Author Archives: Darcy Cronin

About Darcy Cronin

I'm a Mother/Coach/Blogger/Business Adventurer from Portland OR. My family consists of my Hubby of 12 years, our 8yo Kieran, 5yo Makenna, and 1yo Teagan. I love dreaming about a better future, and making it happen.

College vs. Retirement

Which should you choose to invest in first, college savings or retirement?  How do you evaluate the perks and pitfalls?

Like many parents we’ve wanted to open college saving accounts since our kiddos were born, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Our two biggest reasons have been the fact that I’m still paying on my own college loans, and our expensive child care tab.

So, we’ve been telling ourselves that as soon as our child care costs go down we’ll open accounts, and this month our tuition was reduced by $120 when our BigGuy moved up to the Older Preschool class. So I’ve been researching my options (the first month of “savings” is going to dance and swim classes).

Most states have 529 plans, and the beauty of the Oregon College Savings Plan is that you can start with as little as $25 and contribute as little as $15 per pay period per account. There are also 15 different investment funds to chose from and plenty of other tax perks. The calculator is pretty nifty, but also scary to see how much its going to cost.

But like most financial decisions, life really isn’t that simple. With Obama’s new student loan policy offering more tax benefits to parents, I’ve been wondering whether it even makes since to save for college. According to my employer calculations, for every $100 I contribute to my retirement it will only draw about $60 from my paycheck. While there are many tax benefits for college savings, it’s not clear to me if they can actually match that rate. Plus, whether retirement or college savings, there’s risk of loosing out like many have in the recession. We can just hope that once the economy has recovered it will be more sustainable all the way around.

So, back to the question, would it pay off to put more into our retirement and let that fund grow so that we have more of income available once college time arrives? I’ve heard multiple times that you can’t get a loan for your retirement, but it also feels kind of selfish to talk myself out investing in our kiddos’ future.  I haven’t made my mind up about which path to take (or both) and would love your comments.

Do you have a college savings plan? 
Or are you maxing your retirement first?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Small Loans = Big Impact

I’ve been intrigued by micro-lending since I first heard of the Grameen Bank‘s innovative social entrepreneurial work. The concept is pretty simple, small loans can make the difference between poverty and prosperity for people around the world, especially women. Micro-loans typically have low default rates, as recipients respect that this is a business venture and not a charity. When I first learned about how they worked, I immediately wanted to invest in hard working families across the globe.

So, I was really excited to learn that a couple from San Fransisco figured out how to make small lender-to-recipient loans possible. Kiva’s web site is very straightforward and explains the whole process, but the best part is that they share stories of the people seeking loans and you are able to connect with them via the web and track their progress and repayment. You can choose projects in almost any field and any country. Check the video out for yourself:

Literally little by little small loans are making a big impact around the world.

Will your family consider investing in a micro-loan? Please share your story!
Use this link to lend your first $25 through Kiva for free!

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Home Work

You’re probably too busy enjoying yourself, but you may have noticed that I don’t post on the weekend. There are a few reasons for this, most importantly that I need some down time to be re-inspired for the week ahead. This usually includes some type of “Frugal Family Fun,” like this past weekend spent with swim class, working in the garden together, and taking a family hike at the new Copper Mountain Nature Park

There’s also a practical reason, stats show that most people read blogs during work breaks on weekdays. For those of you who aren’t in that habit, you can catch up on a week’s worth of posts in your leisure time 😉

Not posting on the weekend also gives me time to do my “home work.” This weekend I’ve been testing the budget template that my Sis and I have been diligently perfecting for your budgeting pleasure. While I can’t promise that it will take the work out of setting a budget and tracking your family spending, I do think that it will make the task quicker and more manageable. Plus, part of my struggles with my old clunky outdated spreadsheet was that I felt like I was wasting my time altogether with innate calculation errors. Testing the template so far has me hopeful that it will solve some of my past frustrations.

On the weekends I’ve also been doing my home work by reading a few finance books, which I’d say is a commitment, since I’d rather be finishing up a truly entertaining book that I can’t seem to finish now that I’ve started this blog (The Geography of Bliss). But I have been learning about how to take steps toward financial abundance and that’s the whole point.

Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties
Financial Fitness for New Families

I’ll draw more on these resources in future posts, but now that my homework is wrapped up it’s time to get ready for a new week.

Do you assign yourself homework?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Money Honey #3

Our recent “money honey” chats have been centered on the process of simplifying our accounts and merging into a single bank, the  very sustainable ShoreBank Pacific . We eagerly await the day our finances truly become easier and greener as a result of our efforts, but for now it feels like an exercise in patience and perseverance.
Here are the steps we’ve mapped out:
  • Open joint account
  • Open EcoKids accounts
  • Each fill out a direct deposit form
  • Transfer money from two separate ING savings accounts (this will give us a surplus in our checking to cover expenses drawn from the new account until our direct deposit kicks in)
  • Switch automatic payroll savings transfer
  • Switch account info for each of our auto-pay accounts Hubby – mortgage, car loan, insurance, Netflix
  • Track when direct deposits and each auto-pay kicks in
  • Close each individual account once we are certain no more bills are linked to our old accounts
  • Shred old check books – purge old finance files
  • Celebrate!
No doubt, there will be more financial conversations than normal as we try to bring our merging process to closure.

Do you feel stuck with your bank, because you don’t have energy to switch?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Clean Energy Works – Part 3

We are elated to have accomplished our biggest household goal; fully insulating our leaky 1904 home. It was made possible through a new program in Portland called Clean Energy Works, which I’ve talked about in detail in Part 1 and Part 2.

EcoTech did a blow test before insulating, which measured that our old house leaked 5901 CFM (Cubic Feet Per Minute). After all the work was done, the house measured 3823 CFM, a difference of 2078 CFM! Increasing our home efficiency by a third feels like a good investment!

Only time will tell how much of a difference it will make for our utility bill and carbon footprint, but I will be to give seasonal updates and report out after the first year. Our efforts were further validated when I read how “energy efficiency is the best and cheapest way to cover the next generation’s electricity needs.” 

Even though winter is past us (thank God!), we can already feel the difference in our home with the breezy spring. We’ve been talking with our BigGuy about the work being done and have explained that we’ve put a big blanket around our home. It truly feels cozy and snug, and it’s not just me feeling warm and mushy about the money saved and pollution curbed.

Beyond heating and cooling benefits, a benefit most people don’t think about is how much outside sound is reduced when your home is insulated. Our residential neighborhood is on the edge of the urban acitivity and we are totally used to hearing the “sounds of the city” (in quotations because we have a cute book with the same title 🙂 Yet, the general noise reduction has been calming.

What types of home efficiency has you invested in for your family?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.