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The crisp fall air can only mean one thing; football season is near.

Thousands of us will be spending our Sundays with friends and family gathered around the television or tailgating in the parking lot. Why not host an excellent football party without having to spend a lot of money.

The best way to show your spirit is to find things that represent your teams' colors. Many stores will sell tailgate items for specific football teams but they will usually cost more because of they are special prints. There are plenty of things around the house that you already have that you can use.

You can use a colored bed sheet for a tablecloth that you can re-use. A twin-sized sheet is usually big enough to cover a table. Just wash before and after you use it.

Bandannas come in every color and can be used for many decorations and even napkins. They can be bought for under $1 each and can be used numerous times. You can also buy colored or printed fabric at an affordable price.

Food coloring can go along way when trying to match your team colors. You can add some to a pail of water then fill up ice cube trays to add a touch of color to your drinks. You can really add it to any food to try and match the colors of your favorite team. Just let people know that the mayonnaise is supposed to be blue!

You can buy disposable paper or plastic cups or you may be able to find inexpensive reusable plastic cups that you can personalize. You can use a marker to personalize your cup with your favorite players name and number. Make sure everyone picks a different player and they won't have to worry about losing their drink.

You can buy cheap felt and cut out football shapes and pennants and decorate them with your favorite team names or cheers. You can also use your personal souvenir collection to help decorate your area. You can hang jerseys and helmets, or you can hang up posters and pennants. Some of you may be lucky enough to have that stuff up as decorations already.

Be creative and you can create the perfect football atmosphere for your friends to enjoy where they can cheer on (or curse out) their favorite gridiron teams.

    

 


 

   
 
 

The school year is about to start and wether you have a child heading off to college or a senior in their last year of high school you should be doing everything you can to get as much financial aid that you may qualify for. The website:
FinancialAidForCollege.com has some quick tips to help you get started in your financial aid journey.

You should know what you are about to get into and how to best plan what is likely to be one of your life's largest purchases. Let's set the record straight up front. There is no panacea for everyone to ensure they will not have to pay for their college educations.

There is a good chance that they say the equity in your home and/or some other components of your net worth and income will be held against you in the calculation of your SAR (summary of the financial aid you can expect to receive) of your FAFSA. This does not mean, however, that there are not ways to reduce the financial burdens of the college education expenses.

Research Your Tax Options
There are many potential tax benefits that are available to most tax payers. These include Section 529 college tuition savings plans. Additionally the interest on student loans is sometimes tax deductible. While we are not attorneys or CPAs, and hence do not wish to dispense tax advice, we have included some general information on the tax ramifications of financing a college education. This should certainly help you get on your way to optimizing your tax situation.

Get to Know Your Financial Aid Administrator
Establishing a healthy relationship with your financial aid administrator will help ensure that he or she does everything to help you out. Additionally, this may help if you have any atypical expenses for which they may be able to make an allowance.

Start with Uncle Sam
The first financial aid form you complete should be the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Even if you know you won't qualify for any aid, filling out this form is often the first step to applying for many types of aid including federal loans, state grants, and college scholarships.

Apply Early
Apply as soon after January 1 as possible. You can use estimates for items such as income if you have not completed your tax returns. Financial aid is partially given out on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Apply for Everything
You'll never get the grants or scholarships if you don't apply. There are many good scholarship search engines as well as many different types of scholarships out there. Chances are you will qualify for a number of these.

Even if you have kids that have already started their college career start now to get a jumpstart on next year. Financial aid can be intimidating but if you work together you should be able to complete all the necessary paperwork needed to help finance your education.

 

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Helpful Tips

Once again, gas prices are expected to hit consumers hard this winter. Heating costs could be the highest they have been in years, as much as 3 times higher than last year. It's important to start planning now before the cold hits and the prices rise.

First thing you can do is to try and put a little money away to help ease the increase of your heating bill. Add some extra to your savings and when the winter bills come in you can transfer some of that money over and can pay your bills in-full and on time.

There are also plenty of things you can do to minimize your energy use and save you money.

Explore your house for any leaks that could lead to wasting warm air. Check around all your doors and windows. You can use a candle or stick of incense to see where air is moving. You will want to use a caulk or sealant on any cracks where warm air can escape or cold air can get in.

You also want to make sure you don't let bathroom fans run too long. They can suck out all the warm air in your house and cause your heat to have to run longer.

Basements and attics need to be thoroughly insulated to help you save money. Examine the insulation on your attic floor. It should be the same thickness and spread out evenly. Watch for gaps in the insulation and make sure that the vapor barrier side is facing downward or towards the space you are trying to keep warm. You will also want to make sure all of your insulation is dry. If you find problems with your insulation, you may want to consult a contractor for an estimate.

Turn down your hot water heater. The normal setting for a hot water heater should be set to 120 degrees (F). You don't need to set it any higher. You can wrap water heater insulation around exposed pipes that will help keep the pipes warm and will cause your water heater to use less energy. There are also hot water heater jackets that will help keep the water warmer and will save you energy.

You may want to invest in a programmable thermostat so you can set the temperatures to appropriate levels during the day. For example, you can set it at 68 degrees when you are not home or during the night and you can program it to 75 degrees when you are at home. These temperatures may seem low but the lower you can tolerate the more you will save. You can always dress in warmer clothes during the cold times.

You want to make sure that your furnace is running at its best. Replace or clean furnace filters once a month. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy use. The harder it has to work the more you will have to pay. Now is also the time for a furnace "tune-up." Keeping your furnace clean, lubricated and properly adjusted will reduce energy use, saving up to 5 percent of heating costs.

You may want to get a hold of your energy provider and see if they provide an assessment of your furnace and provide any cleaning or maintenance. They may provide this service for an affordable price to its customers.

For those that have wood burning stoves or fireplaces you will want to make sure air is not leaking out when you are not using them. Make sure you keep your damper closed to prevent cold air from getting in and warm air from escaping.

Covering your windows with plastic is another affordable way for you to save money. Plastic will seal your house off and prevent air from going in and out. You also want to take advantage of the daylight by opening curtains and shutters to allow sunlight in and help warm the air. You can then close everything up at night to keep the air in.

Contact your gas utility provider. They may have programs or assistance that is available for you. One program is a balanced billing system. Instead of fluctuating bills each month they will average the expected amount of energy you will use and then you pay a bill that is similar each month.

Right now you may not be paying that much in gas bills but come winter will be paying over $100 in some instances. With balanced billing you will be paying more now to make up for higher costs in the winter, where you will be paying less. This system is easier on your budget and causes fewer surprises on your monthly statements.

Your local gas utility provider should be able to provide you with more energy saving tips to help insure that you are saving during the winter.

 

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Worth the Cost

We have all probably bought something where an extended warranty has been offered to us. An extended warranty is an extension of the manufacturers warranty that has been offered to you through a third party and not the manufacturer itself. The third party could be the retail store where you purchased the item or a company that the retail store works with that offers extended warranties.

Extended warranties can offer benefits that may include maintenance, upgrades, replacements, free or low cost repairs to name a few. It's rare to make a big-item purchase without the sales person assertively pushing their extended warranty. It's up to you to decide if you want the warranty or if you think it is a waste of time. There are some things you can consider that may make your decision a little easier.

Many items that you buy have a manufacturers warranty and the store may allow you to wait to decide on the extended warranty and give you a time frame that you are allowed to buy the extended warranty. This gives you time to consider it and takes away the pressure you may feel from a salesperson and avoids you from making an impulse decision.

Ask questions and find out about the manufacturers warranty. Ask how long it lasts and what it will cover. You may find that the products warranty is sufficient enough for you.

Of course you will then want to ask about the extended warranty. First thing you are going to want to ask is how much is the warranty. You will want to make sure that the warranty price is in a fair relation to the actual price of the item. You don't want to pay $50 for an extended warranty when the price of the item is $125 or so. That's too high of a percentage for the warranty.

When does the extended coverage begin? It's important to find out if the coverage begins immediately or takes effect as soon as the manufacturers warranty expires. The extended warranty may have different coverage options than the items warranty but you need to know if it starts immediately or later.

You also need to find out how long each warranty lasts. The original product warranty may be a sufficient enough time to not need an extended warranty. If you are offered a long extended warranty for an affordable price it may be worth the piece of mind. If the extended warranty is only for a couple of years there is a chance that the product you will buy will not have any problems in that time frame.

Extended warranties for cars will often be offered for a certain time frame or up to a specific amount of miles. There is also a lot more information that is covered when it comes to automobile warranties. What is and isn't covered can be complicated if you don't thoroughly review the warranties offered.

Make sure you find out what both warranties cover. Does it only cover equipment problems or will accidental damage be covered as well. Some policies will not cover anything that was caused by the user, so if you were to drop your new flat screen you would be out of luck, but if a mounting bracket failed and caused the TV to crash to the ground it may be covered.

Ask is they can give you a copy of the warranty to read and review. That way you can go through it and read everything that is and is not covered. That way you don't buy an extended warranty and find out later that not all damage and replacements are covered.

Take a look at items you have purchased in the past. How often have you had to take an item in to have repairs done or the item replaced? Sure, things can happen at any time but it's more likely that you will not have to use a warranty.

Research the item you plan on buying. Is there a history of problems that comes with it or are customers generally happy with it. If you save money buying a cheaper product you may not be saving at all if you decide to buy an extended warranty because the item has a tendency to malfunction.

Instead of an extended warranty you may want to take the amount of the warranty or monthly payment of the warranty and put it into a savings account. Then if you were to have a problem that needed to be repaired you could pay it out of your savings and if you don't have any problems than you didn't spend that money on something it turned out you didn't need.

It's up to you to determine the risks vs. rewards. If you are confident that you do not foresee any problems you may want to skip it, but if you are going to lose sleep because you think something is going to happen then you may want to pay for the extra piece of mind.

 

 
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Once again, we had another busy summer month. Not many more left however as we will soon be back in our regular routine with my wife heading back to teach.

By the time you read this, my daughter will have celebrated her second birthday and we will have endured a “small” gathering of family and friends. I'm sure this year will be a little more reasonable since after her first birthday we converted a spare bedroom into a toy room. I'm running out of spare rooms for all her toys. Her grandparents are going to have to sleep between a “Dora the Explorer” tent and an Elmo tricycle when they come and visit.

I'm excited for the fall season because I am a big football fan, both college and professional. We try to have a couple gatherings during the season and invite friends and family over for some of the big games. It's more like a potluck where everyone brings a little something to the party, so there isn't too much expense.

I also get some grief from my wife because I participate in fantasy football. That's where you pick a team of professional football players and are scored based on how they perform in the real games.

I do spend some money on this but never more than we can afford and I have a fun time doing it, so it is a little guilty pleasure form of entertainment.

I'm approaching 10 years since I graduated high school but there are some things that I remember and one of them was senior pictures. While some of my friends were spending hundreds of dollars for sittings and packages, I had a family friend who was an amateur photographer take my pictures. I got to keep all the poses taken and she let me have as many changes and locations as I wanted.

All I had to pay for was the development of the pictures. Nobody could tell my picture's were taken by an amateur and in some cases turned out better than some of my friends who had spent 3 times the amount I had.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to start planning for college at the start of your senior year of high school. Starting early gives you the best chance of securing money for your education. I missed out on a lot of money because I didn't take the time or effort to fill out the paperwork. It was foolish on my part as some of the loans that I would have qualified for would have been forgiven and I would not have had to pay it back.

Get everyone involved in the process. I tried to apply a couple of times and it turned into a big mess but instead of working through those problems I gave up instead and lost a chance at valuable money. This goes for scholarships as well. The process of filling out the applications may seem daunting but not compared to what you get in return. The worst thing that can happen from applying for a scholarship is being turned down, but the potential benefits are too good to pass up.

I've learned that time is passing faster than it ever has, which means while I'm sitting here still enjoying the hot days of late August it won't be long until I am bundled under the warmth of a heavy blanket as it snows outside. Like many of you there is a bit of nervousness about what it will cost to heat our house this winter. The good thing is that it never seems as bad as they predict, but it's still a good idea to be prepared for it.

We have been on a balanced payment schedule with our gas company ever since we moved into our house. It's been working quite well for us and even though we are paying more in the summer we are not overwhelmed by triple digit bills during the winter. It may be a good idea to see if this plan would work for you if.

Well, before the month of September is already over I better let you go and enjoy yourself. So, until next month, good luck and have fun.

 

 

 
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After School Programs

With the school year starting soon, parents will again be trying to find affordable ways to ensure that their children are being taken care of after school. At least seven million and as many as 15 million “latchkey children” return to an empty house on any given afternoon (U.S. Census Bureau, Urban Institute estimates, 2000).

The after-school hours are considered to be between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. During this time frame youth are most likely to:

1. Commit or become victims of crime and violence.
2. Be in or cause a vehicle crash.
3. Suffer unintentional injuries.
4. Experiment with cigarettes, alcohol, or illegal drugs.
5. Engage in irresponsible sexual behavior.

It’s no wonder that there is such concern among parents and adults.

82 percent of adults say after-school programs are essential for their communities (After school Alert Poll Report, After school Alliance, 2000).

86 percent of voters indicated the need for a national commitment to ensure that every child has a place in an after-school program (JCPenney After school Web Site).

There are many available programs, both locally and nationally sponsored. Many of these programs are very affordable for youth and teens. These programs are government funded or receive grants and donations that help keep membership costs minimal.

Some of the most recognized include:

YMCA
Boys and Girls Club
Girls, Inc.
Youth and Family Services
Boy & Girl Scouts of America
4H Club

Well known organizations like the YMCA and Scouts give kids the opportunity to learn while having fun at the same time. Other organizations provide tutors for help with school work. A program like Girls, Inc. educate and encourage girls to rise beyond expectations.

Another alternative is athletics that are provided through the school. A student can spend quality time learning about teamwork and fundamentals, as well as, receiving a healthy physical workout. However, the cost of sports can be a little more expensive, so it’s important to find out what equipment is provided and what costs you will be expected to pay.

Music lessons are another way for your child to enrich their minds while spending time with a supervising adult. If your child is interested you may find affordable or donated instruments. Many schools and communities will have an instrument drive. They will collect unused instruments and give students who may not be able to afford them an opportunity to learn music.

There are many questions that need to be asked when choosing the right program for your child. It is important to research more than one facility, and to ask questions.

First off, you will want to discuss with your child what they would like to do when they are done with the school day. This will help narrow down some of the choices.

While touring a facility be aware of the surroundings:

Is it safe and clean?

Do the children appear happy?

Is the staff attentive and cheerful?

Is there a good staff/child ratio?

Are the activities captivating the children’s attention?

Whether you choose education, recreation, or just plain observation a place for your child to go after school will have a positive effect on them and leave troublesome temptation in the streets.



 
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