Banking

Buying Your Teen a Car

It’s hard to believe but your baby, now a teenager, is a licensed driver and wants a car. Yes, the time has finally arrived; your child wants the keys to his or her own car. So, what’s a practical, cautious parent to do…other than have a nervous breakdown, that is?

First and foremost, dispel the notion that every teenager needs a car. Many kids get along just fine without having their own set of wheels. They walk, ride a bike or a skateboard, get rides from you or their friends or take advantage of local public transportation.

However, many teenagers today do have their own cars. All you have to do is peruse your local high school parking lot. It’s filled with students’ cars. But, when contemplating whether you should purchase a car for your son or daughter, you should consider the following:

1. Does your teen want a car because his or her friends are getting one or does he or she want one because they need one to get back and forth to an after school job? If his or her primary reason is to have one because “everyone else has one,” then he or she doesn’t really need a car.

2. Is your teenager responsible enough to have his or her own car?

3. Will getting your teenager a car make life significantly easier for you? For example, if his or her school is 30 minutes from home and you are having to make several round trips a day to take him or her as well as your other children to school each day, another car in the family may be the answer. In other words, if you were spending a good portion of your day as a kid chauffer, this would be a practical reason to get your teen a car, and would take a lot of pressure off you as well.

4. Is it financially viable to buy another car? Even a good used car can be expensive. If purchasing another car is a strain on your finances and your teen can’t help out with the purchase, it would be wise to postpone buying a car until you are in a better financial position or your teen can purchase him or herself.

Okay, if after careful consideration, you’ve decided to get your teen a car, what steps can you take to make sure your son or daughter is a safe as possible on the road?

The conventional wisdom has always been to buy a big car or a road tank. This will provide a thick layer of metal insulation around your child. The truth is, size does matter. It’s basic physics. When two heavy objects collide, the heavier one wins!
Size is a big issue, especially on the freeway. The higher you sit in a car on the freeway, the more the chassis and frame is going to absorb the impact.

The next big question is whether to buy new or used. For most parents, who are already making payments on their own cars, a used car is the only economically feasible option. Another thing to consider when buying new or used is the insurance. The insurance premium on a new car, primarily driven by a young driver, is very expensive.

Experts agree that if parents are going to buy a used car for their teen, they should do their homework. Parents will want to look at the research, specifically government crash testing results (iihs.org or nhtsa.gov), as well as safety options that come with the car they’re considering for their son or daughter. Get as many safety features as possible.

You will also want to check the car over very thoroughly – the tires, the headlights, the turn signals, the brakes, as well as make sure the safety equipment is in good working order. If possible, have a reputable service technician give the car a complete once-over before purchasing it or if you can afford it, look for certified, pre-owned models that are two or three years old, often from an expired lease.
Much to your child’s dismay it’s not about looks, it’s about safety. Parents must rise above what their child wants and focus on what’s in the best interest of their child’s safety. Safety experts highly recommend staying away from the cool, sporty convertibles or cars that come equipped with large engines.

Once you’ve narrowed down the safest choices, find a good deal. Websites such as Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book, IntelliChoice.com and Truecar.com can help you determine a fair price given a vehicle’s age, mileage and condition.

Last, but certainly not least, safety experts agree that the most important factor in purchasing a car for your teen is proper training for your teen. If there’s no formal driver’s education program, then it is recommended that parents create their own training program. Driving is a difficult and complicated lengthy learning process. Insurance rates for young people do not come down until age 25. Until then, these drivers are considered “at risk” drivers.

The key to any driving program is parental involvement. There should be a nighttime curfew for beginner drivers, zero tolerance for alcohol and the parent and teen should use a contract or come up with something similar, in writing, that outlines the whens, whereas and with whoms.

Driving is a major milestone in your child’s life. Make it a safe one…one they can remember for a lifetime.

Finance 101 – Teaching Kid’s About Money

We teach our kids many valuable lessons in their formative years – how to share, right from wrong, respect for others, etc. – but, the one lesson most parents don’t teach early enough is the value of money.

As children grow older, they eventually learn about money with or without our help. But, teaching our children about money, financial literacy, early in life sets them up for a lifelong legacy. Financial expert, author, founder of Youthpreneur, an organization the encourages an entrepreneurial spirit in children, and former member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy says, “The more control we have over our money, the less control it will have over you.”

Lechter also explains how important it is to teach children financial literacy because they see us (parents) spend money, but they don’t understand the concept of creating it, keeping it or investing it. “Kids don’t understand the relevance of earning, saving and spending,” she notes.

However, if parents make a conscious effort to teach their kids about money, they are much more likely to value it. By giving children a financial education early, beginning as early as four years old, we can help them learn to be responsible with their cash. We will also do our children and ourselves a huge favor. We will not create and reinforce the fallacy that we are human ATMs (the ole money grows on trees misnomer), setting us both up for friction, frustration and oftentimes failure later in life.

With this said, here are a few ways to get started.

1. Make children work for their money – Most children can do some small chores as early as two years old, like putting their plates in the sink, helping you pick up their toys, etc. By the time they are about four years old, you can begin giving them a small allowance for doing these behaviors. You shouldn’t give them money for doing routine behaviors like brushing their teeth or going to bed on time. They should earn allowance for doing things that are above and beyond normal daily behaviors. Determining the amount to give them is totally up to you. Typically, the recommendation for children starting out is about $4 per week.

2. Teach children to save – Children can learn the concept of saving at a very young age. Let’s say Johnny wants a Lego set that costs $12 and they earn $4 per week doing their chores. Explain to him that it will take three weeks of saving to earn enough money to buy the Lego set. This also begins teaching basic math skills (i.e. 3 weeks X $4 = $12). When they get a little older, you can throw in the lesson about Uncle Sam, the infamous TAX MAN. But for now, keep it simple.
Note: Most young children don’t quite grasp the whole savings concept. You will need to remind them and encourage them often. One great way to begin getting this concept across is with a savings jar (make it clear so they can see the money). Each week when they get their allowance have them put the money in the jar. Tell them how much money they now have in the jar and how many more weeks they have to save to get that Lego set. When they get older, you can encourage them to start putting this money in the bank.

3. Teach children to respect property – We can teach our children a lot by encouraging them to value their own property as well as the property of others. If children grow up respecting the things around them, they will learn respect for money as well.

With a younger child, the best way to teach them this lesson is by taking away a toy or other item if they mistreat it. As children get older, it should be the, “If you break it, you buy it,” philosophy. The best way to teach a child to respect property, his or hers or someone else’s, is to make them pay for (at least part of) replacing it if they intentionally break it.

4. Set a good example – Children emulate their parents. So, if they see you saving, they will save too. Set a good example by showing them that you save for things you want too. For example, have your own money jar to save up for the family summer vacation or something as simple as the family Saturday movie theater outing.
As parents, you should also be open about finances in your household. Talk about money and your financial goals in front of your kids. You must use your common sense about this though. You don’t want to worry your children by discussing serious financial troubles in front of them. But, do talk to them about financial matters – directly and in a manner that they can easily understand.

5. Make learning about money fun – Kids will be more interested in learning about money if you make it fun. A great way to do this is to set a family savings goal for something, e.g. a family vacation or a weekend outing, and begin saving for it. Make a chart and display it somewhere the entire family can see it, like on the refrigerator or somewhere in the kitchen. As you set money aside, for example, for your family vacation fund, have the children participate by coloring in the chart or writing in the new number total of the money set aside, showing the increased savings and how much closer the family is to its goal.

As your children get older, you will need to come up with new ways to teach them about money and finances. But, by beginning early, you will make this more advanced later lesson easier, as well as helping them to avoid the pitfalls of bad financial habits.

Last-minute Ways to Save for Summer Vacation

Summer is just around the corner and most of us have begun thinking about and possibly are already planning for our summer family vacations.

In an ideal world, we’d already have a fully funded vacation savings account to pay for our annual family getaway. However, the reality is that most of us wait until the last minute to begin planning and paying for our summer vacation.

So, here are a few fast track tips to help you save for your summer trip:

1. Start with a budget – discuss and determine upfront how much you want to spend on your family vacation. Have a specific figure in mind. This should include plane tickets or gas if you’re driving, hotel prices and an estimate of cost for meals, admission tickets for theme parks, museums, etc. Then, total it all up. If this figure sends you into a coronary arrest…just kidding…then cut back until you and your bank account are comfortable. The last thing you want to do is to go into debt for a vacation. If money is tight, consider taking a couple of weekend getaways instead of one big dream trip.

2. Prioritize now – are there some items currently in your budget that you can omit or would be willing to sacrifice now for a fun vacation later? Can you downgrade a plan, such as your TV cable or satellite plan or go out to eat less? A typical family with kids younger than 6 spends an average of $240 each month on restaurant meals, according to the National Restaurant Association.

So, go through your current household expenses and cut out some nonessentials or superfluous expenses. Then take that extra money and put it away in a separate vacation savings account.

3. Have a garage sale – a garage sale is a great way to earn some vacation cash quickly. Run an ad in the local paper to attract a crowd and post easy-to-read signs around your neighborhood. Get the entire family involved in this – make this a fun family affair. Have the kids go through their rooms, toy boxes, etc. and tell them whatever proceeds are collected from their items will be put towards their souvenirs. This is also a fun spring-cleaning project. It’s a win-win.

4. Use your tax refund now – if you typically get a sizeable income tax refund from the IRS every year, you are probably having too much money withheld from your paycheck. If this is the case, fill out a new W-4 form and adjust your withholding so that it’s fairly close to what you owe each year. Then begin transferring that extra money into your dedicated vacation savings account. If you still get a refund, stash that away as well.

5. Let your credit cards help pay for your vacation – in the months prior to your vacation, use your credit cards with reward points for everything your normally pay for with cash, debit card or check. Use these accumulated points towards plane tickets, hotels, rental cars and gift cards for restaurants. But, make sure to pay off the balance on your card in full every month or you’re defeating the purpose of a debt-free vacation.

6. Get everyone involved in the saving excitement – chart your savings with a graph, much like you see with fundraisers, on a large poster board. Track your weekly and monthly progress with colorful markers. You can even reward yourself and your family for reaching certain goals, e.g. go out for ice cream when you’ve reach a savings milestone.

In a nutshell, make a realistic plan for your family summer vacation, save for your plan and make the process a fun family affair! By doing this, you will be creating special memories instead of debt.

Tax Season: A perfect time to think about an IRA

With tax day looming, it’s a great time to review your current retirement savings strategies and make any changes that are necessary in an effort to keep your plan on track for long-term financial security. This time of year is also a perfect time to start an IRA if you haven’t done so already.

The IRS allows contributions to an IRA up to April 15, 2014 for the 2013 tax year.

There are two types of IRAs available: a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA. The principal difference between the two is the tax treatment of contributions and distributions or withdrawals.

The traditional IRA may allow a tax deduction based on your contribution, depending on your income level. Earnings on this type of account compound on a tax-deferred basis. In other words, distributions are taxable at the time of withdrawal at the then-current income tax rates.

The Roth IRA doesn’t allow a deduction for contributions. However, earnings and qualified withdrawals are tax-free.

When deciding whether a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA is the right choice for you, you need to weigh the immediate benefit of the tax deduction and earnings that compound on a tax-deferred basis against tax-free distributions in retirement.

If you need the tax deduction to help lower your tax bill this year – and you qualify for it – then you may want to opt for the traditional IRA.

To qualify for the full annual IRA deduction in 2013, you must either: 1. Not be eligible to participate in a company retirement plan, or 2. If you are eligible, you must have an adjusted gross income of $59,000 or less for singles, or $95,000 or less for married couples filing jointly. If you are not eligible for a company plan but your spouse is, your traditional IRA contribution is fully deductible as long as your combined gross income does not exceed $178,000.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, your 2013 deduction will be reduced if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is:

Between $95,000 and $115,000 for a married couple filing a joint return for the 2013 tax year.
Between $59,000 and $69,000 for a single individual or head of the household for the 2013 tax year.

You must also consider the tax bracket you think you will be at retirement. If you expect your tax bracket to drop considerably and you qualify for the deduction, the traditional IRA may be the better choice.

If, based on the scenarios above, you don’t qualify for the deduction and/or you expect that your tax bracket will not be significantly lower; a Roth IRA may be the better option.

You should maximize your IRS allowable contributions if financially possible. The maximum is $5,500 per individual, plus an additional $1,000 annually if you are aged 50 and older for 2013. Note, those amounts are per individual not per IRA.

Not everyone can afford to maximize his/her annual IRA contribution, especially if you are already contributing to an employer retirement plan. If your workplace plan offers an employer’s matching contribution, then this “free” money may be more of an incentive to than the annual IRA deduction. If this is the case, it may make more sense to maximize the employer matched plan first and then try to maximize your contributions to your IRA.

The important takeaway from this information is that you shouldn’t hesitate to use the remaining time between now and April 15 to contribute or start an IRA. The ability for you to live comfortably in retirement depends on it.

Note: The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information for educational purposes only. It is not intended to give personalized tax, investment, legal or other business or professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional.

Awareness is Your Best Defense

With the growth of e-commerce, consumer online presence and email communication, scammers have also adapted to leverage this medium to con people into providing personal and financial information. One of the most common mechanisms is “phishing.”

Phishing is a fraudulent attempt to steal information, such as usernames, passwords, financial details, etc. by masquerading as a trustworthy entity. Some examples of this would include someone pretending to be social media website, a bank site, an auction site, an online payment processor or an IT administrator – the most popular culprits.

Phishing is typically done through email. The email has the look and feel of the legitimate sender. Phishing emails almost always instruct the recipient to click on a link that is contained in the email. This is a fake link that takes you to a fake website where the scammer – cybercriminal gathers your personal information.

>What to look for in a phishing email:

>Generic greetings.

>Forged links.

>Requests for personal information.

>A Sense of urgency – making the recipient believe that something has happened that requires their immediate attention.

>Incorrect spelling and bad grammar.

>Links in email.

>Threats – telling you that your security has been compromised and that you must act immediately to correct it.

>Spoofing websites or companies – scam artists use graphics in the email that appear to be connected with legitimate websites, taking you to phony sites or legitimate-looking pop-up windows. They also use web addresses that resemble names of well-known companies but are slightly altered.

Phishing is big business. As the world gets ready for the XXII Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, so are the professional scammers. On the heels of the recent payments breach at Target Corp., cybercriminals have already begun targeting the customers affected by the breach, sending fraudulent emails, pretending to act on Target’s behalf, attempting to get personal information.

Quite unfortunately, in a digital world, the safest practice is to trust no one. The Internet is a wonderful too. But we must use it wisely – think before you click and keep in mind:

>No reputable company or organization will ask for your confidential information via email.

>Never click on a link in an email that asks you to give your personal information.

>Never reply to a popup message to provide information.

>Review you accounts (banking, credit cards, etc.) regularly.

>Always check the authenticity of the website.

>Never provide personal or confidential information to “http” links. Look for “https” links and the SSL lock symbol in the browser.

If you suspect that you have received a phishing email, contact the real company and report it to antiphishing.com, the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.com or the Internet Fraud Complaint Center of the FBI website.

Staying Safe During the Holiday Season

As we begin the hustle and bustle this time of year is so famous for, don’t let your holidays be ruined by becoming a victim of a crime.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the “peace on earth, good will toward men” attitude. So with a little common sense and practicing the following safety tips, you can ensure your holiday is filled with happiness and celebration.

  • Use your ATM card wisely – When using your ATM card, make sure to be observant. Look around for any suspicious persons or activity.
  • What’s in your wallet – Losing your wallet can be a disaster for your holiday and a field day for an identity thief. Limit the amount of confidential information you carry in your wallet. Never carry account numbers, PIN numbers, a passport or your social security card. Most importantly, never set your wallet/purse down – unless your hand is attached to it.
  • Parking – Always park in a well-lit area and take note of where you’ve parked. Lock your car and close your windows (also while driving). When you return to your vehicle, have your keys in hand and when you approach your vehicle look around you for anyone or anything that looks suspicious. Make sure to scan the interior and exterior (especially underneath the car) from a distance to be sure no one is hiding.
  • Packages – Avoid overloading yourself with packages. It’s important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion to avoid potential mishaps. Lock all your packages out of sight in the trunk.
  • Cash – Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Pay for purchases with a credit or debit card when possible. Notify your credit card company or bank immediately if your credit or debit card is stolen or has been fraudulently used.
  • Children – Make sure to go over a plan with your children ahead of time concerning what to do should you become separated while shopping. Never allow them to go to the parking lot or the car alone.
  • Scams – Be aware of anything that sounds too good – the “good deal” scams.
  • At home – Be extra cautious during the holidays. Make sure to always lock your doors and windows when you leave the house – even if it’s for only a few minutes. Leave lights on and music or the TV so the house appears to be occupied. Don’t have large displays of holiday gifts in open view of windows and doors. If you go away for the holidays make sure your home appears “lived in.” Purchase an automatic timer for your lights. Have a trusting neighbor watch your home and pick up your newspapers and mail while you are away. In addition, if you use lights on your Christmas tree, make sure they are in good working order and don’t leave them on while you’re not at home.
  • Drive defensively – Traffic is heavier during the holidays and drivers may also be indulged in too many holiday libations.
  • Parties – When hosting a party, find alternative transportation for guests who have had too much to drink; and if you are going out, please remember, Don’t Drink and Drive.

I hope by utilizing these helpful holiday tips, you and yours will have a safe and blessed holiday season!

 

 

Give Thanks at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just around the corner! Soon we will be feverishly preparing those much-anticipated annual feasts. We will be reviewing our cherished Turkey Day recipes, preparing our grocery lists, inviting our guests and calling “dibs” on the most comfy chair in the house to watch the infamous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Sadly, this holiday has lost some of its meaning over the years. It’s become an increasingly thinner slice of the celebration it was originally meant to be, sandwiched somewhere between the marketing machines of Halloween and Christmas. In many ways, Thanksgiving has become a few days of respite before the craziness of Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa unfolds.

I recently stumbled upon an extremely poignant quote by H.U. Westermayer, which I believe aptly sums up the true meaning of Thanksgiving, as it was originally intended by those who gave birth to this celebration over 390 years ago:

“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.”

With these sobering words in mind, let’s all take time to give thanks for our many blessings – our health, family, home, friends, job and having food on the table.

In honor of this holiday, I thought I’d give you a few creative ideas/ways to give thanks that I recently found in an article in Better Homes and Gardens. I hope you find these crafts fun to make and will make at least one of them part of your Thanksgiving tradition.

Wine Glass Tags – Print out leaf-shape pattern (you can find one on the Internet) onto fall-color papers, cut out, and punch a hole at the base of each leaf. Ask guests to pick a leaf and write a word or short phrase describing something they’re thankful for, such as “family” or “good health.” Attach leaves to the wineglass stems using lengths of gold cord or raffia.

Notes of Appreciation – For those who can’t be at your Thanksgiving table, set pen to paper to tell them they’ve made a difference in your life this year. Print these Thanksgiving designs to make lovely foldable cards for your thank-you notes.

 A Thanksgiving Tree – Stick bare branches into a pitcher filled with sand. Make ornaments from paper cutouts by punching a hole in the top of each one and tying ribbon through it. In addition to asking guests to share their thankful thoughts, ask them to sign their name and date their ornaments. Save the Thanksgiving ornaments as mementos for the coming years.

 A Journal – Craft a paper journal to record a Thanksgiving celebration. Pass the journal among guests to capture their sentiments and memories. Start your own anthology and make a journal each year. When Thanksgiving comes around again, bring out the old journals and reminisce.

Paper Placemats – Simple pieces of construction paper become expressions of thankfulness. Ask kids to write the things they are thankful for on the pieces of paper, which they can use as place mats for the Thanksgiving meal.

Gracious Giving – Extend the generous spirit beyond your gathering of friends and family. In the weeks before Thanksgiving, pick a charity to contribute to, such as a food pantry or homeless shelter. Ask guests to bring items to donate. (Be sure to give advance notice about the project so it’s not a last-minute surprise.) Place a large basket for collecting donations near the front door or close to the main Thanksgiving festivities.

For more creative Thanksgiving craft ideas visit bhg.com

So as we begin preparations to celebrate this most special day with our families and friends, let’s take time to be mindful of the original meaning of this day and be ever thankful for our many blessings.

From my house to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

Balancing and Reconciling Bank Accounts…Still a Good Practice

Even in this electronic age, it is still important to balance and reconcile your personal and business bank accounts. For many, balancing and reconciling their accounts is still something akin to having a root canal. But today, with online banking and smartphone apps, this seemingly outmoded exercise is easier than ever before and believe it or not, just as necessary.

Before we begin this discussion, I think it’s important to differentiate between the terms balance and reconcile. These two terms are oftentimes confusing and mistakenly used interchangeably, especially by consumers who don’t use paper checks or a check register to record their transactions.

Balancing – Balancing a check book shows how much money is available in your account at any given time. To balance an account, simply add all your new deposits to the beginning balance of the account and then subtract from that subtotal checks you’ve written, ATM and debit card transactions, cash withdrawals and bank fees. This process will determine your account balance on that given date.

Reconciling – Reconciling an account compares the bank’s records to your records – your check register. Your register should contain a running total of all of your transactions (deposits, checks, ATMs and debit card transactions, ACH debits and credits, fees, etc.). By performing this task on a routine basis you can quickly discover bank errors and most importantly, unauthorized activity.

Reconciling is completed by adding all of the deposits the bank has not yet credited to the bank’s balance and then subtracting all the payments, withdrawals and bank fees the bank has not cleared from that subtotal, confirming that the bank’s records match your check register. This should be done at least monthly – online banking allows the ability and ease to perform this procedure more frequently.

In the old days, these two tasks required paper and pencil and some mathematical calculations. Today, with the advent of technology, this process can easily be completed in minutes.

The benefits of taking the time to complete these two steps, balancing and reconciling, although much less time-consuming today, are still just as important.

By not reviewing your accounts on a monthly basis, first and foremost, you are not being a good steward of your finances. You are not keeping track of the money you spend or where you are spending it. Keeping an eye on your finances helps you maintain a healthy budget, avoiding overspending, overdrafts and incurring unnecessary and costly bank fees.

Many people are reluctant to critically examine their spending habits. The initial examination can oftentimes be painful. However, the end result, especially if this periodic looksee changes harmful spending patterns, is well worth the effort. In addition, there’s just as much value in simply making sure the math is correct.

Another very important reason to go through the balancing-reconciling-reviewing exercise is to spot financial management mistakes and fraudulent activity. This helps you recognize any unfamiliar transactions and unwanted recurring deductions. The sooner you are aware of this unauthorized activity, the sooner you and your bank can take the necessary actions and precautions.

In the end, taking a few minutes to balance, reconcile and review your bank accounts is time well spent. After all, it’s your hard-earned money!

Seasons of Change

For all intents and purposes another Florida summer is gone. The kids have all gone back to school, the lifeguard stands have been neatly tucked away for another beach going season, our vacations are but fond memories and most of us are counting the days until autumn rears its temperate head.

We typically welcome this period of change, eagerly anticipating a temporary break from the hot, humid weather for which Florida is so famous. Although our seasonal transition lags a tad behind our more northern neighbors, we can still begin to set the stage, our life for all the wonderfully renewing experiences that another season brings.

Add a Few Accents

A new season is a great time to spruce up our surroundings. Adding a few inexpensive touches to our home can make a cheerful impact on our lives – colorful pillows for sofas, new drapes, area rugs or possibly painting an accent wall a bolder, richer color will add warmth to our home.

Bring the Outside In

As the temperature cools and the days shorten, we will be spending more time inside. But we can bring a little nature inside with fresh cut flowers, branches, berries, pinecones and leaves, or even a few dried gourds, adding a lovely autumn touch to our home.

Clean Out and Stow Away

Rather than pack up all our summer gear and warm weather apparel, let’s determine what we want to retain for next year and what we don’t. We can cut down on clutter and storage by making this decision now. Let’s recycle, donate, or have a yard sale to eliminate unwanted stuff, and pack the rest away.

Freshen Up the Kitchen

It’s a perfect time to clean out our pantry, cabinets and refrigerator. Throw out all old and expired items and assess what we will need for the cooler, more comfort food cooking months ahead. In addition to weeding out and stocking up, we shouldn’t forget to give our kitchen appliances a thorough checkup to make sure they are running efficiently. This is a perfect time to vacuum the condenser coils of the refrigerator, clean the oven and eliminate the grease buildup in the oven’s vent system.

Revisit the Bucket List

As another calendar year wanes, let’s review our life list or set out to make one. Let’s jot down our goals, dreams and ambitions, and begin plotting the steps to get there.

Start Cooking Again

Nothing gives our house a homier feel, especially when it’s cooler outside, than the aroma of a delicious home-cooked meal. Let’s break out our cookbooks. Let’s be adventurous and experiment with some new recipes. Let’s start sizzling, sautéing and baking again!

Maintain a Healthy Heart

Now that the lazy days of summer are over, it’s time to light the fire within us. Let’s move our activity level up a notch. Let’s run farther or walk more briskly or add more reps to our workout. Let’s keep in good physical shape over the coming winter months and save ourselves the disappointment of wishing we had when the beach and pool going weather returns once again.

Stay In Touch

As the days grow shorter and cooler, let’s reduce the tendency to shut ourselves in by actively engaging our network of family and friends in our everyday life to maintain a healthy support system. Let’s pull out our calendar and make some dates! Let’s meet for a latte, lunch or gather for a Sunday potluck dinner, and celebrate the beauty of a new season with those we care about most!

From my house to yours, “Happy Autumn!”

Getting Ready for “Back to School”

It’s that time again. New friends, new teachers and new routines – how do you make the transition from the lazy days of summer to the school year without making life chaotic and stressful for you and your kids?

That’s the question on every parent’s mind right about now. As we move into the second week of August, we begin to realize that “back to school” is just about back!

Getting a new school year off to a good start can influence your child’s attitude, confidence, and performance both socially and academically, according to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). The transition from summer to the classroom can be difficult for both you and your children.

But we as parents can help our children (and the rest of our family) manage the increased pace of life that the new school year brings by planning ahead, being realistic, and maintaining a positive attitude. Here are a few suggestions from the NASP to help ease the transition and promote a successful and rewarding school experience.

Before School Starts

Good physical and mental health. Be sure your child is in good physical and mental health. Schedule doctor and dental checkups early. Discuss any concerns you have over your child’s emotional or psychological development with your pediatrician. Your doctor can help determine if your concerns are normal, age-appropriate issues or require further assessment.

Review all of the information. Review the material sent by the school as soon as it arrives. These packets include important information about your child’s teacher, room number, school supply requirements, sign ups for after-school sports and activities, school calendar dates, bus transportation, health and emergency forms, and volunteer opportunities.

Mark your calendar. Make a note of important dates, especially back-to-school nights. This is especially important if you have children in more than one school and need to juggle obligations.

Buy school supplies early. Try to get the supplies as early as possible and fill the backpacks a week or two before school starts.

Re-establish the bedtime and mealtime routines. Plan to re-establish the bedtime and mealtime routines (especially breakfast) at least one week before school starts.

Turn off the TV. Encourage your child to play quiet games, do puzzles, flash cards, color, or read as early morning activities instead of watching television. This will help ease your child into the learning process and school routine. If possible, maintain this practice throughout the school year.

Minimize clothes shopping woes. Buy only the essentials. Summer clothes are usually fine during the early fall, especially in Florida. Check with your school to confirm dress code guidelines.

Designate and clear a place to do homework. Older children should have the option of studying in their room or a quiet area of the house. Younger children usually need an area set aside in the family room or kitchen to facilitate adult monitoring, supervision, and encouragement.

Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes. Designate a spot for your children to place their school belongings as well as a place to put important notices and information sent home for you to see. Explain that emptying their backpack each evening is part of their responsibility, even for young children.

Freeze a few easy dinners. It will be much easier on you if you have dinner prepared so that meal preparation will not add to household tensions during the first week of school.

The First Week

Clear your own schedule. To the extent possible, postpone business trips, volunteer meetings, and extra projects. You want to be free to help your child acclimate to the school routine and overcome the confusion or anxiety that many children experience at the start of a new school year.

Make lunches the night before school. Older children should help or make their own. Give them the option to buy lunch in school if they prefer and finances permit.

Set alarm clocks. Have school-age children set their own alarm clocks to get up in the morning. Praise them for prompt response to morning schedules and bus pickups.

Leave plenty of extra time. Make sure your child has plenty of time to get up, eat breakfast, and get to school.

For younger children – send a brief note to your child’s teacher. . Let the teachers know that you are interested in getting regular feedback on how and what your child is doing in school. Be sure to attend back-to-school night and introduce yourself to the teachers.

Extracurricular Activities

Go for quality, not quantity. Your child will benefit most from one or two activities that are fun, reinforce social development, and teach new skills. Too much scheduled time can be stressful, especially for young children, and may make it harder to concentrate on schoolwork. When evaluating extracurricular activities, consider your family schedule and personal energy level. Multiple activities per child may be too much to manage, particularly if the activities have overlapping times, disparate locations, require your attendance, or disrupt the dinner hour.

These are some great tips for helping parents and kids get back into the swing of “back to school.”  So with this said, here’s to a great 2013-14 school year!