August 19th, 2014

Sold Home For Sale Sign in Front of New HouseWealth is measured by the assets you own minus your liabilities (debts). A typical list of assets includes real estate, stocks and other securities, retirement accounts, business property, and of course cash.  When it comes to smart investing, financial experts encourage being diversified across a variety of stocks to lower risk, but often individuals haven’t been encouraged to apply the advice to the big picture.

Home ownership, considered the “American Dream”, should be in balance with contributions to retirement accounts, cash savings and other assets.  What we’ve learned, after the 2008 Great Recession, is the recovery of wealth held as home ownership has been much slower than wealth held in the form of other assets. Unfortunately, this means middle and lower income individuals have and will continue to feel the impact of this sluggish real estate market.

Is the “American Dream” of owning your own home still good financial advice? Yes, if it is 25%-30% of your overall investments. The fact that qualifications for a home mortgage continue to remain high and it’s more difficult to purchase a home might not be as bad as you think if it results in increased efforts to build a cash reserve and contribute to retirement accounts.





To Insure or Not to Insure

August 14th, 2014

You cinsurancean get health insurance, car insurance, homeowner’s and renter’s insurance. You can protect your wedding, your life and your vacation with insurance. There is even insurance for above average snowfall, kidnapping and ransom insurance, pet insurance, flood insurance and insurance for body parts like hands, if your livelihood depended on them.

Sometimes, it makes more sense to take the time and spend the money to prevent the problem rather than pay for insurance to fix the problem after the fact. For instance, mold could be an issue in my basement. If I…keep the humidity between 30% and 60% by using a dehumidifier or air conditioner; use throw rugs instead of carpets; use mold resistant paints and fix leaky pipes and faucets, I can eliminate my need to buy add-on coverage to my homeowners policy (an endorsement) for mold which would cost me a couple thousand dollars per year.

Getting insurance is all about taking the risk of loss and putting that burden onto someone else. Are you protecting yourself again a risk that you could easily prevent and eliminate the need and cost of insurance?  ~Brenda

Consumer Knowledge, Insurance, Smart shopping


August 12th, 2014

Recentlimagey, I saw a special feature during the news that brought attention to a creative way two single moms were able to survive in the current economy. By combining households, working opposite shifts and sharing parenting responsibilities and resources, they were able to eliminate childcare expenses, keep a roof over their heads and food on their table.

More recently, I read about the co-housing strategy being applied by people in their 50’s and 60′s. About 1 in 3 Boomers are unmarried and when faced with retirement, many women (and some men) grow concerned about the future. Besides saving money and sharing resources, there is research that show people live longer, happier lives when they have the benefit of living with others…much like the Golden Girls, a sitcom of the 80′s.

There are challenges and many things to consider before deciding to share a home. Good housemates understand the sense of community and sharing space. They are stable, confident, responsible and flexible.

Before deciding to share a home, test out the idea by cooking together, going on vacation together and spending quality time together. It is important to make sure you are truly compatible. ~Brenda


Retirement, Smart shopping

Use Your Time Wisely

August 7th, 2014

We all have to wait for things – like repairs to your car, waiting to see a doctor, standing in line at the post office, or checkout line at the grocery store.  The last two items usually happen faster than the car repair or waiting for a doctor.  While waiting, do you grumble? read the array of magazines? or do you use your time effectively?

Recently I was waiting for a friend and I had brought a book that I was reading for church and a guidebook for an upcoming trip. Last week,  I waswifi_waiting waiting for my car tune-up; I knew that the waiting area had Wi-Fi so this time I brought my laptop to work on some news releases and answer other communication.  Another person had a book that she was reading.  Another person was using their Smart phone to respond to text messages.  They, like me, had planned ahead for the waiting time.

You might not like to stop and take the time to plan for the times you have to wait – but these situations do happen.  Be prepared.  Use your time wisely and get something accomplished.


Consumer Knowledge, Goals

Skills to Pay The Bills

August 5th, 2014

Skills to Pay the bills

The unemployment rate is finally going down.  But you may still be looking for a job.  The U.S. Department of Labor has developed a curriculum with six short videos called Skills to Pay the Bills.

This curriculum was created for youth development professionals to use with youth ages 14 to 21.  It offers an introduction to workplace interpersonal and professional skills, and can be useful in both in-school and out-of-school environments. It can also be helpful to adults of any age.

The program is comprised of modular, hands-on, engaging activities that focus on six key skill areas: communication, enthusiasm and attitude, teamwork, networking, problem solving and critical thinking, and professionalism.  Each skill area provides a short video that captures the topic.  The videos are on YouTube and average around 2 ½ minutes long.  The videos can be accessed by anyone, whether or not they are participating in a structured program.

The full curriculum may be accessed at:  http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/youth/softskills/

Good luck with your job search.




Consumer Knowledge, Saving, Smart shopping, Uncategorized

Vehicle Recalls: Be Aware

July 31st, 2014


Vehicle recalls are happening frequently these days.  Nearly every major auto maker has issued a recall for some models in the last year or two.  Most recalls involve some type of repair that needs to be done, and will be paid for by the manufacturer.  As a consumer I have two concerns:

  • How will I know if the car I’m driving has a recall?  I might not hear it on the news and I might not receive a letter (even though they try to notify owners)…
  • What if I’m buying a used vehicle – how can I know if it has had a recall, and whether the needed repairs have been done?

Fortunately, a single resource addresses both of those questions:  www.SaferCar.gov .  At this site, you can look up a particular model and year to find out if recalls have been issued.  In addition, you can enter the vehicle identification number (VIN) of a vehicle you might want to buy, and you will be able to find out if needed recall-related repairs have been made on that vehicle.

This is one case where a vast computer database helps consumers stay safe.

~ Barb

Consumer Knowledge, Smart shopping ,

Sales Tax Holiday

July 28th, 2014

shopping cartIt’s coming right up – this coming weekend, August 1 & 2!  “It” is Iowa’s annual sales tax holiday on qualifying clothing and footwear purchases. You’ll find all the details here but the key point is that most purchases of clothing and footwear priced under $100 will be exempt from state and local sales tax during that 48-hour period.

It’s a savings of 7% – not something to sneeze at.  In addition, many retailers will advertise discounts for that weekend to increase consumers’ incentive to shop. I’m writing this post to remind readers of the event, and also to remind you to keep it in perspective.  Savings of 7% is not enough reason to buy things you don’t need and would hardly use.  If there are things you need, though, this weekend is a great time to buy them.

The tax holiday is intentionally placed during back-to-school shopping season to make it helpful to consumers.  Before shopping, especially for growing children, it’s smart to take inventory of what you have, finding out what still fits, and what has been worn out or outgrown.  That will help you make a shopping list and prioritize the items you might want to buy.  And of course as you make that list, keep your budget in mind; decide how much you can afford to spend on clothing this weekend or this month.

Here’s what could happen without a good inventory and list:  you might go shopping, make some good purchases, spend the money you had allocated, but then 2 weeks later discover that you still need two pairs of jeans!  To meet that need, you would exceed your planned spending, leaving you short on funds for something else, such as groceries or gas.

Plan ahead, so you can use the annual Sales Tax Holiday to your advantage! ~ Barb


Retirement: Secure Your Future

July 24th, 2014

money jar - smallHow do I know if I’m saving enough for retirement? Should I accept an  early retirement offer? When should I start taking Social Security distributions? Will I have enough income or will I need to continue working?

To help individuals make informed decisions as they head toward retirement, family finance specialists for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach have revised the “Retirement: Secure Your Future” publication series. It is now available for free download from the ISU Extension and Outreach online store. “Retirement: Secure Your Future”  consists of 16 publications designed to inform adults of all ages of key concepts and management decisions related to retirement. The series includes tips for individuals just entering the workplace, worksheets to determine income needs in retirement, estimation exercises to see if you are on track or need to make adjustments in your contributions, housing and legal considerations as you age, and more.

The Retirement Transitions series (PM 1825 a-d) is a new addition for individuals nearing retirement. Four topic areas are covered that explain options for income distributions: Strategies for Retirement Income, Social Security, Required Minimum Distributions, and Income Annuities will explain the pros and cons of the choices retirees must make. Reading will prepare you for the conversations you may have with professionals when it’s time to structure your retirement income flow.

Whether you are 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60, taking time to do some retirement planning results in greater financial security.



Personal Information

July 22nd, 2014

textingThe Federal Trade Commission has been gathering information about “data brokers.”  Data brokers collect personal information about consumers from a wide range of sources — including public records, loyalty cards, websites and social media — and provide information for a wide range of purposes. The FTC  offers an informative 2-minute video with an overview of the industry : Sharing Information: A Day in Your Life  .  Currently there are no individual consumer rights to limit distribution of information contained in a marketer’s data files or to correct false information in those files.

Data brokers use computer programs to combine and analyze data about consumers.  They create lists based on the data collected, often making inferences about consumers and place them in categories. Potentially sensitive categories include those that primarily focus on ethnicity and income-levels, a consumer’s age, or health-related conditions like “Age 65 ,” “Diabetes Interest,” and “Expectant Parent.”

Recommendations have been made to Congress for legislation giving consumers transparency on how and when the information is being gathered, options to “opt-out”, and rights to correct false information.  To read more, visit: http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/05/ftc-recommends-congress-require-data-broker-industry-be-more


Consumer Knowledge , ,

Community Theater and other Money-Savers

July 15th, 2014

theater-masksI’m involved in local Community Theater.  I’m no actor, but each year I help with music (in the orchestra pit) for the summer musical, and I help with box office and ushering for other shows during the year.  Last weekend was opening weekend for “Guys and Dolls!”  It’s always fun.

When I moved to this small-ish town I was astonished by the quality and quantity of work done by the community theater.  I’d never experienced that before, and was amazed at what could be done by an all-volunteer organization.  In the years since, I’ve discovered that many communities in my area and around the state have active community theaters, as well as community choruses, bands and other arts groups.

This is great news for people concerned with saving money.  For two reasons:

  1. Attending plays and concerts is low-cost local entertainment (sometimes free - I went to a terrific free concert a couple weeks ago)
  2. Being involved in these activities is also free recreation – a fun social activity at absolutely no cost. Participation is the best of both worlds – spending time with other great people while at the same time contributing to your community!

If you’re thinking this doesn’t apply to you because you’re not an actor, artist or musician, think again.  I can tell you that all kinds of skills are valued.  Some people make the printed programs and distribute posters. Others build or paint sets. Some people help keep the place clean and make sure important props are where they need to be.

In my experience, anyone who wants to be involved is welcome to help out.  If you’re looking for free social activities, getting involved in a community group, whether theater or music or some other group, is a great place to start!


Goals, Smart shopping, Spending plans ,