For many families the end of August/beginning of September is the start of a new year. I wish I were referring to the start of a new football season, but no I am referring to the start of a new school year.

We offer some of our favorite back to school shopping tips for kids and parents. We also cover some information for college bound students.

With it being the start of a new "year" it's also good time to take a look at some financial elements in your life. It may be a good time to adjust your budget to get ready for the busy fall.

For those whose kids are long out of school we have some tips about retirement and it's a great time to start or take a look at your situation if it's been awhile.


Summer is closing up shop, so it's back to school time. Here is some of our favorite money saving tips when it comes to back to school shopping.

The stores are going to help you out and have huge back to school savings. They will have big displays with bins full of school supplies. It's your job to find the best deals for your supply list. Check the weekly ads or hop online to find the store that has your supplies for the best price. If the savings are worth going from store to store to get the best deal on different items plan your trip accordingly. Shop at a store that offers price matching, and you won't have to burn up extra gas to get the good deals at other stores. When prices are really good you can buy some extra supplies and store them so they are available throughout the year. Storing craft items such as glue, glitter, poster board, and construction paper may prevent a late-night run to the store for a project that is due the next day.

It's a good idea to get a school supply list from the school, but to be hesitant on all supplies. Take advantage of sales and purchase all your basic supplies before the school year. Some supplies that are specific for each class you may want to wait to purchase until you can confirm that those supplies are actually needed. Some lists don't get updated and you don't want to buy supplies you won't use. You may even be able to contact the teacher before the school year and ask if the list you have is accurate.

A great way to generate some extra money for school shopping AND to find great deals on nicer clothes you should find your local consignment shop. Before buying any new clothes go through the kid's closets and get rid of any clothes that don't fit or that they won't wear anymore. You can take those clothes in and earn money when the items are sold. Consignment shops are also a great place to shop for clothes. Most consignment shops are more selective when it comes to accepting clothes, so they have higher end brands for lower prices.

Look for bargains on Thursday nights. Many department store sales run Thursday thru Sunday. Most of us who work Monday thru Friday save shopping for the weekends, meaning a Thursday night trip to a department store could yield big savings and plenty of options. By Sunday night all that remains are leftovers, as popular sizes and styles are the first to go.

Many states offer tax-free holidays around the start of the school year. Find out if your state has one planned; and if it does, be sure to take advantage of it. Shopping on the right day could take as much as 10% off of your back to school tab. This can be exceptionally beneficial for larger ticket items like a new computer. Search online to find out if your state participates and when the tax-free days are.

Buddy Up with a friend for bulk goods. Split the cost of a membership at a club store like Costco or Sam's. Hit the stores together and items like notebooks and crayons in bulk, which you can divide up between you. Even if you have three kids, you probably won't need a whole bulk pack of 20 notebooks. Going basic with supplies can be fun for kids too - they can personalize the cheap plain notebooks you buy in bulk over their summer breaks with fun magazine clippings, photos, stickers so they're unique and creative.

Don't forget to budget for additional costs throughout the school year. You may have a child that plays a sport, but it doesn't start until December and that's when you will need to pay for cost of equipment and fees. If you start budgeting now you don't have to come up with the money during the year when you might have other financial obligations.

Kids often need tools like glue, staples, markers and crayons to complete homework assignments. But buying a separate set of supplies for each child can get expensive, especially considering they'll probably never use them all up. Rather, set up one central homework station, and keep basic supplies there so that your children can easily access the materials they need, when they need them. While they're at their cheapest, load up on the basics, like notebooks, that will need to be replenished throughout the year.

Skip the fancy celebrity themed supplies. Let your kids decorate the more affordable regular folders, and notebooks themselves. If they do wish to buy extra supplies or more expensive endorsed supplies allow them to do so using their own money. They may find out fast that they would rather decorate the cheaper ones.



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It's never too late to start saving for retirement. Anything extra you can put away will help you in the long run. The hardest part may be finding a place to start.

The IRS offers you the following tips to help you take responsibility for your retirement.

Set a Goal - "I think I can save $25 a paycheck." It's easy to procrastinate so set up a "painless" payroll deduction for saving. It doesn't matter if the money goes into a 401(k) plan, an IRA or into a plain, old-fashioned savings account, just start saving. You can start with a small amount and increase it whenever your circumstances allow - like when you get a raise, your car payments end or you get a bonus. Pay yourself now, you'll thank yourself later.

Open an IRA - IRAs are easy to get, easy to contribute to and easy to save with. Most Americans can set up an IRA - whether it's a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA - and save on taxes. Find out more about IRAs from your bank or financial institution or the resources below.

Learn About Your Employer's Retirement Plan - If you are covered under your employer's retirement plan, your employer is required to give you a plain language explanation of the plan called a "summary plan description." It describes your rights under the retirement plan. To get a summary plan description, ask the plan administrator or your employer.

Review Your Individual Benefit Statement - Your individual benefit statement shows your total plan benefits and the amount that is vested, or fully owned by you. To get an individual benefit statement, ask your plan administrator or employer.

Sign Up for 2009 401(k) Contributions - If you are covered under a 401(k) plan, you may have to designate the amount of money you want taken out of your salary and contributed to your 401(k) account by the end of 2009. The 401(k) limit is $16,500 for 2009 ($22,000 if you are 50 or older in 2009).

Take Your Required Minimum Distributions - If you are 70-1/2, you are generally required to receive a required minimum amount from your qualified retirement plan or IRA by year-end.

Review Your Social Security Statement - The Social Security Administration likely sends you a Social Security Statement each year about three months before your birthday. This statement is your personal record of earnings on which you have paid Social Security taxes and a summary of estimated benefits you and your family may receive as result of those earnings. These benefits include retirement benefits and protection in case you become disabled or die before retirement age. For more information and to request a Social Security Statement, go to

Learn About Your Spouse's Retirement Plan - Many retirement plans provide benefits for spouses. For example, your spouse's plan may provide that you will receive an annuity unless you consent to distribution in another form. Before signing, read and understand any waiver or consent forms for your spouse's retirement plan distributions.




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We use our cell phones to stay in contact with family members more conveniently and with the school year approaching, parents and kids will be calling and texting each other in order to juggle busy schedules. Here are some tips to consider when it comes to cell phone costs.

You want to find a service provider that gives you the best coverage. There is no reason trying to save money on a cell phone if you can't get reception in your own house. You probably know people who carry different providers. Ask them what they like and dislike about their service and test their phones to make sure they work in your home or other places that you frequent.

It's a good idea to find out what carriers your friends and family have because many companies have a plan where you can call people with the same provider without using any of your minutes.

Once you choose a provider make sure you ignore the hard sales pitches for the best phones. You want to find an affordable plan not an expensive phone. Many cheaper phones have the functions that you need without all the extra fancy options.

Resist the urge to add extra fun things to your phone. The hottest new trend is to add extra applications to your phones. Games and tools can be fun but can add up fast.

There are plenty of different calling plans to choose from. If more than one person in your family has a phone or is planning on getting one, than you may want to look at the family packages. These can include discounts on phones or shared minutes. Some companies have plans for up to 5 family members.

Even if you are happy with your current phone plan make sure you take a look at your last phone bill. Are you being charged for things that you don't use? Are there charges on there that shouldn't be? Phone companies can and will make mistakes sometimes. They may also put add-ons without you knowing it. It is a good idea to review your bill and discuss any discrepancies with a customer service representative.

Text messaging has become more utilized than calling itself. Text messages can also cost you a lot per text unless you have a pre-paid allotment per month. If you or someone under your plan texts a lot than you need to find a package that fits the number of texts you make. It's a hard number to hit accurately. If you don't text enough you are wasting money on the package and if you text too much you will be billed for the extra charges. If text messaging is not for you make sure that you are not still being charged for a text message package that could be attached to your phone plan.

Avoid dialing 411 unless you really need to. 411 may be able to get you a number quickly but can cost you each time that you use it. Some companies charge $1.50 per use plus airtime. You can dial 1-800-free411 for the same service without there being any extra charges besides airtime.

Take advantage of free night and weekend minutes. If a friend calls you to chat ask them if you could call them back after your night minutes kick in. You don't have to schedule all of you calls for the evening but it's a good idea if you want to catch up with someone and you know you are going to be on the phone for a while. Of course, if you have mobile-to-mobile service than it doesn't matter when you talk to them.

Another popular option that is catching on is rollover minutes. How it works is any minutes that you haven't used for the month will rollover to next months bill. This is good if you find that your used cell phone minutes are not consistent from month to month.

There are also pre-paid cell phones or pay as you go services. These work well if you don't use a cell phone very often or would like to have one for emergencies or when you travel. Another benefit is that you do not have to sign extended contracts and don't have to worry about paying fees if you want to bail out of your contract.

If you have a cell phone with plenty of minutes you may want to cancel your land line. This can save you a few dollars each month. You would need to update anyone that you don't use that number anymore. A bonus is you wonÕt receive solicitation calls from telemarketers.

You might be surprised by the discounts you can find just by asking. Certain companies may offer discounts to teachers or students or any other occupation. You wonÕt know if there is a discount for you unless you ask.

If you have an old cell phone you are no longer using you may want to try and sell it. There are always people looking for a phone that they can buy cheaper used then buying a new one at the store. This may be an option for you as well if you donÕt need the latest trendy phone and just want one that works.

Never be afraid to ask for any discounts that they can offer you and pick a plan that is right for your situation. The more questions you ask the more you can be saving.


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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It's no secret the housing industry has had it's problems the last few years. Many homeowners are struggling to make their payments and are at risk of foreclosing on their mortgage. There is an option available that you may want to explore if you are experiencing these difficulties. The following is an introduction into Mortgage Modification.

A mortgage modification allows you to work with your lender to change the terms of your loan in order for you to afford the payments. This is different from refinancing. The government-sponsored program ÒMaking Home AffordableÓ requires certain eligibility requirements. Those are as follows:

1. The home needs to be your primary residence. You cannot apply the modification to any other properties besides the one you are currently living in. So people with vacation homes or investment properties cannot apply for a lower payment.
2. The amount owed should be either equal to or less than $729,750. This is to focus the program towards the middle class and those below. There is an assumption that those who own homes over $730,000 can downsize and be able to make payments.
3. You will need to have a genuine financial hardship that is causing you to not be able to make your payments. This program is not for everyone who wants lower his or her mortgage payment. You must have incurred some sort of hardship. The hardship also must be the reason you are unable to pay your mortgage. The hardship incurred must have originated from sources that you have no control over (aka; you can't just quit your job and claim that as a hardship. Though loss of employment is just fine as a hardship). You will have to provide a hardship letter explaining your situation.
4. Your mortgage loan should have been written before January 1, 2009.
5. The current payments exceed 31% of your gross monthly income. The reasoning behind this ratio is that the assistance program is only designed to help folks who are in over their heads and not those who have poor spending and or budgeting habits. Your mortgage payment if modified under the Making Home Affordable program will be set and targeted for 31% of your gross income. So if your current mortgage payment is calculated to be 28% of your monthly income then you are better off not applying and just setting up a forbearance agreement which is a fancy term for a repayment plan.

Some lenders may have different eligibility requirements in order to qualify and it's important to contact your lender to find out what those are.

Once you think you are eligible you will take the follow steps to apply:

1. Complete the Request Form (Request for Modification and Affidavit)
The Request Form provides information to your mortgage provider about your home and financial situation.
2. Complete the Tax Authorization Form. The Tax Form gives permission to your mortgage provider to request a copy of the most recent tax return you have filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
3. You will then want to gather your proof of income. Your mortgage provider is required to verify your income to ensure that the modified mortgage payments will be affordable for you. The type of documentation you need to provide depends on the source of your income.
4. Send all the documents to your Mortgage provider. Make sure all forms are complete and make a copy of each to keep for your own records.

If you are having problems understanding or filling out the forms there are HUD-approved counselors who can assist you in the process. You can find counselors at or by calling 1-888-995-HOPE (4673).






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If you have ever bounced a check you know of all the hassles it will cause. The bank hits you with a number of different fees and penalty charges, while the intended recipient of the check may black list you from making further payments by check.

When you have overdraft protection on your checking account your bank will cover a check that is written for more than what you have in your account. The money that will cover the check will come from a source that you set up. You can either choose a savings account, a credit card, or an open line of credit.

If you have a healthy savings account it may be a good idea to have overdraft protection coverage linked to it. If you write a check and your checking account can't cover it, then the bank will transfer enough money from your savings into your checking to cover the check. The bank may charge you a transfer fee but it will be cheaper than a returned check.

The most beneficial aspect of overdraft protection is that the recipient of the overdraft check never knows that the check you wrote them bounced. This can save you a lot of hassle and embarrassment. Many establishments will charge you a return fee on any checks that don't clear. So not only is your bank charging you with fees but the establishment will as well, which could lead to more problems if you have a limited checking account.

If you decide to get overdraft protection speak with someone from your banking institution. If you bank at more than one place than you may want to compare services and choose the best one for your exclusive checking needs. Here are some questions you may want to ask your banker about overdraft protection.

What charges come with your overdraft protection service?

Do you charge per overdraft incident or is there a monthly flat rate?

What source of funds does the overdraft protection come from? Some sources may reduce or eliminate extra fees, such as a savings account.

What is the interest rate? Accounts that have a credit card as the source of funds will have an interest rate. The card may have a higher interest rate to deter you from over-drafting.

Explain to them your preferences and they can recommend what your best options are and help you choose an overdraft protection plan that is best for you.

If you find yourself having to use overdraft protection to often then you may want to explore the reasons why you're spreading your checking account so thin.

First thing you will want to do is re-evaluate your budget. Where are you coming up short? Where are the places that you can cut back and adjust so you know that you are going to have enough funds to cover your checks?

The process of "floating" checks has become almost obsolete due to the fact that checks are being instantly processed and will reflect on your account a lot quicker. It is never a good idea to write a check if you are uncertain or know that there is not enough money in your account to cover it.

You may want to cushion your checking account by keeping an extra $100 or so in there. Then when you are balancing your checkbook do not include the extra $100. If your funds are running low and you accidentally write a check for over than the extra in your account can cover you until you are able to re-balance your checkbook.

If you have Internet access you may want to do more of your banking online. With daily statements and continual updates you can monitor your balances a lot better. Most banks do not charge for their online service and you may even save some money by doing more banking online.

You can even have updates sent to your cell phone. You want to check with both your bank and cell phone service on how to subscribe, and of course it costs extra money so you may not want to do it if it is too expensive.

With the popularity of check cards many people are only writing checks for bills. By paying over the phone or setting up automatic payments you don't have to worry about waiting for your checks to get processed and cashed.

Whether you use it or not, monitoring your daily spending and keeping track of all spending is the best way to ensure you donÕt get overdrawn.




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How to Spot Deceptive Private Student Loan Practices

If you are considering a private student loan, it's important to know whom you're doing business with and the terms of the loan. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) offer these tips to help you recognize questionable claims and practices related to private student loans.

Some private lenders and their marketers use names, seals, logos, or other representations similar to those of government agencies to create the false or misleading impression that they are part of or affiliated with the federal government and its student loan programs. ED does not send advertisements or mailers, or otherwise solicit consumers to borrow money. If you receive a student loan solicitation, it is not from ED.

DonÕt let promotions or incentives like gift cards, credit cards, and sweepstakes prizes divert you from assessing whether the key terms of the loan are reasonable.

DonÕt give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know with whom you are dealing. Private student lenders typically ask for your student account number Ñ often your Social Security number (SSN) or Personal Identification Number (PIN) Ñ saying they need it to help determine your eligibility. However, because scam artists who purport to be private student lenders can misuse this information, it is critical to provide it or other personal information only if you have confidence in the private student lender with whom you are dealing.

Check out the track record of particular private student lenders with your state Attorney General (, your local consumer protection agency (, and the Better Business Bureau (

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Even though every weekend and many weeknights have been occupied by some sort of activity the summer is going by without anything significant. So that leaves me with not much to talk about personally for once.

With only a month left before my wife returns to work as a teacher we are going to try and squeeze in as much quality time as possible. We've planned a nice short weekend close to home that allows us time to relax and has limited costs. We like to tighten up what we spend around this time of year because my wife doesn't receive paychecks in July and August. We plan accordingly throughout the year so there isn't much change in routine but it's not the time to overspend.

Our daughter will be turning four in August and I think we are going to try and tackle the task of having a kid's birthday party with family and friends from daycare. It's usually only family so we have to sit down and take a good look at what it's going to take (mentally and financially) to pull off a fun party for a bunch of pre-kindergartners.

My wife and I have also made it our priority this summer to really focus on our retirements and setting up some Roth IRA's that we can contribute to now and hopefully watch grow into a healthy amount. We have been trying to do this for some time now and it's nice to finally check it off the list.

The only other thing I can think of is that we are planning a kids-free vacation in November for a friends wedding in Vegas. We have our room and flights booked already and saved a bunch of money by booking early. Now we have a few months to put away some money here and there for spending money, which is great to have a weekend away with friends and to not have to take a loan out or use credit cards to pay for it.

Until next time, good luck and have fun.

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