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7 money tips to help stressed-out moms cope

By Cathleen McCarthy

When her husband lost his job in June, stay-at-home mom Aneela Marij was alarmed but ready. Having saved for years, she's been able to keep up with household bills while her husband looks for work. By signing up for reward giveaways on sites like MyPoints and SwagBucks, she even managed to buy her 6-year-old son a birthday gift without dipping into the emergency stash.

Marij has plenty of company. According to a September 2012 survey by CafeMom and Chase Blueprint, seven out of 10 moms feel overwhelmed by financial burdens. Those who feel comfortable with their finances are the ones who budget carefully, not those who earn the most. Moms who identify themselves as savers, like Marij, felt the most secure, despite having the lowest income levels. A few tips from the budget-savvy:

7 money tips for stressed-out moms

Tip 1: Live within your means.
"No matter how much you earn, you have to be wise with your money, especially with the economy the way it is," says Marij, who started a group on CafeMom for coupon swapping. "You don't need to have the iPhone 5 just because your neighbor has it."

Right now, Marij shares a credit card with her husband, but she may be able to qualify for one on her own, thanks to an October 2012 ruling by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau favoring stay-at-home parents. While she's stressed right now, Marij says it won't take a big-money job to feel secure again. In fact, the study found more savers like Marij among low-income families than high-income ones. "Financial security is not about income, it's about control," says Rachana Bhatt, marketing director of the Chase credit card division. "Having a plan in place gives you a sense of control and confidence."

Tip 2: Find a bookkeeping system that works for you.
Marij records what goes in and comes out in a notebook but does her banking online, as do 87 percent of the moms surveyed. Mothers are the biggest users of online banking, Bhatt says, which is why Chase had moms in mind when they designed Blueprint, a set of free tools available to Sapphire, Freedom, Slate and Ink cardholders. Track It allows you to track your spending in certain categories, then access graphs online that show how you're doing. "Entertainment, for example, is one of those discretionary spending categories you want to keep your eye on," Bhatt says.

Full Pay, another Blueprint tool, can actually save money by allowing you to pay in full when you purchase everyday items. "It separates out the items that are everyday spending like gas and groceries and allows you to avoid interest on those transactions," Bhatt says.

Tip 3: Consider mobile banking.
"We are entering a digital age," Bhatt says. "Moms are on the go with their kids, whether they're dropping them off or picking them up, and they need to be able to access their finances digitally, especially by mobile device."

Almost half of mothers surveyed (43 percent) use mobile devices for day-to-day banking. Ann Lundberg predicts three-quarters will be using mobile banking in a year. "In another study, we found most moms would rather rescue their smartphones in a fire than their wedding rings," says Lundberg, vice president of sales for CafeMom, an online community for mothers. "It's like moms can't live their lives without a smartphone any more."

Tip 4: Stay on top of your credit.
One in five moms don't know what they're paying in credit card interest, and nearly half haven't checked their credit scores in the past year. Lundberg suspects many women would find they're taking on too many credit cards. "They think they're doing themselves a favor signing up for another just to get 20 percent off a $300 purchase," she says. "Pretty soon they have 20 store credit cards and they're messing up their score."

You can't effectively save for your children's future and your own retirement and carry $3,000 in credit card debt at the same time.

-- Ann Lundberg
CafeMom vice president, sales

Not surprisingly, moms who identify as "savers" carry less debt than "spenders," who have $1,342 more credit card debt on average and are 2.6 times more likely to be carrying $35,000 or more. While half the savers have none, they reported nearly $3,000 of credit card debt on average.

This indicates savers may not be saving as much as they think. "You can't effectively save for your children's future and your own retirement and carry $3,000 in credit card debt at the same time," Lundberg says. "One day, you're going to wake up and realize the income isn't coming in any more and you aren't prepared for your family's future."

Tip 5: Get your partner on board.
More than half of the moms surveyed (59 percent) say they disagree with their spouses on how to manage household finances. "The numbers suggest that not agreeing is one of the biggest barriers to financial security," Lundberg says. "If you disagree with your partner, how can you control your own plan?"

Yet women appear to be in the driver's seat here, with 84 percent actively managing the family finances. "Moms really do control the pocketbook," she says. "So they have to take the lead on establishing and implementing the budget, and start a conversation."

Tip 6: Teach your kids to respect money.
Everyone agrees children should be taught about money, but our kids have a tendency to pick up on behavior more than talk. So put your money where your mouth is. Most moms who identify as savers say their parents were savers too and taught them to manage their money. They're doing the same for their kids.

Jody Mace, who blogs at Living on the Cheap, says her kids have had savings accounts since they were babies. When they reached their tween years, she set them up with prepaid debit cards in their names, funding them online from her checking account. "When they earned money or got gifts, they had the option to put it into their savings accounts or onto the prepaid debit card," she says. "They could use the card at ATMs, in stores or for online purchases." None of the cards ever incurred fees. Now that Mace's children are approaching college age, they have a solid handle on managing their finances.

Tip 7: Talk money with other moms.
One of the best ways to get a handle on household budgeting is to talk about it with other moms -- especially those who've figured it out. "The trick is to make a plan, then talk to your friends about the plan and share your ideas," Lundberg says. Money is a popular topic on the CafeMom forums.

Marij believes the most important step toward financial security is tracking what comes in and what goes out. "Whether you make $200 or $8,000 a week," she says, "you need to know where your money's going."

See related: Poll: Mom matters most in shaping our financial habits, 7 lasting money lessons from mom, Can a new mom afford to stay at home?

Published: November 15, 2012


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