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Mary Mastroeni

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Spend Less and Live More

March 5, 2012 4:50 pm

Are your family finances tight? Do you cringe when your kids start a new season of baseball or ballet because you know you are about to cough up $300 in gear?

Raising children can be expensive—but it doesn’t always have to be, according to Kate Raidt , author of The Million-Dollar Parent. Raidt, who is featured in Parents, Parenting and Woman’s Day magazines, suggests the following four tips to help your family enjoy the fun things in life but also relieve the financial stress that comes with raising children:

1. Ask for hand-me-downs. From sports gear to ballet apparel, Raidt suggests always asking for hand-me-downs. “When my daughter needed tap shoes ($60 a pair), I found a mom in the class before us whose daughter had just outgrown her tap shoes and she gave them to us for free! When we needed ballet shoes, the dance studio had an entire box full of donations and lost-and-found that they were selling for $2. Ask other parents or the sports league for used gear—and you will always find a better deal (or free) rather than buying these things new,” writes Raidt.

2. Babysitting Swaps. Raidt saves money on babysitting by finding arranging babysitting swaps. To do this, find a family with children of similar ages and swapbabysitting duties every now and then; one week, you will watch their kids while they go out together. Next time, they will watch yours. “Not only did this spruce up our marriage by having more “alone time” but we have not spent a penny on a babysitter in years. We have saved over $3,000 per year by implementing babysitting swaps!”

3. Tap Natural Resources. In most cities, tap water—especially once it’s been filtered—is perfectly healthy to drink. “Today’s families are drinking far too many sodas, juices and sports drinks and not nearly enough water anyways. So save money, calories, tooth decay, diabetes and obesity by drinking tap water in lieu of sugary drinks,” writes Raidt.

4. Reuse. Getting second-hand clothes, toys and furniture is a great way to save money and go green. “By shopping at yard sales, you pay 5 cents on the dollar what you would pay at a store—and you are the only person who knows it’s not brand new. Also, every family should have a yard sale of their own twice per year to clear out the clutter,” writes Raidt.

Source: http://www.swparents.com/

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Word of the day

March 2, 2012 4:48 pm

Blockbusting. Illegal practice of creating panic selling in a neighborhood for financial gain. Typically exploits racial and religious bias to get homeowners to sell low so the properties can be resold at a mark up.

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Question of the Day

March 2, 2012 4:48 pm

Q: When remodeling, what cost controls or budgeting ideas might be helpful?

A: Plan ahead and create a realistic budget. Decide on the items and materials you would like to have in a room and set your budget accordingly. This will prevent hasty, and costly, decisions down the road. The experts suggest setting aside 10-20% of your budget to cover unforeseen problems and miscellaneous charges. Then, choose less expensive products that will help you achieve the look you’re trying to obtain. Avoid labor intensive design features, such as tiled floors. You may also want to pursue your home improvement in stages, if you can’t afford to pay for the entire project at once. Also, purchase surplus, secondhand, or discounted materials from other contractors, warehouses or classified websites like www.build.recylce.net to reduce costs. If possible, avoid too many take-out meals and/or hotel stays. Try isolating construction areas so that your living space isn’t interrupted and other household space can be used to heat or prepare meals once the kitchen is being remodeled.

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Getting to the Heart of a Healthy Diet

March 2, 2012 4:48 pm

Healthy habits such as eating well, being physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight are key strategies for managing cardiovascular disease—the number one cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. That is why it is incredibly important to approach breakfast with your heart in mind to start the day off right.

Kellogg's is now making it easier for shoppers to find its great tasting, fiber-rich heart-healthy cereal options with a new front-of-pack label. Their "Heart Healthy Selection" logo will appear on nine varieties, including new Raisin Bran Cinnamon Almond.

Considering the American Heart Association predicts cardiovascular diseases will increase by about 10 percent over the next 20 years, and that 40 percent of all adults (116 million people) will have at least one form of this disease, it is important to eat for your heart now. Here are some steps the brand recommends:
• Look for heart-healthy cereals.
Heart-healthy cereals are great ways to kick-start your intake of fiber and whole grain each day. Additionally, they are low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and provide many key nutrients that the body needs.
• Pick fruits and veggies. Their vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber do your heart good. Many contain potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Adding fruits to cereal can really pack a nutritional punch to your morning breakfast bowl.
• Limit sodium. Eating less sodium (found in salt and other ingredients) may help support healthy blood pressure. Look for reduced—or low—sodium versions of frozen dinners, soups, canned vegetables, and sauces. Prepare foods with less salt and zing up the taste with herbs, spices, lemon juice or flavored vinegar.
• Trim saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat. They not only raise the calories but can raise your risk of heart disease. Choose lean cuts of meat (with "loin" or "round" in the name) and skinless poultry. Use low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese. Buy packaged foods labeled "0 grams" trans fat per serving. Low saturated fat (1 gram or 5 percent or less of the Daily Value/serving) is ideal.
• Put more fish on the menu. Eat "oily" fish such as salmon, trout and herring at least twice a week for their heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, and prepare by baking, broiling, grilling, or poaching.

Source: www.kelloggs.com/hearthealthy.

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Acing the Interview: 5 Tips for Landing the Job

March 2, 2012 4:48 pm

You’ve landed an interview for a job you want with a company you would like to work for. Congratulations! It’s a great first step. Now, what can you do to pull off such a great interview that an employment offer comes next?

Prepare, say employment specialists at Indiana University, who offer five tips for putting your best foot forward at your next important job interview:

• Research the company – Employers are impressed when you know something about their company: what they do, their size, their values or mission, and the job they are seeking to fill. Get online to find out all you can – and be thinking, before the interview, how and why you would be a good fit.
• Practice describing yourself – In the course of the interview, you will likely be asked about your skills, your personality traits, and past employment experience. Practice emphasizing the positives, describing what you’ve learned from overcoming any weaknesses, and pointing out how your previous successes will add value to their company.
• Try to relax – Nervousness before an interview is normal. Take time to dress suitably, eat a high protein meal or snack, and leave plenty of travel time so you arrive calm and a bit early. The interview begins the moment you arrive, so be sure to smile warmly, shake hands when appropriate, and look everyone in the eye—beginning with the receptionist or assistant.
• Take notes – In a small notebook, feel free to take notes on job specifics the interviewer mentions – or to write down comments or questions you want to voice when you have the opportunity to do so.
• Turn the tables – At some point, you will be asked if you have questions. Make the most of the opportunity based in part on the notes you have taken. You may want to discuss the line of supervision, typical assignments, or opportunities for advancement. A first interview is generally not the time to discuss salary or benefits unless the interviewer brings up the subject. It is very appropriate to ask what the next step is in the hiring process.
• Write a thank you – Send a short, written thank you note to the interviewer within two or three days of the interview. Unless you have had previous email contact with the interviewer, use regular mail.

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Fraud Facts: Keep Yourself Safe Online

March 2, 2012 4:48 pm

Fraudsters have discovered new ways to steal money and information thanks to the popularity of social networking sites, unsecured public Internet access points and online activities like shopping, buying and selling, dating and gaming. Online fraud may be the latest way to scam people, but it is not the only approach that is used.

"The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is to protect your personal and financial information at all times. Whether you're at home, in a public place, on the phone or online, keep in mind that someone could steal personal information if it is not properly protected," says Ursula Menke, Commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC). "Fraud can be committed by anyone—someone close to you, someone in your community, or a distant stranger," she adds.

Preventing fraud:

• Never provide your personal or financial information unless you trust the person you are communicating with. Some fraudsters pretend to be from reputable organizations in order to get the details they need.
• Keep your personal information in a secure place and dispose of it by shredding it.
• Never email your personal or financial information.
• Be very wary of clicking on links included in emails, because they may lead to fraudulent websites pretending to be legitimate. Instead, enter the website address of the organization you are looking for in the address bar of your browser yourself.
• Before entering any personal or financial information, look for websites with addresses starting with "https" or that have a padlock image in the address bar. This will indicate that the information entered on these pages is secure.
• Keep your computer antivirus, firewall and spyware software up to date.
• Regularly check your accounts and statements for any suspicious or incorrect activity and report it immediately to your financial institution.

If you become a victim:
• Don't be embarrassed to report it. Fraud can happen to anyone.
• Start a written log: write down when you noticed the fraud and the actions you took, including names of people you spoke to and dates of communications.
• File a report with your local police.
• Contact your financial institutions and any other companies (for example, your phone company, cable provider, etc.) where your accounts were tampered with, or are at risk of being tampered with.

Source: www.fcac.gc.ca

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Qualifying Relative as Tax Dependent?

March 2, 2012 4:48 pm

Tax season is winding down. So, if you haven’t already completed your filing, you should be in the midst of pulling all your documents together. One thing you may be wondering about is what the rules are with regards to qualifying relatives as tax dependents.

Most Americans are familiar with general tax rules. One regulation allows for parents to claim their children as dependents on their tax return. This gives them an exemption. And it lightens their tax bill.
So do you have a relative living at home? It may mean you could claim them as your dependent. But in order to be a qualifying relative, they must meet four tests:

1. The qualifying relative cannot be someone else's qualifying child.

A child can only be claimed once. So if the child in question is someone else's qualifying child, they cannot be your qualifying relative. For example, assume you have a son who lives with your parents. Your son is your parents' qualifying child. This means he cannot be your qualifying relative.

2. The individual is a member of your household or is related to you.

In order to be a qualifying relative, the individual must either live with you or is related to you in a way that is acceptable by the IRS. Examples of relatives that do not need to live with you to qualify include your child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, half-sibling, parents, and others. Check the IRS website for a more detailed listing.

3. The qualifying individual must meet the gross income test.

The relative in question must have a gross income for the year of less than $3,700.

4. You must support the relative.
You must have provided more than half of the individual's financial support during the past year.
If you have questions about whether or not your qualifying relative can in fact qualify as your tax dependent, consult a tax preparer or attorney.

Source: www.findlaw.com

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Word of the Day

March 2, 2012 4:48 pm

Breach of contract. When one party fails to live up to the terms and conditions of a contract, without a valid, legal excuse.

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Question of the Day

March 2, 2012 4:48 pm

Q: What if my contractor bungles the job?
A: If you have a legitimate complaint, keep after the contractor until the needed repairs or alterations are made. If this fails, contact your local Consumer Protection Agency. Keep a copy of the contract, receipts, and photographs of the work. Although it has no legal authority, you also may want to contact the Better Business Bureau, as well as your state’s Contractor License Board. And you can take the contractor to Small Claims Court, although the amount you would be able to recover varies from state to state. California, for example, allows judgments up to $7,500. It’s $5,000 in Virginia and less in other jurisdictions.

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Cheap Dates: Married or Courting, Keep the Cost Down and the Romance Level Up

March 1, 2012 7:46 pm

Dinner at a fancy restaurant is nice, and orchestra seats at a major production can be exciting. But, points out leisure writer Lisa Sussmane, there are many romantic date night options that cost a lot less but can give any couple the chance to relax, shut out the workaday stress and catch up with each other.

Sussman suggests seven ways to get your imagination going:
• Cheap dinner and a movie – Check out a free movie from the library—or, in summer, look for a free movie screening in an outdoor venue in your community. Add a picnic dinner, or cheap take-out, put up your feet and enjoy.
• Home window shop – Make an afternoon of attending open houses in a neighborhood where you’d like to live one day. Enjoy the views, talk about the furnishings, and let yourselves dream a little.
• Camp out overnight – State parks offer inexpensive admission. Set up a tent, cook over an open fire, and gaze at the stars all night.
• Playground date – Go to the playground around dusk, after the kids have gone home. Climb the monkey bars, laugh like children, and see who can swing the highest.
• Get glamorous – Find an art show opening or a wine-tasting, and put on your fancy duds. Enjoy complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres as you wander through the displays.

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