A Right of Passage…the VISA Logo


Recently I had the pleasure of bringing my daughter through a right of passage. This is not something most would view as a right of passage, but for someone who is devoted to financial literacy I couldn’t help but take a pause. My daughter, 13 years old, just got her first debit card!

Over the last year, my daughter accumulated funds from babysitting and watching our neighbors’ animals – too large of a sum to be stashing away in her bedroom. She also experienced an incident last Christmas, where she was shopping for gifts for the family, took close to $100 in cash with her, and lost her wallet. This brought to my attention the need to extend her banking services and add a checking account. Along with the checking account came a debit card armed with… the all-powerful VISA logo.

After depositing the cash she had accumulated into the checking account, I found that she had more discretionary funds available than I did! At first she was a little reluctant to use the debit card, but soon she got the hang of it – so much so, that she spent $180 in one week – an amount likely greater than she had spent in the last six months combined.

My daughter quickly experienced a common psychological effect involved with spending, because people typically spend at higher rates when paying with a card than with cash. We always feel sad when we part with our money, but when we hand cash over to a cashier, we trigger an especially negative psychological response. This emotion decreases when we instead hand a card over to a cashier because the negative response is delayed until the moment when (and if) we check the balance in our account.

Despite the initial urge to comment on her spending, it didn’t feel right to tell her how much and how often to buy. It’s her money, and I could tell by her reaction to viewing her account balance that she had learned on her own how easily money can go when paying with plastic.

A Penny Saved Is a Penny Invested

Yesterday I was paying the bill for my toddler’s daycare, and bracing for the annual rate increase, only to be pleasantly surprised by a decrease. My three year old is now moving up from daycare to preschool. The difference between my former two year-old and my now three year-old is significant. Changes include ridding our house of diapers, not having to replace her wardrobe every three months, and no longer having to follow her around worrying about what she is going to get into.

As children reach the age of three, their budding independence allows daycare providers to increase the child-to-teacher ratio. This begins preparing children for a classroom setting and results in a decrease of $100 per month in my childcare bill. An opportunity quickly presented itself.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 4.49.00 AM


Calculator from Bankrate.com

Instead of allowing these funds to get lost in my budget and spent on unnecessary items I will shift these funds towards my daughter’s college savings fund. I have already established a 529 college savings account through our state’s plan, the Oregon College Savings Plan. To date, her account has been mostly funded with birthday and Christmas funds from family members. Take a look at what shifting the $100 from her childcare expense to her college savings does.

Still, we know that with the rate at which college costs are increasing $41,892 is likely not going to be enough to fully fund my daughter’s college education. But there are more upcoming opportunities for me to increase this savings. In two years she will be heading off to kindergarten (wow, time flies) and this will significantly decrease my childcare costs. What if I invest that saved money and increase her monthly college savings to $300? Now I find my daughter with over $100,000 in her college savings account.Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 5.03.57 AM

An opportunity to save money is an opportunity to invest money, and in this case, invest in my child’s future.

A Trip to the Toy Store

I recall when my teenage daughter was about five-years old and it was the first time we went to the toy store with the intent of her using her money, from a birthday as I recall, to purchase a toy. We had been to the toy store several times before selecting a toy for either her or a friend’s birthday and I assumed the experience would be the same, but it was not. The amount of time it took to pick out the toy she wanted exponentially longer, why? The only differing variable was this time she was spending her money.

She had the cash in her hand and by then she was starting to understand numbers well enough to start to recognize the toy prices that she could not afford and those that she could. I then recall when the option of getting multiple lower prices toys versus one higher price toy came up and then that started another debate.

I recall the torment in her eyes as she processed what was likely the most difficult decision she had been faced with so far in her life, at least in her mind. She even tried to negotiate with me to pitch in my own funds so that she could get multiple higher priced items, but I held firm. What did she decide to do? Honestly, I don’t remember. I just remember the lesson she had to learn and how I really had not realized that at the young age of five she was ready to start making personal financial decision.

Birthdays have proven to be good times for financial lessons for my daughter. In the coming posts I’ll share two more money lessons taught to my daughter after receiving money from her birthday.

Melody Bell
Executive Director

Determining the ROI on Your Next Home Remodel

Woman with tools.Each year my husband and I choose one large home improvement project to check off of our list. We have lived in our home for four years and luckily the inside was fully remodeled shortly before our moving in; so there was nothing that needed to be done. This left us mostly to the outside and our wish list was and still is long.

In the last several years we have done some great projects. Most of these projects were on our wish list. The exception was last year’s project, which ended up needing to be done. We have three pretty large decks attached to our house and all of them are high enough to where they need a railing. We had several items that we wanted to get to before replacing the decks, but unfortunately the decks did not agree and got to a point where they were dangerous. Other projects have included: building a gazebo (brought back my high school geometry knowledge), planting trees, installing a riverbed, added much needed storage (that included a really cool murphy bed).

We can justify these projects to ourselves by calling them investments and thinking we will get our money back, but we are kidding ourselves. There are some important aspects to be met in order to classify your home improvement projects as a good Return On Investment (ROI).

How long are you keeping the home?

If you’d like to start classifying your remodeling projects as an investment, you first have to determine when you would ever realize the investment. Is this a home you plan to live in long-term or are you planning to fix it up and sell it? If you plan to keep the home long-term then these home remodeling projects are not a financial investment, but merely an investment in your personal appreciation of your home.

Looking to flip?

If you foresee your time in the home as short-lived and want to determine where best to put your funds to maximize your resale; here are some suggestions:

  • First maximize the cosmetic improvements. A gallon of paint costs about $30 dollars and it is amazing what a fresh coat will do to the look of a home. Invite some friends over, buy some beer and pizza and make it a paint party.
  • Put the real dollars into kitchens and baths. These have shown to provide the highest ROI. Also, having kitchens and bathrooms in disrepair can be a deterrent for potential buyers because they understand the great cost involved in these types of improvement projects.
  • Add square feet. Is there an unfinished basement? This can be a great investment because it adds to the square-footage of your home and you know the saying…bigger is better.
  • Don’t neglect the yard. Landscaping is another area to make sure is well cared for. If nobody wants to drive up to the house because of the overgrown yard it will never be sold.

Understand the average remodel does not get back its full cost

The remodeling projects with the highest ROI still, on average, do not gain more value than the expenses incurred. If you are looking to be successful in flipping real estate there is a delicate balance between timing, getting a good deal, purchasing in the right area and putting your remodeling dollars in the right places. Not a job for the risk adverse or faint of heart.

Melody Bell
Executive Director

Financial Beginnings Hired Program Manager in Seattle

PORTLAND, Ore. March 27, 2015– Financial Beginnings, a Portland-based nonprofit that provides financial education programs, hired a program manager to bring no-cost financial education programs to the Seattle Area.

Financial Beginnings currently provides its programs to about 100 schools and community groups, serving 25,000 students each year, primarily in Oregon and SW Washington. Financial Beginnings has opened an office in Seattle, where all Washington programs will be managed.

Clinton Taylor has been hired by Financial Beginnings as the Washington program manager and will be opening the market. Clinton is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Brandman University and holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Human Development from Warner Pacific College. He is a U.S. Army Veteran who served in Iraq Operation Desert Storm. Clinton is also a certified Washington State Associate Prevention Specialist, Inspirational Speaker, Life Skill Coach, and Master Workshop Facilitator. Clinton has over 10 years of professional experience working in the Social Services and Education field, specifically Employment and Training, where he spent most of his time assisting people with various barriers to employment, including ex-offenders, the homeless and at-risk youth. With Social Boosting we have been able to create awareness with our social media content as they boost it for more views and growth for the account.

For more information about Financial Beginnings programs or to request a class, please contact, programs@financialbeginnings.org.clinton head shot

What We Need: Student Education, Not Student Debt

A college degree is a product. Students pay a fee in the form of tuition and they receive an education. That education is a ticket to a better life in the form of higher earnings, or at least it always has been. College professors and administrators have bristled when I opine that their “product” should be viewed in terms of future earning potential. They would rather focus on the intrinsic value of education. UnfortuUniversity Student Begging with Mortar Board - Education Costsnately the ever-increasing cost of their product forces us to look beyond the intrinsic and seriously consider extrinsic value. Only with this information in hand can a student and his/her family make a wise choice about where to go to school, how much to pay for the degree, and what the future prospects will be for the graduate.

Some very disturbing statistics that I recently learned when I attended a community conversation bring into specific relief the need for a deeper consideration of the value of a college education:

  • In Oregon alone students borrow between $1.3 and $1.5 billion dollars in student loans provided by many a same day cash advance app each year.
  • Student loans amount to $1.2 Trillion in the United States.
  • Each year students in our country will take out $100 Billion in new student debt.
  • The state of Oregon provides only 11% of state college and university expenses the rest must be made up with tuition.

These numbers are staggering. It disturbs me to think what this level of debt means to the future of our country. I, therefore, ask: What is the value of a college degree in terms of life earnings? This is simplistic of me, however. One needs to understand other elements to even begin to fully answer the question.

The Payscale organization has developed a chart called College ROI that may help. Here is a link to the chart: http://www.payscale.com/college-roi/. Before signing onto a lifetime of debt students should at least consider some of the statistics. The chart provides some choice details such as graduation rates, the “ticket price” with and without financial aid, and how much debt the average student has when s/he leaves school. These and other considerations are important when trying to determine the value of an education from a particular college.

Students need to be well armed before entering the battlefield of college. They need many arrows in their quiver and understanding the value of their education is an important one.

Anne Lee
Director of OperationUniversity Student Begging with Mortar Board - Education Costs

Opportunities to Lower Your Credit Score and Increase Your Debt

Check out lane

Retail marketing is incredibly effective at getting us to act in ways that harm rather than help us. Marketers appeal to our emotions and impulses. Often it is difficult to resist and that is why marketing is a very lucrative strategy for retailers. Here are some of the areas where we should avoid acting impulsively:

  1. You know the scenario…you are standing in the grocery store check-out line with your full cart waiting for the person ahead of you to finish checking out. At eye level you find screaming tabloid headlines, battery packs, sugar-laden treats, paperback books with racy titles, and the list goes on. These items have low prices, but they are not bargains. Resist the urge to reach out and add them to your groceries.
  2. At your favorite department store you have just handed the clerk the outfit you want to purchase that offers you the opportunity to save 15% if you sign up for a credit card right now. If you take this offer from multiple stores over a few months, your credit score could suffer. Each time the store checks your credit, it appears as an inquiry and multiple inquiries can result in a lower score.
  3. The clerk hands you the receipt for your purchase and you notice that you’ll get 15% off your next purchase as long as you purchase $50 of good within the next two weeks. Do you really need to return to the store to buy more? Think twice.
  4. Your favorite uncle gives you a $50 gift card and you go online to purchase that new sweater on sale for $39.99. Your gift card now has $10.01 available and you don’t find anything you want for that amount. Most people either forget the balance on the card, essentially throwing that money away, or purchase something in addition that increases their spending above what they had planned to spend. Gift cards are great as long as you don’t get lured into purchases you don’t need.

Before giving in to an impulse buy, step back and ask yourself, “Do I really need this or am I just reacting to the marketing hype?” You’ll thank yourself for resisting.

Anne Lee
Director of Operations

Financial Education Programs Expand to Seattle Area


For more information contact:

Melody Bell                                                                                                                     Executive Director
Financial Beginnings


Todd Pietzsch
Manager of Public Relations




BECU supports Financial Beginnings’ expansion to bring no-cost financial education programs to youth in Washington.


PORTLAND, Ore. and Tukwila, WA. February 23, 2015– Financial Beginnings, a Portland-based nonprofit that provides financial education programs, is partnering with BECU, a Washington state based credit union, to bring no-cost financial education programs to the Seattle Area youth.

Financial Beginnings currently provides its programs to about 100 schools and community groups, serving 25,000 students each year, primarily in Oregon and SW Washington. Beginning in 2015, Financial Beginnings will be expanding their programs throughout Washington and will be opening an office in Seattle.

BECU is serving as Initiative Investor for this expansion. Through financial and hands-on support, BECU hopes replication of Financial Beginnings’ programs will further increase the financial capacity of Washington state residents.

“Empowering youth and adults with the financial literacy skills they need to achieve a life of financial stability is a focus for BECU,” said Rachel Van Noord, BECU Sr. Manager of Financial Education. “Our partnership with Financial Beginnings will allow us to greatly expand the number of youth and adults that we reach with these critical life skills.”

Using Financial Beginnings’ financial education curriculum, in addition to their own, BECU employees will deliver financial education presentations to youth in the classroom, as well as to members of the community.

“Expanding to Washington was always a vision I had for our organization, and I am thrilled that BECU has helped make our dream a reality,” said Melody Bell, Executive Director of Financial Beginnings. “This partnership will further our reach and allow us to educate more young people on how to make informed financial choices, leading to stronger communities and stronger economies.”

For more information about Financial Beginnings programs or to request a class, please contact, programs@financialbeginnings.org.


BECU is a not-for-profit, member-owned credit union. Profits are returned to members in the form of better rates and fewer fees. With more than 900,000 members and $13.0 billion in assets, BECU is the largest credit union in Washington and one of the top five financial cooperatives in the country. BECU currently operates over 40 locations in the Puget Sound region. Founded in 1935, BECU was formed to provide a banking alternative for the employees of The Boeing Company. Today, all Washington state residents are eligible to join. For more information, please visit www.becu.org.


About Financial Beginnings

Formed in 2005 and based in Portland, Ore., Financial Beginnings is a nonprofit organization that provides no-cost financial education programs to youth and adults. Financial Beginnings’ courses incorporate all aspects of personal finance to provide individuals the foundation needed to make informed financial decisions. More information is available at www.financialbeginnings.org.


The New Verb: “Uber”

hail taxi

A couple of years ago I was hosting a friend from San Francisco and we were out late catching up eating amazing dessert at Papa Hydn’s on NW 23rd. It was about midnight when we left and come to find out we missed the last trolley, which would take her back to her hotel in SW. I was stumped on what to do. My friend says, “let’s just hail a cab”. I told her “you can’t hail cabs in Portland”. She was shocked. Where was Uber when we needed it?

Living in Portland, we are one of the few cities that does not allow Uber to operate in our city yet so I have not had the opportunity to try it out. On a recent trip to Atlanta I decided to try it out and I am sold and that’s not just because my first ride was free!

I am surprised that taxi companies haven’t invented software similar to Uber years ago. Here is why I liked it:

  • I was able to view the map and see all of the drivers near me and how long it would take them to pick me up,
  • I typed in my destination and was able to get an estimate on what my fair would be,
  • The driver called me to tell me what his vehicle looked like and I was able to see on the app as he approached, leaving no confusion,
  • The car was nicer than most cabs I’ve ridden in, and
  • Because I has already entered my credit card on the application there was not time to check out (but since my first ride was free my fair was $0).

Portland has promised to allow Uber in the Spring of 2015, but in the meantime if you are traveling you might consider trying it out. Here is my referral code to get you a free ride (and me too). melodyb96

Melody Bell
Financial Beginnings
Executive Director

Happy New Year! Time to Work on that Financial Resolution



We are only a month into 2015 and many people are still focused on their New Year’s resolutions and many of them are resolving to be more financially responsible this year. I came across this article called “10 Frugal Resolutions for the New Year,” on my new favorite website, Cheapism, and I thought I’d share some of their great tips for keeping that resolution.

The first tip is to stop impulse buying. I know we’ve all been there, and for me it’s often a sugary snack or something shiny, that I’ve suddenly convinced myself I absolutely need and deserve. They suggest taking a step back and doing a self-check of the item and seeing if it stresses you out. If it does, then it’s not in check with your values. If it’s an emotional purchase, just walk away.

Another tip is to pay your credit cards in full. They say if you can’t bring the balance down to zero month after month, then you should not have a credit card. This is the same thing my mom told me when I got my first credit card and I haven’t strayed from it to this day. The next tip goes along with paying your credit cards in full every month, and that is to live within your means. If you can’t afford something and it doesn’t fit within your budget, you shouldn’t have it.

I really like the next tip and that is to surround yourself with others who are also trying to be fiscally fit. Now that doesn’t mean to rid yourself of friends who are not being fiscally fit, but you don’t have to keep up with them. I’ve seen this shift in my life as I’ve matured (nice way of saying getting older). In my early 20’s it was important to me to make sure I had similar things as my friends, now I could care less. I’d rather be around people with similar values and that make good choices.

To read the rest of the tips and full article, click here.

Sarah Janda