Author Archives: wpeichel

How to Bring Up a Delicate Subject (Finances) to a Loved One or Friend

By Joan C. Smith, Master Financial Education Volunteer

Times are tough. Layoffs abound. Companies are cutting back with staff reductions, furloughs, etc. We’ve all heard these terms in the news, we read about it all over the internet. However, hearing and reading about these terms and having it hit a spouse, relative, and/or close friend(s) takes on another dimension.

layoff line 2What if your spouse, fiancé, best friend, etc. loses their job? What if they have no warning or advanced notice?

This happens all of the time. In fact, I have experienced almost more layoffs over my working career than I have fingers! Trying to help, offer advice, etc. can be extremely difficult depending upon the person’s personality, how well they deal with difficulty, etc. It can also be increasingly difficult to give advice when and/or if a person may appear to “have it all together.”

What can one do?

One way to address a delicate situation may be as little as one click away. If having a conversation isn’t an option, maybe having someone else do the talking via the internet is a viable option. Here’s one of many excellent sites that may gently address the issue:

Check out the links on this blog and the Virginia Cooperative Extension website for more tips.

Many times, it is difficult for people to consider downsizing by moving to a smaller place.  Reducing and/or downgrading cable services is a huge issue for some, but often may be necessary. Downgrading cable/internet services is as easy as one phone call. It’s a quick and easy process when you need some immediate relief.

If you want to learn how VCE can help you, please contact Jennifer Abel at 703-228-6417 and learn about our classes and one-on-one financial counseling.

Start Small But Start Now

By Mohna Shah, Master Financial Education Volunteer

One step at a time

We typically discuss resolutions in January because it signifies a new beginning to us. We fervently generate a list of several lofty and unspecific goals – save money, lose weight, quit smoking, start volunteering . . . and most of those ideas have perished before the end of the month.

While glancing through some back issues of a cooking magazine, I noticed that they started a Healthy Habits section so readers could focus on one change a month. Since it takes at least 18 days to change behavior, this approach seems much more sensible, even in the context of financial planning.

I can’t say I’ve incorporated the magazine’s recommendations for nutrition, but by applying it to my finances, I did experience an improvement in my health. I picked the beginning of the next month, which happened to be November 1st, and decided I would only eat out (dine-in, take-out, or delivery) three times a week. By selecting a frequency and not a dollar amount, I didn’t have to refrain from dessert or select a less interesting entrée at a fabulous restaurant.

But I did have to think about what going out to eat is worth if I’m going to use 1 of my 3 chances. Dashing out to pick up a mediocre sandwich during work or ordering cardboard pizza as a quick, no-thought dinner stopped immediately. I still celebrate birthdays and have a nice date night with my husband, but I appreciate the food much more.

When December rolled around, I decided to use only public transportation (train or bus) or my own two feet to get around the city that month. No cabs, no rental cars. Miracle of miracles, this Southern gal learned to enjoy walking through the city, taking in the architecture and holiday lights. And – without giving it much thought – I was still limiting myself to eating out 3 times a week. My motivation for these self-imposed directives had been to save money (each one’s value being at least $100 a month), but I was also eating better and walking more.

Almost a year later, these practices are still ingrained in me. There have been a few exceptions – renting a car to visit family and eating out four times in one weekend when my in-laws visited. But my overall habits have changed, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I’ve also had some success with non-financial goals  — flossing more often, studying a foreign language — when focusing on one objective per month.

So don’t wait until January when it’s cold and dreary and you’re searching for inspiration. Pick this Monday or September 1st and make a small change.  There are big rewards to be had.

Teaching and Learning

By Jackie Rivas, Master Financial Education Volunteer

VCE’s financial literacy classes offer opportunities not only to teach others about personal financial management, but also provide an opportunity to learn about techniques and cultures.  I recently taught the financial literacy series at Virginia Gardens in Spanish to a group of Central American and Mexican immigrants.  In one session we discussed the importance of reviewing your bank statements on a regular basis.  A participant shared with the group how she was surprised to learn that she had insufficient funds in her checking account.  She was sure she

Dolls 1

had made sufficient deposits to cover her expenses.  At the teller window she reviewed her statement and found that a magazine that she thought she had canceled had continued to withdraw funds from her account monthly over the past two years.  She called the magazine right there at the window and although she normally has a hard time saying no made it very clear that her subscription had ended.  We also talked about managing banking fees and charges.  The participants compared the various costs of checking accounts, minimum balances, check-writing charges, late fees and fines.  They were able to share their experiences regarding different banks and checking account plans and where to get the best deal.

But I also learned from my students.  They taught me about a technique for saving money that is quite common in Central America, Mexico and among immigrants in the US who have limited access to the banking system, called the Tanda.  One of my students explained how she has trouble saving money because she finds it difficult to resist the temptation to spend.  But the Tanda works for her.  She used it to save the $4,000 she needed to pay the hospital expenses for the birth of her child.  She planned several months ahead of the delivery date.  In the Tanda, a group of persons with a desire to save a specified amount of money agree to pool their money over a specific time period and each week someone from the group receives the pooled funds.  For example, to obtain $4,000 a group of sixteen persons would contribute $250 weekly for sixteen weeks.  Each week someone within the group receives $4,000.  The payout order could be determined by drawing numbers from a hat or by the coordinator of the Tanda.  Of course there are many dangers in this system.  It requires a lot of trust among the participants.  Someone could run off with their payout early in the game, never to be seen again.  But that is where a sense of community works to discipline members.  There also is no interest paid on the principal and no opportunity for the beauty of compounding interest.  But for those who might find it difficult to obtain a loan from a bank, it is an alternative  method for obtaining credit.  Teaching the financial literacy classes not only provides a forum through which to help others learn how to better manage their money, but it also presents the opportunity to learn how other cultures meet the financial needs of their community.

Why Wait?

By Mohna Shah, Master Financial Education Volunteer

I love the number of websites and services devoted to getting women involved in personal finance. But I recently found myself at odds with an article on one such site that suggested people learn about investing in their 20s, ramp up their investments and contribute to retirement plans in their 30s, then increase the amount of retirement savings in their 40s, and so forth. That may work for people who live in areas with a low cost of living and who are not carrying much debt. But that’s a tough road to take in the metro DC area. I’ve watched many of my friends spend their 20s repaying their student loans while incurring credit card debt to keep up with the cost of living on entry-level salaries. By the time they have paid off their debt and are earning enough money to pocket some of it at the end of the month, they are in their early 30s and are just learning to create a habit of saving. Work and family consumes most people at that age, so learning about investing falls pretty low on the priority list.

the time is nowFor my friends who are in their 20s and 30s, I have recommended following all of those suggestions in order but ASAP, ideally in 5 years or less. Learn about financial planning now, whether it’s the Money Talk series through Virginia Cooperative Extension, a quick read of personal finance articles on, or a personal finance book. At this point, it’s an hour a week class or 15 minutes, 3 – 4 days a week during your lunch break or commute. At this rate, you’ll probably be able to generate some executable ideas for yourself in a month or two. Make small changes each month or each season to speed up debt repayments or increase savings. One of my friends was stunned to see how much money she saved by taking her lunch to work. (The weight loss was a nice by-product.) I had a similar reaction when I stopped taking cabs and relied only on the metro or my own feet for transportation. Neither of these actions had any noticeable impact on our social lives or overall happiness.  As soon as that debt is paid, speak to a human resources representative about contributing to a retirement plan at work. Don’t worry if it’s $100 a month to start.* If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, talk to a bank about opening up an IRA. Applying the small changes theory, increase the contribution by $50 each year. (After five years, you will have contributed $12,000 along with any investment gains or losses. ) The point is, saving a little now is a lot easier than catching up later.

Also, while we can’t rewind our own clocks, we have an obligation to prepare the next generation. The biggest influence on my financial behavior is probably having a savings account where I could save a percentage of my birthday/tooth fairy/report card money. I felt so grown up when I received the monthly statement, and I was giddy when my balance crossed the $100 mark. At a later age, I could save part of my weekly allowance (which I only received if I completed my assigned chores – talk about strict parents!). It helped instill the notion of saving as an end in itself, not a means to buying the next teen idol’s album.

The sum of birthday money and allowances and the money saved by choosing public transportation and brown bag lunches may not appear to make a significant dent in the cost of a college education. But the lessons of saving and thoughtful financial decision-making can be worth just as much.

*If possible, start with a contribution large enough to get the full employer match for a 401(k).

Thinking Outside the Box: Savings

By Joan C. Smith, Master Financial Education Volunteer

As a volunteer financial counselor with the Alexandria/Arlington, we have many opportunities to serve the residents of Arlington County and Alexandria city. I recently had the privilege to speak to a group of residents of an apartment complex in Arlington. We taught on the subject “Pay Yourself First” as part of a Money Management series under the FDIC’s Money Smart program.

We were discussing a section about goal-setting and various ways to save. Aside from many common ways to save: i.e.: payroll deduction, opening a savings account, etc., one participant gave an interesting suggestion that I had never heard of.

Multiple money jarsMany have heard of and some of us already practice the idea of putting loose change in a container/jar and allowing it to build up and once it builds, one can use coin holders to place coins in and take those to their local banker or use a (free) coin counter machine. This participant had a totally “non traditional” method that worked for her. What this participant did (and continues to do) is she had a goal of saving up for a vacation for her family. She placed several (not one) jars in various places in the apartment. She wanted her kids to be an active part of this savings endeavor.

She started one year out. By the time the year rolled around; between several jars of “loose change,” she had saved about $500 in one year!

Unfortunately, her husband fell ill and the monies saved had to be used towards his medical bills.

I commended her nevertheless because:

1)      A goal was set
2)      Even though she had to use it for an emergency and forfeit a family vacation, at least she didn’t go into further debt when her spouse fell ill.
3)      The fact that she even had the funds for this unfortunate emergency saved her possible hundreds if not thousands in collection bills, late charges, and possible ruined credit.

What about you? Are you saving your “loose” change? Can you clean out an extra peanut butter (or almond butter) jar and use it in addition to the jar you may already have?

If this isn’t thinking outside the box to save, then what is?

Kids Learn About Spending Money at Kids Marketplace

Last Monday we ran a Kids Marketplace simulation with 23 kids attending a summer program at Arlington’s Patrick Henry Elementary School.  KM Patrick Henry 2013 003 The kids enjoyed chatting with each station’s volunteers, who either coaxed them into spending wisely or into buying more than they needed.  KM Patrick Henry 2013 001Some kids found they could afford multiple pets, while others shared housing to reduce expenses.  One kid saved nearly 50% of his doctor’s salary.

For more pictures, visit our Facebook site:

If you would like to organize a Kids Marketplace at your elementary school, please contact Jennifer Abel at or 703-228-6417.

How Money Buys Happiness

What type of spending makes you happiest? Cash or credit?

The New York Times reports on an interesting study comparing prepayment to repayment. Researchers gave 99 people the opportunity to buy a gift basket. Some study participants refrained from purchasing the basket until they could pay in full. Others got the basket right away and paid later.

gift basket 2Participants then rated how much happiness the purchase provided. So, who enjoyed the gift basket more?

“Although the gift baskets were identical, they provided more happiness to those who had paid in advance,” per the Times opinion column “Happier Spending.”

So how do you get more happiness for your buck?

Try this. Determine how much you want to spend on various items in a given month, e.g., $40/month for movie tickets, $100/month for restaurants, whatever. Using envelopes marked “movies,” “restaurants” or “embarrassing personal hobby,” put that much cash inside. Use only what it is in the envelope for the designated purpose for the month. By paying in cash — and paying up front — you have no chance of charging more than you can afford.

And your embarrassing personal hobby may become that much more fun.

By Megan Kuhn, Master Financial Education Volunteer

Money Talk Course Kicks Off a Five-Week Series

Last night we kicked off our first class in the Money Talk: A Financial Course for Women five-week series at Arlington Central Library.  We had 34 participants attend the class on Financial Basics, where the instructor covered topics including values and goal setting, budgeting, calculating your net worth, and credit management.

P1060291The participants posed many of their questions and concerns during the session, including:

–          What is a SMART goal?

–          Is there a way I can get my credit score for free?

–          How do I correct an error on my credit report?

–          I have a year left on my mortgage.  If I can swing it, should I pay it off now, or should I make my normal monthly payments and take the tax benefit next year?

Each attendee had the option of purchasing a workbook with helpful resources and worksheets to accompany the course lectures.  At the end of the session, one participant remarked that she normally hates talking about financial matters, but this class made the content much more enjoyable.

For more information on this series or other programs, contact Jennifer Abel at or 703-228-6417.

Women, it’s time to take charge of your finances!

Women, how prepared do you feel in making wise financial decisions?  According to the 2012-2013 Prudential Research Study on financial experience and behaviors among women, only 22% of women felt “very well prepared” to make wise financial decisions (compared to 37% of men).

images (1)Fortunately, you don’t have to be one of these women.  Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with Arlington Public Libraries, will be holding a five-week course called Money Talk: A Financial Course for Women, at Arlington Central Library, starting Wednesday, July 10.  This course will show you how to plan now for long-term financial security.  Lessons cover the following topics:

July 10: Financial Basics
July 17: Are You Covered? Insurance Basics
July 23: Investing Basics
July 31: Investing for Retirement
August 7: Planning for Future Life Events

One past participant raved “It was a great course! I learned so much that I would never have otherwise. It’s a course that I feel like should be a part of everyone’s required education.”  Since 2006, Money Talk participants have saved over a combined $300,000 for their future.

The course is free, but the optional accompanying textbook is $25.

So are you ready to arm yourself for your financial future?  Complete the registration form here:  and send to Jennifer Abel at, or call 703-228-6417 for more information.


Kids Marketplace has kids at Oakridge Elementary demanding more

KM Oakridge 2013 014 “Save money!”

This was the mantra exclaimed by 4th graders from Oakridge Elementary School today after completing the Kids Marketplace financial simulation.  Each student was assigned an occupation at random with a certain monthly income (it differed from student to student), and they were required to visit all 10 stations to spend their money on expenses, including housing, transportation, saving, animal care, fun, charitable contributions, groceries, clothing, personal care/medical insurance, and chance, where the unexpected can strike.  Approximately 60 students engaged in the event this morning.

Some of the feedback after the class was very thoughtful:
–          “You can’t always just buy the stuff you want”
–          “Get a house or car before fun”
–          “You can get poor really, really fast”
–          “The money you can spend is based on your income”
–          “Even if your friends are buying it, you should look at how much you spend”
–          “It helps to have a roommate when buying a house”

KM Oakridge 2013 013The students learned a lot about financial decision-making with a constrained income, but they also had a lot of fun.  (One girl asked that we “please pleeeease come back next year.”)  Thank you to Joan, Gail, Jack, Geri, Elizabeth, and Donna, as well as the staff from Oakridge and our Arlington County VCE office who helped make this event possible!

To view more photos, visit our Facebook page: