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Volume 3 Issue 3_______________________________________________________________________________________March 2006

Prom Savings

Spring will be here shortly, and with the spring months comes a big event in a teenager’s life, and that would be the Prom. Prom also means coming up with money for this traditional formal event. This can put a strain on a family budget and cause tension between kids and parents. The following is few ways parents and kids can save money and still make it a memorable and fun evening.

Start by planning ahead. Discuss with your parents and your date how much you want to spend and who will pay for what things. This will help split some of the costs so one person is not stuck paying for everything.

Here are some fun alternatives that will save you money. Instead of going to a salon, have a bunch of your friends do your hair and makeup or do it yourself. You can also save money by going to a cosmopology academy to have a student get you ready.

You can save on a dress by borrowing one from a friend or renting one. Renting can also be expensive, if you look around you may find a dress that is cheaper than a rental. Maybe you or a family member can make a dress or alter an existing one. Many consignment shops and online stores feature new dresses at a quarter of the price.

For guys, unless you know someone you can borrow a tuxedo from, you are probably going to have to rent one. Ask around for the best price and negotiate. Go with a few other friends and ask for a group discount. If your date isn’t concerned about a tuxedo you can save by wearing a nice suit and tie.

Dinner is not only expensive it is often overcrowded. You are not only competing with other couples and prom groups, but with the regular weekend crowd. So instead of waiting all night for a table, why not have a sit-down dinner or barbeque at home. Invite friends and parents over for a potluck. You can set up a backyard deck or patio into a nice scene for a prom dinner. Even ask some parents to serve as the cooks and waiters as you enjoy a fun meal with friends.

Transportation to the prom is important as well. Limousines are a popular choice, but are expensive and overdone. Perhaps you know somebody with a classic car or new luxury vehicle. Though they may not let you borrow that car, they may not mind escorting you to the front doors in style. If you do choose a limo, get as many people as the limo will fit, that way the cost is split between more than one person.

If you bring your own camera, more than likely you will capture more memorable photos than the boring ones that cost extra money.

Parents that are helping with costs may want to set limits and guidelines to how much they want to spend. If the child is working and is willing to pay for extra expenses then they should feel free to do so.

 


 

   
 
 

From Christmas to Valentine’s Day many couples decide to take the plunge and get engaged. This then leads to months of planning, spending, and stressing out. There are numerous things that you can do that will prevent you from spending more than you have to on a wonderful wedding. So if you are getting married or know someone who is, we pass on this information to you, to help you save a little money for the honeymoon.

Like most anything else, organization is key. Start a wedding binder full of folders and paper. You can gather information and compare notes to find the best deals. Then you are going to want to set up your wedding budget. Determine how much you can afford and what your priorities are to make your day special. You can go online or create a budget worksheet yourself. It should feature all the major categories associated with weddings; flowers, invitations, gifts, attire, rehearsal, reception, etc. There are many other categories and sub-categories that will specifically pertain to your individual plans.

Like the key to any successful marriage, communication is important. So why not practice now. Discuss with your partner what each of you think are important elements of your wedding. The next element of marriage is compromise. By knowing what each of you wishes and coming to an agreements on the conditions, then it will be easier for each of you to find ways on how you can save money on it.

Setting the date will be the most efficient way to help you plan. You can save plenty of money by choosing a date that is not one of the most popular months. Think about having a fall wedding or spring wedding instead of the popular and over saturated summer months. The longer you wait to have the wedding the more time you have to save and plan. The day and time will also save you money. If you are not planning on a big wedding, why not have it on a Sunday or during the middle of the week. Morning weddings followed by a lunchtime reception will not cost you as much.

Many cities have bridal showcases in late winter to early spring. These are definitely worth checking out. Everything you will be looking for is all under one roof and many of the businesses offer coupons and discounts. There is generally a formal wear modeling show, and many raffles for big prizes.

The number of guests you invite will have a significant effect on the amount of money you spend. A smaller guest list gives you many options to save. You can have your reception in a smaller hall or even a restaurant. You will not need to buy as many invitations and will save on the amount of food you will need to serve. If you are buying or assisting in the wedding party attire, you can save by limiting the number of your wedding party. Don’t feel pressured to have a big wedding party. Just because you were in a friend’s wedding doesn’t mean you have to expand your wedding party to include them.

A lot of saving will come depending on how much of the work you want to do yourself. While many people welcome this work, there are some who just simply don’t have the extra time to commit to all the extra work that can come with planning a wedding.

Tune in next month where we will continue with more wedding tips.

 

 

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Poor Money Decisions

There are situations in life that you cannot control and will leave you in an unwavering financial position. Then there are things that we do everyday that are poor decisions we make that also leave our financing in limbo. These are some of the bad money habits that make it hard for us to get ahead. While reading this you may find that you fall into one of these categories. If you recognize that you are having trouble, then you can take steps to turn it around.

Impulse buying consumes your finances and can do it in small increments or with large purchases. It’s important to weigh the value of a want as compared to the money you are spending on it. Take any items that you may want to buy and wait 30 days until you buy it. In those 30 days comparison shop different stores and different brands. You may find a better deal on the item you were going to buy. Ask the retailer if the item is going to go on sale soon, or even negotiate the price using competitor’s prices. You may find out that the item is not that important and that you really don’t need it at all. If you do purchase the item, make sure you use cash. Don’t use a credit card or jeopardize your savings.

Small impulse items you find in a grocery store are easy to justify because they are usually only a few dollars. You aren’t going to wait 30 days to comparison shop for a .79-cent candy bar. Next time you go grocery shopping, add up the amount of all the items you were not planning to buy. You’ll be surprised how all the small purchases really add up. The grocery store is one of the easiest places to trim spending and save some money.

It is important to make a list and stick to it. Use weekly ads to plan the week’s meals and clip coupons. You may not notice the difference for every shopping trip, but the savings are adding up. If you go shopping once a week and just save a few dollars each time, the saving will add up to over hundreds of dollars a year. You may want to try shopping by yourself; it may be easier if you don’t have the kids or your spouse filling up the cart with unnecessary items.

Using and abusing a credit card is a bad habit that leads many people down a road to nowhere. By maxing out your credit cards you are eliminating the opportunity to have to use one for an emergency. If you find that you have to make household and grocery purchases on a credit card, then you need to thoroughly examine your finances.

We have mentioned this before in many of our articles, but paying yourself will relieve a lot of the financial stress that many encounter. Your savings account needs to be there for you to take care of the inevitable bumps that you will encounter in your life. Living paycheck to paycheck will eventually catch up to you and be overwhelming. If you come across extra money or income, don’t be tempted to spend it. Save it or use it to pay down debt.

Many people say that it is hard for them to make changes, even if they recognize their problems. When you find that you are spending more than you make, you need to make a lifestyle change. Search for ways to bring in more income and ways to cut your spending. If your rent or car payment is too high, you may need to downsize. If you want to go out to lunch with friends you may need to order a salad and a glass of water. Lifestyle changes are not fun, but they don’t have to be permanent.

Another bad habit that also involves money is to make excuses for not wanting to make changes. It’s easy to give up and want to file bankruptcy, but there are more options. They may be harder but they will save you and your credit from the long recovery that bankruptcy leaves.

Money is the cause of many spousal disputes. It’s important to recognize problems but not blame each other for your financial problems. You must work together to solve the problem. Finger pointing will not get you anywhere but angry, so calmly discuss the finances and brainstorm ideas to bring in extra income.

These are just a few of the habits that we encounter. There are many more that we have discussed and will continue to write about in future articles.

Webster defines habit as an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary. Now all you have to do is change those bad habits into money saving habits and then it is all downhill from there. You will start to save money without even thinking about it.

 

 

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Audit Information

Taxes are by no means very fun, especially if you are the subject of an audit. Audits can range from small honest mistakes that have to be backed up with documentation to large-scale seriousness of tax fraud.

If you receive an official envelope from the IRS, don’t panic. There are three kinds of audits. Most audits fall into the first category. The IRS will contact you by letter asking for more information on a couple of simple items. These are generally not serious and once you provide the information requested the situation is settled. They may contact you again if their findings show that you owe more money.

With more serious inquires you will need to meet with an IRS examiner at the nearest district office. They will examine your return more closely. Only provide them with the information they request and don’t volunteer any other information not specifically related to their questions. It may invoke further unnecessary investigations.

The final type of audit is a field audit, where an IRS agent conducts an investigation at the taxpayer’s home or business. These are generally reserved for people in the higher tax-bracket. The taxpayer will be subject to a “lifestyle” audit where everything from their house and neighborhood to the type of car they drive is examined to determine if it applies to the taxed income that individual pays.

If you have been tapped for any type of audit it is important to act immediately. It is a good idea to hire a professional to help you with the legalities of an already confusing subject. If you hired a professional to do your taxes in the first place, those responsible will generally handle everything for you. They will ask you to provide them with information and then take it from there.

Just because you have been audited doesn’t mean that you are doomed. You have a right to appeal the audit if you feel that the information you provided is accurate. The process is fairly simple and won’t cost you anything unless you hire a professional. It will also delay your tax bill, giving you time to save money to pay it off if need be. The downside of an appeal is that interest on your tax bill continues to grow while you are appealing and on a rare occasion they may find more errors when re-examining your tax bill. This will cause you to owe even more. You will also probably want to hire an attorney or accountant to help you if the appeal is complicated.

The best way to prevent from being audited is to keep accurate records and be prepared to prove any of the deductions in question. Just because some deductions may send up red flags doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them. Just make sure you have legitimate proof to back it up, and there will be no problems. People who are self-employed or earn most of their income in cash have to be especially cautious when filling out their taxes. Make sure your business deductions are just that, and if you claim to earn $21,000 a year as a waiter make sure you have proof.

The IRS compares similar tax returns for people in the same income bracket and any that are not with the norm may get another look.

It is important to provide all the information that the IRS requests from you and to answer their questions honestly. Remember, only provide the information they request. Do not provide any extra information that may be used against you. Again, a tax professional can assist you to make sure that you are providing all the accurate and necessary documents.

Even though an audit is not the best thing for you, it’s not the end of the world and can be taken care of.

There are endless amounts of questions you may have on taxes. Use the references below or contact a tax professional to help further assist you.

ONLINE RESOURCES

www.irs.gov - provides you with any tax forms and questions you may have.

www.finance.yahoo.com/taxes

www.moneycentral.msn.com/tax/home.asp

www.money.cnn.com/pf/taxes/

www.forbes.com/taxes/

 
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While you read the Pilot you may say to yourself “easier said than done.” I’ve even ignored some of the things that I have written and researched about, just for the mere fact of being financially lazy and trying to justify purchases.

My wife and I recently got a financial software program to help track our budget and find places to cut expenses. This is due to the fact that we now have some extra croutons on our financial salad. We are expecting our first child in late August and will be closing on a house at the end of the month. As you can expect, it is important that we know where every one of our dollars are going because we are going to be using a lot more of them very soon.

First off, I love my financial software. For someone who is weary of math and tracking expenses, this is a great tool. Easy to read charts and graphs and everything is linked up to your bank accounts so there is minimum input. For families who are computer savvy, I highly recommend a financial software program. For more information refer to the October 2005 issue of The Pioneer Pilot.

Anyways, after setting up everything and taking a look at our expenses we found that we were spending way too much at the grocery store. As of now, it is just the two of us and we are spending as much as a family of four should be. So we agreed that we definitely needed to change our grocery spending. But guess what, next month same result, too much on groceries. What happened? We both knew we spent too much but neither of us really did anything about it. You can have all the technology in the world to help you identify your problem (and it is important to identify it) but if you are not disciplined enough to make changes than the technology is worthless.

Who is discipline’s archenemy? Justification. Our impulse purchases and over-spending comes down to justifying a reason to buy them. We come up with excuses to make us feel better for grabbing an extra bag of chips or a brand name laundry detergent when we would be just fine without them.

So this month we are committed to actually DOING something instead of just acknowledging the problem. There are many techniques you can use and not all of them may work but it’s important to find one that works for you. There is the envelope system where you set up category specific envelopes with the amount of money you want to spend in each envelope. When that money is gone so is your grocery shopping trips.

My wife and I are going to plan our meals according to what is on sale for that week and use coupons on foods that we regularly use. Some items like frozen pizzas, macaroni and cheese, and frozen vegetables are items that we frequently buy because they make quick and easy meals. So if they are on sale we will stock up on them at the reduced price. We are going to save some extra money to purchase a storage freezer. Freezers are good investments as you can stock up on frozen items and store leftovers to stretch your grocery dollar farther.

Well it looks like I am running low on space, but remember; it is important to find your problem areas but only you can DO something to change it. Good luck to all and talk to you next month.

 

 
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Children's Money Questions

There are some things that children don’t understand about money. It’s a good idea to have discussions with them and try to explain the best way you can.

If you told your children how much money you make, they are either going to think it is an enormous amount or be puzzled because they don’t have anything to compare it to. Explain how the money is used to pay for food, clothes, toys, driving, and just about everything else. Tell them that is why you have to go to work.

The next time you are at an ATM, stop and explain to your child how it works. They may think of it as a machine that just gives you money every time you go to it.

With children questions breed more questions so be prepared to be patient. They certainly are not going to understand everything, but it is a good idea to get them involved at a young age. They will start to connect the cycle of how money works and will have a better respect for it. A good understanding of money will help when the child gets older and will have more detailed questions and will want to make their own financial decisions.


 
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Remember all the costs

When it comes to moving or relocating, there are many things to consider when it comes to the cost. Moving can be a very stressful event to endure and many people have to do it every few years. Here are a few of the items to consider and plan for before you move.

You will inevitably need boxes and there is no need to buy any. (Besides where do you buy boxes?) Go to your local grocery store to find out when their shipment comes in and ask if they can save some boxes for you. Most will be happy to oblige, since they usually recycle them anyway. It’s easier for you if they break down the boxes and then you re-tape them when you are ready to use them. If the store has a liquor department ask for wine boxes, as they are great for packing glassware.

If you are renting an apartment or house, or if you are trying to sell your house, you will need to do some extensive cleaning. You can do it yourself and rent a carpet cleaner and/or floor buffer. It is still best to try and do this all yourself because it will save you some money, but will take up time. Many rentals will clean the carpets after you leave anyway so you may want to ask, or it may be required to get your security deposit back.

The time leading up to the move to the time you get settled in and unpacked can leave you little time to prepare meals. You will probably be spending more money on fast food and take out. So adjust your food budget accordingly. You may not want to buy a lot of food at the grocery store, and try to clean up all your leftovers so that you don’t have to throw them out and waste food.

Most of you have learned that the most inexpensive way to move is to call up a friend with a truck and a couple of burley buddies to move the heavy stuff. There are definitely some pros and cons to this age-old moving maneuver. It will definitely save you money, with the cost maybe being a couple pizzas and a cold twelve-pack.

But it’s hard to convince friends to help you move across state or even across country. So the buddy moving company is only efficient if moving across town. They’re also not professionals, which can lead to nicks and damaged items and it may be hard to get reimbursed when they are the ones doing you a favor.

You may just rent a truck and do everything else on your own. There are some costs and concerns that come with renting a moving truck. There is the base cost of the truck and there may be additional charges for the amount of mileage put onto the truck. Make sure you have good directions to your destination to avoid unnecessary mileage. You may need to purchase insurance for the truck.

You also will need to consider the amount of gas you will use. If you are moving a great distance, this can be a significant amount of money. Moving trucks have huge tanks and are not really known for their great gas mileage. Make sure to inspect and note any previous damage to the truck so you are not held accountable for them. If you choose to hire a professional moving company there are things that you will want to find out.
Research and compare prices for different moving companies. Many companies charge in different ways. They can charge by the hour, distance, amount to move, or any combination. It’s important to ask what the charges are and if there is a minimum charge. Some moving companies will come in and package all of your stuff with their own packaging supplies.

It is important to discuss all possible charges with the moving company before you hire them. You don’t want to be shocked when you get the bill because there were items you did not account for. You can negotiate the contract to make you feel more comfortable. Make sure you talk about damage responsibilities for furniture and damage done to your previous home and the home you are moving into. It is a good idea to research the moving company through the Better Business Bureau to check on their customer satisfaction rating. This will also help you avoid any moving business scam artists. There are companies that load up all of your goods and will hold your furniture hostage until you agree to pay more.

Since professional movers work in the service industry, gratuity is not expected but if you are pleased by the job of your movers, than you should feel free to tip accordingly.

If you know that you will be moving soon, start saving now to account for some of the extra expenses. It will make the transition a little easier if you don’t have to worry about draining your bank account.

 
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