How to Master Your Home Finances in 2018

The following article is Part 1 in our 5 part series on finances, courtesy of Nationwide Insurance's blog.

It’s easy to treat family money like a utility: Bring in as much as you can, take out what you need, and just hope you don’t run out. But you wouldn’t run a business that way. Why would you do the same for your family? It can seem daunting, but it’s really not that hard to turn your family finances into a successful long-term enterprise.

1. Define your financial goals

Thinking about what you want to do with your money broken out in one, five and ten year increments is the first step to taking control. Whether you’re saving for your kids’ college funds or simply looking to upgrade your family’s vacation budget, write it down.

2. Examine your current budget

Find two or three hours of uninterrupted time with your paychecks, your bills and a calculator to see where you are today. You need to determine what percentage of your take home pay goes into these three categories:

1) Fixed costs: mortgage, rent, insurance, utilities

2) Financial goals: savings, paying off debts

3) Flexible costs: food, travel and entertainment

There are plenty of free online budget calculators, which can make this easy.

The “50-20-30” Rule. For a well-balanced budget,use the “50-20-30” rule of thumb: Spend no more than 50% of your take-home pay on fixed costs, at least 20% on financial goals, and no more than 30% on flexible costs. The lower you can get your fixed and flexible costs, the more you can put toward your financial goals.

3. Trim the fat

While some fixed costs— most notably mortgage or rent—are set in stone, others aren’t. If any costs strike you as conspicuously high, it’s time to shop around. There may be better deals to be had on phone service, cable, Internet service, auto insurance and health insurance.

Take a hard look at eliminating some costs all together. According to The NPD Group, pay TV subscriptions could exceed $200 a month by 2020—perhaps it’s time to ask yourself whether you need cable TV at all. Take an equally critical look at flexible costs—calculating the amount you spend on eating out or entertainment will probably increase your urge to cook more at home. You’ll likely find there are plenty of small ways you can save that will add up in the long run.

4. Spend smartly and pay off bad debt first

Concentrate on paying off “bad debts” like credit cards or personal loans before “good debts” like student loans, mortgages, or business loans. And prioritize each group by interest rates of your debts. Tackle the debts with higher rates first. Even if they’re bigger; in the long run, you’ll be saving by paying off less accumulated interest. If credit card debt is your particular demon, sit down and make a realistic credit card pay-off plan

A student loan is a classic example of “good debt”; not only was it an investment in your future, the interest rates on the loan are often lower, and the interest is often tax-deductible. Making your monthly student loan payments in full and on time can help boost your credit score

5. Pay now for tomorrow’s education

A 529 savings plan is a great way to prepare for ballooning college tuition rates. While the money you put into the 529 plan is subject to income tax, any earnings made through investment aren’t subject to federal tax (and, usually, not state tax) when you take them out to pay for tuition or other educational expenses.

There are two main types of 529 plans. Prepaid tuition plans pay for all or part of a year’s tuition ahead of time, locking in today’s rates no matter what the school costs 10 or 20 years from now.

Savings plans, which you to set up through a state or through educational institutions, allow you to contribute to an individual investment account much like a 401(k). The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has a huge amount of resources and tools for scoping out 529 plans, including an expense analyzer.

6. Find an app to help you stay on track

Once you define a new budget, there are plenty of apps and websites that can help you stick to spending limits that will make it work. The free app Mint will notify you if you’re nearing your monthly spending limit in a certain category, for example, as well as remind you when bills are due and track the growth of your savings.

You Need a Budget helps users track spending and set short-term savings targets, such as putting a little away every month for a payment you know you’ll have to make in a few months.

Figuring out how to get your fixed and flexible costs under control goes hand in hand with tending and growing that at-least 20% you’re putting toward financial goals. A little forethought in 2018 could get you started on the path to financial security for the rest of your life.

Part 2:  "6 Ways to Save Money on Gas" coming next week

 

 

 

Vitamin C for Colds and Flu

We're once again in the middle of the cold and flu season here in Northwest Ohio.  There are many supplements you can take to boost your immune system, thereby helping you fight off all the bugs going around.  Vitamin C is one of those supplements, and possibly the best source of vitamin C is Camu-Camu, the natural vitamin C plant.

Camu-Camu (Myrciaria dubia) is the name of the bush that grows in the Amazonian rain forest of Peru.  It's orange-colored fruit is about the size of a lemon and has a higher recorded source of natural vitamin C than any other known plant on earth.  As a comparison of forms of vitamin C,  oranges provide 500-4,000 ppm vitamin c, acerola provides 16,000 to 172,000 ppm vitamin c, and camu-camu provides 30 times more vitamin C than oranges.  In general, people who previously used synthetic forms of vitamin C found that they could use far less camu-camu (100 to 200 mg daily). 

The camu-camu fruit has a range of other health-promoting properties.  In addition to strengthening your immune system, it also helps maintain skin, eye and gum health, formation of white blood cells,  support for the brain, lymph glands, heart and lungs, and has energizing and mood-lifting benefits.  The plant provides antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, astringent, anti-viral, anti-pain, emollient and nutritive properties.  It has been found helpful in putting Shingles into remission, and some users found it helps stop cold sores very quickly, sometimes in just one day.

Besides being a great source of vitamin C, camu-camu also provides natural beta-carotene, calcium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin, thiamin and the amino acids, valine, leucine and serine. 

 

 

 

 

Home Fire Safety Tips

With colder weather comes the increased use of your home's furnace, fireplace, or other supplemental  heat source.  It's a good time for all of us to be reminded of fire safety.  The following fire prevention tips are courtesy of Cleaner & Dryer Restoration, Water & Fire Cleanup & Repair:

Smoke Alarm:

  • If you haven't already, change the batteries in your smoke alarms
  • Position your alarm away from air vents and fans
  • Keep your alarm clean and dust free
  • Remember to test your alarm once a month
  • Also change the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector

Fireplace:

  • Inspect your chimney regularly for cracks and obstructions
  • Don't let creosote build up in your chimney, as it could set off a roof fire
  • Don't "over build" your fire using too much paper.  You could ignite the soot in your chimney
  • Never burn charcoal in your fireplace.  It gives off deadly carbon monoxide
  • Keep your damper open if there are hot ashes in your fireplace.  Closing the damper could enable hot ashes to heat up and cause a damaging fire

Furnace:

  • Before you turn on your furnace, have it inspected by a qualified professional
  • Make sure to check the condition of the automatic controls and emergency shutoffs
  • Keep all trash and combustibles away from the furnace
  • Check your chimney for cracks or loose bricks
  • Seal all unused flue openings with solid masonry

Space Heater:

  • Make sure your space heater has a working safety light, alarm, automatic shut-off switch, and a cut-off device to prevent overheating
  • Keep all objects, people and pets at least three feet away from the heater
  • Never use a space heater in your bathroom.  Water and electric appliances don't mix

Don't be a target for burglars

Avoid being a target for burglars.  Did you know that most burglaries happen between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM, and that 50% of thieves enter the home through unlocked doors and windows?  Most burglars spend less than 5 minutes trying to gain entry before they give up and choose an easier home to break into.  So simple actions on your part can slow them down or have them pass by your home altogether.  Here are some tips to deter burglars from choosing your home:

Secure all doors and windows, even when you are at home.

Consider a home security system, and prominently display the sign or stickers.

Close blinds or draperies at dusk.

Leave lights on if you'll be away after dark.

Don't call attention to expensive purchases by placing empty cartons out at the curb for trash pickup.  Better to cut the cartons up and place in a garbage bag.

Identity Theft

If you become a victim of identity theft, it's important to act quickly to keep the damage to a minimum and prevent the situation from becoming worse.  Here are the steps to take:

1.  Place a fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the three consumer reporting agencies listed below, and ask them to report it to the other two agencies.  This is a free service, and the fraud alert will remain active for 90 days and can be renewed if needed.  By doing this, it is more difficult for the criminal to open accounts in your name.  Any credit company will need to contact you in person before issuing credit.

  • Equifax 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian 1-888-397-3742
  • TransUnion 1-800-680-7289

2. Obtain and review your credit reports.  One of your rights as a fraud victim is a free credit report from each of these three companies.  Call each one and explain that you have placed a fraud report.  Request your free credit report, and ask that they only print the last four digits of your social security number on the report for security reasons.  Then review each credit report to be sure there are no accounts you don't recognize and no unauthorized charges to your existing accounts.  Call each of your affected creditors, notifying their fraud department, and follow up in writing.  Always be sure to send all correspondence by certified mail with a return receipt so that you have record of your communications.

3. Create an Identity Theft Report.  This will assist you in having fraudulent information removed from your credit report and to stop collection procedures on fraudulent debt, along with other tasks.  This Identity Theft Report involves three steps:

  • Complete the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit at ftccomplaintassistant.gov, giving as many details as possible.  Be sure to save or print the affidavit before exiting the screen.
  • File a local police report, taking your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit, photo ID, and proof of address.  Request a copy of the report or the report number.
  • Attach the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to the police report;  this makes up your Identity Theft Report.

Recovering from identity theft is long and complex.  The FTC estimates that you'll spend approximately six months and 200 hours working to recover from identity theft.  Be sure to keep records of every step (when and to whom you make phone calls or send letters), and keep original copies of anything you mail, along with important dates such as when you need to file requests or expect a reply from a company.

Visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft to download free resources that will help you in this process, particularly their "Taking Charge" publication.

As a final note, check with your insurance agent to see if you have identity theft protection or if you're interested in adding the coverage to your homeowners policy.

 

 

 

Grilling Safety tips

Labor Day is almost here, and chances are you will be doing some grilling over the long weekend.  Here are some grilling safety tips to keep you and your family safe.

Before you start grilling:

  • Charcoal grills should be at least 15 feet from any building.  Never use gasoline, alcohol or kerosene to start coals, and don't put more lighter fluid on coals once they are on fire, glowing or smoldering.
  • Gas grills should be at least 3 feet from any building.  Make sure all hose connections are tight and in good condition
  • Grill only on a flat surface that can't catch fire

When done cooking:

  • Soak coals with water.  Close grill lid and any vents tightly.
  • don't move grill or remove coals for 48 hours, unless you can safely move coals into a stainless steel pail.
  • For gas grills, close the valve on the gas cylinder.

If your grill catches fire:

  • Close the lid or shut off gas if you can get close enough without getting burned.
  • Get completely away from the grill.
  • Call the fire department.

Don't invite tragedy or financial ruin from legal liability.  Follow these steps, and be sure you have Homeowners or Renters insurance to protect your home and neighbors.

 

 

Natural remedies for mosquito bites

With our wetter than normal weather, we seem to have an even bigger crop of mosquitos than usual this year.  They seem to hang at the door just waiting to get into the house and feast on us.  If you're like me and looking for natural remedies to soothe those bites, here are some home remedies to try:

  • inside of a banana peel
  • heated spoon placed on bite
  • apple cider vinegar
  • aloe vera
  • ice cubes
  • tea bags, moistened
  • tea-tree essential oil
  • baking soda and water or witch hazel paste
  • peppermint poultice or peppermint toothpaste
  • amonia
  • lime or lemon juice
  • slice of onion
  • salt and water paste
  • deodorant

I haven't tried all of these, but personally the heated spoon works the longest of all I have used.  Vinegar and aloe vera also work well for awhile, and after doing this research, I'm going to try the banana peel as it's based on old chinese medicine and said to work well on  the itch, swelling and redness and keeps the itch from coming back while speeding healing.  Good luck in your search for the best remedy.

 

Tips for working outdoors in the heat

Strenuous work outdoors on a hot, humid day can quickly take its toll on the body.  In addition to the heat absorbed from the sun, muscles will generate heat as they flex.  This added heat will help raise the body's temperature even higher.  It takes about 15 days for the average person to become acclimated to the hot weather.  Start with smaller jobs for brief periods early in the season, then work up to larger tasks. 

It's also important to wear the right clothes.  Long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and especially a wide-brimmed hat will protect you from the sun's intense rays, as more than 50% of the body's heat is absorbed or dissipated through the head.  Cotton fabrics are cooler than synthetics as they allow more air circulation between the fibers.  Dark fabrics block the sun's rays better than light ones, but they absorb more heat, so it's better to wear light-colored fabrics. 

Drink about 16 ounces of fluids 2 hours before starting work, and continue drinking as you feel thirsty.  Avoid ice-cold fluids when you're hot;  they can shock the stomach muscles and cause heat cramps.

Listen to your body.  Know the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke.  Heat exhaustion starts with extreme thirst, then progresses into nausea, dizziness, vomiting, headaches and heat cramps.  If left unchecked, it will lead to heatstroke.

Homemade chicken strips for your pets

If you're sick of all the recalls on pet treats, these homemade chicken strips might be just what you're looking for.  They take a little bit of work, but it's mainly just slicing the chicken, and you'll be sure the treats you're giving your dogs (or cats) are safe.

These chicken strips can be dried either in a food dehydrator or your oven on low heat.  They will remain fresh in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, or in the freezer indefinitely.  I keep a small bag of them in the refrigerator and the rest in the freezer.

Start out with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, removing as much fat as possible.  Slice the chicken with the grain into 1/8 to 1/4 inch strips (the thinner they are, the faster they will dry). 

In a food dehydrator:  lay the strips on the trays, and try to keep them from touching.  Run the dehydrator for about 6 to 8 hours.  They are done when they are dry and hard to the touch.

In the oven:  Lightly spray a baking sheet and lay the chicken pieces out flat, keeping them from touching.  Cook for approximately 2 hours at 200 degrees, or until they are dry and hard, with no soft spots.

I hope your dogs (or cats) love these chicken strips as much as our Rosie and Lucy.  I don't dare run out of them, or we have 2 very sad and disappointed dogs at treat time.  Your cats may or may not like them. Over the years,  I've had 2 cats that do, and 2 that do not.  Cat lovers know how finicky they can be!

The Dirty Dozen Fruits and Vegetables

According to the USDA, there is a growing trend by consumers towards eating organic fruits and vegetable .

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), nearly two thirds of the produce tested by the US Department of Agriculture in 2013 contained pesticide residues.   In these tests, pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables tested, even after they were washed, and in some instances, peeled.  Key findings from these tests include:

  • 99% of apples, 98% of peaches, and 97% of nectarines sampled tested positive for at least 1 pesticide residue.
  • A single grape and a sweet bell pepper contained 15 pesticides.
  • Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas, and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides  a piece.

If you can't find or afford an all-organic diet, you can lessen your exposure to these dangerous pesticides by choosing wisely when shopping for fruits and vegetables.  They also suggest that if you can't afford anything organic, cooking them first dimishes the pesticides levels.  The EWG publishes a Dirty Dozen list each year to help consumers in our choices of fruits and vegetables.  Here is the 2015 list:

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Nectarines
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Snap Peas (imported)
  • Potatoes

Plus 2 more that don't fit all the EWG criteria, but are frequently found to be contaminated with insecticides, so they recommend limiting your consumption of these:

  • Hot Peppers
  • Kale, collard Greens and other leafy greens

The Clean 15 fruits and Vegetables which do not need to be organic:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwis
  • Mangoes
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet Corn
  • Sweet Peas (frozen)
  • Sweet Potatoes