We are approaching the busy time of year where not only the weather begins to change but so does our pace. There never seems like there is a break in the action.

It's around this time of year where we value our time a lot more because their seems to be less of it. That's why we have included a lot of tips this month that will not only save you some money but can save you some time as well.

It's also around this time that stress can cause us to not be on our toes and we may not be thinking clearly. It's important you do what you can to help relax when you can and put things in prospective. This is a great time of year to enjoy crisp weather and to spend time with our families and count our blessings.

 
 
 

Christmas is just around the corner and the good news is you still have a couple months to save some extra money so you don't have to stretch yourself thin this year. Here are a few daily tips that will put cash in your pocket that you can use for the holidays.

Brown Bag it:
The average cost of eating out for lunch is $6 a day. That's $30 a week. Let's say bringing your own lunch is half that amount, $3. There are about 60 weekdays left till Christmas. You could potentially save $180.

Coffee Break:
Many of us depend on our morning coffee to help kick off the day. Where we get that coffee could mean a lot to our pocketbooks. A regular cup of coffee can be $2.50 and specialty drinks can get as high as $6. Brewing your own coffee at home or having a cup from the office costs just a fraction of that. Even if you buy more expensive coffee for home brewing it's cheaper than a daily stop at the coffee franchise.
You could potentially save $150 - $300.

Lucky Lotto:
We may all dream of winning the lottery some day but if you are a dedicated player those dollars can add up. Even if you only buy a Powerball ticket once or twice a week that's money you could be saving. $25 doesn't sound like too much but that could buy a couple presents or a good portion of a holiday meal.
You could potentially save $25.

ATM Fees:
If you are using ATM's that aren't associated with your banking institution you probably have been paying fees up to $3 per transaction. If you need to use cash, withdrawal enough from your bank account or use an ATM that works with your bank as to not get fees.You could potentially save $36 - $240.

These first four only account for one person. Imagine how much more you could save if you AND your spouse practiced these tips.

Eat at Home:
Dining out can be a real budget buster. But there's no need to go cold turkey. Resolving to eat at home just one time more per month than usual can make a big difference. Considering a meal at a casual dining restaurant costs about $20 per person, you would spend $80 for a family of four to eat out. Instead, you could cook a family meal at home for less than $20 total, saving you at least $60 each month. You could potentially save $120.

Rent A Movie:
Going to the movie theatre to watch the latest blockbuster continues to be more expensive each year. A family of 4 will spend about $17 a person (including tickets, popcorn, soda). That's just shy of $70. That's quite an expense, even if you only go once a month. Compare that to renting a movie that can cost as little as $1 for the movie and your own snacks at home and you will save a ton. You could potentially save $34 - $140.

Shop the Sales:
If you aren't already doing so, try planning your meals and grocery spending around the weekly sales they are having. If there's a sale on chicken over beef, make meals that involve the cheaper chicken. Avoid any of the unnecessary items that you may usually buy. Cut down on extra snacks and treats. Avoid buying any checkout stand magazines. Try to cut $10-$20 from your grocery bill each week.You could potentially save $120 - $240.

Put on a Sweater:
For every degree you lower your thermostat, you save 5% off your heating bill, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. So on a $300-per-month bill, dropping your thermostat just two degrees and donning a sweater will save you $30 a month.You could potentially save $60.

Sell Stuff:
If you're like most people, you've got clothes you don't wear, CDs you don't listen to, books you don't read, DVDs you don't watch, furniture you don't sit in - you get the picture. Take it to a consignment shop or a swap meet; sell it online at eBay or craigslist; have a yard sale. If nothing else, donate it and create a tax deduction. Not only will you clear out some needed space you can earn a little extra money. You could potentially save quite a bit depending on what you get rid of.

We've provided you with some easy tips that could add up to over $1000 in just two months. It may take a little discipline but it will be nice to have a stress free holiday season.


 

 

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Refinancing your home is very popular now, as people are trying to take advantage of lower interest rates and lowering their payments. The key to refinancing is making sure you will benefit from it in the long run versus the cost of it up-front.

When you refinance your mortgage you are replacing your old home loan with a new one. The purpose of the refinance loan is to obtain a better loan, usually through a lower interest rate. Refinancing may be able to reduce your monthly payments.

People choose to refinance for many reasons:

Lower their interest rates; this could lower your monthly payment or allow refinancing for a shorter term.

Borrow against the equity built into the home for expenses like remodeling, adding an addition, or paying for a child's college costs.

Switch from an adjusted-rate mortgage (ARM) to a fixed-rate mortgage.

Like it was mentioned before, lower interest rates is what appeals most to people looking to refinance their mortgage. Interest rates may have been considerably higher when you took out your original loan and you may be able to lock in a much lower current rate. This should be the first thing you look into if considering refinancing. If the interest rate is not lower than your current rate, then there really is not a great reason to continue.

Another popular reason people may refinance is to switch from an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) to a fixed rate mortgage. ARM's can be very enticing if you start off at a lower rate, but can be stressful when dealing with a roller coaster of changing rates. Switching to a fixed rate can help ease your worries by ensuring consistent monthly payments. It is not very common to switch from a fixed rate to an ARM and should be preceded with caution.

Once you decide the reason why you would want to refinance, the first thing you will want to consider is the out-of-pocket cost of refinancing. Refinancing includes many of the costs that were associated with your original mortgage, including closing costs. These include a loan application fee, a credit check fee, a title search fee, a title insurance policy, loan preparation fees, home appraisal and inspection fees, just to name a few.

It's important to calculate the costs of refinancing and how long it will take you to recoup the up front costs. There are many online calculators that will help you and if you are working with someone it's important for them to assist you with any questions.

When calculating this, you will come up with a number of years/months it will take in order to recoup your up front costs. If you are not planning on being in the house for longer than that figure then it does not pay to refinance.

Consult with different lenders for your refinancing. Start with the lender that you currently have your mortgage with. There may be fewer fees involved and you already know how the company works and bills. It always helps to shop around for the best interest rates with reputable companies. Some lenders may eliminate some of the fees associated with refinancing. But be aware, if they are cutting costs, they may not be offering the best interest rates.

There can be quite a few benefits from refinancing your mortgage. Like many things however, it is not for everyone and requires research and a considerable amount of time. Don't be afraid to ask questions and don't rush into anything if you are not comfortable with the situation.

 

 

 

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Flexible spending accounts can be a great tool to use when you are paying for certain expenses. Many companies offer these flexible spending accounts as a benefit to their employees. You can contribute to a flexible spending account with pre-tax dollars. This type of account comes in a few different varieties that will allow you to pay for different things.

Benefits of a flexible spending account.
Flexible spending accounts have a couple of big benefits, but one of the most important features for many people is the fact that the money you contribute to a flexible spending account is tax-free. This makes a flexible spending account a great choice for reimbursement for non-covered medical expenses, such as co-pays, dental or vision care, or even prescription or over-the-counter medications. Instead of paying this money out-of-pocket with money that's already been taxed, you can be reimbursed for these expenses with pre-taxable income. Additionally, saving for medical expenses can make it easier to come up with the cash for an expensive treatment, instead of being stuck with a big bill and no cash to cover it.

Problems with flexible spending accounts.
The biggest problem with a flexible spending account is that it must be used by the end of the calendar year. Some companies take advantage of a two-and-a-half month grace period that the IRS has implemented for end-of-year expenses, while others elect to cut the spending off at midnight on December 31. If you don't use the money in your flexible spending account by the deadline, you lose it. This use-it-or-lose-it mentality can make flexible spending accounts a gamble.

How to effectively use a flexible spending account.
If you opt to use a flexible spending account, evaluate your expenses before determining a deposit amount. If you don't use the money in the account by the end of the year, you lose it, so many people under-pay the flexible spending account in the first year just to determine exactly how much they need. Monitor your medical expenses for a few months, and base your flexible spending account on actual expenses; not how much you guess you'll need. If you do have money left over at the end of the year, stock up on useful medical supplies covered by the flexible spending account, such as over-the-counter medications and eye care products.

Here are some of the types of flexible spending accounts that you can choose from.

1. Medical Expense
One of the most common types of flexible spending accounts is the medical expense account. With this type of account, you can combine it with a health insurance plan to pay for most of the medical expenses that you will incur. This account will help you pay for things that medical insurance does not cover. For example, you can use the money in this account to pay for your co-pay, or your deductible. This type of account can also be used to pay for prescriptions and other treatments. You can even use it to pay for services like dental work, vision care and chiropractic care.

One of the nice features of a medical expense account is that you can also use it to buy medical supplies. For example, you can use money from this account to purchase bandages and over-the-counter medicines that you may need. It does not necessarily have to be for prescription drugs.

2. Dependent Care
Another option that you may have is a dependent care flexible spending account. With this type of account, you can use the money from your tax-deductible contributions to pay for dependent care. You can contribute as much as $5000 per year towards dependent care. In most cases, this type of account is used to pay for daycare expenses for children that live with you under the age of 13. In some cases, this type of account can be used to pay for dependent care of elderly adults that live with you.

3. Health Premiums
Another option that can be available is a flexible spending account that is designed to reimburse employees for healthcare insurance premiums. If a company does not offer a healthcare plan to its employees, they can offer this as an alternative. For example, a married couple may have a family insurance plan covered under one spouse, so the other spouse can have their insurance costs defrayed and put into a flexible spending account, or FSA.

4. Adoption Assistance
In some cases, companies will also offer a flexible spending account that will allow individuals to use the funds for adoption assistance. The process of adoption can be very expensive and many people do not have the necessary resources. With this type of account, you can set aside pre-tax money and use it to complete the adoption process. This can help pay for any expenses that are incurred during the act of adopting a child. The legal fees of an adoption process can be very expensive and without a FSA account, an adoption may not be possible.

 


Pioneer is not responsible for any advice given in The Pioneer Pilot. Everyone has a different set of circumstances that would determine if an idea or plan is the best one for them. Information provided should not be intended as legal advice.

 

 

 

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Social Networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have become hugely popular and have attracted users that range from preteens to grandparents. That's a lot of people, and a lot of information available. Unfortunately those who will use it to their advantage and could damage your identity can easily obtain all that information. Follow these tips to protect yourself while enjoying social media.

Keep the amount of personal information to a minimum:
They will give you the option to fill-in and display a lot of personal information. When you include this on your profile that can be accessed you are exposing yourself to identity thieves.

Here is some information you should keep private:
Full Name
Date of Birth
Phone Number
Email Address
Mailing Address
Spouse Full Name
Spouse Birthday

Your real friends and associates will likely already know this information so including it on your profile will only increase your risk of being victimized by identity thieves.

For example, an identity thief may be able to use your home address and phone number to submit a change of address form with the United States Postal Service and have your mail forwarded. This would allow an identity thief to get access to additional sensitive information that would allow them to open financial or other accounts in your name.

Don't be lazy with your password:
Limit the amount of contextual password clues on your profile pages. Identity thieves know that many people use their birthday, a spouse or significant other's name or birth date, an anniversary date, mother's maiden name, pet's name or other personal information as passwords on their personal accounts. It is also a good idea to make sure your online passwords don't include these types of personal items since they are easily hacked.

Find a password that you can remember but has a mixture of numbers and letters and is case sensitive. Make sure you do not use the same password for different accounts online. Your Facebook password should not be the same password you use to log into your online bank account.

You don't have to tell everyone everything:

"On r way 2 the airport! Cant wait for vaca!"

Congratulations you just let everyone know that you are going to be out of town and your house is vulnerable. Even if you are going to be gone for a just a day or even an hour, it's best not to announce to people that you are gone.

Also, it's not very safe to not announce when you are home alone or a spouse is out of town. You can assume that only your friends are seeing the information but you might be surprised who is able to see it.

Limit your contacts to just friends and family you know and trust:
Remember that guy you haven't seen in over 10 years who wants to be your friend online. You aren't the worst person on Earth if you decide to hold off on accepting the request. If you look through your contact list you might be surprised by the number of people you don't really remember or haven't had significant contact with for some time.

Take some time to also look at the profile and see if it's legitimate. It's not hard for someone to get information online and create a fake profile with a name of someone you know in order to gain access to information that is only available to your contacts. If it is someone you know well get a hold of him or her through an email or phone number you have for him or her.

Even friends and family you know well can take advantage of you. Unfortunately, a large portion of people who are victimized by identity theft personally knew the suspected person.

Familiarize yourself with privacy settings:
Make sure you know what is and what isn't displayed and set up controls so only certain people can see certain things. If you aren't sure about something ask questions. Send an email to support.

Even if the social networks that are popular now eventually fade away there will be another one that will replace it. It's important to realize that social media is here and an important part of our communication and we should take serious steps to protect ourselves and our identity.

 

Facebook Facts & Figures:

More than 500 million active users

50% of our active users log on to Facebook in any given day

Average user has 130 friends

People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook

Over 3 billion photos uploaded to the site every month

60 million status updates posted everyday

 

 

 

 

 

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Tis the Season of scams. There is no better time for scammers than the holiday season. We are often rushed and overwhelmed so our senses are not always in prime form. As the next couple months roll on pay attention to these potential schemes.

Internet Shopping
By far the fastest-growing online holiday scam is the setting up of bogus websites offering just about everything you could want for Christmas, especially those hard to find gifts, at fantastic bargain prices.

You do a search for a gift you're planning to buy and suddenly you find it way cheaper than you had imagined. The website sales page looks professional, often bristling with testimonials from supposedly satisfied customers and logos suggesting top-line security. These sites are easy to set up and the number has mushroomed in the past year, hosted all over the world.

Scammers will not only take your money for something they won't send you, they could also use your credit card details to buy other stuff for themselves and use your personal details for identity theft.

Don't trust a site or name you don't know and don't fall for prices that are too good to be true, they usually are. Use a one-time card number available from some credit card companies to protect your financial details.

Charity Fraud
Holidays are just the best time for scammers to tug on our heartstrings. And the most likely place you'll encounter them is when they rattle a collection box in front of you either as you do your shopping or at your front door. They may use all kinds of props to fool you, wearing seasonal costumes, dressed in familiar uniforms, wearing badges or carrying some other kind of bogus authorization. Often too, scammers use kids to convince you they're genuine.

If you don't have time to check out how genuine the collector is, simply don't give. If you want to help them, find the charity name and donate directly. Look for Salvation Army and other collectors actually inside stores -- they're a safer bet.

Also be weary of telephone solicitations and never give them your credit card over the phone if you can't confirm they are a legitimate company. Sellers at your doorstep who show you a charity catalog, take your money and never come back. It's best to not just hand over the money, collect any information they give you and do the research yourself to make sure they are legit.

Shopping
If you're a shopper, beware of being short-changed, either intentionally or unintentionally. Both are easy to do in the frantic atmosphere at the cash register at this time of year. Stores hire extra seasonal help around this time of year and the inexperience can lead to mistakes.

You should have a good idea of how much the bill will be and when paying in cash clearly show the bills to the clerk. Don't move away from the register until you've checked your change and your receipt.

Delivery
One of the newer scams seen this year that's likely to take advantage of Christmas activities is the "parcel-waiting" trick. You get a card through your door saying an unsuccessful attempt was made to deliver a package to your home and that you should call a particular number for more details.

You might reasonably be expecting a parcel at this time of year, so you call the number and get a recorded message or music that keeps you on the line for a while.
In fact, you've connected to a premium line or overseas service, which will be charged at exorbitant rates on your next phone bill.

Or you may be asked to provide personal information that could be used for identity theft, or to give information that would let a thief know when you're going to be out. Check the name of the company on the Internet. Also check online lists of overseas phone codes. If the number is not a 1-800 or local call, it may well be a scam. Don't give out personal details over the phone to someone you don't know, and don't tell them when you're going to be away from your home.

Pickpockets
Crowds mean rich rewards for pickpockets. If they steal your wallet, they'll not only have your money but also your credit cards and personal information that could lead to identify theft.

With a quick bump or, more often these days, a distraction from an accomplice, they can remove your wallet from your pocket or purse in seconds. They'll take any accessible gift from your shopping bags too.

Keep your wallet inside a closed purse or in a pocket with your hand on it. Leave non-essential identifying information and spare credit cards at home. Return frequently with gifts to your car and lock them out of sight in the trunk. If someone calls for your attention, protect your possessions first.

 
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Last mentioned I had made mention that it was a pretty mild summer with nothing really exciting or out of the ordinary happenings for the family. Turns out that very shortly after that article had been written our summer definitely got a little more interesting.

It started with something as small as being too tired to finish a run in the park. Then the body aches and joint pain began. Finally, the headache and fever started. I was sick, but unlike any sickness I've had before. I did the right thing and ignored my stubbornness and went to see the doctor (cha-ching!). They ran some tests (cha-ching!) and assumed that based on my condition and symptoms that it seemed like I had West Nile Virus, which is caused by mosquitoes. Unfortunately, there isn't much they can give you for it so I was prescribed rest and fluids and OTC medicine for headache and fevers.

After a couple days I was getting worse and the doctors found out that it wasn't West Nile after all. I went back to the doctors (cha-ching!) for more tests and ended up having to go to the hospital (cha-ching!) for IV fluids and an ultrasound. While there they told me I had inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) and spleen. They were not sure why though. I spent the next week essentially sleeping.

During this time I was also having issues with my Colitis (which is a colon disease) and my doctors started wondering if the two were connected so I was scheduled for a colonoscopy (cha-ching!). After the colonoscopy I found out that even though 2 tests showed negative results the third one confirmed that I had Mono. OK, now I thought at least they know what it is and that it should go away on its own and to just take it easy for awhile. I had already been sick for over 3 weeks, which is hard to handle since I don't think I have been sick for more than 3 days before.

One more visit to the doctor and they tell me that it isn't Mono after all but a virus called Cytomegalovirus, which I won't bore you with. They weren't sure how I got it but the good news was it would go away on its own.

So, as you can see since the last time we have talked I spent a large part of it either sleeping or getting my blood drawn for tests. As you can imagine a 4-week stint with an illness that required a lot of tests can quickly add up. Even with insurance doing its part and pitching in for a large portion of the costs, we are now responsible for paying the bills that we hadn't previously planned for.

If you find yourself in a similar situation I suggest you collect every bill and statement you receive and keep it separate from all your other bills. We have been getting insurance statements and bills from my doctors, the hospital, numerous labs where my tests were sent, and the medical facility where my labs took place, etc. It can be confusing and overwhelming when you are getting bills from places you've never heard from.

Once you have all the statements, figure out your totals and start making phone calls to make payment arrangements. We like to set up automatic payments if possible because it's the easiest way not to forget a payment.

My wife has a medical flexible account through work, which will help us tremendously in paying off these bills as it has done for us in the past. These accounts are great for families as even when we aren't hit with fluky sicknesses our kids are often sick and having to visit the doctor quite a bit. We rarely have a problem not using everything in our flexible account.

So after a relatively calm start to summer we ended with a difficult month. That's why we stress the importance of staying ahead financially, because events like this are inevitable and they are easier to handle when you are not already struggling with money.

When we speak again we will be right in the middle of the hectic holiday season. I trust everyone is already planning for the holidays as to avoid the surprises and extra costs. If you haven't yet, start today. I know that I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

Until next time, good luck and have fun.

 
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