cleaner and more professional looking blog, but could never pull the trigger….

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jerk chicken and pineapple salsa

Jerk Chicken Quesadillas and Pineapple Salsa

During spring break of junior year of college, I took a Caribbean cruise with my Mom. It was a super fun girls trip and one of my favorite pictures of us was during the muster call. We swam with sting rays (before Steve the Crocodile hunter died), climbed the Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, and saw…

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baskets

Tidying Up

first row: Target (no longer available), right second row: left, center, right third row: left, right While it appears to be all quiet on the western blogging front (it is summer, after all), I’ve been tidying up my blog design. (And moving to WordPress…eek!) At the same time, it’s a battle to keep things tidy…

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running-half-marathon

On Blogging and Running

About a month ago, Lindsay Ostrom of Pinch of Yum was a guest on The Lively Show. I enjoy reading food blogs, but hadn’t heard of Pinch of Yum until then. In addition to sharing delicious recipes with gorgeous photography, Pinch of Yum shares their monthly income reports. Their first income report was for August…

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toolbox-essentials

Toolbox Essentials for the New Homeowner

It’s summertime, which means DIY projects and household improvements are filling people’s weekend “to do” lists. The summer is also a prime time to buy a new house, which means you need to be prepared for repairs. If you’re in either of these camps, you’ll enjoy today’s post sponsored by Gotstock. What’s in Your Toolbox?…

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first-birthday-raspberry-vanilla-cupcakes

Raspberry Vanilla Birthday Cupcakes

On June 8, Monica turned one! She started walking the day before she turned 11 months old, so turning one sealed the deal of her becoming a toddler (sniff). While I had a secret Pinterest board filled with birthday party ideas, I didn’t go over the top crafting elaborate decorations. I ran a half marathon…

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black-tie-wedding-guest

Summer Wedding Looks

Hi, friends! Wedding season is upon us! While we only have one wedding on our calendar thus far, I was having so much fun creating a wedding guest outfit that I put together three for you! Since I absolutely love using Rent the Runway* (I rented dresses for the last two weddings we attended), each…

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rose-photo-2

To Friends of Young Kids

Monica’s first birthday is this Sunday. Where has the time gone??? I didn’t become a mom one year ago. Or even one year and nine months ago. The process of becoming a parent started over two years ago. Two years ago yesterday, I lost my first pregnancy. I was 6 weeks pregnant. While we’re extremely blessed and grateful that we have Monica; other…

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converting-a-buffet-into-a-media-center

Hiding a Cable Box and DVD Player

Hello and happy weekend! Do you have anything planned for these next few days? Lately, our weekends have been a mix of relaxing, half marathon training (my recent 9-miler was a beast), and house projects. Last weekend, I finally converted our “new” buffet into a media center. In keeping with our “theme” of hiding TV…

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