Tagged Personal Finances

Save Money at the Store

Food is pleasure and connection for most of us. Staying within your budget can bring peace of mind and keep your overall spending on track.

How do you spend the right amount on food?

According to an online survey of more than 1,000 people by LendingTree and Qualtrics published in October, weekly household grocery bills in the United States were up 17 percent on average last year compared with before the pandemic. Thirty-one percent of the respondents said that they “almost always overspend” at the grocery store.

Regardless of how large or small your food budget, staying within it can bring peace of mind and keep your overall spending on track. Whether you want to establish a food budget for the first time, or you want to get back to one, here are strategies to save money in your kitchen and at the grocery store.

Adam Glanzman for The New York Times

Plan simple meals, light on meat and dairy.

Cooking does not have to mean hovering over a stove for hours or complex meal plans. Cooking is sautéing some garlic in oil then adding canned tomatoes instead of opening a jar of pasta sauce. In addition to saving money, you will also have more control over your health. Meat and dairy are costly, so plan more meals that use them for flavor rather than bulk, enjoy more vegetables and fruit in their many affordable forms, and keep meals simple so you don’t burn out on cooking.

Rely on cheap, flexible staples.

Consider inexpensive staples like rice, pasta, oats, bread, canned and dried beans, canned tomatoes and eggs: How do they already play a role in your routine? Then think about what you can easily procure. You should discover a solid Venn diagram revealing the meals you can make more often; start stocking up on the basics that form their foundations. (Store-brand or cheaper versions of these staples can be found by looking to the bottom or top of store shelves. See what savings you find.) As you get more comfortable, take it further. If you normally enjoy a rice dish with lamb and sausage, can you try chickpeas and half the sausage this week? Cheap staples are a starting point, not a cage.

Embrace vegetables: fresh, frozen and canned.

If you begin to use meat and dairy more sparingly, rely on vegetables and fruits to add flavor. It can sound expensive or work intensive to eat more produce, but that’s not a certainty. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables don’t have to be lower quality. Canned squash is puréed and ready to make a silky soup at half the cost and effort of a fresh squash. Frozen fruits and vegetables are often already chopped without the markup you see on pre-cut fresh versions.

And no matter how careful a meal planner you are, you’ll have times when something you bought with the best of intentions is past its prime. Find a recipe that calls for you to throw just about anything into it, like a soup, stew or stir-fry. Think of leftovers and past-prime produce as an asset rather than a burden.

Tim Gruber for The New York Times

Choose versatility by purchasing the basics.

You can save money by eating a smaller variety of food in a given week, but if you stick to the versatile stuff it won’t get monotonous. Cut out single-use items unless they’re important to you (keep the hot sauce). A cake mix is limited and comes at higher cost, whereas flour, sugar and baking soda hold boundless possibility. Single-serving yogurts cost more and can be eaten only as is, whereas plain yogurt can be eaten for breakfast with a swirl of honey, made into a sauce, baked into a tea cake or added to smoothies.

Let the seasons be an inspiration.

When planning your food shopping, stay open to the changes of the seasons to create natural variety and liveliness without added cost. Fruits and vegetables are usually less costly in season — think of those midsummer four-for-a-dollar deals on corn on the cob. If you have the space and time, freeze or can the bounty. But don’t think you have to plan hundreds of new menus every time the wind changes. Let the seasons be an inspiration, not a burden.

Limit packaged snacks.

If you snack between — or instead of — meals, remember that packaged snacks get expensive. This goes for drinks too. Limiting prepared snacks and drinks can be one of the quickest routes to a grocery bill that lets you breathe easy. If you need guidance to pare it down, think about your pleasure-to-versatility ratio. Kombucha isn’t all that versatile, but it may be your only way to get through the long afternoons. Plan around that if you can.

But keep the treats.

For some, the pleasure of saving money itself is enough; the absence of worry creates motivation to continue. Food is pleasure and connection for most of us. So don’t budget pleasure out of the picture. If you used to have dessert and a glass of wine with a friend on Friday evenings, consider an inexpensive replacement, like a piece of chocolate and a cup of chamomile tea.

Leanne Brown is the author of Good and Cheap and Good Enough (January 2022).

Podcasts That Can Help You Manage Your Money

Can’t Manage Your Money? There’s a Podcast for That

No financial question is too embarrassing, complicated or lofty for these Money-101 podcasts.

  • March 6, 2021, 11:03 p.m. ET

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of financial podcasts out there offering a way to start your own business — such as, invest like a hedge fund manager or start flipping houses. But what if you don’t even know where to start when it comes to acquiring savings or balancing a budget? These podcasts are for people who know that they should be thinking more about their personal finances but aren’t even sure what the right questions are.

Journey to Launch

You may have heard of the FIRE movement (which stands for “financial independence, retire early”) and thought, “that sounds like a cult.” And while there are many podcasts by people in the movement, the certified financial education instructor Jamila Souffrant’s approach somehow appeals to all but feels as if it’s aimed directly at you. The Jamaican-born Souffrant was raised by a single mother who taught her the value of money at a young age. After experiencing a breakdown at a demanding job, Souffrant quit to spend time regaining control over her life, and in one year she and her husband had saved and invested over $85,000, using strategies geared toward financial independence. This is what she urges her listeners to seek: a life free of debt, allowing them to “launch” into a new life driven by their passions. Souffrant is an expert guide on the path to finding financial independence.

Millennial Money

Nonmillennials, do not be discouraged by the title. This show is packed with understandable and empathetic financial advice that is useful for all generations. Shannah Compton Game, a certified financial planner and entrepreneur, noticed that her generation was woefully unprepared for the compounding financial catastrophes around them: multiple recessions, a student-loan crisis, stagnant wages and the rise of the nonbenefits gig economy. For the past six years, in over 200 episodes, Game has been on the hunt to find money tips that can change the way listeners of any age think, act and talk about money. With expert guests and creative angles, Game defangs the taboos around money and untangles confusion around any financial subject you might find yourself in, like talking about money with your partner, L.G.B.T.Q. financial planning, foolproofing your 401(k) or picking the right health insurance plan. Ultimately, “Millennial Money” makes a passionate case for finding your own individual path toward “money wellness” and the life you wish you could live.

Popcorn Finance

By day, Chris Browning is a financial analyst. By night, he’s breaking down everyday money questions in roughly the time it takes to make a bag of popcorn (perhaps with an older microwave model). In 200 roughly 10-minute episodes stretching back to 2017, Browning answers quandaries on topics such as credit scores, student-loan repayment strategies, ethical investing, asking for a raise, or even tiny-house living. His jargon-free, calm and comforting delivery simultaneously gives the sense that any issue you have can be tackled and that everything is going to be OK. And if you want to hear him explain why you’re going to be OK, listen to his other podcast, “This Is Awkward,” with the subtitle, “But money doesn’t have to be,” in which listeners call in with cringeworthy money stories, and Browning and his co-host, Allison Baggerly, help them navigate the most embarrassing of situations without burning bridges.

Million Bazillion

From the teams at American Public Media’s “Marketplace” and “Brains On!,” the kids’ science podcast, comes a godsend for anyone who knows a little kid with big questions about money. Each carefully produced episode tackles a different subject in the most entertaining and rudimentary way possible, introducing topics that leave even adults stumped. Like, where did the idea of money come from? How do advertisers trick your brain into wanting things, and how can you fight against it? And why do things cost what they do? Episodes like “Saving Money Is Really Hard to Do” tackle tons of ground, breaking down concepts such as opportunity costs, future thinking and inhibition control in a way that can get children to recognize them in their day-to-day decision making.

Join The New York Times Podcast Club on Facebook for more suggestions and discussions about all things audio.

An Invisible Cost of College: Parental Guilt

An Invisible Cost of College: Parental Guilt

Is it any wonder that plenty of people are tempted to borrow a whole lot of money to send their kids to college?

Credit…Ana Galvañ
Ron Lieber

  • Feb. 3, 2021, 9:47 a.m. ET

Many of us put our heads in the sand when it comes to confronting the cost of college for our kids, and I’ve spent the last several years trying to figure out why.

Sorting it out is a personal finance challenge of the highest order, given that the retail price of a four-year degree from many selective, private institutions has sailed past the $300,000 mark. Even at some state schools, the bill for four years of tuition, room and board can run to more than $100,000. And while it is tempting to throw up our hands and bet on financial aid or free college for all by 2030, doing so (and saving nothing) would be pretty risky.

To get more clarity on what to pay and how, we need to focus more on the personal and less on the finance. These are our kids after all, so there will be feelings.

Last week, I wrote about fear. This week, I want to bring you back from the guilt trip you may be on, perhaps without even knowing it.

Many of us seem to go through life with little voices in our heads that repeat the following, softly or maybe emphatically: It is my solemn duty to make sure my offspring get to and through college, and I should pay for it, come what may.

So how can these feelings of obligation lead to guilt if we’re not careful? Let’s start with the government. If you apply for financial aid, you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and it spits out what is called an “Expected Family Contribution” — the amount of money the government has determined that a family should be able to pay toward the student’s bill.

Those words are hateful — the great expectations, the presumptuousness around family composition, the notion that this is a gift. Thankfully, they will go away in the 2022-23 school year, when the government will replace them with the less loaded phrase, “student aid index.”

Good riddance to all of it, though the federal dictate that families, not governments (as is the case in many other countries), should bear the costs of higher education will remain.

Next come the prices that schools quote to you — discounted, perhaps, but not enough to feel affordable. Yes, people with lower incomes who apply to extremely well-endowed schools may get generous aid packages, but most schools can’t offer grants to cover everything that families with below-average earnings might need.

Then, there is the upper middle class. Cue the small violins, sure, but many of these families are stretching to buy homes in the good public school districts and to pay for ongoing after-school enrichment and summer activities.

It may be hard to save much for college if you’re investing in offspring on an ongoing basis (and trying to mind your own retirement and perhaps your own remaining student loans, too). Then even some of the most generous colleges believe you should be able to pay $40,000 per year or more.

Sometimes our guilt comes from what we see and hear around us. Our friends and neighbors tick off lists of schools their kids are applying to, often with no mention of whether or how they can afford them. We can’t know what kind of debt they are taking on, whether there are wealthy grandparents in the background or what kinds of discounts they may have received.

But it’s hard not to feel inadequate when we learn that some of the schools they view as candidates are impossibly unaffordable for us. What must our own children think about that? It is probably best to address the question directly before they even wonder, perhaps before high school starts. This is especially true if you do not want to end up among the group of parents that, as Kevin Carey recently reported in The Upshot, now owes around $100 billion in outstanding federal Parent PLUS loans.

But there is more. We are, after all, the product of our own parents. And whatever they did for us, we may at least want to match for our kids. Whatever they did not or could not do for us, well, we may want to do a whole lot better.

Is it any wonder that plenty of people are still quite tempted to borrow a whole lot of money to send their kids to college?

Sure, we have trained for trade-offs. We made them, or not, when we purchased the first stroller; the first athletic gear; the first and third and fifth musical instrument. No matter what, our children probably found their passions and excelled where they were meant to.

But college may seem different. It is the launching pad for life. Here, trading off — or planning to — feels as if it will matter more than whether a child makes all state orchestra or the soccer travel team. And so we worry that if we can’t pay for what might be best for our child, we will be taking something away that will matter forever.

One way to begin your return from the guilt trip is to have an honest conversation with your own parents, if possible. There is no shame in telling them that you are scared and feel overwhelmed about what you’re up against when it comes to paying for college. It is possible that some of them may want to help.

Putting $100 per month into a 529 plan for their new grandbaby can add up to nearly $35,000 over 18 years if the investments grow at a 5 percent annual rate. The gift of child care matters, too: If grandparents can help, it may enable parents to save a bit more, or focus better on their jobs so that they may eventually step up to better-paying positions. It’s worth asking.

If the grandparents are gone or cannot help, we should have gentler conversations with ourselves. Our financial lives are quite different from what theirs were like.

Real wages, adjusted for inflation, haven’t gone up much in a generation unless you’re affluent. Unions have less power, and employers push white-collar workers out of companies much more frequently than they once did. And then there’s the unknown, long-term impact that the pandemic may have on many industries.

If you’re lucky enough to have and keep a job, the majority of your retirement savings will probably need to come out of your paycheck via your discipline and good investing luck, not a pension contribution from a benevolent employer.

This may sound like a laundry list of financial sadness, but it’s actually a script for a conversation with yourself. Given what you are up against, you are under no obligation to make the same financial decisions your parents did, or that your neighbors do, or that the statisticians behind some government formula think you must.

Every family has its own particular balance sheet and budget, and each one comes with a slightly different set of feelings. So there is no algorithm that can ingest variables and spit out a formula for wonder, hope and the perfect college sweatshirt. But if you can ask yourself, directly, why you’re feeling guilty about this, it’s a good first step toward answering in a way that could make you feel better.

This article is adapted from “The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make,” by Ron Lieber.

How To Spend in 2021

Spend Less, and Smarter, in 2021

Last year we were just trying to roll with the punches. Hopefully now we can apply some of those survival skills to our finances.

Credit…Ka Young Lee

  • Jan. 2, 2021, 11:30 p.m. ET

For many people, 2020 was not a year for saving money. Even those who remained employed suddenly found themselves shelling out for unforeseen expenses: A used car because public transport suddenly seemed unsafe. A salary for a pod tutor to help their children with remote learning. Subscriptions to multiple streaming services to make life at home more tolerable.

And that’s the best-case scenario. Spending choices were more fraught if you or yours lost a job, fell behind on your rent or mortgage, or endured a health bill. Congress passed a sweeping stimulus bill (and a second) to help, but the influx of cash and debt relief also provoked a sense of whiplash: money coming in and money going out at uncertain times, and in unknown amounts.

Here’s how to get a handle on your finances in the new year, and employ a few tricks to help keep your spending down.

Save with purpose.

Many Americans start the year with a frugal turn after a bout of holiday gift-giving: About half of those making New Year’s resolutions want to save more. A top financial New Year’s resolution is often paying down credit-card debt, which for the country was on the rise at the end of 2020.

The trouble is that most people are not terribly successful at adopting thrift and are soon back to their old spending patterns.

Brent Weiss, a co-founder of the financial planning firm Facet Wealth, thinks we’re being too vague with our money goals. Saving more or spending less are laudable aims, but you should “focus on what you are trying to achieve,” he said.

Do you want to pay down debt? Build up a depleted emergency savings fund? Plan an end-of-Covid trip with your closest friends? By identifying why you want to trim your sails and where you want that money to go, you’ll give yourself a tangible target.

Give your goal a name, estimate how much you need to save, and by when. Those details are key, Mr. Weiss said, to keeping on going as the dreary winter months slog on and your resolve weakens.

Buy what you like.

Last year offered a kind of natural experiment: Your ability to spend was curtailed, and so you gained a sense of what you really wanted and what you didn’t really need.

Maybe you learned you enjoyed driving to the beach more than flying with your toddlers for a vacation. Maybe ordering out a few more nights a week was a lifesaver after a busy day. Maybe you want to keep contributing to a charity you came across.

“Heading into 2021, we can use this information to reshape our budget into a template that prioritizes the spending we most enjoy,” said Kevin Mahoney, a financial planner based in Washington, D.C., who focuses on millennial money issues. “And we can continue to minimize or forgo those expenses that we’ve learned we can live without, diverting them instead to higher value uses.”

By carving out space for the items you like, you’ll end up spending less on what you don’t need.

Allocate your spending.

The idea of a “budgeting system” can sound off-putting or intimidating to even the most well intentioned. To take the edge off, employ a strategy that jibes with your tastes.

For instance, households used to take their paychecks and divide the money into envelopes earmarked for certain purposes (groceries, mortgage, insurance). The point was to make the best use of every dollar as soon as it came into your possession and not to overspend.

Such fastidiousness, though, can be exhausting, so others improvised. One saver interviewed in a 1959 book, “Workingman’s Wife: Her Personality, World and Life Style” described her “silly little system,” in which she would divide her husband’s paycheck into two piles: one for groceries (which went into a kitchen drawer) and one for everything else (which went into a tin can).

As saving tools, envelopes and tin cans are pretty much obsolete but the principle still holds: You want to have some sense of where you’re spending so you don’t overdo it, but the plan should make sense to you.

There are many avenues to explore.Most major cards will allow you to see on your account page just how much you’ve spent and on what. Free apps (like Mint) will track all expenses across all of your accounts if you happen to spread out your spending. You could also get creative and keep a spending journal for a month or two, documenting each transaction and subtracting it from the amount you expect to earn that particular month. Or toss your credit cards in the night stand for a month and pay for as much as you can in cash; research shows you’ll spend less.

Try out a few different options over the next few months; set up the digital equivalent of the tin can and the kitchen drawer, being more mindful of spending and allocating money into a savings account if you can, and see what sticks.

Earmark windfalls.

In December, Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill that includes federal unemployment assistance and direct payments to individuals and families. Depending on your eligibility and family size, those dollars should be hitting your bank account soon.

For federal student-loan borrowers, payments had already been paused until January, and the Biden administration may yet provide more assistance. Plus you can soon file your taxes, which for some people may result in a refund of hundreds or thousands more.

Before you get used to the idea of the money sitting in your bank account, making it harder to part with, identify which one of your goals you plan to put the cash toward, and do so immediately. Not only will you jump-start your savings goal, but a burst of sudden progress will make the entire task seem more doable.

Where should you start? Sam Brownell, founder of the wealth advisory firm Stratus Capital Management, recommends your emergency savings fund, which experts say should contain enough to cover three to six months worth of essential expenses. Prioritize your savings before debt, he said. The relief bills offered help to homeowners and renters who can’t make payments, and even if student loan payments resume in February, you might apply for deferment or forbearance if you’re having trouble paying. Credit card debt can be, in effect, refinanced through a balance-transfer or a personal loan.

Having a chunk of cash in tow can be a beachhead against tough times.

Make it hard to cheat.

You can still slip up.

Digital walls are permeable and you can all too easily, say, raid your newfound savings for a last-minute post-vaccine getaway. Do that a few times too many and you’ll revert to your spendthrift instincts.

The key is to protect you from yourself. Meir Statman, a professor of finance at Santa Clara Universityin California, recommends making your savings functionally difficult to access.

“One way is to place the emergency fund in a bank that is at least an hour’s drive away, and cut the A.T.M. card,” he said. “Another is to place the money with Mom, who is good at tough love. You’ll have to beg for your money, and perhaps be too embarrassed to beg.”

The same rule applies to spending. When you’re online shopping, disable your credit card from any store accounts so that you’ll have to track down your wallet if you want to buy something. Or make a deal with your spouse to discuss any purchase over a certain amount. Perhaps you’ll make the extra effort, but you may only do so for something you really want.

Last year is mercifully behind us. With a little luck, and some considered spending, a more prosperous one may lie ahead.

What Should You Pay for a Child’s Guitar (Or Any Musical Instrument)?


Credit iStock

It should have been a simple enough request. My 10-year-old, after several years of piano and voice lessons, had asked for a guitar.

But what to buy? I posed the question to my Facebook friends. Full-size or smaller? Acoustic or electric?

A couple of guys from the best campus band from my college days suggested the Baby Taylor, a three-quarter size (also known as parlor-size) acoustic guitar made by the El Cajon, Calif., company that the likes of Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz count on for instruments. A new one generally sells for around $329.

But then I heard from my friend Craig Bromberg, the father of 11-year-old guitar-playing twins and a serious musician himself. He let me have it for even considering buying a brand-new guitar. “I for one can’t stand the idea of kids with fancy instruments before they have even taken a single lesson,” he wrote.

He had a point. I’ve devoted a decent chunk of my professional life of late to trying to talk parents who have more money than average out of overindulging their kids. When it comes to cars, a shiny used one is generally the best choice. As for fancy mobile phones, get a dumb phone with basic voice and text service or let them pay the difference between that and the roving Internet access and shiny hardware they crave.

But musical instruments (of all sorts – not just guitars) are tools for learning, and that makes them different from cars or phones. Many forms of athletic gear for older children – tennis rackets, lacrosse sticks, gloves for baseball or softball – are similar. Even so, I realized that in considering my child’s request for a guitar, I got caught up in all the usual aspirations we have for our children, as well as my own memories and regrets about my musical training.

The lesson: We ought to put every object of child desire through its own wants-versus-needs test, one that inevitably ends with a question about how much is enough.

When I called up the people at Taylor Guitars to ask them how much guitar a 10-year-old truly needs, they put me in touch with Andy Powers, who is in charge of guitar design for the company. A parent and former guitar teacher himself, he does not necessarily default to his own company’s instruments when recommending a first guitar to other parents.

“I say that the first thing we want to do is get the kids an electric guitar,” he said, because electric guitars are often easier for beginners to play. His company doesn’t make very many of them and none at the entry level.

And he offered advice for helping a child stick with the instrument. “The first thing you want to teach them is their very favorite song,” he advised.

But how much should you actually spend? Mr. Powers outlined the two approaches he hears about most often. The delayed gratification theory has children doing the hard things first. You study, practice and bear with it, and then you get the nice guitar. The other is instant gratification – buy the nice guitar to start to make learning the guitar enjoyable as soon as possible.

Mr. Powers advised against the delayed gratification approach because it could sabotage the child’s learning. “The least enjoyable part is the moment you first pick it up,” he said. “You’re physically struggling with an instrument that you don’t know much about.”

And for a child like mine who wants to play acoustic, he couldn’t help but wax eloquent on the virtues of the Baby Taylor’s function over form: its intonation, seasoning and repairability. I know a bit about music and caught his drift, but I wasn’t sure his arguments would pass muster with every parent.

I took his comments back to my friend Craig. He reminded me that most famous musicians did not learn to play on top-of-the-line equipment. And while the Baby Taylor is portable (which is why many adults love owning it too), he wondered whether we’d be inclined to tote it around given its price and the possibility of damaging it.

My wife asked another question that I hadn’t thought of: Why not buy our daughter the cheap guitar (or at least a decent but lower-priced used one), and spend more on a really great teacher or a larger number of initial lessons? It’s an excellent question, if only we knew which style of teaching would be best for her. Picking out an instrument seems easier somehow.

One of Craig’s most recent musical purchases for one of his sons was a used instrument. Indeed, buying someone else’s Baby Taylor would set us back only $200 to $250. Older ones seem to hold their value reasonably well, which means we could hock ours if my daughter doesn’t take to playing or graduates to a bigger guitar within a few years. Craig said he did not find this approach overly indulgent.

And to Mr. Powers at Taylor, who has made music his life’s work, the choice of instrument is one with the highest of stakes, as he’s not sure he would have stuck with it if he had been learning on a glorified toy. “The difference between that person who says ‘Oh yes, I took lessons when I was a kid’ and someone who engages forever is when they cross over from studying to doing an instrument,” he said.

I do want my daughter to play on a guitar that gives her the best chance of crossing that chasm. But my hunch is this: It wouldn’t have taken $329 to get me to “do guitar,” had anyone thought to suggest it when I quit classical piano lessons after 10 years.

And perhaps that’s one more reason I find the used Taylor — which we’re now in the process of hunting down, at $100 or so off the new price — so enticing. If my daughter doesn’t stick with guitar, I just may keep her instrument for myself.

Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for The New York Times and the author of “The Opposite of Spoiled,” about parenting, money and values.


Interested in more Well Family? Sign up to get the latest news on parenting, child health and relationships with advice from our experts to help every family live well.

Should Moms Manage the Money?



“Daddy has to work! You have to come pick us up!”

When Kimberly Palmer heard those words come out of the mouth of her 5-year-old daughter, she was dumbfounded. Both she and her husband have full-time jobs, so where had the little girl gotten the idea that Daddy’s work mattered more?

Ms. Palmer didn’t know, but she took it as a call to action. Although she’s written about the topic of money management for a living for many years, she wasn’t handling many of the money management tasks in her own household.

So her advice for heterosexual women in two-parent households in her coming book, “Smart Mom, Rich Mom,” is this: Moms should be in charge of the management of household finances. All of them. Always.

Many couples will bristle at the idea that any family task other than breast-feeding should be assigned on the basis of anatomy, even if they are often self-selecting in this manner by choice.

In many households, men tend to manage family investments and taxes, and women, if they get involved in money issues, tend to focus only on everyday expenses and charitable donations.

A 2014 UBS Wealth Management Americas report noted that when it comes to investing, however, it’s men making the decisions alone half the time. Another 37 percent of couples shared the decisions, while just 13 percent of women made them alone. Among younger women, just 15 percent of millennials and 18 percent of Generation Xers were flying solo.

Same-sex couples often have separate accounts and make individual decisions, which is probably a legacy of the fact that it was hard for them to marry and combine accounts until recently.

One reason men may handle investing more often is that they tend to come into a marriage with more assets. A 2014 Wells Fargo study of millennials reported that the males had both a higher median household income ($83,000 vs. $63,000 for women) and higher median assets that were available for investing ($59,000 vs. $31,000).

Or perhaps men simply like handling this task more. Does it really make sense to take it away from them? Ms. Palmer pushes back against concerns over prescribed gender roles in three ways.

First, women tend to be better investors. Studies have shown that men have a bit too much confidence and take a bit too much risk. One seminal piece of research in this area showed how badly men’s investment returns suffered because they traded their stocks too often. A 2015 book called “Women of the Street: Why Female Money Managers Generate Superior Returns (and How You Can Too)” sums up the case for those who want to know more — or slip a treatise under their husband’s pillow.

Second, when mothers are the money leaders in the household, children take notice. For years, surveys of families have found that parents talk to girls less often about money than they talk to boys and that teenage boys end up believing they will earn more. Ms. Palmer clearly didn’t much enjoy finding out that her daughter viewed her as a driver and her dad as an earner. Moms who manage the money serve as role models who can counteract some of these problems.

Finally, many women will have to be in charge of the money sooner or later, so having some experience as the primary household money manager is essential. Women outlive men, and there are about four times as many widows as widowers in the United States, according to Ms. Palmer’s research. All of us who toil in the personal finance salt mines hear stories of widows who had to start reassembling their financial lives from scratch when their husbands died suddenly. When you are sad and older, you do not want to find yourself locked out of the household accounts, literally.

Divorce happens, too, so it’s good for both spouses to know where the money is (and if it’s been moved around recently) in the event of a surprise separation.

While Ms. Palmer wants women to be the financial captains of the family, she is not advocating a dictatorship. A couple’s financial discussions should be collaborative, whether the person executing the decisions is male or female. So you sit down at least once a year and remind yourselves of the answers to the following questions: Where is our money now? How do we get to it? Has our willingness to take risks with our investments changed? What are the most important goals for the next year? And what do we want to change?

Reading “Smart Mom, Rich Mom” made me acutely uncomfortable, precisely because I could not shake the feeling that I was doing it wrong. At the very least, my wife should be making all the moves for 12 months at a time, once every few years.

As for Ms. Palmer, she now has the password to the Excel spreadsheet her husband made that contains all of their financial information. And she’s started bringing her wallet along most everywhere she goes, even if it is a bit bulky.

That way, she hopes, her daughter will understand that her mom is just as invested in the money that gets made and spent in their family as her father is.

Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for The New York Times and the author of “The Opposite of Spoiled,” about parenting, money and values.

How Much Money Is Enough?


Credit Stuart Bradford

Most of us want our children to have the best of everything, but not too much of anything.

As a result, some families with much more than average impose a form of enforced (yet totally artificial) deprivation. Frequently the  “no” is not because they can’t afford it, but because the word “enough” is flashing on some scoreboard somewhere that only they can see.

Meanwhile, those of us who grew up hearing “no” a lot are tempted to say “yes” as much as we can, if we can possibly afford to. We want our kids to live better lives than we did as children — and better ones than we could afford last year.

Whether a family is affluent or struggling, however, every question about children and money and values eventually boils down to this: How much is enough? And how much is too much?

Consider one of the most recent objects of desire: The hoverboard. Before it became crystal-clear that its explosive battery was reason enough to ban it on safety grounds, parents struggled with the flashiness and the hefty price.

As I wrote a few months ago, the companies that sell them gamely tried to make these things a need and not a want. It’s transportation! No more expensive than a bicycle! For those of us who value at least a bit of modesty, however, we had to wonder whether being among the first kids in school to get a hoverboard was akin to being among the only grown-ups in town with a Mercedes. Nobody needs a Mercedes.

Social scientists tell us that we get more joy out of spending money on doing things than having things, and many of us do spend large amounts of money on our little people and their athletic pursuits. Plenty of children enjoy these activities more than anything else they do. Others, however, feel pressure to offer some return on their parents’ investment in the form of athletic scholarships or a college admissions boost. That kind of burden is too much, not just enough.

Still, there is no overarching, numerical definition of enough, even if you manage to limit American Girl dolls to just one or allow only a single new Lego set into the house each season. And no matter how precisely we may try to define the term, our parental understanding of it will shift even before we try explaining it to our children. Wanting more, as the financial planner Tim Maurer puts it in his new book “Simple Money,” is an affliction that is nearly universal and has little to do with how much we already have. “Our tendency is to move away from Enough — not toward it,” he writes.

This happens in part because of what surrounds us — and what we choose to surround ourselves with. If you haven’t yet chosen the neighborhood or town where you’re going to raise your family (or you’re thinking about upgrading or downsizing or a job change is forcing a move), consider doing a materialism audit of the places you’re considering. What sort of impact will those surroundings have on children’s definition of normal and how much they think is enough?

Everyone else might try two experiments. First, map out your own precise definition of enough in every category of spending that you do for your children. How much is enough when it comes to rain boots? Are the generic rubber boots at Payless or Target just fine, given that little feet will grow out of them pretty quickly anyhow? What if your children want fancy Hunter boots? Would you insist they use their allowance or birthday gift money to make up the difference between the prices of the Target or L.L. Bean boots that you consider “enough” and the luxury product that they want so badly?

Or will the high-end goods simply go on a banned item list? Most of us have one, even if it isn’t written down. Perhaps yours has violent video games, double piercings or weapons (real or fake). Mr. Maurer, having rebelled against a religious upbringing where so much was on that list, isn’t keen on making it too long (though he and his wife gladly ban in-app purchases and carnival games at amusement parks that require additional money).

As for everything else, Mr. Maurer suggests experiment No. 2: Forcing children to wait, for a good long while. “I don’t want my kids to buy something just because everyone else wants it,” he said. “More importantly, I don’t want them to want something just because everyone else wants it.”

We don’t control their minds, but we can introduce yellow lights and pause buttons. And so it goes with Mr. Maurer, whose 10-year-old son just successfully tried out for a competitive travel lacrosse team. The family happily pays for him to play. But the opportunity to upgrade to an optional $300 team helmet when the boy already had one that protected his noggin just fine led to some pointed family discussions.

It is that deep, searching dialogue itself that ought to be our end game, according to Barbara Nusbaum, a psychologist in New York City who specializes in talking about money and values with both children and adults. “They key is the mind-set to continually question and wonder in ourselves and in conversation with others about our choices,” she said.

So there can never be enough talk about enough. In the Maurer family, the conversation about how much helmet is enough helped everyone step back and consider the point of playing on a travel team in the first place. It isn’t about being a fashion icon and looking good on the field. The big idea is to grow as a person and athlete and teammate.

If their son does that well, then there’s always next year to consider the helmet.

Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for The New York Times and the author of “The Opposite of Spoiled,” about parenting, money and values.