Volume 3 Issue 7______________________________________________________________________July 2006


With the ever-present gas situation we thought we would take a look at one of the alternative fuel sources that is being introduced. You may be surprised that your vehicle may even be able to use a different fuel source than you thought.

A popular alternative that is increasing in availability across the country is the use of ethanol-blended fuels. Ethanol is a domestic-made renewable fuel source that is mostly made from corn. It can also be produced from wheat, potatoes, barley, and sugar cane. Some believe that it will help reduce our dependency on foreign oil, which is the cause of many recent debates. Ethanol is environment friendly as it reduces harmful emissions into the air.

Currently, there is a blend called E85, since it is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. Not everyone can use this blend in his or her vehicles though. Only flexible-fuel vehicles can use the E85 blend. If you have recently bought a new vehicle it may be a flex fuel vehicle and you did not even know it. You will want to read your owner’s manual before you think about using E85.

Less than 1% of gas stations have E85 available. Many stations that have E85 available are in the Midwest (Minnesota has the most) where a lot of the ethanol is produced. This number is increasing as E85’s lower price has gained consumer’s interest.

There is also a 10% ethanol blend that is available and can be used in more vehicles. You will still want to check your owner’s manual to find out the required fuel for your vehicle.

Ethanol blends of fuel also improve the performance of your vehicle by raising its octane rating. Some of the downside to ethanol is that it uses a lot of energy to produce. You would need a considerably large amount of resources to produce enough fuel for us to be independent. It also burns faster than other fuels. This means filling up more frequently, and some worry if production can keep up with demand.

Car manufacturers may gripe because of the extra costs to produce flex-fuel vehicles. These extra costs will be added to the sticker price of the vehicle. The cost however is minimal and should not have any dramatic effect on vehicle prices.

Even though ethanol is not the end all answer to our gas problems, it is a good start in the right direction for finding ways for us to reduce our dependence on foreign oils and control the madness of escalating prices.



We would all like to be in the best shape possible, but unfortunately time and money can prevent us from staying fit. Not all of us can afford to spend money on health club memberships, and even if we could it’s hard to find the extra time to go there. Here are some tips and exercises that you can do around your house that will help you keep in shape.

Just 20 minutes a day will leave you with more energy and in better condition to tackle the day’s events. There are many benefits that come with working out at home. You don’t have to feel intimidated by other members of the gym, or have to wait to use equipment.

You do not have to dedicate as much time when you work out at home, you can do exercises between other chores or activities. Between travel and wait time at the gym you can waste up to an hour of your day.

You don’t have to worry about sweaty germs from sharing equipment. You can also listen or watch whatever you want when you work out at home.

You can purchase cheap videos or DVDs for a home workout. You can also record a program from TV and replay it whenever you wish. Some libraries may also contain videos that you can rent for free.

The best motivation is to recruit others to join you in getting fit. This way you can share resources and tips with each other. If you have fitness videos you can trade off with a friend.

Some of the best exercises do not require any sort of equipment. Simple push-ups and ab crunches are the most popular exercises you can do for free.

Use things from around your house as weights. Plastic milk cartons filled with sand are a great substitute for dumbbells. Metal clotheslines can be used as chin-up bars.

There are many exercises you can do with a plain chair; dips and elevated push-ups, and with light weights you can do tricep presses and shoulder raises.

Why spend money on a treadmill or exercise bike? Take a walk or a nice enjoyable bike ride outside. You are saving yourself a tremendous amount of space and money, and the fresh air is that much more healthy for you.

Workout while you do housework. Try doing lunges the next time you vacuum. It may sound and even look silly, but how many people do you invite over to watch you vacuum, might as well kill two birds with one stone. If you are carrying groceries into the house do a couple of arm curls with the bags for a quick biceps workout.

Simple stretches can be just as beneficial to health as lifting weights or doing aerobics. You can do a series of stretches while you are watching T.V. or paying bills.

If you want to add to your home gym with a couple of weights or other equipment than keep an eye on the classified ads. Things like barbells and weight benches can come cheaply and don’t wear easily.

If you are looking for more complex equipment make sure to inspect it to make sure it functions properly. There is no use buying a large exercise unit if it doesn’t work or looks like it may soon break.

When it comes to exercise and weight training it is important to contact your physician to find if you may have any limitations. You will also want to consult with someone who can show you proper techniques to prevent you from injuries.




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Investing in Education

It's never too early to start saving for your children’s education. 529 College Plans are ways for parents to start saving now to help ease the financial burden that can come with a college education.

Each state sponsors its own 529 College Plan. Parents open an account with investment options. The earnings are tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free when your child is ready to attend college. The money can be used to pay for tuition, books, and room and board. There are two general types of plans, Prepaid and Savings.

A 529 Prepaid Plan allows you to lock in the rates of today. Your investment will grow at the same rate as tuition increases. This means that you pay the cost of a year of school at today's price and when your child goes to college in the future your money will equal a year of school for that year. This is a good plan if you are worried that the increasing rise in tuition will prevent you from helping fund your child’s education. Prepaid Plans work best if your child is planning on attending an in-state college. If they choose a private or out of state school you may have to cover the difference of cost.

A 529 Savings Plan contains a little more risk than a Prepaid Plan. A Savings Plan is based on market investments. So depending on the strength of your investments you can either hit big returns or be left short of your needs for college tuition. Many plans start with aggressive investing while the child is at a younger age and as the child gets closer to attending college the investments will be more conservative. Some people may not want to risk their child’s future on investments. It’s important to be comfortable with your investment options and to back out if you feel that they are too high-risk.

If your child decides that they are not going to attend college then you do have some options for the money you have already invested. You can hang on to the plan incase your child changes their mind and decides to attend college. You may also transfer it to another member of the family. Some fees may apply depending on your individual circumstances though.

You can also cash out the earnings for a fee. The earnings will be penalized twice though, once by the state (usually 10%) and again federally (an additional 10%). There are exceptions to the penalties if the beneficiary has died or become disabled, or if the beneficiary has received scholarships for school.

You can choose a 529 Plan in any state but it may pay to explore your own state’s options. You may be saving yourself from fees and allowing yourself certain benefits if you choose an in-state 529 Plan.

There are some disadvantages when it comes to a 529 Plan. If you are in a lower income and can expect to receive financial aid, then a 529 Plan is probably not a good choice for you. A 529 Plan will reduce the amount of financial aid that you will qualify for. There is a lot of financial aid available that has better financial benefits than a 529 Plan.

You will also want to consider fees that are associated with maintenance of your investment accounts. Unless you know your way around investments, you will have to hire a professional to take care of everything for you, and obviously they will charge you a fee. Sometimes fees can eat up all of your earnings, which make it obsolete to invest in the first place. It is best to look for a 529 Plan that has annual expenses of less than 1%

It is important that you research 529 Plans thoroughly as each state has different obligations. There are also many details involved with investing that you need to consult a professional for. You may find that you have the ability and resources to use a 529 College Plan to help secure an educational future for your child.


Here are some websites that have more information on 529 Plans.



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Do you get a thrill every time you come home from the mall with bags full of bargains? Have you ever bought more than one pair of shoes at a time and then only worn each pair a couple of times? How many things have you bought lately that you could go without? If any of this sounds familiar than you may be a shopaholic.

In today’s society it’s hard not to want to buy all the best new clothes, gadgets, and gizmos. We are bombarded daily with advertising and channels dedicated to the lifestyles of celebrities. However, that uncontrolled urge to shop can have negative effects on your job, family, and obviously your finances.

These are some of the warning signs to watch for in your spending habits.

Shopping emotionally- Meaning that you go shopping because you are angry, depressed, lonely, guilty, or even happy. Many people will feel guilty if they have over shopped, but will continue to shop to make themselves feel better only to feel the guilt again afterwards. This emotional cycle can continue to deteriorate your finances.

You may feel euphoric or excited while spending. This feeling is related to those who have addictions to other challenging activities.

If you have items that have not been used or still have tags on them, you may be spending for the sake of spending itself- You are not fulfilling a necessity, but rather for the feeling it brings you.

Buying in quantities that exceed your initial intentions- If you set out to buy a pair of new shoes but come home with 3 or 4 new pairs.

Abuse of Credit Cards- Using credit cards for purchases not knowing if you will be able to pay them off during the next billing cycle.

Lying about your purchases- If you lie about how much an item cost or even hide the purchase completely from your significant other.

Not having enough money to cover your monthly bills or savings- Having to cutback on groceries or other necessities due to shopping or not having any money in your savings account for emergencies.

If there are strains in your relationship or fighting over reckless spending- If your partner has expressed their displeasure with your spending habits, but you continue to over-spend.

If you do not understand where your money has gone for the month- Many people make a very good income and still find themselves in large amounts of debt. You may be living in a lifestyle that does not match your income.

If you feel that you may be a compulsive spender, it is important to seek help to control your spending. There are programs like Debtors Anonymous that have 12-step programs that will assist and support your efforts.

If your finances have suffered due to a spending problem, it is a good idea to contact a credit counselor to help you deal with creditors and educate you on financial responsibility and the steps needed to repair your credit.

There are some things that you can do to help break your habit. First you can get rid of your credit cards. By taking away the tool of temptation it will make it harder to make the purchase. Don’t shop by yourself or with someone else who may be a compulsive shopper. If you must go to the mall, go with someone you consider financially responsible and will help you avoid any urges.

Try finding a new hobby. Find an activity that can take up the time you previously spent shopping. Just make sure your new hobby doesn’t cost a lot of money or requires you to purchase a bunch of tools or equipment to get started.

There is not a lot of focus on the problems of compulsive shopping. It is often used as classic sitcom material as a spousal argument good for a laugh or two. Some may say our government has a spending addiction; we’re only a few Trillion in debt. So it is no surprise that there is little attention focused on compulsive spending. The fact is that it has and still is causing many people agony and financial distress. It is important to get out of that rut and start the recovery to financial responsibility.

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2006 where have you gone? You are already halfway over.

I know I have mentioned this before but a quick note on Doing-It-Yourself. I have spent a couple of weekends and a few cool evenings trying to paint the nursery. I have painted a ton of times in the past and have spent a summer painting decks and houses. I thought this little 8x10 room would be no problem. It is quickly becoming frustrating because of the materials I have. I am going through paintbrushes like crazy. I have been spending money on cheap brushes and rollers instead of spending the same amount of money on a quality brush that would last the entire job.

I know my math isn’t very good but even I could figure out that I screwed up by paying for five $7 brushes instead of buying one $20 brush. Oh yeah, and with my great home decorating skills, I now have to replace the blinds in the room as I snapped several of the shutters while “improving” the room. So my weekend paint job is continuing to rack up the dollar signs with a finishing date of sometime before the baby’s first birthday. (I promise that I do actually READ the advice that I write for everyone else.)

Time has also been a commodity that is as precious as gasoline, but I have already ranted on about that.

It’s always interesting for me when I am researching for an article and I find similarities in my own life. I was almost nervous writing about shopping addiction, afraid that I might have the characteristics. Though I didn’t have all of the signs of compulsive spending, I did find that I have some compulsive habits.

I have an extensive music collection with around 600 CDs or so and I am beginning an impressive vinyl record collection.

Much of my collection was bought anywhere from 1 to 10 CDs at a time. I did take advantage of many pawnshops and would rarely buy a CD over $13. All of my vinyl collection has been hand me downs so I have not had to spend anything on them yet, but I am going to have to buy a record player if I ever want to listen to them. (But why would I want to do that.)

Let’s say that the cost of my CDs are $10 a piece with about six-grand invested. Probably the most money I have spent on anything besides my house. Unfortunately, CDs are not worth but a couple of bucks, leaving me with an investment of nil. Don’t get me wrong, the personal investment and enjoyment I get from music has made my purchases worthwhile. Others think that I am an idiot who wasted his money on plastic discs that will soon be replaced completely by the next wave of technology.
Anyway, I look back now and realize that many CD splurges were emotionally driven and would sometimes result in a guilty feeling afterwards. Especially when I was having trouble affording rent and groceries. So this was my mini bout with addiction. Only now do I rationalize with myself that I do not need the CD the day that it comes out and can rest assure that it will still be there when I have saved up a couple extra bucks for my personal enjoyment. I can also limit a CD to one at a time and won’t buy a CD without knowing if I like it first. If I ever think that I might be tempted into a music-spending spree, I have the voice of reason (my wife) to my right to set me straight.

We all deserve to spend a little of our money on ourselves within reason. When things are tight we need to sacrifice some of our pleasures and make responsible choices.

Until next month, good luck and spend wisely.


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Pool Party

Where else would kids rather be in the summer than at the pool. Swimming lessons and season pool passes are great investments for your kids summer.

There are programs that you can sign up for that can give you discounted prices on both lessons and passes.

Also call your city’s recreational department to find out how much a family pass costs.

Compared to other summer activities the pool is an affordable way for a family to spend time together.

Don’t forget safety rules and always wear plenty of sunscreen.

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Home Improvement

We are in the prime of summer and home improvement stores couldn’t be happier. Many homeowners are packing the stores getting ready to tackle their own home improvement projects. But there are times when a project might be a little too much for your everyday Joe. Even if you are considering hiring someone for remodeling there can be a lot more than you can bargain for. If you decide to do your own home improvement it is important to budget for all possible expenses.

There are many things that you might not consider for a Do-It-Yourself project. One of the costs that can be easily forgotten is permit fees. Work permits are required for projects that will alter the structure of your home. You may also need to apply for permits when improving plumbing, electrical, or landscaping.

Along with the cost of the permit you may have to pay for application fees. Permit costs are generally based on the size of the project. It is important to get these permits because if you don’t have them then the penalties will cost you a lot more than a permit ever will.

When you do it yourself you may not have all the equipment or tools needed to complete your job. This may leave you having to rent a certain tool. You may also have a friend who will trust you with their equipment. There is always a risk with borrowed goods that they may get damaged though. Always be careful when using someone else’s tools so you can return them in the same condition as you received them.
Be prepared to find additional problems. Perhaps a simple lighting project leads to the discovery that you need to replace a significant amount of wiring. Maybe you need to replace a couple of shingles and find out that you have some problems with your roof that can lead to serious leaking. When you start a small project it can turn into a major renovation. This may also be beneficial because you can discover any small problems before they turn into serious ones.

Account for extra supplies. You may have bought just enough boards for that fence, but then you miss-cut a few or find that there are some problems with a couple. It is rare to not make a mistake on any project, but the fewer you do make the less you will have to spend on extra supplies.

If you hire someone to do your renovations make sure that you are on the same level and that any and all changes need to be approved by you. Changes in materials or the original blueprint can alter the price of the negotiated job and cause the price to rise.

You may be a motivated do-it-yourselfer but you shouldn’t experiment with ideas or projects with your own house. If you are looking to tackle a project, recruit a friend who has done it before or offer your assistance to someone who is going to do the same project as yourself.

Take advantage of free tutorial seminars. Many major hardware stores hold weekend demonstrations on do-it-yourself projects. These are free and very informative. You may also find that the store is full of helpful employees who will answer any questions you may have about a certain project.

Recruit some quality cheap labor. Friends and family who are handy with a hammer will cut the time it takes to get the project done. Don’t turn down help, even if the person is not the best around tools. They can always help clean up or run to the store for any forgotten items. Paying them with food and drink will generally work and you can always offer a helping hand when they are doing their own home project.

Even though one of the decisions to do it yourself is to save money, you do not want to use cheap materials that are not going to hold up over time. You want to use the right materials the first time. Consult with employees at the hardware store to steer you to quality materials. You are wasting money if you have to redo a project because you wanted to save a couple bucks.

A detailed list of supplies and materials will help you put some numbers to a project. You will want to add an extra 10% to your budget to account for any setbacks. When you account for all expenses you will protect savings and you will not have to abandon the project half way through it. When you thoroughly plan and budget for a do-it-yourself project you will take advantage of the money saving benefits.

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