Five Minutes to Make Your Home Healthier

With the upcoming time change (from Daylight Savings back to Standard Time), take a few minutes this week to make your home healthier for your family.  Here are six tips:

  1. Test your smoke alarm and replace the battery. Using smoke alarms in your home cuts your risk of dying in a fire in half.
  2. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds – enough time to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Each year about 48 million Americans get sick from eating contaminated or improperly prepared foods.
  3. Make your home smoke free. Never let anyone smoke anywhere in or near your home. Parents are responsible for 90% of their children’s exposure to smoke.
  4. Program the number for poison control into your cell phone: 1-800-222-1222.  If you use a land line, post the number near the phone.  Each day in the United States over 300 children (ages 0-19) are in emergency rooms for poisonings.
  5. Do a 3-minute “clean sweep” Pick one small area of your home- like your junk drawer or stairs and take 3 minutes to sort the items. Get rid of what you do not need. Clutter can collect dust, mold, and other allergens and gives pests a place to hide.  If clutter is on the floor or stairs, it can cause you to trip and fall.
  6. Check your locks. Make sure locks function correctly and that a child can operate them in an emergency.

 

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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Cost-Cutting vs. Saving: Not the same thing!

Most of us have dozens of ways we “save money:”

  • We “save” by using coupons and shopping sales.
  • We “save” by saying NO to ourselves and others when temptation arises.
  • We “save” by cooking at home instead of eating out.

Are you wondering why I put the word “save” in quotation marks in all those examples? Here’s why: even if we did all those things every single week, there is no certainty that our savings account balance will increase.

All those steps are ways we reduce costs, but do they automatically lead to deposits to savings accounts? No. Take me, for example: I have never once taken the money I did not spend at a restaurant or grocery store and deposited it into a savings account as a direct result of the decision not to spend. Instead, the money I “saved” would usually just get spent on something else!

A decision not to spend is a key step in saving. But by itself, that decision is not enough; it only turns into saving when we actually move the money into a savings account (or to a dedicated savings location such as a piggy bank).  When I come to a coffee shop or an ice cream store and I go on by without stopping because I want to save that money, I should probably just stop right there and transfer money from one account to another. Or I could carry a “saving” envelope in my purse and move cash into the envelope every time I resist temptation. That would be the way to make sure the actual saving occurred.

Saving is a two-step process. It involves deciding not to spend and  putting money in a designated location. Either step can come first. I can decide not to buy something and then save the money; OR I can put the money away first and then (out of necessity) spend less than I otherwise would have spent.
Note: many of us do better if we put the money in savings first!.When there’s no money in your billfold or your account, it’s easier to resist temptation to spend! 

Do you sometimes wonder why you aren’t getting ahead, despite your efforts? It may be because you’re skipping one of the steps.  How can you turn your cost-cutting into true savings progress?

 

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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Stocking the Grocery Pantry

I threw a list of Pantry items together in 2004 and went shopping. My goal was to confirm or dispel what participants in my budgeting classes would argue: that it was cheaper to purchase groceries at larger markets, especially those in larger towns where there is more than one grocery store.

What I challenged them to consider was the cost of transportation and the added time it took to make a 1 hour round trip each week for groceries; especially if the sale items were the same price in a local store.  Did they save enough to off-set those costs? Even though the cash register receipt is lower for the same items, it wasn’t enough savings to cover the cost of transportation.

I took my list shopping to the local grocery in 2007 and again today.   Here’s what I’ve learned from the comparison:

  • The cost for store brands, 2004-2018, increased 54.7%, the national brands increased 34.3%.
  • The margin between the cost of buying a store brand and buying a national label continues to erode. In 2004 the difference was 30%, in 2018 the difference is 24%. Store brands still cost less, but not as much.  Quality becomes more important.
  • The changes in package sizes has slowed. I found several items in smaller packages between 2004 and 2007; but only Oat Cereal was found in a smaller package in 2018.
  • Some items are lower priced. Brand name stick margarine is priced lower than the 2004 cost and the store brand is equivalent to the brand name price. Oat Cereal, when broken down into price per ounce, is 27 cents today. In 2004 it was 26 cents an ounce.  Brand name green beans have declined slightly since 2007, with store brands getting close to equivalent price.
  • Items on my pantry list with a larger than average increase in price are: a 2 lb. block of processed cheese food – the national brand increased 100%; a 5 lb. bag of national brand flour increased 61%.

A new player in the pantry shopping list is a local dollar store.  My grocery sack included a combination of store brands and national brands. The sizes were equivalent. Not everything on the list was available. Some items were lower, but others were higher in price. In the end my combination sack cost the same as the store brands at the local grocery.   If you have the time and pay attention to prices you could lower your total grocery costs by shopping at both stores if they are close to each other.

Visit the Spend Smart, Eat Smart website for low cost recipes and other tools to manage your grocery dollars.

 

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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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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Coins can add up!

I just completed a pilot series online for a financial class called Small Change.  How many of you pick up coins off the ground or from pockets in the laundry?  With each dime or quarter, money starts to add up!  Starting with small change can pay off a small debt or help you save for one of your goals like a vacation, a down payment for a vehicle or your child’s higher education.

These small coins can make a big difference.  Twelve years ago my friends found out their daughter-in-law was expecting twins and during the six months, they saved their coins from purchases and emptied out their pockets: they were able to buy a piece of furniture – a dresser -for the grandsons.

I have participated in a group where part of our fund raising for scholarships is to save the coins.  We each have a nifty little box with a lid to transport our coins.  During a month’s time, the treasurer collects between $50-$60 dollars. When an I-Pass, (prepaid electronic toll collection system) was needed because of daily travel on the tollway, my coin collection started to flourish. When I moved to Iowa, I am in a community that has parking meters where I now use many a quarter.

What are you doing with your small change?

 

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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Sales Tax Holiday: Use Wisely

In Iowa, this coming Friday and Saturday (Aug 3-4 2018) offers a chance to buy qualifying clothing items without paying any sales tax. For most Iowans, (depending on local sales tax), that’s a savings of 7% — not a huge windfall, but still an advantage.  That savings is magnified by the many retailers who offer clothing sales on the same weekend.

Sounds like a winning proposition, right? It can be. But like anything else, it requires consumers to use good judgment! Why?

Well, if you’re like me, you’ve had experience with the risks involved in shopping simply because there’s a sale. Who among us hasn’t made a purchase because it was such a “great deal” and then never (or rarely) used it? Hopefully we learn from those experiences, but it always pays to exercise caution when shopping sales.  Here are some ideas to help us avoid regrets:

  • Have a list and prioritize.
  • Plan a dollar limit that lets you fit your purchases into your budget without borrowing. When purchases are paid off over months of credit card payments, the benefit of the sale price quickly disappears.
  • Know what the “regular” prices are, and consider whether items will be on a bigger sale later in the fall. In other words, ask yourself “Are they just giving a small discount to tempt me to buy now rather than waiting for later when bigger discounts will be offered?”
  • Keep all receipts. If you pick something up and later decide it wasn’t that important or that great of a bargain, you’ll simply be able to return it!  Be sure to have the self-discipline to follow through on that… it may be “only” $10 or $20, but that adds up over time.
  • If you are buying for people other than yourself (especially growing children) check out their current clothing stock before you make your list — find out what fits and what doesn’t. This will help you make sure that the items on your list are the most important items.

Iowa’s Sales Tax Holiday applies to most clothing and footwear items priced below $100. Most accessories are not exempt (such as jewelry or watches), but some items do qualify for the exemption (such as scarves).  Certain specialty clothing items, such as clothing specific to a particular sport, are excluded as well. For a full list of items that are taxable vs. exempt, go to https://tax.iowa.gov/iowas-annual-sales-tax-holiday.

Happy shopping! Good planning means no regrets!

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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Worried about retirement funds?

I read an article last week in the popular press (based on a legitimate research brief) that offered encouragement for those who are worried they haven’t saved enough for retirement. The research project demonstrated that if you delay retirement 3-6 months, it provides the same benefit as if you had saved an additional 1% of your income for 30 years.

If you are: a) wishing you could save more, but really can’t; or b) wishing you could go back in time and start saving more, sooner, this research is encouraging because it says you can partly make up for a savings shortfall by delaying your retirement date.  To be clear, delaying a few months doesn’t “magically” double the balance in your 401(k) or IRA account.  The delay affects your retirement income security in several ways:

  • It means additional months of contributions to your retirement account.
  • It gives your money more time to grow.
  • It reduces the number of months you’ll need to support yourself in retirement.
  • Delaying Social Security benefits beyond full retirement age results in a larger monthly benefit. (under current law).
    The fourth benefit accounts for most of the mathematical advantage of delaying retirement, but all four factors contribute. The first two actually DO increase the size of your nest egg; the third one means your money doesn’t need to be stretched so thin.

Wherever you are in your pre-retirement saving journey, it always pays to save more starting now if you can. But even a modest delay of retirement can provide a retirement lifestyle as if you’d saved more all along.

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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Upon Graduating – Financial Words of Wisdom

Many students recently marked a big milestone by graduating from school.  Looking back, what words of wisdom regarding personal finance would you like to have received when you left high school?

Personal finance does not have to be boring!  The National Endowment Financial Education – www.nefe.org has a couple resources to help your graduate be an independent young adult.

On Your Own –is a blog with a range from credit score calculated, making better money decisions, and the pros and cons of college?  This is a trustworthy site.

Another option is Smart About Money (SAM) is an in-depth, guided learning experience.  There are five sections with valuable tools, worksheets, calculators and quizzes.  Each course is about 45 minutes.

Cash Course targets college students. Some colleges and universities offer it especially for their students, but any student can enroll independently. It’s free, with no strings attached, but you do need to create a user account.

Forty Money Management Tips Every College Student Should Know – this Cash Course resource helps young people learn how to take control of their money instead of letting their money control them.

 

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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Could Rounding Up What You Pay Help You?

Having a debt – perhaps a mortgage or a car payment – may feel as if you have a ball and chain around you for the duration of the loan. Is there a way to lessen the load?

One option is to simply round up your payments.  Suppose your current car payment is $360 per month.  If you round up and make monthly payments of $400, that is like making one extra payment during the year on your car, and the extra money goes toward the principal on the loan. You’ll reduce your interest costs, and you will also pay off the loan faster.

Here’s a mortgage example: if your mortgage payment is $900, but you pay $1,000/month, the extra $100 goes toward the loan principal. That’s an extra $1200/year!  If $1,000 is too much for your spending plan, try $950, which is an extra $600 per year. Over several years, either strategy will save thousands in interest and get your mortgage paid off years early.  Read the fine print on your contract. Make sure your lender accepts larger payments.  Need to know so it helps your cause.

You can use the same strategy with any credit card bills where you are carrying a balance, and on any other loans, as well.

Every time you round up you’re getting closer to debt freedom without feeling much of a pinch. Once you start this habit, it will be hard to break. Fortunately, it’s a very helpful habit!

 

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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The Cost of Technology

My 3 year-old grandson recent asked Google to, “find my sister”. It seemed like a logical request, since his mom frequently asks Google to find her phone.

During a recent visit with family, a 90+ year-old aunt had fun asking “Alexa” questions. Her daughters had no idea all the skills this piece of technology had until I shared some of the things I use it for. During our discussion I learned that this Aunt calls her daughter every day to have the news read to her because she can no longer see well enough to read. So, the family decided their mom would get a lot of use of the artificial intelligence built into these home assistance devices.  She could have the news and daily bible readings read to her whenever she wanted it. AND, she could ask Alexa to call anyone on her list which could come in handy if she had fallen within earshot of the device.

At church, a week ago, a friend had a diabetic reaction. She is on an insulin pump which could communicate with her doctors through her smart phone. She also carried a small device that could tell her what her blood sugar levels were without pricking her finger. We keep fruit juice boxes in the office just for occasions like this…this was the 3rd scare that I was aware of. She was so confused. She was not sure if the phone in her hand was hers and when we tried to access her numbers in the phone, she didn’t know what the passcode was to get into the phone; in fact, she was sure HER phone didn’t require a code.  Several juice boxes later, she was able to enter the passcode in her phone and access the information she needed to help us, help her.

Some of what today’s technology does seems frivolous especially if you consider the price tag. I recognize the fact that you have to “use it as a toy” before you can truly discover the amazing potential these devices have.  I also know that the price drops the longer it is in use. As for my friend with diabetes, I worry about her ability to call for help when her disease takes over her ability to think well enough to access the information in her phone. I can see the potential for the technology to help her control her sugar levels but there is a downside.

How has technology improved your life and save you money?

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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