Build and Grow and Kids Workshops – Free Weekend Fun

Did you know that both Lowes and Home Depot have free crafts every single month that your kids can make? You get a free apron, patches or pins, a certificate (at Lowes), and a craft to make, paint/sticker, and take home. This is a fun way for younger kids to spend a Saturday morning. I’ve been taking my older boys (ages 13 and 9 now) to these workshops for years. You might think this is just a tip for boys, but I’ve seen plenty of girls at these workshops having a great time.  This is a great opportunity to have kids make a gift for someone else. For example, last month was making whiteboards, and I had each boy paint one for their grandmothers upcoming birthday. This next month at Home Depot will be the fire safety event complete with firetrucks and firefighters!

img_0912I love Build and Grow!

Reviews – what’s the difference?

Now you might think these are both the same – after all, in both you get to build something and take it home, you get an apron, and you get to decorate it. But there are a few differences that you should be aware of:

Lowes: You assemble a craft that’s typically sponsored by some company. Superhero movies, Minions, etc. The assembly uses nails only, and depending on the build can be tricky to make. Usually these need more adult assistance (especially for young kids) than the ones you’d find at Home Depot. The items you build use stickers, not paint, to decorate – so it can be easier but less creative. You get nice patches, but they can add up quickly to too many to fit on the apron.  My kids have more outgrown these – the items you build are mostly toys, which I found were many times not played with. The fun was in building, not in playing. This depends on the age of the kid, of course; when they were younger they did play with the toys a bit. Also you need to be ON TIME. At least at my Lowes, the activities start at 10 on the dot. You need to get there early and they find you on a list of registrants. If you didn’t register, you’re out of luck. And if you did register but you’re late, they will give away your spot.


Here’s a Lowes craft, hanging on for dear life

Home Depot: These crafts are usually not sponsored by a company. You make items that tend to be more useful – whiteboards, flower pots, etc. – although there are toys as well. They make better gifts than the Lowes option and kids don’t outgrow them as quickly.  The creation involves both wood glue and nails, and they tend to be easier for kids to do by themselves (although some adult help can be required, depending on the age of the kid). Also they tend to have more going on than just the craft. At Christmas time they’ll feature Santa and candy canes; for October they let you paint free pumpkins and sit in a fire truck. This may vary by store, of course. At my Home Depot, you don’t need to be exactly on time – heck, you can just walk in without registering and still make the craft. And the events go from 9-12 so you can come do the craft anytime between those times.


Made and painted a fun car!

Three Family Financial Lessons from Build and Grow and Kids Workshops:

Fun can be free! – You don’t need to spend money to have a fun morning. By signing up for these workshops your kids have a fun time without costing you anything. They can also keep the apron and wear it around the house while playing, and play with the toys they made or give them as gifts. Some of the patches are really cool – my middle son has one set from last summer’s superhero build on his backpack [insert picture]

Bargain Hunting – You need to make sure you’re on the lookout for the registration timeframe. Too late and the workshop may be full (especially Lowes!) – too early and you can’t sign up yet. If this is something your kids enjoy you’ll want to put a reminder on your calendar to check the websites every month and sign up. If you sign your kids up for both, that’s two free Saturday mornings a month of fun! [picture]

Making the ordinary a little special – These workshops can be a good way to kick off a morning of running errands by doing something fun for the kids before the boringness of shopping. If there’s something you need to pick up at Lowes or Home Depot, see if you can wait until a workshop day. That way your kids have fun and you get your errands done at the same time. [picture]

Check them out and give the next workshop a try! Hopefully your kids will love it just as much as mine.

Lowes: Build and Grow

Home Depot: Kids Workshops

Have you tried the Build and Grow or Kids Workshops with your family? What was their favorite craft? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email at


Breaking News – I Bonds at 2.76%

Breaking news for all you Chief Mom (or Dad) Officers out there looking for a place to stash some cash – I Bonds, those lovely inflation indexed savings bonds, are set to have a 2.76% interest rate come November 1st. Check out this article on Seeking Alpha for more details.

ibondIbond, made out to you! Image from Dough Roller, who has a great overview of government savings bonds


What’s an I Bond? It’s an inflation indexed savings bond. Similar to those paper EE bonds you may have received as a gift when you were a kid, I Bonds used to be available in paper but now are almost exclusively offered through Treasury Direct online (protip – you can get them in paper versions if you choose to get them through your tax refund). Since there hasn’t been much inflation over the past few years, the rates have languished at a very low point – sometimes going negative, even though the lowest you earn is zero percent interest.

“Wait, how can you get negative interest but earn zero percent interest? That sounds like a contradiction” you’re thinking. In the government world, anything is possible. . You see, I Bonds have two components. A fixed interest rate component, and a variable component. It’s the variable component that’s going to be set at 2.76%. The fixed component is currently at 0.1%. It’s been as high as 3.4% in the past, meaning people that purchased I Bonds long ago will be earning over 5% when this change goes in. The past few years its been at 0.1, 0.2, or sometimes 0 percent. Check out this great rate chart for more details. The treasury uses both rates to calculate your interest every six months.

Now what are some downsides to purchasing I Bonds? Your money is locked up for at least a year, and if you cash out before five years you pay a three month interest penalty. In that way it’s kind of like a CD. Also the interest rates reset every six months, and its at the mercy of inflation rates. So if there’s not inflation, then you don’t earn anything. Also you can only buy $10k per person per year.

Some pros to buying I Bonds?  Well, in the reverse side of the con, they protect you against inflation. Your money is locked away so you can’t easily get at it, but you can get it after a year if you really need to. It’s a good place to stash some “extra” emergency fund money. You can create an I Bond ladder by buying new bonds every year, or every month for a few years, so you always have something maturing. You can technically do this with EE bonds too, but those are only worth buying if you’re going to keep them until they double – which takes 20 years. They are an excellent option for the fixed rate portion of your portfolio.

So be sure to check out more about I Bonds and see if they may be right for you. Paying three times the interest you can get in a savings account is an attractive offer that deserves a closer look.

Multi Level Marketing and LinkedIn – Or Why I Turned Down Your Connection Request, and How to Use it the Right Way


A long time ago the wife of an old friend requested to connect on LinkedIn. Now I use LinkedIn frequently to keep in touch with old and new coworkers. As soon as I get to know someone relatively well, I request to connect with them so we can keep in touch when they leave the company, we move on to different projects, or our job roles take us in different directions. I also like to use it to keep up on industry news, although lately it seems overrun with memes and trying to be Facebook (LinkedIn – a PSA – don’t try to be Facebook. Just be the best LinkedIn you can be!) Over the years I’ve amassed over 500 connections, and they are all either people I currently work with, used to work with, went to graduate school with, recruiters, and friends. If I don’t know someone I will decline their invitation, especially when they send me the generic connection request.

One day, not long after connecting with a friend, I received a request from his wife. Now, I know his wife relatively well and was friends with her on Facebook, so this wasn’t entirely a surprise. But as soon as I saw her name pop up, I shuddered. You see, I had changed my Facebook settings to not see her posts months before, because she had gotten caught up in “nail art fever”.  She had been posting five or more times each day about nail art, how awesome it is, how great the products are, about her parties, etc. I had received multiple Facebook invitations to “nail art parties” – all of which I declined. I’m not interested in nail art that wouldn’t be appropriate for work anyway, and I don’t really like it, thank you very much.


MLM companies, why have you turned my friends into annoying pushy people obsessed with getting people under them?

She’s not a business owner, she’s a pushy MLM salesperson. I could only imagine what she wanted to do with my connection list – bombard every woman with nail art advertising? Try to persuade them to join this “great business opportunity”? And if I connected with her I would expect to see post after post about nail art and how great it is, how much money you can make (working from home! In your spare time! Of course only if you pester your friends constantly). So I ignored the request and refused to connect with her.

Eventually I unfriended her on Facebook as well, after the nail art got to be way too much (apparently I’m not the only one that’s experienced this – check out this article from the Washington Post and this one from Scary Mommy. So accurate!). I remember that it was a week I had received three invitations from her for events and parties. She had never been as interested in being my friend as when she could see a way into my wallet. Now if she had been a close friend who was interested in – you know – actually being my friend, or if she had been more subtle/less annoying, I would have kept her as a friend. I do have friends online that sell MLM but they only post about it occasionally and never invite me to things. They treat it like a real business, going to local fairs and events to sell their products. Here’s a tip to all the MLMers out there – if you have to rely on your friends and family to keep your business afloat, you don’t have a real business. And you’re annoying people. So knock it off.

How to connect on LinkedIn the Right Way


Ah, LinkedIn, despite y our flaws I do still like you.

I mentioned above that I have over 500 connections on LinkedIn. Now I’m not a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker), but I’ve worked in multiple jobs and projects over several companies, and I love the fact that LinkedIn lets me keep in touch with everyone. I have a much more limited set of Facebook friends, because I keep those to family and the people I would consider my friends. I post things my family is doing, pictures of the kids, and I keep away from any political discussions (I only wish all my friends would do the same-can’t wait for election season to be over!) or anything else that would be embarrassing if coworkers saw it (hooray for privacy settings!). Here’s my personal LinkedIn connection philosophy-

  • Coworkers/managers – I will send a connection request once I’ve gotten to know the person relatively well at work. My barometer is, will they know who I am once I send this request? If so I send it so we can keep in touch. Of course you can send connection requests to people that you don’t know very well, but if you do be sure to personalize the message so they know who you are and why you want to connect
  • Vendors – Once I get to know folks on a vendor team I request to connect with them. You never know when you might need to get in touch with a vendor again
  • Friends and Family – I will connect with them on LinkedIn but I don’t post anything specifically for them. LinkedIn is for my work persona, not my personal life, and it’s not Facebook. No pictures of parties, memes, birthday wishes, or family events here. And I only connect with people that I know will not take advantage of my connection list to try and sell a terrible product (nail art!!!!)
  • Recruiters – I don’t seek these out, but if I get a request I will accept it. Of course usually I get a message shortly thereafter telling me about some terrible job opportunity (would you like to give up your job as a full time employee at a Fortune 100 company for a lower level contractor temp job some place you’re never heard of?) but I figure it can’t hurt to stay connected. You never know when your job might be toast and you’ll want to be connected with recruiters.

You may also want to use LinkedIn to connect with people at a company you want to move to, or people that you want to meet. That’s also a great use of the site, just be sure to tell them a bit about who you are and why you want to connect. Otherwise they’ll likely just ignore your request. Usually I see generic advice to always personalize your invites, but if I’ve worked with you for a year you know who I am. I personalize only when I’m connecting to someone that would be a stretch (say, upper management), someone who doesn’t know me but I want to connect with, or that I’ve met briefly and likely wouldn’t remember my name.

How Often to Update

I like to update my LinkedIn profile once in a while with key projects, new things I’m doing at work, and tweaking the wording on old jobs. Over time my older job descriptions have gotten more brief, and I know people that don’t put them at all. A year or so ago I finally took off the job I had in college – I had worked full time and gone to school full time and I was damn proud of that job, but I realized no one cares anymore about it. Instead they care about my last 14 years of job history, all of which is in IT at large companies. So I would suggest checking in on your profile at least every few months to add awards, key events, speeches, new projects, and cull your older work.

What to Post

I don’t post much on LinkedIn, to be honest. I did write an article that was extremely well received, which was great. Otherwise I’ll occasionally share a work-related article, but I’m very careful about what I post. I don’t want to put up anything that could be offensive (even if I liked it personally) because all 500+ connections and their connections can see it. If there’s a press release for a project I worked on, I will share it. I also sometimes share company news if it’s something I find interesting and think my connections will as well. One warning, be careful what you “like” – it will show up in your connections feeds. That’s how the memes, quote images, and stories are cluttering up LinkedIn and making it a much less useful tool for work and networking. Please LinkedIn, go back to being a great professional resource and stop trying to be “fun”. You’re like a 65 year old man dancing awkwardly to the latest rap music – that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing! Stop it!

How do you use LinkedIn? Are you also annoyed at the proliferation of memes, quote images, stories, and birthdays (stop trying to be Facebook!). Let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

Cutting Cable – 3 kids, 7 years and counting

My family hasn’t had cable for seven years – and we’re in good company. Today one out of every seven families has cut the cord, according to research by the Pew Research Center. And the pace of cutting out cable has increased dramatically every year, predicted to reach one in five families by 2018. Cable companies and television networks are afraid of this trend. Check out this fear-mongering article by Cox on how cutting cable will cost you more (no it won’t, and you don’t need a smart TV. Plus their prices are exaggerated). Disney saw its stock hit last year as the market is fearing the cord-cutting trends impacts on ESPN and their other television networks.


Here’s an awesome infographic on cable cutting, from an article on Business Insider.

In this article, I’ll tell you my family’s cable story. In future articles, I’ll go over tips on how to cut cable, how to counter common objections you or your family may have, and show you the financial lessons cutting the cord will teach you and your family.

When I was growing up, all my friends had cable – and boy was I jealous. We only had over the air TV, with a limit of half an hour of TV on weekdays. I missed out on all the shows that the kids were talking about at school. When we finally got cable when I was 16, I was so happy to finally be able to watch the things I’d only heard or read about. Then when I moved out into my condo at 20, I got cable myself.

And then quickly cancelled it within a few months. Oh my god, no wonder my parents didn’t want this! It was so expensive and there was never anything on to watch. Plus, I was working full time and going to school full time, there was no time in the day to sit around and watch TV. I was paying so much money every month for nothing!

Now my husband’s situation growing up was completely different. Not only did he have cable from the time he was a little kid, he had the premium cable package (complete with HBO, where he watched shows a little kid shouldn’t see). There were no limits on his TV watching, so he became a connoisseur of cable. You name the show, or the movie, and he’s seen it. When he moved into the condo he was not that happy about the lack of cable. But fortunately he loved me and we were able to work it out. We went to the library a lot and Blockbuster (remember that place?).

When I cut cable the first time it was in the year 2000 – back before video streaming. There was no Netflix online, only DVD’s you could get through the mail. There was no Redbox, only Blockbuster where you paid a small fortune to rent a movie. Amazon was a company that sold books, not streaming video. No Roku, fire stick, or Apple TV as an option. Instead there were good old fashioned rabbit ear antenna and renting movies. God I sound old (now get off my lawn!).

Eventually our oldest son was born. Now in addition to renting movies we found ourselves turning on PBS quite often for him to watch the kids shows. And we picked up many VHS tapes of fun shows for him to watch over and over again, which is just what toddlers love to do. A few years later we moved out of the condo into a house. There was more room in the budget, and one day someone from AT&T came down the street to tell us about the UVerse connection they had just installed. They were offering a great bargain and we took it. After all, having cable would be a lot of fun. There were some shows that I missed watching, especially Food Network. And the deal came with three DVR’s along with some premium channels.

The deal was good for a year. Within that time my middle son was born. We got rid of the premium channels when the deal expired but kept all the cool cable channels for a few years. There was a rough limit on the amount of TV we let the kids watch but it was pretty high-a few hours a day. And my husband was happy because he had missed cable much more than I had. I enjoyed the Food Network and a few other shows but otherwise I really didn’t care very much about it.

After a few years I got sick and tired of paying that huge goddamn bill every month. It seemed like the cost just kept marching up, and up, relentlessly higher. Plus, my oldest son was starting to watch superhero shows, and my youngest (at the time) was imitating them. I really didn’t like the way he would reenact the fighting of the show and decided to take control once more and cancel cable.

I didn’t mind it being gone, but my husband was bummed and my oldest son was sad. So I went in search of alternatives so they would still have fun things to watch. Blockbuster was gone now, but we could grab a movie at the Redbox for only $1 a week at the time. DVD’s were big now, not VHS tapes, and it was possible to pick them up for cheap. I pointed out to my husband that we could rent a movie every week and buy several movies every month and still come nowhere near the cost of cable.

Also there was a new kid on the block – Netflix streaming. Now this was a game changer. The company had been around since 1997 doing their DVD by mail service, which we had tried in the past but found we never remembered to mail the DVD’s back. But with this cool new (hey, at the time it was new – old lady moment again) technology we could stream movies legally to our house! The streaming started in 2007, at first limited to only a few titles and a certain number of hours. But by the time we tapped into it the number of hours’ limit was gone and the titles had expanded massively.

Side note – if you read the article linked above you’ll see that Netflix stock at the time was $22.71 a share before the Great recession. As of this writing its over $100 a share. Ah, to be able to go back in time!

Hulu was also founded around the same time in March of 2007. Amazon’s streaming service wouldn’t come along until 2011, though. Thanks to Netflix and Hulu, cutting cable the second time was a much different experience than the first time. We were able to still rent from the Redbox, and buy some DVD’s, but adding in the streaming meant we could keep up on TV shows and have access to more movies than we could ever watch. Eventually we also picked up a Roku as a Christmas gift which expanded our choices even more.

Next time, I’ll go into 11 tips on how you too can cut cable, how to counter common objections your family may raise, and what financial lessons you can learn from analyzing this expense.

Have you and your family cut cable? What’s your story? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email at


Financial Foolishness – Pound Foolish by Helaine Olen

Sleep in Saturday is when I write about something I consider fun – a book review, a new project, or something random from my past.


I have to say that I, overall, absolutely hate this book. It’s sad, because Helaine does have some good points – especially in later chapters. She spends much time at the start trying to tear down the so-called financial gurus (Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, etc.) in a bid to sell books off their names. And in the latter half of the book she tries to convince you that investing will never work and the government should take over. Your financial troubles aren’t your fault: even if there was “that ill-timed home renovation” or “the house that might have been a bit of a stretch”. You would get the impression that there’s no sense in even trying to save for retirement or for financial emergencies, because life will just come and smack you around, and the world/big businesses will make sure you fail. So why try?

She also contradicts herself quite a bit, and says things that aren’t true. For example:

The Statement The Contradiction/The Truth
Argues Dave Ramsey’s approach to deby elimination is “rubbish” because it costs you more money (Pg 66 – “…many of Ramsey’s lauded debt strategies don’t even work on a basic mathematical level!”) The next page she admits there is one small study in 2012 at Northwestern University showing its more important to build up willpower than rely on the numbers. Actually there is also a study from Texas A&M showing that meeting small goals helps you meet a larger goal faster.
Criticizes The Millionaire Next Door for saying everyone can be a small business owner (Pg 54  – “Most importantly, (millionaires) were risk takers who started successful small businesses, smoothing Stanly and Danko seemed to imply we could all do.”) The Millionaire Next Door is a research project on actual millionaires and the lives they lead. It’s not a “how to” book, but rather a “how did they” book. He found the wealthy small business owners owned “dull normal” businesses like garbage firms, dirt providers, and auctioneers who saved money, and that people with high incomes like doctors/lawyers tend to under accumulate wealth. He also found that the millionaires led an ordinary life, looking for good deals and not overspending despite them having the money to do so.

After the part of the book criticizing all the famous personal finance personalities, she does start to make some good points. For example:

  • Companies pitch variable annuities at many times where it doesn’t make sense (pg 102)
  • Jim Cramer and Mad Money are ridiculous, and should be treated as the entertainment he is rather than investment advice (Buy! Sell! Horns! Lights!). Ric Edelman makes the same points in his book “Rescue Your Money”
  • Large companies like Prudential, et. all can be infantilizing when it comes to the topic of women and money. Apparently Joan Cleveland from Prudential recommends turning everything over to a financial adviser (provided by Prudential, I’m sure) on Page 151. Because women don’t have a handle on basic investing products. Ugh, this is so aggravating! So instead of learning about the products, the womens should just turn over their money to the nice banker man who will hold their hand and charge them 2% fees to manage their assets. No thank you!
    • Fidelity’s third tip here is to “Turn to a pro” – which of course Fidelity will be happy to be for you! After all why learn to manage the money yourself.
    • Morgan Stanley assumes you have a financial advisor, you just might be reluctant to reach out to them with questions. They also reassure you that you don’t need to be an expert, just know enough to make sure you’re getting good advice
    • Prudential’s overall website is actually pretty good, surprising given the quotes. I really appreciate that their pitch for a financial advisor is contained within buried links
    • Interestingly Vanguard doesn’t seem to have anything on their site geared specifically toward women. Maybe because they see them as just…investors?
  • Her points about real estate and paying for it the old fashioned, traditional way that didn’t cause a bubble or the near-collapse of our financial system (20% down, 15 or 30-year fixed rate mortgage when you have a healthy emergency fund/plan and aren’t planning to move for 7-10 years is the way to go!)
    • Although this quote is ridiculous – Pg. 191, “But no one mentions little details like the fact that…land and residential units can be among the most illiquid of assets. They don’t say you can suddenly lose your job or encounter an expected medical expense and not be able to keep up with your mortgage.” I don’t know what she reads because I literally see these things mentioned ALL THE TIME. One day I’ll write a post about my ten years in this house and the ups and downs of it all.
  • Corporate sponsors just might not be the best source of financial education for our young kids. They have an inherent conflict of interest in that they make most of their money off the financially irresponsible. Also, having one class or a few classes in high school is likely not the most effective financial education. Sure, you can apply lessons in managing a checking account or credit card pretty quickly. But 401ks, mortgages, 529’s, emergency funds, etc. are all years down the road. A single class one time may set you on the right path but it’s unlikely to change your financial life unless you’re inspired to seek out more research as a result.

Unfortunately, all this good content comes after the shooting of the straw men. She rails against the personal finance crowd selling products with their names (like financial planners, budget worksheets) – I’m not sure if she things they’re running a charity? And I really don’t like how essentially no one is responsible for their own finances. Yes, I know bad things happen to good people at bad times. Heck, my husband almost died of septic shock, leading to a month away from home in the hospital and rehab, many surgeries, months of physical therapy, etc. He also lost his job three months after I bought my first new car and started my MBA. But did I sit around complaining “poor me” or “why me”? No, because that wouldn’t help anything. And fortunately I had always saved so these potentially devastating and bankrupting events were more giant roller coasters – a wild ride but still safe and it all came out OK in the end.

All in all, I may recommend taking this book out from the library if you want to get angry, or if you like to shirk responsibility for your finances. Otherwise, skip it.