Dollars and Sense Part III: An Open Letter to the Class of 2016

money pic


As both high school and college graduates are preparing to take that next step, long term financial planning often takes a back seat to other pursuits and interests. While my husband and I have, for the most part, made sound financial decisions, there are a few bits of wisdom I wish we would have known and applied earlier. So here is an open letter to all graduates, sharing the pearls of wisdom we learned along the way.

To the Class of 2016,

While your parents may have started discussing this with you, long term financial planning is probably the farthest from your mind right now. I want to share three of the investing tips we learned along the way, specifically those things we wish we knew in our late teens and 20s.

First, if you are working and at least 18, you are eligible to sign up for a retirement IRA. The Roth IRA is a powerful retirement savings plan, which allows the investor to add up to $5,500 per year. While there is no upfront tax advantage, your money grows tax free, and in retirement, all withdrawals are tax free, and investors are not forced to make RMDs, Required Minimum Distributions. Meaning, the government does not force you to make yearly withdrawals from the account (The Traditional IRA requires a yearly RMD starting at age 70 1/2). Roth IRAs grant the investor the flexibility to make retirement withdrawals when needed.

In addition, investors often utilize multiple accounts because many businesses offer a retirement plan with a company match. This means for every dollar you add to your individual retirement plan through work, the company will match a portion of your investment (up to a set amount established by each individual business). In the future, if you work for a company that offers a match, invest in your company’s plan before any other contributions. A company match is extra money for your retirement!!! A common investment strategy begins with maxing out a company’s retirement plan (401K, 403B, etc.) utilizing the company match, then using any extra funds available for a Roth IRA.

The final bit of information I wish we had known at your age is just how much additional money is earned by investing early. Every $1,000 you invest in your late teens and 20s is the equivalent of your parents investing around $4,000 as adults in their 40s. Historically, an investment account doubles every 8-12 years. Think about that for a minute:

$1,000 becomes $2,000
$2,000 becomes $4,000
$4,000 becomes $8,000…

Imagine being in your 50s with $500,000 saved? Watch yourself reach $1,000,000!

Many might ask, between regular bills and loans, just where am I supposed to find any extra money? While budgeting entails another post, Hubby and I kick ourselves sometimes when we consider what a difference forgoing the occasional weekend pizza, the impulse purchases, or those fancy coffee drinks could have added to our financial security. Those extra $5-$20 truly add up! As a starting point, could you invest $500 per year by giving up a few extras?

So as you begin your financial journey, please remember these three things:

  1. Sign up for a Traditional or Roth IRA in the near future. Note: In my opinion, Roth IRAs provide an excellent starting point and unique benefits in retirement.
  2. If your employer offers a retirement plan with a company match, invest money there first; then apply any extra to your Roth.
  3. Remember how much farther investing in your 20s will advance your financial goals.

Just where can one sign up for an IRA? Ask your parents, browse on-line articles, and educate yourself on the best path for financial independence! Investing can be confusing and retirement seem so far off; however, take the time now to learn about retirement investments. A financial advisor can help with questions and concerns. Google “Roth IRA calculator” and enter whatever you think you can save; see just how large your nest egg can grow! The financial decisions you make in the next ten years will greatly affect your future! Be smart!

Best of luck,



Open House 101

patricks graduation

We hosted a graduation open house for our eldest this weekend. As many parents know, we learn what to do and what not to do through experience with our first born.This event was no exception.

In accordance with Murphy’s Law, all began to fall apart about a week before. Our 12 week old lambs escaped and scattered in the woods. We spent the weekend attempting to corner them in the farmer’s field down the road. Patrick managed to tackle one, but the other would not come close enough. In the eleventh hour after three days, Chad herded the last lamb home, across fields, electric fence, and heavy woods. That was the weekend before.

On Monday, our front door would not open (broken door knob), and Chad opened the chicken to begin smoking for the party and discovered it was all rotten! We said a few choice words, took a deep breath, threw out the chicken, enjoyed a night cap (or two), and went to bed. Tomorrow was a new day to set things right! He purchased more chicken, replaced the door knob with a sock and packing tape, and began brining chicken on Tuesday. We were grateful that nothing else broke!

A wise friend reminded me that this will be a happy memory in a few days. Thanks to loving family and insightful friends, the event was a success! It was a success because we were all there, celebrating Patrick’s new journey, college and adulthood! For those who still have to host one of these “hooplas,” I made a list of things I learned:

  1. No matter how carefully you plan, you will forget to invite someone. Let it go!
  2. Ask a friend to help restock food and drinks during your open house, so you have more time to visit with guests. (Special thanks to Colleen for this special gift!)
  3. Know up to half of those invited will not be able to attend due to summer vacations, all the other open houses, or life in general.
  4. Unless you want to purchase senior pictures for the entire student body, instead, hand them out at the open house.
  5. If Facebook is used to send invitations, remember not everyone uses social media and might not receive notice.
  6. Remember to provide a container for cards. Most guests will give a card with an enclosed check (but be sure to include space for gift bags, too.).
  7. After taking all that time to organize addresses for invitations, be sure to file that list for future use.
  8. If extra tables and chairs are needed, be sure to reserve them at least six weeks before the event (that goes for park pavilions and halls, too).
  9. Ask someone to take a few pictures. You will be too busy. (I regret that I don’t have a single picture.) I’m hoping that a few will surface. (Though I did share a picture from graduation night a few weeks ago)
  10. Be sure to sit down with your children and record the gifts. Teach them a valuable tool in their journey to adulthood. Teach them to write a proper thank you note. Congratulations to the class of 2015!

Thanks for reading!

Now that we are past Patrick’s Open House, you can find Cairn Hill Farms at the following markets:

Richland (Wednesdays, 3-6)

Middleville (Fridays, 8-1)

Hastings (Saturday, 9-1)

Come and get your summer lip balm, lavender room spray, goats’ milk lotion, farm fresh eggs, nettle tea, and many other goodies 🙂

College or Bust!



As my eldest ventures into the world of higher education this fall, I pondered what helped me the most in my college years and what I might have done differently. Ever the list maker, I came up with some tips that helped me succeed:

  1. Sign up for a lighter load the first semester. In addition to taking fewer classes, try to take easier courses while adjusting to college life.
  2. On the first day of class, introduce yourself to a couple students and exchange contact information. That way if you forget to write down the homework, miss a day of class, or have any questions, you have contacts from the classroom…plus a great way to make friends.
  3. Anything your instructor writes on the board belongs in your notebook! If your instructor takes the time to write something on the board, you probably need to know what’s there.
  4. Only miss class if absolutely necessary! Even though work can occasionally be made up and notes copied, there is no substitute for being there, absorbing the information. During my college years, I discovered that if I missed more than one class, my grades would suffer.
  5. If not a morning person, do yourself a favor and avoid 8:00 classes (at least for the first semester while you adjust to the new routine).
  6. If you use a memory stick, take good care of it! My senior year I lost ten pages of my senior thesis by tossing my computer disk among textbooks, kleenex, and notebooks. Learn from my mistake and take care of your equipment!
  7. When writing essays, start the writing process as quickly as possible, allowing time for at least three drafts. Additional suggestions for producing quality essays can be found here.
  8. Have fun, get to know your classmates, and try new things! College is about experiencing life and making life-long connections…enjoy the journey!

Thanks for reading!