Less is More

Woman holding clothes on a hangerIn December, the calendar may say it is winter, but I am never in the mood to do wintery things (decorate, bake and eat comfort foods, etc.) until there is snow on the ground. The same is true for Spring which officially began March 21…almost 2 months ago. The last of our snow recently left and the grass finally turned green and I am now just finding myself in the mood to do spring cleaning…which includes digging out summer clothes and putting away the sweaters.

As I put winter clothes away, I discovered that most of the items in my closet are worn year round…like a short-sleeved t-shirt, jeans, a black dress, a white long-sleeved blouse, a black blazer and dress slacks.

The CAPSULE wardrobe, a term coined in the 70’s, refers to a collection of a few essential, quality items of clothing that never go out of fashion, do not wear out, and can be paired with seasonal pieces. The key is to make sure your essentials are well-made and fit properly…basics that you can wear daily and from which you can create different looks.

If done correctly, a capsule wardrobe should reduce the number of items in your closet — and thus, reduce the amount of time you spend organizing and cleaning out your closet and donating unused items.

Because it is now okay to wear white after Labor Day, to mix prints, and to wear navy and black together, you will find the items in your capsule can remain in your closet all year, eliminating the time-consuming task of removing, organizing and properly storing out-of-season items.  Reducing the number of pieces in your closet also makes it possible to keep all your clothes in your closet, year round.

If these aren’t reasons enough to create a capsule wardrobe, consider the environmental ramifications of cheap, “disposable” clothing. Poor quality clothes lose shape and look tired after being worn only a dozen times. According to a 2017 report we are wearing pieces fewer times before disposing of them. The study says that more than half of all lesser-quality clothes are disposed of in under a year. It also noted that less than one percent of the materials used are recycled; as a result, “one garbage truck full of textiles is land-filled or burned every second.”

Buying high-quality, well-made pieces of clothing that will last years instead of months is not only far better for the environment, but it’s also better for your pocketbook in the long term. And, the capsule wardrobe has great potential to reduce the amount of time spent organizing, storing and cleaning out your closets.

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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Care Co-op For Aging Parent

Financing Aging

A couple of years ago, I shared about my experiences as an adult child with an aging parent who came to live with me. One of the first things I did when I received word that dad would be coming was to look for support or companionship for him. Early on, he was able to be left home alone during the day (as my husband and I both worked) but I didn’t want his life in my home to be a lonely existence. My neighbor was on a similar journey; her father had also come to live with her. Dad and the neighbor became friends and most days, would walk downtown together for coffee. I appreciated the fact that the neighbor could make sure Dad found his way home. How lucky I was to know of my neighbor’s similar situation and their willingness to work together in providing quality of life for our parents.

My daughter, who lives in Boise, is very tech savvy. I enjoy hearing about her use of technology to solve problems or streamline tasks. To coordinate volunteers or donations of food for school celebrations, they use an online app called SignUpGenius.com. Accounts are free and reminders can be sent from the online app. Her close-knit group of friends uses another online app called MealTrain.com. When someone from their group has a baby, surgery, death in the family or other cause for support, the delivery of meals is organized utilizing this app.

While each of these apps was designed for a specific task, creative minds have found other ways to use them.  For example, one of my daughter’s friends had a parent going through chemo. The Mealtrain.com app was used to help organize rides and moral support (company during treatments).

Another app that came to my attention was called Komae.com. This app is used for community co-ops…babysitting coops or carpooling or…use your imagination. Membership in these co-ops begins with an application process to ensure new members are a good fit for the group and to clearly communicate the expectations of the group. In the case of childcare, the app records “deposits” of time you provide caring for the children of others, and makes “withdrawals” of time when your children are cared for by others. This ensures there is a balance of give and take.

What instantly came to mind for me was the growing number of adult-children-with-aging-parents in Iowa. What if adult children caring for aging parents formed a co-op where adult care could be provided for the members by the members in the co-op. Considering the huge expense associated with care for the aging, and the fact that there is a shortage of service providers, especially in rural parts of the state, this app would be very useful. Near the end of Dad’s stay with me, this app would have come in handy as I struggled finding care providers that were willing to come to my house and sit with dad. What solutions have you found addressing the issues of caring for an aging parent?

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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Smile! For the Camera

On Super Bowl Sunday in my area it was so foggy you could not see your hand in front of your face. While many were preoccupied with football (or the commercials), there were others that were taking advantage of weather that easily conceals illegal activities.

Padlock

On Monday morning, my colleague found that the family’s storage unit, located a few blocks from their home, had been broken into. In total, there were 4 or 5 units that had been broken into, plus it was obvious that unsuccessful attempts were made on several other units.  An examination of the storage units that withstood the break-in attempts made it clear that the quality of the padlock is what made the difference in the safety of the contents. My friend was lucky because only tools and equipment were stolen — not the classic car they also had stored in the unit.

This is a common problem among rural properties.  Farmers often have buildings that they only spend time in during the spring, summer and fall months. Thieves will frequently enter these building and take a few small items. Their intent is to see if you notice that the small things are missing AND to take inventory of larger, more expensive items stored in the building. They may also leave something leaned or stacked in a certain way that would topple or need to be moved if someone entered the building. These tactics inform the thief whether someone does visit this building.  After several weeks, if the building still appears un-visited, they will come back and help themselves to the big-ticket items. A lot of farmers use trail cameras, (cameras used by hunters to study the activity of animals in the area) to monitor building sites or even their homestead.

With all the new and fairly inexpensive security equipment on the market – doorbells with cameras, spotlights with built-in cameras and small camera units – it is no surprise that the police are having an easier time catching thieves. It is also interesting to see the number of police and neighborhood postings on Facebook asking for help in identifying thieves that are caught on home security systems. As for my friend, it was suggested by local police to consider using a trail camera to keep an eye on their storage unit and, of course, to purchase a better lock.

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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Auto-Pilot vs Mindlessness

Two cardboard boxes delivered to a residential home wait outside a black metal front door on a brick patio, Midwest, USA

We have frequently talked about strategies for making good financial habits. One strategies is to “make it automatic”. For example, if I want to save 10% of my monthly paycheck, I would have a greater chance of making it happen if I were to set it up with my employer. Each month, a portion of my paycheck could be auto-deposited in a savings account while the remainder of my check would go directly into my checking account. Basically, I made the decision once and it happens monthly without me having to remember to transfer money from my checking account to my savings account.

For the last couple of years, I have done a lot of on-line purchasing, including a large portion of my gifts and a few household consumables. Within the online shopping platform, I have always compared prices, companies, and options. I would also check Consumer Reports to compare brands and quality reviews. I considered myself to be a good shopper. When this online platform first arrived on the scene, I was diligent in comparing prices with our local stores to make sure I am getting the best deal.  In recent months, though, I haven’t done much comparison shopping;  …I just assumed…which I am sure is what online “stores” were counting on.  They hook consumers with the price, convenience & variety, and then later, when the prices rise, we either don’t notice or don’t care because we are hooked on the convenience.

This past week, a new study revealed that when compared to local store chains, this online shopping platform (the one I had gotten used to using) was not always a less expensive way to shop. This is NOT what I wanted to hear! I LOVE the convenience and the speed at which things arrive at my home. I WANT (but I don’t need) more brands to pick from.

So I have a mixed scorecard as an effective consumer. On the plus side, I have been effective in putting my savings account deposits on auto-pilot; but on the minus side, my desire to save money while shopping has slipped as it became a bit mindless. Now the I have to decide if the convenience is worth a slightly higher price.

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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A Credit Score Boost

credit score

In the past, the only way to create a credit score for yourself was to borrow money.  This makes borrowing a little tricky for those who have little or no credit history.  How can banks or credit card companies comfortably lend people money if they have no history for determining if they are a good risk?

Payment history – how you have paid your bills in the past — is one of the most important factors in a credit score. Lenders check an individual’s credit score when deciding whether to lend money to him or her.

FICO, the developer of the most widely used credit score, will begin piloting a new score next year (2019) called the UltraFICO score. This new scoring model considers how you manage your checking, savings and money market accounts in addition to how you pay back your credit cards and loans; it could be good news for those who have a strong banking record but have little or no credit history or have negative information on their credit reports. If you manage your checking, savings and/or money market accounts wisely, avoiding overdrafts and usually keep a modest “cushion” of  at least $400 in your checking account, your credit score could receive a much needed boost that can make a difference when applying for a loan.

Use of the UltraFICO score is not automatic. Consumers must opt in before lenders can access their banking records and calculate the alternate score.  Consumers who already qualify for credit on good terms will never need to authorize the UltraFICO score; those whose “regular” FICO scores aren’t quite good enough to qualify are the ones who may benefit from use of the UltraFICO.

FICO has announced the new scoring model as a “pilot” and has not specified how widely it will be in use, so there is no guarantee it will be available through your lenders. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to be aware of the possibility, for two reasons:

  1. If you are turned down for a loan or credit account, you may wish to ask the lender if they can check an alternate scoring model such as the UltraFICO score.
  2. It is a reminder that responsible management of your banking accounts can pay off; if you have a tendency to occasionally get sloppy and incur an overdraft, the existence of UltraFICO may motivate you to manage your accounts more carefully.

FICO is marketing the new score at its website, which includes a link to a short video describing the basics of UltraFICO.

As always, the best way to improve or protect your credit score is to consistently pay your bills on time, reduce the amount of debt you owe as much as possible and apply for credit only when needed.

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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Downsizing & Organizing

I dug out my winter clothes this week. I had to open and move several boxes and containers to find the tubs containing my clothes. I was amused when I thought about how much time a year I spend opening the wrong tubs, looking for the right tubs. I resolved right then to downsize.

Despite the fact that the average household size has declined to 2.61 persons while the average home has doubled in size since the 1950’s, people still struggle with what to do with all their stuff. In fact, one out of every 11 people rent storage space during any given year.

There are many reasons to down-size: moving to a smaller place; passing treasures on to others; generating a little extra income by selling items; or eliminating the cost of storing stuff. For me the 2 motivating factors are eliminating the time and cost to care for and store stuff; and to not leave my kids, the burden of dealing with all my stuff when it is time to settle my estate.

If you are looking for tips on organizing and downsizing your home, check out Downsizing Your Home: A Guide for Older Adults from Kentucky University Extension.

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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Plan for Change

The wife of a dear friend has lived in a care center for about 10 years now. I frequently cross paths with him and can see how much he misses her. I called him, excited to hear the details, when I saw on Facebook that she had moved back home. He explained that as her condition deteriorated over time, the cost of care in the nursing home had increased…so much so that they could no longer afford for her to live there.

That sounds like bad news, but it is truly turning into good news for them. You see, my friend has now retired from farming, and he can provide some of the care in their home. They have found it much more cost effective to hire a nurse to come at scheduled times to provide care and guidance for my friend, who wants only the best for his wife and is eager and able to be her caregiver. This solution has brought much joy to their home, as they are together again under the same roof.

As we plan for the future in retirement, we often think about three stages: early retirement when we do more traveling or activities that cost more…the middle years which cost less, when we are still healthy but do less because our goals have been met…and the later years when our health care cost rise. For my friend, the thought of bringing his wife home was not part of the original plan. Once he retired from farming and was more available to provide care, it made sense. It is important to make a plan but to also revisit that plan and see if it is still the best solution even after it has been implemented. Plans can always be revised.

The Finances of Caregiving is a series of five 2-hour workshops to expand your understanding of possible solutions for providing care for a loved one and help families plan together for the care receiver’s care. Understanding your choices means knowing your current situation. This program guides you through finding and collecting that information; it also provides information about communication strategies and options for care. To find a location of a program being offered near you, check out www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/finances-caregiving

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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Rechargables Make Cents

In a kitchen cupboard, we have a box full of rechargeable batteries of every size. My husband uses them in the sound-cancelling ear protection he wears in the barns. I have several small, battery-operated motion-sensitive lights I use in the rooms where grand kids sleep. I also have a digital camera, Christmas lights, a battery operated pencil sharpener and other electronics, keeping our battery charger busy.

If I were to buy a four-pack of Duracell AA batteries each week (which sells for $6) to keep my husband’s hearing protection working, I would easily spend $312 a year. For $10, I can buy a four pack of rechargeable batteries. These batteries will last between 2 and 3 years. By using rechargeable batteries, we are keeping between 400 to 600 batteries out of a landfill…and that is just for the AA batteries my husband is using.

It used to be that rechargeable didn’t work well with some technology.  Today,  I do not find any difference and I greatly appreciate the savings. What has been your experience with rechargeable batteries?

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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Meals Delivered

I recently participated in a meal prep event where a dozen women met at a local grocery store to make and take meals ready to cook. We came with empty coolers and each left with coolers filled with 12 meals in Ziploc bags and a copy of the recipe and cooking instructions. Each meal would serve 4 to 6 people. Each of the 12 women would assemble twelve of one meal. When everyone was done dumping all the ingredients for their meal, into a large gallon Ziploc, we walked around the room and grabbed one bag of each meal. Some of the meals were meant to be grilled; others were ready for the crockpot. These meals were healthy with lots of flavor. And…it was a fun social evening for us.

At first, I felt the per-serving cost was a little pricey. But, if you consider all the ingredients AND all the left overs of each ingredient I would have had to store (or toss because I didn’t use them) it wasn’t bad. For example, I paid for only the 1 cup of rice that was needed for the recipe…not the other 3 cups in the bag. The same is true for all the herbs and seasonings.

I recently helped a Veteran who was blind, figure out ways to stretch his budget. We talked about his struggle to shop and cook. He took advantage of the Meals On Wheels for one meal a day during the week; but what about the other meals of the week?

After a little research, I found that in Iowa, there are several businesses that prepare and delivers refrigerated meal. Naomi’s Kitchen, Mom’s Meals and Sisters Entrees are just a few.

A thought did cross my mind…what if I and a dozen of my friends volunteered our time to assemble meals for him. It would be a fun and he would benefit greatly. If we made only crockpot meals, it would make meal prep easy for him…just dump it a crockpot, and put it on high for 2 hours.

What other inexpensive ideas or options do you have access to for easy meal prep for individuals that have physical challenges in the kitchen?

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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The Importance of POA’s

My brother recently attended a medical conference in which a lawyer spoke about the physician’s responsibility when providing care for someone who is unable to make medical decisions for themselves.  If a patient has not completed a Power of Attorney for Health Care, the doctor is required to listen and weigh the concerns of all family members when caring for the patient. Speaking from our personal experience, my brother and I did not struggle while communicating with caregivers and making decisions for dad; we knew what dad’s wishes were and the two of us shared dad’s values and faith. Additionally, as Dad’s POA for Health Care,  it made it easier for me to say “no” when a family member made a request that was clearly not in line with his wishes…even when there was support from a fourth sibling for that request.

In comparison, the family of my brother’s wife is learning (the hard way) what happens when someone has not designated a Power of Attorney for Health Care. Their mother had a major medical emergency that has left her unable to communicate her wishes. Early on in her health emergency, there were 8 – 13 people in her room at all times and an additional 3 – 5 being consulted by phone; basically, they were making decisions by a majority vote while under stress and in an emotional state. Can you imagine being the physician in this example…having to listen and weigh the concerns of all family members?

The Finances of Caregiving is a series of five 2-hour workshops to expand your understanding of options and to help families plan together for providing care for a loved one. Understanding your choices is only possible when you know your current situation. This series guides you through finding and collecting that information, and includes the importance of identifying a Power of Attorney for both Health Care and Financial matters. For more information on this program, visit https://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/finances-caregiving 

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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