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Creating a Memorable Staycation

Who’s ready for a vacation? After the past several months, the better question is, who isn’t? Many families, however, are putting their travel plans on hold until the coronavirus outbreak subsides and their financial situations stabilize. But, you can still take a break from the stress and tension of everything going on around you and recharge and rejuvenate, all while creating lasting memories with your family, with an affordable staycation.

The key to the perfect staycation is to research, plan and prepare for it like you would for your traditional, out-of-town vacation.

Here are few research ideas and planning ahead tips to help you make the most of your staycation:

  1. First and foremost, your staycation, like a traditional vacation, requires you to take the time off work, blocking off your schedule just like you would if you were leaving town.

  • Make a list of your favorite local restaurants that deliver and plan a few staycation, take out dinners.

  • Load up your DVR or WatchList queue – Catch up on a series you’ve wanted to watch or download a marathon of your favorite movies. Have them teed up in your watch list for easy access and don’t forget to have plenty of popcorn and candy on hand!

  • Check out books at your local library or download a good read on your Kindle or Nook.  Your staycation is the perfect time to relax on the couch or in the backyard hammock and immerse yourself in a great novel.

  • Download some recipes you’ve been interested in trying out and add the necessary ingredients to your staycation, grocery shopping list.

  • Set up an area in the backyard for a bonfire. Make sure to have a generous supply of seasoned wood and kindling on hand, and don’t forget to add graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars to your shopping list for those yummy, campfire s’mores.

  • Pull out your favorite board games and a deck of playing cards. Add your favorite snacks and drinks to the grocery list and be ready for a marathon board or card game tournament night. Get your competitive family spirit going by keeping score and offering the winner a gift card to his or her favorite store for the prize.

  • Visit the websites of places of interest and see what they have to offer virtually. Numerous museums, art galleries, zoos and parks offer very inexpensive or free ways to take virtual tours. In addition, sites like Google Arts & Culture offer the opportunity to explore cultural institutions across the globe like the British Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Guggenheim in New York City for free.

  • Get the supplies needed for a water park in your backyard. Sprinklers, slip and slides and buckets of water balloons will create some great hot weather fun for the whole family. Buy or build your own cornhole board game for some additional backyard fun.

  1. Plan to truly unplug and disconnect. Your staycation is for you and your family so do your part to make it a real vacation. Set up an out-of-office email response, silence your phone, turn off your computer and let your colleagues know not to bother you unless it’s extremely urgent.

  1. Get the chores done before you begin your staycation. Pay your bills and do the laundry, house cleaning and lawn work, and stock up on the groceries and essentials for your staycation activities.

  1.  Build excitement for your staycation. Like a traditional vacation, put the dates on the calendar and begin counting down to your staycation. Print out a staycation calendar and as you and your family decide on your plans/activities, mark them on your calendar.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Get your family together and add your own creative, out-of-the-box activities to make this is a fun and memorable family staycation!

Life After Covid-19 – Scenarios of Economic Recovery

As the cases of Covid-19 begin to level off, many states are cautiously reopening and beginning to loosen their social distancing restrictions in hopes of jumpstarting their economy.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the U.S. and world economy, plummeting economic activity and causing soaring unemployment rates. Social distancing policies designed to slow the spread of the disease have resulted in an economic decline that rivals the Great Depression.

So, what can we expect over the next several months? Will the economic recovery be as painful as the coronavirus-linked lockdowns or will there be a bounceback or possibly a scenario in between these extremes?

Currently, economic analysts are debating the following scenarios of recovery:

The “Z-Shaped” Recovery – This most optimistic scenario predicts that the post-pandemic economy bounces back above the pre-pandemic baseline due to pent-up demand, creating a temporary economic boom. In other words, once the risk of the pandemic passes, we will come out in full force, shopping and dining and taking those trips we postponed.

The “V-Shaped” Recovery – The next best recovery scenario suggests that although the economy permanently loses the production that would have occurred absent the pandemic, it will quickly return to its pre-pandemic baseline once social distancing restrictions have been lifted. In other words, the economy will go back to its pre-virus state.

The “W-Shaped” Recovery – This double-dip scenario suggests that there will be a surge in COVID-19 cases after the initial re-openings, causing another round of closures, causing another downturn in the economy prior to a recovery.

The “U-Shaped” Recovery – This scenario suggests that GDP remains low for some time, possibly more than a couple of quarters after the lockdowns have been lifted, resulting in the economy recovering, returning to its baseline slowly.

The “Swoosh-Shaped” Recovery – Borrowed from Nike’s logo, this scenario suggests that after a sharp downturn the economy will gradually bounce back as restrictions are eased and consumers, businesses and state and local governments are willing to spend. Many economists believe this or the U-Shaped recoveries are the likeliest scenarios.

The “L-Shaped” Recovery – This most pessimistic scenario suggests that the pandemic has a permanent affect on GDP, causing growth to continue to decline and not recover for some time. This is pretty much what the Great Depression recovery looked like. Most economists believe this scenario is unlikely unless the number of global coronavirus cases continue to rise, forcing more lockdowns.

The common thread that runs through these various scenarios is that they contain some variation of the tradeoff between the physical health response and economic response. As the economy reopens, measures will still be in place that will curtail economic activity to some degree – businesses will have to space workers and customers further apart, travel will be less common, restaurants will be serving fewer customers at a time, and activities involving large crowds will remain off limits for possibly a long time. Many people will be reluctant to return to life as it was prior to the pandemic, settling into a new “normal.”

Although economists have different recovery theories, they seem to be in agreement that the economy isn’t going to rebound overnight. The key question, however, is whether the damage to our economy will be long lasting.

Maintaining Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

As you navigate this alien world of surgical masks in the grocery stores, the shortage of everyday household supplies, the overcrowding in our healthcare facilities and the bombardment of news that our world has become a dangerous place to live, you may be beginning to feel overwhelmed and anxious. The novel coronavirus outbreak has created unprecedented levels of anxiety for most of us – for some who are actually battling the virus, but for the vast majority who are facing the unknown, the disruption of their everyday routine, loss of employment and serious financial concerns.

This is unchartered territory for most of us, and it is frightening! For many people, the fear of the unknown and the incessant doom and gloom headlines make it all too easy to spiral into overwhelming dread and panic. But, there are many things you can do to self-care – manage your anxiety and fears – during this unique crisis.

Take Care of Yourself First – Like the announcement we hear each time we get on an airplane, “In case of a cabin pressure emergency, put your own mask on first before assisting others.” This is a metaphor for life. You can’t help others for very long if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Keep a Routine – Even if you’re stuck at home, try to maintain your normal routine by sticking to your regular sleep, meal, and school or work schedule.

Eat Well – Proper eating is one defense against most diseases. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid eating out of boredom or anxiety, eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption and other intoxicants and stay well hydrated.

Exercise – Although we can’t hit the gyms like we used to, there are many safe alternatives you can do in the comfort and safety of your home. If you don’t have any exercise videos, use YouTube and Instagram to help you find ways to stay fit or just take long walks.

Limit News Intake – Limit your media consumption to only the information you need to know to stay safe…then turn it off! This advice goes for financial information as well. Watching the stock market go up and down (mostly down) all day can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing.

Have Fun – Enjoy the extra time you have with your family by talking…and laughing, playing board games, cards, putting together puzzles and cooking.

Connect – Take this downtime to reach out to those you care about, making sure they are staying safe and letting them know how important they are to you. Take advantage of the many technical (FaceTime) and social media resources to stay connected during this time of social isolation.

Engage in Positive Activities – Read a good book, listen to uplifting music, watch the sunrise or sunset, get out in nature, practice yoga or meditate. Limit your interactions with negative people. Remember emotions are contagious and right now fear is rampant.

You can also counteract distress over the loss of control by straightening up what you can. This is a great time to clean and organize your home or to attack a home improvement project you’ve been meaning to get to.

Reflect – The sudden halt in our daily lives, caused by this unprecedented crisis, has forced us to sit still. We can spend this time by being overwhelmed with negative thoughts and a sense of despair or we can use these quiet moments to reflect on the positive changes we want to make in our lives when this pause button is removed. Try to think about the activities in your life you’ve come to realize are important and you want to resume, start making a mental list of the ones you don’t, and above all, focus on the many blessings you have.

The national Disaster Distress Helpline is available to anyone experiencing emotional distress related to COVID-19. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to speak to a counselor.

Helping Your Child Establish Credit

Preparing your child for adulthood is daunting. As a parent, no matter how old your child becomes, worrying about their health and safety will always remain in the forefront. However, as they begin to mature into young adults, their financial future becomes a growing concern.  Often overlooked, and yet, equally as important as helping your child choose a career path that is right for them, is helping your child establish credit.  

Here are a few tips to help you begin building credit for
your kids.

First and foremost, begin the “money talk” with your kids
while they are young. You should begin discussing basic financial concepts like
saving (help them open a savings account) and delayed gratification when they
are in elementary school. As they get older, introduce more complex concepts,
such as insurance, investing, credit cards and borrowing, and explain what
credit really means – the building blocks of consumer credit – and why it’s so
important. As a responsible parent, you should also make sure your credit
habits provide a good example.

In addition to providing a good financial
education…foundation, the following steps will help ensure your young, adult
child is well on his or her way by the time they are flying solo.

  1. Help them
    open a checking account.
    Show your child how a checking account works as
    well as the penalties associated with them if they overdraw their account or
    bounce checks. Once they understand and are comfortable with the basics, ease
    them into a debit card. This gives them some spending independence, while
    limiting it to the balance in their checking account.

  • Have
    them get a part-time job.
    A strong work ethic is a vital part of your child
    becoming a responsible adult. Having a part-time job in high school provides them
    with a valuable life lesson – the excitement of watching their savings grow and
    the frustration of seeing it disappear, especially if it’s due to a poor
    decision. This lesson is a precursor to understanding credit. In addition, the
    income provided by a part-time job will help them when they apply for their own
    credit card.

  • Add
    them as an authorized user on your credit card.
     As long as your own credit habits are sound,
    this is a good way to help your child establish his or her own credit record.  As an authorized user, your teen will usually
    get a credit card in his or her name, tied to your account. Typically, this
    account will also go on your child’s credit record.By setting ground rules for what they can charge and how and when
    (on-time) payments will be made, you will enhance your child’s understanding of
    how credit works as well as help their credit grow.

You can also add them as an authorized user without
giving them access to the account. Without giving them the possibility…opportunity
of overspending, you can still help them grow their credit as you use the
credit card and pay it off every month.

  • Have
    your college-aged child apply for a student credit card.
    Once your late
    teen has established good financial habits and income to support a credit line (usually
    income from a part-time job is sufficient), they may be ready to apply for
    their own credit card. These cards typically have lower credit limits and
    higher interest rates than general credit cards.

  • Help
    your college-aged child apply for a secured credit card.
    This is another
    option if your young, adult child is unable to get a student credit card. A
    secured credit card requires the cardholder to put down a deposit, typically a
    few hundred dollars, which is usually the credit limit they are given. Because
    there is little risk to the bank/credit card company with this type of card,
    most people can get approved.

What Does the Federal Reserve’s Recent Rate Reduction Mean to You?

The recent interest rate reduction, from 2.5 percent to 2.25 percent, by the Federal Reserve doesn’t directly touch any of the everyday interest rates that affect Americans. This quarter-point cut, the first cut in a decade, reduced the federal funds rate, the rate banks and other financial institutions charge one another for very short-term borrowing.

Even though most Americans don’t participate in this type of
borrowing, the Fed’s move will still have consequences on the borrowing and
saving rates you encounter every day.

Interest rates on car loans, credit card balances,
mortgages, etc., and earned interest on the money you save won’t necessarily be
directly or immediately impacted. But, consumers could, likely, over time, experience
the following trickle-down effects.

Savings Account Rates

Savers have only recently benefited from higher deposit
rates – the annual percentage yield banks pay consumers on their money – with
several online banks offering over 2.5 percent. However, the recent rate cut
will most likely cause these rates to come down.  Now is the time for consumers to shop around
for short-term rates or lock in rates with a 1-, 3- or 5-year certificate of
deposit with money that doesn’t need to be readily accessible.

Mortgage Rates

According to Bankrate, the current 30-year fixed mortgage
rate is about 3.93 percent, the lowest it’s been since November 2016. Because
mortgage rates are tied to long-term rates, which move well in advance of any
rate changes by the Fed, the current low rate came on the heels of the
expectation that the Fed was going to cut rates.  Consequently, unless the Fed hints that more
rate cuts are on the horizon, mortgage rates are not expected to fall much
more.

With that said, if you borrowed money to purchase a home
late last year, when the average 30-year mortgage rate was nearly 5 percent, it
may be time to consider refinancing.

Credit Card Interest
Rates

The Fed’s recent rate reduction is good news for Americans
who carry balances on their credit cards. Because most credit cards have
variable interest rates, there is a direct correlation to the Fed’s benchmark
rate.

With the rate cut, the prime rate lowers too, and credit
card rates will likely follow. For credit cardholders, this means you should
see a reduction in your annual percentage yield or APR (the current rates on
average are as high as 17.85 percent) within a couple of billing cycles.

With almost half of all credit cardholders in the U.S.
holding balances every month, averaging approximately $1,150 in interest
yearly, this quarter-point reduction will create some savings.

Auto Loan Rates

For those of you who are planning to purchase a new vehicle,
the Fed’s rate reduction will most likely have little impact on your car
payment. However, this rate cut lowers the financing costs for car manufacturers
and dealers, which can offer a better negotiating position for the would-be car
buyer.

Student Loan Rates

While most student loans are fixed-rate federal loans,
approximately 1.4 million students in the U.S. today use private student loans.
Private loans can be fixed or have a variable rate tied to the Libor, prime or T-bill
rates. Consequently, the Fed’s rate cut means borrowers with variable rate loans
will likely pay less interest. If you have private, variable rate loans, you
should look into refinancing to possibly lock in a lower fixed rate.

However, as borrowers begin to celebrate this recent rate
cut, retirees have begun to worry. This type of rate reduction doesn’t bode
well for returns on investments preferred by those who’ve left or have
immediate plans to leave the workforce.

Typically, yields on fixed annuities, CDs, savings accounts
and bonds go down with a Fed rate cut. Long-term care premiums and pensions
will also be pinched. The impact will likely not be felt immediately. Retirees’
portfolios may not feel a hit for more than a year.

Investment professionals warn retirees not to chase returns
in the market, possibly placing more emphasis in their portfolio on investments
like equities and real estate, which might not be safe for those who have a lot
more to lose and generally can’t afford to take on much risk. With any rate
fluctuation, it’s important to work with your financial advisor or planner to
develop a portfolio that’s right for your situation.

Although the Federal Reserve’s recent rate cut can be viewed
as both a good thing and a bad thing, the same as any rate increase, the
guiding force behind the reduction is heading off a recession. With this move,
the Fed hopes to prevent the economy from weakening and forestall layoffs and
other economic damages that could adversely affect everyone.

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