Get lower prices – on stuff you’ve already bought

For some people, shopping is fun. Finding deals is even better. Even if you’re not a big believer in retail therapy, you feel a certain satisfaction when you finally locate and purchase a pair of pants that actually fits, right?

Until the same pants go on sale the next week. Then those trousers that seemed like a good deal at $40 feel like a rip-off. If only you’d waited! You could have had them for $25! Now your new pants are tainted, and you’ll stew over that $15 every time you wear them.

Don’t fret. You can get that money back. Here’s how.

The direct approach

If you see that the price on a recent purchase has been lowered, go directly to the retailer. Many large retailers – such as Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Wal-Mart and Best Buy – will honor price adjustments if you have a printed receipt or online order number. Most stores will match a competitor’s prices before you buy, but only their own afterward. Target is an exception: They’ll match other stores’ prices for two weeks after purchase.

If you booked a hotel room and saw the price go down, call the hotel and ask to have your bill adjusted to the lower rate. Or, if you won’t face fees, you can cancel your reservation and book again.

The plastic approach

Some credit cards – not all – offer another option called price protection. If your card has price protection, you’ll have to do a little legwork to use it. You’ll probably have to register items after you buy them with your card, then fill out a form after any price drop to get the difference back. Discover customers can receive up to $500 back on items, while Citi’s Price Rewind searches online sites for you in search of lowered prices.

Price protection involves a lot of fine print. You usually have to initiate the process within 60 days, but sometimes you get 90. Get ready for exclusions galore, too. To help you navigate the waters, NerdWallet has a handy breakdown of cards and their price protection features.

The app approach

It sure would be nice if you could scour stores for lower prices without wasting a bunch of time and developing carpal tunnel. Luckily, this is 2017 and there’s an app for that.

It’s called Paribus. Here’s how it works.

After you sign up using your email and your established online shopping accounts, Paribus’ clever little e-detectives scan and monitor your incoming receipts looking for any money that was left on the table. Paribus doesn’t just look for lowered prices and sales. It even knows whether you’ve missed a coupon.

For every discrepancy found, Paribus can submit a claim on your behalf. Then, the money you’re owed, minus a 25 percent commission – goes back into your shopping account.

Paribus involves the least amount of hassle, but it only works on online buys. Everything else requires you to pay close attention to sales and fill out some tiresome forms. But when it comes to bigger purchases, you could be looking at real money. So keep your eyes peeled, and never feel ashamed for demanding the best price.

 

 

 

 

7 Ways to Save $2,000 for Your Summer Vacation

The best vacations are debt-free. Here’s how to save for one.

Sometimes, you need a real vacation. Not just a weekend camping at the lake or a road trip to Grandma’s cabin – a real getaway. It can be hard to justify a spendy trip when you have to save for retirement or pay off student loans, but with a nip here and a tuck there, you can remake your budget without too much pain. And at the end, with the worries of home far away, you’ll be glad you did.

Make a budget.

Sit down with everyone who’s going on the trip and figure out everyone’s priorities. Take into account transportation, lodging and food, of course – but don’t stop there. Familiarize everyone with your destination’s main attractions. You don’t want to get all the way there before you find out those aquarium tickets are $75 at the door and it’s the only reason Aunt Sally wanted to go.

Use your tax refund to start a savings account.

Most American families get more than $1,000 back from the federal government every year. Instead of blowing that money, start a separate account devoted to vacation savings. You’ll have fun watching it grow while you get excited for your trip.

Change your direct deposit.

Yeah, it can be a pain, but take the time to fill out a new direct deposit form with your employer. Socking away $50 to $100 from every paycheck into your new vacation savings account will add up fast.

Side note: If your tax refund was huge, you might be able to offset the effect of saving more by just altering your withholding. A giant refund means you’ve been giving the government an interest-free loan.

Make up for that extra savings.

The idea of a vacation fund is that you don’t have to loot it for funds. So you’ll have to make some sacrifices. You might consider a monthlong spending freeze, where you don’t spend on anything except necessities like food and gas. Get tips on weathering a freeze here.

Meal planning is another good way to save. If you look at how much you spend on food every month, you might be shocked. So eliminate those takeout lunches and pizza deliveries for a while. Dust off your cookbooks, examine your pantry, and make a plan every week before grocery shopping. You’ll save a ton, and you might even look better in your swimsuit when it’s time to hit the beach.

Get everyone involved with earning and saving.

If you’re taking kids or teens on your jaunt, tell them their souvenir and shopping budget for the trip is their responsibility. They can mow the lawn, babysit, organize the garage – all the stuff they got paid for before, only now that cash goes into the vacation fund.

Don’t underestimate how much money you could earn by having a garage sale or putting outgrown toys and furniture up for sale online, either. You’ll just be freeing up more space for vacation memories.

Use the right credit card.

If you’re flying to your dream destination, consider a credit card with a rewards program that pays off in airline miles. Use the card to buy gas and grocerrosan-harmens-18418.jpgies, then pay it off every month while the miles rack up. Just make sure you can use those miles when you actually want to – and that the affiliated carriers go where you want to go.

Book in advance.

This vacation is happening, right? So book it. You’ll get better deals on airfare, hotels and tickets to big attractions like museums. Sometimes, getting early passes to theme parks lets you cruise past long lines like a VIP. And forgetting to pre-book tickets to some in-demand attractions means you just won’t get to go.

Your wedding can be beautiful on a smaller budget

Planning a wedding can be equal parts maddening and intoxicating. The possibilities are endless – and gorgeous, when you start looking at décor and dresses and flowers …

It’s easy to see how things can get out of hand. But it’s just not a good idea to go deep into debt for one weekend’s worth of celebration. After those initial conversations about who’s going to pay and how much, you can set a budget and start figuring out what’s truly important to you and what your guests will really remember.

Just a few areas where you might encounter sticker shock (and how to prevent it):

The venue: Can you believe that some places charge up to $30,000 to get married there? That’s a down payment on a house. Or a car. Or two cars.eric-alves-145943.jpg

There’s no rule that says you have to get married in a church and have your reception in an event hall. Think outside the box a little. Make a list of places that have significance for you as a couple.

People get hitched on the porches of family homes, in parks and at lakes, in underground caves, at wildlife refuges and theme parks, in museum sculpture gardens, on covered bridges, at railway depots and botanical gardens. Just make sure you get a permit to keep your nontraditional venue legal.

The dress: There is no law stating that brides have to gather an entourage, try on white dresses and twirl around until their credit cards are maxed out.

You don’t even have to go to a bridal salon if you don’t want to. Stores like White House, Black Market carry lovely formal pieces. Look for white dresses during prom season at department stores. Online retailer BHLDN is disrupting the market by offering couture design for around a grand.

You can also stalk trunk shows and end-of-season sample sales, and comb through sites like OnceWed.com to take advantage of other brides’ rejected or lightly used dresses. If you fall in love with a dress that fits you well in a bridal salon, see if you can buy the sample.

If you do order a dress, keep alterations to a minimum by buying the right silhouette for your body type and ordering your real size. Corset-backed dresses are great for keeping alteration costs down.

The flowers: If you come up with something else to put in the middle of your tables, you could save yourself thousands. Spend your flower money on the bride bouquet, and think of something creative for the rest of the wedding party to carry, like feathered fans, beaded purses or a beautifully wrapped book that is meaningful to you.

The photography: Wedding photographers earn their money, but you have other options. Photojournalists frequently make extra money on the weekends shooting weddings, as do college students in art and photo programs. Some couples book ceremony-only packages and let their guests crowdsource the reception photography with disposable cameras.

Music: Unless you’re really committed to the chicken dance, you can save money by not hiring a DJ. A playlist of your favorite tunes and a friend with a laptop will do just as well, without entrusting the personality of your reception to a stranger.

Wedding planners who share wisdom online point to sit-down dinners, programs and favors as the most overlooked and unappreciated extras that couples waste money on. Your guests will remember your vows and remember the personal touches you bring to make your reception a great gathering, whether it’s a more toned-down family affair or a raucous party with an open bar.

Once you sit down and figure out your priorities, you’ll determine where to best spend your money – even if it’s on the honeymoon.

 

Eight great ways parents pass along financial success

Tommy Jr. has his dad’s home run swing and your love of gardening. Lorelei got your love of baking, but also your less-than-ideal kitchen cleanup tendencies.

On their road to becoming full-fledged individuals, kids start off by taking parts of you. It shows in the things you pass down, whether you mean to or not. Hopefully, all your kids will get your savvy saving habits. Money: You can’t be an adult without it.

Families pass down financial habits, just like football Sundays and rib recipes. If you ask parents what they most wish to bequeath to their children, a responsible attitude about money is usually at the top of the list.

But all families are different, so those “inherent inheritances” take different forms. Some of the most common:

Aim for the 80/20 split.

Live on 80 percent of what you make and save the remaining 20 percent. A less specific form of this philosophy goes by the title “Spend Less Than You Earn.” As long as you follow this philosophy, major financial disasters can be avoided.

Credit card debt is poison.

Don’t put more on cards than you can pay off every month, or you’re letting Borgia-strength financial toxins into your life. Think of interest payments as flushing fistfuls of cash down the toilet. Until it clogs, and you have to pay the plumber with a credit card, too.

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Keep an ace in the hole.

The people hit hardest by recessions or job losses are those who were already living paycheck to paycheck. Those who keep six months’ worth of bill-paying emergency funds stashed away in a savings account sleep better at night, even if they never have to use it.

It’s not about stuff.

Life is about experiences, not the pursuit of material goods. If you’ve got good friends and a blanket in the sun, you’re richer than everyone standing in line for the latest gaming console or smartphone.

Except when it’s about stuff.

If there’s something you really want, it will be there tomorrow. Sleep on it. Sometimes, 24 hours of perspective takes the shine off impulse purchases. If you still want something after saving the money for it, go ahead. Just try not to assume debt for luxuries.

Have a plan for any and all stuff.

When it’s time to make a big purchase – or even a weekly grocery store trip – don’t put yourself in danger of making impulsive decisions. Research cars thoroughly before wandering through a lot filled with temptation. Try on leather jackets at several different stores. Above all, make lists.

Don’t pass up free money.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but employer matching funds to retirement savings come pretty close. As soon as you get a full-time job that allows you to contribute to a 401(k), put in enough to maximize your company’s matching funds. Even if it hurts. It’s like picking up $100 bills on the sidewalk that never belonged to anyone.

Productivity is its own reward.

Happy people attack their jobs with gusto. Even the superrich keep themselves busy with creative pursuits or charity work. The more you think of your job as a chance to be rewarded for true accomplishments, the more successful your career will be.

If these sound similar to adult-focused money-management tips you’ve heard, that’s no coincidence. After all, kiddos absorb most of their values through example. That’s why your admonitions about eating healthy ring hollow if you’re clumsily stashing Oreos all over the house.

Want to pass on good habits? Just make sure you’re following your own advice.

Digital Nomads. What you need to know.

Are you interested in becoming a digital nomad?

Digital nomads use modern technology to earn a living and conduct their lives in a nomadic lifestyle, whether from their homes or across the globe. Wireless internet, smartphones, VOIP and cloud-based applications are allowing more and more people to work remotely, untethered to a workplace.

While the lifestyle is growing in popularity, it is not without challenges. Here are some tips to help you decide if it’s for you and some skills to help you make a successful transition.

There are no off days

The good news is that you’re essentially the boss of your own company – You Inc. The bad news is that your company never really closes. The work hours will greatly depend upon what time zone you’re doing business with, so be prepared for early mornings and late nights. But that also means you can leave days open for other things, like visiting a new city.

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Learn to juggle

Most likely, you won’t be working with only one source of income, or client. So you will have to learn to juggle competing projects, each with its own rules, guidelines and topics. Some days you will love the variety and other days will tax you to no end.

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Procrastination is a constant temptation

It’s not like there aren’t already enough things that tempt you to waste time.

However, when you are your own boss, nobody will be there to tell you to get to work, so you need to have plenty of self-discipline. Find the work rhythm that works for you and stick to it.

Work on skills that you can leverage

You’ll need to work on the skills you can leverage to build the life you want; you can’t simply declare yourself a digital nomad and expect everything to fall into place. So sit down and figure out the skills you have. Then, sharpen those skills and find the people who are looking for what you have to offer.

Most importantly, network, network, network. There are many communities built around the digital nomad lifestyle with plenty of great advice for building a successful career away from a traditional daily workplace. Meet other digital nomads and take advantage of their experience.

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Seize 2017

Money shouldn’t hold you back from real change in 2017

New Year’s resolutions are a time-honored tradition. As in, the ancient Babylonians were setting self-improvement goals 4,000 years ago. And just like us, they were soon breaking them. If you’ve made promises to yourself about some major lifestyle changes in 2017, chances are good you’ll start to see some slippage sooner rather than later.

This year, I will…

Lose weight.

Stop smoking.

Get in shape.

Save money.

Sound familiar?

Bumming a smoke – or just a Coke – from a co-worker. Those leftover Christmas cookies. Ordering a little more than your holiday gift card could cover. It happens.

The reason New Year’s resolutions usually fail is twofold: They’re overly ambitious, and they don’t come with tangible plans attached.

You can, of course, sign up for a weight loss program or gym membership – those places are swarming with motivated newbies this time of year. And that kind of support and commitment is one way to tip the odds in your favor. But you’ll do even better by stepping back and taking a breath before you make any promises to yourself.

Say you want to get in shape. Well, what does that even look like? If you’ve been lounging for years, you won’t be running marathons this June. Just not going to happen. You’re more likely to overextend, burn out and even hurt yourself if you go all-in with twice-daily workouts. Then, disappointed with yourself, you’re back on the couch.

So start small. Make a list of things you can realistically do. Then incorporate them into your life one at a time. Take the stairs at work for a month before you join that yoga class. Keep up the yoga for a month, then start meeting friends for walks.

The “transform by baby steps” principle isn’t new, but people who’ve made real change happen in their lives swear by it. If your goals are tied to money, the psychology becomes a little more complicated. It probably involves you telling yourself things like this:

“I don’t have enough money to do that.”

“More money would solve most of my problems.”

“Making less money would be irresponsible and selfish.”

“I have a secure career path and I’m sticking with it.”

When you take the time to really dream about that thing you’ve always wanted to do, you probably hear some of those self-defeating justifications. That’s because most people make terrible life coaches for themselves. Money is an easy thing to hang your insecurities on when the thing you’re really afraid of is taking a shot at your ultimate goal and failing.

Adam Savage of “MythBusters” fame is fond of saying, “Failure is always an option.” That’s because truly successful people have a string of failures in their pasts. Nothing worth doing is achieved without risk. Not opening your own bakery, writing that screenplay or traveling around the world. If you’re not chasing your dream, don’t blame it on money.

The Great Recession ripped the mask off money myths for millions. Here are some things the latest financial crash reminded us of:

You don’t need a lot of money to start a business.

Money in the bank doesn’t make you happier.

You can live on much less money than you do now.

No job is secure.

You’ll have more than one career before retirement – if retirement is even the ultimate goal.

Scary? Yes. But freeing, too. Yes, you might have family responsibilities – but those don’t have to include PlayStations and cable. Your true legacy could be one of ambition and excitement for those around you.

A new year doesn’t mean you should quit your job and buy a food truck if you can’t make a bologna sandwich. But 2017 can be the year you finally restore that muscle car in your dad’s shed, the year you actually enroll in a small business class, the year you get on a plane with nothing but a backpack and a map.

It’s easy to forget that money is just a tool to help us shape our lives according to our dreams. We’re not supposed to shape our dreams around accumulating more of it. Money isn’t the goal. A great life is.

7 Things 20-somethings Should Know

Jobs you don’t leave at the end of summer. Real bills to pay. Planning for life beyond next weekend. If you’re an average 20-something, life’s probably getting serious. And if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, you may be right. Or you might just need some time to figure it out. Here are few pointers.

Everybody Is Confused

No one has it all figured out and people who tell you they do, don’t. This shouldn’t concern you. After a mistake, and you will make many, keep moving forward. You can’t make all the right decisions but you can make your next decision the right one.

Just Say Yes

Don’t turn down opportunities to gain experience. You may think you know where your career’s going, but you’re probably wrong. Saying “no” to a task or responsibility you don’t think will be useful is missing the point. Saying no is saying no to the opportunity. Saying yes expands your skills and simply helps you be a better you (which always pays off).

Failure Is Part of Success

You will not be a complete success at everything you try. But if you keep trying you will succeed more and more often.

Unless You Master Money, Money Will Master You

Spend less than you make. Always. Don’t become house- or car-poor. Put something toward retirement now, no matter how small. Learn about investing before you try it on your own. Avoid easy credit card pitfalls and loans that can lead to issues that take decades to fix. Learn how to make your money work for you. (MCU members have access to our Dollar Dashboard with scores of helpful budgeting and planning tools.)

You Will Have to Work With People You Don’t Respect

You’ll interact with a wide range of personalities and some you won’t like very much. In short, however, bite your tongue and get the job done. You don’t have to be friends but you do need that paycheck as well as the valuable experience of dealing with difficult personalities.

Find a Balance Between Work and Life

You’ve probably already heard the advice to be the first to arrive and the last to leave at work, and it is crucial that you demonstrate hard work and commitment to your job. But it is also important that you don’t overdo it. Leave time to be you outside of work and you’ll be a better, happier and smarter employee.

More Books, Fewer Texts

Reading skills are still important, especially when it is done in bursts beyond 140 characters. Reading books cover to cover will increase your creativity as well as your thinking and analytical skills. You’ll tell better stories too.

One final piece of advice: Enjoy the ride and good luck.

 

7 Simple Ways to Make Your First Million

IMG_3684 (Because once you make your first million you’re bound to rejoice under a waterfall with a rainbow, right?)

If a million dollars’ worth of investments sounds unattainable, you haven’t done your research. A seven-figure portfolio is absolutely doable if you start saving early, make sane lifestyle choices and avoid some common psychological traps.

Don’t limit your thinking to making a mere million over your lifetime. Aim for $10 million. Your only way to get there is to educate yourself about investing from reliable, been-there sources. After that, make a plan and stick to it.

Start with a millionaire mindset.

Building wealth begins in the brain. There are some beliefs and behaviors that you simply must avoid – taking on consumer debt, keeping up with the Joneses, trying to take shortcuts or falling for get-rich-quick schemes. True wealth takes time and hard work.

Adopt a spendthrift lifestyle.

When millionaires are studied, they surprise researchers. They’re not living in upscale neighborhoods and driving fancy cars. They treat their income like a business: spending the least possible and investing the rest. It’s not unheard of for future millionaires to invest half of their household income.

Make money from your hobby.

If there’s something you could do all day, every day, do it. The trick is finding a way to make your passion into a profitable enterprise. You can expect to fail along the way, but getting back up to try again is what separates millionaires from middle managers. Don’t be afraid to spend hours and weekends on your “side business” – it might be your bread and butter someday.

Start saving right now.

It’s all about doing the math. Most millionaires invested in the stock market for a long time, reinvesting dividends and letting compound interest do all the work.

Find an online calculator and figure out how much you’ll need to invest each month to be a millionaire by the time you’re 60, assuming you’re earning an average 7 percent return. You might be surprised.

Keep cool and play the long game.

Impatience is the enemy of wealth. It makes people buy and sell too often, and it makes them abandon promising businesses that don’t explode into success overnight.

It takes a while for investments to start ballooning into real money, and even then, you’re going to want to leave them alone. If it were easy to run your own business, everyone would do it. So take a deep breath and realize you’ve got a long way to go.

Always be hustling for more income.

If you’re not a natural entrepreneur, consider investing in real estate. A rental property that will bring in more money than you pay to maintain it is a great investment. Do some research to figure out the up-and-coming neighborhoods in your area. The quicker you own your rental property outright, the quicker you’ll be looking at steeper profits.

Your 401(k) is your tax-free friend.

You might as well take advantage of the federal government’s wealth-building program: the 401(k) account. First, put in the maximum amount allowed by law ($18,000 a year as of 2016). Leave it in there, earning compound interest, and if your mutual funds return a 7 percent profit while you’re socking away that $18,000 a year, you’ll be a millionaire in 23 years. If you can’t afford to put away $18K a year, put away as much as possible.

What does FOMO mean for your future?

IMG_3437The thought of being trapped in your office cube while your friends go to their third happy hour of the week drives you insane.

After drooling over your sister’s tower of artisanal French toast on Instagram, you can’t even deal with your boring bowl of cereal.

Your squad rolling up to that concert without you gives you heart palpitations.

That anxious feeling of not doing enough, not experiencing enough, is called FOMO: fear of missing out.

This 21st-century social anxiety is fittingly fueled by social media, where everyone else’s carefully edited lives seem to put your own to shame. One friend is in Greece, another is already a vice president at work, and that power couple is making cake pops for the soccer tournament.

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FOMO becomes a real problem if it makes you reach for your wallet instead of putting down your phone. Its hold on investors leads to bubbles and then to crashes, like the dot-com collapse in 2000. It can even hurt your career if you’re constantly unsatisfied with your position, leading you to devalue your own work until you can find “something better.”

So what do you do about it?

  • Have something to look forward to. FOMO won’t strike as hard if you’re not staring down an empty calendar. So plan some volleyball games or commit to seeing the new superhero movie with friends. It’s cheaper than buying plane tickets.
  • Don’t leave money languishing in accessible accounts. If your checking account has more than a few months’ expenses in it, start saving more aggressively for emergencies and retirement. The less likely you are to spend now, the more you can enjoy later in life.
  • Don’t let yourself be bored. Pursue that hobby you’ve always put off. Use that gym membership. Keeping busy keeps envy at bay.
  • Give social media a break. Your Instagram account doesn’t define you, so realize that it’s not a complete picture of anyone else’s life, either.
  • Let it go. You’re never going to experience everything, win every award, get every promotion. Just remember: You don’t have to impress anyone but yourself. Besides, everyone you know is probably jealous of your lifestyle already. They have FOMO, too.

Wild About Saving

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Let your kids get wild this month. (About saving, that is.)

April is Youth Month, when credit unions look for ways to help kids learn about the value of a dollar. There are many ways to do this, but if you need some fresh ideas keep reading.

Give them examples they understand.

Our furry friends in nature are always busy setting some great examples for ways to get wild about saving. Squirrels for instance – the bushy-tailed savers spend months stockpiling mushrooms, acorns and tree cones for the winter. Deer mice construct intricate tunnel systems under the snow to hide their supplies of seeds. Beavers take the time, even during dam-building season, to gnaw down saplings of aspen and cottonwood for safekeeping in their ponds. If wild animals can do it, so can your little critters!

Make money part of the daily conversation.

When your little one asks for the toy of the moment, throws out food, or even plays with mommy’s purse, bring up the idea of finances in a non-threatening way. When children ask why you have to go to work every day, have an answer ready: “I would rather spend all day with you and Timmy, but going to work means we have money for this house, your dinner and all your toys.” Talk about money in ways that stresses its value as something to be earned, valued and conserved.

Incorporate games and books.

Monopoly is the classic board go-to for teaching kids about saving and investing, but it’s not the only game in town. Cashflow for Kids, The Game of Life and The Allowance Game are just three options among many that build money consciousness among children as young as 5, emphasizing responsibility and planning for real-life events.

Take them shopping.

Turn your weekly grocery trip into an educational experience. Start by having your kids make a list, broken down into “needs” and “wants” for the family. Put them in charge of coupons. At the store, challenge them to comparison-shop for prices among name brands and generic labels. Reward them by choosing between the “wants” on the list, so they’ll learn that spending less per item means better snacks down the road.

Set up an allowance system.

Some families keep allowances simple, with a set amount per week, while others create complex systems where kids can earn more by doing chores. The key is to be consistent about the rules while offering guidance. Smaller kids might need permission to break into their piggy banks, while middle-schoolers can be allowed more independence. Once they’re teens, make them responsible for budgeting their own gas, movie tickets and fashion statements.

Encourage them to set goals.

Kids are bombarded with images of stuff they suddenly really, really want. Talk to them about how long it will take them to save up for that blinking gadget or those talking boots, and they might reconsider. Or they could surprise you by faithfully socking away enough for their dream toy. Both possibilities are valuable learning experiences.

Let them make mistakes.

Don’t feel the need to step in every time your youngster blows his allowance on candy. It’s easier to learn hard lessons about money in kindergarten than college, where credit cards and emergency loans get financially inexperienced students in hot water.