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Making a few small changes can help you save and begin to add up very quickly. Here are a few things that you can do to get you saving now.

Quit going out to lunch. Eating out at fast food restaurants every day can burn a hole in your wallet very fast. Instead, bring your own lunch from home. If you need to get out of the office, head to a park or even just sit in your car and listen to the radio. Also, quit using the vending machine or buying coffee. Bring your own snacks and coffee from home and cut the overpriced markup of the vending machines.

Take advantage of your media options. If you have cable, Internet, and a landline telephone make sure you have them all through the same company. Media companies offer discounts for customers who bundle their media services. You may also want to determine the importance of your services. Take the time to monitor how often you are watching cable channels. You may be surprised that you aren't watching as much cable programs as you think. Divide the monthly cost of cable by the number of hours you watch it. You may also want to disconnect your landline telephone if you have a cell phone with good long distance options.

Be less picky at the store. There are plenty of generic products that you can buy that are just as good as the name brand stuff at a fraction of the price. Baby diapers and wipes are just one example of named brand items that are overpriced when there are more than efficient generic brands available.

Live healthier. Cigarettes aren't only expensive to buy they can cost you a lot on your insurance premiums. Eliminating some of your vices and replacing them with healthy foods will help you save in both the short and long terms. A pack-a-day habit can cost you over $1000 a year. Sweet treats can really add up on the grocery bill and cutting them out will help your grocery budget. The long-term effects could save you hundreds if not thousands in doctor's bills and insurance premiums.

Monitor your energy use. It may be fractions of a penny at a time, but for every light that you leave on or for every extra second the water is running and your not using it you are wasting money. Make it a habit to turn the light off when you leave a room. During the day open the shades and refrain from using any light. Unplug appliances when you are not using them. Assign someone the position of energy monitor and have them make sure that all the lights are off in the rooms that are not in use.

Do only full loads of laundry and dishes. Many new appliances have options that allow you to use less water for smaller loads. You can also buy a higher concentrate of soap that requires that you use less of the product.

These are just a couple options that will add up to savings over time.

    

 


 

   
 
 

Decorating your home for the holidays can help you get into the spirit of the season. Fortunately there are plenty of things that you can do that won't cost you a small fortune.

Start off by taking an inventory of what you already have. Before you go out and buy a bunch of decorations make sure you don't already have some that will work just fine. You may find that you only need a few accessories to compliment the decorations you already have.

Browns, yellows, oranges, and reds are popular colors during this time of season. Find items that compliment these colors. You can gather outdoor items like pinecones, leaves, and even sticks to decorate around your home. Purchase a couple small cans of spray paint to decorate the items and then fill bowls with the items around your house. Gold and silver paint are also very popular colors for the holiday seasons.

Harvest foods also make good decorations or centerpieces. You can use pumpkins, gourds, pomegranates, or fruit to make a festive layout on your table. It may be cheaper to buy them fresh, but if you can find a good price on plastic ones it may pay off in the long run due to the fact that you can reuse them.

Scented candles can add a lot to the seasonal atmosphere. Look for scented candles that will accommodate the season. Pumpkin, apple, cinnamon, and vanilla scents will help fill your home with an excellent seasonal aroma for a very minimal price.

Place floating candles in a big glass bowl filled with water. Use floating candles in the colors of the season to make this more festive.

Use bags of cotton to simulate the look of snow. A string of white lights indoors can also be a nice touch. You can hang or drape them or you can fill a vase with the lights for an interesting touch.

Bowls can be filled with acorns, dried leaves, apples, or anything else that will add a seasonal touch.

Break out a fall colored blanket and drape it across the back of the sofa. You can also purchase strips of fabric from the store that you can use to drape across your furniture or even as a tablecloth.

Cluster different sized pumpkins on a bed of leaves in the corner of your porch. Add gourds and other items for color and you can always add a couple hay bundles and a homemade scarecrow.

Drape fake leaf strands around white lights around your front porch.

Visit your local dollar store to find a bundle of affordable items to help decorate your home. Most of the items in these ideas can probably be found at the dollar store.

You can always purchase items after the season and take advantage of clearance sales. Your options may be more limited but the prices are remarkable.


     

 

 

 

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A Different Option for Your Savings

Most of us have a savings account, but there is probably not many of us that get to see the benefits of the traditional savings account interest rate. A money market deposit account may be an option for those with the ability to save and would like to see their savings grow bigger and faster.

A money market account is a savings account offered at most banks and credit unions. This savings account awards you a higher interest rate by implementing more restrictions and requiring a higher minimum balance.

The money you put in a money market account through your bank is insured with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). If you setup an account through your credit union then the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) insures your deposits.

Basically, this means if your bank or credit union experienced significant problems and had to shut down business you would still receive your money that you had in your savings account.

You may want to take caution with any online service offering money market accounts. They may not be insured by the FDIC or the NCUA and your money could be lost if the company goes belly up.

Most money market accounts let you make withdrawals and even give you a checkbook or card that is linked to your account that you can use. However, there are a limited number of transactions that you can make each month. They may charge a small fee for each transaction and a higher fee for each transaction over your limit. So if you think you will need to use that money then you may not want to use a money market account, as the fees will eliminate any extra interest that you would earn.

A money market account offers better rates but there are more restrictions. You need to have a larger minimum balance in your account. This can be difficult if you depend on using your savings more often. Some banking institutions require that you set up for automatic deposits into your money market account from your checking account each month. Again, if you do not think that you can maintain the minimum balances then you should consider other options or the fees will wipe out any interest earned.

The interest on most money market accounts is compounded daily and then paid monthly. You will find that interest rates can vary immensely from bank to bank, so it pays to explore your options and shop around. There may be some banks that are offering better rates to attract more people to their services.

Interest rates will also change based on the amount of money you will have in the account. Generally the more money you have in your account the higher interest rate you are going to get. For example, some banks may have a .25% interest rate for all balances under $1000 and then bump it up to .35% for balances between $1001 - $2500 and gradually go up with the more you have in the account.

You will receive statements from your bank that are similar to all your other bank statements. It will list all of your deposits, withdrawals, fees, and interest earned. You can also keep track of your account with online statements. It's important that you keep good records and compare them to the ones that the bank has, so if you find a problem than you can catch it faster and ensure that you will not lose any interest or be charged unnecessary fees.

If you are not required to, you may want to set up automatic deposits into your account. You can set up a transfer from your checking into your account or you may be able to have a certain amount from each paycheck deducted into your money market account. The more money you have in your account the more it is going to grow from interest.

If you have the ability to use this type of savings account, set up a meeting with your banker and have them explain in more detail how the account will work for you. You may find that it is a perfect fit for you.


 

 

 

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Donor Beware

With the holidays coming up many people are reaching into their own pockets to help those in need. Unfortunately, there are many people who will take advantage of this generosity with charity scams. Solicitations can come in many forms, whether it's telemarketing, door-to-door, a booth at the mall, or e-mail. It is important to investigate to insure that your caring donation will reach those truly in need.

The number one rule to donating to charity is NEVER give your credit card number, bank account number or any other personal financial information to a charity until you find out all the information about them. Ask them for an address to mail the payment, and have them send you more information. A legitimate charity would be happy to send you more information. Your donation will be just as important to them in a couple of weeks than if you donate right away. It is also important to avoid sending cash. It can be lost or stolen, and it is easier to record if you make a payment by check.

Ask for a receipt with the charities' name on it. Some donations can be tax-deductible with accurate records. You will need to itemize your donations and meet with a tax consultant to determine what is deductible.

You will want to ask for the name, address, and phone number of the charity, and whether or not it is registered. Verify with the charity office that there is a drive going on or if they are currently trying to solicit donations through the means that you have seen. Many people will use a similar name of a more popular and legitimate organization. Many organizations that nationally solicit and are legitimate are listed alphabetically at the Better Business Bureau's website (www.give.org/reports/index.asp). It is important to check, because in the wake of a tragedy many new charities will pop-up overnight, claiming to help aid victims. Even new groups with the best intentions, may not know the proper procedures to get your money where it needs to go to best aid in relief efforts.

Do not feel obligated to have to donate a large amount or even the suggested amount that a solicitor may ask for. Even a small amount will be appreciated. Do not let a solicitor “guilt” you into making a donation. Do not put your finances in jeopardy by giving too much. If donations do not fit into your budget then do not give. The best way to donate is to plan on making a yearly or monthly donation and have it figured into a part of your budget. This way you can research and choose an organization that you trust, and you can turn down any other donations, guilt free.

There are other ways you can help that doesn't always have to involve money. Donate some old toys or clothes that are still in good condition. These items are best used if donated to a local charity, as national charities prefer money contributions. This way they can purchase the specific items that are needed, and in some cases donated goods can cost the charity group more money to ship. Another donation that doesn't cost a cent is blood. Donating blood saves lives everyday and is in constant need.

If you are concerned that your donation will not stay in your own community, contact your local branch and ask how you can make a donation that stays and helps people specifically in your community.

It is important to ask what percentage of your donation is used to support the cause and what percentage is used to cover administrative costs. If you feel that a charity is not using enough of your donation on the cause, then you may want to choose to donate to a different organization.

Many legitimate charities need donations everyday of the year, not just when there is a disaster. We encourage everyone to skip a night out eating and make a contribution to help someone in need. We guarantee that it will be appreciated and you will be rewarded with a feeling of self-pride.

If you have any concerns or complaints about an organization, you can contact the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.

 

 
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It's always a blow to the stomach and your budget if the prices for an event are more than you expected and you end up spending more than you want to. A good friend of mine is getting married and I am honored to be in his wedding party. With an event like a wedding you know that you are going to have to plan on spending some money for it. Especially when you are in the wedding and the wedding is out of town.

I have been in a few other weddings before and guesstimated a budget based on past experiences. It's going to cost a little more, but it's one of my best friends and we can handle it. I then come to find out that the tuxedo that I would be renting costs about $50 more than I had planned. I also did not take into account that the wedding is held in a small town that is very busy around this time of year due to the pheasant-hunting season, so hotel rooms were a little more than we expected.

Then there is the travel itself, and gifts and the fact that my wife doesn't have a dress that matches the colors of the wedding, so she needed to get a new one. For her credit she did find a very nice dress for around $20, which is a drop in the bucket compared to my attire's price. It's also hard not to eat out at least a couple of times.

I'm lucky enough that the wedding season is beginning to die down and this should be it for a while, well unless my brother decides to take the plunge. I hope he thinks about me first and gives me a year to save up for it.

The lesson here is that I never asked questions when I was making the plans. I could have easily found out how much the tuxedo and rooms would cost when I made my reservations, instead of finding out a week before the wedding.

My wife and I have a traditional savings account and try hard to keep money in it. We do however have to juggle money around and use our savings to assist us when my wife isn't receiving a regular paycheck during the summer months. About a month ago we had to transfer some money out of savings to pay for a Master's class she was taking. We then replaced that money the next day when I got paid. So for one day our records show that we were below our monthly minimum requirement. At the end of the month we received a $3 fee for that one day that we were below the minimum.

I had contacted the bank because at first I didn't know why they had given us the fee and then they informed me about the day we were below the minimum. They happily refunded the $3 fee back into our account, which I thought was kind of them due to our number of years doing business with them. I was still a little frustrated by the fact that one little $3 fee basically wiped out a chunk of interest we were earning in our savings account. Granted, we do not have a ton of money in savings but we are starting to aggressively save more.

Next month is Christmas and we are hosting our first Christmas in our house. This means that we have to put forth some effort of displaying our holiday spirit with a plethora of twinkle lights and plastic reindeer.
Thanksgiving has been a little easier to decorate for because most of the stuff we can decorate with was left over from our garden. Plus, when I forget to rake the fall leaves I can just say that it's a decorative autumn lawn arrangement.

I have yet to venture into the stores to find Christmas decorations, even though there has been store displays already up. I do know that like most people we have a couple boxes of collectables and trinkets that we have received from the past few years. I’m sure we will start with those and add whatever we come across along the way. Everyone keep your fingers crossed that next month I am not talking about how I spent a fortune on a 30-foot inflatable snowman or an elaborate Santa's workshop scene for my front yard. I don't think that I will go that overboard, but I've been known to make a few mistakes before.

All kidding aside, I do believe that the important things about the holidays should focus on the love you share with family and friends, and not on how much money you can spend. It's easy to get wrapped up on hosting the perfect dinner or buying the best gift, just remember with a little preparation you can have the best of both worlds. Oh, and always count on at least one thing going a little wrong, life wouldn't be fun if we aren't kept on our toes every once and awhile.

Until next month, good luck, have fun, and Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 
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A Home Loan Alternative

There is a program available to older homeowners that can provide them with some extra financial security in tough times. It is called a reverse mortgage and it’s become more popular in the United States.

A reverse mortgage is a home loan that pays you cash using your home's equity. You can receive the payments in a lump sum, monthly, or in pre-determined increments. Unlike a home equity loan or line of credit, the loan does not have to be paid back until the home is no longer your primary residence. You can also qualify for the loan without any current income. This plays well for those who are only living off their retirement or Social Security. Another difference is you can never owe more than your home's value.

There are some specific stipulations to qualify for a reverse mortgage. First, you have to be over the age of 62 and have your mortgage paid off or with a very small balance left. With some loans you may have to agree to maintain the property's appearance to ensure it's value. You also have to continue to pay your property taxes and insurance.

These are some factors that determine the amount of money that the homeowner can receive from the loan.

The appraised value of the home.
The starting interest rate.
The age of the homeowner.
The location of the home.

All of these will determine the amount that will become available to the homeowner. Generally, the more valuable your home is, the older you are, and the lower the interest the more you can borrow.

If the borrower decides to sell the home or passes away, then the loan has to be paid in full. So if you sell your home you will have to pay the loan back using the profits from selling the house. This can be a problem if the borrower is moving out of the home and into a long term elderly care facility. Instead of having all the money from selling the house some will have to be used to pay back the reverse mortgage loan. It is important to account for the amount of money available after the payback of the loan and not the amount of the total home sale.

If the homeowner passes away then the debt needs to be paid by the estate or remaining family members. This could put a burden on those that have to take care of the estate planning. It's important that you discuss this with family members so they know the details. The heirs to the estate are responsible for paying off the outstanding debt, usually with the proceeds from selling the house. The heirs of the estate may also refinance the debt.

If the estate is having a difficult time selling the property they may request an extension from the lender, in which they need to provide proof that they are trying to sell the house or obtaining ways to pay off the debt. After a year there is no further extension of time provided by the lenders. The year extension also applies to those who are just merely moving out of the home and trying to sell the property.

With a reverse mortgage there are plenty of fees and upfront costs that come with it. Many of the costs are those that are similar with refinancing a home or taking out a line of credit. There will be closing costs associated with the loan that you will have to take into account.

There are certain reverse mortgages that require you to meet with a financial counselor that is approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The counseling is usually free and is very helpful in answering your questions or concerns. A counselor will explain to you your options and determine if a reverse mortgage is a viable option for you. By contacting HUD or AARP you will find a list of approved counselors.

Even if you are not required to meet with a counselor it may be a good idea to get all of your questions answered and find out what you can expect to pay upfront and what you can expect to get from your loan.



 
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