Defining Unexpected Expenses

Life is full of surprises and events that sometimes shatter our daily routines and our finances. 

Conventional wisdom says that the money in an emergency fund would be earmarked for “unexpected expenses.”  That is true.  However, let’s think about what expenses actually are (and are not) unexpected.

Expenses that are not unexpected: monthly and annual bills

  • Regular annual or semi-annual expenses are not unexpected: these include property taxes, car insurance premiums,  annual life insurance premium, eye exams and other once-a year expenses.  You can plan and prepare for these expenses by setting aside a fixed amount each month.  Since you know these expenses are coming, they cannot truly be considered emergencies.
  • Occasional maintenance or repairs, such as a leaky roof or a dishwasher breakdown are not fully unexpected. either.  The same is true for other ordinary home repair, care repair, and moderate medical bills.  You may not know exactly what expenses will come up, but if you have a body, a car or a home, you need to expect to spend money on maintaining them. Setting aside money each month will build a fund for home repair and maintenance, car repairs, and  ordinary medical bills.

What expenses are truly unexpected?

An emergency fund is intended for expenses that fall outside the categories of “annual bills” or ordinary maintenance of home, car, and health.  Unexpected expenses are events like losing your job or being struck by a massive, out-of-the-norm health-related bill beyond what insurance will cover.  Emergency funds are designed for expenses that are highly unusual, not for common occurrences.

Bottom Line: It is possible that the savings account you were labeling as an “Emergency Fund” is actually your “Yearly Expense and Maintenance Fund.” That’s a good fund to have. But perhaps you also need an emergency fund.

 

 

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 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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Holiday Break – Things To Do And Not Break the Bank

Since we are on holiday break – and have already spent our money on holiday gifts and entertaining — what are some ideas that can entertain the family at little or no cost?

Whether it is checking out a DVD at your local library or from the Red Box or playing card or board games in the evening, there are ways to find entertainment without putting a hole in your pocket.

If you have young children, you may have a chalk mural on your driveway if the weather is warm. Even baking cookies together can be a fun family event.  I remember as a child, my mom would sometimes make a batch of yeast bread dough and my sister and I would shape the dinner rolls.  In addition to being an enjoyable family activity, working together in the kitchen is also a chance to start teaching your child cooking skills that they will use in their later years.

To be healthier, how about a hike in the woods or taking the children to play in the park?  With help from seed catalogs, why not plan your own garden? You will reap the produce next summer. As a family, go for a bike ride.  Have a family pick-up game of one-on-one basketball or invite the neighbors over for a game of volleyball. Invite the neighbors in for a potluck barbeque and have activities for the kids and adults.

In the summer, visit a drive-in movie theatre or tour a dairy farm or a police or fire station.  Enjoy a free concert in the park or community festival.  Visit the public library, check out movies, books, games, music, and take advantage of the programs that the library offers.  Read a good book for enjoyment.

Best to you and your family as we start a new year!

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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Someone May Be Watching You

Last November, my brother-in-law’s vehicle was broken into at the nearby grocery store parking lot.   He had done some banking prior to pulling into the grocery store to pick up a pizza for the night’s meal. While he was in the store, his money and cell phone were stolen.  There was also damage done to both driver and passenger doors, his console, and the car’s paint. There were surveillance cameras in grocery store’s lot, but it was hard to identify the perpetrator.

When my sister and brother-in-law returned from the holidays, they picked up their held mail at the post office; while they were there, a man had money stolen from his vehicle parked outside the post office, also after a visit to the bank.   Note: Both of these incidents occurred in daylight in a large U.S. city.

Based on his recent experience, my brother-in-law was able to encourage the man to call the police and file a complaint;  this would help him to file a claim with his insurance company. Depending what was taken, he might also want to contact his bank, and/or place a fraud alert on his credit reports.  In addition, he would need to make arrangements to have his vehicle fixed.  These were all steps my brother-in-law had needed to take a few weeks earlier, plus he had to deal with the theft of his phone; fortunately, since my brother-in-law’s information on his phone was backed up in the “cloud,” he was able to be back in business soon after the phone was replaced.

We do not always think about who is watching us, but in both of these cases, someone was watching while they visited their banks. These incidents remind us: don’t let your guard down, and watch your surroundings. That guidance is especially important during the upcoming holiday season when many of us make more purchases than usual and may leave things in our cars.

How many times do we go somewhere feeling we are safe, and therefore do not pay attention to the environment around us?

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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Charitable Giving and Taxes

We’re entering a busy time of year for charitable donations, perhaps because the winter holiday season brings a sense of gratitude followed by a desire to share our abundance. The availability of tax deductions for charitable giving may also contribute to the concentration of donations near year-end.

According to Giving USA, Americans donated a record $410 billion to charities in 2017. What’s more, over 70% of that giving came from individuals, rather than foundations, corporations, or bequests.  However, tax law changes this year mean that for many people there will no longer be an advantage in itemizing deductions; many taxpayers will get better results using a standard deduction. For those households, the tax benefit of charitable donations will be reduced or eliminated.

Will Americans still give?  I have always hoped that the main reason most Americans give is that they care about the organizations they are giving to, and that the tax benefits are just an incidental benefit.

If you are wondering whether you should continue making charitable donations even without the tax deductions, I offer two thoughts:

  • If your standard deduction under the new tax law is larger than your itemized deductions would have been, then you are still coming out ahead. You can give, and still have more available funds than you would have had under the old tax law.
  • There are other strategies that can enable some taxpayers to get tax advantages for charitable donations.
    Clustering donations. Some taxpayers may be able to hold back all their 2018 donations until the beginning of 2019; if they then donate a “normal” amount throughout 2019, they will have twice as many donations as usual to report for the 2019 tax year, which may make itemizing worthwhile in 2019. Following this pattern of no contributions one year and double-contributions the next may enable you to donate the same total amounts as normal, and gain tax benefits by alternating years between itemized and standard deductions.
    Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD) from an IRA.  If you are at least 70-1/2, you can transfer funds directly from your traditional IRA to a charitable organization; the distribution will not be taxable income to you, AND it can satisfy your required minimum distribution. If your RMD for the year is $5,000, and you are interested in donating $5,000 to a particular organization, then making the contribution through a QCD has the same ultimate impact on your taxes as a tax deduction would have had. IRS Publication 590-B provides details.
    Donating as a business expense.  If you are self-employed or own a business, you may be able to make charitable contributions as a business expense.  For example, farmers can give commodities (e.g. 500 bushels of corn) to a charity. This reduces your business income, and therefore has impact similar to the impact of a tax deduction. Consult with your tax adviser for details.

As always, the best decisions about how to use your money are based on your personal goals and priorities. As you consider your charitable giving decisions, focus on why you want to give when deciding whether and where to make donations. Giving to organizations you know (often local organizations) can ensure that your gifts are used well; when considering larger national charities, check them out with organizations that evaluate charities, such as  www.give.org, www.charitywatch.org, www.charitynavigator.org, or www.givewell.org.

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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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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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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Is There Treasure Hiding Near You?

Geocaching is an electronic treasure hunt. It is a great low-cost activity, and can be fun year-round. It is easy to catch on to and there are caches all over – literally around the world (2 million to be exact).

To get started set up a free account at geocaching.com, then download the free app to your smartphone or purchase a GPS unit. Search near you for a cache, use your app or plug the coordinates into the GPS to start hunting.

Many geocaches are found in safe places like rest areas, parks and cemeteries or near landmarks. What you will find may be very small like a pill fob OR it may be larger, like an ammo box. Some will be harder to find than others but they are never buried. Inside will be a log to sign. There may also be “swag” like geodes, stickers, patches, pins, marbles, key chains, lanyards, and geocoins.

Tips:

  • Dress appropriately.
  • Let someone know where you are going or enjoy navigating with someone else – perhaps a child or grandchild.
  • The caches are secret so don’t let passersby know what you are doing.
  • If you take something, you should leave something of equal or greater value.
  • Always return the cache to its hiding place.
  • Bring your own pen to sign the log, then enter your find at https://www.geocaching.com.

Discover what is hiding near you today! How many will you find?

Written by Sandra McKinnon, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach family finance specialist and geocacher since 2009

(Photo by Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)

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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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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Helping the High School Graduate Financially

Let’s be truthful, some of us do an excellent job helping our 17-18 year old get ready for the real world even if we also remember situations when we hope they didn’t pay too close attention to our bad habits.  Adult finance is complicated by some natural tendencies toward spending and savings. I’ve heard more than one parent wonder out loud how a child could grow up in their house and manage money the way they do.

Whether you have full confidence in their money management skills or expect to get several calls asking for guidance when the issue is totally out of hand, here are some tips that may help you and the 17-18 year old in your life:

Reduce their risks-

  • Review your insurance policies and find out if the coverage extends to include their property while they are living away from home temporarily. If they are leaving home permanently, pick up information about renters policies and explain it to them.
  • Share tips about auto insurance coverage. Remind them that valuables in the vehicle are not insured. Consider whether it makes financial sense to have them insured through their own policy. If the premium will exceed 10% of the value of the vehicle, it may be time to switch to liability only.
  • If they will continue to be covered by your health insurance plan: 1) confirm they will have access to the network providers; 2) make sure they are carrying an insurance card; and 3) share a quick reminder of typical preventive services and what to plan for co-pays.

Think ahead-

  • Recommend filling out their W-4 with a 0 for withholding exemptions until they have filed their first tax return. Several part-time jobs combined together can result in underpayment of taxes due.
  • Consider giving them a list of the records you save, electronically or on paper, for financial reasons.
  • Give them a shredder.  Not an exciting gift, but important to keep their identity intact.

Keep the door open for conversations without judgement. We’ve all done stupid things with money – why not make sure the young adult learns some lessons from you and not the hard way.

 

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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