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Volume 3 Issue 6______________________________________________________________________June 2006

Summer Spending

The summer months are here along with plenty of things that you will spend money on. Many people think that you spend a lot of money during the holidays, but the summer months are filled with money spending situations. You have graduations, weddings, sports, vacations, home improvements, and whatever else might pop up.

It is important that we prepare our budget for this extra sultry spending. It is a good idea to get the calendar out and mark any dates that are going to require you to purchase a gift or spend any extra money. Some occasions may require you to travel. So you will want to budget for gas and lodging as well. Stay with friends when possible and sometimes you may be able to carpool to the event.

Set a limit that you are going to spend for each event. There are plenty of nice gifts that you can find under $10. Search a gift registry to purchase some of the small items on the list. You can also pitch in money with friends and buy a gift together. You can also donate time if you have it.

Also remember that you may be spending a lot more time at the ball fields leaving you little time to cook and more time buying soda and hotdogs. Don’t forget pizza and ice cream after the game. It’s important to account for the extra cash that will be spent due to hectic summer activities.

Another thing to consider is, you may need to find a supervisor for your kids. Extra daycare expenses are costly and if not budgeted for can quickly have a negative effect on your checkbook.

If you have kids the last thing they want to start thinking about is next fall. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Now is a perfect time to start to prepare for next fall’s school expenses. Start saving up now or buy a little at a time when you find good sales. The back page of this issue features a few good reminders on how and when to save for next school year.

A weekend get-together with friends can be spendy if you are providing all the food and beverages. If your friends offer to bring something, then by all means let them. It will save you both time and money.

If you are getting married or helping plan a wedding, look back at March and April’s Pioneer Pilot. There you will find money saving tips on wedding costs.

Have fun this summer and remember to properly prepare for all of those social gatherings so you can enjoy them without stress.


 

   
 
 

It almost seems like we could do an article on gas each year since the price continues to rise. This year is no different. It seems that the damage this summer is going to elevate above the three-dollar mark. Though it would be nice, we all can’t go out and buy the latest hybrid model that gets great gas mileage. So instead we provide a few tips and reminders that may stretch your gas out and save you some money at the pumps.

The way you drive your car may play a role in conserving gas. Start by gradually slowing down as you approach a red light or stop sign. You will also want to slowly accelerate after stopping. Sudden stop and go movements use more gas than smoothly using the pedals.

You should fill up your tank during the coolest part of the day. Gas expands in the heat of the day. So if you pump during the midday sun you are getting less gas for the same price.

You should also avoid waiting until your tank is empty before you fill up. You car has to work harder when there is less gas in the tank and will use up more fuel. You should try and keep your tank full and fill up after you reach half a tank.

Try to park in the shade when possible. This prevents gas from evaporating. It will also keep your car cool, which will put less strain on your engine and less time for the air conditioner to take affect.

On cooler days or short trips roll the windows down and don’t use the air conditioner. On highways though you are better off running the air conditioner than having the windows down because the open windows will cause drag that reduces mileage.

Shop around for gas prices. There is a chance that local stations will be vying for your business and competing with each other. You also want to avoid gas stations found near interstates and freeways as they usually have higher prices for their location convenience. Some gas stations have discount cards that offer a percentage off your gas. These cards can be a good idea, unless the discount is still more than other stations.

Plan ahead. Make a list of your day’s activities and find the shortest and most convenient route. Get everything done in one trip instead of running back and forth around town. If you have two vehicles it would be wise to use the one that has the best gas mileage.

Carpool as much as possible. Don’t just limit it for work. Pick up friends to go to the movies or shopping. Call a friend or family member and run errands together and take turns driving on different days.

Check your owner’s manual. There you will find all the information that will help keep your car running efficiently. Make sure your tires are inflated to their recommended levels and that you are using the right fuel for your vehicle.

Make sure that your gas cap is on tight. This will prevent any gas from evaporating. If you lose your cap replace it immediately.

It may be a good idea to keep an eye on your mileage. Fill up your car and note how many gallons you put in and your odometer reading. Divide the number of miles traveled between fill-ups by the number of gallons purchased.

Date: ______________Mileage ________________# of gallons
5-5-06 _____________28,795____________________ 11
5-15-06____________ 28,936_____________________ 9

141 miles traveled and 9 gallons used.
141/9= 15.66 mpg

 

 

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The Fair Credit Reporting Act

While figuring out your finances and determining your credit status you may have come across some details of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA is a federal law that gives certain rights to consumers when it comes to their credit reports and scores. The following will list and explain some of your rights.

The FCRA allows you to a copy of your credit report. You can receive one free report from each reporting agency each year. You can go online and request your yearly free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com, this is the official website to get your free credit report. This does not include your score.

There are many sites that claim free reports but they will still charge you or sign you up for a different program that charges you monthly.

You have 60 days to request a free credit report if you are denied credit for any reason. You may also request a credit report if you are unemployed and will be looking for work within 60 days.

At anytime you may receive a complete copy of your credit report that includes your score if you are willing to pay a reasonable fee.

Under the FCRA you have the right to dispute any inaccuracies that you find on your credit report. Credit reporting agencies are obligated to investigate any inaccurate claim made by you with accompanying evidence. You must provide proof of the mistakes and allow the reporting agency to review your file. They then must provide you with their written results of the review within 30 days of the dispute. The report will include any changes to your report as well as a copy of your credit report. If you are still not satisfied with the results you can request that the particular item has been disputed and then it will be included in your credit report.

If the information is found to be indeed incorrect then the credit reporting agency must correct or delete the mistake from your file within 30 days after you dispute the item. If a credit agency cannot verify the disputed item after the 30 days then they must delete the information. If it is verified later however, they may reinstate the information if they give you written notice that they have done so.

You can request who does and does not have access to your credit report. An employer needs your written consent before they can obtain information from your credit report.

You can also request that your name be removed from creditor’s lists. This will prevent you from receiving countless amounts of credit card offers. Any unsolicited offers you receive must provide detailed instructions on how to contact them to remove you from their mailing list. You can also call the national credit bureaus toll-free number, 1-888-567-8688, to be removed from all pre-approved credit card offers. You can also go online or write to each credit bureau.

If you feel that any of your rights under the FCRA have been violated then you have the right to go to state or federal court. To find more details or report a complaint you will want to contact the FTC or your state’s attorney general. Anytime you choose to proceed to court you are taking a risk that can cost you a lot of money. It is important to get as much information as you can and consult with a professional to review the strength of your case.

Sometimes as consumers we may feel like our backs are against the wall, but you should take faith that there are laws out there protecting us and giving us financial rights. It is important to familiarize yourself with them so you may avoid being taken advantage of and are able to handle any discrepancies that you may encounter.

This article is just an introduction and you may want to further investigate other rights you have as an American consumer.

Resources
www.fair-credit-reporting.com - More information and links about the FCRA.
www.optoutprescreen.com - Website where you can remove your information from unsolicited credit offers.
Optout toll-free # - 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688)
www.annualcreditreport.com - The official website to request your free credit report.
www.ftc.org - Provides detailed information on FCRA and legal resources to assist you.
November 2005 Pioneer Pilot - How to fix credit report errors. Details what to do when you find a mistake on your credit report.

 

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No More Cards

Believe it or not, there are functionally adult humans out there who don’t have credit cards and they don’t write checks. How do they survive? Cash. They use the green to pay for everything and when they run out of it they don’t break out the plastic. The most popular form of cash budgeting is the envelope system.

You may have heard or come across someone that has used this system. Cash goes into category specific envelopes to pay for items in that category. Popular categories are Bills, Groceries, Entertainment, Gas & Car Maintenance, Home Improvement, Savings, Clothes, and Kids. A benefit of the envelope system is that you can have as many categories as you need. You can separate your monthly bills individually. You can either include your bills in the system or use envelopes for everything after bills are paid, since your monthly bill payments will need to be paid completely.

Then take the rest and budget cash amounts to each category. Then you use that cash and that cash only for the specified category. So if you budget $250 a month for groceries you will take that envelope with you every time you go to the grocery store and draw from that envelope to purchase your groceries. Guess what happens when your grocery money is gone? You don’t get to buy any more groceries.

Ok, so no one is going to physically stop you from buying more groceries if you run out too soon. But you will then be drawing from another budgeted category and hurting your budget overall. So you will either need to readjust your budget to account more for groceries or you will need to monitor how you shop for those groceries.

Once you have the system figured out you may be finding that you are not using all the money in each category. This is where the benefits of a good budget come into play.

You now have some options for the excess cash. You can roll it over to next month in the same category and extend that categories monthly budget.

You can take all of the extra money and put it into your savings account.

You can set up another envelope for extra money and use it for a vacation or even better, use it to make extra payments to eliminate your debt.

There are some things to consider about the envelope system. Carrying around wads of cash can leave you less than secure. Plastic provides security if your card is lost or stolen, while cash does not. You do not want to carry all of your cash with you at one time. For instance, you may budget $100 for gas a month (even though you will probably need to consider more with the prices raising daily, but that’s a different article.) Keep $20 at a time locked in the glove box instead of the whole envelope full. Keep envelopes that are not in use at home in a safe.

Hold onto your receipts to keep track of where the money is specifically going. Just place the receipts in the cash envelope. The receipts should add up to the amount of cash that was spent.
If you eliminate all credit from your financial life it may hurt your credit score. You may want to consider a low interest line of credit to protect your score.

You may want to have a debit card linked to either a checking or savings account. That way if you do happen to run short on cash at the grocery store you can save time and embarrassment of having to remove items. Just make sure to account for the extra and note the amount that was taken from the account.

The envelope system requires strict self-discipline. It can be a real eye-opener to see how close or how far you are from your budget when you run out. If you are new to a cash only system it may take some time to get used to and adjust for.

Honestly, this may not work for everyone for whatever reasons. If you try it and are not comfortable with it or you find it hard to keep track of then you will want to find another way to budget. No matter how you budget, becoming less dependent on credit cards will leave your finances better off and your credit cards dusty.

 
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Summer is here, how many of you have a big summer project that you are going to tackle during the summer. Of course being a new homeowner I have a project for each corner of the house. Unfortunately my eyes are bigger than my bank account. I have settled on two that are priorities. Re-stain and protect the deck and paint the nursery for the upcoming August arrival.

All I can say is I am grateful that cars run on gas and not paint. A gallon of paint is pricey. My two projects have turned into a significant blip on our financial radar. It’s not as easy as a bucket of paint and a paintbrush. There are a lot of supplies to consider for a paint job that add to that total. So I have been putting a little bit of each paycheck away to help for the extra expenses. I have also shopped the ads for any deals that the stores may be having and buying supplies here and there at sale prices. With donated manpower and a lot of luck I should avoid disaster and have a functional deck and new nursery.

Another money hound that is tracking us this summer is the gift fund. I thought that the half dozen or so weddings that we attended last summer was going to be the record. But yet again this summer we have a handful of friends getting married and or having a baby. This means many showers and ceremonies with gifts. We saved all our gift bags from our wedding and that will save us a couple bucks and I am considering buying some whiteout to reuse the cards we got from our wedding. (Only kidding)

Home improvements and summer ceremonies are only a couple things you will want to think about when looking at your summer budget. Planning ahead will help you make the best decisions for your finances.

In regards to the envelope system. My wife and I were seriously considering this method, except for one important thing. My wife hates cash; she hates to carry it around and doesn’t like the fact of not leaving a paper trail. She rarely even uses her debit card. She has written checks for under a dollar to pay for morning coffee. My wife likes to connect the dots though, write a check, note it in her register, and compare it with our statements. That way she knows where everything goes. I applaud her for that. I on the other hand love to pay with cash. I keep an eye on it better. Once my cash is gone it’s gone. Checks are always there and when they’re gone I can reorder more and my debit card is always begging to be pulled out and swiped recklessly. What I mean is that I am more hesitant to buy things when my only source of funds is the cash in my pocket. Another great thing I love about cash is that I don’t have to write everything down in a register, which I am awful at.

Another issue that my wife and I are facing this summer is finding income for my wife. She is a teacher and has summers off. We plan for this all year, putting money away into a summer account to pay for bills when she isn’t getting a paycheck. We still are looking for part-time work though so we have a cushion. Last summer she spent part of the summer working outside during the annual bike rally and made a good chunk of money for one week‘s work. Problem with this year is that she will be 9 months pregnant during that time and will have to decline the offer. She also has summer classes that she has to schedule around, but she does get paid for these classes and that will help. It’s hard to find an employer willing to hire someone who needs a specific schedule. We are just going to tighten up and keep a close eye on everything we spend. Which shouldn’t be hard since we have been doing that with the big changes that have come our way recently.

I hope you all are enjoying the beginning of summer and I wish you all the best luck.

 

 
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First Job

Long, hot, summer days are here. Why not encourage your child to start their first lemonade stand. This summer tradition will help your child learn about work.

Help start them with what they need and give them instructions. Make sure they don’t wander too far from home though.

The kids will be excited when they make that first sale. If your kids are a little older you can explain to them about how you have to use some of the money you made to put back in the business for supplies.

This timeless classic is a sure fun way to spend a hot summer day. Just make sure they don’t forget the sugar.

 
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IRA's

We have discussed the benefits and the variations of the 401k plans to help secure a healthy retirement. There are other options that are out there that have their own benefits and may appeal to you when it comes to how you are planning on spending your golden years. IRA’s or Individual Retirement Accounts acquire interest on your contributions and are accessible when you reach a specified age for retirement. They are great on their own or can be used in combination with an employer supported 401k.

There are two types of IRA’s, a Traditional and Roth. Both come with advantages and disadvantages. Both IRA’s limit the amount you can contribute each year. Those under the age of 50 can only contribute $4,000 a year, and people 50 and older can contribute $5,000 a year. Those limits will rise in the year 2008. You cannot contribute more than you make for the year however. For example, if a college student who made $3,000 last year but had money left over from a student loan or received money from a relative can still only contribute $3,000 for that year.

Traditional IRA:

A big benefit with a Traditional IRA is the tax benefits. A Traditional IRA is an account that you can put money into tax-free, meaning when you deposit money into the IRA you can deduct that amount from your personal income before you pay federal income taxes. However, when you start to withdraw from it when you retire it will be taxed based on the tax bracket you fall into.

Any money that you withdraw from your IRA is subject to a 10% fee until you reach the age of 591/2. Then you can withdraw without a fee but again it will become taxable income. When you are 701/2 you must start to withdraw the money. Once you begin to take money out there is a annual minimum amount required that you have to take out. This starts anytime after the 591/2 age deadline.

Roth IRA:

The main difference between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA is when the money is taxed. Contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible like those of the traditional IRA. But unlike the Traditional IRA, any withdraws you make will not be taxed. Basically, Roth IRA’s tax money that you put in while, Traditional IRA’s tax money that you take out.

There are other benefits for a Roth IRA. Even though the purpose is to save for retirement, you can withdraw your contributions at anytime tax-free and without penalty. Anything you borrow that is over the contribution limit is subject to both taxes and penalties.

A Roth IRA can help you achieve the American Dream. You can cash out up to $10,000 from your Roth IRA including earnings, tax and penalty free to go towards buying your first home. The account must be open for at least 5 years though. Couples can withdraw up to $20,000 if each of them has their own account.

Just like the Traditional IRA you can begin to withdraw earnings penalty free once you reach the age of 591/2. There are no forced distributions once you turn 701/2 and no annual minimal distribution mandates.

The money you contribute to a Traditional IRA is true money, meaning that every dollar that you contribute equals that value and will gain that much more interest. A Roth IRA is taxed and therefore not equal value. When you contribute $4,000 into a Traditional IRA, all $4,000 is gaining interest. When you contribute $4,000 into a Roth IRA it is taxed first and only the remaining $3,600 is gaining interest.

To sign up for an IRA account you will want to contact a broker, mutual fund company, or even your bank. This depends on what you want to invest your money in. Shop around and talk to many different people until you are comfortable with one.

You will want to choose the IRA that you are more comfortable with and the one that you think gives you the best results. If you think that you might be in a higher tax bracket when you retire then a Roth IRA may be a better choice, but if you might be in a lower tax bracket upon retirement than the Traditional IRA will benefit you most.

An IRA is just another way for you to prepare for your well-being into your retirement. Investing can be a big scary obstacle for many people, but there are safe ways for it to be successful. Before you know it you will be enjoying your golden years criss-crossing the U.S. in your loaded motor home.

We will continue to search and write about other minor investment options that will have your money working for you.

 
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