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Tom's Blog

7 Tips to Saving Money while Preparing Your Kids for School

July 25, 2012 6:14 pm

Preparing your kids for school can be an extremely busy time, putting a damper on the end of your summer .But with some simple planning, it can be a manageable and less stressful process. For many Americans struggling with debt problems, the end of summer is an anxious time because school supplies, sports gear, updated clothing and other necessities can be expensive, but there are things every parent can do.

"It is important to take an objective look at what your children need for school and what you can afford," says Etta Money, InCharge's President. "We all want to do everything we can for our kids, but for those dealing with limited financial resources or debt problems, the task can be overwhelming.”

Here are seven things every parent of school-age kids should do:
1. Prepare a written budget – Just as you would prepare a guide to your overall expenses, a detailed written plan to follow as you prepare your kids for school is vital.
2. Do an inventory – Take stock of what supplies you have on hand, what you and the kids can make yourselves, and what clothing can be used again for the new school year.
3. Develop a shopping list – Eliminate what you already have from your list and write down everything you need to buy to get your student(s) ready for school to open.
4. Look for deals – With a month or more to go, you have plenty of time to shop online for deals, look for coupons, and search the local papers for sales.
5. Plug in the numbers – armed with the best deals you can make, take the numbers you have discovered for the items you need and work them into your household budget.
6. Cut where needed – If the numbers don't work, you may need to spread out purchases, or make some cuts, either in the school budget or your household expenses.
7. Make your purchases – It's time to buy, but don't forget to distinguish between "needs" and "wants."


Chalkboard Craft Projects to Help You Organize

July 25, 2012 6:14 pm

(ARA) - Everyone's life needs a bit of organization - so why not do it with a bit of fun and whimsy? For a new way to get organized, think charming, unique ... think chalkboard paint. That's right, the old-school chalkboard is making a stylish comeback. And with a bit of hands-on creativity, your home can be organized, stylish and enjoyable.

Definable drawers
Is your home being overrun with clutter? The best way to overcome clutter - and keep everything tidy - is to ensure everything has its place. Labeling is a great way to stay organized and alert family members where items are - and where to put them away. Using stickers and markers for identification can sometimes look plain and boring, and are more permanent. Luckily, there is another way to label: chalkboard paint.

Drawers are ideal for storage and come in a variety of sizes to store anything from toys to jewelry. Plus, you can find great deals on old sets at yard sales or thrift stores. To start, simply clean and paint your drawers in a color that coordinates with your room's decor. Once the paint is dry, create a border around the front of each drawer with painter's tape. Next, spray several even coats of chalkboard spray paint inside the taped area. When the entire project is dry, use chalk to identify the contents of each drawer. And, don't limit yourself to white chalk. Colored chalk can add a stylish twist to your project.

Time to...
To organize your schedule - or your whole family's - keep track of time with a fun and creative schedule clock. This unique project replaces traditional hours and minutes with your daily activities.

Start by finding a large, flat, wall-hanging clock and carefully remove the hands. Then, apply a coat of indoor/outdoor charcoal black primer to cover the entire clock, making it the same even color. Once the primer has dried, apply three coats of chalkboard spray paint. Finally, when the clock is fully dry, reattach the clock hands and finish by designating certain hours for your daily tasks. This project is especially ideal for young children who don't yet know how to tell time; simply use drawings to help them know when it is time for their activities and you'll avoid the everyday question of "is it time to (fill in the blank) yet?"

Labels for entertaining tables
When entertaining guests, you want them to feel welcome and at home. Adding personal messages or labels can be the solution to put your party over the top. Chalkboard paint can be the perfect addition to many of your go-to entertainment pieces. Spray the base of your wine glasses and label with guests' names to keep track of drinks. Spray the fronts of buckets, bowls or canisters to call out their contents. Spray a large platter or board to create a welcome sign or menu for your guests. The ideas are endless.

Soon, your home will feel more organized and stylish with these easy and delightful craft ideas. And the best thing about a chalkboard is you can constantly change it up. Simply erase and write something new.


Stay Safe while Boating This Summer

July 25, 2012 6:14 pm

Summer means tons of fun on the water, from lounging at the beach to swimming, surfing and boating. But it’s also important to keep safety in mind. In 2011, the Coast Guard counted 4,588 accidents that involved 758 deaths, 3,081 injuries and approximately $52 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents. Of those who drowned, 84 percent were not wearing life jackets.

"The statistics show that no matter where you are boating, following boating safety, being properly prepared and equipped, and always wearing a life jacket can help save many lives," says Virgil Chambers, executive director of the National Safe Boating Council. "Accidents on the water happen much too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket. With the variety, comfort and style of today's life jackets, there's no reason why you, your family and friends, can't have fun on the water while always choosing to wear a life jacket."

To prevent drowning and promote safe boating practices, the NSBC encourages all recreational boaters to wear their life jacket and follow these five life jacket safety tips:

1. No matter what activity you have planned -- boating, fishing, sailing, etc. -- always remember to wear a life jacket every time you are on the water.
2. Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard-approved. Double-check that your life jacket is appropriate for your boating activity.
3. Take the time to ensure a proper fit.
4. Life jackets meant for adults do not work for children. If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to "grow into."
5. On recreational vessels underway, children under 13 years old must wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket unless they are below decks or in an enclosed cabin. Some state laws vary -- check with your local Marine Law Enforcement Authorities.


Word of the Day

July 25, 2012 6:14 pm

Offer. Oral or written proposal to buy a piece of property at a specified price.

Q: What Is Guaranteed Replacement Cost Insurance?

July 25, 2012 6:14 pm

A: The most comprehensive insurance policy is guaranteed replacement cost coverage, which will pay to rebuild your home even if the cost to rebuild is more than your policy limit.

This kind of coverage is more expensive and can cost from about $400 to $1,000 a year or more, depending on the area and the price of the home. However, even if you can afford it, this insurance is not available everywhere or for every property. For example, older homes may not be eligible. And some big insurance companies have begun to limit the amount they will pay to 120 percent of the policy's face value.

Making the Most of Your Small Space

July 24, 2012 6:14 pm

If you think you are living in a small space, consider Erin Boyle and her fiancé James Casey, who share a 240-square foot apartment in Manhattan - a space smaller than some garages.

“It’s pretty tight,” admits Boyle, who doesn’t mind climbing a ladder to their built-in sleeping loft. “But careful planning gives us an efficient kitchen, a decent living space, and even a dining area.”

The key, Boyle said, is making the best use of light and being sure that everything is in its place. She offers 10 tips for ‘opening up’ a less-than-roomy living space:

• Put things away – Don’t leave dishes in the sink, newspapers on the sofa, or a hair dryer out in the bathroom. Any space that’s cleared looks larger.
• Hide the clutter – In a small space, anything out of place is annoying. Keep a crate in the closet or under the sofa to hide work papers, magazines, and more.
• Go small – Live plants and little knick-knacks can make a house a home. But look for small versions that add color and hominess but don’t take up much space.
• Be creative about storage – If closet space is short, prop your surfboard or guitar in a corner and make it part of the décor. Buy furniture that doubles as storage, like an armchair with built-in magazine storage or a coffee table with a lift-up top.
• Buy pretty versions of every day products – If the shampoo or dish soap must be left out on view, buy the ones in the most eye-pleasing containers.
• Be selective about art – One antique bottle filled with dried flowers can become a charming focal point. Don’t hang too many pictures. If you have too many, rotate them on the walls and store the rest under the bed.
• Cut back on trash – Recycling is a must in small spaces, and even the garbage can must be small. Get rid of anything you don’t need, and recycle where you can your community.
• Keep the windows clean – It’s vital to let as much light as possible into a small space. Keep windows sparkling. Don’t block them off with drapes, window fans, etc.
• Limit what you buy – If refrigerator and cupboard space are limited, divide the contents of larger bottles or boxes into smaller, single-use containers.

Camping Must-Haves for Your Next Adventure

July 24, 2012 6:14 pm

Whether you’re camping with the family or hitting a summer music festival with friends, it’s important to be fully prepared before you hit the woods. While you may remember the essentials (tents, flashlights, bug spray, check!) below are a few camping must-haves that are easy to overlook.

1. Baby wipes. Babies or not, no one should head off on a camping trip without a package (or four) of baby wipes. These easy cleaners are a great way to quickly de-grime when you’re tenting sans shower.

2. Coffee, on ice. In the heat of the summer, you may not be tempted to brew a batch of coffee on your camp stove—if you brought one. So how can you get your java fix? Before heading out on your adventure, brew a few pots of coffee and after they cool, pour them into an empty gallon water jug. Keep this in your cooler and you have a quick, refreshing hassle-free caffeine source.

3. An emergency kit. I’m not talking about a first aid kit (although bring that, too!). I’m referring to my four essential outdoorsy must-haves, which cover all the basics: Trash bags, duct tape, an extra tarp and rope. While it may seem like you’re planning out a crime, this is my “emergency” kit for camping, and you never know when these will come in handy.

Simple Steps to Manage Your Finances

July 24, 2012 6:14 pm

Managing your finances can be complicated. Most people find themselves juggling financial priorities such as paying down debt, starting an emergency savings fund, saving for college or contributing to a retirement account. The first week of August is National Simplify Your Life Week and M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group, suggests these tactics to help you organize, consolidate, and eliminate bad spending habits.

Eliminate Unnecessary Expenses: One of the easiest ways to have fewer bills to worry about and put more money in your savings account is to eliminate unnecessary expenses. For example, consider giving up the premium cable TV channels or your morning stop at the coffee shop. Decide if those unnecessary expenses are actually worth the money.

Consolidate Accounts: For married couples, consolidating financial accounts will make it easier to manage money and plan your financial future. Consolidating accounts will allow you to have a clear picture of your financial situation and give you fewer accounts to track. Aim to have one savings and one checking account.

Automate Payroll Deposits and Bill Paying: Take advantage of all the tools available to automate your finances. Direct deposit your paycheck to eliminate trips to the bank. Set up automatic bill payment. You'll never miss a payment and avoid late fees, plus you'll simplify your life by cutting out check writing and remembering to pay bills. If the thought of automatic bill payment worries you, you can still pay your bills online and manually authorize the payments each month. Most banks offer free online bill payment that includes reminders and shows you when you last paid a bill to streamline recordkeeping.

Plan for Success: Even if you are keeping good track of your finances and bills, creating and following a budget can make it easier to simplify your spending. Use your take home pay to create a budget and determine whether or not you can afford anything extra.

Eliminate Credit Card Debt: List your credit cards and set up a plan to pay them off starting with the ones with the highest interest rate to minimize interest payments. Not only will this give you fewer bills to worry about, but it will give you a sense of satisfaction when you see a zero balance on your monthly bill.
"It takes a series of small but significant steps to simplify your financial life," says Mary Brockhaus, Senior Vice President, M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group. "By taking advantage of automated financial tools, paying down high interest debt and creating a budget and sticking to it, you'll be in a better financial position today and as you plan for the future."

Visit for more information on how to simplify your spending. You can also visit for several easy to use financial tools.


Five Great Tips for Achieving a Work-Life Balance

July 24, 2012 6:14 pm

Between your family, work, your exercise routing and your social life, finding time to relax may seem like a laughable notion. But while a busy schedule can make taking time out to relax difficult, it should still be a priority—right up there with making it to your son’s Little League games or your Monday morning meeting. Here are a few tips for achieving a work-life balance.

1) Manage your time well
On a Monday morning, jot down a list of tasks which need to be completed by the end of the week. Split this list into achievable 'quick wins' by writing down the amount of time needed to complete each task. Schedule each piece of work into your weekly calendar, checking everything you need to do can actually fit into your working hours. By allocating time for each task, you're less likely to under-estimate how long each activity is going to take.

2) Leave your work at work!

Schedule 10 minutes at the end of each working day to make a list of outstanding projects, deadlines and anything else work-related which is bothering you. Make time in your diary to develop solutions to problems and ask managers and colleagues for help if you're struggling with a heavy workload.

3) Schedule 'personal time' in your calendar

Schedule 'personal time' as well as 'work time' in your diary. Place as much importance on 'personal time' spent with friends and family, as you do on 'work time.’ Manage time planning for personal activities as efficiently as your working day, to ensure that it's achievable. Plan to leave work on time at least one evening a week, block this out in your diary and make sure nothing interrupts this arrangement.

4) Separate domestic chores and resting time

Don't count domestic chores within your leisure time, schedule these separately, otherwise you could risk spending your free time doing laundry and running errands! Try to alternate chores with fun activities, or schedule half an evening for housework and half for relaxing.

5) Take a lunch break every day
No matter how busy your work schedule, take time out for a proper lunch break each day. Go outside, enjoy some fresh air and give yourself a break to re-charge for the afternoon ahead. Block out time for lunch breaks in your diary, even if it's just a 10 minute walk and a quick bite to eat, this change of scenery may be just what you need for a productive afternoon.

Source: Filofax

Word of the Day

July 24, 2012 6:14 pm

Nonconforming use. Use of property that is permitted to continue after a zoning ordinance prohibiting it has been passed.

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