Importance of having a "will"

Like the saying goes, there are only two sure things in the world, death and taxes, and since we covered taxes back in April…

Planning your estate, for when you pass on, is a sensitive subject but is of great importance. There are responsibilities you must take to insure that when you are gone, your affairs will be handled to your liking. A “will” is an important legal testament for you after your death. Without a “will” you are considered “intestate,” and the government determines the fate of your estate. A “will” can also avoid any family quarrels that may arise from the state dispersing the estate.

Many attorneys handle estate planning and “will” writing for a nominal cost. Ask questions, as each case is different per individual. It’s important to update your "will" with any new children, marriages, property, or assets you acquire throughout the years.

If you have a spouse it is a good idea to work on your “wills” together. Consider the chance that if the both of you were to die, who would be guardian of your children. Confirm that they are dedicated to take on that responsibility if needed. Don’t feel obligated to choose a family member, just someone you trust.

Your “will” should include personal property and to whom you want to give it to. List guardians of any minor children you have. It should also include the “will’s” Executor and Trustee.

Even if you and your spouse have joint ownership, it is still important for both of you to have a “will”. Some assets cannot be handled through joint ownership. And again, if in the unfortunate incident that both you and your spouse died together, it would make it easier to disperse your property accordingly.

Keep a copy of your “will” in a place that is easily accessible. The original will be kept in the office where it was drafted. A safe deposit box is generally NOT the best place to keep your “will”, as it may require a court order to obtain it.

Many people today also choose to have a “living will”. This includes your medical preferences if something were to happen to you and you were left in a comatose or vegetative state.

Though uncomfortable, your “will” is your peace-of-mind when you leave this earth.

Top 10 Reasons to make a "will"

  1. Make the most difficult time for loved ones easier.
  2. Name who takes care of your children.
  3. Prevent bitter family battles.
  4. Simplfy the legal process.
  5. Name who gets your assests.
  6. Prevent confusion.
  7. Protect the family home or business.
  8. Minimize legal costs.
  9. Elimanate cost for administrator bond.
  10. Gives consideration to your personal choices.



Summer Energy Savings

Though the summer may be over soon, August can be the hottest month on record for most of the country. With excessive heat comes excessive use of your utilities. Constant use of air conditioners and sprinklers hurt the environment and your pocketbook. There are many ways you can conserve water and energy throughout your home.

In time of extreme heat, water can be a short commodity. Droughts cause many communities to put restrictions and limitations on water use. These actions need to make us think of ways to best conserve our water supply.

Start in the bathroom. Take shorter showers. The normal shower lasts between 8-10 minutes and uses roughly 18 gallons. A shower that lasts 3-4 minutes will use 7.5 gallons of water. Instead of standing out of the flow of water while soaping and shampooing simply turn the water off.

Older toilets (installed prior to 1994) use more water than newer ones. Replacing an old toilet with a new model can save a typical household 7,900 to 21,700 gallons of water per year. If you can’t replace your toilet, conserve water with an older toilet by filling a 1 gallon milk jug with water and placing it in the tank to displace the tank water.

Check for leaks that can also cause a waste of water. Avoid using harsh toilet bowl cleaners or tank tablets. They can damage plastic and rubber parts that could lead to leaks.

In the laundry room you can use your washing machine more effectively. Operate the washer with full loads; it is the most efficient way to wash clothes. Set your water volume setting to the minimum amount required per load. Check the washer hose for cracks that could cause costly leaks. Wash loads in cold water to save energy and lower your energy utility bill.

Use these tips when water restrictions are taking a toll on your lawn and garden. Maintain a lawn height of 2.5 to 3 inches. This protects the roots from heat stress and loss of moisture through evaporation. Collect rain in a large container and use it to irrigate your garden. You could also collect unused water during a shower. Choose plants that grow strong roots and can tolerate the heat.

You have to stay cool from the outside heat, which usually means running your air conditioner full blast for the better part of the day. A central or room air conditioner that is more than 10 years old could cost you double to cool your house.

Turn the lights off, this saves you energy and reduces unnecessary heat. Clean or replace your A/C filter to make sure it is running efficiently. Keep the house closed up during the daytime heat and open the windows with cooler evening temperatures. Using the oven can quickly warm a cool house, so use the microwave when possible.

Doing this will save you money in your pocket plus you will be earth conscious which benefits everyone.



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Harmful Money Decisions...

Owning a home can be the most rewarding experience in a person’s life. It will be the largest purchase that most of us make. It is important that you are ready and able to financially support such responsibilities. Stretching your budget to afford a home can be one of the worst decisions you can make.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I have friends whose house payment is the same or even less than what I’m paying to live in this tiny apartment.” The house payment itself is just a portion of what it costs to be a homeowner.

There are many extra costs that are needed before even moving into a home. A down payment can range anywhere between 3% and 20% of the total cost of the home. Closing costs can include, title insurance, appraising fees, financing costs, document preparation fees. They range from 3%-6% and are different in each situation. An example could be a person buying a home for $100,000 with a down payment of 5% ($5,000) is likely to pay between $2,850 and $4,750 in closing costs.

Today there are many tools available that will help you determine the amount you can afford for the purchase of a home. You can make an appointment with a bank that deals with mortgages or can go online to find information. Mortgage calculators will take your information to figure your price range.

Generally, the cost of your mortgage should be no greater than 28% of your income. Your mortgage payment plus other debt payments (credit cards, car loans, student loans, etc.) should not exceed 36% of your total income.

After you decide if you can afford the house payment ask yourself, “If something were to go wrong, would I be able to afford it?”

There are many other cost factors that come with being a homeowner. No more calling the landlord cause the toilet is leaking or the disposal is broke. You are responsible for all upkeep such as roofing, landscaping, plumbing, and carpeting just to name a few. Whether you do the jobs yourself or hire someone, it’s extra money that has to come from your pocket.

Also consider having to purchase expensive items including a washer and dryer, lawn mower, refrigerator, or other major appliances. You may need to replace the water heater, air conditioning unit, or repave the driveway.

You are now responsible for all utility bills. Such bills include electricity, gas, cable, phone, and internet. Trash, recycling, water and sewage are all required and included in your monthly bills. Real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance can be paid monthly or annually. Before you know it your monthly house payment just got a lot larger. Ask friends or family who have recently bought a home. Have them estimate their closing costs and monthly costs and repairs. Avoid asking anyone who has not bought a home in recent years, as rates are probably different now. Use these only as an estimate to give you a general idea of monthly costs. These are just a few of the things worth considering before committing to the purchase of a home.

Another consideration is to determine how long you plan on being in the home or area. Do you have a job that may require you to move? Selling a home can be a tedious process and you don’t have the freedom of just walking away from it. If you have any concerns about your job security or relocation you may want to continue renting.

If you have to stretch to make your house payment, you might end up behind on your other bills. This will lead to high interest rates and fees, making it harder than ever to get caught up. Late or missing payments on your mortgage can have a damaging effect to your credit and can lead to the loss of the home. Losing a home can jeopardize your chance of ever owning one again.

Having to stretch each month to come up with your mortgage payment can be stressful. It is better to wait until you can comfortably make your payment and still have funds to cover any unforeseen repairs or everyday maintenance of your house. When you are ready, invest your time and energy to finding the best situation for you.



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School Year Savings

Don’t worry parents, the sound of school bells will soon be ringing again, and your children will be leaving the pool and heading back to school. Preparing for the upcoming school year can be a financially stressful time.  The costs of school materials and clothes add up fast and also seem to be in short supply.

There are many ways you can save on the cost of the upcoming school year.

Shop around.  Generally a week or so before school starts stores will have back-to-school savings on all supplies.  This is a good time to stock up on supplies that will be used the year round.  Many times these prices only come but once a year.  Buy a storage container that you can fill with your stock of supplies.  During the year if supplies go on sale you can purchase at a low price and add to your supply container. 

Also consider storing craft items such as glue, glitter, posterboard, and construction paper.  This may prevent a late-night run to the store for a project that is due the next day.

Start with the necessities, paper, pens, notebook paper, and folders.  Next, wait until your child brings home the teacher’s list of materials specific for their class.  This saves you from buying materials your child may not even need.

Just because a notebook made it through a whole year doesn’t mean you can toss it out.  Go through used notebooks and tear out any blank pages that could be used as loose-leaf paper.  If there are not a lot of used pages, tear out the pages that have material on it and keep the blank pages intact. 

Save and use old pencils, colors, and folders.  Your kids will survive if they don’t have the latest “gel-cushion” pen, or cartoon themed pencils.  You can get rid of any that are too short or uncomfortable for your child to use.

Save promotional supplies that business’ hand out at home or trade shows.  Parades and fairs also can be a source for free supplies.  Even around election time free pens and pencils are just waiting to be given out by candidates and political parties.

Some schools have student stores where your child can earn school money for good grades or behavior and then they can use that money to buy pens, pencils, and folders.

Buy the large bottle of glue and fill smaller bottles with it throughout the year.  Colored glue can be great for projects.  Instead of buying the expensive glue, use a little food coloring and mix it yourself.

Use brown paper sacks for book covers.  This way kids can decorate them any way they wish and it can save you from having to pay fees at the end of the year for any damage the book might sustain.

Many schools have programs that provide school supplies for families who simply can not afford them.  A personal meeting with the school or teacher can provide you with more information.

Backpacks can be the most costly single item you buy for your child.  It’s best to purchase one that you know will last the school year.  Garage sales after the previous school year is a good place to find a bargain back pack.  Allow your child to have some say in this purchase.  It’s not worth buying a cheaper backpack if it’s not going to carry the load or is uncomfortable to carry.

Other ways to save money during the school year is to setup a carpool.  Get together with a small group of parents in your neighborhood and work on a schedule taking turns driving your kids to school.  This saves you the cost of busing a student and you don’t have the responsibility of driving everyday.

Clothes can be a nightmare when it comes to kids.  You would be surprised by the quality you can find at thrift stores.  Buying clothes at the end of seasons will save you money.  If you find a great deal on an item buy an extra in a size up.  Shop online, many retailers have great deals only available through their website.  Just make sure to include the price of shipping.

Hand-me-downs are convenient and inexpensive.  If one child refuses to wear their sibling’s clothes ask family and friends with children who may have outgrown their own clothes.  This way they can still have stylish clothes without the mark-up of store prices.

We wish all students and parents good luck this school year.

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Fair Time

The fair is just around the corner and there is no better way to spend some time with your kids and enjoy an affordable day.  Rides, cotton candy, admissions, they can all add up, but there are ways that you can enjoy and still save money.

Check out the fair schedule.  There you will find information on events and specific days that have special offers.  Many local sponsors offer coupons for discounted admissions or midway rides.  Once you get through gate admission, the fair is loaded with free entertainment, as well as, educational events.  Most events for children are free and can range from sand castle building, bubblegum blowing contest, water balloon toss, and pumpkin decorating.  The fair is also a chance to see local artists and photographers showcasing their work. Your kids can also learn about the importance of agriculture or perhaps how static electricity works.

Here are a few ways to save on admission and rides.

Buy tickets in advance: Many fair offices are open year round and give discounts for advance purchase of tickets.  You can also check online to see if advanced tickets can be purchased.

Wait for days with a substantial family discount: Many midways will have a 2 for 1 day, or an unlimited ride wristband.  These are good if you have more than one child or an older child that plans on spending all day on the rides.

Pick up sponsor coupons:  Sponsors will give away coupons for free or with a small purchase at locations outside of the fairgrounds.

Attend during the day:  The midway can be packed at night with older kids.  Going in the day will give you more time to ride and less time waiting in line.

Limit the amount of snacks bought at the fair:  Too many tasty treats can empty a wallet fast.

Don’t spend money on carnival games:  Many of the prizes you can find cheaper in a store and any of the big prizes are attached to the games with the lower odds of winning.

Some of these tips will help you and your family enjoy the annual activities of your local fair.

To find a local fair near you click here.

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College Saving Tips

This fall you may have children starting college or returning for another semester. There are some easy tips and suggestions to help save your child from having to spend all that hard earned summer cash.

Buy books online or used. Used books are great and a lot of the time they come pre-highlighted. If you’re a returning student ask a friend who may have taken the class before you if you can buy it from them. Bookstores buy back books and return very little money. Offer to pay him a few bucks more than what the bookstore will give. You will still save a large amount. Just make sure that the class is not going to update versions of the book. (Bookstores will generally not buy back books if new books are going to be introduced the next semester.) If you have a close friend that is in the same class, share the book and schedule times when the each of you will use it.

It is crucial that you meet all Financial Aid deadlines and the information is correct. This will prevent headaches when it comes time to pay for the semester.

Take the time to fill out scholarship applications. The paperwork might seem intimidating but it will be well worth it if they are chosen. Even small amounts that they could receive will help. They can contact advisors or department chairs to find scholarship information.

A great way to save is with dorm furniture. It’s easy; hand-me-down furniture, garage sales, even thrift stores will provide adequate furniture for a college student. College furniture will go through a lot of wear and tear and there is no need to go buy something new. If you do decide to buy new furniture invest in a futon. They are reasonable priced and space efficient for cramped dorm rooms.

Contact any family or friends that have had a child recently graduate from college. Chances are, they are not going to need their mini-fridge, extra microwave, or worn recliner anymore.

Make sure your son or daughter gets a hold of their roommate before the semester begins. Discuss what each one will bring. This will avoid both of you going out and purchasing items that you won’t need two of. (TV, fridge, couch, microwave, stereo, phone, etc.)

Following a few of these tips will help ease some of the costs and prevent those desperate phone calls home for more money.

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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 (Afterschool Alert Poll Report, Afterschool 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 Afterschool 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:

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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