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July 2010 - Posts

  • Back to school on a budget

    Your kids may want to wear the hottest new trend when they hit the hallways at school in a couple of weeks, but you've got a budget to consider. Can you really afford to outfit them in clothes they'll actually want to wear without breaking the bank?

    Retail giants, you know who they are, offer great savings for back to school basics, but don't discount smaller shops. Keep in mind that summer clothes can be worn to school with a few extra pieces like sweaters, tights or new shoes. Shop end-of-summer sales and wait a while before hitting the fall fashion racks.

    The Web sites of the big box stores tend to have a wider style selection than you can find in any one store, so you can save on gas at the same time you save on the kids' clothes. Keep in mind that you can find some great deals on gently-worn items on eBay as well.

    But remember, shopping online can be a little tricky when it comes to finding the right fit. Sizes also very from store to store, so it's a good idea to measure your child before placing an order online or picking up an item in-store. Measure your child's height, waist and inseam, and know his approximate weight. If you're purchasing hats, measure the circumference of the head, 1/4 inch above the ear. For shoes, measure the length of the foot from the tip of the longest toe to the heel.

    You may also want to check out the outlet malls. You can find last year's looks and some slightly damaged pieces from this year's trends, but with serious discounts – if you're willing to spend the time sifting through the merchandise.

    Be sure to hit the consignment and vintage shops. Vintage clothing and jewelry are hot right now, and your teens will love it – and so will your wallet. You can even take in some old clothes and sell them on consignment.

    Before you shop, follow these tips to make back to school shopping easier:

    • Start with a wardrobe inventory, figure out what your child needs or doesn't need, and spend accordingly.
    • Refashion what you can. Find new ways to take last year's clothes and update them. For example, you can update jeans with patches, paint and sequins. T-shirts can be snipped, tied and tweaked.
    • Host a clothing swap. Just because your kid is sick of her clothes, doesn't mean her friends will be.
    • Trade in last year's clothes. Place them on consignment.
    • Focus on basics. This year's trends won't last long, so use most of your back to school budget to buy basics, adding one or two trends to please your kids.
    • Shop all year round. You don't have to do it all before school starts. Look for good deals all year long, and you may be able to skip the back to school crowds and sticker shock.

    By sticking to a few rules and being willing to think outside the shopping cart, you can make your wallet – and your kids – happy with the contents of their closets.

    Posted Jul 29 2010, 10:19 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Eating on a budget can still mean good flavor, variety

    One necessary expenditure that can quickly get out of hand for most families is the grocery budget. Even if you clip coupons, watch for sales and chase bargains all over town, your grocery budget can quickly eat up more of your bottom line than you'd like.

    Some families resort to hot dogs and canned beans when this happens or, worse yet, ramen noodles and store brand bologna. These items are all dirt cheap, but don't offer much flavor or variety, and are certainly not healthy. But then again, what average family budget can sustain a diet of artisan cheeses, organic arugula and fresh salmon? These items are delicious and nutritious, but would wreak havoc on even the most generous family budgets.

    Smart households know that to eat well on a budget, you have to look for foods that are packed with nutrients, delicious and cost pennies per serving. If you can find these items, you will find they are cheap enough that you can even afford to purchase the organic varieties.

    Here's a list of 12 of the most delicious, inexpensive and nutritious foods your dollar can buy.

    • Sweet potatoes: Full of fiber and vitamins, and they taste great. You can roast them in a tiny bit of olive oil and they are, when prepared this way, generously rich and sweet without any butter or sugar. They are also wonderful in curries and stews.
    • Winter squash: Butternut, acorn and other hard squashes are terrific sources of vitamins and fiber. An added benefit is that they keep well, so you can buy them while doing your weekly shopping and not have to worry about them spoiling after a day or two.
    • Lentils: Unlike beans, lentils do not require any presoaking and cook in just 20 minutes. They contain a good amount of protein and are very filling. They stand up to strong spices and can be a good substitute for meat in dishes like curry and chili.
    • Collard greens: Collards and other greens, such as turnip, mustard and beet, can be prepared by simply cutting them into strips and giving them a brief saute. They're extremely inexpensive and nutritious, and contain vast amounts of phytonutrients.
    • Kale: A lot cheaper than chard or spinach, or other salad greens, and it can be a much more budget-friendly item as well as a healthy choice.
    • Cabbage: This dietary staple is inexpensive and easy to find, easy to prepare and tastes good.
    • Carrots: They are delicious raw or are great way to stretch more expensive vegetables in stir fries, stews and other dishes. They are also fairly hardy and can live in your crisper for quite a while, so you can always have them on hand.
    • Oatmeal: It's not just for breakfast. You can use super-nutritious and healthy oatmeal to beef up your goodies on a budget. It can be used in meatloaf and meatballs instead of bread crumbs.
    • Bananas: One of the least expensive fruits, you can find them everywhere and they are packed with fiber and nutrients. They make the perfect snack, and when they start to brown, you can freeze them for smoothies and baking.
    • Strawberries: Don't buy them off-season when they're more expensive, but in season, during spring and summer, they are abundant and cheap. This fruit is loaded with antioxidants and fiber, and freeze beautifully. You can use them in smoothies, sauces and baked goods.
    • Dried beans: They are extremely versatile, as well as cheap and nutritious. You can stretch soups and stews with beans to make a delicious, protein-rich, filling one-dish meal. Bean burritos, bean burgers and bean chili are all easy to make, and very tasty and budget-friendly.
    • Quinoa: Health food store  bulk bins often have this item for a very affordable price, and it can be used instead of rice or potatoes as the starch component of a meal. You can also cook it like oatmeal for a hearty breakfast cereal. Quinoa is a complete protein on its own and contains a fair amount of iron and magnesium.

    Replacing some of your more expensive grocery items with these cheap and yummy alternatives can mean paying less at the grocery store, while making sure your family is still healthy and happy.
    Posted Jul 22 2010, 11:13 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Get it right now in order to retire like you want

    Nearly half of all older baby boomers, ages 56 to 62, and about 44 percent of all younger boomers, ages 46 to 55, will likely not have enough money in retirement to pay for basic retirement expenses and uninsured medical expenses. A recent study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which assumed that boomers will retire at 65, found that lower-income retirees are most likely to run out of money after 10 years or retirement, while higher-income retirees are least likely.

    The reality is that most people don't run out of money, they just run out of lifestyle. As they age and spend down their assets, they just downgrade their living standard. Some research shows that Americans will be forced to spend less. After factoring in health care and long-term costs, some 65 percent of American households are at risk of not having enough money to maintain their living standard in retirement.

    It's not likely most boomers will retire at 65. Most, assuming good health, will work past 65. According to Sun Life Financial's Unretirement Index, 55 percent of Americans expect to work full- or part-time after age 67. There's also a sharp rise in the number of workers who say they'll have to work longer than planned because of the economic crisis.

    Americans are already working longer, whether it's to maintain a standard of living, stay mentally engaged or for the health care benefits. Americans age 65 and up now typically get about 40 percent of their income from working.

    But the bottom line is still this: saving more and reducing your standard of living now may the be only way to ensure you have a standard of living later on. Most people will need to up their savings by 25 percent.

    If you don't have a clear view of your financial picture, consult a financial planner. Getting it right now means living like you want later.
    Posted Jul 15 2010, 01:15 PM by moneycoach with no comments
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  • Teen got a summer job? Teach him how to be smart with his cash

    Jobs for teenagers is at an all-time low – the lowest it's been for decades, says employment research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
    According to the Labor Department, 497,000 jobs in June for 16- to 19-year-olds had been found, which is 29 percent below the number of summer jobs found by teens in June 2009.

    This could end up being the worst summer job market in employment records going back to 1948," said John Challenger, CEO of the firm.

    But if your teen has been lucky enough to land a job, you should step in and guide him to learn how to manage that paycheck.

    First of all, have the tax talk with your teen. Explain the realities of gross vs. net before your teen gets any big ideas about how he'll spend his wages. Go over that first pay stub, explaining how and why taxes are taken out, as well as the difference between income taxes and FICA taxes.

    Help your kid open two accounts – a savings and a checking. Spend time with your teen comparing fees and rates, and look for no-fee checking accounts specifically for teens. You'll have to co-sign the accounts. Your teen will get an ATM or debit card and will have to learn to keep his books balanced. Make sure he understands overdraft fees and how they can add up.

    Help your teen understand the benefits of savings. He may not enjoy stashing money in the bank, but he will understand that he can use that money soon to buy an iPod or get a limo for homecoming. Help him figure how much he'll need to deduct from each paycheck to meet that goal. You may even wish to show him how to have the amount automatically deducted from his paycheck each pay period.

    You can even offer the incentive of matching his contributions to savings.

    But don't micromanage your child. The best lesson a teen can learn about earning money is throwing that first paycheck away and then needing money that he no longer has. Experience is, after all, the best teacher.
    Posted Jul 08 2010, 09:49 AM by moneycoach with no comments
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