The new year just started and it's already time for hearts and cupid, shamrocks and shenanigans, and Uncle Sam and taxes. This month we have plenty of ways to prepare for them all with a sound financial way of thinking.

We are all starting to come down from our holiday highs and are settling into the New Year which means it's time to get some chores taken care of and the main one for most of us will be our taxes. It's never to early to think about them and that's why we are getting you ready early.

So lace up your shoes and get ready to sprint through the first quarter of the year.

 
 
 

We use a variety of things everyday, but what you may not know is that you can get multiple uses out of everyday items. When you are using one thing to do multiple things you are saving money. Here are some favorites we have come across.

Lemons:
A slice of lemon can deodorize and disinfect a chopping block when ran over the surface.

Apples, Pears, and even guacamole will last longer when you squeeze lemon juice on them to prevent browning.

Remove tough food stains from plastic and light-colored wooden cutting boards. Slice a lemon in half, squeeze the juice onto the soiled surface, rub, and let sit for 20 minutes. Rinse with water.
Shine your copper cookware by sprinkling salt on a lemon wedge and then scrub.

Add a half cup of lemon juice to the wash cycle to brighten your whites in the wash.

Food graters are always difficult to clean, but rub both side with a lemon to help remove caked on food and cheese.

Newspaper:
Deodorize food containers. Stuff a balled-up piece of newspaper into a lunch box or thermos, seal it, and let sit overnight.

Wrap tomatoes individually and leave them out at room temperature to help ripen the tomato.

Newspaper is a great replacement for paper towels when eliminating streaks while cleaning windows.

Dry shoes or snow boots by placing crumpled paper in them overnight.

You can wrap presents in used newspaper. Kids gifts are perfect for the comics, dads and husbands are great for the sports section, and wedding presents can be wrapped in the engagement/wedding announcement section.

Line your refrigerator vegetable drawer to absorb spills and smells.

Olive Oil:
When you are out of shaving cream olive oil can be a substitute that leaves you with a close shave.

Olive oil is safe on stainless steel and makes it shine.

Add 1/8 to _ teaspoon olive oil to your cat's food to help prevent hairballs.

Instead of using WD40 use olive oil to lubricate stuck zippers or applying to door hinges to prevent squeaking.

A little olive oil is great for dry skin when you apply a little after you shower.

Dryer Sheets:
Dryer sheets make great deodorizers. You can stick them in a pair of shoes or in the bottom of a garbage can. They are also great for luggage or gym-bags.

Dryer sheets not only help with static cling in the dryer they can help reduce static on clothes, TV screens and monitors, or even hair. Just wipe the surface with evenly.

Rub a dryer sheet over any furniture that is covered with pet hair and it will help remove it.
Place a fresh sheet in the bottom of a dirty pan, fill with lukewarm tap water, and let sit in the sink overnight. The pan will be easier to clean in the morning.

Prevent thread from tangling when sewing. Run a threaded needle through a dryer sheet right before you begin your handiwork.

Dust venetian blinds. Close the blinds, then wipe up and down with a dryer sheet.

Ziploc Bags:
Place dough in a Ziploc bag so your fingers don't get sticky. Or slip your hand into the bag and wear it like a glove.

Snip off a tiny corner to use a Ziploc as a pastry bag.

Store soup by filling up bags, then lay them flat in the freezer. When the bags of soup freeze flat, you'll be able to pile them up like stacked books for easy, space-saving storage.

Bags large and small can be used as a packaging substitute when inflated. Use a straw to prevent air from escaping.


Vinegar:
Remove coffee or tea stains from cups and pots. Add a small amount to a stubborn stain in a cup then rinse with water. You can also run a mixture of vinegar and water through your coffee pot to remove stains. You will want to run an additional cycle of plain water to rinse.

You can remove winter salt stains from boots with a rag that has been dipped in vinegar.

Run a cup of vinegar through a dishwashing cycle to eliminate odors and reduce soap buildup on your dishes.

Brush price tags and stickers with several coats of vinegar, let the liquid soak in for five minutes, and then wipe away the residue.

Vinegar can also be a good weed killer but be cautious that you only use it for weeds in cement cracks as it will also destroy surrounding grass if you spray weeds in your yard.

A capful or two of vinegar in the rinse cycle of a load of sweaters will make wool feel extra soft.

Baking soda:
Remove crayon, pencil, ink, and scuffs from painted surfaces by adding a little baking soda to a damp sponge and rubbing the spot clean, then rinse.

Before using a harsh and poisonous drain liquid, use a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar down the sink drain. Let it sit for 5 minutes then flush with a gallon of boiling water.

Remove tough stains from enameled cast iron and stainless steel. Scrub enameled cast iron with a soft nylon brush and a thick paste of baking soda and water. Clean stainless steel with a soft cloth and 4 tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in 1 quart of water. Wipe dry with a clean cloth.

Wash your face, then apply a soft paste made of three parts baking soda and one part water. Massage gently with a circular motion, avoiding the eye area; rinse clean for an affordable face wash that exfoliates.

Sprinkle baking soda on minor oil and grease spots on the driveway or garage and scrub with a wet brush.

For a quick antacid for indigestion stir a teaspoon of baking soda into a cup of water and drink.

Coffee Filters:
Diffuse the flash on a camera. When you're taking a close-up, soften the brightness by placing a coffee filter over the flash.

Strain wine from a bottle with a broken cork. Place the filter over a pitcher or a carafe and slowly pour the wine into it.

Serve popcorn or other snacks. The filters act as disposable bowls, so there's no dishwashing.

Heat up leftovers in the microwave. Use a filter as the protective covering over a bowl or a plate.

Prevent soil from draining out of flowerpots. When repotting, place a filter at the bottom, over the drainage hole, then add the soil.

Prevent scuffs and scratches on fine china. Use flattened coffee filters as spacers when you stack your dishes.

Protect hands from Popsicle drippage. Slide the wooden stick of an ice pop through a coffee filter so your hands stay mess-free.

Serve pita sandwiches. A circular filter is the perfect size for carrying a sandwich on the go.

Clean windows and glass when you're out of paper towels. Coffee filters leave no lint or other residue.

Velcro:
Hang pieces of art or photos on a wall by sticking several strips of Velcro to the wall and to the back of a lightweight frame.

Keep a rug in place by adding pieces of Velcro to the floor and to the bottom of the rug.

Stop seat cushions from sliding off kitchen chairs. Place strips of Velcro on the chair and on the cushion.

Organize toys. Affix a Velcro strip to the wall and Velcro pieces to stuffed animals to make cleanup fun for toddlers.

Keep track of the remote. Use Velcro to attach the remote to the side of the TV when it's not in use.
Remove pills from sweaters. Use the hook side of Velcro to pull off pesky balls.

Restrain wayward cords. Keep them in one place with a strip of Velcro.

Keep a pen or paper handy. Place a small piece of Velcro next to a desk calendar and on a pen so you can jot down to-dos ASAP. In the car, stick a notepad to the dashboard or the door of the glove compartment and you'll always have paper for a brilliant thought or a last-minute errand.

Picnic in peace. Keep a tablecloth from flying away by applying Velcro to the underside of the cloth and to the picnic table.

 

 

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The tax deadline will be here sooner than you think and to avoid stressing out at the last minute it's a good idea to start planning now.

By now you should have received most, if not all of you tax documents. These can include all W-2's/W-4's (employer), 1098 (for home owners), 1098E (student loan interest). They are required to be mailed to you by January 31. Make sure you store them all in the same place. Dedicate a drawer or label a folder to keep all of your documents in the same place and easily accessible when you are ready to file. This will save you so much time and effort if you don't have to go searching for all these forms when you do get ready to file.

As you start to receive your tax documents it's important that you double-check them for any inaccuracies. A misspelled name or a wrong number can cause delays and headaches on your tax return.

Arm yourself with as much information as you can. There are plenty of legitimate websites that provided valuable information about taxes. This is a great way to find more money on your return and can better educate you for next year.

If you are planning on doing your own taxes you may want to purchase a tax software program. You can purchase them at the store or download it from reputable websites. These programs walk you through the process and ask you plenty of questions to make sure you are accurately filing. Buying the software now allows you time to familiarize yourself and learn how the software works.

Consider signing up to have your tax return set up on direct deposit. Check with your financial institution to make sure that there will be no problems. There is line on the 1040 Form where you fill out your account information and that way you don't have to wait for your return to be sent through the mail or the fear of it getting lost or stolen. You will also notice that you will have the money sooner than if you wait by mail.

You may want to do a quick estimate to see if you may have to pay in or if you will receive a return this year. It doesn't have to be exact just enough to give you an idea of what you may owe or what you have coming to you. There are places online where you can enter your estimations and it will give you a number.

If you do find or think that you will have to pay in this year you still have some time to save and come up with the amount you will have to pay in. It may not be the best news but you don't have to let it ruin your finances. If you are well prepared to pay it will be better than trying to come up with excuses as to why you can't pay the IRS.

You may be uncomfortable with anything having to do with your taxes and would like to have a tax preparer do them for you. Start researching and looking now, that way you have time to find a good preparer. If you have friends, family, or co-workers that use tax preparers, ask them for their information. Continue reading for some information from the IRS to be aware of when choosing a legitimate tax preparer.

Here are some questions to ask your potential tax preparer:

What education and training do you have in preparing taxes?

How many years have you been preparing taxes?

Do you have experience preparing taxes for people in financial situations similar to mine?

Do you provide any assistance if I'm audited?

How quickly can I expect you to complete my return?

Will you be able to give me advice on how to get in better shape for next tax year?

What is your fee?

Don't wait until the last day to do all of your taxes at once. Do it a bit at a time, spread out over a longer period. This allows you to check over your work with fresh eyes (and perhaps notice things you didn't see before).

Come up with a plan - maybe you'll spend an hour each Saturday starting in February on your taxes. Add it to your calendar now so that you'll know you've got to do it. You also don't want to wait until the last minute because if you are expecting a return; why would you want to wait to get that money?

 

 

 

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Cupid's holiday is just a couple weeks away and there are plenty of ways to celebrate love without spending a small fortune. Here are some ideas dedicated to our frugal couples out there that not only work for the 14th, but all year round.

Dinner at a fancy restaurant is always a popular choice on Valentine's Day and also one of the more expensive parts of the date. Why not forgo the busy crowds and spend an evening at home and cook a nice candlelit dinner instead. Plan ahead and find a babysitter to take care of the kids for a few hours and put on some nice clothes and music and have a 4-course meal. You will have the ambience of a night out without having to leave a big tip.

If you must get out of the house for a dinner date opt for lunch instead. It won't be as busy and generally lunch menus are less expensive than dinner. You can then spend the rest of the day and evening together doing whatever you please.

Plan ahead and find events or activities that are free or little cost. There may be a band playing or an art show that you can attend together. If you are fortunate enough to have good weather on the 14th then you may want to plan a picnic or a walk through the park. Check out some local coffee shops or college campuses, which often feature acoustic music or poetry readings.

As far as gifts go you don't need to be intimidated by jewelry commercials that show that the only way to truly show your love is with a diamond. Gifts from the heart count for more and can save you a lot.

Flowers are always very popular on Valentine's Day, especially roses. You can save yourself some money by choosing to go with a flower besides roses. Red and White carnations are a beautiful substitute, as are daisies. You may even be better off by going with a houseplant. Maybe she will appreciate the fact that you bought her something different.

Instead of having the flowers delivered by an expensive flower company, purchase the flowers yourself and deliver them to your valentine's workplace yourself during lunch. The extra effort will save you some money and earn you a little more admiration.

Homemade gifts can be fun to make and come right from the heart. You would be surprised what you can do with a little construction paper, scissors, and glue. You can make a collage with pictures from the previous year and make a big Valentine's Day card.

Valentine's Day coupons are also a big hit with couples. Make and decorate coupons that contain special requests that they can redeem. They can be for chores that they don't like to do or a request for them to get to pick the movie one night, or a coupon for their favorite meal. There are really endless ideas that you can put on your own personalized coupons. Put them in an envelope and decorate it. Ladies can put on some dark red lipstick and kiss the envelope and guys can spray their ladies favorite smelling cologne on it.

In the past we have advised that you save all year for the Christmas season. This works equally well with Valentine's Day. If you want to have an extravagant evening then why not save up for it instead of swiping the plastic. If you've had your eye on a stunning gift put a little away each month and buy it with cash. By planning ahead you will be able to really enjoy yourself instead of feeling guilty for spending so much on the gift and dinner.

 

 

 

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We are off to a great start in 2010. We made a commitment to get control of our grocery store spending. We are dedicated to a weekly menu and one grocery trip a week as opposed to the occasional big grocery trip and then multiple short trips to the store that add up quickly.

It had been awhile since we took a hard look at where our money was going and after reviewing our bank statements online it was pretty easy to see where all our money was going to. So we are using our banks software to keep track of our spending categories, which is a pretty nifty little tool.

We are also trying to be proactive with our kid's savings and have opened up savings accounts for them. So from now on when they receive money as a gift on Christmas or their birthdays we can put it in the bank for them without them even knowing. Don't worry; I'm sure they will still receive plenty of toys and such. It may not pay for everything when they are older, (by that time 4 year in-state tuition should be about $100 grand a year) but it will help absorb some of the costs. Heck, it may even help go towards a new car for them, and by new I mean at least 10 years older than they are with limited stereo options like I had to endure.

Another thing we did with our bank is allow them to automatically transfer a certain amount from our checking into saving each month. By doing this they would wave some fees and we would receive additional benefits, like free checks. So you automatically help us put money into savings, which we should be doing anyways and you are also going to give us additional benefits? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

So we are only just into 2010 and I am already feeling more financially smarter. I'm sure all of my over confidence will be deflated as soon as I take a first crack at our taxes. I've said it before but like most of you I just don't enjoy doing them. You would think that by the way I act I would have to pay in but we have always received a return but I can never get myself motivated to plug numbers into a software program that gives you money back. Now that I read that, it makes me look pretty sad. I mean it doesn't get much easier than copying one set of numbers from your sheets into the program and having it do all the thinking for you. OK then, I guess I'm ready and excited to file my taxes.

Last issue (written before Christmas) I said that I was going to try and do some online shopping this year. I can tell you that this was quite successful and I will probably try and do all of my shopping online next year.

One thing I noticed when shopping online is that I was less susceptible to buying additional gift that weren't really necessary. Sure, they try and get you with pop-up windows that recommend similar items or complimentary items for the thing you just purchased, but it was a lot easier to ignore them online than if I were buying it in person. This may not be the case for everyone but it helped me stick to my intended list, which is usually a chronic problem for me.

The other great part was I didn't waste too much time if they didn't have a gift I wanted to buy. It used to be that I would come up with a great gift idea and run around town trying to find it and then have to come up with a different gift idea. I found everything I wanted and I found it cheaper (even with shipping). I am a full online-shopping convert.

Valentine's Day is the next financial challenge holiday to test ourselves. Don't get me wrong, it's a cute holiday and I like to do nice things for my wife and we try and enjoy the evening together, but there's no reason to go overboard and buy expensive gifts or go out to an expensive dinner just because the date on the calendar says so. Every jewelry commercial wants you to think that love has a monetary value, and it's usually more than you can reasonably afford. If you survived Christmas or are still recovering don't take two steps back and put yourself in a financial hole.

Let Valentine's Day be a day of creativity and expressive love through financial reason. (Don't steal that quote. It's mine.) Besides, if you want to spend money on flowers for a holiday wait a month and do it on St. Patrick's Day, they'll never see it coming (Right, honey?). Of course it helps a little if they are Irish, but isn't everyone a little Irish on March 17th?

Well until next time, good luck and have fun.

 

 

 

 

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So we don't forget our Irish blooded friends in March here is a great low-cost gift to give to you Irish friends on St. Patrick's Day.

Wrap a tealight (green if you can) and a shiny penny in an 8" square of shamrock fabric. Tie it with a green ribbon and attach this poem:

This little Irish Candle comes from a friend.

So on St. Patrick's night burn it down to the end.

Because this Irish Candle burned to the socket,

brings you the luck of the Irish and a coin in your pocket.

 

 

 

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The IRS has provided this information to make you aware that no matter who you hire to do your taxes, you are responsible.

There are tips to follow when hiring someone to assist you in filing your tax return to ensure you and the government donÕt get cheated.

Return preparer fraud generally involves the preparation and filing of false income tax returns by preparers who claim inflated personal or business expenses, false deductions, unallowable credits or excessive exemptions on returns prepared for their clients. Preparers may also manipulate income figures to obtain tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, fraudulently.

In some situations, the client (taxpayer) may not have knowledge of the false expenses, deductions, exemptions and/or credits shown on their tax returns. However, when the IRS detects the false return, the taxpayer Ñ not the return preparer Ñ must pay the additional taxes and interest and may be subject to penalties.

The IRS Return Preparer Program focuses on enhancing compliance in the return-preparer community by investigating and referring criminal activity by return preparers to the Department of Justice for prosecution and/or asserting appropriate civil penalties against unscrupulous return preparers.

While most preparers provide excellent service to their clients, the IRS urges taxpayers to be very careful when choosing a tax preparer. Taxpayers should be as careful as they would be in choosing a doctor or a lawyer. It is important to know that even if someone else prepares a tax return, the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for all the information on the tax return.

Helpful Hints When Choosing a Return Preparer:

  • Be careful with tax preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.
  • Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of the refund.
  • Use a reputable tax professional who signs your tax return and provides you with a copy for your records.
  • Consider whether the individual or firm will be around to answer questions about the preparation of your tax return months, or even years, after the return has been filed.
  • Review your return before you sign it and ask questions on entries you don't understand.
  • No matter who prepares your tax return, you (the taxpayer) are ultimately responsible for all of the information on your tax return. Therefore, never sign a blank tax form.
  • Find out the person's credentials. Only attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters including audits, collection and appeals. Other return preparers may only represent taxpayers for audits of returns they actually prepared.
  • Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides its members with continuing education and resources and holds them to a code of ethics.
  • Ask questions. Do you know anyone who has used the tax professional? Were they satisfied with the service they received?

Tax evasion is a risky crime, a felony, punishable by five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

www.irs.gov

 

 
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