• Family Finances - Budgeting - Saving - Investing - Retirement - Kids

Keep Your Kids Entertained for the Summer

Now that summer is here, you may be trying to figure out how you’re going to avoid that dreaded phrase, “I’m bored.” How are you going to keep your kids from running out of things to do with their summer break from school? Planning ahead is a key factor when scheduling activities to fill your kids’ summer. By lining up events and activities, you can stave off some of your children’s complaints of boredom.

Visit your local library for entertainment that serves two purposes. First, many libraries offer story time and craft activities for children. In addition, however, you’ll also be able to encourage your children to develop their reading skills over the summer months.

Organize activities with other families in the neighborhood. Playing in the park is fun, but it’s even more fun if you have lots of people to play with. You might even be able to take turns shepherding the kids to the park to give each parent an hour or two to themselves.

Turn rainy days into special events by holding marathon board game tournaments. Invite kids in the neighborhood to come over, with their favorite games, and share in the fun.

If you belong to a church, be sure to include your church’s youth or children’s activities in your summer plans. Vacation bible schools, youth softball leagues, and other events are all inexpensive sources of fun for your entire family.

Rainy days are a wonderful opportunity to declare a “craft day” in your home. Choose a project or two ahead of time and then put the supplies away in a closet or other storage area. Then, when gray skies threaten to put a damper on your kids’ playtime, you can whip out the supplies and save the day.

Keep an eye out for news about your local county fair. There is often little to no cost for attending these fairs, and your kids will love the exhibits. Animals, arts and crafts shows, and rodeos are all part of these fun experiences. Don’t forget to drop by the midway, too, if you don’t mind buying your kids the wristband that entitles them to ride the rides.


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Protecting Yourself against Identity Theft When Shopping Online

With the upcoming flurry of holiday shopping coming up, shopping online becomes even more popular. Like many people, I love shopping online for its convenience. However, just as you would never leave your credit card at the counter of your favorite store, there are some steps you should take to protect your identity while shopping.

First, you should stick to shopping online at secure, and widely-recognized, web shops.
Odds are that you’re going to be okay shopping at these types of websites because their companies have more than enough money to invest in the latest types of internet security. In addition, no big store wants the reputation of having been careless with their customers’ information.

So, what if you can only find the item you’re looking for on a smaller, unknown website. Well, you can start by looking for signs that the website is secure. Does the site feature a security seal? You’ve seen them: they’re the little shields at the bottom of many websites. Or check out the site’s security policy; you can usually find it in the customer service section of the website. Simply put, you’re just looking for an indication that this retailer takes internet security seriously.

If the site you’re considering shopping at still doesn’t leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling you can always look for another way to add a layer of security to your shopping experience. Some retailers welcome payments through PayPal. Then, you can rest assured that PayPal is protecting your payment and personal information. Another easy solution is to simply call the retailer and see if you can place an order over the phone. Now your information won’t even be on the internet.

As a side note, you should never save your credit card information with your profile at a questionable web site. If you’re not sure your individual transaction information is secure, you certainly don’t want to leave your information at their site for all of time. Getting to skip inputting your information the next time you shop with this retailer may seem like a convenience, but trying to undo the damage that comes with identity theft is anything but convenient.

Finally, you should restrict all of your online purchases to one credit card. Imagine the mess you would find if you made purchases on three or four different credit cards and then found out that they were all compromised, somehow. However, if you were to fall victim to identity theft, you could simply cancel the one card. The chaos will be much more manageable.

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Savvy Shopping Tips

It seems that most of us became savvy shoppers during the holidays, as is shown by the decline in revenue for most department stores. This is not a bad thing, but it seems clear that we have been forced into becoming smarter purchasers in lieu of the current economic crisis. With so much uncertainty about our economic future, here are some tips to help you trim down the costs of shopping regardless of whether it is for groceries, clothing, or other essential items on your list.

1. Use coupons whenever possible. There are a myriad of online coupon sites that offer discounts and printable coupons. The Sunday circulars have a variety of grocery coupons as well. Get the scissors out - it’s time to start clipping.

2. Before making any purchase online, sign up free with Ebates. They have a comprehensive list of stores where you can save up to 8% on clothing, electronics, and other items.

3. Prepare a list before you go to the supermarket. There’s an old saying, “Never shop on an empty stomach!” It is a fact that when you shop without having a bite before you go, you tend to buy more than on a full stomach. Only buy those items on your grocery list. Take inventory of your pantry closet to ensure you are not buying that which you already have.

4. Utilize consignment shops in two ways - bring your new or used clothes to them to sell and collect a commission, and shop there as well. You can be assured their clothing is of the finest quality. Use the commission earned to buy what you need.

5. Before taking trip to a particular department store, check out their online sales. Ascertain what discounts are being offered first. Then move on to comparison shop that same item with other online stores. You can save quite a bit of money shopping online instead of wasting gas trying to find a parking space at the mall.

6. If you do decide to head out to a department store on a sale day, go early in the morning before the crowds descend on the place. Go directly to the department where the item is located, buy it and then leave. Don’t waste time looking around; the temptation to buy something else is always there.

7. Just as you made a holiday list with a budget attached, utilize the same philosophy when shopping during the year. Stick to the budget. If you can’t pay for an item with cash, you can’t afford it.

8. Leave the credit cards at home. With interest rates climbing, the last thing you need is to add more debt to your expenditures.

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Do You Find Saving Money Difficult?

For some, it seems like saving money comes naturally. With very little effort, they build up an emergency fund, college fund, retirement fund and vacation fund. For the rest of us, it’s not quite that easy.

Saving money isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. We have to spend a large portion of what we earn in order to have the necessities in life. Once all the bills are paid and those necessities are taken care of, we usually have some money left over. But there’s just so much temptation to spend it, that when it’s all said and done, we frequently don’t have anything left to put into savings.

Most financial advisors will tell you to make a budget, and allocate a certain amount out of each paycheck to savings. Then, when you get paid, put the planned amount into savings before you pay bills or spend a dime. In theory, this is a great idea. But in practice, it can be rather scary - especially if you have limited funds and no savings to fall back on.

But don’t be discouraged. There are a few tricks you can use to get into the habit of saving money. Here are some to try.

* Make your budget, and cut out unnecessary items. It’s okay if they’re small expenses, such as that latte you buy every day. They will add up. Then, instead of making those purchases, put the money that you would have spent on them into savings. If it’s a daily purchase, you can either put away that amount each day or add it up and put it away at the end of the week. You won’t miss the money, because you’ve been spending the same amount anyway.

* Find ways to save money on groceries and other items you buy on a regular basis. Seek out sales, use coupons, or go to a store that has lower prices. Figure up how much you saved, and put that amount into savings after each grocery trip.

* If you get a raise, put the increase from each paycheck into savings. You’ve lived on the amount you were making before for some time, so it shouldn’t be difficult to continue living on that much.

* Set up automatic transfers from your checking account to a savings account. Have your paycheck direct deposited if possible, and set the transfers up to occur shortly after you get paid. As long as you’ve budgeted carefully and chosen a manageable amount to save, you’ll learn to live on the amount of money you have in checking.

Once you’ve started saving up some money, it won’t be as difficult to continue doing so. It feels good to check your savings account balance and see how much it has grown. Once you’ve got some money in there, you’ll be more motivated to find ways to save more.

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Do You Need Life Insurance?

Life insurance is a necessary part of many financial plans. It provides for your family’s financial well-being in the event that you or another family member is no longer able to provide for them. Although everyone must make his own determination about when he needs to buy life insurance, there are a couple of common situations that many suggest require it. 

When one spouse’s income is necessary to maintain their current lifestyle - For some families, this could be a household where both spouses work to maintain their current standard of living. For other families, this is a household where one spouse works and the other cares for the children. In either case, however, the entire family would be disrupted if one or both of the adults were no longer able here to provide for the family.

When there are children in the family – If you have children, you can almost certainly expect that you would want to replace the income your children won’t have if something were to happen to you. You wouldn’t want your surviving spouse to scramble to take care of your children. And, if both parents were to die, you certainly, wouldn’t want your children to be financial orphans.

Likewise, there are also a couple of situations that normally don’t require you to have life insurance.

When you are single and without children – In this case, if you died no one would have to shoulder a financial burden. You might consider a small life insurance policy (these are commonly part of your employer’s benefits package) to help pay for your funeral arrangements. Other than that, you probably don’t need any life insurance.

When you are considering insuring your children – Since children aren’t income-earners in most families, they really don’t need life insurance policies.

When you are a couple that don’t have any large debts – If you don’t have children or any large debts to speak of, many couples don’t need a lot of life insurance. Although one spouse might be emotionally devastated at the loss of the other, financially speaking, he would probably be able to continue to provide for himself.


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Return of a Simple Life

There’s a new trend amongst families. It’s most likely due to the economic crisis over the past few years. It’s caused many people to re-evaluate their habits and priorities. We’re returning to a more simple life.

What Is a “Simple Life?”

In the broadest sense of the word, a simple life is one that is free of financial stress, mass quantities of material belongings and a focus on quality over quantity. However, each person or family adapts their concept of a simple life to meet their needs, goals and aspirations.

For some families, a simple life is one without any material belongings. They have the basics including a home, clothing and furniture, but they’ve eliminated material things from their life. They may live without a television and many of the material items most families consider a necessity.

For other families, a simple life may be one without debt or financial stress. That may require selling much of their belongings including their home and car, and moving to a smaller residence where they can bike or walk to work.

When deciding to live a simpler life, you need to first decide what that means to you and what lengths you’re willing to go to.

Why Choose a Simple Life?

Many people have realized that their present life and habits don’t make them happy. Choosing a simple life is therefore primarily about being happy for them. Of course, there are many things that can contribute to a person being or feeling happy. Eliminating debt or material items may help with that, or it may not.

For some, choosing a simple life means leaving their job and taking a job they love but which pays much less money. This then would require a lifestyle change. However, it’s worth it because happiness and job satisfaction is the reward.

Financial stress is also a major contributor to families choosing to live a simple life. They’re just tired of debt, bills, and working to pay those bills. Getting rid of financial stress, material belongings that contribute to the stress and piles of bills is the goal.

Quality over quantity - Other families have realized that quality time together as a family is worth much more than material belongings. They’ve cut back on expenses in order to spend time together. Instead of a new car, they go on a vacation or camping. Instead of a new television they visit a museum. Habits change to focus on quality time together.

Education - Parents don’t want their children to grow up to make the same mistakes. They want their children to grow up with the right values. Namely, that material goods don’t buy happiness. Living a frugal and simple life can help to teach children where to place their priorities.

How to Live a Simple Life

As a parent it’s important to first take a look at what your goals are for living a simple life. Then you can go about making a change.

For example, if you’re working a job that makes you miserable, what do you need to do to quit that job and work at one you love? Do you need to sell your home and move to a smaller apartment? Do you need to sell your cars and buy a bike or take public transportation? What are you willing to sacrifice to live this simple life?

Living a simple life isn’t easy. It takes a real desire and commitment to change. Determine why you want to live a simple life and if you’re willing to take the steps to make it happen. To your success!

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Do You Need To Go On A Spending Diet?

Do you need to go on a spending diet? Many people turn to shopping in the same way they turn to food. They use it as a means to feel happy, in control, valuable and to relieve stress. Unfortunately, shopping and spending can become a vicious circle. You spend to feel better, then the bills come and you feel bad again. Then you go shopping. Here are a few tips to help control overspending.

#1 Accept and acknowledge you have a spending problem - It may sound trite, but admitting you have a problem really is quite important. It’s the first step to controlling it. If there is someone you can confide in, admit your problem to them. If not, then take the time to admit it to yourself. Try to determine what causes your overspending. What triggers the splurges?

#2 Replacement - One of the reasons many diets don’t work is because they’re restrictive. They ask for an immediate elimination of all of the foods you’ve normally been consuming. It’s generally too much for a person to handle. So unless you’re great at quitting something cold turkey, don’t try to just quit spending. It won’t work.

Instead, look to replace your spending habit with other habits. Ideally, find something you love to do. For example, do you love to read? Do you love to take photographs, dance, play sports? Find a new hobby or pursue a passion. When your time is filled with joyous activities, not only will you not have time to overspend, you’ll also be happy and not inclined to shop for the sake of shopping.

#3 Recruit a friend - Most successful diet programs incorporate peer support. This works for overspending too. Grab a friend who suffers from the same affliction you do. Create a spending diet and support each other. When you’re inclined to go shopping or hop online for some late night browsing, call your friend instead.

#4 Journal your expenses - Journaling what you spend money on for three to four weeks will be an eye-opening experience. You’re going to be amazed at how much you spend. Keep track of every nickel. Use a notebook or journal or an iPhone/iPod application to track your spending. There are many free budgeting apps available. Simply knowing how much you’re spending helps you regain control.

#5 Budget - You knew it was coming, right? You knew we were going to tell you to budget. However, unlike other budgets, this one asks you to make room for some luxury spending. Why? Because if you create a budget that is so tight, you’re going to rebel.

Again, it’s like a restrictive diet. Everyone needs to be allowed to eat a cookie from time to time. Budget in that cookie! Allow yourself a manicure if that’s important to you, or a new outfit each month. Because you’ve been tracking your spending, you’ll be able to create a realistic dollar amount for your luxury spending allowance.

Overspending is often about a lot of things at once. Perhaps it’s become a habit. Perhaps you’re using it as a coping mechanism or perhaps you simply just don’t know how much you’re actually spending. Follow these five tips and get control over your spending.

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Cost Comparison For Cloth Versus Disposable Diapers

One of the debates you will likely have when you have a baby is whether to use cloth or disposable diapers. Each of the options has a list of pros and cons. The ultimate decision, however, comes down to what is convenient for you as a parent. Read on for a comparison between the two types of diapers on the market.

When we think of cloth diapers, we often think of trying to pin a diaper on a moving baby. That may have been the case a few decades ago; however, this is not the case today. Many of the cloth diapers on the market today come with closures such as Velcro or snaps. The diapers also come with the option of linings, different colors, plastic coverings and many more benefits.

The biggest issue with cloth diapers is that they require a hefty investment. It is not possible to have one or two cloth diapers around and think that it will be sufficient enough to handle the job. It is necessary to have at least a dozen on hand so you are fully prepared for one day’s worth of diaper changes.

For reliable, quality-made cloth diapers, you can expect to pay between $10-$20 per diaper. This cost can add up quickly. However, over the course of your child’s life, you will not have to buy package after package of diapers which will ultimately cost you more. After buying cloth diapers, the only investment will be the laundry detergent and the electricity you use to wash the diapers.

Disposable diapers can be expensive as well. A pack of diapers will cost between $10 and $30 depending on the amount of diapers that you buy per pack. The main difference is that for the $10 to $30 that you spend on a pack of diapers you can get up to 100 diapers at a time. The downside is that all of these diapers and subsequent ones purchased will be thrown away, never to be seen or used again.

Disposable diapers do come in handy, especially on vacation or when you plan to be out all day. Nobody desires to carry dirty diapers around with them all day long or to use someone else’s washing machine for soiled diapers. Seeking out a Laundromat while on vacation is not typically a good idea either. This is one of the main reasons that parents who choose to use cloth diapers will also use disposables in those types of situations.

There is an argument as to whether cloth diapers or disposable diapers are superior. It really comes down to a matter of preference. If you do not mind washing dirty diapers and paying the hefty cost up front, then cloth diapers are probably the better choice for you. Whichever option you choose to go with, you will end up with a list of pros and cons.

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Five Tips for Reducing Your Winter Heating Costs

Heating your home in winter can be a major expense. Most homeowners in cold parts of the country end up spending hundreds of dollars - not just on necessary heating costs, but on energy waste as well. As much as 40% of your heating costs in winter could come from unnecessary expenses. How can you cut these expenses down? Here are five tips.

Install a Heater Fan
One of the big weaknesses of heaters is that heat tends to rise straight up. Instead of having a well-heated home, you have a lot of heat building up in your ceiling and not much circulating through the rest of your home.

A heater fan solves this problem. It uses no electricity and runs thermodynamically instead. The fan sits on top of your heater and blows heat to the rest of your house instead of straight up.

Add Storm Windows
Your windows are one of the biggest sources of heat loss in your home. Glass conducts heat and cold, so the hot air in your home escapes through the glass.

Storm windows are a very affordable solution. Storm windows can help you reduce heat loss through your windows by as much as 50%.

Shutter Your Bathroom and Kitchen Ventilation Fans
Install a shutter over your bathroom and kitchen ventilation fans. There are several types you can choose from.

Electronic shutters work automatically, but are more difficult to install. Manual shutters require you to shut and open the shutters by hand. Some shutters can operate automatically without electricity as well, but tend to be a little more clumsy.

These shutters will keep hot air from escaping through your ventilation shafts.

Reduce Fireplace Heat Loss

Your fireplace can be a big source of heat loss. There are two things you can do to reduce your fireplace heat loss.

First, install a reliable damper. The damper prevents cold air from coming in and hot air from going out through your chimney.

Next, install glass doors over your fireplace. This adds a second layer of protection from heat loss.

Consider All Kinds of Heaters

Don’t just look into traditional kinds of heating, such as wood stoves and pellet stoves. Also look into less traditional forms of heating like shelled corn stoves and waste oil stoves.

These alternative sources of heat can often be a lot more economical than traditional sources of heat. For example, waste oil stoves generate about double the heat per gallon than propane. Depending on the recycling situation in your area, waste oil can also be a lot more affordable than propane.

These five tips will help you greatly cut down your winter heating bills, as well as keep your home warmer overall.

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10 Ways To Save Money On Winter Clothing

Winter clothing can be pricey and really add up, especially when you have growing children who need new clothes every year. Here are ten tips for saving on winter clothing you may want to use this winter.

1. Start in the closets. Go through each family member’s clothes including those in storage, find out what can still be used, and make a list of what you’ll want to replace. The more clothes each person can reuse or hand down, that’s less money you’ll be spending.

2. The earlier the better. Some department stores have considerable discounts on winter merchandise before the colder weather actually arrives. You can often save as much as 40% off winter coats. Look in the local newspapers for coupons for additional savings on some merchandise.

3. Check online to see if there are outlet malls in your area. You may have to drive a little way to find them, but you can often save quite a bit on name brand winter clothing.

4. Buy ahead of time. You’ll often find winter clothing on sale up to 75% at the end of the season. You can buy winter clothing a size or two larger than you currently need and store it for later use.

5. Visit consignment stores. These stores are set up to sell other people’s gently used clothing. While they may sell things according to season, you can still find good deals on winter clothing that you can use right away.

6. Find yard sales. Depending upon where you live, you can find yard sales well into the start of the school year. Yard sales are a great place to purchase used winter clothing at pennies on the dollar. Of course, you’ll want to carefully look over each item for tears, worn places, or missing buttons. If an item is torn, you’ll want to decide if it’s still worth buying it knowing you’ll have to make repairs.

7. Make your own. Some winter clothes aren’t difficult to make. Use the upcoming colder weather as an opportunity to teach your children to sew. Material and patterns aren’t that expensive and knowing how to sew is a good skill to have.

8. Check online. There are online sources such as Craigslist or Freecycle where you can sometimes get free winter clothing. Of course, you’ll be expected to sign up for an account, but that usually only takes having an email address.

9. Look at online auction sites. Auction sites such as eBay or uBid allow individuals to sell their own items. Of course, you may find something you really want and have it snagged out from under you at the last minute, but that’s part of the excitement of online auctions. Regardless of the possibility of losing what you’re bidding on, these sites give you an opportunity to get great items for little money from your wallet.

10. Have a clothes swap. Do you have friends or family that has children who have outgrown clothing? Have everyone gather together clothes their kids have outgrown. Then meet and let everyone go through and take what they need out of the clothes there.

You know it’s expensive to clothe your family, but it doesn’t have to break the budget. Use some of these ten tips for saving on winter clothing and you may find something extra to smile about come winter.

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