Thursday, October 12, 2017

Help Busy Teens Get the Homework Help They Need

Thank you Yup for sponsoring this post. Provide your child with instant homework help, 24/7 and get homework done!

High school can be stressful—these kids are often working, involved in sports and other extracurriculars, and are also expected to keep up with difficult college preparatory classes. This is what my daughter Bria is feeling right now. She is a senior in high school this year and is taking an AP English class plus two classes at the local university on top of the other required classes. She is also running cross country, singing in the school musical, and playing violin in the university orchestra. The girl barely has time to clean her room or say boo to me at night.

If your teen is struggling with math or science and the tutoring hours are too restrictive or too expensive, try Yup—a tutoring app designed to help teens get the homework help they need immediately.

On top of all that she is trying to complete an online algebra 2 class. She is struggling with this class right now, but she doesn't have time for a tutor (and barely has time to work on the class). I've offered to get a tutor for her many times, but trying to arrange her schedule for regular tutoring has been more difficult than I anticipated. I had to give up.

Enter Yup online tutoring.

Not only are high school kids busy, they live in a digital age. Yup is a tutoring app that can tutor kids on their schedule and in their language. Bria was a little anxious about using it at first because she thought she might have to FaceTime a perfect stranger. But when she found out it was all done via texting, she relaxed and was willing to try it.

Yup tutoring app review

To start a tutoring session, the student simply has to take a photo of the problem and the app will quickly match them up with a tutor. It was past 10:30 pm when Bria started her first tutoring session and a tutor was available within 30 seconds for her. Other tutoring sessions she's done have been at more normal hours, but it's nice to know that you have 24/7 access to Yup's elite tutors if the only time you have to work on math is midnight after a cross country meet and a play rehearsal!

The student will have the opportunity to rate their tutor at the end of the session. If they really liked that particular tutor, the app will try to match them up in future sessions, if possible.

Yup tutoring app review

As a parent, I love how the Yup tutors are excellent at helping Bria find the right solution without giving her the answers immediately. Because of their help, she was able to solve other similar problems without help even though she had been completely stuck before her tutoring sessions.

Bria mostly just liked knowing that help is immediately available when she gets stuck on her math homework. She also wishes she would have had access to Yup last year when she was taking chemistry and could have used a lot of help.

Yup is made especially for students ages 13-18 and focuses specifically on math, chemistry, and physics. We have been really impressed with our experience so far and I highly recommend this app if you have a busy teen in your home who could use some math or science support.

Want to try Yup for FREE?

My readers will be given 30 minutes of free tutoring! Download the Yup tutoring app and enter the code LEARNINGS—no credit card required—to get your free trial. See if this is a good fit for you and your kids!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
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Friday, October 06, 2017

A Veggie Swap Your Kids Will Love

Sometimes you have to be a sneaky mom.

Especially if you want your kids to eat vegetables.

Green Giant Veggie Tots

While I have been blessed with children who are not very picky eaters, they would much rather eat tater tots and chicken nuggets than they would a big bowl of cauliflower. And that's pretty normal for most kids—not just the picky ones!

But what if those tater tots that they willingly eat were filled with actual vegetables? Would they still eat them and love them? We've recently had a chance to find out.

Enter Green Giant's new line of Veggie Tots.

Green Giant veggie tots--a great way to get vegetables into your picky kids!

We got to try the Broccoli Veggie Tots a little while ago, and now they've introduced two new flavors: Corn and Sweet Potato & Cauliflower.

When we first tried these, I thought that maybe they were just like tater tots, except somehow made with the ground up vegetables. That is not the case. These actually have chunks of vegetables within the tot—we were surprised at first but they seriously taste SO good.

See the cauliflower chunk in the Sweet Potato & Cauliflower veggie tots? If you look closely, you'll also be able to see bits of the sweet potato as well.

Green Giant Veggie Tots review: Sweet potato and cauliflower flavor

Below you can also see a bowl of the corn veggie tots. You can easily see the corn kernels in them.

You may be worried about how super picky kids will react to the vegetable pieces, but once my girls tried them they were hooked. The taste is so good! The corn veggie tots are almost sweet because of the sweet corn that's in them. The sweet potato & cauliflower are, funny enough, less sweet, but still really, really good.

Green Giant Veggie Tots review. Corn flavor

My girls loved these—and I feel really good about them eating these, too. It's nice to have things like this on hand so you can make quick meals that your kids will actually eat that also have some nutritional value! I get so annoyed when my kids leave all the vegetables in the serving bowl or only eat one or two while they eat large helpings of everything else.

So, if you find yourself having to be the sneaky mom to get a few vegetables in your kids—I highly recommend that you try the Green Giant veggie tots! I highly recommend them even for less picky kids as a way to get a quick meal on the table that still contains vegetables.

Find out more and purchase veggie tots here: Green Giant Veggie Tots

Get $1.00 off coupon here: $1 off Veggie Tots

Note: Veggie Tots are not gluten-free

Green Giant Veggie Tots Review

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

School Planners for Kids That Inspire Organization

School planners for kids that will help them get organized

School planners for kids

Standard issue school planners aren't always the best route for kids. If your school planner isn't helping your kid get organized, try one of these fun school planners for kids.

It's no secret that I am a planner girl—I definitely think everyone should be using a planner.

My kids, on the other hand, did not start out as planner girls...but they are getting there.

When my eldest was in middle school and having trouble staying organized with her school work, I asked her why she wasn't using the standard issue school planner that she received on the first day of classes.

"Because you have to open it!" she replied.

And while I laughed at her answer, I knew she was also serious. Using a planner seemed way too hard for her because she had to open it, write down her assignments, close it up, bring it home, and then open it up again. For a kid who isn't naturally organized, it really is hard.

So I decided that she was not going to be using the standard issue school planner anymore, and I found a planner that she did not have to open. There were still bumps along the way—she'd forget to write in it for several days or she'd leave it at school—but eventually she learned to use a planner.

Now, as a senior in high school she even uses a planner that she actually has to open and she manages to stay on top of her work. All because we threw out the standard issue planner and found something that worked for her.

I thought I'd share some planners that might work for your child when the standard issue planner isn't.

School planners for kids.

School Planners for Kids That Inspire Organization

Bloom Daily Planner Tear-off Notepad

This is the planner that Bria used for a few years that she didn't have to open. Not only did she not need to open this planner, but it's super cute! Pretty perfect for a teenage girl.

It also comes in a weekly version—so rather than tearing off a page every day, you'd do it each week instead.

You might also like this cute knock-off version.

Creative Coloring Doodle Daily Planner

Bria now uses a doodle planner similar to this one. She is very artistic and loves the idea of coloring on her planner pages. Something about the coloring pages makes her want to use her planner and I always see it open next to her while she is studying. Yes, open!

The Happy Planner Create 365

Creative and artistic girls will be super attracted to this Happy Planner. It's so cute, and has all sorts of accessories to deck it out and make it exactly what you want it to be. Like the doodling, the creativity involved in this planner really will inspire your daughter to use it often.

Bloom Daily Fashion Planner

Nothing inspires teenage girls like fashion. I love the Bloom line of planners anyway, but this one is super cute and made for the middle/high school set. Let's face it, girls are more likely to use cute planners.

Elementary Student Planner

I didn't find a lot of planners for the elementary student set, but of the ones I did find, this was my favorite. I especially liked the way the school subjects are already outlined and color coded. This will really help the younger kids start to learn how to organize their homework by subject.

Moleskine Weekly Planner

Having all daughters, I don't often think about what boys would like. Still, I searched quite a while and it seems most planners are cute and girly and not made with boys in mind. I think that boys would probably like the moleskine weekly planners though. They come in several colors and they are classic and unassuming—which seems perfect for a boy who would like to get organized.

Related: The Best Pens to Use for Paper Planners

Using a planner is an essential skill for kids to learn. Whether they change over to a digital format later, starting in a paper planner is helpful for them to visually organize their homework and other important tasks. Teaching our kids to use planners will help them be prepared for real life.

This post is part of my 31 day series: Helping Kids Prepare for Real Life

To see all the posts in this series, click here: Helping Kids Prepare for Real Life

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Monday, October 02, 2017

Teaching Kids Empathy—4 Things Parents Can Do

How to teach empathy to kids of any age.

Teaching kids to have empathy for others.

4 simple things that parents can do to teach their children empathy.

As a parent, raising children who are empathetic and kind is hugely important to me. I have made teaching my kids empathy a high priority—I am much more concerned with the way they treat others than I am about their grades or almost anything else they do.

Like many such traits, empathy seems to be something some kids are born with while others struggle to be empathetic. Of my three children, one of them has the natural gift of empathy while the other two have needed more guidance in this area.

Here are a few things you can do as a parent to teach your kids empathy.

How to teach kids empathy.

How to teach kids empathy

1. Read with your children

Reading is a natural way to teach empathy because you are in the heads and experiences of different characters. And reading with your children is an excellent way to help them start really thinking about those characters and their experiences as they read.

I love stopping a story and talking about what's happening with my girls. Just asking a few questions about the characters and why they might be making the choices they are making helps kids start to put themselves in their shoes. Hopefully this will start to translate into real life for your kids, and they will start asking themselves why a friend might be acting a certain way before they assume the worst.

I have a list of middle-grade books that are great at teaching empathy, but just about any book will do the trick. Encourage your kids to read if you want them to learn empathy.

2. Show empathy to your children

In my experience, it isn't always easy to be empathetic to my children. Sometimes I don't feel like doing that extra work when I am frustrated with their behavior.

However, when I do take the time to show empathy, not only does it make the discipline much easier, I am setting an example for them. We know that children will model what they experience, and if they experience empathy from their parents they will be more likely to show it to others.

3. Ask questions that help them think empathetically

My youngest daughter is currently in her first year of middle school. Now that she's been in school a month, she has started to learn that the social relationships are changing a lot and that drama between kids has become much more prevalent than it was while she was in elementary school. Just tonight as I was tucking her into bed we had another conversation about how to navigate it all and empathy—the ability to put yourself in another's shoes and imagine what they might be feeling—played a huge role in our conversation.

She wanted to know what she should do in a particular situation that is going on with her friends right now. I simply asked her what she thought she should do, and then I asked her how that might make her friends feel.

She quickly figured out that her first instinct was perhaps not the best idea because it would probably be hurtful to one or two of her friends. By simply asking her how others might feel, she was able to come up with a better idea all by herself.

Similarly, when my girls are arguing with each other, I try hard to help them see what their sisters might be feeling (though I validate their feelings first so that they experience the same empathy I am asking them to feel for their sisters). There are always plenty of opportunities to help you kids turn their thoughts towards the feelings of others if you're paying attention—all you need to do is ask a few simple questions.

How do you think that would make her feel?
Why do you think she acted that way?
If you were in the same situation, how would you feel?
Would you want someone to say that to you? Why not?

4. Talk about your own feelings with your children

Sometimes as parents we forget to talk about our own emotions with our kids. It isn't often my first instinct to say, "When you speak to me like that, it hurts my feelings" or "It makes me so happy to see you share with your sister!"

When I do call attention to how my children's actions made me feel, they start to realize that their actions can have an impact on others' feelings. And if they are very young, it helps them to learn that other people actually have feelings.

Teaching kids empathy is actually pretty easy once you are thinking about it. I believe that all kids have the capacity for great empathy—even when it might not seem to come naturally. With just a little help, kids are usually pretty quick to see how others are feeling and want to make better choices.

Nothing makes my mother heart happier than to hear that my children have been caught being kind to others. Empathy is a skill that will help them in their relationships for the rest of their lives!

This post is part of my 31 day series: Helping Kids Prepare for Real Life

To see all the posts in this series, click here: Helping Kids Prepare for Real Life

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Sunday, October 01, 2017

Helping Kids Prepare for Real Life—a 31 Day Series

*Note: By October 4 I have realized I am not going to be able to complete this series by writing daily this month. I will complete it, but it will be at the rate of a couple posts a week. My children and the needs of my home must come first and I have quickly realized I don't have it in me to write late into the night this year like I have in past October 31 Day Challenges. Please forgive me, but I am trying to put what I preach to practice. Kids come first! 

My oldest daughter is a senior in high school this year.

This is killing me for many reasons, but one thing that is at the forefront of my mind this school year is "what can I do to make sure she is ready to leave the nest and head off to college?"

Is she ready for real life?

Have I taught her everything she needs to know?

How will she survive without me?

Okay, so I know she will survive without me—but I want her to feel confident that she can. I want to send her off with an arsenal of skills, habits, and values that will help her survive in the real world.

Each day I will write about how to teach kids something that will help them to prepare for adulthood. If you'd like to follow along—feel free to sign up to receive daily emails below. *Note: You will receive a daily email for 30 days on top of the email that you already receive from me. I will also be including these posts in my weekly digest email that is sent out on Wednesdays.

You will be able to find each post linked on this page as well.

Let's get teaching our kids everything they need to know to survive on their own someday—whether that someday is soon like it is for me, or you have a little bit of time.

How to help your kids prepare for real life.

Helping Kids Prepare for Real Life

Day 1: Introduction (you are here)
Day 2: Teaching Kids Empathy
Day 3: School Planners for Kids 
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Smart Debit Card That Will Teach Your Teens Money Management

Greenlight Debit Card Review

If you are looking for an easy way to help your teens learn to manage money, look no further. The Greenlight smart debit card for kids is exactly what you need.

Greenlight is a debit card that gives teens and younger kids independence while keeping parents in control. It's a great tool for teaching kids how to manage their money.

This post is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group® and Greenlight, but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #GreenPMG

A couple weeks ago, my 16-year-old daughter, Bria, called me over to her computer to look at a pair of shoes she wanted to buy online. She has plenty of her own money in the bank from her summer job, but no bank-issued debit card until she turns 17 (bank rules).

"Mom, I really want these shoes," she said. "Can you put them on your credit card and I'll go to the bank tomorrow and get some money to pay you back?"

The shoes weren't cheap—they were $60.00 on sale—but I knew that she had been watching for the price to go down so she could justify spending her hard-earned money on them. I also knew that she didn't have enough cash in her wallet to pay me right away, and I was hesitant to pull out my card before she paid me.

"Please, mom? There is only one pair left in my size and I've been waiting all summer to get them! Pleeeaaaase?"

I sighed and got out my wallet. Her shoes arrived the other day and I still haven't seen my $60 because she doesn't get home from her Cross Country practices until after the bank has already closed each day.

And then there's my 14-year old daughter, Chloe. She's always needing money for this or for that. Technically, I owe her for the chores she's done, but I long ago gave up on our chores and allowance system because I never seem to have enough cash in my wallet.

Instead of paying them a regular allowance, I find myself scrounging up the cash they need pretty often. I don't mind giving it to them, but they rarely give me enough lead time to actually procure enough cash, so I usually end up running down to the ATM before they have to leave.

Nobody ever told me about this part of motherhood!

Teaching my teen daughters money management is a surprisingly huge job. I think it's important for kids to have their own money to learn how to save and how to spend responsibly. I was thrilled that both of my teens had jobs this summer and were able to buy a good portion of their own school clothes. It was clear that they felt a sense of independence and pride as they made their own purchases and I loved watching them shop.

I would like to see them have that ability all year round, and have often wished for some sort of magical tool that would make it easier for me. Lucky for me, that bit of magic may just have arrived in the mail the other day in the form of two Greenlight debit cards with the names Bria and Chloe on them.

Greenlight the Smart debit card for kid comes in the mail and is ready to be activated and used by kids.

While they didn't arrive in time for Bria's shoes, I am excited to get started using them at our house. Not only are these debit cards going to make my life easier, they are going to help teach my teens the money management skills they need to learn before they leave home.

Greenlight—the Smart Debit Card for Kids

Here's how it works:

1. Sign up for Greenlight by either downloading the app or heading to the website. 

I did the whole sign up process on my phone from the Greenlight app. It was very simple and only took me a few minutes to get everything set up including ordering the debit cards and linking my bank accounts. The app is available on both iOS and Android.

2. Greenlight sends each of your kids a debit card with their very own name on it. 

This service costs only $4.99 a month for up to 5 debit cards. At first I just ordered one for each of my teenagers, but after having them for two days and understanding the app more fully I have now ordered one for my 11-year old daughter, too.

3. Transfer money from your linked bank account(s) to your children's debit cards. 

You can do this manually, or you can automate a specific amount to go on their card weekly or monthly. My kids are going to be so happy because they are finally going to get a regular allowance again since it will now be so easy to pay them. I am going to be happy because I can set it and forget it, it doesn't cost me any extra to do it this way, and I can stop scrounging for cash or making a mad dash to the ATM.

Automate allowance by using the Greenlight smart debit card for kids
I was also happy to see that you can link more than one bank account. This will be nice for Bria, because she can put her own money onto her debit card as well, thus ending anymore online shopping issues for her.

4. Monitor the kids' spending from your app

The app is very easy to use. The kids can add the app to their phones and sign up with their own accounts so they can request money from you or send you messages via the app. You will get alerts whenever they use their card telling you where they spent money and how much they spent. You can turn off the card if necessary (especially nice if it is lost or stolen), and continue transferring money in from your bank account to the children's cards as needed. It is all super slick and user friendly.

Greenlight app-parent's wallet

How does Greenlight teach teens money management skills?

1. They have independence to spend their own money.

The money on the card is theirs to spend. But mom and dad are in control of how much goes on the card, when it is transferred, and even where it can be spent.

On the app, there are 4 spending categories you can assign money to when you add it to your child's account: Spend anywhere, gas station, restaurant, or a specific store. This is a great way for you to be sure that money that has been earmarked for a specific purpose does not get spent elsewhere, but also for kids to have the "spend anywhere" category that allows them to make their own choices about how they spend the money.

Greenlight app--how to add money to a card and designate spending category

2. They learn to budget with the money that is available on their card.

Because of the categories and limits that may be placed on spending, they will be learning budgeting more effectively. If they know they are given a certain budget for gas, then they will hopefully be more mindful of how much gas they are using. And because the card itself has a limited amount of funds available to them, they will learn to pay attention to what they have spent and how much they have left. Hopefully this will help them to begin to make smart money choices and differentiate between needs and wants.

3. They learn how to use a debit/credit card without the risk of going into debt.

I have occasionally sent my girls into a store with my card to buy something for me. Apparently I don't do it often enough because using the card always makes them super nervous. And they both worry that since it has my name on it they will get into trouble.

Having their own card with their own name will alleviate that particular worry, and will also give them a lot more practice using the card machines.

My very first credit card was a gas card to a specific gas station. I didn't really realize how quickly I could go into debt by using it, though. While it was a good life lesson for me, I wish I would have had the opportunity to practice using a card without the risk of going into debt.

Want to try Greenlight with your kids?

Sign up for Greenlight before 10/30 and they'll deposit a $20 bonus into your account after the 30-day free trial ends. *deposit bonus made approximately two weeks after free trial ends

I am super excited to have this amazing tool available to us! I can't wait to see the growth my kids experience as they use the cards and begin to learn money management skills that will last them the rest of their lives.

Using this smart debit card for kids, teens and even younger kids will begin to develop money management skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Feast on the Words of Christ—General Conference Printable & Family Activity

For the past couple of years, we've been doing a fun General Conference tradition that my family loves. I wanted to find a good way to make conference something they looked forward to and that somehow inspired them to pay attention.

I saw a few ideas that incorporated food—always a great motivator, especially for my family! I especially liked the idea that said every time a member of the Quorum of the 12 or the First Presidency speaks, you get to eat something.

We introduced several new General Conference traditions for the kids now that they are older, but this one was by far their favorite.

Use these printables to keep your kids interested in who is speaking during General Conference. Food motivates!

I printed out and laminated cards for each apostle, and then I went shopping. I tried to get a mixture of snack foods that spanned the food pyramid. A little fruit, a few veggies, chips, granola bars, juice, and enough candy to keep my kids looking forward to it.

Unfortunately for me, the very first conference we tried this ALL the speakers I had assigned to candy spoke on Saturday. The kids didn't look forward to the speakers quite as much after the sugar was all gone, but that first day was super exciting! And the next conference the kids couldn't wait for our General Conference Feast.

I love it when things I try are a big win with the kids!

How to make your own General Conference Feast

Materials needed:

(affiliate links)

Apostle cards
Laminator—I have this inexpensive laminator and I use it all the time.
Laminating pockets
Mini Clothespins—these can easily be found at craft stores, but I like these ones, and these ones.
Paper plates, napkins, paper cups, plastic utensils
15 food items

Some ideas for food to use in your General Conference Feast

Ideas for food items:

Granola bars
Potato chips
Trail mix
Baby carrots
Apple slices
Snap peas
Cherry tomatoes
String cheese
Juice boxes
Chocolate milk
Easter candy for April Conference
Halloween candy for October Conference

I make our family's favorite Jell-O salad for when President Monson speaks. It helps them to really look forward to hearing from the prophet.

Start a new tradition and create a General Conference FEAST. Download the free apostle printables and motivate your kids to listen to General Conference with food.


1. Download and print out the apostle cards onto white card stock. I have also included a "Feast on the Words of Christ" printable to use as the centerpiece. You can get the printable at the end of this post.

2. Laminate and cut out the cards.

3. Go shopping!

4. On Saturday morning of General Conference, set a table up near where you will be watching. I just use a card table since there isn't a table in our family room at all.

5. Set out your smorgasbord and assign each food item to an apostle. I try to use the clips as much as I can, but sometimes I have to just set the card on top of the food.

6. I like to divvy out the candy into plastic bags—one for each family member—and clip them all together. In the photo above you can see I've done that with Rolos and Peanut Butter Cups. You can also tell it was April Conference because of the Cadbury Eggs.

7. Whenever an apostle speaks, assign one of the kids to pass out the corresponding food.

Note: We eat the food assigned to whoever speaks in Priesthood Meeting first thing on Sunday morning. And if an apostle doesn't speak, we just eat that food whenever it becomes apparent he won't be speaking.

That's it! Hope you enjoy the printables!

Note: These printables are current as of October 2017 General Conference

To download:

Enter your name and email into the form below. The printables will be sent straight to your inbox.

Start a new tradition this General Conference. Download the free printables and use food to inspire your kids to pay attention to who is speaking this General Conference.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

How to Create and Remember Secure Passwords and Security Questions

In the midst of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Equifax announced that it had suffered a breach that affected around 143 million people. That is nearly half of all people age 18 and over in the United States, which seems to mean any adult has roughly a 50/50 chance of having had their personal information compromised during this breach.

When a company like Equifax—which is supposed to be protecting our identities and personal information—gets hacked, it makes people begin to wonder just how secure their online accounts actually are.

In my experience? Not that secure.

When I was first introduced to the internet (right before I graduated from college), I was told to NEVER write down my passwords in order to keep them secure. Back then, the biggest threat to our personal information would be someone happening upon our bank account password or PIN and then using it to gain access to our online accounts. Nowadays, the actual likelihood of that scenario happening is almost nil, and our personal information is less safe than ever before because hackers can decode passwords and other security information so quickly.

A few months ago, my access to my online banking was revoked because someone had called in and tried to get into my accounts. According to the representative I spoke to, this person knew my name, birthdate, and the last 4 digits of my social security number, but was not able to answer the security questions or my mother's maiden name.

I immediately changed my security questions and password, but a few weeks later I woke up to find that my entire account had been drained. The thief had taken several thousand dollars via an ATM in Miami, Florida over the course of four different transactions. I quickly checked my wallet—even though I'm all the way up in Michigan and I knew I had had my card just the night before. Just as I thought, the only known card to that account was safely in my possession and I had no idea how my account could have been accessed via ATM!

I took a deep breath in preparation for what I knew would be a long day on the phone, and called my bank. It turned out that this time, someone had called (I assume it was the same people) and was able to answer every question correctly. They also somehow activated a new debit card, which is how they were able to get the money from the ATM.

Keep your online accounts safe and secure by learning how to make a very secure password and how to answer security questions in a way that keeps your personal information safe and secure.

I was stuck on the fact that they were able to answer every question. 

My mother's maiden name is quite uncommon. Sure, anybody can guess Smith or Johnson or Jones and have a pretty good chance of landing on someone's maiden name, but I really don't think anyone would be able to pull my mom's maiden name out of the air.

But it would be relatively easy to look me up on social media and possibly figure out who my mother is and then figure out what her maiden name might be. Even though she uses her married name on Facebook, she has plenty of family and her maiden name would be a common thread on her list of friends.

Is that how they knew? I don't know. Because they also knew my other security question. And maybe I had somehow left the answer to that question in my internet trail, who knows?

My experience was interesting because my account was not hacked via a computer, but the bank assured me that the information they had was most definitely acquired electronically.

It took nearly a month to get everything squared away, but I did get my money back and in the process I learned a lot about keeping my personal information secure.

Let's talk about passwords and security questions and a few simple ways you can make them more secure—and don't forget to scroll down to the end of the post to download a free password keeper to help you keep it all straight!

Creating secure passwords

We have been trained to think that a complicated password containing a combination of special characters, upper and lower case letters, and numbers is the most secure type of password. And while that is true to a certain extent, there are a lot of other things that factor into creating passwords that will be difficult for hackers and computer algorithms to decode.

To show you what I mean, I have entered a few passwords into the password checker at Online Domain Tools. It's an excellent way to see if the passwords you have created are secure, and shows how long it would take different types of password cracking programs to break it.

This is the password I commonly used before it was recommended to add in special characters and numbers:

Low security password example.

You can see that even using the slowest method of cracking—a standard desktop PC—it would only take hackers 15 hours to guess this password. And the fastest method—a medium size botnet (and I have no idea what that even is)—could crack this password immediately.

Let's try the more secure password I used for just about everything once I changed over to special characters and numbers:

medium security password example

This password has bought me a little bit of time, but not much. That darn medium size botnet still only needs about 2 hours to crack it. And, as you can see, I was diligent about using all the required elements of a secure password. But it still isn't very secure.

Now let's try the password I currently use for ONE website:

High security password example?

I think I've done it now. This password is good for 119 quadrillion years!

Want to know how I did it?

After my big account hacking, I remembered the online training I had taken at work about how to keep passwords secure. (Here's where I admit that I took the training, but did not actually apply it until it was too late.)

The training I received recommended coming up with a sentence that you will easily remember as the basis for your password:

Twinkle, twinkle little star how I wonder what you are

Now, take that easy to remember sentence and use a combination of upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers to abbreviate it:


I entered it into the password checker, and this one is EVEN better than the example I used above. It is safe from the medium size botnet for 874 septillion years!

The best thing about this method is that it's pretty easy to remember. I mean, I already have that memorized—don't you? I am all about using passwords that are easy for me to remember but difficult for computers to crack!

Bonus? I think it's kind of fun to create this type of password.

Creating Answers to Security Questions That are Actually Secure

Once you've got a good password, most sites require you to have answers to one or more security questions. They usually supply the questions and you supply the answers.

Reading through a list of common security question options, you can see that the answers are going to be known only by you and a very small group of people who know you well. However, that isn't really enough to keep the answers truly secure anymore.

My bank recommended to me that I do one of two things with security questions:

1. Lie
2. Use a two factor security question 

I know your mama taught you never to lie, but I think that if it's to protect your personal information and the money you've worked hard to earn, she won't mind.

First and foremost, always lie about your mother's maiden name. That information is simply too easy to find these days and that question is not as secure as it once was. Unfortunately, many financial institutions continue to use it as a required security question.

I have now made up many different maiden names for my mom. None of which is actually a name, and none of which is actually connected to her in any way. Choose a random word and use it.

I was worried about doing it this way at first, but the bank loss-prevention representative (who is basically now my BFF after spending hours on the phone with her) assured me that it is the best thing to do.

Make up nonsense for all of the other security questions, too. We are going from easy to remember security answers to ones that you won't remember off the top of your head, so that is why I have created a printable password log for you to use to keep all of the information straight.

How to keep track of online passwords and security questions.

You can also request that your bank give you a two factor security question. This was something my bank offered to me. I have used it when I call them—since I was hacked over the telephone, I want to be sure my account is just as secure there as it is online.

Basically, a two factor security question will be a common security question with a follow-up. You could lie on the answers to this, too, but I figured that having the follow-up made it safe enough to be truthful. It's up to you to decide.

Examples of two-factor security questions:

Name of first pet + breed
Name of favorite teacher + school or grade taught
City you were born + hospital name
Where you met your spouse + how old you were

You get the idea.

Create a Secondary Password

My bank also offered me a special phone password. The way that works is that when I call them, I verify my name, birthdate, social security number, mother's (fake!) maiden name, and a two-factor security question. And then they ask me for one last password by saying a word to which I reply with another word.

For instance they might say "sweetie" and I would answer "pie."

The one I chose is much less obvious than that, but that's the basic idea.

It may seem like a lot, but it has worked well so far and has definitely made me feel a lot more secure about my bank account!

Never Use the Same Password Twice

I had made the huge mistake of just using the same password across most of my internet accounts. That is a huge no-no! Imagine if somehow one of your websites was breached and then someone took that same username and password and tried it out on other websites. If you do what I did, you would have a much higher likelihood of being hacked across multiple internet sites.

I did it because I can't remember more than 2 or 3 passwords! And I knew I shouldn't have my browser save them because that isn't secure, either.

So, I am now doing what we were advised against doing so long ago: Writing them down. The likelihood of someone finding the password log that is kept in my desk is much, much lower than the likelihood of my passwords being cracked by an outside source or being the victim of a website hack.

The password log I am providing to help you keep track of all of your passwords, security questions, and nonsense maiden names can be downloaded at the end of the post. Along with it, you will be getting 9 other preparedness printables to help you be prepared for all sorts of disasters—the least of which is identity theft!

Free Preparedness Printable Bundle

Download this free preparedness printable pack and be ready for any disasters that my come your way including hurricanes, fires, car emergencies, identity theft and more. Create a 72 hour kit.

Annette from Tips from a Typical Mom has a Family Evacuation Plan which includes things like Meeting locations, emergency contacts, shelters and evacuation routes, and other emergency numbers.

Katelyn from What's up Fagans? has a Personal Document Protection printable, which is basically a simplified checklist to help you make sure your old photos, videos, audio files, journals, and other documents protected physically and digitally!

Carrie of A Mother's Shadow has a great Dutch Oven Guide! In many emergencies, you may find yourself without power which can make cooking food difficult, unless you have something like a dutch oven which is easy to carry and to cook a wide variety of foods in.

Katie of Clarks Condensed has a very helpful 72 Hour Kit Checklist. Should you find yourself having to leave in a hurry, you and your family can simply grab your 72-Hour kits and head out the door, knowing that you'll have the food, bedding, clothes, tools, medicine, toiletries, fuel, and personal documents you need.

Kristina from Mother's Niche has an Emergency Car Kit printable so that you are never stranded helplessly on the side of the road, not knowing what to do, nor having the tools and supplies to help in this emergency.

Janine from Confessions of a Mommyaholic has a handy printable about teaching your children about emergencies and what they need to know before an emergency situation happens.

Camille of My Mommy Style has a handy Family Fire Safety Log where you can track your family's readiness in case of a fire in your house, as well as make sure you are checking your smoke and CO detectors.

Herchel of Gym. Craft. Laundry. has practical hurricane tips for when things you need are sold out! As a Florida native, her prep hacks are genius!

Sarah of Thank You Honey has an easy Hurricane Checklist printable to help you make sure you have everything in place before a hurricane heads your way.

Lara from Overstuffed has a Password Log to help you keep track of your online passwords as a means to help you avoid being a victim of identity theft.

Receive all of the above printables for FREE when you sign up for our lists below. May you be prepared for whatever may come your way!

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