Thursday, July 21, 2005

Inspiration Behind Celebrity Baby Names

Take this quiz and see if you can figure out the reasons behind why certain celebrities named their baby what they did. For instance, do you know why Demi Moore and Bruce Willis named their daughter Rumer? Or why Bono named his kid with a "Q" in the name? Take the quiz and see if you can beat my 6 out of 10!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pregnancy Websites

I really enjoy -- obviously since I work for them! But I also enjoy other pregnancy and women related websites. One of my more favorite websites is iVillage and if I were pregnant, I would enjoy their Health Care section simply because they have a wide range of topics that cover a lot of important health issues, both common and uncommon. Or the Preparing for Baby section because sometimes you might forget something! Of course, when it comes to medical advice, besides your doctor, the best medical website is WebMD. The Pregnancy section is particularly full of medical related advice and full of articles. Amazing the things you can research online! Where do YOU go to look things up online?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Unique Baby Names

On Yahoo! Health, they have some unique baby names listed. How about naming your baby after a gem or mineral? You could try... Agate or Amber? Amethyst, Aquamarine, Carnelian, Copper or Cornelia. Crystal or Diamond or Emerald or Garnet. Gold or Iona or Ivory. Jacinth or Jade or Jadeite. Jasper or Jet or Krystal? What about Moonstone or Obsidian or Onyx. I've heard of Pearl and Opal before. Perhaps Platnium is what you are looking for. Quartz? Ruby? Sapphire? All good ones. Or Silver or Topaz or Tourmaline. Or perhaps Turquoise? Check out their Baby Name Finder for some more ideas! If naming your baby after a gem isn't for you, they have listings of Flowers and States, Colors and Lakes. You're bound to find a name!

Twins Squared

Happy Tuesday everyone! I got a call from Kat who is doing well although she is extremely exhausted. But she is happy and baby Heidi is doing well! She said that briefly checked out the blog and is glad to know I haven't made everything disappear or fall apart. :) I read this article today about a woman who gave birth to two sets of identical twins. After 12 years of trying to conceive, she and her husband now have 2 identical girls and 2 identical boys. All twins are healthy and weigh around 2 pounds. Wow - four at once! And 2 sets of twins! Welcome to the World!

Monday, July 18, 2005

The 529 Plan

Having kids? Have kids? Want them to go to college? You probably do. Well then read this. It is somewhat of a long article but if you don't know about 529 plans, then you should go ahead and read it. Saving early for your child's education is a great thing to do. Next to saving for retirement, your biggest financial challenge is probably saving for your kids' college education. How do know how much to save? How much will a college education cost when Junior turns 18? What if you save all of this money and then he decides to tour Europe instead of going to college? Can you cash in the account and take that dream vacation you and your spouse have been thinking about? That depends on how and where you've stashed the money. Back before the days of Education IRAs (now called Coverdell Education Savings Accounts), there just weren't that many ways to save for your children's education -- at least not where you could get any kind of tax break. Now, in addition to the Coverdell Education Savings Account, there is another way to save that can provide even better benefits. A 529 college savings plan is a very simple way to save money for your kids' (or anyone else's) college education. The benefits are tremendous. Here are some of the heavy hitters: -You pay no taxes on the account's earnings. -The child doesn't have control of or access to the account -- you do. -If the child doesn't want to go to college, you can roll the account over to another family member. -Anyone can contribute to the account. -There are no income limitations that might make you ineligible for an account. -Most states have no age limit for when the money has to be used. -If the child gets a scholarship, any unused money can be withdrawn without paying any penalty (just the tax). And there are still more benefits. The Cost of College If you have small children and haven't been told how much a college education is going to cost in 15 years, then you should make sure you're sitting down when you read this. Conservative estimates put four years at a public (yes, public) university in 15 years at about $100,000 or more. Try this calculator to find out how much it will be for other time periods. You may never have thought you could get excited about big sums of money you won't be spending on yourself until you read about this new college savings plan. The 529 plan may well be the best thing in college savings plans since... well, anything. This plan offers the most painless way to save money for higher education to date. And if the child decides not to go to college, you can roll it over to someone else in the family that does want to go, including yourself! The benefits of this plan far outweigh any drawbacks it may have -- which aren't many. Let's look at how it works. The 529 Plan The 529 Plan (named after its section number in the IRS code) is a savings plan for college education. You have a couple of options when you open an account. One option lets you prepay tuition at a qualified educational institution at today's tuition rates (see below). Another option lets you save money in a tax-deferred account (earnings only) to be used to pay for education at future tuition rates. The idea, with either option, is that the investment earnings will grow to meet the higher costs of future education. The savings account option is typically considered the more attractive of the two and is what we will focus on in this article. The 529 plan is a state-sponsored investment program. That is, the state sets up the plan with an asset management company of its choice, and you open a 529 account with that asset management company according to the state's predetermined plan features. You are the owner of the account, and the child for whom the account is set up is the beneficiary. You won't deal directly with the state, but rather with the asset management/investment company. State-to-State Variations Because each state can control some of the features of its own plan, there are variations from state to state. Most plans follow the same general scheme (and federal requirements), but make sure you compare plans among states other than your own. Most states don't require residency in order to participate, so shop around different states for the best deal. Click here for information that will help you compare states and choose the right plan. The Benefits: Tax Treatment All of the account's earnings are exempt from federal tax when they are withdrawn if they are used for qualified education expenses. This means that, unlike the taxes you have to pay on earnings from regular stock investments, you won't pay any tax on the 529 account earnings unless you end up using the money for something other than higher education. Earnings are currently tax-deferred in most states, as well. A break on the earnings tax isn't the only tax advantage, either. Although your contributions aren't pre-tax (you pay state and federal tax on the money you put into the account), there are some states that let you deduct a portion of your contributions from your state taxes. More states will probably follow suit in the coming years. The Benefits: Account Control Unlike custodial accounts or Education Savings Accounts (ESAs, formerly Education IRAs), the beneficiary does not gain control of the money at a specific age (usually 18 or 21 for those types of accounts). The account owner always has control of the money. This helps lessen that parental anxiety that Junior will take the money and tour Europe or buy a Porsche instead of going to college. There are no restrictions on who can open an account for whom. You can open an account for your child, a friend's child, a relative, the paper boy, or even yourself. Anyone can contribute to the account. Now all (or at least some) of that birthday money from Grandma and Grandpa that's usually blown on candy and soon-forgotten toys can be funneled into the college savings account! The Benefits: Income Eligibility Did you know that with an ESA, you aren't eligible to contribute if you make more than $110,000 per year ($220,000 for married couples)? Unlike ESAs, your income does not affect your eligibility to open a 529 account. Contributions to 529 plans also qualify for the $11,000 ($22,000 for married couples in 2002) annual gift tax exclusion. You can also contribute up to five years of gifts during the first year, meaning you can put in up to $55,000 ($110,000 for married couples). This is a great benefit in situations where inheritance money enters the picture. Your account can grow up to $268,000 in some states. You can contribute as little as $25 to $50 per month The Benefits: How the Money Can Be Used In most states, there is no age limit or time limit for when the money has to be used. Your child can put off college indefinitely, in which case you have the option of rolling the account over to another child as long as that child is in the same family of the first beneficiary. In case you're wondering just who is considered "family," the plan defines family members as "the original beneficiary's spouse, children, sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, first cousins, and any spouses of those persons." Your child can go to any accredited degree-granting educational institution, whether it is public, private, two-year, or four-year. There are even some international schools that qualify. In most states, qualified education costs include tuition, books, room, board, transportation, and even computers. In the event that your child gets a scholarship, then the remainder of the 529 account can be rolled over to another sibling (or relative), or it can be cashed out with no penalty other than the tax paid (at your rate) on the earnings. The same rule applies in the event of the child's death or disability. The Benefits: Investment Control If the thought of turning over your hard earned money to the state makes you a little uneasy, rest assured that the state doesn't control your money. In fact, most states are signing on with well-known, successful investment companies such as TIAA-CREF, Vanguard and Fidelity. The number and types of investment options vary by state, and once you select your option you can't change it. You can, however, roll your money over into another state's plan if you're not happy with your chosen investment option. There is no penalty to roll the money over into another state's plan, and you can do it once every 12 months. Most states have no residence requirement for their 529 plans. Many plans are also offering investment choices that are age-based. This means that if you're starting early, perhaps when your child is age one to three, the investments can begin aggressively in stocks then gradually shift to bonds and money market accounts as your child gets closer to college age. Some state plans offer several levels of options for aggressive, moderate and conservative investments. If you can't reach the risk level you want in one plan, you can always open a second 529 account in the same or another state. You can have as many accounts as you want and can also contribute to both a 529 plan and an ESA. That way, you can diversify your investments in the event that the plan doesn't offer the investment mix you would like. The Drawbacks With all of those pros, there have to be cons, but they're pretty acceptable and easy to live with. Here they are: If your child applies for financial aid, the 529 account may affect eligibility. According to ...the 529 account is treated as an asset of the parent or other account owner in determining eligibility for federal financial aid. This means that your expected contribution towards your child's college costs will include 5.6 percent, or less, of the value of your 529 account for each academic year. This is actually much better than the 35 percent assessment against money that is in your child's name or in a custodial account. The only real drawback comes in when calculating eligibility the second year. At this point, 50 percent of the money that was withdrawn from the 529 account the first year shows up on your child's tax return. This decreases your child's eligibility for the next year by 50 percent of that amount. For example, if you withdraw $10,000 from the account to pay for college expenses the first year, then $5,000 (50 percent of the total) will show up as the child's taxable income. That will decrease your child's eligibility the following year by $2,500, because there is a 50 percent eligibility assessment on the child's tax return from the prior year. (Remember -- we're talking about tax laws -- all of this can change.) If the student owns the 529 account, which is what happens when a custodial account has been transferred to a 529 account, then the amount of the account will greatly affect his or her eligibility for financial aid. Because the student owns the account and it is one of the student's assets, a 35 percent assessment against those assets kicks in. One thing to watch out for is that the new tax laws regarding 529 plans will "sunset" in 2011. This means that lawmakers will have to make the tax change permanent before then or else the plans will revert to their original tax-deferred status (see sidebar in previous section). This possible reversal could affect you if your children will be going to college after 2011. The money in your 529 plan can't be used as collateral for a loan. You don't control the investments (more about how the money is invested in the next section). Your only option for changing the investments made with your money is to roll the account over to another state's plan. You can do this once a year with no penalty. If you have to withdraw the money for some reason other than to pay for qualified higher education, then you pay tax (at your rate) and a 10 percent penalty. You can only make cash contributions to the account; stocks can't be rolled over into it. Although you are the account owner, 529 accounts are considered gifts and are, therefore, not calculated as part of your own estate assets. Each beneficiary must have his/her own account. Siblings or cousins can't share an account. You can, however, roll any remaining portion of an account over to another child once the account's beneficiary has completed college. Choosing the Right Plan Choosing the right 529 plan is not much easier than choosing anything else in financial world. It takes some research, some luck, and the ability to accept some level of risk. The variations in state plans don't make the process any easier. Here are few guidelines that can get you started: 1. The first thing to do is to look at your own state's plan. There are currently 16 states that offer a tax deduction on 529 contributions, and many that also exempt state tax on the earnings upon withdrawal. Some states may offer matching grants or loan programs. This can make a fairly significant difference and is worth weighing against other state plans that may have lower fees. 2. The next thing to look at is the manager of the plan. Because the plans haven't been around for very long, you can't really rely on the success record of the plan manager. Look at the investment company's record of dealing with mutual funds and pension plans. 3. Next, look at the fees the plan charges. Finding a low-cost plan means looking at several possible charges. For instance, some states charge an enrollment fee to open the account, and some also charge annual maintenance fees. Then there is the expense ratio, which is the percentage of fund assets that pays for operating expenses and management fees. This includes 12b-1 fees (basically, fund marketing fees), administrative fees, and all of the other asset-based costs that the fund incurs, with the exception of brokerage costs. Expense ratios often decrease as a fund gathers more dollars from investors, because the fund’s managers can spread the fixed costs of running the fund over a larger asset base. Expense ratios for 529 plans vary from a low of 0.31 percent to a high of 2.24 percent. Additional costs can also be incurred with plans that are sold by brokers. The commissions currently range from about 3.25 percent to 5 percent, payable upfront! Usually, buying direct eliminates the brokers' fees. 4. Look at how flexible the plan is. You don't want to be penalized when you want to change beneficiaries or roll the account over to another state's plan. You also don't want to be limited in how the funds can be used. For example, most states allow the funds to be used for all qualified education expenses including the expense of books, housing, etc., as well as graduate school. Look at the amount you will most likely have when your child enters college and make the decision about whether the eligibility of those other expenses will be an issue. For example, if you know you will only have $20,000 in the account and tuition alone is $40,000, then whether the money can be used for housing isn't relevant. 5. Another issue is the age limitation. There are a few states that may require your child to use the money prior to a certain age, or that may require that the child be under a certain age in order for you to be able to open an account. There may even be limits to how long the accounts can remain open without any withdrawals. 6. Investigate the availability and fees related to withdrawing your cash. Although the IRS set a 10-percent fine for withdrawal of funds that are not used for qualified education expenses, plans can charge more than that. Also find out about how easy it is to get your money in the event of an emergency. Sometimes, there are time requirements about how long the money has to stay in the account before it can be withdrawn. If you do have to withdraw a portion of the money for a non-education expense, find out what happens to the rest of the account. Is it closed? Is a fine charged for the entire amount? 7. Look at the maximums and minimums for contributions. Determine how much you want to have in the account when your child enters college. Make sure the plan allows at least that amount. You also may need a low minimum if you want to start the plan out without a large sum of money. 8. Find out what happens with the ownership of the account if the account owner dies. Does it go directly to the beneficiary? Or, do you have the right to determine a successor? Also, check to see if you can change beneficiaries with little hassle from either the plan or the current beneficiary. 9. Finally, check to make sure the plan is well managed and has the resources devoted to it that it needs. Check for program materials that answer all of your questions, good program support staff, and an easily navigated Web site offering quick program information and access to information about your account. Courtesy of

Pregnancy Yoga

Namaste~ I found a really great page with Yoga poses for the pregnant mother. The website comes with videos guiding you step by step through the poses. Perfect if you don't have the money to spend on a class or can't make the time for a class. Just consider this your personal private yoga class. Now everyone say, Om....

Spilling the Beans or Keeping a Secret?

I was reading the Mommy Diary today and Hannah is upset that her husband spilled the beans about their pregnancy when they said they wouldn't tell anyone. Are (or did you) keep a secret about your pregnancy? Why or why not?

Flinstone Vitamins anyone?

As hard as anyone pregnant or not can try, very few mothers get a nutritionally balanced diet everyday. During pregnancy this can sometimes become even more impossible especially during early pregnancy when morning sickness is a common appetite suppressant and fatigue makes an expectant mother skip eating in exchange for a soft pillow and fresh sheets! These are just two small reasons why taking a good prenatal vitamin is vital throughout pregnancy. A good vitamin does not take the place of eating nutritiously but it can balance the scales in your favor, and your baby's too.Doctors routinely prescribe prenatal vitamins to women trying to conceive and to those who are pregnant. Taking a prenatal vitamin before getting pregnant and in the early months of pregnancy has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects (spina bifida) in babies. A prenatal vitamin is a multivitamin designed to meets the need of pregnant and nursing mothers. Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have set guidelines for what has to be in a multivitamin for it to be called a prenatal vitamin. There are some ingredients that are now considered standard in prenatal vitamins such as a greater amount of folic acid (folate), iron and calcium. Expectant mothers, breastfeeding mothers and those trying to conceive need more of these nutrients than the average woman, especially folic acid. Folic acid specifically reduces the chance of neural tube defects. And iron because with pregnancy, your body is making so much extra blood, that you could become anemic without the help of extra iron. Remember, your baby will take what it needs first to develop and grow, and therefore, your body may suffer if you're not getting enough of the necessary vitamins and minerals needed throughout pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins can be purchased over-the-counter at a drugstore or your doctor or midwife may write a prescription for your vitamins.A good prenatal vitamin should contain these: Vitamin C - is essential for tissue repair, wound and bone healing and increases the body's resistance to infection. For mother and baby this vitamin is essential daily as it is the agent that holds newly formed cells together. Helps baby to grow and builds strong bones and teeth. It is also instrumental in the body's ability to absorb iron. Vitamin D - promotes general growth. It maintains proper levels of calcium and phosphorus thus helping to build baby's bones and teeth. B Vitamins (thiamine, vitamin B6, riboflavin) - Thiamine converts carbohydrates into energy for mother and baby and is essential for baby's brain development. It also aids in normal functioning of the nervous system and heart. If deficient during pregnancy, a baby is at risk for beriberi, a serious heart ailment. Vitamin B6 is also vital to develop your baby's brain and nervous system. Riboflavin helps the body to produce energy. It promotes growth, good vision and healthy skin for mom and is important for the development of the baby's bone, muscle and nervous system. Folic Acid - is one of the B Vitamins that is needed to produce red blood cells. It helps synthesize DNA, is conducive to normal brain functions and is a critical part of spinal fluid, thus making it one of the few nutrients known to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Calcium - your developing baby needs this mineral to grow strong bones and teeth, healthy nerves and muscles and to develop normal heart rhythm and blood clotting. Potassium - is a mineral that helps maintain fluid balance in the body. This mineral helps regulate blood pressure, nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Vitamin A - is important for cell growth, healthy skin and mucous membranes, and resistance to infections. It benefits red blood cell production in both mother and baby. This vitamin is essential for postpartum tissue repair. Copper - a trace mineral found in all plant and animal tissues; it's essential for forming red blood cells-a key process during pregnancy, when your blood supply doubles. Copper also aids tissue growth, glucose metabolism, and growth of healthy hair. It also helps form a baby's heart, skeletal and nervous systems, arteries, and blood vessels. Pantothenic Acid - is a trace mineral that regulates the body's adrenal activity, antibody production, and the growth and metabolism of protein and fats. If you are deficient in this vitamin during pregnancy your baby's growth may be slowed. This trace mineral is required for many essential functions, including growth, appetite regulation, digestion, wound healing, and the maintenance of collagen and elastin which may explain why some doctors think it may also help prevent stretch marks, one of the banes of pregnancy. Iron - makes red blood cells, supplies oxygen to cells for energy and growth and builds bones and teeth. In pregnancy this mineral is so crucial because the body must produce extra blood to support the growing baby. During pregnancy you will need double the recommended daily allowance of iron to insure yours' and your baby's health. More often than not, many expectant mothers find taking a prenatal vitamin increases nausea in early pregnancy and sometimes beyond. If this happens, ask your doctor or midwife to change your formula or it may help to change how and when you take your vitamin. If you normally take it with a meal then try after your meal. If swallowing a large pill is difficult, cut it in half or talk to your doctor or midwife about a smaller tablet or capsule that can be opened and sprinkled on food. In any event just like your mother said all those years, don't forget to take your vitamin.