3 Budgets: Birthday Parties for Children

It’s often hard for my hosting-loving heart to remember that for my daughters’ birthday parties, they just want a fuss, fun and friends on their special day. Ultimately, this doesn’t need to cost much or take much time.


To show you how to hold a great kid’s birthday on a budget, I’ve put together budget breakdowns for three children’s birthday parties at $25, $100 and $500 price points. Keep in mind, these tips skew towards toddler parties since that’s my experience.

$25 Birthday Party

Our family has a rule that each year you can invite as many friends as your new age, which is one trick we use to keep the cost low. I have a hunch that this significantly lessens the pressure to host an MTV-style Super Sweet 16 party!

Knowing what kind of budget you want makes planning your party easier, and less expensive party certainly doesn’t mean less fun.

For my daughter Dottie’s second birthday, two friends came over for a make-your-own-pizza party. I bought refrigerated pizza dough, mozzarella cheese, toppings and sauce at the grocery store, and prepared cleverly cut up veggies to dip in dressing, so the food and entertainment were covered.

I made the tasty birthday cake from a mix on sale, and instead of goodie bags, we handed out helium balloons. The blog “A Girl and a Boy” has a great balloon trick for an even more dynamic decoration. The balloons can do double-duty as the take-home item, instead of putting together goodie bags for the guests.

Refrigerated pizza dough $2.50
Carrots & Broccoli $2.00
Ranch dressing $3.00
Cheese $5.00
Sauce $2.50
Subtotal $15.00
Mix $2.75
Frosting $2.25
Subtotal $5.00
Subtotal $5.00
Total $25.00

$100 Birthday Party

When budgeting for a child’s birthday party, my favorite money saving tip is to ask your child directly what they want.  That’s how we wound up throwing a “Pink Cupcake Donut Rainbow Princess Yoda Santa Baby Jesus Butterfly” party for our daughter’s third birthday.

Fifteen guests joined us for just about $100. We held the summer party in the late morning at a public park. As it was a potluck brunch, costs stayed down and spirits were high. I served a cost efficient eggy pie, pink donuts and pink strawberry juice. Guests supplied the rest of the food.

For decorations, we found a roll of plastic table covering to hide all the dubious park table surfaces. I spray painted a single, small tree branch, secured the branch in a vase, and clipped small butterfly clips over the branch. A stuffed Yoda did double duty as decoration and gift.

Subtotal $15
Prosecco (for the grownups) $10
Eggy pie $5
Donuts $10
Strawberry juice $20
Pink cupcakes
Mix $2.75
Frosting $2.25
Subtotal $5
Subtotal $50
Tablecloth roll (to cover park tables) $10
Stuffed Yoda $10
Rainbow temporary tattoos $3
Clip on Butterflies $7
Spray painted tree branch Free
Subtotal $30
Pink lollipops for the take-home
Subtotal $5
Total: $100

$500 Birthday Party

If I’m spending more money on a party, I make sure there’s a time tradeoff: the higher the party cost, the less time I want to spend preparing. For bigger budget birthday parties, I also like to use the extra money to hire entertainment, like a children’s birthday professional, giving the grownups a chance to mingle, and the kids an experience to remember.

Bigger budgets can also accommodate fancier goodie bags. You can bump up the quality of your goodie bag with personalization. I like to personalize decks of cards, baked goods or even little notebooks.

For 8-10 guests, this party includes a

Bakery bought birthday cake
Subtotal $50
Catered food or takeout
Subtotal $200
Subtotal $100
Pennants to hang $25
Linens (rental) $25
Subtotal $50
Plates and glassware
Subtotal $50
Goodie bags
Personalized pencils $25
Small notebooks with pencils $15
Stickers $5
Bags $5
Subtotal $50
Total: $500

Knowing what kind of budget you want makes planning your party easier, and a less expensive party certainly doesn’t mean less fun. There are party solutions for any kind of budget. Regardless of your budget, make sure you always take plenty of photos. Memories of these special times are priceless!

Destination Spas: Tips to Help You Get the Best Bliss for Your Buck

Spas are among the most popular leisure attractions in the U.S., with Americans spending $13.6 billion in 156 million day and destination spa visits alone. But, while a spa vacation sounds like a good idea, how do you choose a destination that will fit your needs—and your budget? I asked a few experts, who advise to keep in mind the following considerations:
Your Budget

A spa experience should transform you, and it’s hard to put a price on transformation. But “not everybody can spend $5,000 for week,” says Sally Fraenkel, Executive Vice President of SpaFinder Wellness. The site has a search function to find destination spas and deals. “There are options that fit all different budgets.”

In fact, nearly half of all spa vacations booked came in under $299 a night, according to SpaFinder State of Spa Travel Report. And since the base price at a destination spa usually includes meals, classes, treatments, and other activities, “you get quite a bit” for what you’re paying for, Fraenkel says. Take Red Mountain Resort, near St. George, Utah. Its “Red Mountain Essential Retreat” package starts at $270 a night and includes meals, classes, and activities.

Your Goals

Are you looking to lose weight, jump-start your fitness routine, or just relax? Make sure the spa includes the activities you need: weight-loss menus, hikes, meditation, massage, or any other features. If it’s your first spa visit, does the spa have a beginners’ program? The spa industry has gotten very good at addressing the entry-level customer, says Michelle Kinney, Vice President of Trilogy Spa Ventures, which develops hotel-based spas.

Matching the spa’s focus to your goals is a way to make sure you get the most out of your money, says Marissa Gold, Editorial Director of SpaWeek Media, a spa and wellness marketing company. Since many spa packages are all-inclusive, a mismatch means you’d pay for treatments and features that you’re not going to use and pay extra for things you do want, she says.

The Length of Your Stay

Spending a day each way flying to an exotic destination is impractical if you only have a long weekend. Consider trading a beachfront spa across the country for a lakeside resort closer to home, Gold suggests.

About half of all spa vacations booked last year came in under $299 a night.

Special Deals

SpaWeek’s site has a search function that sorts destination spas and a section with package deals. It also sponsors specials in April and October with reduced-price packages and treatments.

Another option: You can choose a hotel/resort with spa facilities, where you can book nights and treatments à la carte to fit your timeframe, says Kinney. Her company recently opened Well & Being at Willow Stream in the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona, which offers such features.

Even after you’ve picked your spa, there are still things you can do to make you money go farther:

An Off-Season Trip

Just like hotels drop room prices during low periods, their spas also cut rates to fill treatment rooms, says Kinney. For example, according to the Park City (Utah) Visitors Bureau, spa stays in that tony ski town during spring, summer, and fall can cost half to one-third the price of a peak winter getaway. The area has a selection of high-end spa resorts including the Golden Door Spa at Waldorf Astoria Park City and the Remède Spa at St. Regis. “There is absolutely a seasonality aspect,” said Fraenkel of SpaFinder Wellness.

“Friend” the Property

Most spa locations will do either a monthly e-mail blast or a newsletter you can subscribe to for updates on goings-on, including specials, says Kinney. SpaWeek and SpaFinder also offer newsletters and deal alerts.

Newsletters are a good way to find out about last-minute travel deals, says Fraenkel. For example, she notes that the well-known spas Canyon Ranch and Rancho la Puerta recently were both offering 20% off last-minute packages, and Sparkling Hill Resort in British Columbia had an offer of 40% off a three-night stay with spa treatments.

Split the Cost

“It is always going to cut costs to go with a friend,” says Gold. “Sharing a room will cut the cost dramatically.”

For example, the Tennessee Fitness Spa in Waynesboro offers a weekly rate as low as $875 for four friends staying together. Or you can get a three-night special package that’s $425 each—including full fitness program, all meals and a beauty treatment—if two people share a room.

To simplify cost-sharing on trips, you can use Citibank® PopMoney® to pay friends directly from your existing Citibank checking, savings, or money market account. You can send money to anyone in the US with a bank account by using his or her email address or bank account information, even when you’re at the spa, by using the Citi MobileSM App.

Work: More than Just a Job

However powerful our technology and complicated our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world is in the end internal, it consists in an aspect of our mentalities: in the beautiful and noble belief that the work we do should make us happy and contribute to the meaning of our lives.


All societies have had work at their center; ours is the first to suggest that work must be something much more than a punishment or a drag. Ours is the first to imply that we should seek to work even in the absence of a pressing financial imperative: that we should work to be fully human.

Nowadays, our choice of occupation defines our identity to the extent that the most obvious question we ask of new acquaintances is not where they come from or who their parents were but what they do, the assumption being that the route to a meaningful life is deeply connected to the job we pick for ourselves.

As we enter the job market, the question is to know not only what is available out there, but also – and just as importantly – what our hearts really desire.

Of course, to find our way to the right job is a huge challenge. As we enter the job market, the question is to know not only what is available out there, but also—and just as importantly—what our hearts really desire. Nowadays, most jobs cannot be done properly without passion. Then again, it isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement. We need to give ourselves time: finding a job we are competent at and enjoy doing is as difficult and as rare as a good marriage.

Not all of us are going to have the sort of outstanding careers often celebrated in the media, but to hold down any job means being given a chance to help out in the great and important task of bettering some corner of the human beehive. Work should be honored for allowing us to focus our otherwise scattered energies on some achievable goals, for giving us a sense of mastery, for making us respectably tired and for allowing us to create something that is just a little bit more ordered, beautiful, logical, or helpful than we manage to be day to day in the rest of our lives.

Tips to Unplug and Limit Your Screen Time Exposure

Many parents have rules for “screen time” for their kids—that is, how much cumulative time they can spend looking at televisions, computers, gaming systems, and even smart phones and tablet computers. We intuitively know it’s important for kids to spend time engaged in activities that don’t require eyeballs on screens.


As adults we should be imposing similar limits on ourselves. The hitch is, of course, that we often need to use our screens for work: we are tied to devices like our computers, tablets, and phones for our professional life. When the workday is over (for those lucky ones whose workdays DO end), we often turn to screens to watch the news of the day, unwind, or catch up with friends and family.

We need to remember that it’s important for adults to unplug as well. Earlier this year, Psychology Today wrote a great article about how intertwined we are with technology and why it’s so hard to detach from the digital world. To help bring awareness, there’s a National Day of Unplugging in March where participants pledge an entire day sans connectivity and a Screen Free Week next Spring oriented towards families.

But let’s start with baby steps. Since it’s not always easy to do, and knowing where to start can be a bit daunting, I’ve pulled together a few tips on setting limits on your own screen time:

We intuitively know it’s important to spend time engaged in activities that don’t require eyeballs on screens.

  • No screens during dinner. Whether you’re a family of eight or live alone, plan on dinnertime being screen-free. Turn off the news, and don’t check texts or status updates—just stop and enjoy the meal in front of you.
  • Remove screens from bedrooms. When it’s time to retire for the evening, don’t tempt yourself to unwind with a movie or laptop. Let your bedroom be a haven and snuggle up with a cup of tea and a good book. It’s a calming way to end your day.
  • Ramp up your workout. Instead of watching a movie or the news while reading a tablet on a treadmill, how about popping in your earbuds to energize yourself with a favorite song? Let the music be your muse, not the talking heads on the screen.
  • Get outside, and leave your screens behind. Take the dog for a walk, head to the park with a novel or sketchpad, or just sip some lemonade on your own front porch. If you must take your phone with you because you need to be accessible to others, keep it out of reach and pretend it isn’t there until it notifies you otherwise.
  • Head to the library. Remember the old days before screens were omnipresent? Rediscover the joy of the library…rooms stuffed with books just waiting to be read. Spend an hour or so perusing the shelves, and then bring some home to enjoy instead of that glowing box.

Technology brings so many wonderful things to our world, but the key is to not let it run your life. Take some time out of each day to put the smart phone down and engage in the world around you. Your eyes and your imagination will thank you.

Tips That Can Help You Be a Better Manager

Yes, the job market is tight, but that doesn’t leave bosses off the hook when it comes to managing staff.


“There is a management challenge under way,” says professional coach Beverly Flaxington. “There is increasing pressure on managers to be more than managers—to be leaders, psychologists, problem-solvers, relationship-builders, and effective technicians.”

A recent survey found that 86% of employees plan to switch jobs this year—something employers should take note of, because it’s costly and ineffective for companies to keep training replacements, says Flaxington. With companies trying to do more with fewer people “managers have to be creative, they have to pull teams together, and figure out how to meet the (company) goals,” she says.

An ongoing discussion in Citi’s LinkedIn group, Connect: Professional Women’s Network, addresses this topic, spurred by the question, “What makes a great manager?”

“The greatest managers I’ve worked with, and emulated, were the ones who were regularly engaged with their direct reports, fought for their teams when needed, communicated openly, and focused on employee growth,” writes Michelle Sams Marko, a Senior Manager at a wireless communications company in the San Francisco area. “In short, they made me believe they cared about helping me in my career in addition to getting me the right tools to succeed in the current job.”

Some of the qualities of a good manager are fundamental: Knowing how to hire good people and fire underperformers before they drag down the rest of the office, and how to run a good meeting, says Quint Studer, founder of Studer Group, a leadership coaching firm in Gulf Breeze, Florida. But great managers are also engaged with employees and ask them for regular feedback to make sure they have the tools they need and are meeting their goals, adds Studer, author of The Great Employee Handbook: Making Work and Life Better.

Good managers “offer priorities, process, and a clear path for those who need it,” says Flaxington. One-on-one coaching can help with those skills, says Flaxington, author of Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior.

“Good managers should not do the organizing on their own. Their most important job is mentoring and delegating,” she says.

Good managers offer priorities, process, and a clear path for those who need it.

From both the LinkedIn comments and input from Studer and Flaxington, a few common traits of a good manager stand out:

She sees the staff as people.

“A great leader is concerned about results, yes, but is dually concerned that the people striving to obtain the results learn, mature, and reach for greater goals than just the results themselves,” writes Tonisha Swanson, a Business Consultant in the Chicago area.

“The characteristics and skills to being a great manager are the same ones needed to be a great friend. Concern for the other person and leading them to develop,” writes Nancy Winkler, an Independent Real Estate Agent in the Knoxville, Tennessee area.

A manager must get to know their employees personally, especially at a time when people are increasingly concerned with achieving work-life balance, says leadership coach Studer. “You have to know something about the person beyond what they do at work … If you work for me, I need to know what’s going on. I need to know if your father’s ill,” he says.

She lifts obstacles for employees.

“I’ve always viewed my role as a manager or leader as one to set a vision and clear any barriers for people,” writes Nancy Koors, President and Chief Operating Officer of Powerhouse Factories, a marketing agency in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Give them the end goal and let them get there in their own way, but be there if they need guidance or help,” Koors explains.

Managers need to ask employees regularly if they have what they need to get the work done, says Studer. Employees assume the boss knows when something isn’t working right but often, that is not the case, he says. “I need to say to you: ‘Are the systems that you need working?’ If the answer’s yes, fine; if the answer’s no, I need to know what I can do to fix it because that’s wasted time,” he says.

That’s not as easy as it sounds, says Studer: “Bosses are afraid to do those things because they don’t want to find out they can’t fix it.”

She asks for feedback.

“A great manager must be able to accept feedback, positive or negative,” writes Terri Larry, a Certified Public Accountant in the Los Angeles, California area.

Studer suggests setting up a regular survey asking staffers to submit feedback anonymously: “Ask (on a scale of) one through five: ‘How am I at doing meetings, setting expectations, answering questions, rewards and recognition, professional development, and addressing performance issues?’” This approach is not only helpful for identifying issues, but it will help morale to even ask, he says.

“I think we are all asked to be leaders and followers in some way, shape, and form,” writes Beth Tunis, a Therapist and Life Coach in New York City. Indeed, the managers she has followed and learned from are those who kept employees informed and engaged with humor, respect, and passion for their work—who “walked their talk.”

Tips for Managing Investment Risk

Investments in financial instruments represent a greater proportion of our generation’s household wealth than our parents’. Consequently, financial market volatility can have a significant impact on our family’s net worth, whereas in the past it may not have. So, it’s more important than ever that we understand the different types of investment risk to be able to better manage it. Here are the six key sources of risk in an investment portfolio:

Investment Risks

Market Risk

Market risk is a concern that the rates of return for an entire asset class (e.g., stocks) will expose you to losses and result in less than expected returns over a period. Factor in market risk when evaluating your investment mix and keep the following in mind:

  • Your time horizon, liquidity needs, investment goals, and risk tolerance significantly affect the amount of market risk you as an investor may want to tolerate.
  • Large swings in the market usually don’t last for long periods.
  • Eventually, the market should swing the other way, decreasing the range of long-term average returns.
  • The longer you hold your investment, the less likely you have to worry about losses in any given year.

Industry Risk and Business Risk

Two other sources of risk are industry risk and business risk. Industry risk is associated with investing in a specific industry such as technology, energy, etc., while business risk is the risk that a stock or bond may decrease in value to a greater degree than the industry or market and may never recover. Because it can be very difficult to know which industries and companies will outperform, you can reduce these types of risk by diversifying and balancing your investments among many different industries and companies.

Your time horizon, liquidity needs, investment goals, and risk tolerance significantly affect the amount of market risk you as an investor may want to tolerate.

Inflation Risk

Inflation risk is the danger that the buying power of your money will decrease if the return on your investment (after income taxes and management fees) is lower than the inflation rate. To manage inflation risk, keep in mind that investing in a diversified portfolio of stocks has historically produced returns above inflation over longer periods. In addition, certain fixed-income securities issued by the U.S. government, such as “TIPS” (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities) and I-Bonds, also help provide inflation protection.

Interest-Rate Risk

Interest-rate risk pertains to the change in the value of fixed-income investments, such as bonds or bond funds, as interest rates fluctuate. When interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall. Conversely, bond prices increase as rates decline. Rising interest rates depress the value of existing bonds because investors can buy new bonds paying higher prevailing yields.

On the other hand, if rates fall, potential buyers will be willing to pay a premium for an older, higher-yielding bond. Either scenario will affect the current value of your fixed-income investments. To manage this type of risk, you may want to consider a diversified portfolio that holds fixed-income securities of various maturities while considering that bonds with shorter maturities are subject to less interest rate risk than bonds with longer maturities.

Credit Risk

Credit risk is the risk that the issuer of your bonds will default (not pay) on its loan to bondholders. To help manage credit risk you should check the financial stability of the issuer before you invest. Investors should manage credit risk by diversifying the investment among multiple credits and investing in low-rated credits to the extent the risk of doing so is tolerable. Again, these are important issues to discuss with your financial professional.

While it is impossible to eliminate all risk, speaking with a financial professional can help you better understand your own tolerance for risk and identify ways to help mitigate these and other risks in your portfolio.

Lessons My Kids Learned from the Lemonade Stand

It’s another sweltering summer day, and my daughters Jesse, 10, and Ruby, 7, are begging me to buy lemons so we can make lemonade. They’re not particularly thirsty. Rather, they’re anxious to make lemonade so they can set up a lemonade stand in front of our Brooklyn apartment building and make some money.


It’s a classic childhood entrepreneurial plan—and a great way to teach kids the value of hard work, not to mention some business basics.

By setting up a lemonade stand, kids can learn:

  • How to work as a team.
  • How to handle money.
  • Confidence and self-esteem.
  • Independence.
  • Responsibility.

Though they may not realize it, kids can discover their business strengths through setting up a lemonade stand. Are they good at the creative side of things, like making posters announcing the stand (advertising)? Do they like spreading the word about the product (marketing)? Or do they love keeping track of the money (accounting)?

“It gives you an example of what you could do when you grow up,” says Jesse, who says she likes to run the lemonade stand “because I can get money and then I can buy stuff.”

When we first decided to set up the stand, Jesse and her sister hadn’t considered the hard work involved. But they learned quickly that making the lemonade and setting up a stand wasn’t enough to be successful. In addition to creating a good product (in this case, freshly squeezed raspberry lemonade), it’s also important to create a budget and a business plan—or else it’s a money-losing operation. In the old days, kids charged maybe 25 cents a cup. But with the rising cost of lemons (especially organic ones!), in order to make a profit, my kids charge $1.00.

Plus, it’s important to get the word out. Parents can help their kids promote the sale via social media (your Facebook friends would love to see pictures of the kids selling lemonade!) or by putting up flyers at local businesses. Jesse and Ruby made colorful signs that they hung around the neighborhood.

Once the stand was set up, they sat quietly as people walked by, until they realized how to be effective salespeople. “You can’t just sit there,” Jesse told me. “You need to say something to people who are walking by, so they know what you’re doing.”

Kids can discover their business strengths through setting up a lemonade stand.

The girls’ hard work paid off. Though it may not be the case for everyone, Jesse and Ruby were able to recoup their initial investment in lemons and sugar, which they then split. Not bad for a few hours work! Of course, it helped that it was a particularly hot day, and we live near a popular park.

While it’s tempting to set up a business with a group of friends, Jesse advises you might want to keep the numbers small. “Doing a stand with one other person is good because you won’t be so lonely and bored sitting out there for a long time, and you don’t have to share the money with too many people.” Clearly, she’s a budding businesswoman.

Do the kids in your life have the entrepreneurial spirit? Share these tips for setting up a lemonade stand with them:

  • Draw up goals.
  • Find a good location.
  • Create a budget (including your list of supplies).
  • Make a good product (parents should help cut lemons).
  • Consider selling other products (such as cookies) along with lemonade.
  • Price reasonably (keeping in mind neighborhood standards).
  • Get the word out.
  • Be good salespeople. You’ll want return customers.
  • Have fun!

What Grads Really Need: 10 Gift Ideas

When you’re searching for the perfect present for a special college or high school grad, I suggest selecting a gift that’s either everyday useful or once-in-a-lifetime extravagant. Each time—or the one time—your grad uses the gift, she’ll remember how proud you are of her accomplishment.


Here are 10 ideas:

1. Luxurious comforter: Whether it’s down or high-quality polyester, a top-of-the-line comforter will protect your grad from the cold world—at least at bedtime. Stick with a simple plain comforter that can be thrown on a bed for a clean, white look or be dressed up with a duvet cover. (approximately $80 and up)

2. Blender: This must-have kitchen gift is great for the smoothies and power shakes that may cost an arm and a leg on campus. A nice blender will earn a place in kitchens throughout your grad’s life. (approximately $100 and up)

3. Joy of Cooking: It’s still the go-to cooking primer that should be on every kitchen shelf. Buy the hardcover version, so you can inscribe it. Each time he makes a pesto sauce, he’ll think of you. (approximately $50)

Instead of writing a big check in June, send a smaller monthly stipend.

4. Joy of cash: What grad can’t use some extra cash? Instead of writing a big check in June, give them a smaller monthly or weekly stipend—and if you send it virtually, there’s no need for them to visit the campus post office to collect their checks. For example, the Popmoney® personal payment service allows you to send money to virtually anyone’s U.S. bank account easily with your phone, directly from your bank account, using the Citi Mobile® App.

5. Travel: Maybe it’s a ticket home for the holidays. Or maybe it’s an airline or rail gift card that gives your grad a well-deserved vacation. Amtrak offers USA Rail Passes from 15 days with 8 stops ($449) to 45 days with 18 stops ($879). It’s an extravagant gift so perhaps invite other friends and relatives to chip in, too.

6. Vacuum robot: This may be the only way your grad’s new digs will stay clean. Most vacuuming robots have a scheduling feature that tells them when to clean, so you don’t even have to remember to push a button. (approximately $160 and up)

7. Single-serve espresso maker: Think of the money she’ll save when she makes her own cappuccino or latte each morning. For about $1 a day, she can drop in a coffee capsule, press a button, and have her morning coffee exactly how she wants it. (approximately $200 and up)

8. Stuffed wallet: You never know what your grad will need during his first year in the real world. So buy him a great leather wallet (he won’t have the cash to splurge on that for a while), and stuff it with gift cards that will treat him to movies, music, clothes, and a great restaurant meal. (approximately $50 and up, plus the cost of gift cards)

9. Tool kit: Every new household (no matter how temporary) should contain a basic tool kit—hammer, pliers, screwdriver, wrench—to fix a running toilet, secure a cabinet door, or stop a faucet leak. (approximately $40)

10. Single shares of stock: Buy just one share of stock and let your grad watch it grow (we hope) throughout her life. Select a company that produces something she actually uses, like computers or cross trainers. Or pick one that pays dividends that she can reinvest or use for extra pocket money.

Why Men Can’t Address Their Work-Life Balance Issues

If you have a hard time believing that men struggle with balancing their career and family life, it’s not a surprise. According to the Today’s Professional Woman Report survey released by Citi and LinkedIn, 78% of women have never heard a successful man talk about this struggle; yet more than half (52%) of men say that they have.


Even though men have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend with their children since the 1960s, according to a study by Pew Research Center, many still feel it’s not enough. As a dad of twin boys, I can vouch for that.  I quit my full-time job at one of the biggest marketing agencies in Hawaii so I could follow my two dreams. One was to become a freelance writer, and the other was to spend as much time as possible with my boys. I decided I needed to walk away from the 60-hour workweek and start working on my own, from home.

In the Citi/LinkedIn survey, when men were asked about their biggest career regrets, 17% said they wished they’d spent less time at work and more time with their families or on personal pursuits. Yet corporate America still seems to frown on men seeking flexible work arrangements to spend more time with their kids. Women speak with confidence about taking maternity leave or setting up a part-time schedule after a baby is born. By contrast, few men feel comfortable asking for paternity leave.

In general, men hesitate to speak up about the difficulties of being a working dad. And I have at least three theories why:

 78% of women have never heard a successful man talk about this struggle.
 1. The culture frequently disregards men as competent fathers. There’s a classic media stereotype of the fumbling, bumbling, clueless dad who, despite his good intentions, fails miserably at the easiest of parenting tasks. While the term “working mom” is seen as a merit badge, “working dad” is seen more as an oxymoron.

I think some moms feel entitled to sympathy for being the parent who’s always more tired and more hardworking. At many a social gathering, I’ve gotten eye-rolls from moms when I’ve complained about being tired from taking care of my boys. No matter how many bottles I feed, how many diapers I change, or how many loads of laundry I do, it appears I can’t meet a mom’s standard of what it means to feel tired.

2. Men feel less confident than women when asking their bosses for time off. According to the Citi/LinkedIn survey, while men feel more confident about asking for a raise or a promotion, women feel more confident about asking their bosses for time off. But the survey also shows that—for both men and women—one age group in particular has it the worst: Gen X respondents reported having the lowest levels of work-life balance of any generation.

I wanted to be as involved and supportive as possible to my wife before and throughout her pregnancy. It was a long journey, and we had several medical appointments. Before leaving my full-time job, I burned through my vacation and sick days. The system was not designed for dads taking time off for those kinds of things. Every time I had to explain that I was taking time off for a medical appointment with my wife, it felt unnecessarily awkward. Why is it that when dads ask, we’re made to feel as if companies are making a one-time exception or doing us a special favor? A paternity leave, in my case, would have been without pay, so leaving my full-time job was a move toward better work-life balance.

3. Men face stigmatization for seeking flexible work hours. A  study in the Journal of Social Issues found that men with flexible work arrangements received lower evaluations than those with traditional ones. While both men and women seeking flexible hours received lower evaluations, women were seen as “warmer and more moral.” In other words, men were penalized at the character level.

When I told my friends that I was leaving my job so I could have flexibility, I could see that the guys were wondering if they could do that, too. In private conversations, married guys ask me for plenty of details about how I made it happen. I see a lot of curiosity, but also a lot of hesitation. As men, we’re wired to be the breadwinners, to be the providers for our families. We fear that burping babies after meals and supervising tummy time for most of the day will make us look to others like we’re not doing our main job.

There’s the old phrase, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I think it should be equally applicable to working moms and working dads. If we each start with our own circle and remove the stigma attached to working dads, men may have an easier time achieving work-life balance. Results like that will benefit both our families and our employers.

What will it take for this stigma to finally change for good?

How to Get a Mortgage: A Simple To-Do List

Deciding to become a homeowner marks a significant step in your financial life: It’s likely one of the largest purchases you’ll ever make. And perhaps unbeknownst to you, you’ve been preparing for it for years, since the way you’ve managed your credit, assets and debts up to this point will determine your loan options and what you’ll ultimately pay for your home.


Whether you’re ready to apply for a mortgage or haven’t yet begun house-hunting, the more you understand about the mortgage process, the less daunting your role as homebuyer becomes. Here’s a step-by-step guide to securing a mortgage loan:

Once you’re ready to pursue a formal mortgage loan application, be financially predictable.

Get your credit in shape

Before you decide that it’s time to buy, obtain your free credit report at a site such as annualcreditreport.com. Aside from checking for inaccuracies (and attempting to rectify those errors with the appropriate credit bureau), take note of your loan balances—including those associated with credit cards you pay in full by the statement due date. Because lenders are required to evaluate a mortgage applicant’s ability to pay based on factors including monthly income, debt balances and the potential loan obligation, reducing outstanding debt is to your benefit.

Speak with lenders

Before you start contacting realtors, consult a mortgage expert to learn more about getting pre-qualified. (Citi, for example, offers a free evaluation.) The process usually doesn’t require more than a 15-minute phone conversation, and though it doesn’t guarantee your full approval, it will let you know whether you may qualify for a mortgage based on information you provide regarding your credit, debt and income—and if so, for what amount.

Additionally, your lender can suggest loan programs for you based on factors like your credit, the down payment you can afford as well as any gift funds you intend to put toward the purchase. It’s a good idea to speak to several lenders and compare rates and loan terms.

The amount you’re approved for and what you actually borrow is a matter of your personal financial comfort level. Online mortgage tools and calculators can help you understand what your monthly payment obligations would be for a range of different loan types and scenarios.

Keep your finances consistent

Once you’re ready to pursue a formal mortgage loan application, you can streamline the process by gathering the relevant financial documentation you’ll need beforehand. It’s also critical that you become financially predictable: Do not move, change jobs, open new credit accounts, close old credit accounts, buy a new car or co-sign for a loan.

If you need to transfer money to use for closing costs or your down payment, Brian Murphy, senior mortgage planner at Front Range Mortgage, LLC, advises consulting your loan officer before you complete the transfer (and keeping the transaction record). If you receive any funds outside of your typical income during the underwriting process, be prepared to show proof of the source of the funds. “Any other irregular deposit—including gifts, or even cash from a garage sale—may need to be documented by the underwriter for loan approval,” Murphy says.

Be responsive

Once you find a home and the seller accepts your offer, you’ll typically have a month or less to complete the closing process. Respond quickly and completely to your lender’s requests for additional documentation or clarification, and be forthcoming. Loan officers are accustomed to dealing with problems that arise during real estate transactions; keep them informed and most will happily work with you to find a solution.

Value the inspection period

You’re one step closer to owning a home when your offer is accepted, but the deal isn’t final until you sign the formal closing documents. Stay open-minded throughout the appraisal and inspection process. Rolando Moreno, vice president at First Equity Mortgage Bankers, Inc., also recommends contacting your county’s building and zoning department to make sure there are no code violations or open permits on file. Evaluate the findings objectively, and consider whether these are issues that you’re financially and emotionally prepared to face, now and in the future.