Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Swine Flu 101


This summer, the virus has been surprisingly tenacious in the U.S., refusing to fade away as flu viruses usually do.

A White House report from an expert panel suggests that from 30 percent to half the population could catch swine flu during the course of this pandemic and that from 30,000 to 90,000 could die.

So how worried should you be and how do you prepare? Well... Here are 10 things you should know to be flu-savvy.

1. No cause for panic.

So far, swine flu isn't much more threatening than regular seasonal flu.

During the few months of this new flu's existence, hospitalizations and deaths from it seem to be lower than the average seen for seasonal flu, and the virus hasn't dramatically mutated. That's what health officials have observed in the Southern Hemisphere where flu season is now winding down.

Still, more people are susceptible to swine flu and U.S. health officials are worried because it hung in so firmly here during the summer — a time of year the flu usually goes away.

2. Virus tougher on some.

Swine flu is more of a threat to certain groups — children under 2, pregnant women, people with health problems like asthma, diabetes and heart disease. Teens and young adults are also more vulnerable to swine flu.

Ordinary, seasonal flu hits older people the hardest, but not swine flu. Scientists think older people may have some immunity from exposure years earlier to viruses similar to swine flu.

3. Wash your hands often and long.

Like seasonal flu, swine flu spreads through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick. Emphasize to children that they should wash with soap and water long enough to finish singing the alphabet song, "Now I know my ABC's..." Also use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

4. Get the kids vaccinated.

These groups should be first in line for swine flu shots, especially if vaccine supplies are limited — people 6 months to 24 years old, pregnant women, health care workers.

Also a priority: Parents and caregivers of infants, people with those high-risk medical conditions previously noted.

5. Get your shots early.

Millions of swine flu shots should be available by October. If you are in one of the priority groups, try to get your shot as early as possible.

Check with your doctor or local or state health department about where to do this. Many children should be able to get vaccinated at school. Permission forms will be sent home in advance.

6. Immunity takes awhile.

Even those first in line for shots won't have immunity until around Thanksgiving.

That's because it's likely to take two shots, given three weeks apart, to provide protection. And it takes a week or two after the last shot for the vaccine to take full effect.

The regular seasonal flu shot should be widely available in September. People over 50 are urged to be among the first to get that shot.

7. Vaccines are being tested.

Health officials presume the swine flu vaccine is safe and effective, but they're testing it to make sure.

The federal government has begun studies in eight cities across the country to assess its effectiveness and figure out the best dose.

8. Help! Surrounded by swine flu.

If an outbreak of swine flu hits your area before you're vaccinated, be extra cautious.

Stay away from public gathering places like malls, sports events and churches. Try to keep your distance from people in general. Keep washing those hands and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.

9. What if you get sick?

If you have other health problems or are pregnant and develop flu-like symptoms, call your doctor right away. You may be prescribed Tamiflu or Relenza. These drugs can reduce the severity of swine flu if taken right after symptoms start.

If you develop breathing problems (rapid breathing for kids), pain in your chest, constant vomiting or a fever that keeps rising, go to an emergency room.

Most people, though, should just stay home and rest. Cough into your elbow or shoulder. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever breaks. Fluids and pain relievers like Tylenol can help with achiness and fever. Always check with a doctor before giving children any medicines. Adult cold and flu remedies are not for them.

10. No swine flu from barbecue.

You can't catch swine flu from pork — or poultry either (even though it recently turned up in turkeys in Chile). Swine flu is not spread by handling meat, whether it's raw or cooked.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Yummy Rainbow Salsa!

A rainbow array of height-of-the-season tomatoes makes an incomparably beautiful salsa. The precise amounts of tomatoes, tomatillos and hot peppers can vary. Other produce also can be added, such as cooked sweet corn or scallions.

You can use any of the red tomatoes, such as the Ponderosa and Livingston varieties. Use this salsa as a dip or as a topping for tortillas or omelets. Here is the receipe- ENJOY!

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Makes about 4 cups

½ cup diced red onion

1 teaspoon salt

½ pound (about 6) ripe tomatillos

2 to 2½ pounds fresh tomatoes (a blend of sizes and colors)

1 medium-hot chili, such as serrano or jalapeno, or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 clove garlic, minced

In a small bowl, mix the onion and salt. Let stand for 20 minutes.

Peel and rinse the tomatillos. If desired, they can be roasted on a baking sheet for 15 minutes at 350 F, then cooled. This is especially good if the tomatillos are not fully ripe (they should be yellow-green or purplish when ripe).

Roughly chop the tomatillos. Dice all the larger tomatoes. Cut any small cherry or grape tomatoes in half and large ones into 4 to 8 pieces. Currant-sized tomatoes should be used whole.

In a medium bowl, combine all the tomatoes and tomatillos.

Dice the chili. If you do not want a hot salsa, carefully remove the seeds and the membranes from the pepper before dicing. Gently stir the chili, cilantro, garlic and salted onion into the tomatoes. Add additional salt to taste.

Let stand for 20 minutes before serving. The salsa is best the day it is made, but it will keep refrigerated for about a week.

(Recipe from Lawrence Davis-Hollander, author of “Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook”)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gov't Gone Mobile

I am so happy to pass this latest tip on to my readers as I have come across a new program for the cash strapped. The Government has teamed up with Lifeline and LinkUp to provide discounted and FREE cellular service. If you are enrolled in the following programs you are already qualified to receive a free cell phone and free rollover minutes every month. Signup is easy and free too! And yes,any additional minutes you may need (you automatically receive 50 FREE mins. every single month you are enrolled) can be purchased at multiple locations for a very low price. If you receive one or more of the following government assistance go here to sign up:(http://www.callrow.com http://www.reachoutmobile.com) Also you can signup and ask questions call 1-877-870-9333 OR 1-877-870-9444
Do you receive any of the following? Required for the free cell phone and free mins. program!

1. Medicaid
2. Food stamps
3. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
4. Federal Public Housing (Section 8)
5. The National School Free Lunch Program
6. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
7. Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEP)

*You can only have one cell phone through this new service per household. If you already have a cell phone you can try and see if it can be activated through Reachout Wireless ( it has to be compatible with their system)

*Also if you already have landline or cellular service through Lifeline you are ineligible for this service

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Frugal Notebook Benefits

A frugal notebook is a place to organize all these useful tools. It’s easy to put together and cheap, too. All you need is a binder, page protectors, dividers, index cards and a few printable forms, such as a calendar and checklists to get started. Many people store their information on their computer, but it’s nice to have a portable binder or index cards to slip into your wallet or pocket and a hard copy as a backup. Not only will this help you manage your time and home; it can be a great gift, too.

Category sections can include:

CALENDAR: For family member’s schedules, special occasions and meal planning.

FAMILY: This can include gift ideas and gift-closet inventory, clothing sizes and clothes inventory, recent photos and library-card information. You can also include school information such as progress reports, lunch menus and school-contact information. Organize your holiday planning, such as addresses to send cards, wish lists and decorating ideas, too.

HOME: Include information such as chore charts, home-maintenance schedule, cleaning routines, stain guides, homemade cleaner recipes, contact information for bills such as utilities, loans, cable, cell phones, Internet and waste management.

You can have a section for your home budget, too. Save any account statements, warranties, appliance manuals and receipts. You can add store hours, phone numbers and policies, too. Your garden journal can be added to this section. It can contain information such as plant care, seed starting, layouts and design, chores and frost dates.

HEALTH: Add information such as immunization records, fitness journals, insurance information, prescription information and doctor and emergency-contact numbers, such as closest contact if you’re unavailable, local hospital or poison control. If you have pets, you can add their medical records, too.

FOOD: Create and store your meal plans, recipes, cooking substitutions and kitchen tips such as conversions, homemade mixes, food storage and freezer- and pantry-inventory lists, your price book, coupons, rebate information, seasonal foods, takeout menus and master grocery list.

FUN: This can be a running list of activities to do on weekends, breaks and vacations. It can include free local entertainment, crafts and homemade craft recipes and projects, and movie and reading lists, too.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Frugal Fun For Kids

Summer is nearing and the kids wants to play and have fun. Of course you want them too and spending time with them can be great, but it can also be redundant. The zoo and the park are always the classic kid friendly experience- but lets kick it up a notch. I like the following for being unique,easy and creative.
Many old-fashioned activities and outdoor games are making a comeback, but with a fresh twist. They’re homemade and often with materials you already have at home. Coincidentally, they’re frugal, too. What types of frugal activities can you do?

Here are a few fun ideas:

SENSORY BAG: You can make a sensory bag that kids (and you) will love to squish. You’ll need a plastic zip-closure baggie, hair gel, craft foamies, glitter and clear Contac paper. Fill the bag with the craft supplies and gel. Seal the bag closed and then sandwich the bag between two pieces of Contac paper. This will prevent leaking.

SIDEWALK PAINT: You’ll need ¼ cup of cornstarch, ½ cup water and food coloring. Combine the cornstarch and water. Using a small container, mix until smooth. Add a few drops of food coloring. You can make a few batches of different colors. Kids can use paintbrushes, foam paint rollers or sponges to paint the sidewalk.

WINDOW PAINT: Mix together equal parts dishwashing liquid and washable liquid paint or powdered tempera. Mix until it’s a creamy consistency. Use paintbrushes. Easy to clean from windows with a moist paper towel, too.

FLUBBER: This makes oozing, gooey, cold and wet play goop.

2⅓ cups warm water

Food coloring, optional

2 cups Elmer’s school glue

3 tablespoons borax

In one container, mix 2 cups warm water, food coloring and glue. Stir until glue has dissolved. In a separate container, combine ⅓ cup warm water and borax. Stir until borax has dissolved. Add borax solution to glue mixture, and mix with hands for about 5 minutes. Pour out extra water. Let sit for a few minutes on a tray before playing. Store in airtight container.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Best (FRUGAL) Vacation Ever!

Summer is basically here and the time is right to plan a vacation for two, or the whole family. Tight budget? Last vacation still in your heart and on your credit card? Dying to go somewhere special,great or amazing? Don't think it's possible THIS year?? Relax...I have the solution! Trust me these sites have very good budget-friendly tips and options- remember anything is possible and there's no cure for the summertime blues. From camping to skiing look below to see how much you and family can save and where you can go:

1.Incredible travel packages http://www.budgettravel.com
2.Farm stays (Pennsylvania,Vermont) http://www.pafarmstay.com http:/www.vtfarms.org ** Also you can google any state's name under "farmstay"
3.Short road trips http://www.budgettravel.com
4.Ski Resorts http://www.homeaway.com (really good for vacation rentals)
5. State park lodges http://www.sdparks.info (South Dakota)** Also google any state under "state park" and look for lodging
6. City visits and short road trips http://www.budgettravel.com
7. Family camps http://www.budgettravel.com ** Also google your state and "family camp"


Have a great frugal vacation!

Monday, April 20, 2009


I am so excited to have more great freebies for my loyal readers/members- all 22 of these are solid,good and bonafide freebies- enjoy!

Get free samples of personal lubricant http://www.astroglide.com
Where can you get a free round of drinks? http://www.myopenbar.com
Constellation/formation lovers go here http://www.skymaps.com
Get 10 free guitar lessons on your ipod http://www.iplaymusic.com
Free culinary tutorials http:/www./epicurious.com/video
Want to know the truth about drinking water? go here for free report http://www.waterwise.com
Free mouthwatering soul food recipes http://www.chitterlings.com
Locally obtain free baby/kid clothes or give some away http://www.handmedowns.com
Need steady income? go here http://www.opinionoutpost.com
Free samples daily http://www.thatfreebiesite.com
Get the funds to make your home or business more eco-friendly http://www.parade.com/energy
Free ice cream scoop on your B-day http://www.baskinrobbins.com/bdayclub
More than 2,000 free online games http://www.ziggygames.com
Live in L.A. or NY? get free passes for show tapings http://www.tvtickets.com
Train your pup like a pro http://www.pets.com
Get free samples of all kinds of pet food http://www.freepettreats.com
Get free long distance for your business http://www.gizmo.com
Free virus protection for your PC http://www.free.avg.com
Get free e-books of classic literature http://www.gutenberg.org
Find out where the lowest gas prices are locally http://www.gasbuddy.com
Get rid of household clutter(locally) while protecting the environment http://www.freecycle.org
Find any word or passage in the bible http://www.biblegateway.com

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ten Fuel Saving Tips

Get the most out of your usually expensive fuel by trying out these tips and tricks

1.Avoid High Speeds
As your speed increases, your aerodynamic drag increases in an exponential fashion. Driving 62 mph (100 km/h) vs 75 mph (120 km/h) will reduce fuel consumption by about 15%.
2.Do Not Accelerate or Brake Hard
By anticipating the traffic and applying slow steady acceleration and braking, fuel economy may increase by as much as 20%.
3.Keep Tires Properly Inflated
Keep tire air pressure at the level recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. A single tire under inflated by 2 PSI, increases fuel consumption by 1%.
4.Use A/C Sparingly
When the air conditioner is on it puts extra load on the engine forcing more fuel to be used (by about 20%). The defrost position on most vehicles also uses the air conditioner.
5.Keep Windows Closed
Windows open, especially at highway speeds, increase drag and result in decreased fuel economy of up to 10%.
6.Service Vehicle Regularly
Proper maintenance avoids poor fuel economy related to dirty air filters, old spark plugs or low fluid levels.
7.Use Cruise Control
Maintaining a constant speed over long distances often saves gas.
8.Avoid Heavy Loads
Remove the sand bags from your trunk in the spring and pack lightly for long trips.
9.Avoid Long Idles
If you anticipate being stopped for more than 1 minute, shut off the car. Restarting the car uses less fuel than letting it idle for this time.
10.Purchase a Fuel Efficient Vehicle
When buying a new vehicle examine the vehicle's rated fuel efficiency. Usually choosing a small vehicle with a manual transmission will provide you with great fuel economy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Should You Work For Avon?

I know, I know you see the t.v. commercial all the time right? Be your own boss,work your own hours, never get laid off,never get fired etc... Yea I know the Avon commercial is a real seller to the unemployed,laid-off,down sized, part-time, one income only,homemaker and all the like - right? wrong, or MAYBE... My mother was approached by an Avon Rep, who wanted to hand out her brochures and recruit warm bodies looking for extra income- why my mother gave up my name and number is beyond me- am I broke, does my job suck, do I wish to be my own boss, have unlimited earning potential- operate from home, the Internet, and on the street- at the mall even- absolutely! Ok so I was like yea I have seen the commercial ALOT lately and I wonder what is the scoop on being a Avon salesperson- what do they have to offer- can I gain anything from working with them?? Hmmm- the Avon sales rep called and before I knew it,I was writing down all the information on the company and the benefits of being an Avon salesperson. Here is the real truth (yea what they leave out of those commercials):

1. It does cost to become a sales rep with Avon ($10.00-20.00) To get the lower fee sign-up with a Representative- not on the Avon website- then you will be charged $20.00- And yes it is a one-time fee. Also,you get some free brochures, fliers and samples

2. You can have your own web page to sell products and guide clients to- it cost $7.50 a month- the fee is waived only if you get a sale through your site at least once a month

3. The brochures or mini catalogs with all the Avon merchandise is only free for so long- which means you get 20 free. Afterward you have to pay for them, like 10 for less than $6.00 etc... depending on how many you want- I was told the more you order the less it costs. Also, brochures come out twice a month - you have two different ones to hand out to clients

4. Commission is 50% for each complete order total for the first 2 months- afterward it depends on the order total and the products, falls somewhere between 20-50% then

5. If someone does not pay for their order or wants to return it- you are held responsible- you ca try to re-sell the products or mail them back to Avon in a timely manner at your (I was told small)expense. And yes you can get paid upfront before putting the clients' order through

6. Avon charges each customer a 75 cent shipping and handling fee - you receive half of that, to be added to your account(I was told to let the money add up and the use it to buy the brochures)

7. When you are paid cash for your orders you can pay yourself first then send the rest to Avon- I was told this I am not sure on every small detail...

8. To make extra money you can be a recruiter- once again I was told they can make a lot of money- not to sure how much- ask a Avon Rep

9. Yes you can make some decent if not excellent cash- start with people you know, look forward to referrals and never stop talking to people and leaving the mini catalogs and fliers all over the place- Also you can get help and tips from a Avon rep and the Avon website that helps to guide,train ,and answer questions for you

10. This is cool for extra cash if you need it and are driven,flexible,and friendly
Otherwise do not quit your day job :)

*** Once you get a client- keep emailing and calling them at least, once a month to answer questions, and to see if they want to re-order from you- or if they want a new mini catalog


Monday, March 9, 2009

Best Hot Stock Picks

Divide a given interest rate into 72. The result, more or less, is the number of years needed to double your money. So a compounded 6% return doubles your money in about 12 years. A 7% return takes just over 10 years. The opposite works, too. Want to double your money in five years? You’ll need a return of more than 14% a year.

The Rule of 72 works pretty well for reinvested dividends, too, although since dividends are often paid quarterly and therefore compound more often, the wait is a touch shorter. Two conditions: The dividends must keep coming, and the stock price mustn’t plunge all the way through to the end of the waiting period. Temporary drops are OK, even welcome, since reinvested dividends will buy shares at the lower prices.
Here are some stocks that might double your money, even without big price gains. No guarantees, obviously.

14 years

You’ll need at least 5% a year in dividends. Food stocks like Heinz (HNZ) and Kraft (KFT) pay that much. So does Boeing (BA), which I particularly like. Its shares, at less than six times this year’s earnings forecast, are priced as though mankind has come up with something better than airplanes for long-distance travel. And Genuine Parts (GPC) looks likely to profit from all those cars Americans aren’t buying, since it sells the parts needed to keep old cars running.

12 years

That’ll take a 6% yield. Merck (MRK) seems capable of keeping its meaty payment coming. Philip Morris International (PM), too. Verizon (VZ), another high-yielder, is growing its broadband unit about as fast as it’s losing business in its landline division, resulting in flat profits at the moment — a fairly enviable state.

10 years

Dividends of 7% and up are suspicious. Be careful of stocks whose prices are being pounded on the likelihood that dividend cuts are coming. Pitney Bowes (PBI) seems a good bet, especially since it recently increased its payment. Egg producer Cal-Maine Foods (CALM) yields 6.9% but is something of an odd bird; it pays one-third of profits as a variable dividend. With shares at less than four times this year’s earnings forecast, such a policy could produce a yield of greater than 8%.

Acne No More

Acne can be a real problem. There's nothing more embarrassing than knowing that you have a blemish on your face. Immediately, you feel less confident and less self-assured.

If you are an acne sufferer then you are no doubt aware of the dozens of acne treatments out there competing for your business. Acne is serious and because it may take months for an acne treatment to make an impact (or let you down), it is super critical that you pick the right product that has the best chance of working for you.

How then to decide which products to try?

Avoid harsh chemicals, like benzyl peroxide that can irritate your skin, not to mention leave marks on your clothing and pillow!
Pick a product that works 24/7 - acne does not take a break, so your treatment system shouldn't either.
Pick a product that is developed by an accredited dermatologist, preferably someone with extensive experience treating acne.
Pick a product that allows you to try it free first so that you can be sure it works for your skin before you pay for it.

0% APR Credit Cards

Be careful with your credit cards... A lot of the time we make more than one kind of mistakes with using our cards- here is a BIG one- how to avoid it and make 0% work for you...

There are some things to consider before transferring your balance to a new card:

1.Always take into account the length of the 0% APR period.
2.Be sure you are able to pay off your balance within this introductory period, otherwise high interest rates often kick in when the period ends.
3.Make a payment schedule and set aside money each month to pay towards your balance.
4.Also, be aware of transfer fees that may be charged by the credit card companies. These can come as unexpected surprises and throw off the payment plan you have created.
Another factor to consider is whether or not the 0% APR offer applied to purchases as well as payments. If interest is charged for your purchases on the transfer card, this can leave you with lingering debt even after your principle is paid off. If interest is charged for your purchases try and limit use of the card to emergencies only to avoid this occurrence. Also, be sure and compare the rewards programs offered by a card, as these will be available to you once you have paid off your balance. Pick a card that rewards you the way you want in the future.

A 0% Balance Transfer can be a great way to get out from under a seemingly insurmountable pile of debt and greatly improve your credit score and spending power at the same time.

Water/Sewage Bill Reduction

Do not over pay for water again! Here are some tips to lower your water/sewage bills:

Make sure your commode doesn't leak. Listen carefully for the tiniest dripping sound. If it's old you might want to buy a new water saving model. Or, place something plastic inside the tank to displace the amount of water being flushed.

Use only as much water taking a bath as you need. A full tub is fun but not necessary. For showering use a low-flow showerhead. Get wet; turn off the water and soap. Turn water back on and rinse. When shaving or brushing your teeth, don't run water during the entire task. Running water while brushing for two minutes can waste up to four gallons of water.

Most washers use up to 60 gallons per load so use load settings on the smallest possible. Permanent press cycles use a third more water than the regular cycle so use that feature judiciously.

Run your dishwasher only when full. The amount of water used is the same regardless of how many dishes you wash. At the sink, use hot water only when needed. You waste a lot of water waiting for the hot water to reach the faucet

Lawns are more resilient than you think so water lawns and gardens only when necessary. Mulch around plants to hold moisture. Water either early or late to prevent evaporation during the heat of the day.

A soaker hose conserves more water than a sprinkler and gets to the roots better. Native grasses and plants require much less water. Use a broom or blower to clean your sidewalks.

Don't wash them down with water. If you wash your car, don't let the water run continuously. Get a hose brush that has an on/off water switch. Wash your car on the grass to water it with runoff from your car.

Repair drippy faucets. The smallest drip can waste over 300 gallons a month. Check both inside and outside faucets. If you can't fix it right away, place a container to catch the drip water and use it to water plants or clean floors. Encourage your family to be water misers and your bank account will remain more liquid.

Business Loan Tips

There are some things that everyone should know before applying for a small business loan. It's always important to know what the bank or lending institution is looking for, what factors go into their decision to either grant or reject your loan. By playing to these factors, you can better your chances of securing that money for your business.

What is your personal story? Firstly, the bank will want to know about you. Your credit history, experience and education will all be factors preliminarily considered in the process of your application. These things speak to who you are as a business person, your credibility for running your own business.

What is your Business Plan? The meat of your proposal will be in your Business Plan. This is an outline you will present to the bank detailing your business idea while providing answers to the questions that the bank has.

How much are you applying for? This figure should be all-encompassing. It should include costs for startup and overhead as well as operations costs like payroll and inventory. It is very important to you and the bank that this number be as accurate as possible.

Where is this money going? Again, accuracy and detail are important here. Your business plan should have a detailed breakdown of how much is going where and for what.

When can you repay your loan? This is the question that anyone, from the bank to your wealthy relative will want an answer for. Be professional. Use financial statements and cash-flow projections to illustrate how your business will generate profit and be a good investment for the bank.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Garage Sale Success

Tips for a successful garage sale:

•Signage is key. Make sure signs can be read by someone driving past. Littlefield suggests attracting people to a sale with colorful balloons or a vintage car. "You want large items to collect eyes," he says. Also, place an ad on craigslist and in your local newspaper.

•Have plenty of change. Five-dollar bills and singles are a must. If you can, grab some $2 bills — some shoppers will be so excited to receive one they may tell friends where they got it.

•Add a neighbor and his junk. The more stuff to look at, the more people you are likely to attract.

•Set up the sale as a real store. Hang up clothing and avoid clutter. If it looks like dirty clothes stuck in a hamper, "People aren't going to buy it," Littlefield says. Price everything, too — unmarked items in retail stores can cause frustration — something you don't want at your garage sale. Have an extension cord handy to test electrical items.

•Get a permit if required. California, Tennessee, Utah and South Carolina all have permit laws. Check on your state's requirements.

•Give your leftovers to charity. "You'll feel good about it and get a tax write-off," Littlefield says.

•Price fairly but competitively. Pricing at 20% to 30% higher than value will invite bargaining, which is good. Use humor — perhaps on signs — to invite bargaining.

•Use masking tape to price goods. This will help deter theft. During your sale, the sound of ripping tape should be a cue to check your inventory. Just make sure the tape doesn't damage items.

But if dealing with strangers in person and coping with potential weather problems sounds terrible, the online marketplaces may be a better option.

Different e-markets have different rules and formats, but here are some tips to keep in mind when selling items online:

•Do some research. In many cases, all of your competitors' information is easy to see. Take a look at how others price similar items. Use keywords in your postings that helped previous sellers. But also look for ways to set your ad and item apart — the goal is to drive traffic to your sale.

•Take a picture. A professional-looking photo in an ad will help sell the item. Use a cloth backdrop to make your item stand out.

•Be honest. "It's OK to sell things that are chipped and cracked, but you need to be honest," Waddick says. "Show an additional photo so people know what they are bidding on."

•Mention shipping/pickup arrangements. This varies by site. On eBay, for example, the seller is responsible for shipping items. You determine the shipping costs and arrangements in the listing. Be competitive but fair. On craigslist.org, transactions can occur similarly. But if a transaction is local and will be done in person, safety and cost issues must be considered.

•Remember that feedback occurs. On sites such as eBay, after every sale, buyers and sellers have the opportunity to comment. Feedback will affect future sales, so be honest and treat your listing and buyers like a business.

•Consider fees and payment options. EBay charges a listing fee, listing upgrade fee, a commission fee and a final value fee. Though small, they can add up. For example, a shirt listed in an eBay auction for $12, with pictures and bold font, will cost you $5 in fees. Though the site is not affiliated with eBay, you can calculate your fees at ebcalc.com. PayPal and other payment options allow sellers and buyers to trade products for cash without revealing either party's financial information.

Q&A On Car Waxing

Q: My dealer said that my car’s clear coat of paint would never need waxing. The people at the car wash say that it does. Who’s right?

A: That depends upon what was actually said. If the dealer said that your car would never need waxing, they not only put you in the car -- they also put you on. However, if what they actually told you was that today's clear-coat finishes stay shinier longer, resist wear longer and don't need as much maintenance because they are more resistant to UV radiation, then they were being straight with you.

But the car wash is also contesting for the George Washington/Cherry Tree Award. They’re not out to lose a steady customer just to sell you a one-time wax job. To these people, paint is paint and armor it isn’t. Every day, they deal with cars like yours with factory paint jobs like yours, and every day, they see what can happen to even the finest factory finish through misinformation, neglect or both.

The car wash will tell you that although the new clear coats may resist heavy damage from UV rays, there is nothing in the new paint to counteract the destructive effects of bird droppings, tree sap, industrial fallout, acid rain and thick-enough-to-chew air pollution that tries to finish off your car's finish every day.

My advice is to keep the pollution pox from scarring your car with a nice, thick coat of protective wax.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

College Savings Plans

Plans for College Savings

For parents planning for their children's college education, there are several investment options to consider. One option that seems appealing is state-sponsored prepaid tuition plans available in several states. These plans allow parents to pay today's tuition rates with the assurance that the child will have the money to go to college when the time comes. They also allow participants to defer paying federal income tax on earnings until money is withdrawn for college.

These plans sound very attractive because of their guarantee as well as relative simplicity. Prepaid tuition plans differ from college savings plans that seek higher returns not tied to the increase in tuition. College savings plans do offer the potential for higher returns than the rate of tuition inflation, but there is a risk that your investment could lose value.
Prepaid tuition plans allow parents to lock in a tuition rate and begin paying the cost of college today.
If college is still a long-term consideration, parents may get a better rate of return by investing in stocks or a state-sponsored college savings plan that seeks higher returns.
Many plans do not allow for account transfers or payments to out-of-state colleges. Withdrawal of funds for anything other than tuition can result in substantial penalties.
Assets are attributed to the account owner, not the beneficiary, resulting in a lower impact on need-based financial aid.
Parents can also purchase CDs guaranteed to pay a full year's average tuition through College Savings Bank in Princeton, New Jersey.

Questions to Ask:
Is it transferable? To whom? When?
What is the enrollment period?
What costs are covered?
Can out-of-state residents participate?
What happens if you stop paying?
What happens if your child goes to private college?
What happens if your child goes to out-of-state college?
What is the tax effect?

Read the fine print on each prepaid tuition plan you evaluate. Make sure you understand all the fees and rules.
If you have more than one child, consider signing up for a plan that would let you transfer one child's unused money to a sibling.
If relatives ask for gift ideas, suggest a contribution to your child's prepaid tuition plan.
Encourage your child to contribute earnings from part-time work. He or she may take a college education more seriously after playing a role in financing it.

Retirement Relief

Sometimes good things come disguised as minor rule changes. And for retirees, that’s certainly true this year. In recent months senior citizens received two relatively small breaks designed to improve their retirement incomes—the suspension of required minimum distributions (RMDs) for IRA and 401(k) accounts for 2009, as well as a 5.8% cost of living adjustment (COLA) in Social Security payments. Nice, but no big deal, right? Actually, those changes could add up to a significant chunk of change

If you are age 70 ½ or older, you are normally required to withdraw a regular minimum amount from your tax-deferred accounts each year. (The exact amount is determined by a formula that factors in the account values and life expectancy.) Problem is, taking those RMDs now, in the midst of an epic bear market, means locking in big losses. So in December, Congress enacted a new law that suspends the RMDs for 2009. (There’s no exception for 2008 RMDs.) That change allows you to leave a sizeable amount in your IRA or 401(k) that can continue to grow as the market recovers, whenever that may be.

You might be surprised at the difference forgoing a single RMD makes to your nest egg. For example, someone age 75 with a $500,000 account would typically withdraw $21,834 in 2009. If you could afford to skip the distribution this year and let that money grow until age 90, you could end up with an extra $47,327, after adjusting for inflation and assuming a 7% annual average return. That’s nearly 10% more than your original portfolio.

Collecting Your Social Security COLA

The bout of inflation that raged in late 2007 and early 2008 (remember when we were worried about rising gas prices?) led to the 5.8% COLA for Social Security recipients this year. To put that in perspective, Social Security’s baseline assumption is for 2.8% annual increases.

For a 70-year-old retiree who is drawing maximum Social Security payments, the difference might seem small—only about $84 extra a month. Still, those three extra percentage points added to your cost of living adjustment make a big difference over time, with the biggest cumulative benefit going, of course, to younger retirees. That 70-year-old retiree will end up with an extra $35,623 between now and age 95,Someone age 80 will bank an extra $19,902.

Maybe it’s not enough to make up for your market losses, but every little bit helps.

How To Find A Body Shop

Accidents are bad enough without the added worry of making sure your car is properly repaired. You will receive lots of suggestions about which body shop to use, so make sure to ask the following questions to locate a good one:

Is the shop familiar with the make and model of your car?
How long has the shop been in business?
How do they handle disputes or complaints?
How does the shop look? Is it clean? Professional? Well-equipped?
How does the ongoing work look? How are other cars being handled?
Do they follow original manufacturer guidelines in making repairs?
Are there recognitions from business and industry groups hanging on the walls?
Are certificates of advanced courses or diplomas of competence for the employees displayed in the shop?
Are all policies, guarantees and methods of payment clearly posted?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Conserving Water

From time to time, most parts of the country experience some degree of water shortage. It may only last a week or two, or it may last long enough for us to lose some of our valuable plants, but in any case it's best to be prepared for the dry times. Here are a few tips to help you conserve water in your garden:

- Mulch helps the soil retain moisture, and also improves the appearance of your garden.

- Select native plants as often as possible. These plants are adapted to the climate in your area.

- Water less often, but more deeply, and focus on the root zones rather than the entire yard.

- Terrace steep slopes to reduce runoff.

- Maintaining a lush, green lawn requires a lot of water. Consider planting a groundcover instead.

- Sandy soils lose water because they drain quickly, and clay soils lose water to runoff. Adding organic matter to these soils will help them hold moisture. It costs nothing to start a compost pile, and in a few months you'll have a ready supply of organic matter to work into your soil.

- Recycle household wastewater from your dishwasher, bathtub and kitchen sink. You can also use water from your washing machine if you limit the use of detergents containing boron (borax) and chlorine bleach.

- Set out an old-fashioned rain barrel connected to the downspout on your house for a ready supply of water.

Cutting Car Costs

From a recent study, here are four of the most common misconceptions drivers have and the facts you should know:

Two out of three motorists think their vehicle tires should be rotated every 10,000 or less miles.
They should be rotated every 6,000-7,500 miles. Costs: Premature tire wear and unnecessary, early tire replacement.

Two out of five motorists believe that a car's warranty is good only if the vehicle is serviced at a new car dealership.
The routine maintenance required to keep a warranty in effect can be done at a dealership, independent service shop or even by the owner. Records and receipts that document the service must be kept. Costs: Higher dealership labor charges for years.

Most motorists think they know the correct pressure for their vehicle's tires.
Only 38% in this study could state it accurately. Costs: Premature tire wear, blowouts, loss of control and early tire replacement.

Almost 40% of all drivers often buy mid-grade or premium gasoline for their cars.
Only 10-15% of all vehicles need high-octane gas. Costs: Unnecessary waste of 10-20% of fuel costs.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Help! I Lost My Job

If you get fired there are some things you need and HAVE to do to keep your head above water. I have listed some top tips on getting back on your feet, even before your last check arrives in the mail. Check out these Fab 5 advice tips..

1. Fight the Firing: Protect your Unemployment Benefits
Schedule a meeting with the magazine's human resources department to discuss your firing. You'll want to file for unemployment and excessive absences may not be an acceptable reason. Produce a doctor's note. Their claim about excessive absences isn't legitimate, It's important to get your employment record expunged

2. Research your Salary and Job Options
Getting fired can be a sign that a job or employer just isn't the right fit for you. Instead of fixating on what you've lost, look toward the future. Compare your salary to others with similar education and experience to get a sense of what you can earn. Take it a step further and play around with the kinds of jobs that might be available to you. Look for something that matches your passion, your career goals and your salary requirements. Compare your salary now.

3. Reconsider your Resume
Even if the job you were fired from is super hot and enviable, you may want to leave it off your resume. If it's a first job and it's been less than two months, it's not worth the questions

4. Find a Better Gig
Your former employer will be sorry that they ever let you go when you end up working for the competition down the street. Here are some tips on how to get back on the job search train.
Tell everyone you know you're job hunting. Swallow your pride and let people know you lost your job. We mean everyone, not just your friends in certain businessess. Your yoga instructor may have another client who needs a fabulous assistant. Sometimes it really is all about who you know.
Set up "informational interviews." If you've got a friend of a friend at another fashion magazine, ask to meet her boss. She'll offer her best advice and possibly pass along more names of more people to talk to. Eventually one of those folks might offer you a job.

Get your name out there with gig after gig. If you do a great job, you'll be invited back. Don't be afraid to ask if your temp boss knows anyone else who may be looking for freelancers.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tax Bill Tips

Let's face it- times are tough and money is super tight. The last thing we all need is a tax bill to add to our other bills that are stressing us out and making us go crazy. I found these advisory tips on paying off Uncle Sam- I truly hope they can help
If you think you'll be scrambling to afford your tax bill come April 15, here are some moves worth considering:

Plead your case
The worst decision a struggling taxpayer can make is to hide from the IRS. Fail to pay your taxes and you'll undoubtedly end up with a bigger tab after all the fees and penalties kick in.
Instead, call the IRS (800-829-1040). Explain your financial situation and request to work out a payment plan. The IRS may provide a short-term extension on your tax bill, waive penalties that would kick in with a late payment or suggest that you enter an installment payment plan.

Skip over this content Make a down payment
Taxpayers who can only afford to pay part of their tax bill – say, 50% -- but not all should pay as much as they can come April 15. There is no minimum percentage that the taxpayer must pay, and they don’t need to contact the IRS before proceeding with this payment option, says Kip Dellinger, senior tax partner at Los Angeles-based accounting firm Kallman and Company. Once the IRS receives your return with a partial payment, you’ll get a bill for the remaining amount about 45 days later.
Those extra few weeks may be enough time for you to shore up the cash you'll need to pay the remainder of the bill. Just don't wait too long. Any balance you carry will typically accrue interest, which changes each quarter, says IRS spokesman Eric Smith. The current interest rate is 5% annualized compounded daily, he says.

Skip over this content Apply for a monthly payment plan
Taxpayers who need several months -- or even a few years -- to pay their tax bill should consider applying for an installment agreement on IRS Form 9465.
These plans allow taxpayers to pay a fixed amount each month until their bill is paid in full and comes in two flavors: a guaranteed installment agreement and one that’s not guaranteed. To qualify for the guaranteed plan, your tax bill (not including interest and penalties) must be $10,000 or less. In addition, during the past five years you must have filed your tax returns on time, paid income taxes in full and you must not have entered into an installment agreement for payment of income tax. And, in most cases, you’ll have to agree to pay the full amount within three years.
Taxpayers who owe more than $10,000 (not including interest or penalties) or don’t meet one of these requirements can apply for an installment agreement that’s not guaranteed. Based on your tax returns, the IRS will confirm that you can’t afford to pay your tax bill and determine an affordable monthly payment amount. Those who qualify for this plan will have up to 60 months (or longer in some cases) to pay off their bill.
With both payment plans, once a request is approved, you’ll have to pay a fee of $43 to $105 depending on income and method of payment. You will also have to pay interest on any unpaid portion of your tax bill.

Make an offer in compromise
Those who were hit hard in 2008 -- say you lost a home to foreclosure -- can apply for an offer in compromise, where the IRS settles your bill for less than you actually owe.
To qualify, you need to prove that you don’t have the assets or the income to pay the full amount or must demonstrate that paying the total tax bill would create an economic hardship. Be prepared for the IRS to assess all of your assets, including cars, real estate and bank accounts.

To apply for an offer in compromise, fill out an application
. Note that you will be assessed a $150 application fee.

Don't Recycle These

Most of us feel less guilty when we toss something in the bin headed for the recycling plant rather than the landfill. If you include some items that aren't recyclable, you run the risk of your entire batch being shipped off to the nearest dump.

The best thing you can do is educate yourself about local recycling rules. In the meantime here's the short list of common items that don't belong in the recycling bin, no matter what your zip code:

Pizza boxes. The oil from pizza can contaminate cardboard boxes, making it impossible to process them into clean paper.

Napkins and paper towels. It's not the paper goods themselves that present a problem, but the fact that they're typically used to wipe up food, cleaning products, and other "hazardous waste."

Sticky notes. Their size, color, and the adhesive strip make them a better bet for the trash bin.

Plastic caps. Curbside programs won't recycle them, but Aveda collects them and turns them into packaging for new products.

Wet paper. Paper fibers that have been exposed to water are shorter and therefore less valuable to paper mills, making it unprofitable to collect and recycle.

Figuring out which plastics you can recycle is often confusing. It's generally well known that most curbside programs only take plastics labeled #1 and #2 on the bottom, but many people are shocked to hear that shape sometimes plays a role. For example, many communities don't accept tubs (mouth wider than base), but will take bottles (base wider than mouth) even if the numbers are the same because these plastics are manufactured differently, says Darby Hoover of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Check in with your local waste or sanitation department to find out what the specific rules are in your area. You can also log onto http://www.earth911.org/ for a wealth of recycling information from helpful articles to its extensive database where you can type in your zip code for a listing of local resources.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Save Grocery $$$ Now!

If you limit your spending to meat, produce, and dairy, and skip strolling up and down the aisles filled with expensive packaged products, you'll spend less.
Research shows that the average American spends 30% of their monthly budget on food, so even a small savings can make a difference week after week.
Americans spend 30% of their monthly budget on food on average. here are some good ideas on how to carve out some savings at the grocery store.
Cut out the following seven items and you'll see your bill go down immediately:

1. Bagged salad. These bags can be a time-saver, but they can cost three times as much as an ordinary head of lettuce. And "salad kits" -- including some greens, a small bag of dressing, and a small bag of croutons -- are even more expensive.

2. Energy or protein bars. They're often stacked at the checkout counter for impulse buyers who grab them for a quick health fix. But they are often high in sugar and fat and about as wholesome as a candy bar. They're also two to three times more expensive.

3. Spice mixes. Things like grill seasoning and rib rubs might seem like a good buy because they contain spices that you would have to buy individually. But once again, it pays to read labels. Usually the first ingredient you see is salt, followed by a few herbs and spices. Look in your own pantry; you'll be surprised to discover just how many herbs you already have on hand.

4. Bottled water. This is a bad investment for many reasons. It's expensive compared to what's coming out of the tap, its cost to the environment is high, and it's often no better for your health than what's running down your drain.

5. Boxed rice entree or side-dish mixes. These consist basically of rice, salt, and spices, yet they're priced way beyond the ingredients sold individually. Yes, there are a few flavorings included, but again, you probably have them in your pantry. Buy a bag of brown rice, measure out what you need, add your own herbs and other seasonings, and voila! You've just saved some money, and prepared something that probably tastes better than what you were going to buy.

6. Pre-formed meat patties. These are handy, but they're more expensive than buying the ground meat in bulk and making patties yourself. You can even freeze them if you must.

7. Tomato-based pasta sauces. These may run $2 to $6 a jar, while the equivalent amount of canned tomatoes is often under $1. Try making your own sauces from canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes. Put the tomatoes into a skillet, stir in some wine or wine vinegar, your favorite herbs, and whatever chopped vegetables you like in your sauce -- garlic, peppers, onions, mushrooms, even carrots -- and let simmer for an hour. Easy!

While you change your own shopping habits, think about how changing consumer habits could affect your portfolio, too.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Make Your Own Fruit Bouquets!

The edible fruit bouquets advertised on t.v. and the internet are lovely but WAY TOO EXPENSIVE! I have some tips on how to make one completely from scratch that will be just as beautiful and delicious for all occassions. Plus,this is a great activity for you&your kids or a whole family to do.. fun,easy,educational,inexpensive. Here we go -pay attention :)

Depending on the size of bouquet that you wish to make, you will need fresh pineapple, strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes, and parsely. For the bouquet shown here, I used 1 large pineapple, 2 pounds of strawberries, 1 cantaloupe, 50 grapes and a handful of parsley.

You will also need a few other items to make this edible fruit bouquet: a flower cookie cutter, a knife, a melon baller, kitchen scissors, bamboo skewers, a cutting board, a vase, and some floral foam or playdough ,the floral foam is easier to work with, but the playdough works just fine also.

Step 1. Using your knife, cut up your pineapple into 1/2 inch thick slices. (I used 5 slices total for this bouquet, but you can use more or less).

Step 2. Using the cookie cutter, press each slice of pineapple and cut out a flower of pineapple.

Step 3. Using the melon baller, scoop out one ball of cantaloupe for every 2 pineapple flowers. Cut the cantaloupe ball in half and lay the flat side of one half against one pineapple flower.

Step 4. Now take each pineapple flower and stick a bamboo skewer through the center. Make sure your skewer pokes through the pineapple about 1/2 inch. Now stick that part of the skewer onto a cantaloupe ball, but don't let the skewer stick out the other end of the cantaloupe ball. Do this for each pineapple flower that you have.

Step 5. Wash your strawberries (you can remove the strawberry leaves if you want). Then take each strawberry and stick a bamboo skewer into the top of it, but don't let the skewer poke out the other side.

Step 6. Take a bamboo skewer and stick it through about 6-7 grapes. When you stick one grape on, slide it down to make room for the next one. Repeat this until your last grape. Make sure that the skewer doesn't stick out of the last grape (the one on top). Then slide each grape up the skewer until they touch the grape just above it. I made 7 of these grape skewers for this fruit bouquet.

Step 7. Put your floral foam or playdough into your vase. You can use a flower vase, a basket or anything else. I do recommend using an opaque vase so the skewers & playdough are not visible through the vase. I used playdough for this fruit bouquet.

Step 8. Now you should have all of your fruit on skewers. Place each skewer into the playdough at various angles. You will want to create a spherical shape to the bouquet, so place the outermost skewers on a large angle and make them shorter than the center skewers. I had to break a few inches off some of the skewers to get them to the right height (I used kitchen scissors to help me break the skewers). This step is the most time consuming because you want the bouquet to look perfect. If you have trouble, just start putting in skewers into the playdough. Then adjust each one to look how you want it. The key to this step is to adjust your skewer lengths. Don't be afraid to break a good part of the skewer off (if you break too much off, you can always use a new skewer - I had a LOT of extra skewers at the end). Also, the playdough tends to get quite full of skewers, so if you place a skewer in and it runs into another skewer, twist it a little bit until it slides past the other skewer. Another key to making your fruit bouquet look AWESOME is to have plenty of fruit. Having too few fruit skewers makes your fruit bouquet look bare and skimpy.

You could stop at this point and have a cute fruit bouquet, but I recommend you move on to Step 9.
Step 9. Once all your fruit skewers are placed, place some twigs of parsley in-between the skewers. This fills in the bouquet, hides the skewers and makes it look more like a flower bouquet.

*Tip: You may have to remove a skewer and drop in the parsley from the top. This will give you a little more room to work with. After your parsley is in place, replace any skewers that you may have removed.

Once you have the parsley in place, YOU ARE DONE! You have a delicious and unique centerpiece. It will serve as a beautiful centerpiece and your guests will love the taste of this fresh edible fruit bouquet.

Place this fruit bouquet on your food table or somewhere prominent. When you serve the refreshments, you could have the guests just pull the fruit off of the skewers, rather than pulling the whole skewer out. That way, the parsely won't be falling out all over.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bleach Myths Rebuked

Myths abound when it comes to bleach. But with simple understanding comes more effective use of a great versatile product. I've addressed some of the common myths below.

If a label says a garment cannot be bleached, do not bleach it.

Almost all cotton whites and most synthetic whites are safe to treat with liquid bleach. If a label on your whites instructs not to use bleach, test it out on a hidden area (A bleachability test can be found on the back label or on drlaundryblog.com). If there is no visible effect, it can be bleached. This is also true for many printed and colored fabrics.

Your washing machine is clean.

Washing machines are a haven for germs. Adding Regular-Bleach to at least one wash load a week will help prevent build up of biofilm in your washer.

Cleaning with diluted bleach is the same as using a bleach-based cleaner.

A bleach-based disinfecting cleaner enhances cleaning and disinfecting, since it has both surfactants and bleach. Surfactants help clean by breaking down grease and heavier soils, while registered bleach removes stains and disinfects. In addition, a bleach-based cleaner offers a convenient and consistent way to clean since both surfactants and bleach are already combined in a pre-mixed solution.

Bleach seems too intense for use around the house.

Bleach-based cleaners can be used to clean and disinfect hard, nonporous surfaces around the house such as porcelain, tile, counters, sinks, refrigerators, appliances, fiberglass and tubs.

Bleach is a harsh chemical that can cause harm to my septic system.

Some Toilet Bowl Cleaners - with Bleach is safe to use on septic systems. Since bleach breaks down very rapidly, especially when it comes into contact with organic matter, the ingredients in Name brand Toilet Bowl Cleaners - with Bleach won't harm your septic system.

Using a bleach cleaner in my colored toilet might cause discoloration of my toilet bowl.

The recommended use of Name brand Toilet Bowl Cleaners - with Bleach will not harm colored toilets. By using Name brand Toilet Bowl Cleaners - with Bleach, you can kill 99.9% of odor-causing bacteria and remove tough stains for a cleaner, toilet bowl and fresher bathroom*.

*Use as directed.
Bleach in the toilet may be harmful to my pets if they happen to drink from the bowl.

It should not be a problem if your pet ingests small amounts of water from a toilet bowl cleaned with a bleach product. However, pets should not rely on drinking from the toilet bowl as a main source of water.

If a pet ingests undiluted product or large amounts of toilet bowl water containing product, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian.

Usage Tips:
Need to eliminate dinginess and improve cleaning results in your laundry?

You can improve results in your laundry by

sorting properly
pre-treating or pre-soaking spots, stains, and heavily soiled garments
using enough detergent
adding liquid bleach to your load
using the warmest water temperature recommended for the fabric
loading your washer loosely

Monday, February 2, 2009

Unemployment&Tax Mistakes Not To make

Unemployment insurance income is rarely adequate to cover basic living expenses and fixed costs, and unemployed individuals generally tap into assets with the highest tax consequences, even though other options are available

1. Avoiding withholding
Plenty of people opt to collect unemployment income without having federal withholding deducted. Yes, it's tempting to receive the full check. But how are you going to pay the taxes on the unemployment income in April? You won't have the money.
Have the withholding taken out, or have the discipline to set aside at least 15% of the money in a savings account you don't touch.
If you get sick while you're on unemployment, remember to switch your benefits to disability benefits. Those checks are usually higher -- and the income is not taxable.
If your prospects for getting a job look really bleak for the year ahead, consider this interesting suggestion from Doug Thorburn, a Northridge, Calif.-based enrolled agent: See if the tax benefits of being claimed as someone else's dependent are substantial. If they are, consider halting your unemployment benefits before your total income for the year reaches $3,500. This definitely takes some planning.

2. 401(k) withdrawals
It's almost instinctive: The first thing you do when you're out of work and need money is tap into your 401(k) plan. Why is this a bad idea? Three reasons:
One, often people draw the money thinking it qualifies for exceptions to the penalties, but the exceptions often only relate to draws from IRAs, not 401(k)s.
Two, it's very expensive money, costing as much as 50% of the amount drawn. There's the penalty of 10% from the IRS and whatever your state penalty is (not all states have penalties). Then there's the tax: 25% plus state tax. In addition, the draw increases your tax bracket and may increase your income so you lose other deductions or credits. And, you permanently deplete your retirement savings.
Three, and worst of all, when it comes time to pay the tax, you won't have the money. You will start a pattern of tax debt overshadowing your life and finances for the next two to 10 years.
What is a viable alternative? There are two options.
One, if there is a lot of money in the account, you can roll the money into an IRA and set up withdrawals allowing you to take substantially equal periodic payments (monthly or annually) over your life expectancy. You will pay taxes on the money -- consider this a replacement for your wages - but you will avoid IRS and state early withdrawal penalties
Two, start a business. With so many people unemployed right along with you, odds are that you will not get a job quickly, certainly not one earning what you used to earn. So you may well start a business.
If you start a business designed to generate a real stream of income, you can establish a solo 401(k) plan for yourself. Meet with an expert to ensure you meet all the guidelines. If your spouse works in your business, you can establish an account for him or her as well. Then, roll over the funds from your old 401(k) to your new solo 401(k) accounts.
Now you can borrow up to 50% from each account, up to $50,000 per person. You pay no taxes at all (perhaps under $500 in total fees). You must repay that money - to yourself; so you will be forced to replenish your retirement account.

3. IRA withdrawals
That's usually the next step for unemployed folks. Don't just take the money as you need it, without any planning. Think through your financial needs and withdraw the money properly. There are several ways for unemployed folks to pull money from IRAs without facing those harsh early withdrawal penalties. Taxes will still apply.
As part of your planning, assess your health. If you have been just hanging on thinking you had no choice but to work, it's time to start thinking about getting your health evaluated to see if you should still be working. Some special benefits that might result? You could switch your unemployment benefits to disability benefits, which are not taxable. Or, you might qualify for Social Security disability payments, which would allow you to draw Social Security funds early.
Another possible plan: Withdraw money to cover your health insurance premiums while you're unemployed.
Or, this may be a good opportunity to go back to school and get retrained for another career or profession. Funds paid directly to a qualified educational institution will avoid the penalty. In addition, you may qualify for the lifetime learning credit or the education expense deductions.

Another possible plan: Buying a home. You may draw up to $10,000 for the down payment of a first home (if neither you nor your spouse owned a home within the last two years). With the real-estate market so depressed, now may be a good time to buy a new home. And, not only can you get the down payment money penalty-free, if you close escrow before June 30, 2009 you may qualify for the first-time homebuyers credit of up to $7,500. That may be enough to help you get through the year.
Heck, if you can't find any other means of gainful employment, you could live in the house for two years, fix it up and sell it or rent it out - and collect the stream of income.

4. Dumping your home
Another pitfall is walking away from a home that is worth substantially less than the loan balance. You may find yourself facing taxes on phantom income -- cancellation of debt. The rules are complicated, depending on the nature of the loan contract, and your state of residence. There may be ways around the extra taxes, using IRS' insolvency rules or by filing bankruptcy before disposing of the home.
As you may have noticed, each pitfall has ways around it - if only you stop and plan before desperately grabbing money. Sure, you need the money, time is short and you're feeling pressured. But before doing anything rash, count to 10, take a deep breath, and get some advice. Who knows, your adviser may even come up with a job, or a great idea for a business that may change your life.

Tax Credits Not To Miss!

Taxpayers whose wages were slashed in 2008 -- or worse, who were laid off -- may be eligible for tax credits that weren't within their reach in previous years. In addition, first-time home buyers and parents of children under age 17 may also be able to save a little money on their tax bill thanks to some new credits and thresholds.

Here are four credits that can help boost your refund.

Recovery Rebate Credit

Feel like you got shortchanged last year when the government doled out its Economic Stimulus Act rebate checks? Well, if you didn't qualify for the rebate before or didn't receive the full amount ($600 per taxpayer and $1,200 if married and filing jointly) because your income was too high (or too low), you may now be able to collect.

The rebate checks that were sent out last year were based on information on your 1040 for 2007. This second chance to collect will be based on your 2008 1040. So if your income took a hit last year, it may be worth a shot. You can also qualify for this credit if you had a child in 2008, among other reasons.

First-Time Homeowner Credit

For those who bought a home last year or want to in the months ahead, Uncle Sam has a little present for you. This tax credit, essentially a temporary, no-interest loan, is being offered to those who bought -- or will buy -- a home between April 9, 2008, and June 30, 2009, and who didn't own a home during the three years preceding the purchase.

The maximum amount of the credit equals either 10% of the home’s price or $7,500 ($3,750 if you are married, but filing separately), whichever is less. One hitch: Homeowners will have to repay the credit over 15 years by either owing more in taxes or receiving a smaller refund. So, if you claim the credit on your 2008 tax return, you’ll have to start repaying it when you file your taxes for 2009. (The 2009 tax return will include an extra line for this credit.)

Child Tax Credit

Many parents will be eligible to receive a tax credit of up to $1,000 per child this year as long as that child was under the age of 17 at the end of 2008. (This credit is in addition to the regular $3,500 exemption that you can claim for each dependent.)

The child tax credit begins phasing out for filers whose modified adjusted gross income is above $110,000 if they are married and filing jointly, above $75,000 for single filers, or more than $55,000 for married filing separately. In addition, the child (who can also be the filer’s sibling, stepchild, grandchild, niece or nephew) must have not provided more than half of his or her own support and, in most cases, must have lived with the filer for more than half of 2008.

The one catch: The amount you receive from the child tax credit is partly based on your income so you may not receive the full amount -- or possibly anything. If you don't qualify for any or all of the $1,000 child tax credit you're still in luck. Try applying for the additional child tax credit, which also offers up to $1,000 per qualifying child. (Taxpayers who qualify for parts of both credits can only receive a maximum of $1,000 per eligible child.) Typically, this credit is reserved for low-income taxpayers, but a recent change in the way the IRS computes eligibility for this credit, will allow more middle-income taxpayers to qualify this year, says Eric Smith, a spokesman for the IRS.

Earned Income Tax Credit

This credit is typically geared toward low-income taxpayers, but given the rise in the unemployment rate and wage cuts, more people are likely to qualify for it this year, says Evans. (According to the IRS, one in six taxpayers currently can claim this credit.)

To qualify, families with two or more children must have made less than $41,646 in 2008, and those with one child must have earned less than $36,995. Also, individuals without children who make less than $15,880 are eligible.

The maximum credit for each of these groups is $4,824, $2,917 and $438, respectively.

Taxpayers who qualify to claim this credit on their federal income tax return may also be eligible for a similar credit on their state or local income tax return. Twenty-two states, including New York, Maryland and Iowa, offer residents an earned income tax credit.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pen Pals For Soldiers

Below are current military addresses of both men and women who are interested in receiving mail from a PEN PAL. Your cards, letters and postcards mean a lot to our SOLDIERS serving overseas. The single most requested items from our SOLDIERS are cards, letters and postcards.

It’s easy to write to the troops.

Write your letter or postcard as you would to a friend, family member.
If you would like a like a response back, include your address at the bottom of your letter or postcard.
Place your letter in and envelope and address it with the SOLDIERS name exactly as written (below). Include your return address on the outside of the envelope.
Place a postage stamp on your letter or postcard and place it in the mail.


It generally takes 4-8 weeks from the time you mail your letter or postcard until you get a response back. Write as many SOLDIERS as you like.

We live in the land of the free, because of the brave…..

Brian Meinert
MNC-I / PMO / K-9
APO AE 09342
Army Iraq - Military Working Dog Handler

Deployed til 4/2/09

6 males - 1 female - 7 dogs

Cpl David C. Olszak
K-9 Kennel Master
Unit 44505
FPO AP 96426-4505
Marine Iraq - Military Working Dog Handler

Deployed til 4/30/09

20 males - 6 dogs

Cpl Jakub Holmes
UNIT 73795
FPO AE 09509-3795

Marine Iraq - Military Working Dog Handler
Deployed til 4/15/09
8 males - 8 dogs

Andrew M. Limes
APO AE 09321
Air Force K 9 Iraq Military Dog handler

Deployed til 4/15/09

8 males

SSgt Erik Ellingson
HHT 1-32 CAV / K9 101ABN (AASLT)
LSA Anaconda
APO AE 09391
Airman Iraq Military Dog Handler

Deployed til 1/31/09

2 males - 2 dogs

SrA Wayne W. Stickels
Law and Order Det (k9)
APO AE 09366

Air Force Kuwait Military Dog Handler

Deployed til 2/20/09

2 males

Sgt Matthew J. Favinger
Camp Korean Village MP/K9
FPO AE 09371

Marine Iraq Military Dog Handler

Deployed til 4/9/09

6 males

SSgt John J. Grice
379 ESFS/K-9
APO AE 09309 Airman Iraq Military Dog Handler

Deployed til 2/1/09

10 males - 1 female - several dogs

LCpl Brett Yamashita
Camp Korean Village
APO AE 09371
Marine Iraq Military Dog Handler

Deployed til 4/1/09

5 males

SSgt Eric S. Magnuson
Law & Order DET (K-9)
APO AE 09366
Airman Iraq Military Dog Handler

Deployed til 2/15/09

5 males - 2 females

Clayton W. Glover
TF Guardian ATTN: K-9
APO AE 09354
Army Afghanistan Kennel Master

Deployed til 8/14/09

17 males - 5 females

Sgt Thomas Williams
UNIT 73035
FPO AE 09509-3045

Marine Iraq Military Dog Handler

Deployed til 3/15/09

10 males - 1 dog "Eve"

Johnny W. Kyte
APO AE 09354

Army Afghanistan Military Dog Handler

Deployed til 2/15/09

11 males - 1 females

Army - Iraq

Deployed til 9/15/09


CPT Ramona Toussaint
C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

CPT Lori August

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SPC Linda Welsh

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SPC Tryon

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

2LT White

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

2LT Kwan

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

2LT Stump

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

MAJ Alexanian

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

CPT Darst

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

CPT Shaw

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SPC Olivares

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SFC Rainford

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SSG Saint

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SPC Savoy

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SPC Anderson

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SFC Kym B. Ricketts

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

CPL Kermetris Hill

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331


SFC Stephens

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

PFC Torres

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SGT Nanai

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SGT Hunter

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SPC Harrison

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

PV2 Worthington

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SPC Hunter

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SPC Curry

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

CPT Johnson

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

CPT Bhatta

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

CPT Roberts

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

CPT Bender

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

SSG Smallwood

C CO 27th BSB
1st Cavalry Division
APO AE 09331

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tax Tip #2

If you want your taxes done for free here is some good tips on how to file state and federal for free from the comfort of your home on the internet.

1. Go to http://www.turbotax.com (click on free edition)and have your federal taxes done for free which you can print or efile also for free. Make sure to have Adobe if you want to have your files saved and access them. This way you can have all the information you will be asked when doing your state taxes

2. If you want your state taxes done for free here is a site to go to: (Turbo tax is great but they charge to do deluxe versions of federal or just to have your state prepared) http://www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=97915,00.html Once you go to this site click on the link that says: states participating in Federal/State efile

3. Go into this site and find your state (if applicable) and file your state taxes for free with efile- and yes you can print and mail them as well make sure you have Adobe Reader for that one too.

Good luck and for the love of tax filing have them prepared easily and for FREE!!!

Taxable Gains

More amazing tax tips I found and hope can be beneficial to you during this trying year...

Starting Jan. 1, the basic federal estate-tax exemption jumped to $3.5 million from $2 million in 2008. This large increase is expected to result in a major decline in the number of estates subject to the tax for 2009. It also will mean significant tax savings for many larger estates that are affected, says Sidney Kess, a New York lawyer and accountant.

Among other notable changes: The maximum amount that savers can contribute to a 401(k) plan increased. Many high-income taxpayers will benefit from changes affecting personal exemptions and certain deductions. And many Americans who live and work in other countries will be able to exclude more of their pay from U.S. tax collectors.

But not all the automatic 2009 changes will spell relief. For one thing, many people who suffer personal casualty and theft losses in 2009 won't be able to deduct as much. And about 11 million workers will pay higher Social Security taxes this year.

Standard Deductions

The basic standard deduction for joint filers for the 2009 tax year will be $11,400, up from $10,900 for 2008.
For singles, the amount for 2009 will be $5,700, up from $5,450.
The amounts are higher for those age 65 or older, for the blind, for those who paid real-estate taxes and for those with losses from federally declared disasters.

Much larger changes are expected soon from Washington in response to the economic crisis. President-elect Obama and congressional leaders are working on a wide-ranging plan that includes large cuts for both individuals and businesses.

While it's not yet known what will become law or when the changes will take effect, Congress will likely pass relief from the alternative minimum tax, or AMT. Unless lawmakers do something, tens of millions of Americans will have to pay higher taxes for 2009.

Here are some of the major changes that automatically became law on Jan. 1. While these won't affect tax returns for 2008, they may help taxpayers with 2009 planning.

Estate and gift taxes. The increase in the basic estate-tax exemption amount to $3.5 million stems from a 2001 law. (Transfers from one spouse to the other typically remain tax-free.) "Many estate plans and wills will have to be modified to take into account this increased exemption amount," Mr. Kess says.

The top federal estate-tax rate for 2009 remains unchanged at 45%. In 2010, the estate tax is supposed to disappear entirely for that one year only -- but that isn't likely to happen. During the campaign, then-Sen. Obama proposed retaining the $3.5 million exclusion amount and the 45% top rate in coming years.

The annual gift-tax exclusion rose to $13,000, up $1,000 from 2008. This means you can give as much as $13,000 this year to anyone you wish, or to as many people as you want, without having to worry about taxes or even having to file any forms with the Internal Revenue Service. It's a simple way to help others and reduce the size of your taxable estate. You can give even more than that by paying directly for someone else's tuition or medical expenses. Just be sure to pay the institution directly.

The lifetime gift-tax exclusion amount remains unchanged at $1 million.

The Great Rebate

Can you apply for a stimulus rebate check when filing your 2008 tax return if your 2008 income was lower than your 2007 income?

Yes it is true. People who didn't qualify for the full rebate check last year have a second chance to get the money when they file their 2008 tax return.

Those rebate checks that most people received last spring and summer were actually a tax credit for 2008, which would normally reduce your 2008 tax bill. But to get the money into people's hands quickly to stimulate the economy, Congress had the IRS make a prepayment of the credit. That meant the rebate was figured based on information from your 2007 return.

Most single filers received a $600 rebate, and married couples received $1,200, plus $300 for every dependent younger than 17. The rebate amount started to phase out if your 2007 adjusted gross income was more than $75,000 for single filers, or more than $150,000 for married couples filing jointly. For people who earned more than that, the rebate was reduced by $50 for every $1,000 you earned above the income limit. It phased out entirely at $87,000 for single filers without children and $174,000 for joint filers without children.

If you earned too much to qualify based on your 2007 income, but earned less than those limits in 2008, then you'll be able to claim the rebate when you file your 2008 taxes.

You may also qualify for some rebate money this year if you had a child in 2008, or if you were originally ineligible for a rebate because you could be claimed as a dependent on another person's tax return in 2007 but cannot be claimed as a dependent in 2008.

If you didn't originally qualify for the rebate but do this time around, then the amount will be a credit on your 2008 tax return and will be included in your refund (not sent as a separate check). You can figure out the credit when you file your form 1040 for 2008 -- the instructions for form 1040 include the calculation, or your tax-filing software will figure the credit for you.

The IRS also has some new resources to make it easy to figure out if you'll be getting the rebate. See the IRS's Recovery Rebate Credit Information Center and Questions and Answers About the Recovery Rebate Credit at the IRS's Web site.

People who had a good year don't need to worry: If you earned more in 2008 than you did in 2007, you don't have to pay back the rebate.

Tax Tips #1

I found some helpful tax tips for you - put them to good use if you can!

Here are answers to some queries about taxes in a time of financial turmoil, as well as some additional tax-savvy moves to consider, including what to do if you have near-worthless stocks or bonds, or are planning major charitable donations but are short on cash.

Writing off your losers. Investors are allowed to offset capital gains and losses, with no limit. If your losses exceed your gains, you can deduct as much as $3,000 of net losses ($1,500 if married and filing separately) each year. Additional losses get carried over into future years.

Or whether there are any plans in Congress to increase the current net capital-loss limit.

During the presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain proposed raising the net capital-loss limit to $15,000 a year. Then-Sen. Barack Obama didn't comment -- and still hasn't. So what are the odds Congress will change the law this year? "Pretty slim," says Clint Stretch, managing principal for tax policy at Deloitte Tax LLP. "Congress will have a hard time agreeing on any tax items before year end."

Separately, suppose you are considering selling stocks or bonds you bought years ago that are now trading for well below what you paid for them. Don't donate those losers to charity. Instead, consider selling them, using the losses to save taxes -- and then donate the proceeds to charity.

What do to with worthless stocks. What if you had the misfortune to invest in a company whose stock now is worthless or nearly worthless?

If a stock you bought for a taxable account became completely worthless during 2008, report it on Schedule D of Form 1040. Write "worthless" in columns (c) and (d), and enter the amount of your loss in parentheses in column (f). If you don't claim a loss for a worthless security on your original return for the actual year in which it became worthless, file what's known as an amended return for the year it became worthless. Use Form 1040X, available on the IRS Web site. You must file it within seven years from the date your original return for that year had to be filed, or two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later, the IRS says.

If the stock isn't completely worthless, consider asking your broker to buy those shares from you for a nominal amount, such as $1, so that you can clearly document your loss. Among those that will do so for clients is Vanguard Brokerage Services, says Rebecca Cohen, a Vanguard Group spokeswoman.

Changes in minimum-distribution requirements. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama called for major changes in the rules requiring millions of people 70½ or older to withdraw certain amounts of money from their retirement accounts. Several readers, including James M. Gleason of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., want to know if there's still any chance of action this year.

The short answer is yes. Although time is running short, it's still possible that Congress, the Treasury Department or both will take action. Many proposals are under consideration, including reducing how much taxpayers have to withdraw this year. Don't count on anything happening. But investors who haven't already made their full distributions for 2008 should consider delaying a little longer, just in case Washington delivers a last-minute Christmas package.

Speculation about possible changes rose last month when a Treasury official confirmed the department was studying the subject. A spokesman confirms the department is aware of the issue and is still looking into it.

But relief may not arrive until next year. Several leading senators recently proposed legislation that would place a one-year moratorium on required minimum distributions from retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, for 2009, a Senate Finance Committee staffer says. Among the sponsors are Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa, the committee's ranking Republican member) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.). The legislation would "allow savings to stay put and avoid a tax hit when the market is down," a committee statement said.

Making a gift from your IRA. Meanwhile, some older taxpayers may benefit by taking advantage of a recently enacted law that extended the life of a popular provision that had expired. The law allows individuals age 70½ and older to make direct transfers of as much as $100,000 a year from an IRA to qualified charities without having to count those distributions as taxable income. What's more, the transfer counts toward the taxpayer's required minimum distribution. This provision has been extended through 2009.

"Not all charities are eligible," the IRS said in a statement issued Tuesday. "For example, donor-advised funds and supporting organizations are not eligible recipients."

Charging your charitable contributions. If you want to make a big gift to your favorite charity to nail down a deduction for your 2008 return, but don't have the cash to do it now, consider charging your gift to a credit card. As long as you charge your gift this year, you can deduct it for this year. "Contributions are deductible in the year made," the IRS said. "Thus, donations charged to a credit card before the end of the year count for 2008. This is true even if the credit card bill isn't paid until next year. Also, checks count for 2008 as long as they are mailed this year."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Choosing Colors

Not sure what colors to plant? Remember that pink and blue colored flowers give the viewer a soothing effect, while red and orange colored flowers are hot and exciting. When using a lot of brightly colored flowers, use silvery foliage plants such as artemisia between areas of color. Artemisia is also an excellent edging for colorful container plants.