Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, technology, specifically the computer and the Internet, has made our lives easier. In fact, most of us today, would be lost without it. We can instantly communicate and share our lives with family and friends all over the world. We can order almost anything we could ever want or need with a stroke of a key and/or the click of our mouse. We can also manage and monitor our finances in real time, and even pay our bills online.
However, there was a time, not so long ago, when people were hesitant to pay their bills online. (Some people are still skeptical today.) People were concerned about the security of Internet transactions and viewed online bill pay as a loss of control over their finances. Somehow, writing checks, stamping envelopes and putting these checks in the mail seemed safer. But, think about this for a minute. The simple act of putting a check in the mail puts your personal information (your name, address and bank account information) in the hands of numerous people before and after the check gets to its intended destination.
Today, people can pay almost every bill imaginable safely online – mortgages, college tuition, car loans, rent, utilities…you name it.
Switching to eBills or paying your bills online has many advantages, including enhanced security (replacing paper bills with electronic versions reduces the flow of personal information from unsecured mailboxes, where theft is a threat, as well as the number of people who handle it). And it’s also free!
You can pay your bills online in three key ways. You can pay them through your bank, the biller’s site or a third-party bill payment service. There are pluses and minuses to each. So, do a little homework to determine which method suites you best.
Online bill pay doesn’t necessarily mean you’re setting up automatic drafts from your bank account every month. You can be in charge of when bills get paid (of course, within the due date window) and, in the instance of credit card bills, the amount you want to pay.
You can also use your credit cards to pay your bills online. More and more companies are accepting credit cards as online payment. By using your credit card to pay your bills online, you can keep better track of your finances as well as earn airline travel miles and other cash-based rewards. You will also have more recourse if there’s a dispute or fraudulent activity. But, there’s a catch. Always make sure to pay this balance off when the credit car bill comes due. The last thing you want to be doing is financing your monthly living expenses.
Other great benefits of receiving and paying your bills online include:
Convenience – It’s faster and easier than the snail mail method. You also don’t have to be at home to view or pay your bills. You can access and pay them securely from anywhere in the world.
Eliminates the procrastinator factor – With online bill pay, there are no bills piling up on the counter or the desk in your home office waiting to be paid. And if you’re like most people and don’t pay them immediately, there’s the chance that you may forget about them and their due dates, until they are past due. Even if you wait until the last minute to pay your bills online, the transactions typically are processed within a day or two.
Organization – Online bill pay eliminates filing. Your bill paying history is available online.
Protect your credit score – You can set up your accounts to send you email reminders when bills are due as well as schedule automatic payments to ensure your bills are paid on time. This helps you maintain a good credit score.
Eco-friendly – Using online bill pay reduces the demand for paper. Less mail and envelopes to open and refill means less waste in our landfills, and less energy and fuel expended on printing, processing, mailing and transporting.
Similar to losing weight, quitting smoking, beginning and maintaining an exercise regime or just being a happier person, decluttering your life is no easy feat. Decluttering, especially if you tend to be a collector, can seem like a daunting, insurmountable task. Due to this mindset, the best-intentioned decluttering plan is often short-lived.
Decluttering your life, like eating an elephant, is best-accomplished one bite at a time. You’ll have a higher rate of success by taking things one small step at a time. After all, clutter, like being overweight, a chain-smoker, out of shape or even a sourpuss, didn’t happen overnight.
The good…great news is, by taking that first, often painful decluttering step, and continuing on with little steps, you’ll soon see big improvements in your living and working space as well as your life.
Here are some steps to get you started:
Take a few minutes today to sort through a pile…or declutter a shelf, table or countertop. Pick up the first item in the pile and ask yourself, “Do I really need this…love it…or use it regularly?” If the answer is no, put it into one of four piles – “Donate,” “Recycle,” “Give Away” or “Toss.” If the answer is yes, put it in a “Keep” pile.
When you’ve had enough decluttering for the day (10-20 minutes is a good start), separately bag or box up the no piles and put them in your trunk to disseminate the next time you’re out. Then, gather up the items in your yes or “Keep” pile and find a permanent home for them.
If you’re on the fence about some items, use a “Maybe” box. Put today’s date on it and a six-month reminder on your calendar. If, in six months, you haven’t used it, you probably don’t need it and should put it in one of your no piles.
Organizing your family photos can be one of the most time-consuming decluttering tasks. If you haven’t had the time to put your photos in album or scrapbook, it’s okay to stop pretending you will someday. Group your photos by subject – a family reunion, a trip to Europe, etc. – and store them in a clear shoebox, labeled and dated.
Don’t move onto another room or space until you’ve completed the current one. This may take several days, especially if you’re cleaning out closets and drawers/cabinets. Remember, take it slowly, and relish in your small accomplishments (your newly decluttered space), or you’ll think the task is too difficult and won’t want to continue.
Decluttering your workspace is essential to productivity and focus.
Begin with your desk. Clear everything off the top of your desk and assemble it in piles on the floor. This provides the perfect occasion to clean and wipe down your desk. Once you’ve done this, begin sorting through the piles. Similar to decluttering your home, determine which items are needed and can be filed or put away, and which aren’t and can be delegated or tossed.
Once you’ve accomplished this…and have had time to bask in the enjoyment of a clean and organized desk, move onto the drawers, shelves and/or cabinets.
The goal of this project is to designate a permanent place for every item you’ve decided to keep and maintain a clean, organized desktop. To accomplish this, have an inbox for all incoming papers and sort through it daily to determine what should be filed or put away, delegated or tossed. This simple daily task will help you stay on top of the clutter. In addition, develop a filing system for ongoing or currently in-process projects.
At the end of your workday, the only items that should remain on your desk are your computer, your inbox, and maybe a special photo or memento, and any documents you are working on at the moment.
In addition to decluttering your workspace, you should also declutter your computer. Weed out the files and programs on your computer that you don’t need. Clean up your desktop. These icons not only slow down your computer, but they also create visual clutter.
In today’s digital world, there are so many different ways that information creeps into our lives. Having too much information at our fingertips can be overwhelming/stressful as well as a big timewaster. Set limits on the amount of information you receive and read each day. Get rid of things from your RSS feed. Reduce your magazine and newspaper subscriptions as well as your consumption of news and television. Instead of letting information take over your life, including the information your friends share with you via social media, control how and when you receive information by limiting the sources and what you read.
Declutter your day by reducing your commitments, personal and work-related. Start by making a list of the day’s commitments. Prioritize these commitments, the things that are most important to you and your day, and say “no” to or put off the non-essential things for another day. Become ruthless about saying “no” to new commitments…guard your personal and professional time.
Once you’ve successfully decluttered, whether it’s in one area or all the areas mentioned above, clutter will always find a way of creeping back into your life. You must be vigilant and stay on top of it…so it doesn’t get out of hand again.
Set up a system to keep clutter in check. The most critical step in this system is not putting off today what you’d rather to do tomorrow. Deal with it immediately.
By devoting a little of your time to eliminating clutter and maintaining a fairly clutter-free existence, you’ll reap the rewards – a pleasing living and working environment and a more organized, productive and stress-free life.
Everyone has one or sometimes two or three. What is that, you say? Everyone has at least one gadget-obsessed family member and/or friend on their Christmas list. So, if you’re looking for the perfect techie gift for that special someone on your list, look (worry) no more. Here are some of this holiday season’s coolest tech gifts.
The avid adventurer – The goTenna is the perfect gift for the great outdoor person on your list. This device, which is sold in packs of two, works with your smartphone and an accompanying app to help you keep in touch (send messages and your location) to another goTenna user, even in remote locations where there’s no cell phone signal for miles. The high-tech Walkie Talkie of sorts. ($250 for the pair)
The younger virtual-reality fan – This Mattel View-Master is much more sophisticated than the one most of us had as kids. It looks somewhat like the View-Master of yesteryear, but if you place an iPhone or Android inside this View-Master, it’s whole different story. It supports Google Cardboard apps, so your young techie can play around with virtual reality. ($30)
The smartphone photographer – Photojojo, the iPhone and Android Lens Series Smartphone lens set comes with a set of stick-on lenses – two different fisheye lenses, a telephoto lens, polarized lens and a combination wide-angle and macro lens. This gift is sure to be a huge hit with the person on your Christmas list who’s obsessed with taking professional-quality smartphone photos. ($99)
The power-hungry traveler – Zolt Laptop Charger Plus is not your standard brick charger. Don’t let its size or its good looks fool you. It can charge a laptop and two other devices at the same time with a trio of USB ports, and the charging prongs can also turn 90 degrees if needed. It comes with several PC charging tips. However, if the recipient of this gift has a MacBook, you’ll need to add on an extra $20 for this tip. ($100, not including the MacBook tip)
The high-tech cyclist – With the Hammerhead One, your biking enthusiast won’t have to stop and pull out their smartphone to check directions. This T-shaped gadget mounts to the handlebars and uses glowing LEDs to show the cyclist when and in which direction to turn via a low-energy Bluetooth, which is running behind the scenes (tucked away) on the cyclist’s smartphone. ($85)
The audio-visual buff – Brookstone’s 1080p HDMI projector allows you to project whatever is on your phone out to any audience. Its compactness makes it the perfect gift for those who frequently have presentations to give. It’s also great for watching movies too. ($349.99)
The Health Nut – You can get all kinds of health-related information from the Fitbit One. It will give you all kinds of data about your daily routine, such as how many steps you’ve taken in a day, how many calories you’ve burned, how many times you wake up during a night’s sleep, and so much more. This data is synced and formulated into graphs for you to utilize to enhance your health. ($99.95)
The remote-control freak – The The DJI Phantom 3 Standard is the perfect gift for someone who wants a drone but doesn’t have a lot of experience navigating one. This quadcopter has GPS so you can see its flight pattern on your smartphone, which attaches to its remote control, and a camera attached to a gimbal so you can take high-definition videos and 12-megapixel still photos. This drone also boasts decent flying time: as much as 25 minutes per charge. ($699)
The emerging virtuosos – The Tap a Tune Musical Gloves can turn any surface into a piano keyboard. With embedded sensors, each fingertip will play a different note when tapped against a firm surface. The scale moves from left to right, just like a real keyboard. Don’t have a piano…no worries. ($40)
The child who really wants a tablet – The Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet is the perfect just-for-kids tablet. It’s affordable and has decent specifications, including a seven-inch touch screen, front and rear cameras, and a microSD card slot for adding more storage to its built-in eight gigabytes. This tablet will entertain and educate…all while giving parents some peace. The tablet also comes with a case, as well as a two-year warranty…no questions asked…even if the tablet mysteriously gets broken. ($100)
Although the list of great high-tech Christmas (holiday) gifts has in no way been exhausted here, these ideas will provide you with a great start. So, relax, sip some eggnog, head out to a party…and have a safe and wonderfully blessed holiday season!
The holiday season is looming and so are the identity thieves!
With the significant rise of Internet shopping and the use of debit cards, it’s never been easier to take advantage of someone’s personal, digital information.
The holidays can be a hectic time, oftentimes leaving us distracted, providing the perfect opportunity for thieves to slip in, steal our information and slip out without being noticed.
While credit cards present the same threat, debit card theft is much more problematic for the victim.
Under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, if a credit card user spots fraudulent charges on his/her bill, he/she can simply decline the charges. In addition, with a credit card, the victim’s liability is limited to $50 if the card issuer is notified within 60 days after the statement listing the transaction is mailed/emailed.
There’s no such protection with a debit card. With a debit card, the money is drawn directly out of the cardholder’s checking account and the $50 liability limit expires two days after the fraud and then your liability is up to $500. Due to this, even with clear-cut cases of fraud, debit card theft can cause significant hardship, often wreaking havoc on one’s finances.
Debit cards are a much bigger target for thieves because they are typically tied to someone’s bank account. While getting money from an ATM or getting cash back requires a PIN, thieves are getting more and more sophisticated, as evidenced by skimming (tampering with checkout line PIN pads to capture information) and security breaches by several major retailers in recent years.
While there is no complete safeguard against being the victim of debit card fraud, it’s important to keep in mind that most criminals, especially thieves, are opportunists – they tend to prey on those who will be the easiest, lowest-risk victims. With this said, here are a few tips to help protect yourself from identity theft this holiday season as well as throughout the year:
1. Be alert and aware of your surroundings – use ATMs in well-lit and unobstructed areas, especially at night, and in clear view of pedestrians and vehicle traffic. Minimize the time spent at the ATM, and, if you have to get out of your car to use the ATM, park your car as close to the ATM as possible.
2. Safeguard your account number and PIN. Whether you are at the ATM or the checkout line, use your body or free hand to shield the keypad entry. Memorize your PIN, and never give your number to someone else. In addition, don’t use easily recognized numbers as your PIN (e.g. birthdate, anniversary, house number, phone number, etc.), and never write your PIN on your card or anything that is kept with your card.
3. Take your receipt – always keep your receipts for your records – never leave them behind.
4. Watch for skimmers – be aware of cameras and/or skimming devices at ATMs or checkout line PIN pads. If the machine appears to have been tampered with, re-manufactured or has any loose parts or wires, don’t use the machine. Thieves can also skim your information from your debit/credit cards while they’re still in your wallet. Minimize this threat by taking only the cards you plan to use, and by keeping them in your front pocket.
5. Use a pre-paid debit card. A pre-paid debit card is very different from a bank account debit card because it is not linked to your checking account. With a pre-paid debit card, you pay in advance by loading funds, typically by transferring money from your checking account, onto the card. If this card is compromised, only the funds that have been loaded onto the card are at risk, not your entire checking account. This card also helps avoid overspending and overdrafts.
6. Use a credit card for online purchases, especially when dealing with an unfamiliar site.
7. Check your account frequently – contact the bank if you suspect fraud or find irregularities in your account/statement. Remember that the extent of your liability in fraudulent losses depend on how quickly you report the unauthorized activity/transactions.
8. Report lost or stolen cards immediately – notify the bank immediately if your card is lost or stolen and then follow-up with the bank the next day, first thing in the morning, to determine if any transactions have occurred.
These tips are just a few of the many things you can do to keep safe and protect yourself from identity theft during the holiday season…as well as all through the year. Always keep in mind, thieves are opportunists, and the more difficult you make it for them, the less likely they will bother with you.
It’s hard to believe summer vacation is coming to a close and the beginning of the new school year is just around the bend.
Some kids dread the end of summer vacation while others happily anticipate the first day of school. Both, however, want to start the new school year looking their best and armed with the required school supplies. And this can put additional financial strain on many families’ already stressed-out wallets.
So, here are a few tips to keep your kids happy while saving your wallet from a complete meltdown.
1. Plan – Before you buy the first pair of jeans or notebook, make a list of what you need and estimate how much you can afford to spend overall – clothes and supplies. Make a realistic budget and explain to your children that you will only buy what’s on the list and within your budget.
2. Recycle from last year – Check your children’s closets for clothes they can still wear or their younger siblings can wear. In addition, have your kids help find school supplies around the house that were left over from last year or can be re-used this year, such as markers, pencils and binders.
3. Watch for promotions, in-store and online coupons – Comparison shop. Many stores will match a competitor’s ad or coupon. If you’re purchasing online, make sure to check the cost of shipping and include that in your budget. Look for online retailers that offer free back-to-school shipping.
4. Postpone some purchases – Don’t buy everything in one fell swoop. Spread out your purchases. Retailers typically offer sweeter deals after the back-to-school rush. Review your children’s school supply list – if there are some items on the list that won’t be needed right away, hold off buying them now while keeping your eyes peeled for sales.
5. Be frugal – Consider thrift stores, outlet malls, and discount and consignment stores to get better deals on new and gently used clothing. If school uniforms are required, find out if the school has a trading or discount program.
6. Get Creative – If you’re not planning to hand your child’s clothes down to younger siblings, sell them (gently used and in good condition) and use the money to purchase back-to-school clothes or supplies. Consider doing a clothing swap with your friends who have children.
7. Get family members in on the act – When grandparents and other family members ask what they can buy your kids for their birthdays or other holidays, encourage them to buy school clothing or clothing gift cards.
8. Involve your kids – Back-to-school shopping is a great way to teach your children about budgeting and money management. Have them make their own back-to-school lists and put them in charge of finding coupons or the best deals on these items to stay on budget. Help your kids to understand the difference between wants and needs.
With these tips in mind, make this practical back-to-school approach an annual tradition. Shop wisely and find novel ways to stretch your dollar. Above all, remember that you are the parent so take control, stay on budget and don’t let your kids dictate what you buy. Teach your children to be thrifty…they’ll thank you for it later.
June is a time of celebrations – Father’s Day and graduations – and initiations – the first official day of summer, and, of course, backyard grilling season!
To get June and the summer off to a great start, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite grilling recipes (collected over the years from many culinary sources). If you haven’t bought your new summer grill yet, now (possibly as a gift for Dad) is the time to get it.
Whether you already have your grill fired up or are planning on buying one soon, let’s get the summer grilling season started!
Grilled Spareribs with Cherry Cola Sauce
Spareribs baked in the oven until tender and then finished on the grill with a sweet and spicy cherry cola glaze.
• 4 (12-ounce) cans cherry cola (use flat soda or pour it into a bowl and let it sit on the counter for 4 hours.)
• 2 cups cherry jam or preserves
• ⅔ cup Dijon mustard
• 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
• 3 tablespoons soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
• 2 teaspoons tabasco sauce
• 7 to 7½ pounds well-trimmed pork spareribs
1. Place cola in a Dutch oven or large saucepan and boil over medium-high heat until reduced to 1½ cups, about 45 minutes.
2. Add next 6 ingredients and stir well. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until reduced to 2½ cups, stirring occasionally. This will take about 35 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Place oven racks in top and bottom thirds of oven and heat oven to 325 degrees.
4. Season ribs with salt and pepper. Wrap each rack tightly in foil. Divide ribs between 2 baking sheets and place in oven for 2 hours. Let ribs cool slightly.
5. Heat grill to medium heat.
6. Cut racks of ribs into individual ribs. Toss with 1 cup of glaze.
7. Grill ribs, basting with extra glaze, for about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
8. Serve with extra glaze.
Grilled Asparagus with Wasabi Soy Dipping Sauce
• 1 pound fresh asparagus
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
• 3 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 tablespoon SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend
• 2 teaspoons wasabi paste (or wasabi powder mixed with water)
• 1 lemon, optional
1. Cut off tough ends of asparagus and discard.
2. Heat grill to medium-high heat.
3. Toss asparagus with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill for 5 minutes, or until tender.
4. In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, soy sauce, SPLENDA® Brown Sugar Blend, and wasabi paste.
5. If desired, squeeze fresh lemon juice over grilled asparagus.
Grilled Salmon Fillet
Serves: Makes 4 4-oz. portions
• 1 pound fresh wild Salmon
• olive oil
• kosher salt
• coarsely ground black pepper
1. Prepare your grill and bring to high heat.
2. Rinse the salmon under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel. Run your fingers along the meaty surface to check for any bones and remove any of them with needle nose pliers or fish tweezers.
3. Lighty coat the meaty side with olive oil then sprinkle generously with kosher salt and lots of freshly ground coarse black pepper. You don’t want to be skimpy here.
4. Place the fish fillet on a hot grill, meat side down, and cook for 3-4 minutes or until you can easily slide your spatula under the fish without it falling apart. Don’t disturb the fish once its on the grill until you’re ready to flip it. Flip the fish and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until desired doneness. Section into preferred serving sizes with or without the skin and serve with fresh cut lemon and cucumber dill sauce.
Cucumber Dill Sauce:
The addition of blue cheese dressing gives this cucumber dill sauce a tart tang that’s perfectly paired with a sturdy fish.
Serves: Makes 1-½ cups
• ½ cup sour cream
• ½ cup olive oil mayonnaise
• ½ english cucumber, about ½ cup, diced
• ¼ cup blue cheese dressing
• 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
• zest of 1 lemon
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• pinch of kosher salt
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Healthy Grilled Greek Chicken
• ⅓ cup olive oil
• Juice of one lemon
• 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
• ½ teaspoon dried thyme
• ¼ teaspoon paprika
• 1½ teaspoons salt
• 1 teaspoon pepper
• 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1. Combine all ingredients except chicken in a medium bowl. Pour into a large ziptop plastic bag. Add chicken and place in refrigerator to marinate for 6 to 12 hours.
2. Remove chicken from refrigerator and place on counter. Heat grill (or grill pan) to medium-high.
3. Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade. Place chicken on grill and grill for 5 minutes. Flip over and grill until no longer pink in the middle.
Enjoy the summer!
Tax season is looming and, unfortunately, so are the scammers. With a growing number of reports over the last several weeks, from the IRS and police departments across the country, of people falling prey to tax schemes, it’s the perfect time to share some of the most widely used tax scams. Hopefully, this insight will keep you from becoming another statistic.
Phone Scams – This scheme has been occurring with more frequency over the last few weeks. Basically, someone calls you claiming they work for the IRS. These scammers impersonate an IRS agent and typically try to scare/threaten you. They try to intimidate you with supposed penalties, being arrested or deported, etc. if you don’t pay them right now. They even may know all or part of your Social Security number. Don’t panic. The IRS won’t ever just call you out of the blue. They always initiate communication in writing, even if you owe money. They also will never ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone or threaten you with arrest, etc. for non-payment. If you have any doubts to the authenticity of a call or any correspondence, you can contact them directly (800-829-1040) or visit their website (IRS.gov).
Phishing – This scheme happens throughout the year. This occurs when scammers try to get your personal information by fooling you with fake emails or websites. However, during tax season they lure you in by claiming they have information about your tax refund, etc. You may, for example, get an email that looks like it’s coming from the IRS, inviting you to click on a link for information concerning your tax return or the money that may be due to you. Don’t fall for it. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact via email.
Identity Theft – This one is the worst…the tax scheme of all tax schemes. You arehappily awaiting your tax return, already happily anticipating where you plan to spend it and then you find out that someone else has been using your Social Security number as well as other identifying information, has filed a return in your name and is claiming your refund. Cut this off at the pass by never giving out personal information unless you know who’s asking for it and why, shredding personal and financial documents, knowing your tax preparer (see below) and filing your return early…beating the scammers to the punch.
Tax Return Preparer Fraud – You are inundated with advertisements of people/services that want to prepare and file your return for you. Just remember, like every service and/or person, some are ethical and honest and some are not. A majority of taxpayers today use a preparer. Just do your homework…check them out…get references, etc. In addition, remember that just because someone else prepares your tax return doesn’t release you from the responsibility of its accuracy. You’re the one who is ultimately responsible for the information contained in your return. So, make sure to review it thoroughly before you file it.
False Promises – Always trust your instincts…your common sense. The old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” can often be the case where refunds are concerned too. Watch for promises of big tax refunds by people who don’t know anything about you or your financial/tax circumstances.
Tax season can be hectic enough without adding undue stressors. So, eliminate the added stress by being aware of these types of scams, using your common sense, dealing with reputable, longstanding tax preparers and thoroughly reviewing your return. And last, but not least…when in doubt, contact the IRS.
Here’s to a stress-free, safe tax season!
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.
Although we Floridians are continuing to experience muggy, summer-like days, most other areas of the country are meandering into one of the most beautiful seasons of the year – fall.
Even though I’ve lived in Florida for over twenty years, having grown up in New York, fall remains the season I miss most. Oh sure, northern Florida gets a taste of fall, but it is quite dull in comparison to the vibrant, rich colors observed by our colder states.
One of the many benefits of living in central to northern Florida – other than the fact it doesn’t snow or more accurately, accumulate snow here – is our close proximity to the true fall – the kind all of us more northern transplants fondly remember and often yearn for each year around this time.
A recent Southern Living article I came across listed the best places in the south for experiencing the radiant colors of fall. I thought I’d share a few with you which are fairly close to home.
So, before this incredible color-packed foliage disappears (peak season is usually the second and third week of October), pack a bag, gas up the car and take a delightfully unexpected trip and celebrate the true colors of fall!
Enjoy your trip and tell me all about it when you return!
1. Ellijay, GA
Ellijay is located on the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest, about 80 miles north of Atlanta. This town and surrounding Gilmer County are known for being the apple capitol of Georgia, claiming 10 pick-your-own apples orchards.
2. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Clermont, KY
This forest is located just south of Louisville in Clermont. It includes 14,000 acres of fields and forests and 35 miles of hiking trails. For the biking enthusiast, there is a bike route that winds along the beautifully fall-colored Long Lick Creek.
3. Hanging Rock State Park, Danbury, NC
This state 7, 024 acre park, which boasts some of the best colors of fall in North Carolina, is approximately 30 miles north of Winston-Salem. You will find mountains rising more than 2,500 ft., cascading waterfalls and more!
4. Lover’s Leap Loop Trail, Hot Springs, NC
The Lover’s Leap Loop Trail overlooks the French Broad River and the town of Hot Springs, North Carolina. A hiker’s heaven – offering 1.6 mile miles of the Appalachian Trail. With its panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you won’t want to miss this!
5. Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg, TN
This most visited national park offers acres of fall colors and incredible wildlife to include white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and black bears. This park spreads across 800 acres of the southern Appalachian Mountains, winding through Tennessee and North Carolina.
6. Natchez Trace Parkway, TN
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. It connects the cities of Nashville, Tennessee and Natchez, Mississippi. Approximately 100 miles of this parkway runs through Tennessee and passes through such towns as Leipers Fork, and several historic spots.