While losing weight and getting your financial house in order are always popular to-dos, another worthy candidate is getting your life organized.
Keep in mind, being organized is not an inborn or inherited trait. It’s a learned behavior by cultivating healthy habits and maintaining those habits to keep your life in order.
If being organized is a priority this year, remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to overhaul your life in one month. It will be too overwhelming. You will have a greater opportunity for success if you have an overall plan or goal and by starting with a few key steps or habits to help you get organized over the year, rather than trying to get it done in one fell swoop.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Write things down – whether you are trying to remember birthdays, doctor’s appointments or items on your grocery list, make it permanent. Put pen to paper or use the calendar on your computer or smart phone.
2. Make schedules and deadlines – being organized goes hand-in-hand with using your time efficiently. Don’t waste time. Make and keep schedules for the day and week and stick to them.
3. Don’t procrastinate – the longer you wait to start something the more difficult it is to get it done. If one of your goals is to have a less stressful life, getting organized is the answer. Checking to-dos off your list will make you a happier and healthier person.
4. Find a home for everything – keeping your life organized begins with keeping your things in their proper places. Keep order by storing things properly and labeling the storage spaces. Put things that you use on a regular basis in easy-to-access storage spaces. Don’t let these spaces get cluttered and never label a storage space “miscellaneous.”
5. Declutter and weed out regularly – find time each week, possibly on cleaning day, to reorganize and get rid of things you don’t need or want. Less stuff means less clutter. Have a yard sale, donate to a thrift shop, take a trip to the recycling center or sell unwanted items on one of the popular resale websites.
6. Delegate responsibilities – don’t try to do everything yourself. Look at your to-do list (remember step one, write things down) and find tasks that you can remove and give to someone else. By doing this, you will eliminate the stress that is caused by thinking that the whole world rests on your shoulders.
7. Work hard – again, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Getting your currently disorganized world organized is going to take some effort on your part.
Getting and staying organized isn’t a walk in the park. It takes a plan, hard work and commitment. But, the rewards of a less stressful, clutter-free life are well worth the effort.
Volunteering is often thought of as something nice that people can do. Although this is true, it’s much more than that. Volunteering has a significant impact both intrinsically and extrinsically. It not only affects the health and well-being of a community but it can also make a positive difference in the volunteer’s life as well.
Volunteers provide critical services – from firefighting, delivering meals to the homebound elderly and providing public health and safety education to manning the phone lines at domestic violence and sexual assault centers. Volunteers also keep our neighborhoods safe. Volunteers tutor, mentor and coach our youth from everything from math homework, to dealing with a personal crisis to good sportsmanship on the soccer field. Volunteers also take tickets at cultural events and festivals and lead tours at museums, ensuring that the arts stay alive and well in our communities. They build houses, man soup kitchens, start recycling programs, fundraise and so much more.
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 64.5 million Americans, or 26.5 percent of the adult population, gave 7.9 billion hours of volunteer service worth $175 billion in 2012.
But, volunteering is not just about money. Volunteering is about giving, contributing and helping people and your community at large. It’s working with other like-minded people to make a meaningful contribution to a better community…a better world.
Whether you want to address a community problem or advance a worthy cause, volunteering offers many benefits in appreciation for your time well beyond the monetary value. Volunteering can help you:
- Make vital networking contacts
- Develop new skills
- Enhance your resume
- Gain work experience
- Build self-esteem and self-confidence, a feeling of being needed and valued
- Improve your health
- Meet new people
- Show others that you care about your community
So now that the case has been made for the both the internal and external benefits of volunteering, how do you find or create the ideal volunteer opportunity?
Here are a few tips:
- Identify partner organizations in your community
- Talk to friends, colleagues and family
- Check out your local volunteer centers
- Search online
- Start your own volunteer project
No matter which avenue you choose to locate volunteering opportunities, you ultimately must get to know the organization and determine if it and its cause is a good fit for you.
Once you’ve done all your homework, the only thing left for you to do is to SIGN UP and GET INVOLVED!
It’s truly a win, win!
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.
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.
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.
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:
>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 firstname.lastname@example.org or the Internet Fraud Complaint Center of the FBI website.
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!
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!
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!