Much of the country will soon be coming out of hibernation as the spring weather begins to thaw us out. With the warmer weather comes more cleaning, more projects, and more chances to spend money.

First on your list is to make sure you get your tax return done or extension filed by the 15th. That's about 2 weeks away.

Then you can move on to more important things like what projects do you have looming this summer and where are you going to take the family to enjoy some well deserved R&R. Of course there are a few holidays to squeeze in as well. Before you start your spring cleaning enjoy this edition of the Pioneer Pilot and hopefully there are a few tidbits in here that you can use.

 
 
 

In 2009 the use of coupons increased for the first time in nearly 20 years. There are a lot of factors that can contribute to the increase as people are looking for any chance to save money. One of the main reasons may be attributed to the ease of finding coupons. No more looking through the paper finding coupons that may fit your need, then manually cutting them out of the paper.

Though the coupon clipping option is still available there is a lot easier way to get grocery store savings. Forget about coupon clipping and start coupon clicking. A quick Google search with a specific product can result with links to online coupons that you can print off and take to the store with you. Just a couple of clicks and there is a chance you can find a coupon for the majority of the items on your grocery list.

In some cases it's even easier. There are many stores that have club cards that provide you with in-store savings whenever you shop there. Now you can go online and find coupons that meet your specific needs and load them directly onto the card by registering the card number. You can then browse through the available coupons and select them onto your card. The next time you go shopping you buy the qualifying items and when they swipe your club card it will automatically deduct the savings.

You can even have them email you when certain items you buy have an available coupon to load. You may also receive emails for products that you have previously bought based on coupons you have used in the past. It really couldn't get much easier than that.

Coupons are a great way to save at the grocery store. Nickels, dimes, and quarters add up fast and even knocking a few bucks off of each visit is an improvement. Here are a few more tips when using coupons:

Only use coupons for items you were intending on buying anyways. You are not really saving money if you buy something that wasn't already figured into your grocery budget just because it is on sale.

Find coupons that can be used in correlation with in-store specials to save even more. Just make sure that it is allowed, as some deals cannot be used together.

If you buy a newspaper just for the coupons quit wasting the money. Most grocery stores have their weekly specials online or keep copies at the entrance of stores.

Find coupons that you can plan a meal around instead of planning a meal and hoping you find coupons to help you save.

Don't forget about coupons for non-grocery items (paper products, cleaners, toiletries). These can have some of the best savings that coupons offer.

Coupons are great but not always the most affordable option. Still compare brands and look at store brands that are often less expensive than name brands even with a coupon.

Even online coupons and loadable coupons expire. Plan grocery trips accordingly so you don't lose out on the benefits of the coupons because you tried to use it too late. There are some stores that will still honor coupons even if they have expired. It may be worth the effort to try and use the coupon to get the discount. The worst that can happen is they say, "Sorry, this coupon in no longer valid."

Chances are if there is a good deal on a certain item the store may run out. Make sure you ask for a rain-check for the discounted price so when the item is re-stocked you will get the discount price regardless of whether the sale is still going or not.

Here are a couple Online sites where you can load your grocery club card with coupons.

http://shortcuts.com/ - Works with many grocery stores. Just need to register your store's club card.

http://www.pgesaver.com/ - Coupons for Proctor & Gamble items. Works with many grocery store cards.

 

 

>>Back to Top >>Previous Article

 
>>Back to Top >>Previous Article

With the tax deadline just weeks away, many people are still trying to gather their information to hastily file their 2009 return. It's when you are approaching this deadline where you may miss opportunities to maximize your return or where you may make mistakes that can cost you.

Here are some last minute tax tips that will help you file an accurate return.

The biggest mistake that most people make involves numerical errors. Something as simple as a missing or incorrect number in your Social Security number can lead to long delays. Simple math mistakes may lead to the IRS further inquiring about your return, which could lead to additional delays.

Here are some things to double check when you are filling out your paperwork to avoid pointless delays

Make sure that your filing status is correct.
Double check all Social Security numbers, yours, your spouse, and any dependents that you are claiming.

Make sure your reported income is correctly written down. There is a difference in writing down $32,345 and $23,345.

Double-check all your calculations to make sure your deductions and allowances are correct.

Make sure you sign everywhere that is required and you date where needed.

If you are filing jointly make sure your spouse signs where needed.

Make sure all of the required forms are enclosed including your W-2's, 1040's, 1099's, and so on.

Take it to the post office to ensure you have the correct amount of postage required.

When you are fixed for time you may not only make mistakes you may actually miss a tax credit or deduction that you qualify for.

Taking the time to thoroughly examine any of the tax credits and deductions can save you a substantial amount on taxable income and may increase your return. If you do find breaks that you qualify for, make sure you record the numbers accurately and double-check them.

If you are running low on time and have access to a secure Internet connection you may want to look into filling out your return online or buying a tax preparing software. The process can be quicker and easier and it may prevent you from making mistakes. Many online programs will catch any errors that are made and require you to double check your numbers before you can continue with the next step.

Tax software will ask you simple questions that will help guide you through the process and may even save you more money or get you more of a return. However, if you have unique tax situations or are having a difficult time filling out your taxes you may want to contact a professional in order to avoid any costly mistakes.

 

FUN TAX FACTS:

The first income tax ever was in 1404 in England.

The first US income tax started during in the Civil War to help raise money back in 1862.

The IRS sends out over 8 billion pages in forms and instructions every single year, that's nearly 300,000 trees (now they use recycled paper).

 

The easiest form, the 1040EZ, has thirty-three pages of instructions.

The first e-file (electronic transmission of a tax return) occurred on January 24, 1986
By 1989, taxpayers in 36 states could e-file their taxes
By 1990, everyone could.

 

 

 

>>Back to Top>>Previous Article
 

The chill of winter is slowly melting away and soon it will be time to clean out the cobwebs inside and out. Spring-cleaning is an annual ritual and a great time to also spruce up your finances.

Start with your tax return

A completed tax return acts as a squeaky-clean window into your money life. It shows your after-tax income and reminds you of how much you made in the stock market and how little you earned on your side gig.

Before you put the forms away, take a moment to assess whether your tax situation will change dramatically this year because of a job change, college graduation, or new baby and plan accordingly.

If you received a big refund or owed big-time this year, now is the time to rework how much is withheld from your paycheck. The more dependents you claim, the less money is taken out and the more money makes it to your pocket up front and vice versa.

Need to tinker with your withholding? Check out the IRS' withholding calculator (go to www.irs.gov and put "withholding calculator" in the search field).

Eliminate the junk and clutter

It's a good idea to buy a fire safe and track down which papers to keep and which to toss.

Generally, the IRS advises you to keep your tax returns indefinitely. Supporting documentation - such as W-2s, 1099s and receipts - should be kept for at least three years.

With the rest of the documents, ask yourself three questions: Have I used this document recently? Why would I need it? Is it easily replaced? Old phone bills and credit card statements hit the shredder, while mortgage documents, birth certificates, insurance policies and the like are filed away.

Here are some items that should be kept in an accessible, safe, and secure place:

* Birth Certificates
* Social Security Cards
* Marriage License
* Deeds/Titles
* Contracts - Mortgage Papers
* Home Improvement Receipts
* Wills or Power of Attorney
* Veteran's Papers
* Transcripts, etc
* Family Health Records
* Warranties and Manuals
* Large Purchase Receipts
* Insurance Policies
* Credit Card Information

Clean up your credit

Now is as good of time as any to check your credit report and make sure there are no errors and to find out how you look through the eyes of creditors. This will also help you come up with a way to pay off debt.

If you haven't checked to see if your credit report is filled with mistakes, visit www.annualcreditreport.com. You can receive 3 free credit reports each year (one from each credit reporting agency). For an additional price you can also receive your credit score.

If you find yourself with debt problems it may not be a bad idea to consult a credit counselor. They can take a look at your situation and determine if they can help you pay off your debts faster and improve your credit.
Plant your coins in the bank

During a traditional spring cleaning, coins sprout from couch cushions and junk drawers. The average American has $99 in coins lying about, according to Coinstar. Stick $99 in a savings account each year for 10 years earning 5 percent and thanks to compound interest - the equivalent of financial Miracle-Gro - you'll have about $1,300.

Dust off your Budget

If you haven't already done so, now would be a good time to start or revamp your budget. Find out where you are having spending holes and fix them by disciplining yourself and cutting down on some of your spending categories. It's also a good time to start planning for summer events that may cost you some extra money like graduation, weddings, and reunions.

A good spring cleaning can take up the better part of a day so start now before the weather gets too nice and that way you will be able to enjoy the sun and flowers of spring.

 


Pioneer is not responsible for any advice given in The Pioneer Pilot. Everyone has a different set of circumstances that would determine if an idea or plan is the best one for them. Information provided should not be intended as legal advice.

 

 

 

>>Back to Top >>Previous Article
 

If you look forward to giving Easter baskets to your children each year but don't enjoy the high price of expensive pre-made baskets, here are some simple ideas for saving money on this fun holiday tradition. Like anything else you buy, it helps to set a spending limit -- maybe $5 per Easter basket. Then have fun being creative and trying to keep within your basket budget.

Try to shop for Easter basket fillers throughout the year. You can keep a basket in the corner of a closet for storing these types of items found throughout the year. Keep an eye out for small games and toys in clearance bins at the grocery store, at dollar stores, and during any stops to thrift stores or yard sales.

In the days immediately following Halloween, bags of candy often go on sale for half price (or less), so you can sometimes purchase several bags of family favorites and stick them in the freezer. Frozen candy will keep quite nicely until Easter.

Small, fun items that you'll probably need to purchase for your children during the course of the year can be saved to include in their Easter baskets: crayons, felt pens, glue sticks, glitter glue, novelty toothbrushes, fun-flavored toothpastes, hair ribbons, barrettes, a new hair brush, bubble bath in fun containers.

Ideas for the Basket Itself:
Wicker baskets can be reused year after year (a nice tradition in itself). These can be used other times during the year for decoration or for storing small items. You can also reuse the decorative grass from year to year.
Paper bags decorated with bunnies, eggs, flowers, etc.
Easter bonnets. If you're going to be purchasing an Easter bonnet for your daughter, turn it upside down and fill with goodies.
Inexpensive colorful plastic sand pails. Include a shovel and sand mold.
Plastic mesh storage containers. Reuse to store toys, games, socks, childhood treasures, etc.
Lunch box.
New novelty pillowcase.
Flower pot (fill w/packet of seeds, soil, drainage rocks, gardening gloves, instructions for growing their own Spring flowers).
For older kids/teens, try a make-up container (including sample sizes of soap, perfume, lip gloss, nail polish, etc.), a fishing tackle box (include a few lures), a personal popcorn bowl (containing a bag of gourmet popcorn), or a new purse.
For teenagers or grown children, try a grocery bag filled with their favorite foods.

Filling ideas:
Plastic eggs can be reused every year. Fill with jelly beans or small plastic toys of interest to the child. Bags full of fake bugs, dinosaurs, etc., can often be found at dollar stores for under a $1 per bag.

Homemade candy and treats.
Homemade frosted Easter-shaped cookies individually wrapped. You can also make cookie lollipops by adding a lollipop or ice cream stick before baking.

Crispy Rice Treats or Popcorn Balls colored with pastel food coloring and shaped like eggs.

Sidewalk Chalk Eggs: Mix 1 cup plaster, 1/2 cup water and several drops food coloring. Pour mixture into empty egg carton sections. When dry, peel away the carton and hot glue two sections together at the center to form a complete egg.
Toys from fast food children's meals can be found in "like new" condition at thrift stores and yard sales for $0.25 or less.

Rubber stamps and stamp pads.
Homemade play dough.
Crayons.
Small bag of potato chips.
Bubbles.
A jump rope.
Jacks.
A frisbee.
Chopsticks.
Fancy shoelaces.
Stickers.
Books.
Stationary, note cards, envelopes, stamps.
Coloring books or coloring sheets.

Find some simple Easter related clip-art and print the picture out in black and white for homemade coloring sheets, or print out several and staple them together for a custom made coloring book.

Audio tapes you've made of yourself reading their favorite books aloud. Be sure to include a signal for them to turn the page if they'll be reading along with you.

Look for small Dover Books at your local bookstore. These books are high quality and usually under $1 each. They have paper dolls, holiday activity books, coloring books, etc.

 

 

The Easter egg roll on the White House lawn has been a tradition since 1878.

After Halloween, Easter is the biggest candy consuming holiday.

When taking a bite into a chocolate bunny, 76% of Americans prefer to bite off the ears first. 5% eat the feet first and 4% eat the tail first.

During the Easter season, Americans buy more than 700 million Peeps - making Peeps the most popular non-chocolate Easter candy.

16 billion jelly beans are made specifically for Easter which is enough to fill a plastic egg the size of a 9-story building.

 

 

 

 

 

>>Back to Top >>Previous Article
 

We are getting so close to breaking this cabin fever. I can't remember the last time I was so ready for winter to be over (probably a year ago). I have a lot of spring-cleaning to do, literally and financially.

We may have to spruce up our budget. We have been doing a real good job focusing on our main problem area, the groceries. Our game plan of planning all our meals and only shopping once a week has been great for us cutting costs on groceries. Unfortunately, we have not spent as much effort keeping track of other spending. We may not be doing bad but the fact that we haven't been monitoring it as much as we should could mean we aren't doing good either. So that's one thing to add to the list.

Back to groceries though, I was excited to find out about these great websites that have coupons. We recently cancelled our newspaper subscription because we were mostly using it to scan the shopping ads and find good deals. We then realized we hardly read the content of the paper and could go online to read the articles, the coupons in the paper were never for things we bought, and we could go online or grab the ads from the store themselves. (Bonus: I've noticed that there have been fewer temptations for me to want to go to BestBuy).

So now we have a grocery card that we can load with coupons for things that are on our list or search for items we plan to buy. I was surprised how many deals there were. We just have to check online before we go to the store and a few simple clicks and a couple sheets of paper and we have the coupons we want.

Unfortunately the brutal winter took its toll on my lawn so I will have to put some time and money into repairing it. Ironically I spent more time last fall getting ready for winter than I ever had in hopes of avoiding wasting money by being smarter. So I will probably be renting an aerator and buying some grass seed to remedy the winterkill of my lawn. The good thing is my brother also has a similar problem so we have agreed to split the cost of renting the aerator to save some money.

My wife and I have tentatively started a summer home improvement project list. Just a list of things we want to do around the house. For example, our living room ceiling fan looks like something stolen from a sultans golden bathroom and we have hated the way it has looked since we moved in. Though it is still functioning it is something we can categorize as home improvement and account for financially.

I mentioned how we were saving more on groceries and it's been a good thing because we are finding more money to be able to make repairs or improvements comfortably.

Oh yeah, there is only a couple weeks left before taxes are due and I'm hoping most of you are at least ready to get them done. We took a little longer than expected but it was quite the harmless activity. It's nice when you do it online and with a quick sign in to your account all of your information is loaded up. I once again recommend going through an online program with a reputable tax company. It has made the process for us much easier and has even saved us money by finding credits we would have missed if they didn't double check for us. Well worth the $15 we spend each year to do it.

Our other financial question of the moment is trying to plan a family vacation. We have some money saved up for just such an occasion. We debated going to Yellowstone but would want to rent a cabin and would need to book it months in advance. We aren't in a position to make that kind of commitment. The kids may be a little too young still to invest that much money in a trip they may not remember. So we may just make a couple trips to see family and try and squeeze in a camping trip now and then.

I know that there are a lot of people who are still debating and holding tight due to the economic conditions and it's great to find ways to save money but still be able to enjoy well-deserved time off. I'm assuming "staycations" are going to be a popular choice again this year. It's always kind of fun exploring the region where you live, if you haven't done so in awhile. A great way to have a vacation and save some money.

I hope that things are beginning to warm up and the weather starts to cooperate wherever you are. Until next time, good luck and have fun.

 

 

 

>>Back to Top >>Previous Article

When you have children heading off to college it is important to explore your options with scholarships and financial aid. But, like most things in life there are people who are out there to try and take advantage of individuals. It is important to be aware of such scams and to avoid them to protect your credit and your sanity.

The number one red flag would be any scholarship that asks for a credit card or bank account number to secure or hold the scholarship. Never give this information out.

Avoid any scholarship that claims that they will do all the work for you, or that it is as easy as signing your name. Scholarships take some effort and require more than the minimum information. It would be hard to believe any scholarship would be valid without you filling out the information and signing on it.

There are also services that will help find scholarships for you and will give you access to exclusive scholarships and grants by signing up with them for a fee. Scholarship information is information that you can find yourself for free. You do not need to pay anyone for his or her services. If you feel that applying for scholarship applications is intimidating you can ask to speak with a counselor at school, or even a teacher who may be able to assist you.

If you receive a letter that says that you are a finalist for a scholarship that you never applied for, you may want to research it more. More than likely it is junk mail and they are trying to get you to sign up for stuff. However, there are some scholarships that a family member may have recommended you for. Research them to find out if they are a reputable company. If there is a phone number, call it for more information. At the first sign of them trying to sell you something or asking for your banking information, politely end the conversation.

You will want to stay away from any company that claims that the scholarship is Òguaranteed or your money back.Ó No one can guarantee that they will get you a legitimate scholarship. Scholarships are available to anyone that fits the specific qualifications.

A good source for scholarships would be at the college that you are planning on attending. You can contact the school with any questions about a specific scholarship. They may have a list of current potential scams that they can warn you about. You will also find scholarships that are only specific for that particular school.

Scholarships are not the only way that con artists take advantage of students and their parents. There are many student loan companies that will take advantage of you. Many will draw you in with the promise of low interest rates. They may ask for a processing fee in order to lock in the "incredibly low one-time" interest rate. Do your research before working with any company.

If you are unsure if it is a scam or not there are a few steps that you can take to find out. You can take all the suspect information to your guidance counselor and they can assist you with finding out if it's legitimate.

You can also look up a company through the Better Business Bureau. If they do not show up on their list, then you may want to avoid it. If they are on the list read their reviews of the companies business practices. If you have been taken advantage of or believe you are a victim of fraud then you may want to contact your State Attorney General's Office to file a complaint.

 

 
>>Back to Top >>Previous Article

Earth Day and being frugal go hand in hand. Here are a couple fun ways to recycle.

Use one of those nice plastic coffee cans with the hand grip to scatter rock salt on the walkway and stairs in the winter (Cut a half moon out of the lid).

Keep a coffee can on the counter for compost scraps.

Use vinegar jugs and milk jugs for winter sowing containers.

Use a clean, empty ketchup bottle to squirt pancake batter onto the griddle when you make mini pancakes for the kids.

Save a stack of yogurt lids that you can use for coffee spoon rests in the morning near the coffee pot, and 2 larger lids as additional spoon rests when needed.

 
>>Back to Top >>Previous Article

>>Back to Top >>Previous Article
 

Home | Creditor Login | Hablamos Espanol |
Employment | Contact Us | Educational Services | Daycare/Preschool| Pilot Back Issues