Category Archives: Education

Museum Day Live

5548687378_7e09ace8e4_zPsst!  I want to let you in on a big secret.

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 26 is the annual Smithsonian Museum Day Live! event nationwide.  This event permits you and one other person to visit participating venues and museums (with a ticket) for free.

I share this with you because it’s a great event that doesn’t seem to get as much publicity as it should.  There are several museums in the Kansas City area, and many more in the Denver (and surrounding) area.  What better way to be a good steward of the gifts we have been given?  You can spend time with loved ones, learn about art/history/regional information and save a few bucks!

Last year, our family took part in this event at an area children’s museum that opted to participate, and we loved it so much that we asked for an annual membership for Christmas; we got it, and that membership has gotten a great deal of use this year.

Make sure to clear your calendars for this fun, free and educational event!

Photo by Phil Roeder

Reading and Stewardship

8596143348_b40cf0f5d2_mWe are big proponents of reading, here at Striving Stewardess.  Once a month, we do book reviews and both Ronnica and I are voracious readers.

While both of us embrace a variety of genres in our reading pursuits, one of the themes I have noticed take shape as we have grown in our stewardship quests is the type of literature we tackle.

In case you missed it:  we are very into how-to and/or informative texts about topics such as minimalism, environmentalism, building community, and financial health, to name just a few–all crucial components of stewardship.

I can’t speak for Ronnica, but I have a theory as to why this is my experience.  Of course we are drawn to read what interests us, but as has been noted before,  I am increasingly fond of reading such stewardship-directed literature because of the “pep talk” it provides.

There are only so many ways to practice the fine art of composting, or healthy eating, or trimming one’s budget.  But actually reading about those principles put into action?  It’s inspiring to me.  It proves to me that not only can the minimalist lifestyle be done, but that countless others share the same values–a sort of support group, if you will.

While I would love it if our readers found our blog inspiring, I will settle for helping build a small community of striving stewards and stewardesses.  Reading helps give me the knowledge and inspiration to keep striving–if stewardship or simple living interests you in any way, pick up a book.

On that note, we’re always on the look-out for new reads–do you have any suggestions?

Photo by Kirrus

Saving for College

7067727893_b68dce54fc_mLast month, Ronnica talked about how she paid off the last of her student loan debt–five figures in a a mere eight months.  *thunderous applause*

It got me to thinking about the many ways one can fund their (or their children’s) education and which way is the “best”.  Here are a few I’ve come up with:

1.  Student pays it all.

2.  Parents pay it all.

3.  Some sort of combination between parents and student.

4.  Loans

5.  College savings plan (Coverdell, 529, etc.)

Of course, there is the combination of the above, and the “other”, which, in addition to scholarships, is how I funded a good portion of my education (my mother died when I was young, and her life insurance was her final gift to my brother and I).  And there are those who opt to join the work force or military (which pays for education) in lieu of going straight to college.

Realizing that my young kiddos will be leaving the nest sooner than I care to admit, this idea of “how to pay for college” is something I’ve been struggling with lately; I can see merit to many of the options available.  Having a student fund all or part of their education commands the student take ownership of their degree.  It may also inspire them to make different choices (like in-state versus out-of-state).

But you don’t have to look far to see stories regarding the mountains of debt the average student accrues today.  At the same time, the economy seems slow to recover from the Great Recession, so many parents can’t fund a savings account (529, Coverdell, or otherwise) for their children’s education even if they wanted to.

So what’s a parent and good steward do?

Good question. It’s something I’m still trying to figure out for myself.  I certainly don’t know what’s best for every family.  Circumstances (and priorities) are different within each.

For our family, we nickel-and-dimed a start to a Coverdell Education Savings Account (aka Education IRA) for the kids.  I say “nickel-and-dimed” because that’s literally what we did (incidentally, this is a tactic that Ronnica hits on in her debt-free post):  We funneled extra change into the kids’ piggy banks until there was a decent enough amount to start funds for them, and we add to them automatically each month.  Unless something changes in our circumstances, however, our kiddos will likely have some sort of combination of the payment options above.

What have you done in your family?

Photo by TaxCredits.net

How it Works: Fair Trade

“Fair trade” seems to be all the rage lately, but if you are like me, that doesn’t necessarily mean a full understanding of the term.

I first became acquainted with fair trade through our church, which sold a few fair trade items once a month when we first joined.  Since this was B.C. (Before Children), I didn’t see a need for coffee.  Plus, the goods seemed grossly overpriced, so I didn’t pay much attention and certainly never bothered to buy anything.

As seems to be my trend, fast forward a few years and not only do I have a huge appreciation for the dark caffeinated beverage (splash of milk and dash of coconut oil in mine, please!), but I also have become more interested in the idea of fair trade.

So I decided to do a little research.

According to the simple definition found at Lutheran World Relief, “fair trade” is just “a trading partnership that seeks greater equity in international trade.”

Seems “fair”-ly simple (sorry, couldn’t resist!).  Help farmers earn a living wage, help strengthen communities (fair trade policies ensure that labor laws are more closely adhered to, and provide an opportunity for farmers to invest in their communities), and help the environment (through sustainable practices encouraged by fair trade), all while I get my daily dose of caffeine?

Yes please.

And did you know that the term fair trade applies to more than just coffee?  It can apply to everything from chocolate to tea, and–get this!–eco-palms for Palm Sunday services.  Impressive!

I love my coffee, but I also love to put my values in action, and fair trade is a good way to do that.  It may be more expensive, but considering all that it benefits, it seems like a relatively simple way to do my part.

Community Resources for Young Families

10477069_10102174195861029_5966045097752372786_nAs has been alluded to in past posts, our son, “Peanut”, has a few issues that require special attention.  He is not alone in this:  his sister, “Bean”, also needed a little extra help catching up with her peers.  And, if statistics are anywhere near correct, one in six kids have at least one developmental disability.

Although Bean is now progressing at an above-average rate (early interventions really do work!), Peanut has a little bit of a longer road ahead.  Fortunately, we have a small army of helpers behind us.

Enter early childhood interventions.

I don’t think nearly enough people are aware of the incredible amount of resources that are available to anyone who needs or wants them.  In true Amanda-list fashion, I wanted to highlight some of the programs we have encountered in our brief parenting journey thus far.  More than that, I also wanted to call attention to the fact that there is an abundance of programs out there for families with young children, regardless of your child’s ability–you just have to know where to look.

The first place I recommend going to is your local school district.  In our particular district, and in many others across the country, the early childhood program in place is known as Parents as Teachers.  With this program, a “Parent Educator” comes into your home each month, and helps explain your child’s development, provides screenings (like free hearing tests), and offers resources, among other things.

I have enjoyed the fun, developmentally-appropriate activities they discuss at each visit, and it was through PAT that I learned about the next key resource listed here.  Many PAT affiliates also have playgroups or play centers, which allow you to hang out with other parents of young kids–a real boon to a stay-at-home parent!

It does not matter what ability your child may or may not have, or even if you do not intend to send your child to school in that district, when the time comes.  It is just a great program that helps to inform parents and families of the amazing things your child is doing!

Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the state of Kansas provides a federally mandated program that gives early intervention to babies and toddlers who are showing signs of developmental delays or physical disabilities.  In our area, a specific organization has qualified therapists that work with children who need a little extra help in certain areas.

What this looks like for us is an occupational therapist and physical therapist come to our home each week to work with Peanut; specialists would come and work with Bean when she was younger, too.  While they do bill your insurance if they are able, no one is ever turned away because of an inability to pay.  Because I know there are some readers in Ronnica’s new home state of Colorado, a good place to start is here.  Kansas readers can start here.  Other states can do a simple search engine check by typing in your state and “early intervention.”

Don’t discount the abundance of national programs at your disposal, either.  Such programs as the InfantSEE program involves a network of optometrists nationwide that provide free vision screenings for infants age 6 to 12 months.  Although not common, vision problems need to be addressed at an early age to prevent more complicated issues down the line.

If all else fails, head to your child’s pediatrician.  They will typically know of resources that may not be openly publicized in your community, and have the medical expertise needed to point you in the right direction.

Children are a gift, and one that requires care and cultivation just as any other gift does.  There are tools out there that help make the job of parenting a little easier, because, really, we could all use a little help!

Interesting Financial Interactives

calculatorI have always been the person who enjoys taking those silly little quizzes–“Does He Like You?”, “What Kind of Mother are You?”, and the like.  Interacting on the internet AND getting answers to my questions?  What a concept!

So, when I stumbled upon these interesting interactives, I knew I’d be sharing them with you.  Each one involves money in some way, and most impart valuable insight or tips for how to be better stewards of the gift of wealth.  Plus, since math is not my forte, I like being able to just plug in numbers and get answers, as opposed to using an actual calculator–or, heaven forbid, a pencil and paper!

Income Upshot

Marketplace.org is one of my regular websites, and this interactive has been really informative.  The premise is more entertainment that anything else:  type in your zip code and your annual income to see how you compare to others in your zip code.  It was enlightening to learn where we fall on the spectrum, as well as discovering such random tidbits as what kind of car those in our income bracket purchase (23% choose small cars like ours).

The Secret Life of a Food Stamp

It is way too easy for me to want to scream, “Let me fix your finances for you!” to someone who indicates they are struggling financially.  While I maintain that there is always something that can be cut from your budget, all too often I forget that, for some, the only things left that can be cut are necessities like food and shelter.  This interactive (also at marketplace.org) has you try to make do with budgets based on geography, family size, and national averages.  It’s a lot tougher than you think, and is a sobering reminder to consider all the facts before passing judgement.

College Cost Calculator

Nothing like considering the staggering costs of sending our kids to college in a couple of decades to knock me off my high horse!  We started saving for our kids’ education from the get-go…but calculators like this not only help to figure out a rough idea of what we should prepare to spend, but also serve as an important reminder that saving for big stuff is essential.

Retirement Calculator

This retirement calculator is another great reminder of the importance of saving.  Retirement may seem like a long way off, but it’s never too soon to save!

Tithing Calculator

Regardless of your views on tithing to a religious institution or giving in general, I think most of us can agree that it is important to use our gifts to be a blessing to others.  This handy little calculator lets you not only see what tithing (or giving 10% of your income) would look like, but also what percentage of your income you are currently giving.

What handy (or amusing) financial interactives have you come across?