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March 31, 2008

How Not to Go Broke in Las Vegas

Anyone who has ever been to Las Vegas knows that the infamous strip is like being in another world. The excitement and activity is like no other place in the entire world, and totally captivates you each time you visit, regardless of how many times you may have been in the past.. No matter what time of the day or night, there is always something exciting happening in this fun-filled city, whether it’s someone winning a gigantic jackpot or attending entertaining live shows. Unfortunately, it is quite easy to spend all of your money, so if you are at risk of doing so, then there are several tips that you need to follow in order to minimize the possibility of this happening.

Make sure you wear a watch while gambling in the casinos, because you won’t see any clocks displayed inside any of them. Casino owners don’t want you to pay attention to the time as you game, because they want you to focus on feeding all of your money into the slot machines or other games offered. They will provide countless complimentary drinks in order to encourage you to play, play and play some more! Unless you want to end up penniless should you not have much luck, you need to limit your time inside the gaming areas. Believe it or not, many professional, supposedly sane individuals have become so enthralled in playing a so-called lucky slot machine that they have remained at the machine for hours, totally ignoring when their hunger, as well as the urge to use the restroom.

Another surefire way to prevent yourself from going broke in Las Vegas is to limit the amount of money that you dedicate to gaming. In fact, don’t carry any extra money in your pocket while gaming. It’s easy to tell yourself “just one more time and my luck will change.” That “one more time” could easily turn into fifty more times, resulting in rapid emptying of your pockets. This is why it’s imperative to set a budget and stick to it while in playing in the many casinos, unless you have unlimited amounts of money and losing some of it wouldn’t be a big deal.

Planning on participating in different activities instead of playing in casinos the entire time you’re in Vegas is also a good idea. There’s a lot more to do in Las Vegas besides gamble, so take advantage of the numerous shows and activities that are offered. It’s also a good idea to purchase your tickets for the various shows ahead of time, as you can often get them at the lowest possible prices. Waiting to purchase them at the door is often more convenient for most people, but certainly not cheaper. Research ahead of time in order to find out what type of entertainment is offered so you can plan accordingly.

If you take frequent trips to Vegas, it’s a good idea to sign up for their frequent visitors programs. You could end up receiving free hotel stays, meals and more. This will free up money that can be used for other activities, souvenirs, or to simply keep in the bank. The hotels want you to keep coming and spending money at their casinos, so they will do whatever they can in order to entice you to keep coming back, so why not take advantage of all of the perks and freebies that they have to offer? Everyone can appreciate a free meal or hotel stay.

It’s easy to completely lose control, as well as all your money while visiting Las Vegas, provided you don’t take certain precautions. Some people don’t have a problem knowing when to stop gambling, but unfortunately many people do, and the scary thing is that they may not realize it until they’ve actually started gambling. If you feel that you have the potential to go a little overboard on the slots or at the poker table, there are many ways to prevent you from losing all the money in your possession, but you must apply them. If you do apply them yet still can’t control the urge to gamble, then perhaps you need to choose a different, less tempting vacation destination for your next getaway.

March 28, 2008

Lowering the Cost of Childcare

Every parent who has ever considered working outside the home knows that childcare costs are expensive. Perhaps you have a child under three or multiple children, either way, your monthly childcare costs could easily exceed one thousand dollars. Most parents don't make enough money to be able to pay such an costly price and have enough left over to be worth it, so many choose to stay at home. If you're a single parent or some other reason prevents you from staying at home with your kids to avoid sending them to daycare, then there are many ways for you to keep your childcare costs to a minimum.

If you are a single parent and make at or below at certain amount of money (check with your local agency to find out what the limit is) you can receive subsidized childcare, provided you choose a caregiver who participates. The government will pay all or a portion of your childcare expenses, which will allow you to use your money to maintain your bills and other monthly expenses. The government provides childcare assistance programs in order to keep parents employed instead of receiving welfare, food stamps, and other benefits from the government, so you should take advantage of this benefit if you qualify, instead of struggling to pay daycare bills out-of-pocket.

Once children reach school age, most working parents rejoice in the fact that they no longer have to pay expensive childcare costs. Many will try to work schedules that will allow them to drop off and pick up their children, but even if they can't, childcare for a couple hours before and/or after school is a lot cheaper than the cost of an entire day. The problem would be during breaks from school, especially summer vacation, when you would need to seek alternative care for your children. Schools usually provide information about childcare, and even though some can be expensive, your child's school should be able to give you information about getting assistance to pay for temporary childcare.

If you're looking to shave some money of your costs for placing your children in daycare and you aren't eligible for help through the government, perhaps enlisting in the help of family members could help. Family members will usually not charge as much, if anything, plus you will have peace of mind knowing that your child is well-taken care of by someone who loves them. If your relative works outside the home as well, perhaps you could ask several family members to provide assistance and alternate the time. If your family member (or friend) has children of their own, perhaps you could swap childcare duties with them and not have to pay any money out-of-pocket. This would be a win-win situation for you both.

Another way to save money on childcare is to hire a nanny to come to your home. It's not necessary to hire a professional nanny through an agency like rich parents do, but simply hiring a reliable caregiver who doesn't work for an agency would save a great deal of money. If you hire a responsible high school or college student, you could possibly get away with paying even less for the same care that an adult would provide. Most are looking to make extra money and will usually accept minimum wage or slightly higher. Just make sure that the teen sitter takes a first aid and CPR class, and even a childcare class if you feel that they need the instruction.

During the summer, there is even the option of sending older kids to the Boys & Girls club, which is present is almost every community. For an extremely low annual fee, your children can play games and interact with other children for several hours during the day. A trusted adult could make sure that your child gets to and from the center, which would certainly allow you to pay less for a sitter to care for the child or children. One thing to remember about the Boys & Girls club, though, is that it isn't a daycare. Your children can come and go as they please, so it's very important to instruct your child to stay inside the center unless someone picks him or her up. Of course an older child may have to walk to and from the club, which is fine in most instances.

Many parents choose to work from home, which is becoming more and more popular. If you don't want to start a home-based business, there are many employers looking for individuals to work from home processing calls, taking orders, and many more duties. As long as you have a computer, a quiet office and a telephone, many of these companies will hire you and you can make just as much money as you would at a regular job, but you not only save on childcare since you will no longer need it, you will also save money on fancy clothes, traveling, lunches out, and much more. Many reputable companies like Westathome.com and Hirepoint.com can make working from home very easy and stress-free.

There is no reason for you to struggle to pay for childcare for your child or children. With the many options available today, you're bound to find the right solution for your problem. Maybe it's time for you to consider starting a home-based business, or you need to swallow your pride and ask for assistance from a family member or government agency, but if you need help, don't hesitate to ask. Your children are important, and they deserve to have the best possible life, and that includes being provided with safe, appropriate care without stressing their parents' budgets in the process. Children, no matter how young, can sense when their parents are stressed, and stressed-out parents often result in stressed-out kids.

March 26, 2008

Economic Stimulus Income Tax Rebate Checks: Will They Do Much to Help the Economy?

If you're a taxpayer, chances are you've heard about the economic income tax return stimulus checks that the IRS will send to qualified individuals and couples, beginning in May of this year. The purpose of these checks, which will range from three hundred dollars to possibly more than triple that amount, is to boost the state of the current lagging economy. Taxpayers who are eligible to receive a check will gladly accept the added money and either spend it or save it, but the question is: Is it enough to help? That's what many taxpayers are currently debating about, because many of them are worried about where the money is coming from, as well as if the money will even cause the economy's state to improve.

Many people will welcome the economic stimulus income tax rebate checks that the government is issuing, but whether or not the additional tax money will actually "stimulate" the economy is yet to be determined. Even if the extra money, which will be like a bonus to most people, does help taxpayers catch up on bills, once the money is spent the economy will likely revert back to its original state, if it even improves in the first place. This small amount of money that taxpayers are being granted is simply not enough to boost the struggling economy to the position that it needs to be in order to function as it should. It would cost way too much money in order to get many people out of the financial ruts that they're in.

The government would have to pay taxpayers a lot more money than the proposed amount if they really expect to improve the dire state of the economy. Many people who are eligible to receive checks are behind on their bills, which include utilities, car payments, credit cards payments, mortgages, rent, and more. These individuals will of course use their rebate checks to catch up on their bills, which will most likely have little to no direct effect on the economy. Even if those who receive the rebate check aren't behind on their bills, the insignificant amount of the check will simply not be enough to produce the proposed effect. There won't be enough money for taxpayers to go out and purchase new cars, new houses, or anything else that would notably increase the economy.

A large number of taxpayers are welcoming the extra money that the tax rebate checks will bring, but feel that it's simply not powerful enough of a plan to have any visible effect on the straining economy. First of all, not everyone will be eligible. Those who receive social security or some other form of government payment will not receive a check, as well as those who haven't made a certain amount of money during the previous year. People who live on fixed or extremely low incomes often experience financial distress more often than those who have earned more money. The stimulus checks would really make a difference in these people's lives as well. Perhaps if the government changed their guidelines to include these individuals the economy might be able to recover somewhat, but excluding those on fixed incomes won't make much of a difference toward improving the economy.

One way that the government could possibly stimulate the economy is to create more jobs, job training, and make paying for college possible for those who previously were unable to attend because of lack of resources. If individuals are able to focus on bettering themselves and their jobs situation, then this would slowly and steadily improve the economy, making everything better in the long-run. Better jobs with higher pay and more benefits would increase the United State's economic situation on a regular basis, rather than with a small one-time rebate check from the government.

So, the bottom line is: if you're expecting a rebate check to arrive in the spring, spend it wisely, and don't expect for it to make a drastic improvement in our current economic state. One of the only ways to prompt improvement in the economy of the United States is to create more methods for people to pay for college, such as with providing educational funding. This way, people can work toward training for higher paying jobs, which will likely more effectively help the economy to recover. If you've worked hard in the past year and feel that you deserve to use your rebate check to splurge on something you've been wanting but just haven't had in your budget, then by all means buy it. It may not have a great effect on the economy, but even a small improvement can help--while making you happy in the meantime.

March 24, 2008

How to Purchase Children's Clothes at Rock-bottom Prices

Every parent knows that children usually outgrow their clothing pretty quickly. Some children not only outgrow their clothes faster than others, but are tougher than other children are on their clothes, making replacing the clothes more frequent than usual. In either situation, you obviously need a way to purchase high quality clothes at reduced prices. Paying full-price for clothes on a regular basis can become pretty difficult for parents, especially with the economy so dreadful in many areas. Believe it or not, finding ways to save a great deal on children's clothes isn't as difficult as you may have originally thought, and can be achieved quite easily.

As many as thirteen states have an annual sale before the start of the new school-year each fall. These sales consist of drastically reduced prices as well as no sales tax, which results in major savings for you. Sales taxes alone can really hike up your total costs, so you can only imagine how this could possibly lower your back-to-school shopping bill. Expect to be among many others who are taking advantage of the same deals, so you should anticipate huge crowds and long lines. If you tend to steer clear of crowds, you may end up regretting not taking advantage of such a sale, because your savings could be immense.

No matter much or little money you make a year, don't be embarrassed to shop at resale shops. Almost every large area has a few really nice resale shops that offer gently used clothing at drastically reduced prices. There are also many retail shops that are geared at only kid's clothing and kid's other items, which can make your shopping experience as stress-free and as convenient as possible. You would be astonished at the great deals you can find on children's clothes that can be found at these shops, and some of the items are brand new, with the tags still attached. Resale shops sell just about everything that you could possibly need for your child, from a great winter coat to a trendy pair of jeans.

Another quite popular and creative way to save money on your children's clothes is to trade with other moms. Many neighborhood moms have gotten together to form hand-me-down groups. As their children outgrow their clothes, the moms make arrangement to trade clothes with each other, and if there are enough members, it's almost guaranteed that every mom will find what she's looking for. This is a terrific way to ensure that your children always have decent clothes to wear, and since there is usually no money exchanged between moms, you don't have to worry about going broke trying to buy clothes for your children. If there is no such group in your area, then you can certainly start one. Make up flyers and/or place inexpensive ads in your local newspaper. Many other parents are probably in the same situation and are looking for economical ways to obtain clothes for their rapidly growing children.

Of course just about everyone is familiar with the ease and convenience of using Ebay. If you choose not to participate in a hand-me-down group in your area, Ebay is always an alternative. You can not only find some amazing deals on kids' clothes, shoes and other accessories on Ebay, but you can also auction off the things that your children have already outgrown or no longer use. You could also sell other items from around your house in order to be able to purchase clothing for your children. There are many opportunities on Ebay, so checking out the site is a good idea, even if you ultimately decide not to purchase anything from sellers on the site.

If you don't like auctions or just don't like the idea of waiting for someone to ship something to you, you could always check out your local Craigslist. Craigslist is extremely popular, and allows individuals to post all sorts of free ads, from jobs to houses for rent. There are often numerous offers from parents trying to sell their children's clothing, so you're bound to find what you're looking for by scouring through the many ads posted on there. The good thing with Craigslist is that you don't have to wait for the items to be shipped. You simply contact the seller through their chosen method of contact, and then set up a time to meet in order to purchase the items.

Many stores make drastic reductions in their prices at the end of each season. You may possibly be able to find clothes at dirt cheap prices for your kids this way. Even if the clothes that you find for such a great deal are out of season, one idea is to get the clothes a size or two larger and save them for the next year. That way you won't have to pay the normal prices for clothes for that season once the next year arrives. This is a great way to stock up without hurting your bank account a great deal. Target, Wal-Mart, and Kmart are just some of the stores where you can catch these awesome deals.

If your kids are outgrowing their clothes faster than you can replace them, then you certainly can't forget yard sales. People give yard sales in order to get rid of items that they no longer need, and you may be able to find exactly what your kids need at one. There is always the option of making clothes, but you would have to have a great deal of time and patience. Another option is to shop at flea markets and outlet stores, where you can usually find clothes at relatively cheap prices.

By utilizing your research skills, even if you don't particularly have any, you can find high-quality clothes for your kids no matter how fast they're going through them. Your search could prove to be more time-consuming then simply going to a department store to purchase clothes, but your hard work will usually pay off in the end when you notice that you aren't spending quite as much money on their clothes, enabling you to pay more money on other necessities.

March 21, 2008

Lowering the Cost of Traveling

With the average cost of gas hovering at well over three dollars a gallon, more and more people are having second thoughts about traveling. The high gas prices affect not only travel by car, but by other modes as well. Planes, trains, buses and taxis of course use fuel as well, and must increase their prices in order to account for the hikes in gas prices. Despite this fact, there is no need to cancel your plans to visit family and friends, or go on that much-needed vacation to the destination of your choice. With a little bit research, you should be able to make the total cost of your trip as economical as possible, high gas prices or not.

If you have chosen to drive to your next trip destination, a few things need to be taken into consideration when trying to save as much money as you can on gas. Years ago, not only was the gas cheaper, but it also lasted a lot longer because there was little to no ethanol added to the gas. Now, unfortunately, gas costs are a lot higher and it burns faster. You still have options, though. If your car is a gas guzzler like an SUV, truck or similar vehicle, you may actually save money by renting a car, especially if you're going on a weekend trip. You could rent a small vehicle, provided your group is small enough, and just make sure that the car gets good gas mileage. By choosing to travel on the weekend, picking up the car on Friday and returning it on Monday, you can take advantage of Enterprise's fifty percent off weekend special. You could end up paying as little as sixty or seventy dollars for the actual car rental, when it may cost more than that to fill up the fuel tank once in an SUV.

If you wish to travel by plane, the cheapest way to travel is to purchase your tickets well in advance. Waiting until the last minute, like one to two weeks prior to your departure date, often results in you paying a higher price. Depending on your destination, you could possibly nab some great last-minute rates, but you shouldn't count on it if you really need to save money. Waiting for something that may not happen could potentially cost you a lot more money than you wanted to spend. In order to save even more money when traveling by plane, it's also a good idea to check out websites like Priceline and Cheaptickets. Although these sites operate somewhat differently, they share the same goal--getting you the cheapest plane ticket to the destination of your choice.

An even better option to help you save money on your travel expenses is to travel by Greyhound or similar bus. Not only are the tickets economical, but traveling by bus saves you the trouble of driving, yet without the necessity of getting on a plane. Most Greyhound buses have been updated in the past few years, for your added comfort, and just prior to departure, you even have the option of paying five dollars extra for "upgraded" comfort seats. Another advantage of traveling by Greyhound is if you are traveling with a friend or companion, the bus company offers a half-price rate for the second person. The more people who travel together, the more money you save. Additionally, if you purchase your tickets at least two weeks in advance, you can save even more with their fourteen-day advance purchase discount.

If you know people who are going to the same destination that you're planning to go and either you or one of the other travelers has access to a vehicle large enough to accommodate several people, perhaps carpooling is an option. Carpooling would allow you to save money by enabling each rider to only pay a portion of the travel costs. This mode of travel is also a great idea if you were initially traveling alone, because you will have some companionship as you travel to your destination. It's also great, of course, because it is a win-win situation for everyone, as no one has to pay full cost for any of the travel expenses. If your group is large enough, you could even charter a private bus and have the chartered company drive. This option would also allow you to get your lodging, amusement park tickets, etc., at reduced rates as well.

There are many ways to travel economically, and all you have to do is thoroughly check out your total costs while making the arrangements. Even if you can't save on gas like you may have originally planned, perhaps you can save on your dining or lodging costs. Many five-star resorts will offer you extremely low rates for a stay at their resort provided you agree to attend a sales seminar. You could end up staying at a luxury five-star resort for as little as thirty-five dollars a night. Westgate Resorts is a popular resort that offers reduced rates for attending their seminar. They have resorts all over the United States, including several in Florida, so you should be able to find a location you'd be interested in staying at.

You can save a lot more on your travel costs than you ever thought possible, but you can't always accept the first price you're given. Don't be afraid to negotiate hotel rates. There are always rates lower than the ones offered, so use your AAA card, AARP membership, or any other means that will allow you to pay the absolute minimum. If you're attending certain events while on vacation, there are always methods of obtaining tickets for less than the at-the-door price. Find out ways of getting the tickets for less prior to traveling, and you could save ten, fifteen, and even as much as fifty percent, provided you land a great deal. It doesn't matter if you save money on gas, tickets, airfare, dining, or all of the above, as long as you're seeking the absolute lowest prices possible, you're on your way to having an economical trip. This will allow you more money for spending, as well as peace of mind.

March 19, 2008

Can I Avoid Private Mortgage Insurance

Many first-time homebuyers do not even know what private mortgage insurance is or why they are being told that they have to acquire it. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil for many potential homeowners if they want to obtain a mortgage.

The simple truth of the matter is that unless the individual can place twenty percent or more of the purchase price of the home as a down payment, he is going to be required to obtain private mortgage insurance. Private mortgage insurance, or PM, is acquired to secure the lender's investment or provision of the mortgage. It protects the lender in the event that the borrower defaults on his loan and fails to repay the full amount. PMI acts as additional collateral for the mortgage.

Private insurance companies provide this type of insurance to borrowers. The monthly premium for this additional expense is added into the mortgage payment as a sort of guarantee that it will be paid, maintaining the security of the investment. Unfortunately, this practice makes an already large mortgage payment even larger.

However, it is possible to avoid private mortgage insurance even if you cannot offer twenty percent of the purchase price as the down payment. The borrower can obtain two separate mortgages for the purchase of the home. Together, these two mortgages will provide the money needed to make the purchase while avoiding the extra cost of private mortgage insurance.

The second mortgage is taken for the amount that was shaved off the first mortgage so that the homeowner could meet the twenty percent obligation for the down payment. Plus, another benefit to this scenario is the fact that the interest charges on both mortgages can be itemized on tax returns whereas the cost of the private mortgage insurance could not be itemized.

March 17, 2008

Should You Sell Your Home? Alternatives to Common Reasons for Selling a Home

Homeownership can give you a feeling of pride and accomplishment. You live in a home that is yours, and you can do absolutely whatever you choose to it. You can paint your bedroom hot pink, plant mulberry bushes in the back yard, or even create your very own luxury oasis, complete with an indoor or outdoor spa. It doesn't matter what you choose to do when you're a homeowner, because the sky is the limit when you have no one besides your spouse to answer to. There are also other advantages of owning your own home. You are often eligible for certain loans, and you can get a substantial amount of tax breaks on your income taxes. Despite the positive aspects of homeownership, there are circumstances when owning a home can become downright stressful and can make you wonder why you ever bought a house in the first place.

One thing that you need to consider when deciding if you should sell your home is how easy or difficult it is for you to pay your mortgage each month. If your homeowner's insurance and property taxes aren't included in your mortgage then you must consider these payments as well. If you're constantly late on your mortgage payments or can't keep your insurance and tax payments paid on time, then perhaps you should consider seeking assistance, if not attempting to sell it. Perhaps refinancing your home could help to lower your payment and get you some cash to help you get back on your feet. Even with bad credit, most homeowners are able to find a lender who is willing to work with them. Don't take no for an answer, and keep searching. The right lender will come along.

If your family is growing and you're in need of more space, then your best bet may be to sell your current home and upgrade in order to provide more space for your family. Sometimes selling may not be an option, though, and you may have to add on to your current home. It is often easier to add extra rooms and or bathrooms to a home than to sell it. If money is a problem and you're forced to stay in a home that no longer comfortably accommodates your family, then there are loans available. In cases with less-than-perfect credit, there is always the option of setting up payment plans, if the contractor you choose allows it as an alternative.

Another reason that may prompt you to consider selling your home is the particular neighborhood that your home is located in. Perhaps you live in a drug-infested and/or high crime area, or the local school district is substandard. If you've made the commitment to live in a certain area, then you may have to make the best of a bad situation. Keeping to yourself, putting up a privacy fence, and installing elaborate security devices in your home can help a great deal. If your children's schools are the problem, then perhaps you could become a member of the PTA to help advocate for your children to help give them the type of education that they deserve can help. If not, there's always the option of sending your children to school in another district. This often requires prior approval from school officials, but in nearly all circumstances your request will most likely be approved.

Just because you may be experiencing a few bumps along the way as a homeowner doesn't mean that you must immediately place your house on the market. Almost all homeowners will experience some type of problem along the way when dealing with their home. If and when you do experience problems, there is always help available, depending on the type of problem you're having. There is assistance available if you're having trouble paying your mortgage, if you're in need of funds for replacing a faulty roof or other important component of your home, and there is also assistance for learning to properly manage your money to help ensure that you pay your mortgage in a timely manner.

Only when things are totally out of hand should you consider selling your home. With the economy so dreadful at the current time, and so many homes going into foreclosure, now may not be the best time to sell. By placing your home on the market now you risk having your house remain there for a long period of time, as it is currently a buyer's market, and buyers have numerous options. If your house isn't unique, or is not in perfect condition, or in as close to perfect condition as possible, then you may end up being stuck in your home longer than you desire. So, it may be better to try to solve the problems that you may be having with your home and wait until the market is more favorable to sell.

March 14, 2008

Save Hundreds of Dollars by Staying Healthy

With healthcare costs constantly on the rise, many Americans are looking for ways to reduce their out-of-pocket expenses as much as possible. It doesn't matter if you are uninsured or have one of the top health insurance plans available, because you still have to pay one way or another. It's extremely rare for an employer to pay for healthcare coverage for their employees and the employees' families, so even if your employer completely covers all their employees' health insurance costs, there is still the added costs for your family, if you have one, and the costs aren't cheap. Then of course there are co-pays for doctor's visits, prescriptions, and even for certain procedures. Despite these high costs, there are some ways for you to keep the amount that you must pay for healthcare to a minimum.

HMO's work by encouraging individuals to maintain good health and prevent certain health problems before it's necessary to spend a great deal more money treating the actual condition after it has developed. This is an excellent concept, because it can save you a massive amount of money in the long run. If you develop type II diabetes, for instance, your long-term costs could be a lot less if you take strides to keep yourself from developing it in the first place. Losing weight if you're overweight, exercising, and making healthy eating choices can work wonders in reducing your chances of developing diabetes, as well as other potentially expensive chronic illnesses.

It is quite true that you are what you eat. If a majority of what you eat consists of foods filled with bad carbohydrates, saturated and trans fats, preservatives, additives, etc., you're going to feel absolutely horrible most of the time. You'll have headaches, your cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and weight are going to sky rocket, and you will also increase your chances of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and the list goes on and on. By simply changing your eating habits, adopting an exercise routine and properly managing the stress in your life, you can drastically improve your chances of feeling better and preventing many life threatening illnesses.

Unfortunately, if you're like most people, you probably lead a busy lifestyle and don't see how you could possibly prepare healthier meals and exercise because of the time involved. As impossible as it may seem, it is doable. You may have to prepare meals ahead of time, possibly on your days off. Another option is to choose quick and easy meals such as vegetable, rice and meat stir fries, vegetable and bean soups prepared in a slow cooker while you're at work, and salads with chicken breast, fish, and any other healthy foods that you desire. You're certainly not limited to these examples, and you have the option of mixing and matching your own quick and nutritious meal ideas.

Another way that can help you save money on your health care costs is with a flexible spending account. Many employers offer the convenience of flexible spending accounts which are specifically for health-related costs. These types of plans, which will help to cover any medical related expenses, such as diabetes supplies, co-pays for doctor visits, and many other items, can really help. These plans work by your employer deducting an agreed-upon amount from each of your paychecks and setting it aside in a special account. The money must be spent by a certain date, but only on health related items. Having this type of account will enable you to use pre-tax money to pay for items that you need instead of having to come up with money upfront.

There is no reason for you to go broke trying to pay for your family's health care costs. Of course in some cases you can eat a totally organic diet, workout on a daily basis and be at your goal weight yet still manage to develop a potentially costly chronic disease. If this does happen, then in order to keep your out-of-pocket healthcare expenses to a minimum, it is a good idea for you to see a doctor as soon as possible. By seeing a doctor as soon as you notice that something is wrong you can help prevent further deterioration and get treated for the condition as soon as possible. This can make a big difference in the amount of money you will have to spend in the future in order to manage the illness by getting things under control as quickly as possible. You should also make sure that you follow your doctor's recommendations precisely, and if you don't agree with your physician's diagnosis or course of treatment then you may need to seek the assistance of another medical professional in order to obtain a second opinion.

March 12, 2008

Being Named a Guardian

When asked to serve as the guardian of someone's minor children in the event of his/her death, it is usually meant as a compliment. However, don't accept this role without giving it serious thought. Consider the following:

Are your lifestyles compatible? Go over all details involved in raising the children. Will the children have to relocate far from their current home? It is difficult to lose parents, but it becomes even more traumatic when the children must relocate away from friends and school. What are the parents' preferences regarding education, religion, lifestyle, and other factors? How well does your family get along with their children? Consider the impact on your children, including the fact that you will probably have less time available for them.

How much financial support will be available? This involves more than making sure money is available for college and other expenses directly attributable to the children, such as clothing, medical expenses, and entertainment. Additional children in your house will increase many of your bills, including food, utilities, transportation costs, etc. Your house may now be too small, requiring an addition or moving to a larger home.

Are you comfortable taking on responsibility for the children's finances? Just because you agree to take physical custody of the children does not mean you have to handle their finances. You may feel more comfortable with another person involved to review how money is spent.

Has a contingent guardian been named? Find out if a contingent guardian has been named in case you cannot serve. However, don't use this as an excuse to say yes when you really want to decline. It is better to indicate that you do not want to take on this responsibility now, so another guardian can be chosen. Also, if your situation changes in the future, inform the parents immediately.

March 10, 2008

How Much Retirement Income Will You Need

A general retirement planning rule of thumb indicates that you'll need 70% to 80% of your preretirement income. Many estimates now indicate that may be too little for those who want to live an active retirement lifestyle. But when you realize how much you need to save to ensure your retirement income last for what could be decades, it's tempting to question whether you really need even 70% of your preretirement income.

First, you should prepare a detailed analysis of your expected expenses after retirement. Sure, some expenses will decrease, typically commuting, work-related expenses, savings amounts, and possibly taxes. But other expenses are likely to go up, including travel, entertainment, and health care. How much you will need depends in large part on how you plan to spend your retirement years. Thus, it's important to really take a hard look at how you plan to spend your retirement years, so you can make reasonable estimates of how much it will cost.

Keep in mind, however, that things seldom go as planned. A recent survey of retirees found that 18% expected their retirement expenses to be higher than their preretirement expenses, but 39% actually had higher expenses (Source: The Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2007).

How can you help ensure that your expenses will be lower? Consider these tips:

Pay off your mortgage. Mortgage payments often consume 30% or more of an individual's gross income. Eliminating this expense can drastically reduce income needed for retirement. If you can't pay off your mortgage, consider selling your home and purchasing a smaller one for cash. Not only will you eliminate the mortgage payment, but a smaller home often results in lower ongoing expenses, including lower utility bills, property taxes, and maintenance costs.

Get rid of other debts. It's not unusual for consumer debt payments to equal 10% to 20% of an individual's after-tax take home pay. Try to enter retirement debt free.

Keep your automobile. Instead of purchasing a new car every couple of years, keep your current car for as long as it's in good working order. That will eliminate car payments from your retirement budget.

Look for ways to reduce travel and leisure expenses. Look for and use senior discounts. Plan activities for nonpeak times, when rates may be lower.

Consider relocating. The cost of living varies significantly from city to city and state to state. You may be able to reduce your living expenses substantially by moving to another locale. However, this is more than a financial decision. You also need to decide whether you want to move away from family, friends, and familiar surroundings.

Work at least part-time. If you still don't have sufficient funds to support yourself during retirement, consider working at least part-time. Even a small amount of annual earnings can help significantly in funding your retirement.

March 7, 2008

How to Control Your Spending

If you are trying to increase savings, remember that savings are directly tied to spending -- the less you spend, the more you have to save. Some tips to help you get your spending under control include:

Analyze your spending for a month. Are you surprised by how much you spend on dining out, groceries, entertainment, or clothing? Give serious thought to your purchasing patterns, looking for ways to reduce spending. Clean out your closet and really assess whether you need new clothes. Cut back on how often you eat out or at least dine at less expensive restaurants. Rent a movie instead of going to the theater. Make a list before grocery shopping and don't deviate from it. Look for coupons and sales before shopping. You may scoff at these ideas for saving money, thinking they can't possibly add much to your savings. After all, you're just spending a few dollars here and there. But let's take a look at just one example. Suppose you go to the deli every workday, spending $7 or $8 on lunch. If you brought a sandwich from home, it might cost $2 a day. That difference of $5 per day equals $25 per week or $1,300 per year. Save $1,300 per year for 25 years earning 8% compounded annually, and you could end up with $95,000. (This example is provided for illustrative purposes and is not intended to project the performance of a specific investment.)

Review major expenditures. When was the last time you comparison shopped your auto or homeowners insurance? Have you checked mortgage rates lately to see if you should refinance? Have you reviewed strategies to reduce your income taxes?

Make a spending plan and put it in writing. Budget for all major expenditures, and resolve not to purchase items that are not in your budget.

Throw out your credit cards (or at least hide them for a while). Most people find it more difficult to spend cash than to charge a purchase. So, for the next couple of months, only purchase items with cash.

Don't purchase items over a fairly low dollar amount until your second shopping trip. How often have you purchased something on impulse, only to realize when you got home that you really didn't need it? To control those impulses, compare price and value on your first shopping trip. Then go home, think about whether you really need the item, and purchase it on another trip.

Think carefully before making major purchases. Often, upkeep and maintenance will add to your costs. Do you really need a motorcycle, boat, recreational vehicle, or vacation home? Consider a less expensive car or a used car. Keep your car for four or five years instead of getting a new one every two or three years.

Figure out the maximum amount you can afford for a house and then buy one substantially less expensive than that. Not only will you save on your mortgage payment, other costs associated with owning a home will be lower. Living well within your means is one of the best ways to ensure you have money left over for saving.

March 5, 2008

Following Through on Your Estate Plan

Usually, a great deal of thought and effort goes into estate planning documents. You need to consider all your assets, decide who should receive those assets, and find the best strategies to accomplish your goals. However, your work is not over once you have signed those documents. You also need to make sure your assets are properly positioned to go to your intended heirs. Some problems to watch for include:

Your assets are not titled properly to fund trusts. A common estate planning strategy used to preserve your estate tax exclusion is to set up a credit shelter or bypass trust. Assets up to the estate tax exclusion amount ($2,000,000 in 2008, scheduled to increase to $3,500,000 in 2009) are placed in trust. Your spouse can then use the income and even some of the principal, with the remaining assets distributed to your heirs after your spouse's death. To fund the trust, however, you need sufficient assets titled only in your name. Assets jointly owned with your spouse will typically pass directly to your spouse and cannot be placed in the trust. However, you may want to split assets so each of you individually owns assets designated to go into the trust. Residents of community property states should review their state laws carefully, since they typically have more flexibility when using assets to fund trusts.

Beneficiary designations contradict your estate planning documents. Assets like life insurance, annuities, 401(k) plans, and individual retirement accounts pass directly to named beneficiaries. Provisions in your will and other estate planning documents cannot change those designations. Thus, review all your beneficiaries, ensuring those designations are compatible with your estate plan. Also review contingent beneficiaries, in case a beneficiary dies before you. After significant changes in your life, such as a divorce, remarriage, spouse's death, or child's or grandchild's birth, review your designations to determine if changes are warranted.

Owning assets jointly with just one child. Often, a widow or widower will add one child to bank accounts, brokerage accounts, deeds, and titles, so that child can help manage the assets if he/she becomes incapacitated. The widow or widower expects the child to share the assets with his/her siblings. However, the asset is considered a gift to the one child. For that child to split the asset with his/her siblings, he/she will have to make gifts to those siblings, possibly raising gift tax implications. Instead, consider using a power of attorney, so the one child can help with your financial affairs. Or, make a provision in your estate planning documents that adjusts distributions for any assets that pass to one heir through joint ownership.

March 3, 2008

Why You Should Consider a Trust

Trusts are often viewed as estate planning tools used to reduce estate taxes. With the changing estate tax situation, does that mean that trusts are no longer needed for estate planning purposes? The answer is probably no, for a couple of reasons. First, estate taxes are only scheduled to be repealed in 2010. They will be reinstated in 2011 based on 2001 tax laws. Second, trusts are established for many purposes, not just to reduce estate taxes. Below is a brief description of six of the more commonly used trusts:

Revocable Living Trust -- This trust is established for reasons other than the reduction of estate taxes. With a revocable living trust, ownership of assets is transferred to the trust while you are alive. You can keep any or all of the income, act as trustee, change the trust's provisions, or terminate the trust. A successor trustee can be named to take over if you become mentally or physically disabled. Assets in the trust are controlled by the trust agreement and are not subject to probate proceedings, which are considered one of its major advantages.

Bypass or Credit Shelter Trust -- Generally, this trust is used to ensure both spouses take advantage of the estate tax exclusion amount, without directly transferring assets to other beneficiaries until both spouses have died. Assets equal to the estate tax exclusion amount are placed in trust after your death. Your spouse may then use the income, and in certain circumstances, some of the trust's principal, with the remaining assets transferred to your other beneficiaries after your spouse's death. Make sure to review the amounts that will be placed in the trust. With the exclusion amount currently at $2,000,000 and scheduled to increase to $3,500,000 in 2009, these amounts may exceed the amount you want in the credit shelter trust.

Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) Trust -- This trust is typically used when the spouse wants to control the use of any remaining assets that are not placed in the bypass or credit shelter trust. Assets that are not placed in the credit shelter trust are placed in the QTIP trust. Income from the trust is distributed to the surviving spouse during his/her lifetime. This qualifies for the unlimited marital deduction, so estate taxes will not be paid after the first spouse's death. After the surviving spouse's death, the principal is distributed to beneficiaries designated by the first spouse. This trust is often used to protect children from a previous marriage or to ensure that if a surviving spouse remarries, his/her new spouse does not inherit any of the assets.

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) -- This trust is used to ensure that the proceeds from a life insurance policy are not subject to estate taxes. Often, the insurance policy is obtained to help pay estate taxes, with the policy held by the irrevocable trust. Annually, you can make gifts to the trust so the trustee can pay the policy premium. After your death, the trust receives the insurance proceeds, distributing them in accordance with the trust's terms. With the uncertain future of estate taxes, you may wonder whether ILITs are still a valid estate planning strategy. You probably don't want to undo any ILITs in place, since the estate tax won't be fully repealed until 2010 and then will be reinstated in 2011. Even if the proceeds aren't needed for estate tax purposes, you may find other uses for the proceeds, such as leaving larger bequests to beneficiaries or charitable organizations. Deciding whether to set up a new ILIT is a tougher decision. You should first analyze all relevant factors, including your views about the future of the estate tax.

Charitable Remainder Trust -- Typically, this trust is used to provide a large charitable contribution while avoiding a large capital gains tax bill. You transfer an asset to the trust, typically one with a low basis that has appreciated significantly. Since the trust is a tax-exempt organization, it can then sell the asset without paying any capital gains taxes and reinvest the proceeds. You receive an immediate charitable contribution deduction equal to the present value of the property the charity will receive when the trust is terminated. You also receive the income from the trust, with the principal going to the charity after the trust terminates.

Qualified Personal Residence Trust -- With this trust, you place your home or vacation home in an irrevocable trust, retaining the right to live in the home for a specified number of years. When the trust terminates, ownership passes to your beneficiaries. The gift tax value is determined on the date the house is placed in trust by calculating the present value discounted over the trust's term. If you die before the trust ends, the home is included in your estate at its fair market value. Since present value calculations are used to determine the gift's value, this trust allows you to leverage the use of your $1,000,000 lifetime gift tax exclusion.


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