Cutting Food Waste

42-16568416If I manage to do a better job of using the food I buy, on average I should be reducing my food costs 20% or approximately $25 a week. That’s based on USDA average costs for feeding my family and data that measures waste.

Some of the steps that will help me reach this goal might be planning menus that recycle left-overs and limit adding extra items to the grocery cart. Taking an honest look at portion sizes and adjusting the amount that I prepare wouldn’t hurt the waistline.  I can also step up watching freshness labels and put food in the freezer to use later.

If you don’t know how long you can store foods or what a freshness label means there are two sources that can help. Smart phone users can download the FoodKeeper App. The USDA, Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute released the application in 2015. The tool can help you understand how different storing methods affect a product’s shelf life. In addition, the application can remind you to use items before they are likely to spoil.

If you want to visit with a live person, call Answerline. Iowa State University Extension & Outreach’s staff members have the resources to tell you if a food is safe to eat or how to extend its shelf life.

Saving $25 a week at the grocery store sounds like a nice challenge and a way to reallocate funds to other purposes.

Joyce

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Food Waste

CheeseburgerI threw away my lunch yesterday. It wasn’t because it was too hot out to eat, or because of concern over the changes in my retirement account because of British political decisions.  It was because I, like many Americans, didn’t manage my food supply very well.

The average American wastes 209 to 254 lbs. of edible food each year. The main reasons are: lack of planning, not understanding food labels that give expiration dates, eating habits, and the ready supply of food.  USDA data shows that 45 per cent of the overall food supply in 2012 was never consumed. Some of the unconsumed food resulted from food loss during processing, but economic impact is pushing companies to repurpose that loss into animal feeds, fertilizer, biofuels, and other uses. By contrast, my lunch ended up in the trash bin.

Financially, the out of pocket cost for throwing away my lunch would have resulted in a $5.00 savings at the grocery store. My brain is compounding that figure and I’m a little ashamed at an obvious place I could be spending less money.

The U.S. Food Waste Challenge has set a goal to reduce food waste 50 percent by 2030. It’s a joint effort of the USDA and EPA.  To learn how organizations, companies, and individuals can achieve that goal, visit the USDA Food Waste page. It’s time I stopped being lazy about managing my food supply. How about you?

Joyce

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Organic vs Spray-Free

CSAsOn most Friday nights it doesn’t matter what else is on TV or who is watching it; when the clock strikes 8 PM, Iowa Public Television is broadcasting Market to Market into my home. Yep, I’m married to a farmer.

This week they featured a piece on organic farming. Owen Rouse, the farmer being interviewed, made an interesting observation: the organic customer is getting more sophisticated. He stated that “10 years ago, produce quality did not have to be as good as it needs to be now.” He added, “The competition is becoming greater with the increase in the number of organic growers, and the customer has come to expect a ‘prettier’ product” (something that is easier to achieve with non-organic farming practices, I might add).  The narrator for this segment stated that consumers pay a 15-60% premium for organic produce, making organic production economically viable on a fairly small scale; many are farming 100 acres or less. Organic farmers need that premium because of the higher labor costs and the extra costs to become ORGANIC CERTIFIED.

In March of 2014, I shared my thoughts about CSAs and Farmers Markets. I was (and still am) envious of the access my daughter has to Community Supported Agriculture, which provides her with a wide variety of locally grown produce. For the second year now, she buys into a CSA made up of refugee farmers. Besides the fruits and vegetables we all expect to see in our local grocery, she occasionally receives native produce of the farmer’s country of origin.  I asked if they were organic. She said their literature claimed the produce is “spray-free,” which is their way of claiming to be organic without the extra expense of being certified organic; the result is less costly produce for the consumer, compared to certified organic produce. Organic is not my personal preference, mainly because of the added cost; however, I would gladly pay extra to support a local farmer.

Again this year, I checked out the list of CSAs to see if there is one close enough that I can participate. I am impressed with the growing numbers, but still disappointed that the closest one is more than 40 minutes away. Maybe next year! If you are interested in the IPTV story I mentioned, visit http://site.iptv.org/mtom/story/15784/tobacco-out-organics

Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Employers Checking Your Credit History

OhMyYou have applied for lots of jobs, and finally you have an interview!  Your excitement fades when you find out that, as part of their decision-making, the employer is checking your credit history.  This is known as an employment credit report.  What does that mean?

First, the employer must have your written permission before they can access your credit report.  This happens because the Fair Credit Reporting Act protects your information.

The employer will only see your credit history – not your credit score.  One factor they will see is how you have paid your bills, also known as your payment history.  The last 24 months are generally the most important to the employer.

Suppose you have a great credit history, but your significant other has messed up his or her credit record.  The employer will only look at your credit history.  The only time your significant other’s information will appear on your report is with jointly held debts, like a mortgage or a car loan; if you didn’t sign for the loan, it should not be on your report.

Sometimes, employers will make employment recommendations based on your credit history, but this practice is not encouraged.  In general, credit reporting agencies discourage employers from making hiring decisions solely based on the candidate’s credit report.  It should be one factor of many in the decision process.

If for some reason, information contained in your employment credit report causes an employer to deny you the job, you will be entitled to a free copy of your report.  The employer must also provide you a copy of your consumer rights, and information on how to get that credit report.

 

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Do Oral Contracts Work?

Oral contracts can be as binding as written contracts. However, the contract may be hard to prove without a written record. If your deal goes south, you may feel like you are the cartoon coyote chasing the road runner. Make it easy on yourself and write up an agreement.Business Meeting

Often, parties enter into agreements that are half-oral and written, based on a handshake and a few letters that may indicate some parts of the agreement without actually being contracts. In this case, the agreement is contained partly in the oral agreement and partly in the letters. It’s best to put all of the information relating to your agreement in one place — a single, clear, and complete written contract.

Some types of oral contracts are always unenforceable. The following four types of contracts, which involve a high risk of fraud, must be in writing by law:

  • Contracts for the sale or purchase of land
  • Contracts for the sale or purchase of goods priced at $500 or more
  • Marital settlement contracts (a promise to do something in exchange for a promise to marry, such as a father promising the groom a job after the groom marries his daughter), including prenuptial contracts
  • Contracts that can’t be performed within one year of the time the contract is made.

Attack of the killer handshake

A written agreement is not final until signed – unless you indicate your agreement to the deal otherwise: say, with a handshake. Do not let an oral agreement sneak up on you by saying that you agree to a deal before you are actually ready to sign it.

Message to take home: Even attorneys can have trouble understanding what they are doing without a written, signed contract.

‘Nuff said – Get it in writing.

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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Auto-pilot on your 401(k)?

money jar - cropDid your employer auto-enroll you in a retirement savings plan when you started your job?  If so, your employer is following a trend that has been emerging over the past ten years or so.  Auto-enrollment means just what it sounds like: you are automatically signed up for the 401(k) plan (or whatever plan your employer offers).  People can opt out, of course, but if they’re typical human beings, they probably won’t make the effort to opt out.  [Yep, most of us give in to inertia — just leave things the way they are!]

Auto-enrollment is a good thing, over all.  It helps people get started with retirement savings.  But just because you were auto-enrolled, that doesn’t mean that you should stick with auto-pilot for the long term.  Here are a couple of ideas to consider, either when you start or sometime down the road:

  • Consider gradually increasing your contribution.  Many employers auto-enroll employees at 3% of their pay.  Saving three percent over the long-term is not enough for most people to build retirement security.  If you increase your contribution every year when you get a raise, you’ll hardly miss the money.
  • Maximize your employer match.  Some employers match contributions up to 5% of pay — or higher.  If you are enrolled at 3%, but your employer would match 5%, then you’re not taking advantage of all your employer might offer.
  • Examine the “automatic” investment selection.  Most employer-based retirement plans offer several different types of investments (usually a selection of mutual funds).  Employers usually chose a moderate-to-conservative investment when they auto-enroll their employees.  At some point, when you have had a chance to learn about the options, it would be wise to evaluate whether the automatic option was the best one for you.

Read more tips from FINRA (www.finra.org), which is an excellent source for investing information.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Medical Bills

medicalJust recently a man described to me his efforts to avoid financial crisis after some higher-than-usual medical bills.  He has insurance, but the deductibles and co-pays are significant, and his income allows payment of only $50-$100/month toward medical bills.

One of his recent health issues involved a short stay in the hospital, and while he was there he asked to talk with someone about hospital financial assistance.  A very helpful staff member came to his room, helped him fill out the application for assistance, and explained how the process worked.  Based on that positive experience, he now plans to apply for financial assistance at another hospital where he had an outpatient procedure, and at the clinic that is home to his surgeon and his general physician.

The man had come to me for ideas, but he had already taken some valuable steps.  I was able to help him with a referral to one other agency that might provide some assistance.  I also offered a couple of other tips:

  • I encouraged him to make only modest payments until he hears back about his applications for assistance – perhaps the assistance will cover the entire bill.
  • I explained that paying a medical bill with a credit card can backfire if he thinks he might be able to get assistance or a discount.  Once the bill is paid with a credit card, the medical provider sees no need to provide any financial assistance.  It’s certainly unlikely he’ll find any agency interested in helping him pay off his credit card balance.
  • Once he finds out the final amounts of his bills, after insurance and financial assistance have been applied, he may need to make payment arrangements.  I encouraged him to inquire about whether it would be sent to a debt collection agency, and to request that they not send the bill to collection if he sticks to the agreed-upon payment schedule.  Depending on the providers’ policies, they may or may not agree, but it is worthwhile to ask.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers a fact sheet with more information about dealing with medical debt.  ~Barb

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Modern Money

$10 againA year ago I shared the US Treasury’s news that the $10 bill was going to be redesigned. In April the US Treasury announced changes for the $20, $10, and $5 bills.

Updates take place primarily to prevent counterfeiting, but it’s also an opportunity to broaden the representation of key people and events. Feedback from those who shared their thoughts resulted in the retention of traditional aspects of the bills; Hamilton will remain on the $10 and will share recognition with women’s suffrage leaders, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott.

I’m an amateur when it comes to collecting coins and currency. I have a set of the state quarters, worth I’m sure $12.50! I’ve observed that families often have traditions associated with money, $2 bills for birthdays and special occasions or silver coins. When I was teaching high school, I would be invited to all the graduation receptions. It didn’t seem right to not gift something for the students’ accomplishments. At some point I landed on the idea of giving each one a Sacagawea coin along with a message tied to her history. In summary it said, “Doing well at everyday things in life may seem unimportant and you might not get immediate recognition, but stay the course and know that eventually what you do in life will be important to someone who will honor you for what you have accomplished.”

The new bills are scheduled for release in 2020; perhaps I’ll think of some new traditions to start in my family.

Joyce

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Peer to Peer Lending

money_transferDuring my father’s service in WWII, my widowed grandmother sold the family farm. Dad had a strong desire to follow a career in farming, and for several years he rented farm ground and built up his equipment inventory. There were five additions to the family during those rental years and saving for a down payment on farm ground was difficult. A private citizen, who practiced peer-to-peer lending, agreed to a contract with Dad, advancing funds to purchase 390 acres of farm ground in 1963.

Today peer-to-peer lending has found an electronic platform with recognized businesses. An individual can invest money which is lent to qualified borrowers. The rate of return for the investor ranges from 5.25% to 8.57%.

Any time you consider lending money to individuals or family members, some of the requirements stated by on-line peer-to-peer lending platforms may  help you think in practical terms about the wisdom of lending. At one site, borrows must have FICO scores of 699 or greater; debt to income ratio (excluding mortgage) must be 18.29% or less; credit histories must show 16.4 years of use; income targets are $75,000. If someone is a good manager of their money, but has a thin credit history (no track record for using credit) some of these benchmarks could be hard to hit. Would you take the risk to lend them money?

The IRS will expect you to treat the loan as a business transaction with an actual contract that spells out the payments and a reasonable rate of return.  An individual can gift up to $14,000 tax free each year to any one recipient. When the sum exceeds this amount and a loan contract isn’t in place, it will be considered a gift and subject to the 40% gift tax. State laws should also be reviewed; many set limits on how much interest can be charged on a loan. Check with an attorney or accountant if you are thinking of making a peer-to-peer loan.

Peer-to-peer lending is considered high-risk investing, but can benefit both the lender and the borrower.  Dad was able to keep his peer-to-peer loan for a short time until interest rates rose; at that point, the private lender asked for payment in full.  By then, the initial loan had opened the door to federal and commercial lending, and eventually led to full ownership of the property.

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Delayed Gratification

abbyThe author for the Dear Abby column once shared a quote from her mom, “This is maturity: To be able to stick with a job until it is finished; to do one’s duty without being supervised; to be able to carry money without spending it; and to be able to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.

For more than a year now, my 4 year old granddaughter has saved a portion of her favorite treat, Skittles, “for emergencies”. Her Halloween candy lasted a good long time as she allowed herself one piece per day. Yesterday, at a picnic with friends, she took 2 drink boxes. Before her mom could object, she informed her mom that she saving one for an emergency. My daughter recently found a jar with half eaten tootsie rolls, re-wrapped and stored for later. One could think that her ability to delay gratification was a sign of maturity, BUT, when it comes to the candy Pez, her equally favorite treat…they are all gone within minutes of receiving them. I wonder if the fun in eating a Pez from its cute dispenser makes it more difficult for her to delay gratification.

When I visit with individuals who are struggling with credit card debt, we talk about ways to set themselves up for success. If you cannot resist buying fabric despite the fact you have a whole room-full waiting to be sewn into quilts…then don’t allow yourself to enter a fabric store. If the home shopping network entices you to buy things you don’t need, won’t use and can’t afford…then don’t watch it. If you are the weak link in your family finances, then put your spouse in charge of the money. The trick is to put barriers in places where you are at your weakest.

I wonder if my granddaughter would be better able to save her Pez if they were not kept in the fun dispenser. If the fun of shopping and the convenience of a credit card is the cause of personal debt, then maybe only cash should be used? Take an honest look at spending habits and be mindful about spending.

Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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