Saturday, January 25, 2014

Paperle$$ Billing and Automatic Bill Pay

I have many of my bills scheduled to be paid automatically from our checking account.  It is usually free and you can often schedule it to coincide with your paycheck auto-deposits.

Here are a few of the bills I have set up on Auto pay
Gas and Electric (I am on the budget plan so I know how much my payment will be each month)
Car payments
Homeowners Insurance
College Education Fund

This saves me the stamp and any late fees that could be incurred if I am not keeping up with my bill paying (this happens when you are on vacation or have a family emergency).  If you have department store cards, another advantage is that you may earn points for signing up which can be redeemed toward future credits or purchases.

Most companies will mail mail a paper-bill if, for some reason, the e-mail is not delivered successfully  so you don't have to worry about that!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Baby, it$ cold out$ide!

My insurance company sent these out to help deal with the cold and snow.  It was -7 degrees in Louisville, KY this morning!

The Polar Vortex is still causing challenges all along the US with record cold temperatures and snow.  Many of our clients have experienced busted or frozen pipes, cracked wind shields and auto accidents all due to extreme cold weather and snowy conditions.  If you have been affected, we are deeply sorry!  

We have compiled a list of some helpful tips to help reduce the threat of some of these, as well as some insurance information to consider.

·     Open cabinet doors under sinks to allow heat to enter and keep pipes from freezing.

·     Keep a small, continuous stream of water running from the cold water faucet (the size of the water stream should be about the size of a pencil).

·     Locate the water shut-off valve in advance.  This is the valve that controls the flow of water into the house.  It's usually located near the hot water heater, in the basement or utility closet.  Turning off the water in the event of a burst pipe can minimize the damage. 

·     Cover the vents to crawl spaces.

·     If exterior faucets have shut-off valves inside, be sure to turn these off and open the exterior valve so it can drain out.

·     If you have a vacant home or building, set the heat to above 58 degrees.

·     Do not leave space heaters un-attended to reduce the risk of fire.

·     Keep a first aid kit and blanket in your car in case of emergencies.

·     We recommend the Comprehensive endorsement on your auto for glass coverage or Collision in the event of running off the road on black ice.

·     Review your insurance policy to make sure you have the coverages and deductible you need before something happens.

Be$t Value Food$

Grocery purchases comprise about 7% of my  income so I am always looking to stretch my food dollars.  With the recent news that food prices are expected to rise 25% (and with no foreseeable raise in our incomes) the need to be smart is even more crucial.  

Some of the most obvious ways to save are in coupon-ing, both paper and digital which are loaded on your loyalty shopping card or smart phones.  Don't forget that many stores allow you to combine MANUFACTURER coupons with STORE coupons to increase your savings.  You can check with your favorite stores to understand their policies as I find that the associates at check out don't always know the rules of their place of employment when it comes to coupon-ing.  

Buy on sale.  I stock up when my favorite marinara sauce is $1.25 a jar instead of $1.66.  Just a week ago I bought 10 cans of chicken broth, leftovers from the holidays but with a use by date of 2015.  I also bought brown and confectionery sugar for $0.25 a 2 pound bag.  DEALS!

But what foods are the most economical to feed a hungry family?  Pair these foods with the strategies above for a bigger savings.  

While grains breads and pastas take longer to digest so you'll feel full longer and they have more nutrients.  Look for labels that indicate "100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat".  

Beans and lentils are high protein foods and are typically less than $2.00 a pound.  A steaming pot of bean soup is a satisfying meal after a long day.  I prepare soups over the weekend and they are ready to reheat one night during the week.  I then store the "leftovers" in a gallon zip-lock bag (lay flat to freeze and they stack nicely in the freezer) for a meal later in the winter.  My family doesn't really enjoy the same meal more than once or twice in the same week.  

Believe it or not, frozen seafood like shrimp and fish is a good value.  Canned tuna in water makes a convenient low cost lunch.  

Frozen fruits and vegetables can offset the cost of out of season fruits.  Frozen fruits are processed at their peak of ripeness and freshness which saves the nutritional value.  Choose veggies without sauces for the best value,

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

30 day$ to a Clutter Free Life

30 days is all it takes to learn a new habit so...Ready, Set, Go!  Choose one or all of the following ideas to achieve a less cluttered home and life, decrease your stress and possibly save money while you are doing it too.  Practice your new clutter free tip daily for a more organized life in just one month!

Paper and laundry cause my home to be in more disarray than everything else combined so I will tackle those first.

1)  The MAIL:
Open it, read it, file it or toss it!
I use a plastic file envelope to store bills.  When they arrive I file them in the envelope to await the bi-weekly bill paying session.  I store any checks that need depositing here too.  I toss JUNK Mail as soon as I know it's junk, place magazines and newspapers in a basket and save them to read later.  No counter clutter!  Daily newspapers are placed in a decorative basket and thrown out on trash day.

Magazines are sequestered in decorative baskets and taken to the Half Price book store periodically to redeem for cash!

2)  The LAUNDRY:
Have hampers or laundry baskets in areas where your family sheds their dirties.  For us that is the teenager daughters bedroom AND Bathroom.   I run a load of  laundry almost every evening.  It gets paced in the dryer first thing in the morning and is ready to be hung up before I go to work.  Hung up=less ironing. Towels and undies can be left to sit in the dryer if I run short of time.

I'm fortunate enough to have a small laundry room that is close to a closet.  I store hangers on top of the dryer in a cardboard container I got for FREE from the local dry cleaner.  When clothes come out of the dryer they are folded or hung up and take up stairs later than night OR put in a closet to be ironed at a later date.

3)  Death or TAXES:
I have a shoe-box that I label with the year in big bold letters.  Any receipt, tax mailing, bank ledgers and statements all go into the box in the event I'll need them at tax time.  (see #1)

4)  A year of SCHOOL items
12 x 12 scrapbook boxes make a great storage place for report cards, art work and newspaper clippings.  If you scrapbook you'll have all of juniors year in one place and in order!  If not, label with the year and store away!

These are OLD boxes that I use to store scrapbook papers in since I never throw anything away but plastic ones are available at craft stores like Michael's or Joann's for under $10.

Check back for more tips to an organized life in my next post!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Home Taxe$ This post courtesy of House Logic 2013

What You Should Know About Your Home and Your 2013 Taxes

It’s the last year for three sweet home tax benefits, but the first for a way simpler home office deduction.
Despite the fact that three important tax benefits used by millions of American homeowners are days from expiring, Congress is unlikely to do anything to re-up them any time soon. So if you’re eligible, tax year 2013 is possibly the last time to claim the private mortgage insurance (PMI) deduction, the energy tax credit, and debt forgiveness benefit.

At least there’s one piece of good news for homeowners: If you have a home office, there’s a new, simpler option for calculating the home office deduction for which you may qualify on your 2013 taxes.

PMI Deduction: This tax rule lets you deduct the cost of private mortgage insurance, which is what you pay your lender each month if you put down less than 20% on a home. PMI protects the lender if you default on the home loan. Your deduction could amount to a couple hundred dollars depending on your tax bracket and other factors.

Energy Efficiency Upgrades: This sweet little tax credit lets you offset what you owe the IRS dollar-for-dollar for up to 10% of the amount you spent on certain home energy-efficiency upgrades, from insulation to water heaters. On the downside, the credit is capped at $500 (less in some cases). But on the bright side, the right improvement could lower your utility bills indefinitely.

Debt Forgiveness: Suppose you’re in financial distress and your lender agrees to let you short-sell your home, say for $50,000 less than you owe on the mortgage, and forgive you for the balance. Without the protection of the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act, you’ll owe income tax on that $50,000.

New Simplified Option for the Home Office Deduction: This may be the last year for the benefits above, but a new one kicks in for the 2013 tax year. If you work from home, you may qualify to use a new, simplified option for claiming the home office deduction when you file your 2013 taxes.

How much simpler is it? It lets you claim $5 per sq. ft. for up to 300 sq. ft. instead of having to compute the actual expenses of your home office using a 43-line form. To calculate the square footage of your office, just multiply the length of two walls. For example, an 8-by-10-foot room is 80 sq. ft. And at $5 per, that’s $400.
*Courtesy of House Logic 2013

Monday, January 6, 2014

How to $tay Warm

It is currently 1 degree here in Louisville, Kentucky with a wind-chill of negative 25!  Baby, it's cold outside!  YIKES!  I hope you have a warm home (not everyone in Louisville is so fortunate) with well insulated windows, doors free from drafts.  How can you stay warm without turning up the thermostat?

1)  Wear an under-layer such as long johns and a pair of wool socks or tights
Cotton on the inside layer with wool on the outer is  best for warmth and comfort.  I have a pair of silk long-johns that are thin and keep me warm when skiing.  Consider 2 pair of socks

2)  Wear a middle layer-a woven wool or flannel shirt, quilted vests add a layer of warmth

3)  IF you are venturing outdoors don't forget a HAT!  Most body heat is lost from an unprotected head.  Keep your ears covered if you won't wear a hat!  A coat that is wind an waterproof is desirable.  A parka with a hood helps keep the back of the neck protected.  Zippers keep you cozier than  buttons and are easier to manipulate with cold fingers.  Wool mittens with glove liners and waterproof boots will prevent frostbite on your extremities.  Don't forget a face-mask if you are going to be out in this weather for more than 10 minutes.

Friday, January 3, 2014

401K inve$ting

Some helpful hints about your 401K

1)  Have one!  If you invest $100 a month for 10 years in a fund that earns about 8% you'll have about $20,000 and you've only invested $12,000

2)  Start as soon as you are earning a regular income (see number 1)

3)  Your company is probably pretty lousy at picking if you leave roll your 401K over to a set of funds you can control (using the advice of a qualified investment counselor)

4)  Make sure you select funds that have at least a 5 year track record.  10 years is even better

5)  Fund managers matter--so if your fund manager leaves you may wish to consider another fund.  Indexed funds don't have managers

6)  Pretax contributions are NOT a painful as you might fear.  

7)  To increase your 401K balance-it's simple math.  Put more pretax dollars into it!  in 2014 you can place $17,500 into a qualified plan.  Those 50 and older can add an additional $5,000.