Nat Craven

Nat Craven

Natalie “Nat” Craven is a financial blogger, mom, and wife. She loves budgeting, eating cheesecake, and exploring Utah with her handsome husband and four active kids. 

Nat studied Family Finance at Utah State University. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Accounting from Weber State University where she was awarded a scholarship to research taxation. She became a Certified Public Account (CPA). Nat is no longer intimidated by the tax code—even though it is a complicated foreign language. After working in public accounting for a couple of years, she left the industry to raise money-smart children, but kept up her license and education by doing online coursework. 

She volunteered and worked for Cornerstone Financial Education, becoming a Certified Personal Financial Counselor (CPFC). There she helped teach personal finance classes and started a financial fitness blog.

Through the years, she found her passion for budgeting as she realized that no one needs a CPA license or a Master’s degree in finance to manage their money well. Budgeting is a super simple principle to understand, but is challenging to apply. Her blog posts focus on the how we can “USE” our budget to reach our goals. Almost everyone has made a budget, but using it is powerful. Follow Nat on Twitter at @cravennat.

I’m still cleaning walls. This job seems to be neverending, but one good result is that I've lost all desire to upgrade to a larger home. (I don't want any more walls to clean.) Last week I had to move the couches in the front room so that I could get to the walls. Underneath the couches was a big mess. I thought it would take me a few minutes to clean the front room, but it took several hours! My kids had shoved items under and behind the couches instead of throwing and putting the stuff away. I hadn’t realized that area was even getting cluttered because the clutter hid beneath the couch. I found broken junk, dirt, books, socks, shoes, and a lot of pens. Now I know why I can’t ever find a pen!

Like the couch, financial clutter is often unseen. It can be an overwhelming mess that we don’t want to uncover. I’ve observed so much pain result from cluttered finances. I hope the next few suggestions are helpful if you are feeling overwhelmed with finances.

Sort out the mess

To be honest, I felt like throwing away everything that was underneath the couches. I almost did but if I had, I would have caused other problems. It’s hard to know where to start when you’re in a mess. Financially, we can also feel like giving up. It’s not a fun feeling. When I help a family make a budget, the first thing we do is to sort through the bills and the income. We examine one financial item at a time and figure out how much is due, when it is due, and how it will be paid. This is such a simple idea, but I’ve seen people change from feeling overwhelmed to feeling hopeful. It’s not hard to sort through bills, but it is time-consuming so the next suggestion can be helpful.

Get a budgeting mentor

I have had several exercising friends over the years. It helps so much to have them exercise with me. It is helpful when they know about weight equipment and nutrition. But, even when they don’t, it helps to have someone to exercise with me. Finances can be the same way. Sometimes it just helps to have someone alongside you. It could be a spouse, friend, parent, or sibling. It really just needs to be someone who cares about you. If they have financial background, it can be helpful, especially if they are working on financial goals. We can all find someone who doesn’t mind helping us because it helps them too. It helps them to be motivated. It helps them to serve. So, it’s good for everyone. My cleaning buddy was my five year old. When she stayed with me, it was helpful. When she left, it was much harder.

Commit to your finances

That was not the first time I cleaned under the couch. In fact, my husband had cleaned behind it recently. We were both amazed at how quickly it became cluttered. Unless our family changes the habits that caused the clutter, the problem can recur. Clutter can easily come back. Financially, I have seen this happen. Oftentimes, we are making big changes, so it’s going to take more than one time. Just like exercising, each day we need to find motivation to do it. We also need to do this with our finances.

No matter how cluttered your finances may seem, you can work through it and remove the clutter. It’s such a peaceful feeling that is worth the effort.

A couple of weeks ago the weather was very rainy, and we stayed inside a lot. I started noticing how filthy the walls in my house were. They had layers of dirt, dust, handprints, marker, pen, crayon, boogers, and mold. I hadn’t noticed them gradually get so dirty. Have you had an experience like that? I decided to wash the walls and the windows of our house. As I’ve scrubbed boogers and crayon off the walls this past week, I have had a lot of time to think. As I felt the sun’s warmth coming through the windows, my thinking drifted to summer.

I’ve had a few summer plans fall through already. We were planning to host a foreign exchange student, but we were not picked. We signed Jackie (11) up for a camp, which ended up being full. I like to have plans. My friends tease me about it. I’ve had plenty of summers where the spending plan failed. I’ve come to the conclusion that budgeting for summer is different than budgeting for the rest of the year. Trying to budget for summer in the same way that I budget for the rest of the year doesn’t work.

Although we don’t have school lunch or school expenses, there are other expenses that can make school expenses seem cheap. My kids brought home fliers for a dozen different summer camps. There is a camp for almost everything. We also have summer vacations, pool passes, drive-in movies, memberships, and holiday parties available to spend our money. With the warm weather, we may want to buy gear for our outdoor hobbies. It’s also a time to work on outside projects. Ty’s trip to Lowe’s last week caused a budgeting challenge this month.

Summer expenses are harder for us to predict than expenses during the other seasons of the year.

They just are! Has this been true for your family? I have accepted this, but this year I am going to embrace the unpredictability. I’m going to plan on it! I’m not going to fight it. That doesn’t mean that our budgets have to fail, but it does mean that I need to budget differently.

What unexpected events have you experienced in past summers? We have family visit during the summer. I didn’t expect to spend much money because I wasn’t on vacation, but we did activities with them. This year, I need to plan on spending money on those activities. One of my friends told me that she had family come for several months and the activities started to cost too much, so they had to say no to some of the activities, which is okay too. Just like the rest of the year, we have to say no to some of the summer opportunities.

Budgeting requires flexibility. Summer budgeting requires more flexibility!

I briefly mentioned the trip to Lowe’s. My husband is finishing the garden fence and backyard patio. The supplies cost $320. That amount of money could really break a rigid budget, and honestly, I started to wig out. Before I approached my husband about the expense, I took some deep breaths. The deep breathing made me realize that I needed to allow more flexibility. I wasn’t able to predict this expense, but that is okay. It opened up a conversation with my husband. We discussed what budget category it would come from since we didn’t have that much money in our repairs fund. Should we use our emergency fund? It wasn’t an emergency. Were there other categories with money that we could move to the repairs fund? We had saved to replace an engine in our 1975 Volkswagen thing, which has been sitting in our garage for years. We discussed using that money for the outside repairs, but Ty is planning on getting it running.. Thankfully, we were a month ahead (using last month’s income to pay this month’s expense). We decided to use that money. It wasn’t the ideal, but budgeting isn’t a perfect process, and if I try to make it perfect, it will fail. Embrace imperfect budgeting. Budgets will work if we embrace it.

Summer income.

Summer expenses aren’t the only thing that can fluctuate. Income can too. Summer may give more time to earn extra income. My darling nieces and their family bought a shave ice shack last year and sold shaved ice. My cousin photographs families. My neighbor teaches classes online. Another neighbor lifeguards in the summer. My cousin-in-law prints logos on shirts. These friends inspire me to use the flexibility of summer to create income.

Summer is right around the corner. What are your plans to make sure your budget doesn’t go on summer vacation?

My youngest daughter is at a magical age. She thinks that the automatic doors, faucets, and hand dryers are all magical, and she often dresses up as a princess. She just boughta Belle outfit and new shoes for her Cinderella dress. One day last week after I helped her into the car, she called me “magic.” She’s never been to Disneyland, but for her, childhood is magical, and I realized that moms are pretty magical to their kids. Moms can make tears disappear, make meals appear, and create laughter. They seem to magically appear when we need their help. Since I’ve been a mom, I’ve often admired moms who both raised 7 children! I agree with Chloe that our moms are magical and I want to honor and celebrate all women who nurture and serve. To every woman, thank you for your service to your family and your community.

I just learned that the first Mother’s Day in the U.S. was celebrated in 1908, which is before you or I were alive! Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother Ann. Ann had unified other women to help wounded soldiers during the American Civil War. Before she died, her mother Ann said, “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.” I love Anna's purpose for celebrating mothers.

As I’ve grown, I realized that not everyone likes Mother’s Day. Some women feel guilt, grief, sadness, and other negative emotions on this holiday. But it can also be a happy day filled with good memories! I’ve been thinking about what to give our mom’s to help them feel honored. I needed to write this post because I haven't decided what to do for our moms. How can we honor and appreciate them? No matter what your budget is, you can honor your mom.

A few years ago my mother-in-law said she would be mad at us if we bought her something. She told us she didn’t need or want anything. I didn’t know what to do. I appreciated her and wanted to do something for her to show how much we appreciate her, but didn’t know how since I couldn’t buy the traditional flowers or chocolates.

Here are a few things that I came up with to honor our mothers:

Service. Since moms serve their families and their communities, service is a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day. My husband and kids clean my car every Mother’s Day. I love this gift. This year, my sister-in-law suggested we make dinner for my mom and give her the day off from cooking because our mom regularly hosts dinners and cooks for everyone. What service have you done for moms or what services have been done for you? Some of these are small and simple but can mean a lot. Hugs, kisses, coloring pictures are great. This isn’t just for kids but for adults and can be done year round!

Peace. The best gift my kids could give me is peace to ride in the car without hitting, kicking, teasing, or bugging one another. Tommy was a peacemaker today. He calmly got in the car to go to school. He didn’t fight. When my youngest started throwing a tantrum so she could listen to her music, he calmly asked if they could please listen to kid’s music. I told him how much I appreciated him doing that.

Homemade cards. These are some of my favorite gifts from my young children, but even our moms love handmade cards. In fact, that’s usually the only thing that Ty’s mom requests.

Remember her and follow her example! She doesn’t need a Facebook account for you to follow your mom’s life. Especially if your mom isn’t living, she left a legacy and you can remember her.

Appreciate her. Gifts such as jewelry, flowers, chocolates could mean a lot to your mom. I don’t think any mom would want their child to go into debt or stress about how to pay for their gifts, but if you have a large budget and can afford it, enjoy giving these gifts! Even though Ty’s mom doesn’t want us to buy her gifts, we did buy her some flowers to plant in her yard. She really enjoys that.

Be happy. Moms want us to be confident, happy, courageous, and kind. They see our gifts and our personalities.

Forgive. Until I became a mom I didn’t realize all that my mom did for me and how challenging motherhood can be. I was too hard on her. We can forgive not just our moms but others on behalf of your mom: the guy who backs his car into yours, the child who throws tantrums. the friend who let me down. I’m sure my mom had to forgive my behavior so many times. Forgiving others helps us become like our moms.

Time. My friends often comment about how fast time is going and how we wish it wouldn’t. Spending time with your mom might be the most precious gift that you can give her. Yesterday we spent the Sunday afternoon playing games with Ty’s mom and dad.

Whatever you do, make Mother's Day as magical as possible by honoring her! Please share it with us!

Growing up, my family loved watching sports together. My younger brother wrote down all of the players' names and kept track of their stats as the games were played. I hadn't seen a Jazz game for a decade until Ty's boss gave us tickets earlier this year. We sat on the fourth row and were so completely entertained that my kids didn't fight or complain at all! It's exciting for our Utah Jazz to advance in the playoffs and play the Golden State Warriors! But, the most important statistics to us individually don't have much to do with the NBA playoffs.

Have you seen the classic game of Family Feud? Why do the family teams care what the “survey said.” Because, if the families guess the responses that were the most common answers, they can win the prize money. In a personal finance class I just taught, we took a financial quiz. I read a lot of financial surveys to prepare for this class. Three of the statistics from these surveys impacted me the most. More importantly than finding out what the surveys said, is to find out what you think about these statistics!

Survey #1 says ... “About half of Americans could pay for an unexpected expense that cost $500-$1,000.”

Could you cover an unexpected expense that cost $1,000? We’ve had a whole lot of rainy days here in Northern Utah the past couple of weeks. We don’t know when, but we know that it will rain. I don’t mind being wet, but I don’t like feeling cold, which always follows my getting wet. We have regular financial storms too. We don’t know when they will hit, but we know that they will hit. An emergency fund protects my family from getting rained on and being left in the cold financially. There are different opinions on how much an emergency fund should be. Because of the emergencies my family has experienced, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with an $1,000 emergency fund, but it’s a great place to start. Do you agree with having an emergency fund? If you were surveyed about having an emergency fund, what would you say? Has an emergency fund ever helped you work through changes in your life? Does an emergency fund matter to you?

I am a fan of having an emergency fund for many reasons, but I’ll share the most recent experience with our emergency fund. My husband Ty changed jobs 6 months ago, and we had a two month waiting period to enroll in the new employer’s health insurance plan. Ty’s employer generously offered to reimburse us for the cost of the COBRA health insurance coverage for the two month waiting period. However, we had to pay for the insurance first before it could be reimbursed. Our emergency fund allowed us to pay for that insurance coverage. When we were reimbursed, we deposited the money back into the emergency fund so that it will be there the next time that we need it. The emergency fund relieved and prevented a lot of stress for us. I recommend an emergency fund to you because it has helped my family adjust to life's changes.

Survey #2 says ... "About half of Americans have retirement savings."

Again, it doesn’t matter whether this survey is accurate, it matters what is true for you. Do you have a retirement savings account? Are you saving regularly for retirement? Just like the rain is sure to come in springtime in Utah, retirement is going to happen as we age. If you don’t have retirement savings, or if you haven't saved as much as you wished you had, it’s not too late to make a plan and work towards retirement.

Am I saving for retirement? Yes! Have I saved enough for retirement? No, but we are making progress. With so many financial emergencies and financial pressures, I understand how retirement can slip into the background of your finances. My husband and I try to keep them in the forefront and make retirement a priority for our family, but to be honest, sometimes we have to cut back our retirement savings. Our retirement contributions increased when our income increased and decreased when our income decreased. Although I’m not retired, I have mentors and friends who are retired. They advise me to save for retirement throughout my working life, and I trust them. I believe in saving for retirement!

Survey #3 says ... ”Nearly half of [parents] admit to not talking about money and finances with their kids on a regular basis.”

Do you talk about money with your friends and family? If you have children, do you give them opportunities to save, share, and spend money? Do they understand that a $20 bill is worth much more than a $1 bill? My kids may think that I talk with them too much about money. I talk about it all the time because we use money all of the time.

My 5 year old daughter and I ran a lot of errands this past week. I told her we were going shopping and encouraged her to bring her Hello Kitty purse and five dollars. On the way to the store, she told me that she wanted a ball. I let her spend her money as she wanted. At the first store, she bought some cotton candy. The price rang up higher than the price listed. It turns out that the cotton candy was in the wrong spot on the shelf. I asked her if she still wanted it. She bought the overpriced cotton candy, and she was excited that she still had money left. At the next store, she saw the bulk bins of salt water taffy in the middle of the isle and bought that. She used her last few quarters to ride the Clifford ride at the front of the store. Although it was hard for me to watch her spend money on candy, I let her experience spending her own money.

I think she learned a lot that day. By going on the Clifford ride, she learned what a quarter looks like. (The machine only took quarters.) Even though I didn’t agree with her spending choices, I felt proud of her for learning what a quarter was and being able to spend money on her own. At the last store, she saw a tiara that she wanted badly, and I explained that she had enough money at the beginning of the day to buy the tiara, but she didn’t any left. She replied, "But I didn’t know they would have this.” We talked about figuring out what she wanted and then not getting distracted by other items.

Surveys are just one tool to find out how our personal finances are going. Are the statistics from these surveys true for you?

As you cheer for your favorite NBA team, I hope you think about the most important financial statistics for your life.

Last week I went to the Nature Center with my son for his class field trip. In our first activity, we walked along a path while using a field guide to identify birds. Because the birds were fake and wooden, we could clearly see them, and we could take our time to identify them.

Later on, the first grade students were given a pair of binoculars with these instructions: “Keep the binoculars hung around your neck. Don’t walk while looking through the binoculars. Look at the object first, then try to find that object in your binoculars.” My son Tommy broke most of those rules as we walked again looking for birds. The birds we tried to spot this time weren’t wooden birds, they fluttered wildly and moved constantly. Because Tommy was focused on his binoculars, instead of seeing all of the birds, he saw his binoculars.

Having binoculars, and knowing how to use them could help us find our goal of seeing and identifying birds. When youth save for your first big goal, it can be like trying to see and identify those wild birds.

Over the past few decades, I’ve learned a lot about saving. It’s NOT easy, but you can achieve challenging goals, and I’m cheering you on! I hope these tips will help you achieve challenging goals:

Identify your savings goal.

On our field trip, the guide helped us to set a goal to see and identify birds. Just like there are so many things in nature, there are so many things in life.

What is important to you? You can achieve any goal, but you can’t achieve every goal. Write it down! ”I want to save for a _____ (car, senior trip to Europe, mountain bike, etc.).” Then, I suggest you hang it up where you’ll see it. When we were saving for a car, everyone who came to my house saw our car savings chart on our whiteboard.

You will also need to decide why you want to reach that goal. Is it because that goal will give you more freedom? Will it help you achieve other goals? What other reasons do you have?

Focus on that one savings goal that you defined.

I learned this with the first graders. If they focused on too many things, they missed the birds. The guide first had them focus on the birds. Then, the guide had them focus on finding turtles.

Focusing on one goal will help that goal appear closer and bigger, which will help you achieve it. It will also help tune out the distractions. You can limit all other spending as much as possible in order to concentrate on the goal that has the highest priority. Use any unexpected income towards your goal. Most adults I talk to think it’s impossible to save for expensive items, especially cars. I’ve done it though, and I know it’s not impossible. I saved for a car as an adult, but now I realize I could have saved for it as a youth if I had defined that goal and focused on it.

Adjust the goal if needed.

When we started saving for a car I wanted an SUV, but as we worked towards the goal, we realized that a van would be better for our family at that time. It wasn’t a brand new car - far from it, but it was had low mileage and was a practical vehicle for my family. When the first graders had to focus on the bird that they wanted to see, they realized that as the bird moved, they had to move. Our goal may need to move and change as life does.

Pick the tool that is best for you, and don’t focus on the tool but on the goal.

My son was so excited about his binoculars that it distracted him from focusing on his goal. There isn’t a magical app, spreadsheet, or savings tool that will achieve your goal for you. Binoculars can help us to focus if we use them to zoom in on one object.

In finances, we can use tools to help us focus. Adults in your life can really help you to focus in on that goal. Our family printed a picture of the car we wanted and had a chart showing how close we were to the goal. Although the amount I spent on the car changed, and the type of car changed, the goal didn’t change.

Depending on your personality, use the tool that will help you. If you love details, use a spreadsheet. If you don’t love details, use a picture chart. Youth are so good with technology, that using an app would work great for them. As long as it helps you focus and track your progress, it will be best for you.

Focusing on one thing is a challenge for me, but I’m learning to do it because it’s essential!

Monday, 17 April 2017 15:30

3 Keys for Teen Budgeting

Last week I gave ideas for youth to earn money. Once teens learn how to earn money, they need to learn how to spend it. When I was a teenager I earned money, saved money, and avoided debt, but I wish that I would have understood how to spend money an intentional and focused way. I hope this post helps at least one teen avoid my mistake.

Twenty years ago, we didn’t have social media, but I often got distracted by items “on sale." I really loved the feeling of getting a good deal. One time, we were an outlet store that had jeans on sale for $5. There was no dressing room to try the pants on, but I bought 4 pair because they were cheap. The pants did not look good. I didn’t like how they fit, so I didn’t wear them. It wasn’t a good deal. I would have been better off to buy one $20 pair of pants which fit me and which I loved. I needed a plan to help me stay focused on what I wanted.

There are 3 keys to budgeting:

A Budget Is a Plan

Budgeting is really simple to understand. You decide where to spend your money rather than letting your friends, social media, or advertising decide. Through budgeting, teens decide where their money will go and then they make it go there.

Youth use plans every day: recipes, school schedules, and game plans. For example, every teenagers has an education plan. Their counselors and their parents help them to make this plan and evaluate it regularly. Then, they take classes based on the plan. They consider the different classes and decide which classes that they will take: some are required and some are optional. It would be very chaotic if they just showed up to school and decided what class they would attend that day based on what was going on.

“Oh, there is a field trip in the choir class: I think I’ll join them.”

“There’s a party in Spanish. I’ll make that one of my classes.”

But, this is what often happens with our money and our eating habits. What if parents, leaders, and teachers sat down with the youth and helped them decide to spend money in the same way they help them decide which classes to take? There would be some required classes. We also have required expenses called needs: gas for the car, supplies, clothes, etc. There are some elective classes, and there are elective “variable expenses" (vacation, entertainment, and eating out).

Budgeting Is Flexible

Let’s say you have a plan for your vacation. What if the weather is bad, or what if you get sick? What if you hear about a neat activity that you hadn’t planned on? You can adjust the plan. You don’t abandon the plan. There are unknowns. What if an opportunity comes up which you weren’t expecting?

A couple of weeks ago, my niece invited my daughter Jackie to come up to Alaska with their grandparents. Jackie hadn’t budgeted for that, and she didn’t have much time - only three weeks. She had been saving her money and once she heard about Alaska, she focused on that trip. I heard her tell someone that she didn’t want to spend her money because she was saving it for Alaska.

Sometimes unexpected opportunities come up that you want to do. That isn’t the same as buying anything that’s a good deal or letting others talk you into it. If we hadn’t had the money, it would have been fine to say that we couldn’t afford it and that we will travel to Alaska when we can afford it. But, our family had a vacation fund. We decided we had enough in there to pay for half of her ticket. It took most of her savings to pay for the other half of the ticket.

Not everything is predictable. You can predict a lot of things, but without flexibility, budgets will fail. Back to the school schedule analogy, if a class isn’t working, it can be evaluated and changed. The schedule isn’t permanent but it is set.

Budgeting Requires a Gauge

Although budgeting does have flexibility, it is important to still follow the budget. Teenage drivers learn pretty quickly that they can only drive until the car runs out of gas. At that point, they have to refill. So, they have to watch the fuel gauge or they get stranded.

Budgeting also requires a gauge in order to follow our budget. Money is finite, so it’s important to know how much is left. It can be a very simple system. Teens start out with few expenses compared to adults, so it is relatively simple.

One example of a gauge is the envelope system. They have an envelope for entertainment, and they can see how much is in there and plan their entertainment. If they have a phone, there are a lot of apps that allow teens to do electronic envelopes. Without a gauge, budgeting doesn’t work, and we run out of fuel/money.

Life isn’t about money - money is a tool for life. Parents, grandparents, and other leaders of youth, we can teach them that they can budget their money to help them to live their life and be their best selves. They can stick to their financial plan, schedule, and budget. They can say "no" to expenses that aren’t right for them.

I get to serve with teenagers in my neighborhood. When I talked with them about budgeting money, they all said, “We don’t have any money to budget!” That is an issue. Besides the occasional gift, they didn’t have steady income. They need to earn money in order to budget that money.

Here are some ways for teens to earn money:

Hourly Work

My first hourly job was working as a cashier at a drycleaners. My neighbor worked there. She told me they were hiring and asked if I was interested. It was a nice job for a high schooler because they would let me do my homework when business was slow.

  • Lifeguarding: This is a popular job for teens who like swimming and like to spend their summers in the sun. Lifeguards learn important life skills like first aid, swimming, and life saving. This job can be seasonal, so it doesn’t interfere with school. Three of my siblings were teenage lifeguards, and it worked well for them.
  • Grocery Store: Work at a grocery store as a cashier, bagger, stock clerks, deli, bakery. I’ve done this one too.
  • Fast Food: My sister and I were recently talking about our experiences working in fast food restaurants. This can be hard work, and it was good for me.
  • Waiter/Waitress: This is a combo of hourly plus tips. I’ve known several teens who have done this, and it can be a good job for teenagers.
  • Parents Business: If your parents own a business, this can be a great job. My husband started working for his dad at a young age. He learned construction skills. This was hard work, but it paid very well and it taught him a lot. I also worked for my dad. He worked as a realtor, so I did clerical work and ran errands for him in the summer time while I was home from college. Working for parents can be a great opportunity!

Small Business

This could be any product or service that others will buy. Here are a few ideas:

  • Pet Sitting: Although this may not be regular income, it could be a good side job. If you love animals, this might be a great fit for you. My kids recently got to try this. They really loved watching our neighbors cat. Then they watched my mom’s cat for a month, and they realized how much work it was to have a pet. There were some really unpleasant parts about taking care of cats like cleaning up poop. No one wanted to do that. They made that job so much worse than it actually was by taking so much time to do it.
  • Selling Pickles: My nieces made pickles with their grandma and sold them. I thought this was such a creative way to earn money. They learned how to make the pickles, then they took orders.
  • Babysitting: I started babysitting at age 9. If you love to babysit, let parents of young children know. It makes a difference! One of my neighbors loves to babysit. Every time I see her, she asks me when she can babysit. She plays with my kids too. I can tell that she loves to babysit, so I usually think of her first when I am looking for a babysitter. Let your parents know so they can tell their friends. One of my friends has been able to get her daughter babysitting jobs by letting her coworkers know that she babysits.
  • Yard Work: There are probably quite a few of your nieghbors that don't want to mow their own lawn, so having your teen charging for lawn mowing services is a win-win situation for both.

Online Businesses

This is an option I didn’t have as a teenager. Internet wasn’t available to the public until I was in college, and most connections were dial up, so they were slow. There are so many options now for online businesses! One teenager I heard about was interested in gems and he had an online gem store. How cool! The internet opens up a lot of options. Some teenagers blog. Online businesses can be started inexpensively.

What jobs did you have as a teenager? There are so many options, so if you have a teen or are a teen who doesn’t have money to budget, try some of these work ideas out and let us know how it goes!

In my blog last week, I talked about how life’s experiences provides opportunities to teach children. Almost every day we spend some time in the car. This week is our family’s spring break from school, and we have already spent 6 hours in the car. A lot happens in car rides. Some of it is good, some of it is not - there was plenty of poking and fighting on this ride. There was also some sleeping - I sleep through a lot of road trips.

Car rides are also time for storytelling and teaching. Our family loves to listen to stories on car rides. My kids really love fiction novels like Michael Vey. Right now we are listening to Treasure Island. Sometimes, I put in an audio CD about finances. We often listen to kid songs in the car, but sometimes we listen to the Dave Ramsey show on talk radio. This introduces them to financial topics. This exposure to financial topics allows them to ask questions and converse about finances. Car rides provide a lot of opportunities to talk and teach.

Introduction to Car Loans

I drive my kids to and from school everyday. On one of these rides, my minivan was making an annoying sound and we could not get it to stop. My daughter finally screamed, “I can’t take it anymore! We need a new car.”

That opened up discussion about loans. I taught her how much cars cost and honestly told her that we couldn’t afford to buy another car, so we would have to get a loan if we were to buy another car. We talked about interest rates. After that, she didn’t complain about our car. It was a good conversation that came out of that annoying noise that almost drove us crazy.

Introduction to Home Loans

On another ride, we discussed mortgages. Each child learns on their own timetable. One of our children understood mortgages at about age 7. Occasionally he asks us how much we owe on our mortgage loan. He also asks other people if their house is paid off. If it is not, he asks how much they owe on their house. We are working on teaching how to tactfully talking about finances.

My other son takes more time to learn financial concepts. There’s no need to worry that it takes him longer. Each contact with personal financial topics will help him learn financial principles.

Introduction to Student Loans

We went to a gymnastics meet and my daughter cheered for BYU. They all support different schools. My son likes whatever team is winning.

Kids talk about college as they watch sporting events. This opens up opportunity to talk about how they will pay for college and teach them about their options. We have told my daughter that if she chooses to attend BYU, she will need to pay for housing and food, along with tuition and books. It is important to be informed about loans so that you know what you are agreeing to pay.

How did you pay for college, cars, or mortgage? Please tell your children your story. Children love stories! We tell them that we worked our way through school. I didn’t prepare for the costs of college. My parents and grandparents helped pay for college expenses.

Through conversation, several key concepts can be taught to children:

  1. Interest Rates: We tell our kids that this is the amount you pay to be able to borrow money.
  2. Terms: How long is the loan?
  3. Lenders: We have all heard stories of high interest rates and bad lenders. We can teach them to support good companies. Local credit unions like Wasatch Peaks provide loans with good interest rates and for that time that a loan is needed. This is a valuable service.

While kids are strapped in their seat belts, you have the opportunity to talk finances. They experience an introduction to loans, and over time they can learn and understand what a loan is and what makes up the loan. How have car rides helped you talk to and teach children?

As parents, we often sign our kids up for soccer teams, swim, piano or dance lessons. But there aren’t any lessons for them to learn personal finance. My son is in first grade, and he is learning what money is and how much each coin is worth. However, it’s up to us as parents to teach him how to use money and to develop healthy financial habits. As parents, we want our children to be financially fit, and avoid some of our mistakes.

Here’s a few financial habits we can teach our children as part of daily life.

Earn money.

In our family, we give our kids a chance to earn money every week. My eleven-year-old daughter told me that her friends don’t have to earn money: they get allowances. She said that she has the worst life out of them. We value work and want them to understand that they earn money from working. They can earn as many dollars per week as their age. So my five year old can earn $5 per week - $275 per year! However, we struggle to consistently record and consistently have payday. We are going to work on that.

Our kids like to count their money. My younger kids still think every dollar is equal. I explained to my daughter that one $5 bill is worth five $1 bills.

Save money.

We teach our kids to save for specific goals. Last week we realized it can be nice to have general savings also. My daughter was invited to go to Alaska to attend her cousin’s baptism. Jackie had several hundred dollars saved, and we had a vacation fund. We agreed to match her savings. So, she paid half of the airline tickets, and we paid the other half. When unexpected opportunities arise, it is nice to have some flexibility with our savings. She is so excited because she hasn’t seen this cousin and her family for 9 months, although she says it feels like it's been years. I encouraged my other children to keep saving so that they can take advantage of similar opportunities that they will have.


I love to see my kids give, but I don’t force them to give. We give, and our kids notice. I always let whoever is helping me at the store keep the coin change. While I was busy loading the groceries, my 4-year-old daughter put her change into the donation container, which was sitting on the counter. As we walked away, she exclaimed, “I gave money to help the sick people in the hospital!” That warmed my heart.

Spending money.

Shopping gives me so many chances to teach my kids about money. I don’t always take kids shopping because it takes 3 times longer, and it is very tiring. For example, last Monday, we went shopping as a family activity. Our boys ran around the store fighting. But, shopping with kids is worth it because of the teaching opportunities it brings. As we shop and see a lot of cool things, my young kids usually ask to get them. I often reply, “It’s not on the list.” My four year old isn’t the only one that struggles with this. I often want to buy things that are not on the list. She happily tells me, “It’s not on the list.” This is teaching them, and me, to prioritize and to use self control.

At the end of the shopping trip, I let the kids pay for the groceries. I was with my five-year-old last week. The total was 19.56. He paid with a twenty dollar bill. The cashier asked if he would get some change. He said, “No.” That opened up a conversation afterwards. We discussed which one is greater: $20 or $19. I really appreciate that patient cashier who help teach my child. Through this, he is learning the value of money.

We went to Walgreens to pick up some pictures. I let Chloe (4) and her friend look at all the Easter toys. She wanted to buy a stuffed animal. I showed her how much it cost, and explained that she could bring her money back to get it. She asked, “Can we come back today?” I told her that we probably could. We completely forgot about the item that she wanted. I didn’t remember about it until I wrote this post! This experience taught patience and focus.

My oldest daughter has her own library card and checks out her books. She told me she had a $2 fine and she was bringing a five dollar bill. We rode our bikes to the library, and she paid her fine. She is learning responsibility.

All of these stories I mentioned happened in just one week’s time. What money teaching moments have you had in the past week?

Life gives so many chances to teach our kids about handling money and to help them develop good financial habits. As I teach them, I also learn from them and with them. It can be tiring. Being consistent is challenging, but we’re succeeding as long as we keep trying!

A couple of years ago, we received a lot of money as a Christmas gift from our parents. That gift shocked us because we weren’t expecting that extra income. Adrenaline started running through my body as I thought of what we could do with this money. We were saving for a car, so that’s where we used it. Having a goal helped me calm down. It was great to know where to spend the money so we didn’t regret how we spent it. Even though the timing of bonuses, gifts, or inheritances is often unexpected, you can plan how to spend the extra income when you receive it.

I think all of us would like extra income, but do you know how you would spent it? Would you save it for retirement? Would you spend it on a vacation or a purchase? Would you pay down debt? It’s good to think about this ahead of time so that you know how you would spend extra income.

When Ty changed jobs in November, all of his accrued vacation pay was paid out to him from his previous employer. We didn’t expect that he would change jobs and receive all that money at once. We hadn’t been able to save for Christmas throughout the year, and we were considering using some of our emergency fund for Christmas. When he received that extra income, we paid for Christmas. I was glad that we didn’t have to use emergency fund money because I don’t consider Christmas an emergency, but we weren’t sure how we were going to pay for it.

I have noticed that unexpected income is often followed by an expense. Have you noticed this? Maybe you received a gift and then the washer broke. I have seen this happen enough times in my life and in the lives of others to see a correlation. A few years ago, my friend and I discussed this and how it can feel discouraging. She had learned to appreciate that money comes when you need it. I decided that I wouldn’t let myself be discouraged anymore when this happened. She helped me to learn to be grateful for extra income even if it needs to be used for bills.

After my family had saved an emergency fund, the unexpected repair expenses didn’t use the extra income anymore. I really don’t like to spend our emergency fund - just ask my husband. He teases me about having an emergency fund that I "won’t use even for an emergency.” I reply, “If I spend it, I won’t have it for an emergency!” Anyway, I might still choose to use extra income for an unexpected expense, but having an emergency fund gives me options to pick which money to use.

The purpose of this blog is to help you reach your financial peak. Each week I’ll give you a financial exercise to do. This week’s exercise was fun for me. I hope you will do it! And, I hope you enjoy it. I want you to make a wish list. Prioritize from the most important or most urgent financial goal down to the least urgent goal.

Here is my Extra Income Wish-List:

  1. Fund Roth IRAs. We are allowed a yearly limit of $5,500 to contribute to our IRAs, and when the deadline passes, our chance to contribute for that year passes too.
  2. Pay off our mortgage. If you are thinking that these first two items are pretty boring goals, you are right, but a financial planner once told me that paying off debt and saving for the future will open up options later on. Since these boring goals will free up and create money, I keep these boring wishes as my #1 and #2 priorities.
  3. Alaska vacation. My sister’s family moved there last summer. She posts amazing pictures from their outings. We would love to see these places in person, and we also miss her family a lot and want to be with them. If you ask my kids what the favorite part of any vacation was, they will say, “playing with cousins.” They even said this about Hawaii!
  4. California vacation. My kids love LEGOs. We dream about going to LEGOLAND, Disneyland, and the beach near San Diego. We went to Disneyland six years ago and had a great time - even my reluctant husband loved it! The two youngest children haven’t been and would like to go.
  5. Spain vacation - Viva España! I miss Spain and really want to go back with my family. We have a goal to take my kids when they finish their Spanish Immersion program. We have kept our vacations frugal and have really enjoyed camping and visiting sites in Utah, but are hoping to do more national and international travel as our kids grow.
  6. Car for my husband. His 1997 Jeep is a champion! It doesn’t owe us anything, but the interior is falling apart, and he doesn’t plan on restoring it. We are saving for a new vehicle but if a lump sum of extra income came in, it would be nice to put here.
  7. Braces. We will need these for our children in the future. Our dentist recently suggested that my oldest get a consultation for braces.
  8. Furnace. Another boring goal that will rob my emergency fund eventually.

I often say that we can’t buy everything that we want, but we can do anything. Staying focused is challenging for me. This exercise helped me define what I would do with extra income. Now, I’m ready for unexpected and extra income. It’s welcome anytime!

About Nat Craven

  • Natalie “Nat” Craven is a financial blogger, mom, and wife. She loves budgeting, eating cheesecake, and exploring Utah with her handsome husband and four active kids. 

    Nat studied Family Finance at Utah State University. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Accounting from Weber State University where she was awarded a scholarship to research taxation. She became a Certified Public Account (CPA). Nat is no longer intimidated by the tax code—even though it is a complicated foreign language. After working in public accounting for a couple of years, she left the industry to raise money-smart children, but kept up her license and education by doing online coursework. 

    She volunteered and worked for Cornerstone Financial Education, becoming a Certified Personal Financial Counselor (CPFC). There she helped teach personal finance classes and started a financial fitness blog.

    Through the years, she found her passion for budgeting as she realized that no one needs a CPA license or a Master’s degree in finance to manage their money well. Budgeting is a super simple principle to understand, but is challenging to apply. Her blog posts focus on the how we can “USE” our budget to reach our goals. Almost everyone has made a budget, but using it is powerful. Follow Nat on Twitter at @cravennat.

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