Friday, March 30, 2012

Being Frugal with Electricity

Frugal Friday

As the cost of electricity and other utilities continues to rise, we are looking for ways to save on our usage, as well as cost. There are some things you can control, and others you can't. For example, if your city or town has only one supplier for electricity, you are stuck with their rates. But some towns are now allowing competitors to supply the energy.

So how can you save? First, let's look at the above example. If your state or town is deregulated, you can shop around for suppliers and compare rates, rather than rely on only one company. (Do a search on the internet for "deregulated electricity" in your state to find providers near you.) You won't have to change any of your equipment, and you will still be billed through your current provider.

If you can't change your supplier, then look at ways to save at home. Have an electrician install a power-saving device on your meter. This will conserve energy, help appliances run more efficiently, and help protect from power surges.

Another way to save energy is to have your air conditioning and lights controlled remotely by your computer or smart phone. If you have a security system installed, some companies, like Devcon, have apps that allow you to turn your air up/down, or your lights on/off when you are away from home.

If you are shopping for new appliances or electronics, look for those with a good energy rating. And those you already have? Unplug them when not in use. They still draw energy even when they are turned off.

Purchase CFL bulbs for your light fixtures. And finally, turn those lights off when you leave a room.

What are some ways you've saved on your electric bill?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Discounts for Seniors

Senior Thursday

As seniors age and leave the work force, their income is usually reduced. Instead of drawing a salary, they rely on pensions or Social Security. Sometimes this is enough to cover their expenses. Sometimes it isn't.

To help with rising costs and falling income, it is wise to look for ways to save money. One way is to find discounts on services and products. There are many places to find discounts.

Organizations like AARP partner with companies to offer discounts for their members. These offers range from health and life insurance to movie theater tickets. And like AAA, they offer discounts on travel.

Pharmaceutical companies sometimes offer discounts to seniors on their prescription medications, and there are discounts on other health care products as well.

Many stores offer discounts to seniors once a week. This may be a clothing store, a bakery, or book stores. Check with your local retailer to see what discounts they have. Services may be discounted also. Ask around your auto repair shop or your beauty parlor. Professional services, such as financial, legal and medical may also be discounted.

And while eating out can be expensive, check for hours/days your favorite restaurants offer senior discounts. You may be able to treat yourself more often than you think.

Find what you need at Just put in your zip code, and search results will supply everything from museums to spas that offer specials to the aging population.

Always check the requirements for each offer, though. For example, some have age restrictions of 50+, while others require that you be at least 65 years old. Some are only available on certain days of the week, or during certain hours. Know before you go.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tax Preparation Tips

Tips for Tuesday

It's already March, which means tax day is just around the corner. If you haven't prepared your tax return yet, here is a list of what you will need to prepare the return or bring with you to your accountant.

Have on hand for each of your family members:
• Name and address
• Birth Date
• Social Security Number
Have on hand the following:
• Name, address, Tax ID or Social Security Number of child care provider
• Amount of alimony paid/received and Social Security Number of recipient

• W-2 forms for the tax year
• Unemployment compensation
• State and local income tax refunds
• Rent income from personal property
• Partnership, S Corporation, Trust, Estate income
• Pensions and annuities
• Social Security benefits
• Recovery of bad debts deducted in a prior year
• Alimony/Maintenance
• Scholarships/fellowships
• Jury duty pay
• Gambling and lottery winnings
• Prizes and Awards

• Business income
• Partnership SE income
• Business-related expenses (with receipts)
• Employment taxes and other business taxes paid

• Interest income statements
• Dividend income statements
• Proceeds from broker transactions
• Retirement plan distribution

• Mortgage interest paid
• Sale of your home or other real estate
• Second mortgage interest paid
• Real estate taxes paid
• Rent paid
• Moving expenses

• Gifts to charity
• Unreimbursed expenses related to volunteer work
• Unreimbursed expenses related to your job
• Investment expenses
• Job-hunting expenses
• Job-related education expenses
• Tax return preparation expenses
• Adoption expenses
• Child care expenses
• Alimony paid
• Medical savings account
• Tax return

• Auto loans and leases if vehicle used for business
• Student loan interest paid
• Early withdrawal penalties on CDs and other time deposits

• Federal, state and local estimated income tax paid (have payment records or vouchers)
• IRA, Keogh and other retirement plan contributions
• Medical expenses documents
• Casualty or theft losses documents
• Personal property tax information

Remember, if you want to claim it, you should have proper documentation. You should collect these receipts and papers throughout the year in an income tax file. This will make tax preparation much easier when the time comes because everything will be together.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Moving Insurance—Why You Should Have It

Moving on Monday

You've done your homework and hired the best mover based on recommendations and reviews. You trust them to pack your belongings onto their truck and drive away with it, confident it will arrive at your new home safe and sound. In most cases, it will. However, at times there are accidents and emergencies, usually through no fault of the drivers. It may be extreme weather or another driver's poor judgment.

This is when insurance is so important. This is also not the time to wonder whether or not you have enough coverage on your belongings. The time to review this is when you sign the contract with your moving company.

All companies offer basic coverage at $0.60 per pound. They will pay you $0.60/pound for every possession on their truck, from dominoes to diamonds. That isn't much of something should happen. So companies also offer full value protection at a cost of approximately one percent of the value of the items.

How they reimburse you is up to them. They will either repair the broken items or replace them. For older items, you will be reimbursed the fair market value, which will not cover the cost of a new item. Finally, moving companies are not obligated to reimburse you for anything valued at over $100/pound unless it is itemized in an inventory list and submitted to the moving company.

If you feel this is still not enough coverage, you can ask the mover if they have other valuation options. Also, look into your homeowner's policy to see what they would cover in the event of an emergency.

Some of your belongings are irreplaceable. Consider taking those items with you in your car or on the plane, if possible.

Safe journey!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Should I Stock Up on Sale Items?

Frugal Friday

We all like to save money, so when something is on sale, why not save even more money by buying more of the item on sale? It seems to make sense, but is it really saving you money? That depends.

There are several factors to consider when stocking up on sale items.
First is storage space. If paper towels are on sale, and you decide to buy five cases, where will you keep those cases until they are used up? If you buy ten tubes of toothpaste, which are small, will they fit in your linen closet?

Second, will you use it up before the next time it goes on sale? Perhaps the tomato soup is a really great deal, but will you use 24 cans before the next sale? If you watch the ads regularly, you can follow how often items are on sale. Some are seasonal, some are as often as monthly. If you know it will be on sale again soon, by just enough to last you until the next time.

Third is perishables. Yes, the orange juice might be a great deal, but will you use everything you buy before it spoils or expires? The same goes for anything perishable. If you are able to freeze the item, then consider purchasing more. But always keep in mind how much you will use, and whether or not you have the room to freeze it. And don't forget, food goes bad in the freezer, too.

Fourth, don't buy super-sized items or mega packages unless you know you like the product. If it's something new on the market, or a new flavor, don't buy it in a large size. You may not like it, and it's wasted money when you throw it away.

Finally, is it worth the drive? If you have to drive several miles to buy one item (sometimes the store limits quantity), is it worth the cost of gas and your time?

Be frugal, but be smart.

What items have you stored up on recently?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Resources for Seniors

Senior Thursday

As a large part of the population continues to age, they require special services unique to the elderly. Some are a result of health issues, and some are monetary. They may find themselves unable to live in a two-story house because of navigating the stairs. If they already have a ranch home, then perhaps the yard is too much to maintain.

Some seniors can't perform simple personal tasks, such as bathing. So in addition to needing help with their home, they need help for themselves. Others may be healthy, but are struggling financially. In these cases, they need help paying for meds or paying bills.

So where do they find resources for assistance? They may need caregivers, medical advice, housing assistance, or information on laws protecting them. One place for both federal and state resources is This is a great start for many issues facing the elderly today, including raising grandchildren, something new to this generation of grandparents.

Local townships offer great resources also, as do hospitals. These resources include everything from free meal delivery to in-home nursing care. Don't be afraid to ask. Sometimes you can't do it all on your own.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Setting Up a Filing System

Tips for Tuesday

Even if you don't own a business, you should still have a filing system for your personal files. Everyone has financial, medical and possibly legal papers. It is important that you are able to find them when you need them.

Setting up a system is simple if you follow a few rules.

First,sort your papers into broad categories. Put school, work, medical, bank, credit card, home maintenance, etc., papers into piles. Further sort them into specialized categories. For example, you should have individual medical files for yourself, your spouse, each of your children, and your pets. Each person should have their own folder.

Next, create folders for each of these piles. If you are a visual person, use different colors for each broad category. Name each file. Use only a few words that clearly identify the contents. This will usually be a noun and verb, and perhaps a year. "Tax documents 2011" for instance, or "VISA Chase."

Place your files in a cabinet or drawer close to where you use them. They may not all be in the same place. File them by category or alphabetically—whichever works best for you.

If you are file challenged, then purchase a system that categorizes and indexes everything for you, such as Viewables from Smead. Use their colors, or customize your own labels.

Finally, keep on top of filing! File papers as they come in, and purge old ones you don't need.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Should I Move Myself?

Moving on Monday

Moving is both stressful and expensive. Therefore, it's logical to want to save money wherever you can. Sometimes it's finding free boxes and packing materials. Sometimes it's using friends and family to store extra furniture for you. And sometimes you decide to save money on movers and move yourself.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this. First, let's look at why it's a good idea.
• You save money – on labor, insurance.
• You will be more careful with your items because they are yours.
• You work on your own timeline. Sometimes movers wait until they can fill a truck before they will complete a move. But when you move yourself, you fill your own truck or pod on your own schedule and move when you want.
• If your move is only a short distance, then it's probably worth it to move yourself. The cost of the labor in this case would be packing the truck.

Why shouldn't you move yourself?
• It is physically challenging, especially for the larger pieces of furniture. The older you get, the more difficult it would be for you to lift heavy items.
• You have to supply all the materials—boxes, padding, cushioning, tape, etc.
• You're not a professional mover. They know how to maximize space, and stack items accordingly.
• If your move is cross-country, then hire movers. That is, unless you are comfortable driving a large truck a long distance. Many aren't that adventurous.

Another alternative is a combination of the two. You pack a pod or storage cube, then schedule with the moving company to bring it to your new home and unpack it on your own. This saves money, but requires physical labor.

Only you can determine the best route for you to take. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of each helps in making the decision.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Frugal Uses for Kitchen Items

Frugal Friday

As the cost of groceries and gas continue to rise, we are looking for more and more ways to save money elsewhere. Coupons can save money. Purchasing second-hand can save money. Another way to save money is to use everyday household items for purposes other than for what they are intended. It's called "Re-purposing." Here are some ideas:

• Use an empty egg carton or ice cube tray for earrings or rings in your dresser drawer.
• Use an empty egg carton to hold paperclips and other small items in your desk drawer.
• Use empty checkbook boxes (or other small boxes) for dividers in your kitchen drawers.
• Use a muffin tin to play sorting games with your children.
• Make a funnel from the top of a soda bottle.
• Empty baby food jars can hold screws, nails, beads, or buttons.
• Large glass jars can be filled with candy, topped with fabric and ribbon, then presented as a gift.
• Glass jars can be used as vases—with or without decorating.
• Cut the bottom off a plastic bottle and use it as a scoop for bird food or dog food.

What have you re-purposed in your kitchen?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Safety in the Home When Entertaining Seniors

Senior Thursday

We love being surrounded by family, especially when we are celebrating a milestone. We invite friends and family over, from the very young to the very old. Our homes will be filled with people who normally aren't part of the routine. If your children are older or grown, you aren't used to toddlers being around. So you take care to protect them from obvious dangers like electrical cords or outlets.

So too, should you protect the other extreme—the aging senior. For the senior, the dangers are different. They know better than to eat the plants or stick their hand in an outlet. But they don't always see other dangers, especially those that can cause falls. It is up to you to prepare your house for their arrival. Here are some things you should do to protect against accidents.

• Pick up all throw rugs. They are tripping hazards.
• Provide normal height seating for meals—no bar stools or picnic tables.
• Provide a chair in the conversation area that is easy to sit in and get up from.
• Be aware of dietary restrictions such as low sodium, diabetic or gluten-free.
• Hold activities on the main level of the home so they don't have to up/down stairs.
• If stairs are necessary, make sure the railing is secure.
• Watch young children around them when they are walking.
• Keep pets locked up so they don't jump up and knock them over, or get under their feet and trip them.
• Don't hand them anything to hold that is hot (coffee) or heavy (plate of food). Carry it for them and set it down.
Being aware of these hazards will protect your elderly guests. How do you keep seniors safe in your home?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Importance of Backing Up Computer Files

Tips for Tuesday

We all hear about the importance of backing up computer files, but like other disasters, many think it will never happen to us. "My computer will never crash." "I will only replace it when I want to, not when I need to." Unfortunately, some of us learn the hard way.

I am happy to say, though, that when my laptop froze up last week, I wasn't worried. Not that I welcomed the expense and time it would take to replace it. But I knew all my files were safe with, an online storage site.

Sure enough, when it came time to restore my 83,000 files, the only ones that didn't back up were the 300 that were directly related to a software program I no longer use. I am writing this blog from my new laptop—seamlessly.

So what are your options for backing up your files? First, there are online sites like Carbonite, that charge a monthly fee for backing up your files. The program works in the background while you are working with your documents. The first backup may take several days, depending on the number of files you have. And they do not back up program files. But you can always re-load programs with the CDs. Some companies include Carbonite, IDrive, MozyHome and Norton. Prices vary, and some are even free for low levels of storage. Files are available anywhere you have access to the internet.

Another option for backing up files is on an external hard drive. These are handy for portability. You can take them with you when you travel for work, for example. But they do not work in the background. You have to manually connect them to your computer and start the back-up process yourself. They do save you money in the long run, because you won't have a monthly or annual fee.

If you don't have a large amount of files to back up, a flash drive would work well for you. Like the hard drive, these are portable, but everything is manual, and they might not hold all your files.

If you use a hard drive or flash drive, back up your files every week or month on the same day. If there are important documents you don't want to lose between backups, email them to yourself. They will be stored on your mail server until the backup is run. It is also a good way to have a duplicate copy.

Finally, when using a hard drive or flash drive, create a second backup and give it to a family member or put it in a safe deposit box. This will guarantee its safety in the event of an emergency or disaster in your home.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tipping the Movers

Moving on Monday

People have different opinions on whether or not to tip movers. Many feel that the move itself is expensive, so why should they pay even more money for the move? Others feel that the movers work hard and should be rewarded for a job well done.

In reality, the movers don't walk away with much money for themselves at the end of the day. Most of it goes to the moving company. But movers, like waitresses and hairdressers, are in the service industry, and therefore should be tipped.

Ultimately, it is your decision. If you do decide to tip, there are some guidelines to consider. Tips aren't determined as a percentage of the bill. They are decided on the number of hours worked. For a short day (4-5 hours), then $10/person is acceptable. For an 8-hour day, $20/person is acceptable. For extremely long days, $40/person would be a good benchmark.

If you decide to tip the movers, give each of them the tip individually, and not to the foreman. It shows your appreciation for each of them, and also avoids unscrupulous foremen pocketing all the money.

Instead of a monetary tip, providing lunch and beverages for the movers is acceptable. Check food preferences with them before purchasing. Cold beverages (water or energy drinks) should be available throughout the day.

Supplying both lunch and a monetary tip is, of course, acceptable, and shows appreciation for a job well done.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Creative Uses for a Niche

Tips for Tuesday

Some houses have interesting architetural features like columns, crown molding or fireplaces. Some of these features are useful. Others, like a niche, are pleasing to the eye fomr the outside, but serve little function inside.

So what's a homeowner to do with the space that's often not much larger than a closet?

Do you need storage? Install a rod for hanging clothes or shelves for totes. Then put a curtain across the front to hide the items from view. If the space has a window, cover it with a transluscent fabric or drapery to let light in, but hide the contents from the outside.

Do you need an office? Install a desktop, add a file cabinet underneath, shelving above, and you have yourself a small space for paying bills or writing out your grocery list. You may have to run electricity to the space, and a hole/grommet in the desktop so you can have a light and laptop there for you.

Do you like to read? Build a bench, add a cushion and pillows, and the natural light form the window will give you a serene place to read and relax.

Do you need a place to hide toys? Build a bench in the space, add a hinged lid (with safety clasps), or doors on the front. The toys will have a home and your kids will have a place to sit and read.

Do you have an unusual collection to display? One that won't get ruined by sunlight? Install shelves across the window and use them to display items like colored glass bottles or prisms.

Is there limited space in the bedroom? Push a twin bed into the space and use the window and draperies as a makeshift headboard.

If you don't want to build anything permanent in the space, then place a comfy chair and lamp in the nook for reading, place a small desk for doing homework, put in a small bookcase for open storage, or use the space for a small dresser.

What creative uses have you come up with for a niche?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Moving With Pets

Moving On Monday

Moving is stressful. Add in pets, and it can be a disaster. That is, unless you are prepared for the day. You have packed and scheduled the move, and planned the layout in your new home. But did you plan for taking care of your pets?

Here are some things you can do to help you and your furry kids through the few days surrounding the move.

• Arrange for boarding for your cats and dogs. They should not be underfoot. Don't plan on keeping them in the yard or garage "out of the way" because the odds are high that they could slip out during the chaos.
• Have all your pets up to date on their medications and vaccinations.
• If you are moving to another town and changing veterinarians, ask for a copy of your pets' records to bring with you.
• If you are driving with your pets, have a crate or cage for each one, along with a leash in the car.
• If you need to stay in a motel for a cross-country move, look for facilities that are pet-friendly.
• Have plenty of water, food and toys in the car for a long drive.
• Pets should be wearing their tags/IDs at all times.
• If you are moving to another state, check laws for entry of animals into the state. Some states have quarantine laws.
• Give your pets time to get accustomed to the new home.
• If your pet has an ID chip, be sure to update your address and phone number with the company.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Stretching Your Wardrobe

Frugal Friday

Clothing can be very expensive, especially if you want it to last for a while. With the cost of utilities and gas rising, the money you have to spend on clothing is decreasing. But with wise decisions, you can have a nice wardrobe that will last for years to come.

• Don't buy into fads and fashion. Keep to the classics that never go out of style, such as that little black dress or black heels.
• Keep your wardrobe to two or three basic colors. Use cool or warm colors that coordinate based on your skin tone. Add in the neutrals--black, beige and white to round out the selection.
• Use accessories to change your look, rather than more expensive shirts or pants. A colorful scarf, earrings or belt can create a whole new look.
• Buy good quality items/fabrics that will last many years.
• Use light layers under expensive sweaters or jackets to absorb odors and oils. You won't have to clean your clothes as often.
• Launder your items inside-out to preserve color.
• Store your off-season clothes in temperature-controlled areas. Do not store them in humid or damp areas, especially if they are in plastic bins, which retain moisture.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Creating an Emergency Hospital Bag

Senior Thursday
As we age, the possibility of having to visit the Emergency Room increases. It may be from an accident, an illness or a fall. Regardless of the reason, the visit can be very stressful. When this happens, the patient often forgets important information, such as phone numbers, medication doses and allergies. Therefore, having a bag or tote to bring with in case of just such an emergency may save your life.

To avoid confusion, pack a tote or bag with vital information. You should include the following:

• List of prescription medications, their strength and doses. Include the prescribing physician's name and phone number.
• List of physicians under whose care you have been. Include phone numbers and addresses.
• Names and phone numbers of family members and friends to notify.
• List of non-prescription medications, such as vitamins and supplements, along with strength and dosage.
• List of medical conditions, history of surgeries and hospitalizations, allergies and vitals (height, weight, blood group).
• Personal identification--name, address, phone number.
• Change of clothing and toiletries.
Because you may not be home when an emergency happens, save a copy of your medical information on a document and store it on a flash drive. Keep this flash drive with you whenever you go out. Mark it as containing your medical information.