Wednesday, November 30, 2016

7 Simple Strategies To Avoid Overspending This Holiday Season

Joshua Becker, Forbes.com
As the largest gift-giving holiday season, the final month of the calendar year accounts for nearly 30 percent of total annual sales for some retailers. While this is great for suppliers, it is the costliest season of the year for shoppers. Americans spend 9X the amount of money retail shopping during the Christmas season than any other season of the year.
Unfortunately, when the calendar turns to January, the negative effects of this spending begin to set in: higher than expected credit card statements, tighter finances than imagined, increased stress and regret over the amount of money spent.
What steps can consumers take today to avoid this January stress and regret? Here are 7 Simple Strategies to Avoid Overspending:
1. Set a Budget. 
Before the holiday shopping season even begins, decide how much money you want to spend. Think through all the different aspects of holiday shopping: gifts, travel, food, decorations. Divide your budget into the different categories: how much do you desire to spend on gifts? how much on travel? how many special events are on your calendar and how much will they cost? If the numbers aren’t lining up, what changes and/or sacrifices do you need to make?
2. Be Aware of Retail Tricks.
If merely creating a budget was the only thing needed to keep us within our spending limits, we’d be all set—not just for the holidays, but for life. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Even with budgets firmly established, many of us overspend. One reason this happens is because retail stores are shockingly good at getting us to part with our money.
Loyalty cards, retail credit, decoy pricing, loss leader (think Black Friday), incentives to return to the store, refund policies, constant sales—all of these represent tools that retail outlets employ to get us to part with our money. Be on the look-out for them—especially during the holiday season.

3. Limit self-gifting.

One of the most significant holiday trends over recent years is the increase in “self-gifting”—people treating themselves to presents when they are out shopping for others. Nearly 60% of people are now self-gifting according to the National Retail Federation. We will spend, on average, $130 per person buying gifts for ourselves. Limit yourself in this regard.
PS: Be careful when purchasing gift cards, 72% of shoppers end up shopping for themselves when going to a store or website to purchase a gift card.

4. Cut down on convenience costs.
Some of the most hidden costs of the holiday season are “convenience” expenses. The holiday season throws us out of our usual family rhythms by adding extra responsibilities and activities. As a result, the price we are willing to pay for convenience begins to rise—sometimes, it is just easier to order fast food when running late for an appointment or getting a pizza for the kids if we need to attend the office holiday party.
In addition, all the time spent shopping leads to other unnecessary purchases: expensive coffee drinks, pretzels, smoothies, just to name a few. These expenses appear minor. But over the course of a month, because of The "Latte Factor,” they add up quickly.

5. Establish expectations early.
If you decide to cut down on the number of Christmas gifts you will be giving this holiday season, it is important to establish those expectations early. For example, our kids at Christmas receive three gifts from us: one thing they want, one thing they need, and one experience to share with the family. But it wasn’t always this way. When we decided to make the changes to our gift-giving habits, we took time to inform them about it.
Similarly, if you intend to take a new gift-giving approach to your extended family, it is helpful to inform them early about your decision and why you decided to make it.
6. Look for shortcuts to make travel cheaper.
For some families, one of the largest expenses of the holiday season is travel—this is certainly true for our family of four as we travel back to the Midwest each Christmas. Being together as a family to celebrate the season is important to us, and it is important to many others as well. And while there are always going to be expenses incurred while traveling, we can still look for ways to limit them: shop around airlines and travel dates, avoid baggage fees by packing light, pack meals for on-the-go, and do your research on hotel costs, just to name a few.
7. Track spending.
One key component to wise financial stewardship is to track your spending on a daily basis. This is true for life, but it is absolutely essential to avoid overspending during the holiday season. If you have set your budget thoughtfully (Tip #1), it is important to pursue due diligence in staying inside it.
Because of the extra shopping during the season, the importance of tracking your spending during the month of December cannot be overstated. And you do not need fancy software or materials to accomplish this step. It can be completed with a simple piece of paper and pen—at the end of each day, just record the items you spent money on that day. And compare it regularly with the budget you created.
Avoiding overspending during the holiday season may not be easy. It certainly requires extra intentionality. But trust me, your January-You will thank you for it.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Family Emergency Communication Plan

If an emergency occurs, it is unlikely that emergency response services can immediately respond to everyone’s needs. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for at least the first 72 hours.
One of the most important steps you can take in preparing for emergencies is to develop a Family Communication Plan. With this plan, you will be taking the first step to keep your family safe.

Get in the know! Gather emergency facts and plan for what to do:
·         Learn about emergencies that could occur in your area.
·         Talk with employers and school officials about their emergency response plans.
·         Talk about these potential situations with your family.
·         Make plans for what to do for each...tornados, earthquakes, home fire, etc.
·         Know how to reach one another if a disaster prevents you from joining up.
·         Determine where to meet, if going home is not an option.
·         Plan where to take shelter within your home if needed.
·         Decide on pick-up locations for the workplace and school of every family member, and who will do the picking up.
·         Practice your evacuation plans if you have to leave quickly.
·         Make sure young children know how and when to call 9-1-1.
Designate an emergency contact person outside the family:
·         Choose a friend or relative to serve as an emergency family contact point.
·         Choose someone that is far enough away to not be affected by the same emergency.
·         Provide this person with the names and contact information of the people you want to keep informed of your situation.
·         Instruct family members to call the out-of-town contact point, and tell them where they are. Remember, long-distance phone service is often restored sooner than local service.
·         Program the name, phone number and email address of your contact person into each family member's cell phone. Remember to update frequently because cell, school, and job numbers can change throughout the year!
·         Carry your family contact person's information in your wallet and give a copy to children for his or her book bag, wallet or purse. This will be very important, since cell phones can be lost or broken, and wireless service can become overloaded from increased traffic.
Keep records of emergency contacts and personal information:
·         Make a list of key emergency contact numbers and keep the list current.
·         Duplicate important documents and keep copies off-site, either in a safety deposit box or with someone you trust. Documents may include: passport, driver's license, social security card, wills, deeds, financial statements, insurance information, marriage license and prescriptions.
·         Inventory valuables, in writing and with photographs or video. Keep copies of this information off-site with your other important documents.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Keep it Updated

I know -- just the thought of accumulating enough food for your family to survive for a year or more is overwhelming! And just when you may think you're making headway, life has a way of changing and you can feel like you need to start over. That's why we recommend a very individual approach to storing food -- store what you eat and what works for your family. Then when circumstances change, hopefully adapting won't be so painful. Here are some ideas:
  • Diversify. You have no way of knowing when you will need the food you have stored (earthquake, storm, unemployment?), so it is best to be prepared for a variety of situations. Short term storage (72 hours) should be easy to access food for an emergency. A longer term storage (3 months or more) should include items that your family easily uses in everyday life. Store extra ingredients for meals your family eats often -- this ensures that the food gets rotated and minimizes waste. Long term storage can last 30 years and should include foods to sustain life in emergency situations. You might consider grains (properly preserved to lengthen their life), dehydrated foods, powdered milk, etc.
  • Update! If you have small children, store foods and supplies that will keep them happy. Teenagers in the house require extra calories. Empty nesters won't need as much food as a family of 6 or more. Keep your changing family in mind when adding to and rotating your food storage. 
  • Be consistent. Buying large boxes of dehydrated food, putting it in the basement and never thinking about it again is one food storage strategy, but we think it wiser to make your food storage a part of your everyday thoughts. Do the easy things -- a case lot sale can provide a year's supply of some items. One or two extra of seldom used items or items with a short shelf life are easy to store. Pick up an extra package of toilet paper on each grocery trip. The little consistencies add up to storage success. Don't forget your water storage -- especially important if dehydrated food is part of your plan.
  • Learn. Keep educating yourself about nutrition, food variety and emergency preparedness. A well thought out food storage plan is much more effective than a haphazard one.
We never know what life has in store. Keeping your food storage adequate, updated and suited to your individual needs will give you peace of mind for any situation.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

An Employee with Integrity

Integrity in the work place is imperative for a healthy working environment.

It does not matter whether you are the janitor or CEO, living with workplace integrity will make a difference not only to your long-term professional development, it will also enhance the overall company culture – it’s a ripple effect!

Workplace integrity starts with honesty, decency and trustworthiness. Following through with your word and being impeccable and honorable with your actions creates respect and professionalism.
There are many reasons as to why someone may or may not be enjoying their job or acting with integrity. Regardless, if you choose to stay in your current job, you might as well do it with integrity.

What kind of boss or employee are you? Are you setting a good example for your team, staff and colleagues? More often than not the less productive employee will find more to complain about than the industrious type.

Here are some points to get you thinking:

A clean attitude:  When we are confident and comfortable within ourselves we have next to no reason to belittle others or act with arrogance. Build your confidence and clean up your language and communication skills.

Honor your working hours:  Do not steal time from your employer. You are there to get a job done, not to surf social networks, talk to your friends and waste time.

Confidentiality:  Keep workplace secrets such as; client information, employee salaries and 
upcoming company changes to yourself – it’s an absolute integrity must.

Be truthful:  Managers are less likely to have confidence in you and promote you if they feel as though you are not open and truthful. Over time most lies come back to bite you! Mistakes and mishaps can be your greatest time for growth and learning.

Are you the person you want to be?  Maybe it’s time to redefine your workplace values, attitude and behavior for overall development and success.

Written by Nadine Piat-Niski 


An Eternal Perspective on Personal and Family Finance


Monday, June 20, 2016

Composting 101

Our family built a house several years ago on a piece of land that had been horse property. We chose a location for our garden in the spot that got the most sun and set out to enjoy our harvest. Except. One part of the garden simply would not grow anything. When we thought back to what had been there before, we realized that a large (and probably leaking) fuel tank sat on our infertile spot. Not knowing what else to do, we set out to amend the soil in that part of the garden. This began our composting adventure. We have a composting bin in a back corner of our yard that collects all of our organic kitchen waste (vegetable waste, eggshells, potato peels, etc.), our lawn clippings and our fall leaves. Once a year we dump it onto the garden and gradually, we have seen our soil quality improve to the point that we can now grow anything we want on the previously dead spot. We are not perfect in our proportions of brown to green waste, but the compost doesn't seem to mind too much. This has been a great way to reduce our garbage output and make our garden soil happier.

Here is an article from the Utah State University Extension on the basics of composting:

Composting

Compost is an excellent, inexpensive way to increase the productivity and workability of soil It reduces and recycles yard waste and produces excellent soil.  Help the garden, the environment, and the pocketbook by composting lawn and garden waste.



Basics
You can begin compost either indoors or outdoors. For indoor composting, use a type of bucket and place it under your sink. For outdoor composting, you have more flexibility in the size of bin you can handle. Base the size of compost bin on how much waste you produce, do you have a large family or have a large garden? If your your answer is no to both, begin with a smaller box. If your answer was yes, then make space around your garden for a larger box. 

Location
When choosing the location of your compost box, find a site that includes:
·         At least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
·         A site that does not detract from the landscape.
·         Convenient for adding materials and removing compost.
·         Available water.
·         Acceptable materials.


Maintenance
A compost pile isn't just rotting garbage. Successful compost piles are structured as follows:
Composting
·         Turn pile every 2 to 4 weeks, and keep pile moist to speed composting, allow air circulation and eliminate unpleasant odors.
·         Build pile 3 to 5 feet tall, with and equal circumference. Small piles don't heat enough, and large piles don't receive enough air in the middle for good composting.
·         Apply a 1" layer of soil every 8 to 14 inches of organic waste to increase microbial activity

Acceptable Material
Not Acceptable Material
·         Grass Clippings
·         Leaves and Weeds
·         Manures
·         Coffee Grounds
·         Wood Chips and Sawdust
·         Bark,Stems, and Stalks
·         Gardening and Canning Waste
·         Fruits and Vegetables



Trouble Shooting
Strong odor?
Needs more oxygen. Turn the pile over more often to increase air circulations. If the material is too wet, add dry materials
Pile is damp, but won't heat?
Insufficient nitrogen, add fertilizer or grass clippings. The materials could also be too wet.
Ammonia Smell?
Too much nitrogen, add sawdust or high carbon materials and turn the pile.
·         Meats
·         Bones
·         Large Branches
·         Dairy Products
·         Synthetic Products
·         Plastics