Archive for the ‘ News ’ Category

Protect Your Family’s Identity

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

It was 10:30 at night. I was at the emergency room of an unfamiliar hospital. My son had ripped open the bottom of his foot at the hotel swimming pool, and he was bleeding heavily. The hospital attendant asked for details of the accident and my insurance card, which I provided. Then she asked for my social security number. In my single-minded focus on my son’s well-being, I nearly blurted it out. Then I stopped myself. Wait—what did they need that for?

“It’s standard procedure,” the woman explained. “Not for me,” I replied. “I don’t give that out to anyone. You have what you need to process the claim. Are you still going to treat him?” They did, and he’s fine now. But it brings up a salient point: Why do doctors, hospitals, even schools, persist in asking for a social security number when this simple nine-digit code is all a thief needs to steal your or your child’s identity—and make your life a living hell?

You probably know someone whose identity has been lifted. Nearly 10 million people are victims every year—19 new ones every minute. The danger is not just from social security numbers either. Thieves can steal your identity simply by obtaining your name and address (so shred everything addressed to you). That’s far from their only method of stealing of course. The huge Target data breach earlier this year means you need to monitor credit reports regularly (you can do so for free here). You need to protect your computer by installing anti-hacker software and storing sensitive data on an encrypted flash or external hard drive (not on your desktop). It’s also critical to set up a unique password for every digital device you use and each online account you access. (Sidebar: I must admit this latter piece of advice seems unrealistic; unless you have a photographic memory, you’ve got to write them down somewhere . . .).

Still, these safety measures are especially relevant to new parents. Research recently released by LifeLock, the identity theft protection service, revealed that people who go through major life milestones are at far greater risk. Newlyweds are eight times more likely than an average person to have their identity stolen. New parents are five times more prone, and new homeowners are three times as likely to become victims. A prime reason: Oversharing of personal data online. During exciting events like a wedding or the birth of a child, people tend to post pictures and details across the Internet. Thieves can often piece together the data they need to commit fraud. So pay attention to where you post information and how much you give out. Don’t use the Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop when checking your baby registry; you want to be behind a secure firewall, says personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, author of Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security.

It’s equally important to protect your kids’ personal info. Child identity theft occurs 144,000 times each year, and this type of fraud often goes undetected for years—by which time a kid’s credit record may already be ruined. Never give out his social security number (except on your taxes—you do want the child tax credit, right?) and don’t carry it with you. Monitor your child’s computer, tablet, and smartphone usage closely. Remind her that she must never give out her full name, birthday, address, or phone number to anyone online. Then remind yourself of this fact: Even posting your child’s birthday and name to Facebook provides valuable data that savvy would-be identity thieves can use. Also be careful about buying from less-than-reputable sites that may offer a great deal on diapers or baby gear—they are prone to fraud and security breaches, says Chatzky.

Yes, new parents already have a zillion other things to worry about. You’re overworked and sleep-deprived and stressed out and . . . and yet, the number one thing every mom and dad wants to do is keep their little one safe and secure their future. So please take these precautions. And the next time your pediatrician’s office (or, God forbid, the ER) asks for your child’s social, just say no.

 

Car Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Ask Your Dealer
Car Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Ask Your Dealer
Car Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Ask Your Dealer

 

Social Security card theft via Shutterstock

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Top Secrets From a Frugal Family

Monday, August 11th, 2014

One thing I no longer am embarrassed to admit now that I am a mom: I am cheap. I refuse to buy bottled water; it doesn’t matter how hot it is outside. Concessions at the movie theater are off-limits (and any other event, actually). And I cringe when I have to pay $1 at a kid’s lemonade stand (even though I know it’s the right thing to do). But one thing I have never been able to stick with is couponing. Even though I have the cheapness gene (inherited from my own mom), what I don’t have is the stamina that it takes to really save enough cash with clipping coupons or taking advantage of all those online reward sites. I have tired but I always give up after only saving 50 cents on a total grocery trip. Deep sigh.

But tons of moms have mastered it, and I am jealous of their savings. I’m sure you’ve seen the reality shows of extreme couponers who stack their grocery carts to the max with products and come out paying $2.12 or something insane. Who are these people I always wonder? I wish I knew how they did it. Then I stumbled upon one. Turns out one of my kids’ babysitters is a frugal shopping pro. Lauren Ragusa of New Rochelle, NY has two little kids of her own and has mastered the art of managing and combining store sales, loyalty cards, coupons, and online rewards programs. She does admit that those reality shows can be misleading (surprise!), but she still can knock off up to 60% from her grocery bill. Amazing isn’t it? And now she’s sharing her secrets in a new e book called Top Secrets From a Frugal Family. (And it’s only $4.99!!)

In the book she tells how she pays next to nothing for baby food, clothes and gear; for example she breaks down exactly how she pays only $2 for 4 bottles of baby formula (and moms, you know how pricey that stuff is!) with a combo of store sales and coupons. And I love her tip of using her town library’s season pass to get in free to a popular Children’s Museum (who knew?). She also has tips on how to save at chain restaurants, movies, and nearly everything else. This book speaks to the cheapskate in me and has put me on a mission to start couponing again! I encourage you to check it out — and to share your cost-saving secrets in the comments below.

How to Buy Baby Diapers on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Diapers on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Diapers on a Budget

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Companies Need a Lesson on What Kids Really Want

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Even though I’m the mom of two girls, I find myself shopping in the “boys’” aisles an awful lot. And that’s because it seems like most of the cooler toys and t-shirts (at least according to my girls) show up in that section. First it was Thomas the Tank Engine, then Star Wars, dinosaurs and robotics components.

It’s disheartening in this day and age that companies still cling to these old-school beliefs that all girls like pink sparkly princesses, and all boys want dinosaurs and sports. That’s what got Lands End in trouble earlier this month, as a mom started a campaign against the hearts-and-flowers motifs on girls shirts, for more realistic depictions of science. (I may just have to pick up one of the solar systems shirts for my science-loving youngest.) Lego finally decided to throw us a bone by offering girl scientist figures, after making loads of money off the pink-and-pretty Lego Friends, who seem to spend an awful lot of time on fashion, cuddly animals and talent shows. And Disney seems to have actually taken their latest acquisition, Star Wars, back to the stone ages, by stocking a single piece of Princess Leia merchandise—an “action” figure of her dressed in the revealing slave costume.

But I feel even worse for the boys who don’t fit into the trucks-and-sports mode. Because it’s a lot harder to make things from the girls’ side of the aisle, where there’s a plethora of pink and sparkly, work for a boy. On Lands End’s Facebook announcement of their science shirts for girls you could see a whole slew of comments from moms of boys, requesting shirts with “non-threatening animals” and hearts and flowers for their not-so-stereotypical boys.

Of course, there are some ways to circumvent the marketing powers that be. Etsy and other internet retailers seem to be built on people making more gender-neutral crafts that kids that fall outside the stereotype might actually love.

Maybe we need to get the marketers to make it easier for all kids to find their passions—whether it’s a girl who loves robots, or a boy who loves horses.

Want to know if your kid’s destined to be a scientist, a chef, or President? Try our future career quiz.

Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting

Image: Courtesy of Lego

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We Need to Provide Affordable Childcare

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Affordable Child CareThe arrest of a South Carolina mom on charges that she left her 9-year-old daughter alone in the park while she went to work has sparked a furor over her decision and whether it was appropriate to arrest her for it. It’s far from the only instance of a parent doing something dangerous, even allegedly criminal, in order to go to work when there’s no childcare available. I wrote in December about a California woman who lost custody of her son—permanently—after leaving him alone in his crib one workday. And I am sure there are countless other parents facing similar dilemmas every day.

For women who need to work and don’t have reliable childcare, what are the options? Even Michelle Obama faced a similar dilemma in her past, recently making headlines for her recollections of bringing young Sasha along on a job interview.

That South Carolina mom, Deba Harrell, faced a no-win choice, as my colleague Lisa Milbrand wrote: “to let her daughter play in a park alone, leave her at home, or bring her to work, where she was forced to hang out for hours in McDonald’s with little to engage her. Debra picked the park.” Home seemed more dangerous and would also likely have led to Harrell’s arrest, while having a child at work all day seems like a recipe for getting fired for needing to care for her while on the job (and hardly seems like a healthy environment for a child).

A lot of the discussion about Harrell’s case has focused on how protective and hovering parents should be, and whether we as a society have gone too far in “criminalizing” parenthood, as Radley Balko of the Washington Post put it.

But as essential as that debate is, there is another, related issue that these cases raise, and that is the question of affordable childcare. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat begins to address this in his latest column, questioning a “a welfare system whose work requirements can put a single mother behind a fast-food counter while her kid is out of school.” He concludes that “we have to also find a way to defend their liberty as parents, instead of expecting them to hover like helicopters and then literally arresting them if they don’t.”

But Douthat stops short of taking his argument to its natural conclusion. Affordable, reliable, and safe childcare is a necessary component of a functioning society, especially one that expects—requires, even—parents to work. And so we need to figure out a way to guarantee it to all working parents. In Europe, “all European countries offer government subsidies and regulation support to early childhood care,” according to the European Union’s website. “These measures include tax breaks, vouchers, subsidies paid to parents or to the care provider; and in several European countries, capping of childcare costs relative to household income, or by obliging employers to support childcare costs (for instance in the Netherlands).”

I don’t know what form this sort of policy should take here in the United States, but whether it’s tax breaks or subsidies or publicly funded day-care centers or something else entirely, without addressing this problem, we will see many more Debra Harrells.

I also don’t want to let the absent dads off the hook. While moms like Harrell are arrested and may lose custody of their children, nothing is asked of the dads. Granted, many are not in the picture at all; but where they are or can be found, I don’t know why they are not required to be part of the solution, financial or otherwise, or why they don’t share the blame for alleged neglect and other decisions.

Our public policy must recognize the realities of today’s families, especially the huge number of single parents (and the correlation between single parenthood and poverty). In addition, many families today lack the extensive familial and social networks that may have, in the past, provided (free) childcare so mom and/or dad could work. This is not just a problem for the very poor. There is nothing optional about working for most people trying to support their kids, and childcare could easily be beyond a single parent’s means. As parents, most of us have said things to our kids like, “I don’t have eyes in the back of my head,” or, “I can’t be in two places at once.” For the single moms who must be at work in order to feed their families but have no one else to supervise their children, these are not flippant throw-away lines; they are realities that we as a society must help fix.

Considering day care? Download our Daycare Center Checklist to help you evaluate your options.

Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care
Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care
Child Care: How to Find Quality Child Care

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Should a Mom Be Arrested for THIS?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

A mom is in prison, and her daughter is in foster care. And odds are, you (or your mom) might have done exactly what this woman did: She let her 9-year-old child play outside in a park, unsupervised.

The circumstances, however, might be a little different than your situation. Debra Harrell in North Augusta, South Carolina, couldn’t find any child care for her shifts at McDonald’s in a Walmart. So her choices were to let her daughter play in a park alone, leave her at home, or bring her to work, where she was forced to hang out for hours in McDonald’s with little to engage her. Debra picked the park. But when other parents noticed this girl by herself for long stretches, they alerted authorities, and Debra was arrested for unlawful conduct toward a child.

There’s so much that’s anger inducing here. There’s the fact that so many jobs don’t pay a living wage, which means that even though moms like Debra are working full time, they still need public assistance to get by. There’s the fact that affordable (or subsidized) child care isn’t available, even for people like Debra who are trying hard to earn their living, but may need a little support to make ends meet. There’s the fact that what she did doesn’t even seem to be illegal in South Carolina, where the laws say Debra’s daughter could have legally stayed home alone (kids younger than eight are the only ones who are legally required to have supervision). And it’s my opinion that it likely wouldn’t have been as big an issue if, say, it was a white middle class woman who left her child there (Debra is African American).

But really, what’s the appropriate age to leave your child unattended? And why has it shifted so seismically since we were kids? If you tell me about your childhood, odds are you were roaming the streets and hanging out in the park for hours at a time. I was. I remember leaving for the playground in the morning, coming home for a quick lunch, then heading back out until the street lights came on. (And I had a stay-at-home mom who in theory, could have come down to monitor us and make sure we slid down the slide properly until we turned 25. But she had better things to do.) I was definitely left to my own devices for hours at a time, at an age younger than nine—and likely for as long as Debra’s daughter spent in the park.

You have to start somewhere with giving kids independence. And despite the pervasive helicopter parenting in my neighborhood, I’ve worked hard to let go. For the past several months, I’ve let my daughters, now 10 and 7, go to the park unsupervised. (They go together, they’ve been instructed on stranger danger, and they both have brown belts in karate and jiu jitsu and wicked roundhouse kicks.) It’s been very hard for me to let go, but I know that they need some space to learn how to develop independence, leadership, empathy and problem-solving skills. And they won’t necessarily do all that if I’m hovering ready to solve any quandary that comes up. Does that make me a bad mommy—and a potential felon? I honestly don’t think so. And I don’t think it should make Debra a felon, either.

Tell us: When do you think is the right age to leave your kids unsupervised? Do you think Debra should have been arrested?

 

Are you too protective of your kids (or not enough)? Find out if you’re a hover mother!

What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?

Image: Girl playing the park by Zurijeta/Shutterstock.com.

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