Healthy Concepts
Alan Prahl

Alan Prahl

Alan Prahl is the Education Leader with FISC, the Financial Information & Service Center. He has an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and law degree from Hamline University. A nonprofit program of Goodwill NCW, FISC provides financial counseling and coaching, including a no-cost, no obligation 30-minute consultation with the “counselor on call.” To learn more, call 920-886-1000 or visit

Friday, 29 December 2017 03:46

Use allowances to teach children about money

What do you want your children or grandchildren to know about money? Many parents have used allowances to teach their children financial responsibility. 

Allowances can help children learn: 

  • Our spending choices are almost limitless
  • We have limited resources
  • We all need to make choices
  • From spending mistakes they make

By age 5 or 6, many children are ready to receive an allowance. Children are often required to work or do some things around the home to earn their allowance. They learn there is a connection between working and getting paid. 

Of course, there’s more to handling money wisely than just earning money and spending it. Parents can use an allowance to help children learn to make choices and save money. 

Parents can set guidelines for saving, spending and sharing. For example, let them spend 40 percent, require them to save 50 percent and to share or donate 10 percent of their allowance.

Many parents wonder how much they should pay their children. A common guideline is to pay 50 cents or $1 for every year of their age. So, a six year old would get $6, a ten year old $10, etc. As they age, they get paid more and have more to manage. Some parents pay their children every time they get paid; others pay allowances once a month. 

Some children handle money better than others. Many will make mistakes, like buying things immediately with their spending money, and then being out of spending money until they get paid again. Let them run out of spending money and learn that timeless lesson, “Once I spend my money it’s gone.” Don’t rescue them with more spending money. Making mistakes with small amounts of money can be a priceless way to learn enduring lessons. 

To encourage saving money, talk with them about how you are saving for a short-term goal, like some clothes or electronics. Tell them you also save for your long-term goals like retirement. 

Even if you do most of your banking, shopping and bill paying digitally, occasionally take younger children to the bank. Let them see you putting money into the bank, not just taking money out or spending money. 

You can also help develop the habit of saving money by: 

  • Using a piggy bank or other visual savings tool
  • Opening a savings account in their name
  • Having them make regular deposits into their savings account
  • Showing them how their balance is growing 

If you want your children or grandchildren to understand some of the key financial facts of life, help them learn when they are young. An allowance coupled with good parental guidelines can help them learn wise financial habits that will serve them throughout their lives. 


Thursday, 30 November 2017 20:50

How much money will pass through your hands?

How much will you spend on gifts during the holidays? In 2016, the average American family spent more than $900 on gifts. Most families also spent money on special food, decorations and eating out.

How much money will pass through your hands during the 2017 holiday season? Or, consider this much bigger question: how much money will pass through your hands during your lifetime?

It might be a lot more than you think. Take for example, a 22-year-old woman earning $15 per hour. She gets 3 percent raises in many years. By the time she retires more than forty years later, she may have grossed more than $1,800,000.

Projecting your lifetime earnings is a great exercise to do in your 20s and 30s. Take your current income, assume 2-3 percent wage increases in many years and project your income through age 65. The total amount is often an eye-opening surprise.

What about you? Have you added up how much money will pass through your hands in your lifetime? Projecting your lifetime earnings can be an exciting, thought-provoking exercise.

If you’re going to earn that much during your lifetime, what will you do with that money? How much will you save and invest? Are you taking advantage of all the tax breaks you can legitimately use?

It is easy to get in a financial rut and not pause to ask big picture questions. Sadly, surveys have shown that many Americans spend more time planning for a vacation or buying gifts for the holidays than they spend planning for their retirement.

Without a plan, many people spend and save haphazardly. With a plan, people often can save consistently for their dreams and goals. They enjoy the deep satisfaction of having money for goals like a better home, car, education or retirement. Even modest savings can add up to be significant amounts.

During the holidays, do you prepare special seasonal meals, cookies or desserts? Do you follow recipes closely, using quality ingredients so that your food will be delightful?

There’s a recipe for long-term financial success too. Spend less than what you earn, save consistently and invest for your long-term goals.

To increase your joy this holiday season and beyond, think about how much money is passing through your hands. Have a thoughtful plan for spending, sharing and saving your money.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017 16:55

Rethinking holiday shopping strategies

Many people begin holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, go all out on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, then continue shopping at a slightly less feverish pace for several more weeks. Searching for the perfect gift and great deals can be fun or stressful depending on how you approach it.

To make holiday shopping more satisfying, plan to give gifts that delight the receiver without breaking your budget. Here are some holiday shopping tips, plus a few suggestions on ways to enjoy the holidays.

To avoid post-holiday blues from ugly credit card bills and depleted bank accounts, set a limit on the total amount of money you want to spend on everything for the holidays. Then, determine how much you will spend in each of these categories:

  • Gifts, cash gifts and gift cards
  • Donations
  • Special meals, food and beverages
  • Decorations, cards, wrapping paper and postage/shipping

List all gifts and the spending limit on each person or gift. If you are buying clothes, write down the sizes so you minimize post-holiday gift returns.

Shop smart

If you don’t like fighting massive crowds, avoid in-person shopping during peak shopping hours. Mix in some online shopping. Comparison shop before you buy. Keep your shopping list with you. Check off gifts or names as you work through your list. If you find something wonderful that’s better than your original gift idea, go ahead and buy that instead. Be flexible on gifts, but stick to your target spending amount for each person.

Many people make better shopping choices, and stick to a spending limit more effectively, when they carry and use cash. So, try using cash or debit for all your bricks and mortar shopping, saving your credit cards for online shopping.

Set firm limits for your credit card spending and stick to them. Write down every credit card purchase, so you know how much you are spending.

Declare victory when you’re done

When you have bought something for everyone on your list, stop shopping. Congratulate yourself because you found some great deals! Declare this shopping season a success and move on to planning meals and activities with family or friends.

To make it easier to stop shopping, talk with your friends and family before the holidays. Set comfortable spending limits on gifts for each other, so that gift giving is not a burden for anyone.

While it’s fun to give and receive gifts, there are other rewarding ways to celebrate the holidays

  • Invite people to join you for a holiday meal
  • Ring a bell for the Salvation Army
  • Donate to St. Joe’s Food Pantry, Goodwill or another local charity
  • Help someone with holiday decorations or baking
  • Share a favorite play or performance
  • Surprise a friend with an encouraging gift

What do you enjoy most about the holidays? What are some of your fondest memories? Don’t feel that you must spend a gazillion dollars to show you care. Spend your time, money and energy doing what matters most to you. 


Wednesday, 27 September 2017 02:09

Four simple ways to boost financial wellness

How healthy are your finances? The Center for Financial Services Innovation recently reported that 56 percent of American workers are financially unhealthy. A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) identified some causes of financial stress including dealing with unexpected expenses, paying for essentials and saving for retirement.

Stress can leave people feeling irritable, anxious and overwhelmed. In the 2015 APA survey, 51 percent of the women surveyed said they had lain awake at night due to stress.

1. Rainy day fund

One proven way to relieve financial stress is to have money saved for the proverbial “rainy day.” Rainy days can come in many ways. A twisted ankle or nagging illness can trigger high co-pays and deductibles. Your car may start hissing like an alley cat instead of purring contentedly. Or your dentist may say, “It’s time for you to wear a crown” — only it’s not for the top of your head!

Experts recommend having three to six months of living expenses saved for emergencies. It takes time to save such a large amount. For a pain-free way to save automatically, ask your bank or credit union to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a separate savings account.

For example, on the 15th of each month, Lisa has $100 automatically transferred from her checking account to her emergency savings account. She is treating this just like she’s paying an important bill, and it is important, because it helps her be prepared and have peace of mind.

2. Plan to play

Financial wellness includes planning to spend money on playing and having fun. Surprised? We’re all busy. We need time to play and re-charge. For your long-term mental health, plan to spend an amount that’s appropriate for you on entertainment and vacations.

3. Have a spending plan

How much can you afford to spend on vacations and entertainment? A simple budget or “spending plan” earmarks money for necessities like housing and transportation, helps you save for your dreams and identifies what you can comfortably spend on entertainment.

Investing some time creating a spending plan offers huge rewards for your family’s future and your peace of mind. A financial coach can help you review your finances and develop a balanced spending plan that fits your life.

4. Financial check up

You know it’s wise to have an annual medical checkup. It’s also smart to have an annual financial checkup.

Summarizing your net worth is a key part of a financial checkup. Write down your assets, including your checking account balance, savings, 401(k) and IRA balances and fair market value of assets like a home and cars. Also list your debts, including car loans, mortgages, credit cards and student loans.

When you subtract your debts from your assets that is your net worth. The goal is to build up assets and pay down debt. If your debts are growing and your assets are dragging, don’t ignore that financial warning sign. (For a blank net worth worksheet and an example of a completed worksheet, visit

Build financial security and peace of mind

A financial counselor or coach can help you discover ways to fine tune your finances, build financial security and increase your peace of mind. A few simple steps can often make a dramatic difference. 

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