Volume 3 Issue 1_____________________________________________________________________________________January 2006

Back to the Mall

Christmas is over, and yet the malls and stores are still packed. Many people will be taking back the extra DVD they received or the gray and purple-flowered sweater that doesn’t quite fit their taste. Maybe the new digital camera you got from Santa has a scratched lens. Whatever the reason you may find yourself waiting in line in order to return a holiday gift.

Just like holiday shopping, try to go to the stores during times when they are less busy. Try avoiding weekends and the long lines associated with them.

Most retailers have a reasonable return policy. It will be easier if you have a gift receipt and the item is in the original package. Many stores can still track the item for proof of purchase without a receipt. Many of them will be happy to replace any broken or malfunctioned items, or give you store credit for anything that you want to return.

If the item was purchased at a store that you do not have in the town you live, you may be able to still return the gift by going online and having the item returned to the store by mail. There can be a variety of fees associated with this though, so it may be easier and more affordable to make a small trip to return an item rather than counting on the return through the mail.

If you return an item that you bought with your credit card, then some stores may credit that amount back onto that credit card. This transaction could take awhile to show up on a statement.

Remember that the credit amount you get back for an item will be the same amount that it was purchased for. So if the item was on sale you cannot return it and get the money back for the higher original amount.

A good idea to help you with some items you may need around the house is to return the duplicate items and get store credit in return. Then use the store credit to purchase something that you need, or replace an item that may be worn out.

Do not feel bad if you need to return a gift. Most people realize that you may already have that item or maybe their taste doesn’t match yours, that’s why they include a gift receipt. Still thank them for the gift and let them know you appreciate their thoughtfulness during the holidays.

If you received gift cards as presents, you can also use them for items you may need. Do you have small amounts left over on your gift cards? Use them to stock up for the holidays in the upcoming year. Buy greeting cards, or take advantage of the holiday discounts and stock up on wrapping paper or decorations and store them until next Christmas. By using gift cards you will be spending none of your own money and will be saving on your holiday expenses for next year.




The cold and flu season is upon us. Many people will be out sick for work meaning a loss in production for your business and could be a loss in money from your paycheck. Prevention is the best defense against an office outbreak. Store bought medicines are expensive and a few home remedies can work just as well for many people.

The number one way to fight off a cold is to prevent from getting one in the first place. Surprisingly, this will not cost you a single penny. By washing your hands, getting plenty of sleep, and drinking plenty of fluids, your body will be strong and ready to attack any oncoming sickness. If you do get sick it is important to stay home and get rest. You will also prevent others from catching your cold. When you do start to feel symptoms of a cold or flu, try some of these home remedies, they may just work for you.


Sore Throat Gargle
1/2 teaspoon alum
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon sage
3/8 cup vinegar
1/8 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from heat; strain and cool. Gargle every 30 minutes until the sore throat is relieved.


Cough Syrup
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Sugar to cover

Put onion and garlic in a deep bowl. Cover with sugar, and let the mixture stand for at least 1 hour. A syrupy juice will result. For dislodging congestion, this homemade expectorant works better than many over-the-counter cough medicines.


Sweet Cough Syrup

1 lemon
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon glycerin

Cover the entire lemon with water in a small saucepan. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. While still hot, slice the lemon in half and squeeze all the juice into a bowl, removing seeds. Stir in the glycerin and honey. Store the syrup in a sterilized glass bottle, tightly capped, on a shelf. If the syrup becomes too cold, warm it slowly by setting the jar in a pan of warm water. The syrup will keep for up to 2 months.


To ease congestion, make sure the air in your home has enough humidity. Run a humidifier to avoid dry conditions that can lead to congestion and a dry cough. Humidifiers also help to keep your skin from drying out.

Drink peppermint tea. Inhale menthol and/or eucalyptus vapors by rubbing a salve that contains it under your nose. Drink a lot of fluids to literally water down the congestion.

Good old chicken noodle soup and other hot broths are great for soothing sore throats and colds.



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Beat O' Man Winter

The cold, harsh winds of winter are here with a vengeance. Proper winter maintenance for your car and house can save you hundreds of dollars in utility costs and unnecessary damages. Here are a few tips to help your vehicle and home make it through the punishment of Jack Frost.


You will first want to examine any insulation issues your house may have. After a significant snowfall, go outside and observe if the snow is melting rapidly off your roof. If it is, this could be a good sign that heat is escaping from your house through the roof and you may need to add more insulation to your attic. Another sign of heat loss through your roof is the rapid formation of icicles after a storm if the outside temperature has not risen.

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. You may also be able to do it yourself. For more information on insulation, please visit this helpful website at:

Check your roof for ice dams that can cause melted snow to build up and possibly leak through your roof. Break up any ice dams with a roof rake or a push broom.
You will want to examine your weather-stripping and replace any that is damaged or deteriorated. There are many types of weather-stripping to choose from based on what kind of doors and windows you have. Ask someone at the hardware store what would be best for your personal situation.

If you have crawlspace vents you may want to cover them with a sheet of plywood to prevent unnecessary cold air into your house.

Use a stick of incense to find air leaks. Turn off fans and make sure your furnace is not on. Hold incense next to common places for air leaks. If the smoke rises vertically there is no leak. If the smoke waivers there is probably a leak you will need to seal.

Covering your windows with plastic will help keep the heat in and save you money. There are many kits that are easy to install yourself.


Not only will proper vehicle maintenance save you money in the long run, it will also keep you safer on roads that find themselves less than exceptional. Getting in a car wreck due to negligence to your vehicle will cost a lot more compared to making the necessary adjustments beforehand.

It is a good idea to take your vehicle in for a full inspection. This will insure that all your belts are in good condition and that your vehicle’s fluids are full. Make sure your tires are inflated to the proper size for the best road handling conditions and gas preservation. Don’t forget to check your spare. If you live in an area that receives a lot of snow, you may choose to put winter or snow tires on your vehicle.

Make sure your vehicle has the appropriate amount of anti-freeze to prevent your car from locking up in the cold weather. You may also want to use a different type of oil for the winter months. A thinner oil with a lower viscosity will travel to the motor quicker making it easier to start your car in freezing conditions.

It is important that your battery is free of corrosion and thoroughly cleaned. Corrosion will rob your battery of the amps required to start your vehicle. You can do this easily with a little baking soda. Make sure to wear gloves and protective eye wear when dealing with your battery due to the corrosive acids involved. Mix the baking soda with water and use an old toothbrush to scrub the battery terminals. Rinse them with clean water and dry. Remove cables from terminals and clean the inside of the cable clamps and then wipe dry.

Windshield wipers are essential during all parts of a winter season; from the ice storms, to the blowing snow, and the muddy, spring slush. It is important to check your wipers and replace them if they are old. You can also purchase winter wipers that are more heavy duty and do not build up snow and ice on the wiper. Also, make sure your windshield wiper fluid is full and that it is the kind that does not freeze. Remove snow and ice from the spouts where your fluid comes out.

These tips will help prevent you from being stranded on the road or having to take your vehicle into the shop due to the weather or a wreck.



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Home refinance can benefit some homeowners who may have bought their home when interest rates were high. Refinancing, however, is not for every homeowner. We will present some of the pros and cons of refinancing your mortgage.

People choose to refinance for many reasons:
Lower their interest rates; that means a lower monthly payment and overall cost of the home.
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 to a fixed-rate mortgage.

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.

Consult with different lenders for your refinancing. Start with the lender that gave you the original mortgage, but continue to check around. 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.

If you refinance for more than 80% of the home’s value, you will be required to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which will add to the amount of your monthly payment.
Here are a few reasons why refinancing may not be a good idea for you. If you have already been paying on your mortgage for at least 20 years, you may get a lower interest rate but you are extending the loan for another 20-30 years instead of having it paid off within a few years.

If you have a poor credit history you could actually be approved for higher rates than the ones you are currently paying.

You should not refinance to use the equity built into your home to help pay off unsecured debt. You are taking unsecured debt and turning it into secured debt with your home as collateral. Any future problems paying those debts could put you at risk of losing your home.

Here are a few things that may help you decide if refinancing is right for you. A good rule of thumb is that it is worth it to refinance if you can get at least two percentage points lower than the rate you are currently paying. You still may consider refinancing even if the rates are less than two percent. Everyone’s situation is different and you may find that there are benefits for refinancing with rates around one percent better, or vice versa, two percent may not benefit you.

Refinancing is only worth it if you plan on staying in the house long enough to make up the expenses paid up-front. Basically, refinancing will help you in the long run and if you move out shortly afterwards you are not saving any money.

When deciding whether to refinance or not it is best to look at the bottom line. Figure out your current payment schedule and costs. Then figure out every cost that comes with refinancing and find out how long it will take to recover the costs.

Here are a few other times when you should consider refinancing. When the current housing market is unsteady, causing fluctuating interest rates, you may want to refinance into a fixed-rate mortgage if you have an adjustable rate mortgage.

If you switch to a mortgage loan with a shorter term, you can build more equity and pay off your home faster, however your monthly payments will increase. This will save you money in the long run by reducing the finance charges and interest, but you will want to make sure you could comfortably afford the increase in monthly payments. There is no need to stretch your monthly budget if you don’t have to.

For more information:

November 2004 Pioneer Pilot-page 4
Mortgage information

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This is a new feature for the Pioneer Pilot. It is going to be a little financial journal featuring myself. I felt that by using real life examples, it may help some people out there. I can’t promise that it will always be exciting, but hopefully we can both learn by example.

Let me catch you up on things. My name is Nate and I am a 25-year-old college graduate, who was recently married. I am learning to use a budget and applying some of the ideas we have shared in the Pilot.

My wife and I have student loans, a car payment, rent, and we are trying to save up to buy our first home. We are also trying to plan when to have children.

My wife has impeccable credit, while mine on the other hand has had its share of problems. I, like many college students, had a credit card that I did not understand. I started out only using it for gas, then I ran out of money. I had a vehicle break down and I would talk myself into buying unnecessary things, all the time thinking that I would worry about it later.

I began to neglect my payments because I didn’t have the money when I used the card, and I sure didn’t have it at the beginning of each month. Along with being a full-time student, I worked 30 hours a week and spent the other time studying or hanging out with friends. It didn’t take long before the credit card company caught up with me and were calling me everyday. Like many people, I ignored the calls, told my roommates to tell them I didn’t live there or I was dead, and so on. When I finally did talk to them, I would send them a couple hundred dollars that would cover the fees and charges. That kept them happy for a few weeks until they would call back. Long story short, I did this until I graduated, the whole time throwing hundreds of dollars away on interest and late fees.

I owed roughly $4,000 in credit card debt and did not really know what I had actually spent that much money on. Not very responsible, and the thing is, no one felt sorry for me because it was my doing. I used to say that “I HAD to get gas for my car, I HAD to buy groceries.” I did have to do those things, I just went about paying for them the wrong way. Instead of budgeting the money I was making or obtaining through student loans, I spent it and when things got tight, I used the credit card to buy some essentials. Now I have the power of knowledge and education and I am dedicated to working on my budget and repairing my credit.

The first step I took was enrolling in a Debt Management Plan and taking educational classes to teach me financial responsibility.

I find it ironic that I am now a writer for a financial education newsletter. But it shows that anyone can make changes that will help them. I will tell you what, it is hard work, you are not going to change your habits overnight. There are still plenty of bad habits that I need to control in order to make the right choices financially.

So in fairness to all, I will take the ride with you; sharing my thoughts and experiences, my failures, and my successes.

I thank you for your time and I look forward to sharing with you in the near future.


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Snow Painting
Kids love this. You can paint cool pictures, clothes on snowmen, or just lines and markers for your snowball fights!

What you need:
Water bottles with squirt tops
Food coloring (a few colors)

Fill each bottle with water and a different color of the food coloring. Shake it up, and head outside to the snow! Use the spray bottles to make any sort of cool pictures or designs. Use your imagination! And don't forget to take real pictures of your creations, because they'll melt.

Indoor Snowball Fight
Large sheets of tissue paper, one for every child
A bucket for each team
Masking Tape

How To Play: Divide the children into two teams. The first person on each team gets a piece of tissue paper and crumples it into a ball using one hand (this keeps them soft). Separate the two teams and tape a line on the floor. Set a time for 2-3 minutes. Yell, "GO"! Each team throws their tissue paper snowballs back and forth across the lines. When the timer goes off, the team with the least amount of snowballs on their side wins.

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Be Prepared

A job loss can be one of the most challenging and difficult times in your life. In the past couple of years the economy and job market has been like a rollercoaster, jobs will be on the rise for some, while other companies plan major lay-offs. The current unemployment rate in the U.S. is a steady 5%. An unexpected job loss can happen to anyone at anytime and affects the whole country.

When you have lost your job, the first thing you should do is register for unemployment insurance. This will help when it comes time to pay the bills. You must have been working for the past 12 to 18 months to qualify. The amount you collect will vary from state to state and will be based on your previous wages. You must also meet the “minimum earnings” requirements set by the state. Most states allow you to collect unemployment for up to 6 months. During those 6 months you must actively look for work, and be available to work. You also may be required to show proof of active job searching. Save any letters you receive from possible employers.

Many unemployment services will assist you in finding a job when you register. Based on your background skills and qualifications, they will try and match you up with job opportunities that reflect your skills. You should also register at your local Job Corp or Career Service Center to help with finding you a job. Refer to the October issue of the Pioneer Pilot for helpful information on résumés and cover letters.

While you are looking for a job, make sure to keep track of all your expenses. Save receipts from postage, fax and copy services, supplies, and travel expenses. Many of these are tax deductible, if you are looking for a job similar to your previous one.

Your savings account can be very important when it comes to a job loss. We cannot stress enough how vital it is to try and save money for when situations like these occur. Even a month’s worth of expenses can buy you time to look for another job.

In many cases there have been companies that have announced lay offs of many employees. The benefit is that this news usually comes up a few months before the actual job-cuts. If you are part of a company planning on cutting jobs, dedicate yourself right away to looking for another job. You may not be one of the unfortunate people that do get let go, but do not take the chance and wait to find out.

It is also during that time that you need to tighten up your finances. Make as many cuts as you can and contact your creditors. Explain the situation to them and they may have assistance or deferral programs that will help you until you have secured income again.

Make sure you look into health insurance. Look into the COBRA (The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) program. This law allows those separated from their jobs to purchase health insurance at a group rate for a limited time. You cannot afford to go without insurance. Any health issue or injury will hurt your savings even more.

If you experience a job loss it can be very overwhelming and uncertain. It is important that you do not panic, because looking for another job and knowing how to best handle the situation will require a clear mind and a lot of work. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it may be a good idea to take a few days off to gather your thoughts, as well as, information to go on a job search. Remember, you should treat looking for a job as a full-time job. You need to get up early in the morning and get as much done as you can for the best results in landing your next job.

It is important to stay positive and get rid of any bitterness or self-pity that you may carry with you to future job interviews. So hold your head high and (pardon the cliché) get back on your horse, for tomorrow is another day.


Online Resources

Department of Labor -
Job Corp -
USA Jobs -
Career Builder -
Monster Jobs -
For more information on job searches -
October 2005 Pioneer Pilot -'05HTML.htm

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Are you tired of lugging a jar full of change to the bank every few months so you can cash out what’s left after buying your morning coffee?

Now you can let the bank do all the work for you, while your change gains interest. There is a new feature at Bank of America that will round up all the purchases made with your debit card. They then put the change into a savings account for you. For example, if you go to the gas station and buy a coffee and donut totaling $2.23, your card will be charged $3.00 and the remaining .77 cents will be put into the savings account. There may be more banks that start offering this in the future.

Another company is It is the size of a standard credit card that will take the amount of your change and is credited to your card. You can sign up over the phone or by Internet and then receive your card and pin number. You can then take your card to a location that provides Piggy Card services, insert the card, and withdraw your money. The amount needs to be at least $10 before you can withdraw it and Piggy Card charges 10 cents on every dollar of the total amount.

Bank of America’s service is helping you save and earn a little interest at the same time. It is a good start for people who have had a hard time learning to save. Piggy Card works more as a convenience to retailers and consumers by eliminating distribution of “pocket change”, but does not really offer any savings incentives.

It is important to be cautious and review all the details of this savings plan before agreeing to sign up. If you forget to balance your checkbook accordingly, then you can accumulate bounced check fees and not be saving yourself anything.

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