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Get Back in Step

You don't have to think about any more eggnog for another 12 months, and half the toys you bought are broke or missing. It must mean that Christmas is over. For those who followed their budget and paid for everything with cash, well done. For everyone else who bought a couple extra presents or charged the Christmas duck, don't worry you can bounce back.

Start off by putting those credit cards away. Don't use them to pay for groceries and certainly don't use them to buy anything you don't need. You don't want to add to your additional debt or you will continue to take two steps back for every step forward.

Adjust your budget and make changes to account for the extra expenses. You are going to have to find some money to catch you up. So if you have a budget you may need to lower one category in order to make more room for your debts. If you don't have a budget, now would be a great time to start one so you know where all of your money is going and how to adjust accordingly. Page 3 features an article on how to start a budget today.

Don't hide from your bills or creditors. You will only cause more problems if you ignore your bills. You will be better off trying to negotiate a payment plan with your creditors. Most creditors are expecting to be avoided after the holidays. You also don't want to pay just the minimums on your credit cards. Fees and interest eat up minimum payments so you need to make larger payments to get the balance down and pay the debt off faster. You may be able to negotiate with your creditors to set up a payment plan that corresponds with your payment schedule. It may be easier for you to come up with a payment every two weeks, rather than coming up with a larger payment every month.

Start your Christmas budget sooner and follow it. Christmas is the same day every year, December 25th, yet so many of us are surprised by the holidays and feel like it snuck up on us. So this year, start early. After you recover from this year, put money away each month or from each paycheck so you can use it for Christmas spending. There are accounts that you can open that are strictly for Christmas funds. Commit to yourself that you will contribute to it regularly. Next Christmas will be a lot less stressful when you can buy all of your presents with cash and not have it affect your finances at all.

    

 


 

   
 
 

Are you or your children suffering from the boredom of wintertime blues? There are plenty of things that you can do without spending a lot of money and help pass the frigid time.

Why not have a picnic indoors. You can lie down a blanket and make some of your favorite summer snacks and lemonade.

There are obviously outdoor activities that are associated with winter and snow, so why not take advantage.

Start with the winter classic, building a snowman. Be prepared before the first snow even falls. Stock a shoebox with an old scarf, stocking cap, a few charcoal briquettes (packaged in a plastic bag), and whatever else you like to customize your snowman with.

The winter alternative to writing on the sidewalk with chalk is painting in the snow. Mix a little food coloring with water in a spray bottle and use it to spray the snow in fun colors.

Another fun outdoor activity is to setup a snow obstacle course. Build snow mounds and columns and build a course that the kids can go through and you can time them. Use the colored water to paint a start and finish line.

Have a family night playing your board games and drinking hot cocoa. Head over to your local dollar store to buy a few small prizes that can be given away to the winners.

Why only play golf in the summer? You can easily place a cup in the snow or simply dig one out and chip towards the target. You can also set up a putt-putt course in your house. You can use books to define the boundaries and use household objects to create obstacles. Use a plastic cup for the hole and make sure you play in a safe place away from things that can be easily broken.

When the weather gets colder the oven usually gets more work. Take this time to teach your kids the basics of cooking and baking. Have them help you measure and stir ingredients. Delegate jobs to kids based on their age and level of responsibility. You should be able to find a job for everyone and it's a great way to spend a day. Don't forget to sample some of your treats and share them with friends.

Another fun learning activity is to have your kids keep track of different birds that may stop by while migrating. Make simple birdfeeders with pinecones, peanut butter, and birdseed. Have your kids watch the feeder and record the birds that visit. They can then draw a picture of the different birds and keep a journal of the birds with their picture and day that they visited.

Hopefully a few of these activities will keep your children occupied until the snow melts away and warm weather returns.


     

 

 

 

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Today's the Day to Start

The cornerstone of a great financial foundation is a good and thorough budget. Many times a budget can be intimidating and difficult to follow. Many of you have either tried and given up or have never bothered to start one. With the start of the New Year there is no better time than the present to establish a strong budget.

The purpose of a budget is for you to see where your money is going instead of asking where it went each month. Once you know where your money is going, you can adjust accordingly and be able to save more of your money.

The first thing that you need to do is determine your income, or take home pay. This is the amount of money that you have after taxes. Account for all the income in the house, including your spouse or income from extra employment.

Next you need to figure out your monthly fixed expenses. These are the items that are the same each month. They can include rent or mortgage, car payment, insurance, cable, electric, or student loan payments. The other fixed expense you should have is your savings account. You should make it a priority to pay yourself a set amount each month. Dr. bills can also be considered a fixed expense even if you don't have one every month. By putting a set amount aside for the doctor each month you will be able to pay the bill faster when you have to visit the doctor.

You will now need to find your monthly variable expenses. These expenses include things like groceries, entertainment, clothing, gas, or anything else that doesn't require a regular monthly payment. Try and have a category for everything that you spend money on each month. Your variable expenses are where you are going to adjust your spending, as these expenses are not set in stone. There may be some exceptions like gas; you may spend more or less based on how much you drive during a specific month. Use the past couple of months to help you estimate how much you are spending on these categories each month.

Now that you have your fixed and variable expenses figured out you need to compare that to your income. Add up all of your expenses and see how it matched up to your income. Your expenses should equal your income precisely. If you have more income than expenses than you need to find a place for that extra income. You can assign it to savings or to a category you know could use some extra funding.

Now if your expenses are more than your income than you need to find places to adjust your expenses so you are not heading into a debt problem.

When you first start a budget you are going to make some mistakes and that's ok. For the next two months thoroughly track all of your expenses. If you are buying things besides groceries at the grocery store categorize it accordingly. Find a place for every purchase so you know precisely where every dollar goes. By tracking your expenses you may be surprised to learn just what you are spending money on.

Don't just think that a budget is only for those who are living paycheck to paycheck. It may be even more important for those who are able to pay all their bills each month and purchase all their needs and still have some left over each month. When you budget when you have money you have many opportunities to let your money grow.

With a budget you will be able to dedicate more money to your personal savings, which will bail you out in emergency and help you avoid having to use a credit card. You can also save up for purchases and pay for them with cash instead of using plastic.

If you have outstanding debt you can adjust your budget so you are able to pay more towards your debt and pay it off faster while saving a ton on fees and interest.

Another perk with having extra money each month is an opportunity to invest money to benefit your future finances. Once you have built up your savings to where you are comfortable enough handling a financial emergency, take a look at what safe investment opportunities may be available for you. You may have a company 401k plan that you can now dedicate some money to each month thanks to your budget.

A budget can open a lot of financial doors for you. It may not easy, but if you dedicate your time and energy the efforts will pay off for you.


 

 

 

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What You Should Do

There has been a lot in the news lately regarding product recalls. Millions of toys were recalled before the Christmas season and many other food companies found themselves having to pull their products from grocery shelves. There are things that you can do to find out if you purchased a recalled product and there are ways you can replace the product or get your money back.

The first thing that you will have to do is regularly check to see what items have been recalled. Despite the public attention recalls are getting right now, most often it is not reported on. Many times the product maker is not responsible for contacting you about one of their recalled products. It would be very hard for them to find the information needed to track down every individual that purchased their product.

Car manufacturers are required to attempt contact with anyone they know who have purchased a vehicle that has a recalled part or malfunction. It is easier to trace car owners to their vehicle purchases, but even then there is not a guarantee that everyone affected will be contacted. So, it's important that you take the initiative and look yourself. The government has a website that is updated regularly and features all the product recalls with detailed information. There are links to all the individual government entities that regulate certain products. Visit the governments website at www.recalls.gov.

You may also be able to find information on product recalls in the business section of your newspaper. Often times the article will contain additional information about the recall and contact information to help you with further inquiries.

If you find a product that you own has been recalled, make sure you quit using it right away. There is a reason why the product has been recalled and it is usually because of a safety concern.

Once you find that you may own a recalled product you will want to find more information. The quickest and easiest way will be to log back onto the internet and go directly to the companies website. They will often have detailed information about the recalled product and list the steps needed in order to get a replacement or refund. It may be as easy as filing out a form online or they may direct you to a toll-free number.

It's important that you have as much information about your particular product as you can. There could be a chance that even if you have a suspected product it may not be one of the items that are part of the recall.

Plenty of times the recalled product has many stipulations. For example you may have the same part that is being recalled, but they are only recalling a product that was made in between a certain time frame. So if your product wasn't produced during the specific time frame your product may not be considered part of the recall. Serial numbers can be tracked to find out for sure whether your product is recalled or not.

For food items it is best to throw the food away and maybe save the packaging for the food product. Often times with food you may not get a refund but the company may offer some other type of compensation for their error.

For recalled automobile parts you will usually be directed toward the closest manufacturers dealership where the part can be inspected and replaced for little or no charge.

For more serious cases you may have to find yourself as a part of a class action lawsuit. A product that did not disclose the proper safety procedures may have injured you and you may have a legitimate legal case. You may not have been the only one whose was affected by this product and can be part of a group who brings charges against the company. It is best to contact an attorney to find out the details and how you should proceed.

If you have been affected by a product recall it's important for you to gather as much information as you can and be patient, as it will take some time for the issue to be resolved.

 

 

 
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I hope the New Year finds you all well. I still have a couple of weeks to go. We survived Thanksgiving virtually unscathed and are looking forward to Christmas. I'm just about done with all the shopping and I haven't gone too overboard with spending. We are staying put this Christmas so we won't have to spend a lot of gas money. We are hosting Christmas dinner though, so I'm sure we will spend about as much on food as we would have on gas.

Here's a quick tip I would like to pass on from my own experience. If you own a cell phone, review your bill and services. We had a nice surprise this month when our bill was an extra $40. Apparently my phone package never included text messages, so little did I know that every message I was sending was racking up our cell phone bill. I only assumed that I had text messaging and it came back to bite us in the rear. I could of course, not text so much, it's not like I'm sixteen years old.

My wife and I made the decision to get life insurance since we are parents and feel that it is an important financial decision. I did a lot of research so I knew that I was getting the policy that I could be happy with. We were first offered a whole-life plan because we discussed the fact that we would like to invest some money to help us fund our future. I was surprised to learn how much it would cost per month for us each to have $100,000 policy. I did more research and learned that I could get the same amount of coverage for a lot less each month by going with a term life plan instead.

The catch is that we now have to commit to ourselves that we are going to take the extra that we saved and use it to invest. By going with a term life plan and investing the money on our own there is a greater growth potential where if we went with the whole life plan the investments may not be as profitable.

We finally settled on a joint term policy. This is basically a first to go policy where the amount of the policy is paid to the surviving spouse. I don't know if there is anything less exciting than talking about insurance and having to discuss your own potential death. As uncomfortable as it is I am glad that we got it done.

An extra bonus for the life insurance is that we found that we could also save a lot more by switching our car and home insurance to the same company. It's an insurance company that is offered exclusively to teachers and really offered us some great saving opportunities.

Now that we have some of the other things in order I think we are going to try and start the New Year off with a budget. See, I'm one of the guilty ones that get really excited about a budget…for a month. Then I realize it takes more effort than I am willing to commit and I give up. Pathetic, right? It's not like we were going out spending money not knowing if we had it or not. Our budget mostly consists of guesstimating and rounding up or down. If we felt like we were getting close to overspending we slowed down and balanced the checkbook and spent accordingly and we also paid our bills on time.

The thing is, when things are not going bad it's easy to spend and not worry about a budget. I'm starting to think that this is even a better time to budget because we have an opportunity to put more money away instead of spending it on things we don't need. I know a budget is hard work (I should, I've started half a dozen) but I don't want to look back in a few years and kick myself for missing a good opportunity to save, and even invest some income.

I may return to the old standard of pen and paper. I have had budgeting software before and I really liked it, I believe I even wrote about how they were the greatest thing for budgeting and obviously I may have been a little over excited. The problem was, after spending the work day in front of a computer screen the last thing I wanted to do was work on one at home. A lot of the time I would have to manually enter information into the program anyways, so I think that I will just get a notebook and keep track of it myself. I am definitely going to need some help from my wife as my math skills may not be up to par and she's a teacher so she can't have an excuse. Ok, she teaches science but I'm pretty sure she needs to know math. Well, before I get to off topic I'll promise to keep you updated on my progress and hopefully will be able to conquer it this time.

Here's to a year of new beginnings and financial freedom!

Until next month, good luck and have fun.

 

 

 
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Whole Life vs. Term Life

When it comes to life insurance there has always been a debate between whole life insurance and term life insurance. You can base your decision by determining what kind of coverage better suites your life. You may also decide based on how much you need and how much you want to spend each month.

The one thing that is certain is that if you have those that depend on your income in order to maintain their lifestyle it is crucial that you have a life insurance policy. Life insurance is piece of mind for you knowing that if something were to happen to you that your loved ones would be financially ok.

Term life insurance is a pure form of life insurance. You set up a plan where you will pay a monthly premium for a pre-determined amount of time, or the term of the plan. At the end of that term the plan will expire. You are given the option of extending your plan at that time but will have to pay a higher premium due to the fact that you will be older.

Term life insurance has the cheapest monthly premiums and is the most affordable for its purpose. The most common plans come in terms of 10, 15, 20, or 30 years. Whatever term you choose the premiums will remain the same for the chosen term.

Even if you have children or a working spouse, term life can be a good decision. If you take out a 20-year term plan you are covering yourself during the times that your children are depending upon your income. After that 20 years your children may be out of the house so you will not need as much or any coverage depending on where you are at financially.

The other type of insurance is whole life insurance. This is a policy that will last your entire life and will pay out upon the policyholder's death. There are many different variations of whole life insurance, and each type comes with different options.

The difference between whole life and term insurance is that whole life insurance can be a form of investment. A portion of your monthly premium will be invested and your policy can actually grow. The investments can vary between stock, bonds, and mutual funds for example.

Most consumers will benefit most from strictly purchasing a term life plan. It has the most affordable premiums and is a cut and dry plan. The benefit of whole life insurance is the investment opportunities, but there are better options for investing your money.

You would be better off by buying a term life plan and taking the money you would save (compared to a whole life plan) and invest in outside investments and see a greater return on your money. Many whole life investment plans involve many stipulations and fees associated with receiving your invested profits.

Whole life plans are more beneficial for those who have a large estate and can use it in their estate planning by setting up an insurance trust that will pay their estate taxes from the policy's proceeds.

Others who may consider a whole life plan are those who have children with special needs and will have to be cared for their entire life. Since they will always be dependent on the money you bring home you will need coverage for your entire life.

Another aspect of life insurance that you need to consider is your risk factor. The more risks the insurance companies think they are taking on you then the more your premiums will be to cover those risks. The older you are the higher your premiums will be.

Your health is factored in and most policies are not approved until you receive an examination from an approved consultant. This could involve something as simple as a blood pressure reading to a more physical treadmill test.

It is important to be honest with your insurer, as most tests will tell the information they need anyway.

Smokers can expect to have some of the highest premiums due to the increase in medical conditions associated with smoking.

If you have yet to think about life insurance it may be a good idea to talk with someone. Start with the agency that already insures your car or home. There may be some discounts for grouping your insurance together. Life insurance will give you piece of mind knowing that when you are gone those who are left will be financially sound.



 
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