On Boundless Dreams with New York’s 529 College Savings Program

College savings with kids and a piggy bank and money

Thank you NY 529 for sponsoring this post. It’s never too early to get growing! Learn more about opening an NY 529 Plan for your child today.

Thirteen whole years. My oldest kiddo (my baby!) recently became a teen and so here I am, once again, feeling like these are the sort of milestones that scream time is indeed a thief. I’m certain that it was just yesterday that my daughter was born. Then I blinked, and also just yesterday, I was buying supplies to bake a birthday cake for a milestone celebration.

That said, time is also on our side. A little bit can go a long way when it comes to things like saving for higher education. Even amidst uncertain times, long-term goals are still very much alive. As a parent, and a keeper of my children’s boundless dreams and goals, I know that turbulent times (hello 2020!) are just a moment in time – and we can’t, in any way, forget the future ahead. Times like this also remind me that solid savings vehicles are incredibly important. For college savings, both of my kids have New York’s 529 College Savings Program Direct Plan, accounts which I believe are the right fit for my family. I’ve broken down the important stuff below: 

What is a New York 529 Plan? 

The NY 529 college savings plan is a state-sponsored investment account for higher education savings. It can be used to pay for four- or two-year colleges, postsecondary vocational and trade schools, and postgraduate programs. This also includes many things that are considered a higher educational expense – including tuition, books, supplies, software, room and board, equipment (like computers, etc.), and more.

Why NY 529 vs. Traditional Savings? 

Hello, tax savings! An NY 529 plan allows earnings to grow tax-deferred, and qualified withdrawals are tax-free*. Also, most institutions only count around 6 percent of the total 529 funds as usable when determining financial aid eligibility. In comparison, approximately 20 percent or more of traditional savings custodial accounts are factored into the eligibility of financial assistance. This is just the cliff notes, learn more about the calculation at https://studentaid.gov/complete-aid-process/how-calculated.

reflection photo in a puddle

What if I lose my job or face financial hardship? How can my family possibly do this while saving for retirement, a home, etc.? 

One of the things that I appreciate most about our 529 accounts is the flexibility and investment options. There are times when I’ve had the accounts set to recurring contributions (also known as an automatic investment plan, or AIP), and there are times when contributing individually was a better fit. Even small, regular contributions today can make a difference over time. I know that staying the course and making adjustments when necessary is a crucial part of keeping our family dreams in motion.

The NY 529 plan also allows for us to make investment choices that fit our comfort for risk.  Everyone is different and there are choices of investment options to accommodate different levels of risk taking.

What if the grandparents will handle college?

Fantastic! But it’s also smart to have a set plan in place. Many people can open a 529 account with as little as $1. This includes not only parents but other relatives and friends. The account owner selects the beneficiary, investments, and how the funds will be allocated. If you’re a New York State taxpayer, you can also benefit from the state tax deduction*. If one of the kiddos scores a full ride or doesn’t choose the higher education path, the beneficiary can be transferred to another sibling, cousin, grandkid, or even yourself. There are no time limits to use a 529 account.

painting rainbows with watercolors.

Any other benefits?

Including our kids in discussions about their 529 accounts has been a vital piece of teaching financial literacy. When the kids help with my freelance work, I pay them. I give them a token amount to spend and always make a contribution to their 529 accounts in front of them. Being lucky enough to have their Abuela gift contributions for birthdays and holidays further reinforces the importance of higher education and long-term savings goals. My mom’s gifts also simultaneously cut down on all of those meaningless presents that are soon forgotten about, collect clutter, and carry zero value over time. Having extended family on board is one of the best possible gifts. Especially in a world where you blink and your firstborn (who was just a tiny preschooler) is suddenly only four-and-a-half years away from college. 

Big reminder that I am NOT a financial advisor, so please read the disclaimer below:

* Contributions of up to $10,000 are deductible annually from New York State taxable income for married couples filing jointly; single taxpayers can deduct up to $5,000 annually. New York State tax deductions may be subject to recapture in certain circumstances such as rollovers to another state’s 529 plan, federal nonqualified withdrawals, or withdrawals used to pay elementary or secondary school tuition, registered apprenticeship program expenses, or qualified education loan repayments as described in the Disclosure Booklet and Tuition Savings Agreement. State tax benefits for non-resident New York taxpayers may vary. Please consult your tax advisor about your particular situation. Earnings on federal nonqualified withdrawals may be subject to federal income tax and a 10% federal penalty tax, as well as state and local income taxes.  Tax and other benefits are contingent on meeting other requirements.  Please consult your tax advisor about your particular situation.

Investment returns are not guaranteed, and you could lose money by investing in the Direct Plan.

For more information about New York’s 529 College Savings Program Direct Plan, download a Disclosure Booklet and Tuition Savings Agreement or request one by calling 877-NYSAVES (877-697-2837). This document includes investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other information. You should read and consider them carefully before investing.

Before you invest, consider whether your or the beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other benefits that are only available for investments in that state’s 529 plan. Other state benefits may include financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors.

The Comptroller of the State of New York and the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation are the Program Administrators and are responsible for implementing and administering the Direct Plan.

Ascensus Broker Dealer Services, LLC, serves as Program Manager and, in connection with its affiliates, provides recordkeeping and administrative support services and is responsible for day-to-day operations of the Direct Plan. The Vanguard Group, Inc., serves as the Investment Manager. Vanguard Marketing Corporation provides marketing and distribution services to the Direct Plan.

No guarantee: None of the State of New York, its agencies, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), The Vanguard Group, Inc., Ascensus Broker Dealer Services, LLC, nor any of their applicable affiliates insures accounts or guarantees the principal deposited therein or any investment returns on any account or investment portfolio.

New York’s 529 College Savings Program currently includes two separate 529 plans. The Direct Plan is sold directly by the Program. You may also participate in the Advisor-Guided Plan, which is sold exclusively through financial advisors and has different investment options and higher fees and expenses as well as financial advisor compensation.

©2020 New York’s 529 College Savings Program

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Courtney Moore: American Girl’s New ‘Historical’ Doll is Straight Out of 1986 (+ Giveaway!)

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American Girl recently dropped their latest “historical character” from 1986, and she’s giving my generation all the big feels. While I can’t fully wrap my head around the fact that the ’80s are officially ancient, I’m fully here for Courtney Moore and her totally rad ’80s-kid nostalgia.

Courtney Moore, American Girl’s first new historical doll in three years, is an authentic ’80s girl from a blended family in the fictional town of Orange Valley, California. Her two-book series, written by Kellen Hertz, contextualizes the ’80s time-period with references of playing Pac-Man mall arcades to watching The Space Shuttle Challenger devastation on TV in her school classroom (like so many of us did).

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Courtney rocks a high-waisted acid-washed mini skirt, a scrunchie-adorned side-ponytail, white slouchy boots, or white high-top sneakers and accessories galore (include the exact clear dial-up phone that my friend Kelly had in her bedroom). Other totally awesome accessories include a Care Bear sleeping bag and pajamas, Caboodles to store her Lip-Smacker collection, a PAC-MAN yellow plastic lunchbox and mini arcade, colorful bangle bracelets, a cassette player with tapes, and her very own HISTORIC American Girl doll (Molly!) to boot.

Best of all, American Girl has partnered with Girls Who Code to support their outreach and work with girls. When you shop for a Courtney doll and accessories, you can choose to donate $1, $5, or $10 to Girls Who Code, and American Girl will match donations (with a maximum contribution of $50,000). American Girl is also providing four Girls Who Code members with individual 5k scholarships.

Update: Giveaway Closed.

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Panera Introduces Family Feast

Panera-Family-Feast

After several weeks of meals cooked only in our home – a break from cooking is certainly welcomed! Panera Bread recently introduced their Family Feast value meals with popular menu favorites for the entire fam. The Family Feast meals range from $29 to $33 and are available in the following bundles: 

  • FAMILY FEAST WITH MAC ~ $29
  • FAMILY FEAST WITH MAC & COOKIES ~ $33
  • FAMILY FEAST WITH SOUP ~ $29
  • FAMILY FEAST WITH SOUP & COOKIES ~ $33

Smaller Feast meals are also available (from $23 to $27):   

  • SOUP FEAST ~ $23
  • SOUP FEAST WITH COOKIES ~ $27
  • SALAD & SOUP FEAST ~ $23
  • SALAD & SOUP FEAST WITH COOKIES ~ $27
  • SANDWICH & SOUP FEAST ~ $23
  • SANDWICH & SOUP FEAST WITH COOKIES ~ $27

Order online or via the Panera Bread app for curbside pickup, contactless delivery, or drive-through (where available). Also check out Panera Grocery to purchase high-demand pantry items like milk, bread, and fresh produce alongside Panera orders.

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Lovely, Personalized Stationery and Invitations to Suit Every Occasion

When I was a newly minted high school graduate, my dear next-door neighbors gifted me with an extensive set of personalized stationery as a graduation gift. I surprisingly still have some pieces from that collection – the gift that started a lifetime appreciation for customized paper products. With so many special days to look forward to like graduation season, summer weddings, bridal showers, Mother’s Day, and more – we’re happy to highlight the lovely products over at Basic Invite – the place to find perfectly customized invitations, stationery, announcements, business cards, and more. 

As one of the few invite/stationary/paper product websites providing almost unlimited color options (over 180!); beautiful typography, and instant previews online – Basic Invite allows for custom samples of actual printed products. If you happen to be indecisive on a final purchase – this custom sample option (which I indeed went for) is key. There’s nothing like having an actual card in your hands to ensure printing, paper quality, and details feel right before placing that final order. 

Among my favorite options from Basic Invite are foil cards (in gold, silver, and rose gold) in either flat or raised foil designs. Options like rounded-corners also add a beautiful touch. With over 40 different envelope colors to choose from to match school colors for graduation invitations, bridal showers, graduation thank you cards, and more – Basic Invite has something for every occasion. We’re also big fans of their peel and seal envelopes! Basic Invite’s helpful tools, including free recipient address printing, graduation invitation party templates, an address capturing service, and free wedding/party website building, help make the ordering (and party planning!) process a breeze.

Check them out and enjoy 15% off at Basic Invite with this coupon code: 15FF51

Big thank you to Basic Invite for sponsoring this post. 

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Joss Kendrick: American Girl’s 2020 Girl of the Year Rocks Surfing and a Hearing Aid (+ Giveaway!)

American Girl kicked off the new decade with their annual “Girl of the Year” announcement. The 2020 American Girl doll of the year is Joss Kendrick, a 10-year-old surfer from So-Cal who also happens to rock a hearing aid. We can’t get enough of the important messages of representation, determination, and inclusivity in this doll and her accompanying story. 

American-Girl-doll-Joss-Kendrick

As the mother of a daughter (and son) who surf – I understand the wonderful lessons in pushing past limits, and getting up repeatedly after getting crushed by waves. Joss’s inspirational character personifies the importance of being open to new things. Joss’s surfing experiences pivot her to see cheerleading through the lens of soaring through the air and finding athleticism in different ways. 

Although American Girl has already offered the option of outfitting dolls with hearing aids, wheelchairs, and crutches – Joss is American Girl’s very fist doll with a disability (congenital hearing loss) that is part of her story. 

Born deaf in her left ear, with some hearing capabilities in her right ear, Joss comes with (two) hearing aids in a small case, that help her hear out of her right ear. Her passion for surfing and cheerleading come to life through her story, in which American Girl worked with surfing, competitive cheerleading, and hearing loss experts to create Joss’s account of ambition, dedication, and pushing past stereotypes. 

American-Girl-Joss-Kendrick-doll-book

Alongside Joss, American Girl committed to a $25,000 donation to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to representing people who live with hearing loss. 

Win it! We’re so excited to partner with American Girl to giveaway Joss Kendrick, American Girl’s 2020 Girl of the Year to one lucky reader.

UPDATE: Giveaway over.

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A Family Ski & Ride Weekend at Stratton Mountain Resort

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Some of my favorite childhood winter memories took place on ski slopes alongside my brother and friends. In hand-me-down CB Sports jackets, with a few dollars for the lodge, and a tin of Dermatone in my pocket – skiing elevated my winter playground in so many ways.

I want my kids to have similar adventuring experiences (except with helmets on their heads!), especially during the colder months – because winter is for so much more than hunkering down.

Nicole at Momtrends has a pretty cool commitment to sharing her family’s love of skiing and unplugged-togetherness on the slopes with as many families as possible. She got my crew hooked last year – and we all couldn’t wait to experience Vermont’s Stratton Mountain Resort, at Momtrends’ fourth annual Family Ski & Ride Weekend to kick off our 2020 season.

Vermont_Family_Ski_Holiday

The Trip
Located a bit over four hours from NYC, our drive to Stratton was hassle-free. Enticing scenic views and farm animal sightings gave us respite from city life. There are also a few nice spots along the way to pick up Vermont’s finest local goodies like maple syrup, cheese, and more.

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Skiing and Riding FUN
With 99 trails between an Upper Mountain, Lower Mountain, Sun Bowl, and Learning Area – I was super pumped to get the kids in riding lessons, click my boots into skiis, and find my path to fun. Highlights included taking the gondola to the summit (hello, breathtaking views), and getting lots of runs (mostly on the Upper Mountian) with friends while the kids were having a blast at camp. The immaculately groomed trails and ample terrain offer something for all levels and abilities. And, as much as I adore being with my children on the slopes and sharing in this incredible hobby together, I also love the gift of time that Stratton Mountain Sports School provides. While my kiddos learned from pro riding instructors, it was exhilarating to reconnect with that familiar feeling of pure joy set on skiis. Every parent needs time for their own fun too.

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The Lessons
Stratton Mountain Sports School offers ski and riding lessons from age three all the way up to adults. With a range of private lessons, group lessons, and full and half-day programs – we opted for the full-day camp for the kids’ first day back on snowboards. I’m convinced that this is the way to go! The day includes lunch, hot cocoa breaks as needed (and, according to my son, a special mitten dryer!). I returned to my excited kiddos in the late afternoon and could not believe how much they both accelerated in just one full day with Stratton’s expert, supportive, personalized coaching. They leveled-up in confidence and skills (while living their best lives!), which made our time together on the mountain all the more fun. In addition to showing mama their accomplishments, the kiddos were super excited to be able to handle going off on their own, along with other friends, after lessons. It’s remarkable what a shot of confidence can do.

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The Lodging and Stratton Village

We stayed on-site at Stratton’s Black Bear Lodge (a few minutes from the village). Greeted by a friendly staff, Black Bear Lodge offers a lot of helpful amenities. Like most, I want an early start on the slopes, and mornings require extra time to make sure that everyone is suited up, gear is in hand, and rentals are secured. The included breakfast was a time-saver with kids, and I so appreciated the endless Starbucks coffee and water in the lobby (note, there are no coffee makers or mini-fridges in the rooms). Stratton runs a super-efficient shuttle service with what felt like non-stopped transportation to and from the village and other areas. We actually never had to move our car all weekend. Stratton also has a charming village, with a steller rental service (we were in and out super-quick), lots of food and après-ski options, an outdoor fire pit, and more. The village shops will make you wish you left your gear at home (and absolutely need that new Patagonia, Burton, Spy or Volcom purchase!).

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The Tubing
Our fun continued well past the last chair of the day over at the Coca-Cola Tube Park located in Stratton’s Sun Bowl. With four lanes of snow tubing (and a cable lift service to get you to the top), a fire pit, and warming hut, everyone can be the undisputed champ of the tubing hill under the Sun Bowl’s cool night lights.

The Eats
Visit Mulligan’s for mountain views, American and Japanese cuisine options, solid selections of Vermont craft beer, and specialty cocktails (including CBD infused drinks). Some of the portions (like the tasty nacho appetizer), were more than enough to feed a small village. We found Mulligan’s to be super family-friendly with arcade games on the lower level.

Although I didn’t make it to Grizzly’s in the Main Base, I did notice the packed deck facing the terrain park. Grizzly’s looks like THE après spot to be.

During the day, we fueled up and took breaks at the Mid Mountain Lodge. My kids seemed to enjoy the Asian Bowls – while I just wanted to sit and guzzle water and coffee!

Stratton also hosted a wonderful dinner for us to sample the local flavors reflected in their restaurants – many of which we recognized the following night at Table 43.1 at Black Bear Lodge. It was all so well done and memorable.

I even had the chance to meet Stratton’s official photographer since 1968, Hubert Schriebl, and glace through his book of images that tell the story of Stratton through the decades (50 years, actually!). I may be secretly dreaming of becoming his apprentice and relocating to a beautiful VT timber frame home.

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Big thank you to Stratton for hosting my family and to the Momtrends team for injecting our first family ski and boarding trip of the season with so much excitement.

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