The last few weeks I have gotten a number of emails from readers which is nothing short of thrilling. A couple were requests to write about the child tax credit but a lot of personal anecdotes and resolutions were emailed after the "no-spend month" and "PPOW" columns. This column is very much a showing of gratitude for the people who take the time to email me and to give such a wonderful service to other readers to crowd source some really fantastic ideas and inspiration.
First, let's get the child tax credit question out of the way. My response? I don't know. Stop stressing me out with this question, people.
I knew I had to start thinking about this question in May, but epic procrastination meant that in July my son called me excitedly: "Mom, President Biden sent you $500." Too late. That check was in my house. It had breached the protective fortress that is my home where we try to check all financial chaos at the door. The checks have me concerned for two reasons. First, are they really mine to spend? Second, what if they end, and I have gotten used to that money?
For some people this is free and clear extra money, an advance of an increased child tax credit previously calculated at tax time. For some the advance could mean less of a refund at tax time and for others it might even mean they will owe money when they file taxes.
Here is my plan. I am going to keep the checks coming and march them straight into a savings account where they will safely accumulate each month. At tax time next year, I will learn my fate from our CPA, and if I owe anything, the money is sitting safely in the savings account. If I don't owe, I will dutifully send that money to our kids' 529 plans, protecting me from lifestyle inflation. Both problems solved.
• No-spend challenge column. Let's move on to another topic that also stresses me out, and that is the rapidly approaching "no-spend" month challenge starting on August 16. I appreciate so many people writing to me and reassuring me that it will all be OK. I don't know any of you and don't know if I can trust you at all. But by September 15 I will know if you can be trusted -- and I now have your emails. Just saying. I also appreciate the roughly 50 people who emailed or direct messaged me to join the no-spend challenge. It's great to know I will not be alone in this effort.
Here are some great ideas and thoughts from readers about the no-spend challenge and column.
How about a no-spend month as a family bonding experience? Well, one reader's family -- think expansively -- hubby, kids, in-laws, and by extension grandkids, is all in -- together! She read the column and asked if anyone wanted to join and to her surprise, many raised their hands. The family plans to set up a group page where they will be sharing tips and hacks to get ready for August 16. The value of their collective knowledge plus the enthusiasm of this group will absolutely make this a successful and maybe, bonding experience.
They set one simple rule: 'Your household, your rules, your finances. We don't need to know your specifics. Your rules might be different than ours. You might want to keep one date night out; we might want to keep a streaming service. We don't need to know each other's budgets. Our sharing might include things like, "We checked our auto drafts and found we had one we hadn't noticed that we don't use any more -- canceled it and saved $6.99." Or "I found a generic brand of this food item that's just as good as the name brand I've been using."'
I was inspired and have reached out to my own relatives to join in (thanks Mom!). We are going to take her lead.
One reader had the opportunity to buy years into a government retirement plan. If she paid at once she could avoid interest. They were able to hit the goal of a lump sum payment by going on a spending diet for 2 months. They saved several thousand dollars. Most importantly, and this is the quote that I am not sure I trust: "It was painless." I would imagine there would be different levels of financial pain tolerance just like physical pain tolerance, but I will certainly report back on my experience from the no-spend month.
She went on to suggest that readers check out the free weekly Dollar Stretcher newsletter. I subscribed and immediately got some great ideas for my no-spend month, particularly on ways to "dine in" with my husband in our own home after the kids go to bed -- think candles, nice music, and even a tablecloth.
Next, a reader stumbled onto Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. It's difficult to characterize this (not ordained) minister dressed very much like one, preaching in front of mega box stores with a sizeable choir singing behind him. He wants people to stop shopping and get to know their neighbors. Reverend Billy, you are quite unique, and I'll bite (for a month.)
• PPOW column: Let's move to financial organization. Several readers had many of the suggestions already in place, but they took away important tips that they are convinced would have blindsided their spouse if they had passed. But also, what about the kids?
One reader said this, "While we have yet to detail our financial situation to our kids, we do, on an annual basis, supply them an updated addendum to our annual financial statement. That addendum gives the location on our PC of the most recent financial statement as well as the password protected file that contains all our passwords, usernames, etc. and, of course, the password to that file. Also contained on the addendum are our banks with personal contacts and phone numbers; our stock brokers with phone numbers; life insurance policies with contacts and policy numbers; combination to our safe; funeral home with contact; accountant; home owners and car insurance agent; social security numbers; cell phone unlock code; garage door open code -- and more."
Another recommended a notebook called Wrap It Up: An Essential Guide to Taking Back Control of Your Personal and Financial Affairs.
Finally, many others shared that their main action item was around passwords. Millennial and GenZ generations completely get the importance of password management, but my generation and older remember a pretty solid period of our lives where there was no such thing as a computer, much less web access to important accounts. More and more of our lives will be digitized. Case in point -- when is the last time a Social Security statement arrived in your mailbox? I was glad to read emails from people vowing to get their passwords in one place, whether it was a digital password keeper like I use (LastPass) or a physical sheet of paper with them all written down and easily accessed.
Please keep the emails coming. I love them and appreciate you all.
Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is founder, partner and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also author of the book "But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life," published by Et Alia Press. Contact her at email@example.com.