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Trick or Treat

Halloween is a fun holiday for children and parents alike. Why not enjoy the festivities more by not forking out a bunch of money.

Start with the costume. Store bought costumes can cost anywhere from $20 to $50 dollars. You can always wait until the day of Halloween to try and find a bargain on the costumes that nobody wanted, but that will probably not go over really well with your child.

Instead, have fun and be creative with things that you can find around the house. There are many websites that have ideas and directions on how to make original costumes from home. If you happen to know how to sew than you are that much more fortunate, because you can create your own costume at a fraction of the price.

You may be having a Halloween party for some of the neighborhood kids. You can make decorations and games from items around the house. A package of cotton balls can be used to make scary spider webs. A couple rolls of toilet paper can be used for a mummy race. Another quick idea is to buy a couple of helium filled balloons. Then take a white garbage bag and use a black marker to make two eyes. Put over the balloon for a real flying ghost. You can still use the garbage bags after Halloween.

Visit the library and check out cookbooks or search online for a lot more games and homemade snacks that you can make for entertaining. You can make your own hard candy and wrap it yourself. Hard candy is very affordable to make and will save you from having to buy pounds of commercial chocolate.

Scarecrows are a fun-to-make decoration for the autumn season and are great for Halloween. All you need is some old clothes and stuffing. Have your kids rake up all the leaves and use them to stuff the scarecrow. You can even use a carved pumpkin for the head.

Make good use of your pumpkins by using the insides to make pumpkin pie or bake the seeds for a tasty snack. You can season your seeds with salt, or another popular choice is sugar and cinnamon. Make sure that only the older kids enjoy the seeds, as they can be a choking hazard.

If Halloween is not your favorite holiday or you don't want to spend money to give away goodies then all you have to do is make sure that your porch light is off for the evening. This will tell children not to come to your house. If you happen to still get a guest or two you can politely apologize and inform them that you ran out of candy.

These are just a few last minute ideas to help you have fun this October 31st.


 

   
 
 

October is the perfect time to begin getting ready for Christmas. In fact, if you are really on your game you might even have all of your gifts bought and paid for.

I may sound like a crazy person bothering you with Christmas when you are still debating what your kid is going to be for Halloween, but we all know that Christmas brings extra expenses so why not plan ahead.

You don't have to have everything bought already, but you should start saving for your gifts. By saving the money now, you won't have to whip out the credit cards in December.

Just like Old St. Nick, you should make a list and check it twice. Make a list of everyone you are planning on buying a gift for. Then set a dollar amount for each person. Total the numbers and there is your Christmas gift budget. Set a date for when you want to have that money saved by (preferably before December 24th).

You are also going to want to plan for extra expenses besides gifts. Many people either host or travel for the holidays. If you are hosting than you will want to plan for a larger grocery bill. Don't just think of Christmas dinner, if you have guests staying with you, are you going to provide all their meals for them?

If you are traveling, you have to account for gas and you may have to pay for accommodations if you do not stay with relatives. It all starts to add up doesn't it? That's why it is a good idea to be prepared and plan ahead.
Now that you have a budget in mind begin persuing the weekly store advertisements. There are sales every waking day of the week. There is a good chance that you will find at least one item for someone on your list.

There is approximately 12 weeks until Christmas and I would hope that you would not have to buy more than two presents a week until then. If you are, you may want to reconsider your list. It may make you feel good to buy presents for everyone but it may not make your checkbook all that happy.

Another way to help ease the money burden of the holidays is to find a way to bring in extra income. We have mentioned before that there are things you can do in the comfort of your own home and working a part-time job is a good idea to bring in extra income.

A bonus is that some department stores offer great employee discounts that you can use to help buy gifts for your family. By starting now you can save up a lot of extra cash, even if it is one night a week. If you worked 8 extra hours a week for $7 an hour, you could make $672 before taxes by Christmas. That should buy plenty of gifts and can even take care of a couple of December's bills.

So before all of your Halloween candy is gone make sure that you are ready for the upcoming holiday barrage.

 

 

 

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Can you afford to stay home?

The definition of family has changed throughout the years. It used to be you would have a child and the wife/mother would stay at home with the child. Nowadays, many families consist of two working parents that bring in the necessary income to sustain a families' cost.

Many mothers (and fathers) would like the luxury of staying home to watch their children grow and are doing so regardless of their financial situation. If you are considering leaving your job to tend to your young children there are a few things to think about.

First off, take a look at your budget. Evaluate all of your monthly costs. Remember that your fixed expenses are going to remain the same from month to month, while other bills or flexible expenses may fluctuate each month. Calculate what your new monthly income will be without your contributions.

There are some expenses that you will be able to eliminate if you decide to stay home. You will no longer have to pay for daycare, which can be very expensive in some places. You may also be eliminating work related expenses like commuting, lunches out, and dress clothes. These are just a few things that you will not have to worry about paying for.

Talk with a tax professional to see if you can save on your taxes. Lowering your annual income can drop you into a lower tax bracket and lead to a smaller tax bill.

Of course, there are things that you will have to pay extra for now. You may have to pay for insurance or join your spouse's family plan. This can be expensive, but is absolutely necessary.

The best thing you can do is to plan ahead and practice. Start by asking family and friends who have been living off of one income. Their input can help you decide if the decision is one for you.

Try living on one income for a few months while you are both still working. Pay all of your bills and buy all of your groceries with your spouse's income to see if you can do it. By practicing for a few months you can afford yourself some mistakes and try and correct them before you do it for real. Use the saved income to help pay down some bills or to build up your savings for any emergencies.

There are some things that you can cut from your budget that may help you financially. You can downsize vehicles or even share one vehicle. If you do not have to commute very far than you can have the stay-at-home spouse drive you to work. It beats having to make an extra car payment.

Maybe you can cancel the newspaper or get rid of cable television and try and find a more affordable phone plan. Staying home to raise your child should be about spending more time with them and not watching daytime television. Even the littlest expenses each month can add up and make the difference between staying home or not.

When you choose to live off of one income you are taking a risk. If anything happens to the earner it can lead to many financial problems. If they have a job loss or injury there would be no income. That is why it is important to have and maintain a healthy savings account to bail you out until you can find more income. So if you cannot afford to put some money away into savings, then you might have to reconsider your options.

Another option you may consider is taking on a part-time job and working enough hours to stay ahead. You can look for work during the hours that your spouse can be home. That way there is always one parent with the child. Be careful to not commit to this full-time. You still want to have time with your spouse, and with the whole family together.

You can also look for some work that you can do from home. In the September issue of the Pioneer Pilot we listed some ways for you to earn money from working at home.

If you are currently employed, you may ask if they have any way for you to continue working from home.

In a perfect world, you would be able to take as much time as you would like to spend with your young newborn, however there is a good chance that will probably never happen. So it is up to us to decide what is best for our families and with a thorough examination of your finances and a well thought plan you can decide what is best for yours.

 

 

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Zombie Debt

Like many horror movie classics, debt that was once dead may rise up from the grave and haunt you mercilessly. There are many new companies popping up that buy charged-off debt from creditors in hopes of collecting on them. As you may guess, this is causing confusion and problems for many consumers.

A charged-off debt is when a creditor does not expect to get paid back from the consumer. The consumer will then have a negative statement on their credit report for seven years from the documented charge-off. What these new companies are doing is to buy the charged-off accounts and resume trying to collect on them. However each state has it statute of limitations and the collection agency may be violating it by trying to collect.

A collection agency only has so many years to try and collect a delinquent account. By no means does anyone advise you to refuse to pay your debts in hopes that it will be charged-off. A charged-off account is one of the worst things you can allow to happen to your credit report. However, if you do have an account that has been charged-off and you are being contacted to pay on it you still have rights as consumers under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Some of these new companies that are buying old debts may try to aggressively pursue you for re-payment. There have even been cases where these companies have tried to collect on a debt that has been excused through bankruptcy or the passing of the consumer. So you can see how this can become frustrating for those who thought that their debt had been taken care of.

If you have experienced this problem or think that you might than there are some things that you will want to prepare yourself for.

When you first receive a call from the new collectors find out what debt they are specifically trying to collect on. There could be a chance that you were not even the original debtor. Some of the information these companies receive can be false. Then find out if the statute of limitations has passed or not. If it has passed than legally they cannot try and collect it from you and you can request that they quit contacting you.

If you know for sure that the statute of limitations has passed it is best not to talk with the company over the phone. They may try and negotiate with you and if you agree you may void the original statute of limitations.

If you do still legally owe them due to the fact that the statute of limitations has not expired, you may want to negotiate with them for a payment plan or lump payment. This may prevent any judgments or lawsuits against you. If you are not comfortable with handling this on your own than you may want to consult a lawyer who can assist you.

If they continue to try and contact you than you can request in writing for them to cease telephone communications. Make sure you send your letter certified mail, return receipt requested.

A situation where an old debt returns to cause you stress can be difficult to handle on your own, especially if the collectors are overwhelming and aggressive. It may be a good idea to contact a lawyer to assist you or to defend you against what may be unlawful collection practices.

Make sure that you pay attention to your credit report. Request a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com (Remember you can receive one free copy from each of the three credit bureaus per year). If there is an old debt that has been reposted or there is debt on there that is not yours, than you will want to actively fight for the removal of these items. Again, the assistance from a lawyer can help you determine your options.

If you hear something lurking over your shoulder it just may be a debt coming back to haunt you, hopefully you are now a little better prepared to ward off these little monsters.

 
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After many anxious months my wife and I are the proud parents of a baby girl and life couldn't be better. My wife, who is a middle school teacher, receives 6 weeks of maternity leave before she has to return to work.

Like many new parents we pondered with the idea of being able to sacrifice one of our incomes so that one of us could stay home with the baby. Unfortunately, we found out that we just could not do it at this time. We have too many commitments that take up a lot of our income. Even if we downsized our housing and sold a car and got rid of cable and cell phones we would still not have enough to go off of one income.

We still have some large debt obligations to take care of. Our student loan payments are the main ones that takes up a lot of our monthly income.

Another factor that we realized really has nothing to do with money. My wife enjoys her job and would miss it, and even though the baby keeps her plenty busy throughout the day it is still a little boring compared to teaching a classroom of pre-teens.

We also had to consider the possibility that she may not be able to get a job when she was ready to go back. It can be difficult to get a good teaching job because the availability is different each year, so there is no guarantee that she could get a job right away.

We even looked at the possibility of myself staying home, but since we generally bring in the same yearly income we ran into the same problems. Besides I like my job way too much to want to stay home with my daughter all day (wink, wink). So even though it will not work out for us right now we are confident it is the right decision for our family. So now that the baby is here we get to find out what we haven't prepared for. We have done a pretty good job estimating and planning for the hospital bills and we have great parents who stocked us up with clothes, diapers, and many other supplies.

There is one thing that I did not really consider until a couple of days ago. Traveling. See, my in-laws live 400 miles away. It comes as no surprise, I've known this since the day I met my wife and have made numerous trips there before. As you can assume they want to see their beautiful grandchild any chance they can, and why shouldn't they, they have been great grandparents.

My point is, that unless you've been stranded on an island you know that gas prices have been high this year. Gas can add up when you make monthly trips out east. Plus more miles on a vehicle means more maintenance costs. It would also be unfair to have them travel out here every time. So there were countless things my wife and I thought would cost us more money, but we forgot that every extra trip we make is an extra $100 or so in gas money. Money that is well spent and will not be sacrificed, it's just that we may have to pay a little closer attention in other categories.

Besides that, there haven't been a lot of unexpected baby expenses. My wife and I shuffled around our health insurance that will save us around $80 a month. The cost is the same to add myself along with our daughter to her health coverage. So we canceled mine and will have less money taken out of my paycheck, which is nice.

I look forward to the surprises of the upcoming months and welcome them with anticipation, so until next month good luck and spend wisely.

 

 
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Homecoming

Homecoming for a high schooler can be the highlight of the year. Many students decorate their vehicles to participate in the yearly parade.

Some students may even pool their money together to buy a cheap vehicle and customize it to fit a theme.

It is important that the driver of the vehicle is insured and that they have the proper registration and licensing for the vehicle.

Many insurance companies have a short-term plan that will cover the driver for the short time frame they plan on driving the homecoming vehicle

 
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Terms to Know

If you are thinking about getting involved with investing there are a few terms you will want to familiarize yourself with. Here are a few of those words to help you not sound like a rookie.

BONDS
A bond is simply an IOU. It is an agreement under which a sum is repaid to an investor after an agreed period of time.

A bond can be issued by anyone but is, generally, a certificate issued by a government or a public company to repay money borrowed.

These loans normally repay a fixed rate of interest over a specified time and then also repay the original sum at par in full after an agreed period - when the bond matures.

BROKER
(1) An individual or a firm that charges a fee or commission for executing buy and sell orders submitted by another individual or firm. (2) The role of a brokerage firm when it acts as an agent for a customer and charges the customer for its services.

BROKER-DEALER
A securities firm that is acting as either a broker and/or a dealer. Most securities firms act in both capacities.

BEAR MARKET
A declining market, may refer to entire market or individual security.

BULL MARKET
A rising market.

DIVERSIFICATION
Spreading of risk by putting assets in several categories of investments or with a broad range of stocks in one portfolio.

DIVIDEND
A distribution of the earnings of a corporation. Dividends may be in the form of cash, stock or property (other securities owned by the corporation). A dividend can only be paid by declaration of the board of directors of the corporation.

EX-DIVIDEND DATE
Four business days before the record date. On the ex-dividend date the purchase of stock no longer carries with it the right to receive the dividend previously declared.

JUNK BONDS
High-risk bonds, usually promising a very high indicated return coupled with a larger risk of default.

RECORD DATE
Stockholders owning the stock on the holder-of-record date are entitled to receive a dividend. In order to be listed as an owner on the corporate books on the holder-of-record date, the investor must have bought the stock before the ex-dividend date.

PAYMENT DATE
The day on which a stockholder of record will receive his or her dividend.

EQUITY (in a brokerage account)
The market value of securities (long market value minus short market value) minus any debit balance and plus any credit balance.

INDEX
A statistic to measure market performance. A popular index is the Standard & Poor's 500(S&P 500), which incorporates a broad base of 500 stocks, including 400 industrial companies, 20 transportation companies, 40 utilities, and widely considered the benchmark for large stock investors. Some of the stocks in the index have a greater influence on the direction of the market than other stocks do, so the S&P 500 is calculated by giving a greater weight to some stocks.

MARKET PRICE
The last reported price at which the stock or bond sold, or the current quote.

PENNY STOCKS
Low price stocks trading in the over-the-counter market. Typically refers to shares trading below one dollar a share.

PORTFOLIO
Holdings of securities by an individual or institution. A portfolio may contain bonds, preferred stocks, common stocks and other securities.

SEC
The Securities and Exchange Commission, established by Congress to help protect investors.

STOCKS
Ownership shares in a corporation.

 
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