Showing posts from 2011

Frugal Festive Opportunities

Have you planned your New Year’s celebration yet? A little short on cash? Consider giving a last minute shout out to friends and acquaintances --The more random the better. Those that accept, have them pair up to provide a course of the meal. Each take turns serving, with one pair volunteering to do dishes. What you have is a gourmet evening with good company for the cost of making one dish at home. The entree to our last impromptu gathering this week was a hit (Chef Daniel Boulud's Pork Shoulder with Guinness, Dried Cherries, and Sweet Potatoes). 
All in all, it makes for a very frugal – very fun evening out. Hope you are gearing up to enjoy wrapping up 2011.

From the Heart

During the gifting season, it is sometimes difficult to find the ‘perfect’ present. Some of the best are those from the heart. Like the garden stone with our grandchildren’s’ foot prints, framed photos of special moments from the past year, lovely scarves from faraway places we have traveled. Sometimes the best gift can be the offer to undertake a dreaded task, like cleaning out and reorganizing a storage room or offering your services as dishwasher for your parent’s dinner party.

The very best gift is the present of presence, being there for one another, either in person or in heart. And to think – it doesn't cost a penny. How grand.

Christmas Traditions

Every year, in place of buying gifts for one another, we take a family vacation for Christmas. This year was an exception. The year got away from us. With no extra funds set aside for travel, we decided to spend time together at home. To compensate for not traveling, we  exchanged gifts with one another. We made many of the gifts, but we still felt like we needed to buy everybody something. This was way more work than we remembered. Spending money in such a short window of time for so many people, and not knowing if it is something they would like, need or want --is stressful.
It was joyful being together and has been a very laid-back week. But we all agreed that from now on: 1) each Christmas, we will start planning for the next year's trip. When everyone is together, it is easier to negotiate the dates and destination selection. 2) We will budget a savings plan for the trip that stretches over a 12-month period. The ultimate gift you can give yourself is to pay for a trip out of …

4 Days ‘til Christmas; 10 Days ‘til End of Year

As we rush around getting last minute gifts, we should also be mindful of the end of the year for tax reasons. Here are a few items to check off your list before 2012 rolls around.
- Last Minute Charitable Contributions: Time to get in the last minute charitable contributions for the 2011 tax year. Is it time to clean out your closet and make a donation to Good Will? Can you afford to give a little extra to a charitable cause? It has been a rough few years for a lot of people and your donation may be just what your favorite charity needs to help those in need.
Unreimbursed Medical and Dependent Care Accounts: These are your "use it or lose it" accounts. You have to use the money by the end of the year or you forfeit your balance. If you have money in these accounts, maybe it is time to get your eyes checked or a new pair of glasses. Make sure you have paid all of your dependent care expense and that your balance is zero.
- 529 or Educational Savings Deposits: In some states, …

Upcycle Twinkle Time

It is the holidays and in the spirit of gifting and the joy of creating, make useful and fun things for family and friends this time a year. Tis the art of Upcycle: To make new from items that have lost their usefulness or value.

A few flavors of the day:
Paper bag stockings, perfect for gifts of movie passes, lottery tickets or gift certificates:

Covering an old canvas so to gift a new painting:
Piecing together old jeans into a cozy blanket:

Everyone has a little elf inside them. Get out the glue and glitter and release your inner elf. Very fun. Very frugal.

OWS, Student Debt, Tuition Increases and Tuition Free Colleges

Higher tuition, more student loans, and greater access to higher education…what do we do? The Occupy Wall Streeters (OWS) say they are not going to repay student loans and are demonstrating on college and university campuses.In today’s Inside Higher Ed daily updates, there is an article about how their energy might be misplaced.This article argues that college and university administrator’s hands are tied because states are cutting funding to higher education and students are demanding quality student services and education.They are feeling that their only or best choice is to raise tuition and fees, which ultimately increases the debt burden for college graduates.
According to there are 10 colleges and university with $0 tuition.  Yes that is right, $0.00 in tuition.  Perhaps we should look at these institutions to see if we can apply some best practices to reduce the cost of higher education.  Many require students to work on campus.  College of the Ozarks nicknamed …

Frugal Fun and the Holidays

Frugal Fun”', “Holidays”: The two topics go hand-in-hand.  So much of the joy of the holidays is the time spent with love ones and surprising them with something special. The something special does not have to cost a mint. Gifts from the heart can be the least expensive and the most treasured.

Frugal-festive examples from our homestead this year include packets of homemade monogrammed stationary: Stockings made from a fabric stash and old costume jewelry: And grandparents teaming up with the grandchildren to make extra special surprises for the parents. These activities make the holiday glow -- from the joy of the planning, the making and the giving.

From our household to yours, we hope your holiday prep this year is joyful, frugal and fun. :)

So Many Priorities, Never Enough Money

80-10-10: That is the budget we strive to achieve in our household. Live on 80%, save 10%, give 10% of our time, talents and treasure. We are not there yet but every year we get closer. Coming to the end of this year and heading into the next, we find that we have had, and will continue to have, more priority family fun than we originally budgeted for. How do we balance our priorities and our income? Want to pay for it in cash and continue to keep our credit card balance at zero each month? -YesWant to take out of our savings or reduce our savings rate? -NoConsider backing down on our giving? -No.Ideally, we should bring our life style within the limits of that 80%. Selling off an asset, such as an extra automobile, is one option we discussed. We have three vehicles (car, truck, van) between two drivers. For the most part, the truck and the van sit in the garage as we typically car pool. Why is it hard to part with assets we seldom use even though they cost us money? Even if a vehicle …

Look Who’s Trying to Collect from Beyond the Grave

What happened to your debts when you die? As seniors increase their debt during retirement, you should know what happens to debts when you die.  According to“Nearly 40% of all seniors say they have accumulated debt in their retirement years with no plans to pay it off in their lifetime.  Are the heirs and next of kin responsible?
There is not an easy answer and it all depends on the situation.  The first thing to do in all cases is to notify all creditors of the death. Normally, the estate and the executor who handles the estate will liquidate the assets, pay creditors and distribute the proceeds according to your last will and testament or it will be distributed according to state laws.
If there is not enough money to pay all creditors, the general order of who gets their money is: 1.  Funeral expenses, taxes and administrative fees 2.  Secured creditors such as mortgage loans, car loans, etc.  These creditors have the rights to the assets securing the loan. 3. Unsecured …

it's positive

Today, we learn about baby 2!

I'm now 5 weeks and 3 days on the way, if the pregnancy test I took this morning is accurate. We still have to confirm the news via ultrasound on December 1. We'll see what happens then!

OWS: Repay Student Loans?

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters have decided not to pay back students loans as a way to protest the high cost of higher education.Is this a good idea?Check out what Prof Bob has to say.

Credit, Deficit Super Committee, and You

Do you know what would have happen if we followed a federal balanced budget amendment?We would all be speaking German.Deficit spending allowed the federal government to finance World War II by selling “war bonds.”Our nation’s monetary policy allows the government to borrow (by selling bonds)to finance necessities and to smooth out the ups and downs of natural business cycles.
The deficit Super Committee deadline is Monday, November 21st, 2011. As the committee meets, I hope they are listening to some of those in the 1% who say they would not mind paying their fair share in taxes. I hope they listen to the 99% who want to see fairness in the tax system. I hope they listen to the majority of economist who say we should be borrowing and investing in infrastructure.
Let’s think about it for a minute. We borrow money to fix our roads, bridges, schools, and dare I say, Internet, so all would have access to the World Wide Web via high speed connection.We bridge the digital divide and make a …

Credit, Debit or Cash - Holiday Shopping

Black Friday is less than a week away and there is no place I would rather NOT be than shopping at 4:00 a.m. when the stores open.I will be in my bed sleeping off a good Thanksgiving meal of smoked turkey and ham with all the fixings.But as we get into the season of spending, shopping and giving; here are some ideas to keep in mind.
When shopping for gifts make a list and check it twice.Find out where you can get the best deal and make a budget for your gift giving. This may be a tougher holiday season financially so it is even more important than ever to keep both hands on your purse strings as you walk into stores playing holiday music and seeing displays that say “buy me!” Using cash and the envelope system of budgeting keeps you within your budget.
Using credit cards provide some protection, however you may be tempted to spend beyond your budget. Credit cards are governed by the Fair Credit Billing Act which provides you specific rights to dispute your credit card charges when your …

The Stock Market Thriller

“Make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened and keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.” 
This is what you hear as you get on an amusement park roller coaster. Maybe your stock broker or financial advisor should also say this when you begin to invest in the stock market. In the spirit of full disclosure, should we formally address the stock market by its thrill ride name?
There is Disney’s The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Kings Island’s The Beast, Six Flags Great Adventure’s Kingda Ka, the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas has Insanity, and the king of amusement park roller-coasters, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio has Disaster Transport, Iron Dragon, Maverick, Mean Streak, Millennium Force, Raptor, Top Thrill Dragster and Wicked Twister. Any one of these names fit the gyrations, the ups and downs of the stock market.
Even with your seat belt securely fastened, it is a good time to reassess your risk tolerance and which investment options best fit your pers…

The Rising Cost of Auto Insurance

It seems like every time I turn on the television, I am bombarded with insurance commercials. I see Flow offering discounts for Progressive, a gecko advertising for Geico, Mayhem causing trouble -advertising for All State Insurance and countless others. Most of the insurance companies are advertising their low rates; others make their distinction on service.
Rates seem to continue to increase and it may not be my imagination. In the November 2011 issue if Smart Money, they state that auto insurance has increased 10% from 2008-2010, siting increases are due to the increased costs to repair a vehicle, soaring medical bills, increased probability of being in an accident, and increased number of uninsured motorist (now estimated at 16%).
So what is a person to do, to make sure they are covered with the correct amount of coverage and still keep their costs low? Here are some suggestions:
• Keep an eye on your credit score. Most insurance companies use your credit score to help estimate your …

a farewell note

This week, two colleagues bade us goodbye. Since I got back, almost all of the staff I worked with previously have moved on to other job opportunities. It's quite sad and heartbreaking to see people go, especially those whom you have shared fond memories and bonded with over difficult and stressful client moments.

But, realistically, that's just the way life is. People come and go. Change is inevitable. We all need to make choices and embrace changes sometimes, in order to grow and find ourselves and what makes us happy and gives us fulfillment. I speak from experience.

Once upon a time, I also had to leave my first job to fulfill an answered prayer of being given the chance to work abroad. It was a frightening but brave move for me. On the night before my last day, I wrote this farewell note and posted it together with a short video to thank the people I have worked with for almost five years:

This is just me trying to find a unique way to say, "so long".

I take toni…

Is Student Loan Forgiveness the Answer?

President Obama announced changes to the “Pay As You Earn” plan on Wednesday, October 26, 2011 that would/could ease the repayment of student loans. According to the College Board, the average public in-state tuition rates are increasing 8.3 percent for the 2011-12 year.
President Obama pointed out that the average college graduate owes $24,000 in student loans and that the 2011 graduates have an average debt load of $27,300. USA Today reported that outstanding student loans will reach $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) before the end of the year. Currently, student loan debt in America has surpassed credit card debt. Is this our next financial crisis?
The highlights of the “Pay As You Earn” plans or income-based repayment plans are to: ·Start this option is 2012 (vs. 2014) ·Cap student loan payments to 10% of discretionary income (vs. 15% ) ·Forgive any remaining balance after 20 years (vs. 25 years) ·Support consolidation of direct government student loans with government-backed private l…

my current mantra

Hello blog, its been a while!

I've been using a lot of brainpower the past month that I didn't have enough brain energy left to write. But now i'm back to my musings and self-reflection ( at least, the part I am comfortable sharing).

It's been more than a month since I commenced my new (old) job and i'm amazed at my new-found discipline of waking up early and being at work before 8 am, sometimes as early as 6:30 am. It is a successful collaboration with my husband who goes out of his way (literally and figuratively) to bring me to the office on most days of the week. I just don't know how long it will last though as the busiest work days are now looming and I am particular on getting enough sleep due to my iron-deficiency anemia.

Being at work early gives me a valid reason to go home early, at least whenever I can. I have an issue with nerves (and worry) so I try not to leave with something crucial hanging over my head. One of my secrets to work peace of mind i…

Making Sense of Occupy Wall Street

As a business professor I am torn about the Occupy Wall Street protest (OWS).On one hand, the capitalism and free market economy enable people to “pull themselves up from their bootstraps” and become wealthy by inventing, creating, developing and delivering new and creative products and services that meet a need.Doing this at a price consumers will pay while making money is an art and science.For those who have this talent and gift, should they not be compensated for taking risks?Isn’t that what makes American business great?This is the land of opportunity….right?Just look at what the late Steve Jobs did to help make your life better.We didn’t have to buy an overpriced MP3 player, but Jobs had the gift to make the i-anything what we as Americans wanted to buy. On the other hand, I read about executive compensation in the millions while the business is laying off workers or not giving them a raise and I wonder how many line jobs those millions of dollars to one person could pay for. I w…

National Document Shredding Day?

There is not an official ‘National Document Shredding Day’ yet … And maybe that’s ok, because it is a good habit to take on daily. If you do not own a shredder, watch for local ‘shredding’ days that may be sponsored by a local bank or your city. On September 30, 2011, the whole state of Tennessee sponsored a document shedding day to promote identify theft awareness.
What should you be shredding? Anything that may contain personal identifying information such as Social Security numbers, your address, date of birth or passwords, cancelled checks, check registers, bank statements or receipts, loan documents, mortgage documents, brokerage statements, school records, credit card, mortgage and finance solicitations, credit card statements, contracts, personal business papers, and credit applications.
Not only are you protecting yourself from identity theft or fraud, often the shredded material will be recycled into items such as commercial grade paper towels, toilet paper and other paper pro…

Free Checking a Thing of the Past?

The day has come. We are beginning to see the ramifications of the Durbin Amendment - Dodd-Frank Act, which became effective October 1, 2011. The amendment imposes limits on the fees that banks can charge merchants for each customer debit card purchase. To compensate, some banks are looking to make up for the lost revenue via other means, such as charging you a fee for the use of your debit card and/or checking account. You have options as to where you do your banking. It is important to select an institute where the service and products best match your needs.
ABC News has compiled a list of the 10 largest banks and how much each is charging for basic checking accounts and the debit cards. Additionally, you can learn about your local bank and credit union options online.
It only takes a few minutes to do a side-by-side comparison as to your options but can save you significantly over the long run.

To Convert or Not Convert the IRA

This was the year long debate in our household. In 2010, the federal government dropped the income limit for moving savings from a traditional to a Roth IRA. Additionally, you had a one-time option to pay taxes on the current value of the converted funds over a two-year period. The converted asset then grows tax-free.
To get this tax break off any future earnings of the converted funds, you have to pay income tax on the value of the funds moved.
From Kelly Greene's Wall Street Journal article on 9.30.2011, "The federal government allows the tax-law equivalent of a do-over, says Maria Bruno, an investment analyst at fund giant Vanguard Group, whose customers converted more than 230,000 traditional IRAs to Roths last year, and which has processed 3,900 do-overs this year, as of Monday."
We are one of the 3,900 who converted back. This was a highly contested move in our household. Bob is sure with the current level of the national debt, that by the time we withdraw the retir…

Renters Insurance Is Assurance for Students

This morning, firefighters from cities across Johnson County, Iowa battled a large fire affecting multiple buildings in downtown Iowa City. There were apartments on their upper floors of the impacted buildings.  In the TV interview, one of the displaced student tenants said ‘Thank God for renter’s insurance’. Hopefully, all the tenants were as wise as the student being interviewed.
College students renting an off-campus apartment or house should consider purchasing renters insurance to protect their personal property (i.e., computer, television, bicycle,  furniture, clothing) in the event that it is damaged, destroyed or stolen.
Even if a student is a dependent under the parent’s insurance, the student’s personal property, in many cases, is not covered if the student lives off campus.  Your landlord’s insurance doesn’t cover your personal property in the event that your propriety is stolen or damaged as a result of a fire, theft or other unexpected circumstance.
Premiums for renters in…

Bankruptcy and Student Loans

If you're having serious trouble paying back your student loan debt, bankruptcy is not a likely alternative for you. Student loans are usually not eligible for discharge from bankruptcy.
If you're having trouble making any of your payments, the first step is always to contact your lender, be honest and try to work toward a realistic payment plan. The lender would much rather be paid over a longer period of time then for you to default on repayment of your debt.

If your student loans are the largest part of your debt, you are better off to contact your student loan lenders and see if you can arrange an easier repayment plan or deferment of payments, over bankruptcy. Bankruptcy filings stay on your credit report for 10 years and will likely limit your ability to get a mortgage, borrow money, or get a job.

Student Loan Default Rate Increases

Is the education worth the debt?Is it worth going an extra year so you can work while going to college and not take on debt? First, a college education is worth the cost, but you have to look at the potential ROI (Return on Investment).Different careers pay varying wages. With higher earnings, you are able to pay back a larger student loan debt with fewer sacrifices.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes an OccupationalOutlook that lists occupations, the education required, and the potential salary range.According to the BLS, the high your education, the more money you will make and the less chance you will be unemployed.Choose your education, career and debt load carefully.

The cost of an extra year of college could be more costly than taking out a loan and finishing on time. To calculate this cost, add together the cost of tuition and books for one additional year of college plus your potential future salary, and then subtract your current salary.If tuition and books cos…