Thursday, December 6, 2012

Best cash back credit card for famlies

Ever wonder if you're really getting the most value out of your credit card? I've been using a Starwood Preferred American Express Card for nearly all of my purchases and because my family travels quite a bit, it still seems like its among the best value cards out there.  But I've recently heard of some credit cards that may provide more cash back or other reward bonuses so I thought I'd take a look.  

Here is a very helpful post from nerdwallet.com that lists the top cash back cards of 2012.

The quick summary:
1.  Best all around cash back card: Chase Freedom Visa with 5% cash back on bonus categories and unlimited 1% cash back on all other
2.  Best cash back card for international travelers: Capital One Cash Rewards with 1.5% cash back and no foreign transaction fees   
3.  Best cash back card for families: Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express with 6% cash back on groceries, 3% on gas, and 1% everywhere else 


Friday, November 30, 2012

Need quick advice on purchases, travel plans or general parenting? Check out Yabbly.com.

I recently discovered a new company called Yabbly which is designed to help people make better decisions.

The idea is simple: Give people a forum to post questions about decisions they are considering (e.g. upcoming purchase, travel, parenting, career) and then set up a Karma system so that when you help someone out, Yabbly can make sure that those you've helped in the past can return the favor.

Here is a snapshot of some of the types of questions posted on Yabbly right now:

  • I have 2 boys, 6 and 9. They want tablets for Christmas. I am leaning toward the Kindle Fire instead of the iPad Mini ($$$!). Thoughts?
  • Best point and shoot for $500 or less? my wife would like a better point and shoot camera because our daughter's 1 year birthday is coming up and she wants to start capturing these moments with higher quality photos than our iphone 5s' allow. she is thinking about a dslr, and definitely would like to keep the budget around $500 or less. 
  • I'm looking for a dual jogging stroller that can carry an infant and a toddler.

Check it out at http://yabbly.com/welcome and request an invite.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sleep training advice... should I do it? Or am I being cruel?

 My wife and I agree, sleep training was one of the best decisions we made during the first year of our babies lives.  Don't get me wrong... it was also one of the hardest experiences we went through as new parents.  But in the end, we are firm believers and recommend it to anyone who is considering it.   

So what is sleep training?
I think babycenter.com captures it well in this article.  

The idea is that if your child gets used to having you rock him to sleep, or he always falls asleep while nursing, he won't learn to fall asleep on his own. When he wakes up during the night — as all children and adults do as part of the natural sleep cycle — he'll become alarmed and cry for you instead of being able to go back to sleep. By contrast, if your baby learns to soothe himself to sleep at bedtime, he can use the same skill when he wakes up at night or during a nap.

So essentially, sleep training gives your child the necessary self-soothing skills so that she can learn to sleep well independently. 

Isn't sleep training cruel?
There is no doubt about it.  Sitting by and letting your child cry while every ounce of your body wants to run over and pick her up to soothe her is by far, the most difficult part of sleep training.  And yes, it is gut wrenching while it's happening.  The first time my wife and

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Saving for your kid's college education via 529 plans

The rising cost of college tuition is staggering. In 2010, the average cost of tuition plus expenses at a private university was $40K! And last year alone, tuition at private universities increased an average of ~4.5%. If you start doing the math on how much little Junior's college expenses will be in about 15 years, its enough to make your head spin!

If you're planning to send your child(ren) to college and don't want Junior(s) to be riddled with debt upon graduation, you better start saving up now. And if you haven't already, you should look into opening a 529 plan for each of your children.  As it's pretty foolish not to take advantage of a 401K plan to save for retirement, I'd argue that its just as foolish to not take advantage of 529 plans for your kids.  For those of you who don't know what a 529 plan is, I hope this post saves you a bit of time and money, and encourages you to open up an account.

What is a 529 plan?
A 529 Plan is designed to help you set aside money for your child's future college expenses.  529 plans generally come in two flavors:
    • Pre-paid tuition plans: lock in tuition prices at eligible public and private colleges and universities; they're generally designed to be used for schools in the state offering the plan (although they may be transferrable to other states).  Assuming that tuition continues to increase at the breakneck pace that it has over the past few years, its not a bad option if you know where your child is likely to go to school (which is pretty unlikely).  Also, this is by far the more conservative approach.   
    • College savings plans: allow you to set up an account for a student and choose among several investment options such as mutual funds or money markets.  You defer taxes on the earnings (which means you have more dollars working for you every year) and when the child is ready to enroll in college, the distributions are tax free!  Note, there are pretty heavy penalties for withdrawing funds from these accounts for any purpose besides education.  Consider the college savings plan the more flexible and aggressive approach since you can choose the types of funds in which to invest and your upside is not capped.  Given the time horizon that you have before Junior goes to college, I believe the savings plan makes the most sense; you're likely to get more for your money.
Since I decided to invest in a 529 savings plan for each of my kids, the rest of the post will

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Must-have iPhone apps for parents

I remember before I had my own child, I would see at restaurants parents who had their kid(s) strapped to a DVD player or Gameboy as they finished their dinner.  And I'll admit, in my mind, I used to judge the hell out of these parents.  "You call that a family dinner?  How lazy!"  Now that I have my own two daughters, I think back on these parents and think, "Wow, you guys are geniuses!  No wonder you were able to actually put food in your mouth and digest it properly!"

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of using our TV, DVD player, or iPhone as a babysitter.  But I am a proponent of doing whatever you need to do to get through the day without going crazy with your kids.  So yes, we have a DVD player in our swankin new minivan but we usually only use it on long road trips.  And sure, I will admit I had no idea what my 2 year old daughter was saying to me when she kept saying to me, "Ayudame" (thanks for nothing DORA!).  But we do try to use our electronics in moderation.  

Our iPhones have been great devices to pull out when everything else has failed.  In other words, the kids aren't eating, they've starting to roam around the restaurant as waitresses walk by with bowls of steaming hot soups, and our entrees haven't even arrived yet!  

Here is a short list of "must have" iPhone apps for the parent and child:

Parents:
  • Facebook (free): best app for killing time while you're waiting in the car until your kid wakes up from her nap
  • Wallpaper Labeler: not necessarily just for parents but a must have for anyone with an iPhone.  Rip off that P-Touch label from the back of our iPhone!  This app simply enables you to list your name and alternative phone number on your wall paper so that if you lose your phone, the person who found it knows how to return it.  
  • iBook (free): if you commute, this is a great way to catch up on some reading.  There's a library of free books available and you can always buy others.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Best Bike Seat for Your Child (1-4 Years Old)

Every once in a while, you find the perfect toy that your kid loves. And by love, I mean your kid plays with it for more than a few weeks without getting bored. These toys are hard to find, but when you come across one, its only fair to share these nuggets of wisdom with your fellow parents.  After all, a great toy is a bit like free baby sitting... in 10 minute chunks of time.

I've created a whole section of this blog called the Shopping List which includes items that my two daughters absolutely love. As I add notable products to this list, I'll post a blog entry with a bit of commentary about why I believe this product caters to that mysterious part of the toddler's brain that governs his/her happiness receptors.

The first product is the iBert front mounted child bike seat.  I purchased this after researching dozens of bike seats to use with my 1 year old daughter.  The iBert is a one-of-a-kind product.  Unlike most otherbike seats you'll find on the market, this once connects directly to the stem of your bike so that your child rides in the front, rather than riding behind you.  As you can image, the scenery up front is much better than that of the rear (which is essentially your back).  Perched high on the bike at handle-bar height, your child is basically at the same level as you, which makes it very easy to have conversations during

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tips for saving a ton of money when buying a new car

So my last blog entry was about how to decide between keeping your sedan, buying an SUV, or buying a minivan for your growing family.  Having just bought our new minivan about a month ago, I thought I'd share some thoughts on how to save a ton of money when buying a new car.

1.  Generally, the best time to buy a new car is just a few months before new new model year comes out (assuming you're okay with not buying the new model).  In most cases, this will probably be in July.  For example, the Honda 2011 Odysseys are being released this year on September 30, 2010.  Based on my research, the best selection and prices available for the 2010 were in late June to mid July.  I estimate you'll save as much as $4K-$6K by buying the current year's model during this time.  The inventory levels at the dealerships are still pretty flush so you'll have a wide range of colors and trim packages to choose from.  But the dealerships are also winding down their inventory to make room for the new model vehicles so you'll start seeing pretty aggressive promotions and financing options.  If you wait until August or September, you'll still find pretty good deals.  However, the selection is drastically limited.  Which means you have less leverage when negotiating.
2.  Do all of your price comparisons over the phone and email.  Spend time up front test driving and determining exactly the make, model, color and trim you want.  Once you have that nailed,