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Volunteers Needed

1040What are you doing in February, March and April? If you don’t have plans to dip your toes in the warm sand of a tropical beach I have a suggestion for you.  Find a local VITA program and volunteer to help.

VITA is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program supported by the IRS. A volunteer prepares returns for clients who have incomes at or below $54,000. If you like solving puzzles, then you would also enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to complete a tax return. Each one is different and because families don’t always fall into the Mom, Pop, and two kids definition, it can be challenging. Rewards come in the “thank you’s” and hand shakes of clients who have additional tax refund dollars to pay for other life expenses.

Training is available to help you certify. The IRS grants you exemption from liability for omissions or errors as long as you prepare returns within the scope of your certification. You can and should recommend a client take their return to a paid professional when it’s out of scope!

Volunteers also serve as greeters who schedule appointments and make sure the necessary tax documents and identification have been brought to the site.

A tropical island would be fun in the cold days of February, but you can generate a warm feeling inside by helping others.  To volunteer visit this IRS site: https://www.research.net/r/vitatcesignup

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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Pokémon Go free

Pokemon GoTwice this week, the topic of conducting a time study was discussed. The first was a friend needing to provide proof to her employer that addition help needed to be hired. The second was to decide whether the time and energy spent on a specific enterprise yielded enough return for the dollar spent, to justify continuing that activity.

During a recent youth event, I was amazed at the amount of time the kids spent on their smart phone.  As I looked through the photos of the event, I was disappointed to see nothing but the tops of their heads…they were all looking down at their phones. The planners of this event spent a lot of time and consideration into ensuring the actives were engaging and thought stimulating and until all the phones were collected and stored for the evening, there was no stimulating dialog occurring among the group.

Often times, the thing that annoys me most in others, is the exact thing that I am guilty of. This made me stop and think about the value I put on my time. When Pokémon Go first came out, it was a novelty that I admit to wasting some time on. Now, I only play that game when I am getting my daily walk. It occurred to me that prior to Pokémon Go, I listened to music or just enjoyed nature as I walked. Besides helping with weight management, my daily walk is a stress reliever. I can feel my blood pressure drop and my muscles relax as I walk taking in the sunrise or listening to my favorite instrumental music. During my last walk I tried to pay attention to those same physical conditions as I played Pokémon Go during my walk. The walk may have been entertaining but it was NOT relaxing or stress relieving. I think the best use of my time when walking is to be unplugged…Pokémon free.  

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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Maybe After A Million Words

words“Maybe after a million words.” That’s a quote from Anne Sullivan in the movie, The Miracle Worker. The movie is about Helen Keller and the governess, Anne Sullivan, who helped Helen learn to communicate through sign language. In the scene Anne Sullivan is explaining to Helen’s mother that signing is like “baby gibberish” and that children do not understand language in the beginning but somehow learn it if they hear it often enough. Anne Sullivan predicted that Helen would be able to communicate, “…. maybe after a million words.”

That’s a lot of words!

I mention this because I believe financial literacy is like any other language and like any other language we need to hear it often to understand it. Young children learn best by observing and mimicking adults. Our children may not understand the concept of credit, money, or savings but they are very good observers and they learn from us. This process is called financial socialization and research by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau indicates that children form personal financial habits as early as preschool and these attitudes often carry into adulthood.

So how can we help our children learn appropriate financial behaviors?

Parents are often the biggest and most positive influence of the financial socialization of their children. They can help their children by providing opportunities to learn and interact with money. Have children create shopping lists and help them to comparison shop and select grocery items. Include children in family financial decisions, planning, and saving for goals such as vacation and college education. You don’t have to have a lot of money, in fact children often learn best when choices are limited and they can observe the difference between needs and wants.

Consider reading to your child about money topics. Some good choices are; The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money, (Stan & Jan Berenstain), or A Bargain for Frances, (Russell Hoban)

mary w kayak

A great resource for families and libraries is the Money as You Grow Book Club guide which provides several family activities and more reading suggestions. Also, childcare providers can learn about hands on lessons and receive Childcare training credit by joining us for “Munchkins & Moolah: Teaching Preschoolers to Share, Save and Spend” classes.

Mary M. Weinand is a Human Sciences Family Finance specialist who works with individuals to help strengthen their ability to make informed judgments and make effective decisions regarding the use and management of money.

Mary likes to save for rainy days but carries an inflatable kayak in the trunk of her car for the sunny ones!

 

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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Everyone Can Save Money – You Can Too!

financial-fitness

Millennials are known for having huge student debt as they leave college. They have proven they can save money too.

According to a recent survey by Bankrate.com – 62 percent of those ages 18-29 are saving more than 5 percent of their income. Establishing the habit of saving is how this process gets started.  Gwen Cunningham from CFPB shared recently, “Don’t underestimate the power of savings.”

Reasons for saving include: rising health care costs, longer lifespans, and the uncertain future of Social Security.

Pay Yourself First just as if it is a bill you must pay; save money each pay period.  Direct deposit into a separate account is the easiest way to make that happen.  While you are doing that, establish your emergency fund and then build upon it.

Once the savings habit is established, you can start working on your retirement fund. Some experts suggest you save up to 18% of your income for retirement.  Over time, with compounding returns and employer matches you can accumulate substantial retirement savings.  In addition to employer plans, consider using other tax-advantaged options for retirement savings such as the individual retirement account IRA or Roth IRA to build your fund.  If you don’t have a retirement plan at work and don’t know where to start, a MyRA (offered through the U.S. Treasury Department) may be an option.  See our earlier post on the MyRA.

Keep up the saving to stay on the upside of your financial future.

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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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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Hustle On The Side

talentA talented young man who is home for the summer, sent a letter to the area churches, looking for opportunities to earn some money as a substitute musician. As the only organist for my church, I quickly called and booked him for 3 weekends in June that I plan to be away for a wedding and two family reunions.

A neighbor is an amazing baker. Every Saturday during the summer, she holds a bake sale on her screened in front porch. People line up at 8 AM to get first dibs on her cinnamon rolls, pies and cakes. Special orders for graduation cakes and holiday pies keep her busy and her checkbook full year round.

The son of a coworker tutors math and chemistry as a way to pay for his room and board at college. He earns between $20 – $50 per session and finds it helps him keep his own knowledge sharp.

As a child, listening to adult conversations, I perceived the term “Hustle on the Side” as a derogatory comment; meaning you were making money in a way that may not be totally honest. Today, having a Side Hustle is seen as having an entrepreneurial spirit. Depending on your skill set, “hustling” can be quite lucrative.

If you are having difficulties making ends meet or want to up your saving or investing in the future, you have 3 choices: earn more money, spend less money or do both. Maybe a “hustle on the side” can help you achieve that goal. What marketable skills and talents do you have?

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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Money Tips for New Graduates

studentsLast week, I met with a soon-to-be graduate from a local college. She was looking forward to having a new job – and an income!  For any graduate, the real financial education starts after you receive your diploma and sign the contract for your first job.

  • The First Job: It isn’t only about your salary.   Look for opportunities for advancement in your career. Think beyond the paycheck. Explore the total financial compensation (including benefits like health insurance, retirement savings benefits, and others), which can make the difference to your bottom line.
  • Relocate for your first job? Look at cost of living and taxes, because they vary greatly throughout the United States. Seventy–six percent of millennials relocate for the job – don’t let higher costs catch you by surprise.
  • Start Saving for Retirement Immediately. One person shared that when he began as a bank teller, he thought it was temporary job and didn’t take advantage of the employee stock purchase plan/401 (k). If he were do it again, he would have started this saving as soon as he could.
  • Be careful about adding credit card debt. Think about the long term consequences of having too much credit card debt. If you are carrying student loan debt, lots of ramen noodles may be in your future. Using credit is using future income. Pay off your debt as quickly as you can.
  • Save Money: Hopefully you will have a direct deposit option; if so, split your payment into at least two accounts – savings and checking. Try to have two kinds of savings – emergency and general savings. You could add a third fund for a specific goal such as a vacation or new vehicle. Even $10 or $15 per pay period will add up.
  • Create a Budget: Whenever there is a change in your life, it’s time to assess your needs versus wants. Do you have unhealthy habit? When you have disposable income – don’t throw it away foolishly. By creating a budget, you will know exactly what you have, so that you can spend and save.

 

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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Tracking Down Information

houseWhen you buy a house, you don’t always know if the windows are original to the house or when was the siding changed. Usually a home inspector can give you an idea of whether your water heater or furnace are on their last breath.

About 5 years ago, I bought a house that was built in 1957. Cosmetically – it looked good.  Well, over the winter, the paint started to peel on the east side of the house.  I brought in a contractor and one of the first questions was: when was siding installed?

Why is this important? Any paint prior to 1980 contained lead.  There are health issues because of the lead – we have heard about the lead water pipes In Flint, Michigan.  If there is lead paint, the Environmental Protection Agency must approve professional contractors to abate the lead, and it is expensive.

I contacted my realtor to see if he had any information that was disclosed when the house was listed for sale. He had limited information, but he directed me to the county assessor’s office.  When you make major improvements to your home, the assessor’s office issues permits and keeps records in their files.  (Yes, these are the little paper forms that are put in your front window while the work is occurring .)

When I made the phone call to the assessor’s office, the records indicated that the current siding installed in February 1993.  Whew!  No worries about the extra cost of lead abatement when I reside my house this summer!

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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Impossible Dreams?

DreamsMost of us have dreams we would label as “impossible” from a financial standpoint:  a certain kind of house, or a major remodel, or an international vacation…  There are things that just seem out of reach.

If you’re like me, you learned as a child to just stash away those “impossible” dreams…  Don’t even think about them, because wishing for things you can’t have will only make you unhappy.  I respect the truth in that philosophy.

However, over time I’ve come to believe that we often benefit by paying attention to our dreams — even the “impossible” ones.  I’ve seen that pay off in two different ways:

  1. Sometimes the dream isn’t as impossible as it may initially seem – I’ve had “impossible” dreams come true!  In one case, I discovered it didn’t cost as much as I thought; in another case, I figured out a creative way to pay for it by delaying the timing a bit.  I’ve learned that if I have a dream that means a lot to me, I shouldn’t give up on it without at least gathering some information and considering several options.
  2. Some dreams truly are impossible (or not worth the sacrifice required).  Even then, I’ve learned that a wish can be a clue to an underlying desire.  Suppose I wish for a bigger house (which is not going to happen). If I ask myself why I want a bigger house, the answer will be a clue about something else that’s important to me.  Do I want a bigger house so I have space for all my stuff?  Then maybe I can eliminate some stuff and better organize my storage space to reduce clutter.  Do I want a bigger house so I can have parties and host lots of company?  Maybe if I straighten up my home more often and rearrange some furniture, I would feel more comfortable inviting guests.  By digging deeper, I can move toward the underlying desire, even if the initial dream doesn’t happen.

The man in the song who dared to “dream the impossible dream” may seem foolish to some people and noble to others.  One thing I’ve learned, though, is that an “impossible dream” can be worthwhile if we use it wisely.  ~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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