Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Consumer Debt: Victim or Victor?


When I was in Mrs. Brewer's third grade, we participated in the school field day. My best friend, Debbie, was set to run the 50 yard dash and her mom made her braids extra tight that day so they wouldn't get in the way. She was placed in line next to Dee Dee, a competitive blond who had super long legs and a wicked smile. About 25 yards into the race, Dee Dee ran into Debbie's lane, tripping her and causing her to fall. Stunned, Debbie shook herself off, got back up, and ran to the finish line where she came in second--right behind Dee Dee (who was later disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct.) Debbie was declared the winner.


My friend could have stayed on the ground and milked the "victim" routine for all it was worth but she wasn't interested in that kind of attention. She just wanted to finish the race and taste victory.


When I look at the consumer debt bubble that is bursting at this time, I see a lot of different scenarios: some people have lost jobs, others have had excruciating medical bills or suffered a failed small business. While the vast majority have the ever present scenario of a consumptive lifestyle that led to their debt. Some of these are built in "victim" cases--after all, how can you control job loss, medical bills or a failed business?


I, too, qualified to be an alleged victim when it came to the $40,000 of inherited consumer debt we had when we got married. Instead of staying down on the ground, when tripped up by circumstances, we chose to follow Debbie's example and we got back in the race, determined to finish well by getting rid of that debt. On a military man's salary, with lots of kids to financially support and only one income, we were able to pay down all of that consumer debt in two years and we've remained debt free ever since! If we had played the victim card, we would probably still be waiting for some event or some person to bail us out.


So how do you get out of consumer debt? Stay tuned for specific, targeted tips next week on how we did it and how you, too, can be a victor rather than a victim!


Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)




Thursday, December 18, 2008

Avoiding Last Minute Christmas Panic!


So....here's this year's Christmas photo, which was mailed the day after Thanksgiving. On Black Friday, I also got all my shopping done and was on my way to a simple holiday--no last minute panic, no stress--just a simple life. Then last week, somehow, I got rooked into having "some work" done in our kitchen that was "a three day job." I stressed that, with all the college kids coming home for the holidays, I didn't want my house in a mess. NOW, with most of my kids home and 6 inches of snow on the ground that completely shut down our desert California town, I have A MESS OF A HOUSE WITH AN INCOMPLETED KITCHEN! Workers can't drive in snow. No holiday baking so far, no traditional truffles, nothing but a sense of panic that there's too much to do and not enough time!

Whether you're still shopping for last minute gifts, prepping your cards, cooking for the big meal or cleaning the house, you can avoid the associated expense and stress that comes with last minute panic by becoming proactive and purposeful in the midst of your panic. Here are some tips to attack the anxiety before it attacks you.


  • Simplify – It’s been a tough year economically with the housing market, rising prices, increased unemployment and an uncertain financial future. It’s the ideal time to simplify the holidays by taking a deep breath and thinking about what you do have rather than what you don’t have. I believe that each of us has two kinds of attitudes within us: there is a minimalist as well as a materialist in each of us. It’s time to tap into the minimalist and give the materialist less power in your life. The holidays are all about friends and family, they’re really not about spending yourself into oblivion or stressing the small stuff.



  • Strategize – At the root of most of our last minute anxiety is a basic lack of control. In order to separate emotional panic from the plan, take charge by implementing a specific strategy for these last two days.
    1. Step One: Take ten minutes to write down what you have left to do (gifts, grocery shopping, cards, baking, cleaning, etc). Maybe you don’t really have as much to do as you thought and that, in and of itself, will help eliminate stress.
    2. Step Two: Go back over your list and mark the items as optional or mandatory (do you really have to paint the bathroom before the guests arrive?—optional; do you really have to change the sheets in the guest room before your mother-in-law arrives?—mandatory; do you have to bake those three step chocolate truffles or can you get them at the local bakery?--optional)
    3. Step Three: Take the optional items and place them on the bottom of the list. If you get to them—fine, if you don’t fine. This takes off TONS of pressure



  • Stash the Cash – It's soooo hard to really stay on budget with only days before Christmas. One tried-and-true way our family has been able to stay on a last minute budget is to get the budget remainder in cash and divide it into specially marked envelopes, for example, “food” and “gifts.” When I’m in the grocery store, I take the food budget envelope and it serves as a visual reminder of what I have left. On one hand, it keeps me from splurging on some treats if I’m running out of cash but on the other hand, it can also allow me to splurge (guilt free) on certain products if I realize that I have money leftover!

  • Split the Efforts – This may come as a news flash but… you don’t have to do everything in order for it to get done right! This is not the time to be Miss Polly Perfectionist. In this step, we need to delegate responsibilities. Assign tasks to different family members and cut your work in half. In fact, I use this time as an opportunity to teach our teens the value of a dollar. I let them go to the store for me and get the items on my list, asking them to find the best deals. If they are not certain, then they text me the options (what teen doesn’t love to text?) I text them back some suggestions and in the process they are learning to evaluate a good deal and a bad deal.

  • Separate – It’s highly likely that you’re going to be charging some last minute expenses on your credit cards. But don’t let those purchases hurt your FICO (Fair Isaac Credit Score) by charging more than 50% on any one card. Check your credit card limits as well as your balances online or by phone and then make certain that you charge on the card that is lowest proportionally. Even if you are able to pay off these credit card bills next month, charges of more than 50% of the available limit on any given card can hurt your FICO. So be strategic by separating those purchases and saving your credit score.

  • SAVE – It used to be that Black Friday was just a day, this year it’s an entire season. It’s truly a buyer’s market amongst retailers and there are last minute deals to be had, especially electronics and clothing. But what if you don’t have time to go and battle the crowds at the store? There’s an easier way to give last minute gifts that simplifies your time, saves you money and keeps you on budget.
    1. Gift certificates (online and physical cards) – If you want to send an online gift certificate to someone, it’s as easy as pointing and clicking. They’ll receive notification in their in-box that you’ve bought them a gift certificate and you can follow up with an e-card alerting them that the notification they will receive from the retailer is not spam. For some great options, go to restaurant.com for discounts on eating out or check out potential deals at fatwallet.com. For a review of codes that can give you a better deal, go to couponcabin.com or dealhunting.com.
    2. Gifts of Time – Some of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever received are gifts of time. One girlfriend gifted me with a certificate good for lunch at my favorite bistro. My kids have given me handmade “coupons” that are good for doing the dishes, cleaning the living room, babysitting a younger sibling or not back talking me for a week (hey, I’m happy for a day). You could write out your own coupon and give the recipient a card that says, “This card entitles you to dinner and a movie” or “This card can be redeemed for a night out on the town while we babysit your teething twins.” This can be FUN!

  • Share – I’m all about multitasking and getting the most out of my efforts as well as my money. Now is the perfect time to give to charity in a way that also benefits you financially with your taxes. This year, given the current economy and the great material needs in communities why not consider giving the “gift” of a donation in someone’s name? You could make a donation to the local food pantry, a homeless shelter or a scholarship fund for underprivileged kids. Look over your list of people and consider making a donation in their name instead of giving them a material gift. You don’t have to tell them the amount of the gift and you can make one donation in the names of several people—thereby giving an amount that allows you stay within your budget. Furthermore, this kind of gift could be tax-deductible and help you (if you itemize) on your taxes as well. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Merry Christmas!
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert
www.elliekay.com

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tis Tax Season - Smart End of the Year Money Moves



What happens when you come between a mean, barking dog and a young girl? Answer: A Trip to the Emergency Room! Yep, I grabbed the dog's collar and he whipped it around and bit my hand. One tetnaus shot, one x-ray (revealing a dislocated thumb), a prescription of heavy duty antibiotics, one small surgery on the thumbnail and one bottle of vicodin later--and I was on my way.

That dog bite reminds me of how suddenly you can get bit by the tax guy if you don't grab the end of this year by the collar and then run for cover! Here are a few of the end of the year tax tips that I'm recommending:

  • Give It Away! -- When you're putting away those holiday ornaments and your attic, the closets and the garage are a mess anyway, start a "donation" pile that you can give to a qualified local charity. Be sure to get a tax deductible receipt and go to http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/ to get a fair valuation of the good to excellent quality items you donate. Remember that you have to itemize your donations in order to get this benefit. Cash donations require that the taxpayer must have a bank record or a written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. To get all the details (and as a good cure for insomnia) see IRS Publication 526.

  • Give Next Year's This Year -- Maybe you have some donations you'd like to make in January but don't have enough donations for 2008 to itemize. Donations charged to a credit card before the end of the year count for 2008. This is true even if the credit card bill isn’t paid until next year. Also, checks count for 2008 as long as they are mailed this year. By making this extra donation early, you might have enough to itemize.

  • Pay Deductible Expenses by Credit Card -- Just as a donation made by a credit card in 2008 will count toward the 2008 tax year, the same applies to business expenses charged before the year ends.

  • Bonus IRA -- Invest this year's bonus in an IRA to reduce your taxes. If you have a certain income bracket, you can invest in the Saver's Credit. Check with your tax professional to see if you qualify, or follow the link to look at the tax brackets.

  • More 401(k) -- You may already be contributing to your 401(k) in order to get the benefit of your company's matching funding. But keep in mind that you can reduce your paycheck by paying a little more to this fund up to a specified percentage of your salary. Every time you reduce your paycheck, you increase your tax savings!

  • Mortgage UP! -- I saw a really lame movie a few years ago called "Cowboy Up" starring Kiefer Sutherland. It was lame because you found yourself crying and you knew the movie was too smarmy to cry! A forgettable flick before he was an unforgettable star. Do your yourself a favor and Mortgage Up to make an extra payment in order to deduct the interest on 2008's taxes.

Don't let this year's taxes take a bite out the hand that feeds it, thereby making you next April's fool. Take the time to tend to taxes--after all, tis the season!

Ellie Kay

"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)

http://www.elliekay.com/


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gift Card Warning!



As a pilot, my husband, Bob loves this warning sign. But it's not too funny if your car has ever been hit by a crop dusting airplane! This holiday season has a HUGE warning sign attached to it regarding what consumers chose as their #1 gift option for the last two years--GIFT CARDS!

With all the store closings, you really have to be cautious in buying gift cards because when a store files for bankruptcy or closes, it's up to the bankruptcy courts & too often, they don't have to honor the existing gift cards. Some closed stores are walking away from 20 million dollars in unhonored cards!

So, if you want the convenience and portability of a gift card, then stick to the prepaid credit cards (Visa is a common one that I use for my college kids) or a major store that ain't gonna ever close like www.walmart.com . In fact, some families may appreciate a card to a major discount retailer because it will allow them to buy groceries and clothing without having you, the giver, go to the additional expense of what a prepaid Visa card costs.

Here's a list of stores that are cutting back, closing or have closed. If you have exisiting gift cards for these stores USE THEM NOW!

Ann Taylor closing 117 stores nationwide A company spokeswoman said the company hasn't revealed which stores will be shut. It will let the stores that will close this fiscal year know over the next month.

Circuit City – strong potential for closure

Linens n Things – all closing

Mervyns – all closing

Eddie Bauer to close more stores Eddie Bauer has already closed 27 shops in the first quarter and plans to close up to two more outlet stores by the end of the year.

Cache closing stores. Women's retailer Cache announced that it is closing 20 to 23 stores this year.

Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, Catherines closing 150 stores nationwide.

Talbots, J. Jill closing stores. About a month ago, Talbots announced that it will be shuttering all 78 of its kids and men's stores. Now the company says it will close another 22 underperforming stores..

Gap Inc. closing 85 stores. In addition to its namesake chain, Gap also owns Old Navy and Banana Republic . The company said the closures - all planned for fiscal 2008 - will be weighted toward the Gap brand.

Foot Locker to close 140 stores.

Zales, Piercing Pagoda closing stores. The owner of Zales and Piercing Pagoda previously said it plans to close 82 stores by July 31. Today, it announced that it is closing another 23 underperforming stores.

Disney Store owner has the right to close 98 stores. The Walt Disney Company announced it acquired about 220 Disney Stores from subsidiaries of The Children's Place Retail Stores. The exact number of stores acquired will depend on negotiations with landlords. Those subsidiaries of Children's Place filed for bankruptcy protection in late March.

Home Depot store closings Nearly 7+ months after its chief executive said there were no plans to cut the number of its core retail stores, The Home Depot Inc. announced Thursday that it is shuttering 15 of them amid a slumping U.S.economy and housing market.

CompUSA (CLOSED) clarifies details on store closings. Any extended warranties purchased for products through CompUSA will be honored by a third-party provider, Assurant Solutions. Gift cards, rain checks, and rebates purchased prior to December 12 can be redeemed at any time duri ng the final sale. For those who have a gadget currently in for service with CompUSA, the repair will be completed and the gadget will be returned to owners. http:// www. news.com/8301-10784_3-9834177-7html

Macy's - 9 stores.

Hollywood Video/Movie Gallery - 160 stores as part of reorganization plan to exit bankruptcy.

Pacific Sunwear - 153 Demo stores.

Pep Boys - 33 stores.

Sprint Nextel - 125 retail locations.

J. C. Penney, Lowe's are scaling back.

Ethan Allen Interiors: The company announced plans to close 12 of 300+ stores in an effort to cut costs.

Wilsons The Leather Experts - 158 stores.

KB Toys posted a list of 356 stores that it is closing around the United States as part of its bankruptcy reorganization. To see the list of store closings, go to the KB Toys I nformation web site, and click on Press Information.

Dillard's to Close More Stores. Dillard's Inc. said it will continue to focus on closing underperforming stores, reducing expenses and improving its merchandise in 2008. At the company's annual shareholder meeting, CEO William Dillard II said the company will close another six underperforming stores this year

A Happy Shopper is a Cautious Shopper!

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

www.elliekay.com

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dr. Laura features Ellie Kay's "Heroes at Home"


Today, Monday, November 17th, Dr. Laura is featuring my book, “Heroes at Home” on her radio show and will give away 30 copies of the book. So call in today and get your free copy! http://www.drlaura.com/reading/. Her son is an American paratrooper and there’s nothing like having your baby go and jump out of a perfectly good airplane to make you want to reach out to other military families and help them!

That’s what I did last week on Veteran’s Day when I was on Midday Connection, a large national radio call in show. One of the callers was Kelly, a girl who had read “Heroes at Home” and was in the audience when I spoke at the Stryker Brigade in Alaska two years ago. It was a horrible, no good, very bad time for these families as their military members, who had been gone a year, came home and were sent back for another four months. Donald Rumsfeld was sent out to play “clean up” batter and the community of Fairbanks, Alaska brought me out to play “pinch hitter.” He spoke of “reasons” and I spoke of “reality.”
On the phone, Kelly thanked me and talked about what it was like for her and her husband during that time and how our “Heroes at Home” team made a big difference. I remember telling them not to vent on their spouses in Iraq, but to tell them three simple things, “I love you, I’m proud of you, I’ll be all right.” Then when they came home from Iraq, they could let him change diapers.
Later in the program, a female soldier called in who was also in the Stryker Brigade during that difficult time and shared the perspective of what it’s like from the other side of the ocean. She said she remembered hearing what our team did for the families during that trip and thanked me from a soldier’s perspective.
Finally, Bill called and gave us a retiree’s perspective. His voice sounded so feeble, but Anita, the host, and I quickly realized it sounded that way because he was emotional. His quietly told us that he (and others) had been honored at a special Veteran’s Day event at a local middle school. Anita had to drag his own story out of him because he was too humble to let us know that he was a tail gunner in B-17s in WWII. He said, “This program, what they did for us, was very meaningful.” Then he began to cry. It was a powerful moment. Somehow, I held it together enough to thank him for his service and Anita had to cut to a break because she, too, was feeling the power of a grateful heart.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Michelle Obama to Meet Ellie Kay & Discuss Military Families??

Sometimes I hear that I've been featured in the media and didn't know it until someone told me. This happened last month with The Today Show and The New York Times. Sure, in some cases like the NYT, I posed for photos in my office, but I still didn't know when it would run. But this past weekend this phenomenon bordered on the absurd when I was on The Happy Homewives Club radio show and the host asked me, "So what was it like meeting with Michelle Obama?" I was speechless.

It's one thing to be featured in the media and not know it, but it's quite another to have a meeting with the future First Lady and not know it! I blurted out, "I didn't meet with Michelle Obama! Why did you think I did?" She went on to say, "I got a press release from the DNC that said, Ellie Kay to meet with Michelle Obama and discuss military families."

So, I'm waiting for the call (and I may be waiting a while) but I think someone (besides me) may be confused. After writing the book Heroes at Home and speaking to military families around the world about their finances and lifestyle, I do have a few things to offer up to Mrs. Obama that I think can help her understand what military families are facing and how she can make a positive impact in their lives.

Veteran's Day is tomorrow and I'd encourage you to not only say "thank you" to a man or woman in uniform, but I'd say take it a step further--thank those military families for their contributions as well. After all, they are the Heroes at Home.

To all veterans--past and present--and to their families I say, "Thank you for your service."

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

http://www.elliekay.com/

Monday, November 3, 2008

Wanna Be on National TV With Me?


I love a challenge and am something of a risk taker. But I try to play it safe, too. Does that make sense? In other words, if I'm going to jump out of an airplane, I'm going to make sure the skydive center is certified, has a solid safety history and my instructor is experienced. In the happy pic, you can see where I'm in the sky with Jack Hammer, who had 3,000 jumps to his credit.

I'm also one to look at our present economic crisis as a challenge as well. I don't recommend risky endeavors like speculative investments or get rich quick techniques. However, I do think it's appropriate to take other "risks" to get out of debt--like downsizing a house, or going from a two car family to a one car family for a season. Even shopping at consignment stores or growing your own veggies can be an adventure to some.

Families are trying to recover from the mortgage and wall street meltdowns just in time to face the next big challenge--credit card debt. Stay posted to get the latest news on how to manage your credit card debt and here's a special announcement for those who are right in the middle of this challenge. It's an adventure you and I can take together!

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Are you a young family struggling with consumer debt? If you are over $20K in credit card debt and need support, there is an opportunity to work with me as I help you negotiate with your lenders and work towards paying down your debt. A national television show may follow you every step of the way. Email us at assistant@elliekay.com if you are interested.

Just remember that no matter what the headlines read today, you can still take steps to face the challenge and succeed. But watch out for that first step, it's a doozie!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Economic Victim--The American Marriage



When our daughter, aka "Bunny" was three years old, she was convinced she would marry her Papa when she grew up. He was and is her hero.

Well, Bunny's hero (Bob) and I went to see the movie about another hero who was a firefighter featured in "Fireproof" http://www.fireproofmymarriage.com/ . It was made for $1 million dollars and as of this morning had grossed $20 million, a certifiable and unexplainable "hit" by Hollywood standards. The New York Times reviewer said: "Fireproof may not be the most profound movie ever made, but it does have its commendable elements" and "But the cast of mostly amateurs (Mr. Cameron of “Growing Pains” being the exception) is surprisingly good."

During the movie, I laughed, I cried, I cringed (at some of the acting). But we left feeling that three couples we know, who are on the brink of divorce, should see it and maybe it would save their marriage.


Saving marriages is also a big part of my work, believe it or not. When the number one reason cited in divorce is "arguments over money" I wanted to see if this "marriage movie" dealt with economic issues. Money made its appearance, when the main character put his money where his mouth was and as a result, his wife returned to their marriage.


With an eye on the economy, we need to talk about keeping an eye on one of the main victims of difficult economic times--the American marriage. Believing that communication about money matters is the key, I developed the "Money Workout" which dedicates one hour to talking through your money issues with your mate. It has made a huge differences in marriages and if you want a copy of this workout, just email assistant@elliekay.com and put "Money Workout" in the subject line.

Don't let the economy make your relationship the next victim, fireproof your marriage.


Ellie Kay


"America's Family Financial Expert"


http://www.elliekay.com/




Monday, October 20, 2008

Ellie on The Today Show



Hey, isn't it great when you can be two places at once? I'm visiting my daughter in college in Washington and last night, while we were sitting in the theater, watching the touring Broadway version of "Phantom of the Opera" there was a story being prepped in NYC for The Today Show.

So this morning, while we ordered room service for breakfast, I was also on The Today Show in New York City! The piece is about the historical tendency for merchants to try and "sell" the consumer during difficult economic times. The reporter saw that during the current financial crisis, there is another trend--some merchants are actually trying to help their customer weather the storm. That's where I come in--as the financial expert who has partnered with Wal-Mart in order to help educate consumers in all the areas that matter most from budgeting to paying down debt to buying smarter.

To see the show, go to:

Today Show – 10/20/08http://www.criticalmention.com/ctv3-1/landing_email.php?type=email&video=true&random_string=7e2738249097a1ec8d1f5c1eabd8bda5

Now, back to visiting with my baby girl!

Ellie Kay

"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)

www.elliekay.com

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Random House AudioBooks & The New York Times




I don't get sick often, but two days after I posted my last blog I got kicked into bed for FIVE DAYS! I had chills, fever, a migraine--it was so bad I couldn't take my kids to/from school. Bob, who was out of town flying, called my girlfriends, Lina and Audrey, who helped in the pinch. Once every couple of years, I get that sick. I even had to have Bob drive me down to Los Angeles on Sun night to be in place to record my audiobook on Monday morning. I was set to do the reading.

Miraculously, by 6:00 PM on Sun, I started feeling better. Even though I was as weak as a kitten, I managed to get through the first day's worth of taping. Jessica, my producer, was fabulous--she made me sound young and skinny! She also told me I was wearing "quiet clothes" when I arrived at the studio--knits that don't make sounds. She said she had one famous producer arrive in a Safari suit. Once he had taken off most of the suit, he announced, "I'm not taking anything else off!"

On the second day of taping, I went down to the Hilton gift shop and got a copy of the New York Times and who was featured in the Business day but yours truly? http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/14/business/14homeec.html?oref=login# There's been a flurry of major media since it hit and it's been busy for this weak kitten, just coming back.

One of the other fun things I learned at the audio book taping was when Jessica, a producer-and-attorney-and-single-mom, turned me on to http://www.fatwallet.com/ . This is a site like Craig's list, but more inclusive, and better monitored (to keep whack jobs out). When I got home, I played around on the site and found coupons for free Lattes at Barnes and Noble. I picked up the boys from school and we all had a free drink thanks to FatWallet.
Now I'm off on travels---again.



Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ellie on Fox News Network!






I came home from Fort Polk, LA to a message from The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet. They had a family they wanted to help recession proof their life. I packed my bags and left the next day for New York. My hotel was in Times Square, so I shielded my eyes from looking at the N-ked Cowboy (and instead saw the N-ked Cowdog) and made my way to the Stage Deli for some pickles and cheesecake.


Here's a link to the show we did with the Payne family. They were fantastic and when they showed up, the father did not have a job after much searching, they had their five beautiful kids in tow and their house was in foreclosure. Here's a link to their story.



http://www.mandjshow.com/videos/part-2-recession-proofing-your-life-with-mj/

And it's cool to report that this story has a happy progress report after only one week! Here's the note I got from Jefri and Tymika:

This is Jefri Payne from Indianapolis, IN. My wife (Tymika) and I were on the Morning Show with Mike and Juliet with you last Monday. I am writing to thank you for all the wisdom, advice, and most of all the encouragement you shared to help us improve our lives financially. Things have started to improve for us. I started a new job Wednesday as a substitute teacher in the local school district. I have signed on with Career Builder to improve my marketability. Tymika is clipping coupons like a madwoman. We took our children to Wal-mart with the gift card and treated them to some new clothes, shoes, and groceries. We have spoken to a certified mortgage loan officer about our mortgage situation. After reviewing our paperwork, she discovered that we have been overcharged. To top things off, the realator who got us in this house was put in jail for mortgage fraud. When everything is said and done, we will be paying 50% less per month and possibly credited all that we have paid thus far. I am looking forward to things turning around completely. --- Thank you, Jefri and Tymika Payne!



So take courage, Mr. & Mrs. America! Your "low point" may simply be your "turning point" toward a road to recovery!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wall Street Meets Main Street




The only thing worse than being associated with Wall street these days is being a Wall-Street-type going back to your college reunion. I've been remiss in posting the last couple of weeks because I've had back-to-back-to-back trips. The first leg was for my husband, Bob's, Air Force Acadmey reunion.

We saw generals, astronauts, corporate CEOs, airline pilots (lots of those) and even an occassional wayward fighter pilot or two. Bob clearly had the most enviable job--as a test pilot for the Sabreliner and F-4 fighter jet.


At this reunion, the week the Dow fell south of the equator, the least enviable job was that of a financial investor. Most of these Wall Street guys had a good attitude, but Bob and I spent a painful 20 minutes with one Financial Management guy who spent 1/2 the time talking about how rich he was (yeah, I believe THAT) and the other 1/2 about how smart he was to own the company. Bob tried to interject, "Well, Ellie works in the financial area as well--she's an author, speaker and media personality." He took one very condescending look at me, tightened his lips, raised his eyebrows and looked as if the idea of listening to me talk about my work would be as pleasant as the thought of having to stand in for the "Naked Cowboy" in the middle of Times Square. I spared him. Instead I said, "Bob, he probably needs to go and catch up with other class mates, if he wants to know more about me, he can go to my website."

The vast majority of Wall Street is so disconnected with Main Street. Their main interest is "my accumulated wealth, my ambition, and oh, yeah, ME." But then came the second leg of my back-to-back-to-back trips--Fort Polk, Louisiana or Main Street America. At this post, 85% of the soldiers are deployed NOW. They brought me out to speak at a spouse's conference that the leadership put together to help these (primarily) women deal with: 1) their finances and 2) the life and death aspect of their role as military wives. Just before I came to town,we got word that the post lost a soldier. So when I spoke, behind me on the platform, the stage was set up for a memorial service for the staff seargant who was killed in Iraq and left a wife and three kids. The memorial was to be held in the same building where we had our event. My message was practical and purposeful and one that gave hope in the midst of their real world life.


The next day I spoke again to another group on post. One of the women came up to me and said she had talked to her soldier the night before from Iraq. He said, "let me live vicariously through you, what did you do today?" She told him about the spouse's conference and some of the funny stories. He laughed. She also told him about other aspects of the presentation and said, "She made me laugh. She made me cry. She made me proud to be an Army wife."

He asked her to give me a message, knowing she would see me at the event that day. "My husband wanted me to tell you" she smiled shyly, "Thank you for making my spouse laugh. Thank you for making her cry. Thank you for making her proud to be my wife."

When it comes down to working on Wall Street or working with those on Main Street. I think you know where I choose to live. Later this week, I'll talk about the final leg of my back-to-back-to-back trips (hint, it involved Times Square and the good news was Bob's broker classmate wasn't there!)

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

http://www.elliekay.com/

Monday, September 8, 2008

Don't Mess With Mom


I'm no political expert, I'm a financial chick. But I have to say that the news of Sarah Palin tends to bring out the power of mom--no matter what your political leanings. Strong women are rising to the top of their fields and mom power is also on the upswing. Essentially, we are seeing in the media what strong women have known all along--you don't mess with mom.

In fact, this may very well be the year of the power mom.

I was interviewed on a professional and personal level for a story at CreditCards.com entitled "Pregnancy or Paying Down Debt: How to Fit A Baby Into Your Financial Future." http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/pay-off-debt-before-baby-dilemma-1267.php The gist of the story is whether you should get your finances in tip top shape before you make the decision to have a baby.

I didn't really have the luxury of that decision initially, because I married a good guy and instantly got two bonus babies, who were six and eight. While they were not with us full time, we were still privileged to be financially responsible for their well being. Then I had five surprise, surprise pregancies in seven years for a total of seven children. I left my job as a broker and became broke because I also inherited $40K in debt. But being broke wasn't my destiny. I knew it was just for a season.

We paid down debt on one income and never regretted having a single one of those children. (Although there were days when I would have traded ALL of them for a good night's sleep). In fact, I discovered a hidden purpose in the midst of motherhood--the power of mom. Strong women can take the organizational and sanity skills necessary to cope with kids, debt and other problems and use those skills in other areas. In my case, I was able to create a thriving business by leveraging a professional and educational background with the practical and personal aspect of what it means to use creativity, business acuity and common sense to pay down debt and build wealth. In essence, the power of mom.

So whether you're a mother of one, four, or more--don't be shy about pursuing your passion. Live each season to the fullest--whether you're at home or at work. Don't apologize for your choices and let the world know that you don't mess with mom!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bunny Has Hopped Away


OK, this post is going to be very different--and very personal. If you've been reading my blog, you know me to be a "Texas Woman" meaning that (to quote the movie The Rookie) "I don't need no man around to keep things running." I'm pretty methodical, talking about finances and giving practical advice.

With the exception of a few chick flicks and the time I broke my foot on a toy vacuum cleaner, the kids have rarely seen me break down and cry. I don't know if it's all these years as a fighter pilot's wife, where I had to remain calm when a jet went down in the squadron (he just had a fire light go off in the cockpit last week.) Or it could be the fact I was raised with the responsibility of an adult. But I'm just not usually a typical girlie girl--at least when it comes to tears. All of that changed this past week.

After I followed all my own advice and got our daughter ready for college (scholarships, books at http://www.campusbooks.com/, dorm room gear at the site to store of http://www.walmart.com/) it was actually time for her to leave home. She's the first girl I've launched.

I've been crying a bit since Bethany (aka Bunny) left on her college road trip on Weds morning. As I think about her, I realize that she has only been a joy and delight. Yes, we argued about grades, picking up her room and the occasional 'tude when her evil twin, Stephanie, showed up. But unlike the arguments I've had with some of the guys throughout my life, Bethany was never mean. She was never cruel. She was always a delight.

She's where she belongs, at Moody in Spokane and then she'll go to MBI in downtown Chicago--all tuition paid. Bob and I worked ourselves out of a job--preparing her to launch out on her own and follow her unique path in life. She is surrounded by a great group of young women who are very sweet, seem to be thoughtful and others-centric. As a farewell gift, Bunny gave me a beautifully framed photo of her and I at her "farewell" dinner where Bob and I took her to a fave restaurant. It was a really good pic, we are both smiling and happy. She also gave me a tear-wrenching note, thanking me for what I've done for her. It is very special.

When our oldest son left for college there was grief at the bittersweet changing of seasons. When our next son left, he was in such a state of readiness to launch out on his own that the greater grief would have been for him to stay. I thot it would be "hardest" to send the first to college and I knew it would be somewhat hard to send off my daughter, but I was surprised by grief. I seem to cry constantly.

I go to the grocery store and start to get Gala apples because they are Bethany's favorite. Then I realize she's not home. I start to take out the trash and look around the floor for one of many of Bethany's pairs of shoes to throw on while I walk outside (she's notorious about leaving them lying around). But they are all gone. I'm doing stuff at home and realize I need to go check the mail out at the post office and don't have time, so I think I'll just ask Bethany to stop and do it while she's out. But she's not just out running errands--she's not here.

She's only, always been a delight and joy.

Ellie Kay
"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Monday, August 18, 2008

Break a Leg! -- Or Not!


A year ago today, I fell off a three foot platform while speaking to a packed audience. Yep. There was an optical illusion on the stairs and afterwards, the usual speaker for that facility said, "Wow, I've been worried about doing that myself for years, it's so hard to see those stairs!" Well, ya think ya coulda' warned ME about it? I didn't break any bones, but the trauma triggered a "frozen shoulder" and all kinds of nonsense MRIs, x-rays, surgeon consults, etc. It's taken a year to recover. PLUUZE...no "how couldyou fall for that?" jokes, OK? I'm just glad I had insurance!
According to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, if you or your child broke a leg, you would incur costs in excess of $15,000. It’s no wonder that in my experience with mainstream American families, I’ve found that the greatest financial concern they have is how find affordable health insurance.

Be Healthy
The best protection against rising medical costs is still prevention. First Place (http://www.firstplace.org/) http://www.weightwatchers.com/ are fabulous health programs for men and women of all ages. Using a support system that incorporates balanced eating and exercise plans, these groups provide the accountability and opportunity to change your life. A healthy lifestyle can also have other advantages. Many health insurance companies offer a refund on an annual premium if the insured can prove that they have attended a health and fitness center three times a week, or by being a member of Weight Watchers.


Be Wealthy
There’s no need to pay more than necessary for health insurance. Compare plans and prices by going to a non-intrusive site such as http://www.progressive.com/ , http://www.netquest.com/ or http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/ . It’s possible to get a relatively anonymous quote instantly without the intrusion of a salesperson calling your home or office. It’s also a good place to compare plans by remembering that you shouldn’t buy what you don’t need. For example, if you do not need maternity benefits, eliminate them from the plan you choose.
If you can consider a higher deductible, then the money saved on premiums could go into a Health Savings Account (HSA), which is basically a health insurance policy you can bank on. When an HSA-eligible policy is purchased in conjunction with an HSA account, then the Health Savings Account is funded with pre-tax dollars, and taxable income is reduced at the same time. The money in this account is used, tax-free, to fund healthcare related costs including prescriptions, insurance deductibles and over the counter medications. The money that is not used in this account is rolled over from year to year and can serve as a retirement plan.
You do not have to insure all family members on the same policy. If there’s an employee benefit in a group plan, it doesn’t mean all family members have to be covered on the same plan. An average family can save as much as $2500 a year by pulling family members out of pricey group plans and purchasing individual health insurance. The exception to this would be if the family member has a pre-existing condition (such as asthma, a heart condition, high cholesterol, etc) that might be temporarily or permanently excluded in an individual plan. In that case, it would be better to pay the higher premium in order to keep the comprehensive coverage consistent.

Be Wise
Know the difference between health insurance and discount health or medical “cards.” According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, many companies are selling so-called discount health cards to consumers seeking affordable healthcare. Usually for a monthly fee, the cards claim to save subscribers money by offering discounts on physician visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, dental work, eye care and other treatment. The CAIF says that, “Discount health cards are spreading rapidly. Many may offer valuable, money-saving benefits for people without health insurance. But these cards can also be confusing, because they are not insurance. You still must pay the medical bills yourself. These cards simply offer lower prices on services that accept these discounts.” If you have a question about a policy or a card before you buy, go to www.insurancefraud.org to make sure you’re being wise in your choices.
Finally, for the 45.8 million uninsured Americans, who may feel they cannot afford health insurance, go to the non-profit arm of a previous site found at http://www.ehealthinsurance.org/ to see what services and benefits are available for your particular situation and in your state and community.


Here's to a Healthy Fall!


Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bargaining 101



If you save money by paying less on consumer items, you could “earn” anywhere from $100 to $10,000 a year. It’s just a matter of learning how to negotiate on everything from shoes to salaries. The key to asking is to learn how to bargain without embarrassing yourself, your friends or your family. Here are a few successful strategies to try:

· Compare –Furniture, phone plans, electronics, jewelry and appliances are all highly negotiable. Find your desired item on a search robot such as Froogle.com, MySimon.com, NexTag.com and eBay.com or in sale circulars from the Sunday paper. Then print out the price, take it into your store and ask them to match it. Some stores, such as Wal-mart, will match competitor’s ads (even on food items).

· Compensate – If the salesman cannot match the price, then ask for other freebies such as complimentary delivery, free accessories, or an extended warranty.

· Continue – If the salesman grants extra perks, don’t stop there. After you’ve secured these, ask for the manager and ask her to match the competitor’s price.

· Counter – It never hurts to counter a price, if you ask for 20% off and they offer 10%, then counter with 15%. When it comes to salary negotiations, you shouldn’t accept the first offer. Most salaried professionals ask for 10% to 12% more than what they're offered, and often settle for 7% to 8% more. If you did this with your first salary, it could add up to $500,000 by the time you are 60 years old!

· Consideration – Don’t limit the odds of success by asking for too much. The store has to make a profit. Small appliances are usually marked up 30%, while larger ones such as washing machines are marginalized by only 15%. However, most large furniture items and jewelry are increased by a whopping 100%!

· Communication – Learn to say: “Is this your best price?” “Was this recently on sale and can I have the sale price?” “Do you think you could ask your manager, I’ll be happy to wait,” “Hmmm, this item is a little damaged (makeup on the collar, an already opened box, a ding or scratch) could it be marked down?” and last but not least, “Thank you, I’ll be back!”


Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Baby Wipes - Tell Your Friends!



Babies! I LOVE babies!

When I married my husband, Bob, I got a "three for one" deal that included a great guy--and two babies.Step-daughters, that is...add five more babies in seven years and you get a total of seven! Now, thanks to that original "three for one" deal, I'm a grandma (should I say step-grandma? I'm not old enough to be a grandma!). We have an adventurous grandson and a beautiful baby girl (who has Bob's eyes). One of the tips that helped Bob and I so much when we had all those babies (and three in diapers at once) was my homemade baby wipes recipe. I get more requests for the following recipe than I do for practically any other resource.

I know that it can save the average family about $300 a year and you know that the ingredients are safe. Plus, it's eco-friendly as well because you don't have to keep discarding baby wipe packaging! So share this with your friends, family and everyone who loves babies!

Ellie Kay's Baby Wipe Recipe (C) 2008

1 Round plastic container with lid (about 6 inches tall and wide enough to accommodate 1/2 roll of paper towels)
1 Roll of heavy-duty paper towels (no cheap store brands)
4 Tablespoons baby oil
4 Tablespoons baby shampoo
4 Tablespoons baby bath
1 to 2 cups of water (depending on the absorbency of the towel)

Cut a small X (about an inch long) in the plastic lid of the container. Cut the paper towels in half to make two short rolls of towels. Use one and save one. Put the first three ingredients in the bottom of the container and add one cup of water. Stir well. Place the paper towel, cut side up, in the water for a few minutes. Then turn it over, cut side down, to let the other side absorb the liquid. Let sit for five minutes. If the roll of paper towel still has dry portions on it, then keeping adding water, ½ cup at a time, at five minute intervals, until towels are completely damp (not dripping, just damp). After the center of the paper towel tube is wet, gently pull it out of the center of the towels. Pull the towels from the center, and thread through the X in the lid of the plastic container. Seal. Will keep fresh for up to one month.

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

www.elliekay.com

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

College Crunches - The Four Disciplines of Debt Free Education


When people ask me how we are putting our kids through college debt free, the answer is multi-fold. First, we train our children from a young age that going to school, doing your homework and getting good grades is their primary “job.” By teaching them a good work ethic, we are laying the groundwork for scholarships and more. Secondly, we send them to schools that we can afford or where they get the best scholarship offers to cover the most expenses. Thirdly, we have saved a modest amount of college money to help them pay their room and board and partial tuition in some cases. Lastly, but certainly not least, we require that they work part time in the summers or during the school year (through a work/study program or a regular job) in order to do their part in paying for college. By implementing these four disciplines, each of our children are set to graduate debt free. Of the three that are going to college now, we have over ½ million in scholarships and if the last two stay true to their goals, our kids would have garnered over a million dollars in scholarships by the time they are through with school.

Priorities
In any discussion of college costs, it’s important to keep priorities straight:
Parents need to leave yourself some fun money for retirement. How else can you afford that mechanical bull riding lesson and those parasailing flights (been there, done that, LOVE it)?
I really believe that you, as a parent, should try to avoid borrowing on your future in order to pay for your child’s future. After all that information we had earlier in this chapter about investments for retirement, why would you want to take one of your greatest investments and leverage it for college expenses? Yet millions of parents make that devastating financial choice every year. I’m talking about avoiding any college funding plan that includes a home equity loan, a HELOC (home equity line of credit) or refinancing of an existing home mortgage. These options reduce the amount of equity in your home, increasing the risk of possible foreclosure and you incur costs in interest charges that may cost you more if the term on the new mortgage is greater than the remaining term on the existing mortgage. For example, if there is ten years left on the mortgage and parents get a new 30 year loan. Furthermore, if parents choose to pull out enough money in equity for the first year of for four years of college all at once, then parents paying interest on money that won’t be needed until the upcoming sophomore, junior and senior years. Instead, look at the following options to pay for college.


The College Mantra
When I began a young adult, got married and began having kids (in that order) I was first exposed to the whole idea of “the college my child gets accepted to.” As a mom of many who has already launched a few college bound kiddos, I’m still hearing, “What college did they get accepted into?” The part of that question that amazes me is that the answer that is most impressive are also the most expensive (Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc). These schools have averages four year costs of $188,000 (Columbia); $240,000 (Harvard); $186,000 (Stanford) $193,000 (Yale). While an average of 40% of the students who attend either get financial aid, grants or scholarships, they only average out to assistance of $9600 per year. This leaves a boatload that the student and mom/dad owe for college. Most of this is usually in loans of some kind. So then the average student graduating from some of the most prestigious colleges have student loans upwards to $100,000.
So why is the question: What college did they get accepted into?
The question should be: What college did they get accepted into that they can afford?
Why do you want to leverage your future (through HELOCS or loans) or leverage their future (through massive consumer debt) when it will take many years of earning power, for them to pay back those loans? One of the most common problems I hear of have to do with the burden of dual student loans in a marriage.
http://www.myplan.com/education/db/ug/ug_4.php?id=186131


I'm doing what I can to help families minimize student loan debt so that both the parents and the graduates can have a better quality of life with more flexibility once they start those new careers. For more practical aspects of very specific ways you can pay for college. Please email assistant@elliekay.com and put "College Crunches" in the subject line. Our offices will send you a wonderful resource file that I wrote to help you fund a quality education for a fraction of the debt.


Ellie Kay

"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)

www.elliekay.com

Monday, July 7, 2008

Money Savings Kids!

Well, my kids are getting in on the money savings act--literally! Jonathan went to Texas to visit his older brother, Daniel. While he was there, Daniel and his fiancee', Jenn, decided to give Jonathan "the" money savings tips talk. The took some tips from one of my books and make a short film about savings money! So funny!

Please enjoy watching "The Hendersons" as they teach their son about saving money!

http://youtube.com/watch?v=omPIoJcp6rw

You'll see that the apple doesn't fall far from the money tree!

Ellie Kay
"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Monday, June 16, 2008

Homes - To Buy or Not to Buy?



My husband, Bob and I lived on military bases for the first dozen years of our marriage. When you move eleven times in thirteen years it doesn't make sense to buy! When we finally settled one place long enough to purchase our first home, we were thrilled and had "imposter syndrome" for the first month or so. We kept waiting for the "real" owners to show up and kick us out of the house! Alas, it was a dream come true and we truly enjoyed that home. Now...I know what some of you are thinking--is that a picture of my house? No, it's not, it's just one of the many, many gorgeous homes that are on the market in America. We sold that first home and the next year property values plummeted in the area. Not all Americans are having such good timing in buying and selling.

Last week the average fixed rate mortgage was at its highest since last October , 2007, with a 30 year averaging 6.32%, up from 6.09% but still below last year's rate of 6.74%. It appears that the rate will continue to creep upward, so if you were thinking of buying a home, now would probably be a good time. It can turn from a buyers market to a sellers market in a relatively short amount of time as those extra properties are purchased and taken off the market.

If you are considering buying a home, shop carefully for lenders and be sure that you negotiate, negotiate, negotiate with the LENDER as well as the SELLER. When discussing closing costs and fees, make sure that you don't over pay. Here are four key areas to keep in mind when negotiating fees and costs with your lender:

Don’t Pay for Inflated Credit-Report and Courier Fees - Some lenders are charging up to $65 for pulling your credit report. That is unusually high, considering the fact that credit reporting bureaus only charge $6 to $18 per report. Using the same tactics, some lenders charge courier fees for shipping your closing documents for as much as $100, while the majority of overnight express services only charge $22. Tell your lender, up front, that you refuse to pay any more than the going rate for these services.

Don’t Pay for Document Prep and Administration Fees - The origination fee should include these services, so don’t pay them! Ask your lender to waive these fees.

When You Buy A Home: Don’t Pay for Yield Spread Premiums - Lenders increase your interest rate slightly to include origination and other fees so you don’t have to pay them out-of-pocket at closing but some lenders and mortgage brokers are double dipping—by charging both the fees and the higher interest rate. Ask your broker directly if a firm charges you a yield spread premium. If so, you shouldn’t pay any additional fees.


Don’t Pay for Padded Title Insurance Fees - When you are shopping for lenders, look for all the above, plus look out for those who don’t tack on a lot of extra charges for services such as title search and document preparation. Theses can add hundreds of dollars to your closing costs and they really should be included in the price of title insurance, which depending on where you live, can be as high as $6,000.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)
www.elliekay.com

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Twice As Stimulating!


The check is in the mail. The check is in the mail. Oops!

Can you remember the check you waited the longest to receive? Maybe it was your college roommate who borrowed $300 and "promised" to repay you within the month--some three years later you're still waiting. Or, it might be a deadbeat relative who is always wanting to borrow "just the rent money" and amazingly seems to be near homelessness without your check. But the next time you see him, he's driving a new Mercedes--that's a check you're never going to see.

Well, this year, Uncle Sam really DOES have the check in the mail--sometimes twice! Through June 6, the U.S. Treasury had sent 66.6 million payments totaling about $56.8 billion. Altogether, an estimated 130 million payments will be made this year. A hand full of people are getting a SECOND stimulus check in the mail. Don't take that as God's way of telling you to put the money down on a new Mercedes!

If that happens to YOU, then don't think it's a windfall from a doubly generous Sammy. The IRS will eventually catch their mistake and come back after you for the money. If you get the check, write "void" on the back of it (under the endorsement section) photocopy it for your records and return it to the IRS with a note indicating it was a "erroneous stimulus check." You should mail it to your regional IRS office where you filed your return http://www.irs.gov/file/content/0,,id=105693,00.html
This isn't just a matter of being honest, it's a matter of saving a huge headache in the future when you've spent the second check and the IRS is wanting it back post haste!

So much for twice as stimulating!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)
www.elliekay.com

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Organic Foods for Less



This is a picture of one of the cutest babies you'll ever see. When I showed Joshua a picture of his niece and told him we call her "our little tomato" he immediately asked, "Is she organic?"
There's obviously been a wee bit too much emphasis on organic groceries in the Kay house. But we're not alone in our quest for healthy food at a bargain. More and more families are purchasing “fair trade” or organic products and there are cheaper ways to get more in this area.
Spot the ripoff – Look for the products marked “certified organic” in order to make sure you are getting what you pay for. In the produce section, grocers are required to stock the organic produce in a separate section so that the water run-off from misting machines won’t contaminate organic items with pesticide residue.
Organic Sections – Just because a product is in the organic section of the produce area or aisles does not mean it is organic. Look be misled, for example, by the “all natural yogurt” in the organic section of the dairy case—unless it’s marked “certified organic” it probably is not.
Web Coupons – I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of coupons for organic products in recent years as their popularity increases. Conduct a product name search on the Web to find these valuable coupons including the following brands: Annie’s Homegrown, Earthbound Farm, Health Valley, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farm, and Muir’s.
Shop Discount Stores – Walmart and Sams have an entire new line of organics and those sections are expanding all the time. Ask the sales associates where the organic products are located because sometimes they are hard to find.
Buy Generic – One of the really cool things about the interest in organics is the natural continuation of store brands. Look for these generic brands (which go on sale, too) and save even more.
Food Co-ops – These are great sources of discounts on organic products. To find a local co-op, go to www.coopdirectory.org or www.localharvest.org/food-coops.
The Food Mile – In the grocery industry there is a term known as the “food mile” which indicates how many miles food has to travel to end up in your local store. The shorter the food mile, the less expensive the product. Buy items with the shortest food mile.
Buy Produce in Season – Oftentimes, the shortest food mile will be indicated by buying produce in season. By eating (and freezing or canning) your food in season you can save money today and tomorrow.
Compare Online Grocers – There might be lower prices for staples that you need found online at some of the best organic grocers. Go to www.sunorganic.com, www.diamondorganics.com, www.urbanorganic.com or www.doortodoororganic.com
Go to the Farm! – By going to an organic farm in your part of the world, you can save even more and buy the freshest organics possible. For a complete list go to www.LocalHarvest.org/organic-farms

So whether you are buying baby tomatoes, canned or fresh--follow these tips and you'll save money!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)
www.elliekay.com

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wanna Save Money and Live Better?


What do you notice about this pyramid of good looking, overachieving, highly talented kids? (Yes, they're all mine). Look closely before you answer.


Did you see the dog at the top? Yes, that's Buddy, the top dog and the best shopper in our family. He finds "free" stuff all the time--food he can consume but he didn't pay for. For example, when I was in out of town on biz, Bob had to make an emergency room visit with one of the boys (long story, but if you have boys you can relate) and after the thrill and joy of five hours in the ER, he came home (at 1:00 AM) to find out that someone had left the child safety locks off the pantry doors in the utility room (where we keep Buddy at night). The top dog had consumed 1/2 a box of Quaker oatmeal bars that we bought at Sam's. (That's about 20 bars). It wasn't pretty. But it was free--for Buddy.


Are you a smarter shopper than Buddy? Do you get things for the best value possible? I've recently developed a cool shopping quiz for www.walmart.com/savemore . Take the quiz and find out how you rank in five different areas: shopping, transportation, eco savings, budgeting and entertainment . There are also ideas on how you can improve in each category with specific helps and tips. In fact, I'm pretty proud of the consumer education work Walmart and I have done to help families during these difficult economic times.


By the way, after his "free" oatmeal bar splurge, Buddy was as sick as a dog--so to speak. But as providence would have it, I was still in NYC and missed all of it.


Happy Shopping!
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Phantom of the Opera and Young Frankenstein

"Put zee candle BACK!"
"That's Fraanken-steen"

"Werewolf"
"There wolf. There Castle."

Frau Blueker!"

New York, New York, it's a beautiful place to spend Mother's Day! I had to take a cab to Jersey for work and it was suppose to take 25 minutes but the driver (who could not speak or read English) took 1 hour 45 minutes to get us there. If it weren't for the "take charge to help" personality of a colleague, we'd be in Maine by now. To the cab driver's credit, he did stop to ask directions--from a man who could barely speak English.


I was here on business and after all the hard work was over, my son Philip joined me while on break from the Naval Academy and we wanted some entertainment! We called the New York USO at 212-695-6160 or www.usonyc.org , hoping to get surplus Broadway tickets for a $3 donation (to all military id card holders--and their dependants) and much to our delight, we got to go see Young Frankenstein and Phantom of the Opera. They didn't have the "free" tickets, but we got a code for the tix we bought and saved 50% without having to stand in the 1/2 Price Ticket booth line! Plus, we actually sat on the FRONT ROW of Young Frankenstein. "Why, sank you doc-tor!"

Entertainment on the cheap can still make for front row fun--just so long as you don't have to cab it to Jersey!

Ellie Kay
"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)
http://www.elliekay.com/

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bush Announces Rebates Checks Go Out Early--The Check is In The Mail!

Apparently, the check is in the mail! We've all heard that before. I remember a magazine publisher who took a bunch of the writers to a conference in Fort Worth, TX. Somehow we ended up at Billy Bob's and I found myself riding a mechanical bull--while wearing a suit and heels! Yee haw! I stayed on the bull longer than anyone and it was a wild ride. However, much to my dismay, the bull ride didn't end at Billy Bob's. Several months later, that magazine publisher got behind in their cash dispursements for their writers. They owed me $2500 and kept saying that "the check was in the mail"--right before they announced bankruptcy! What a buncha bull!

But this time, we have the President of the United States telling us that the checks are in the mail.

According to the AP news release, Bush said tax rebates will start going out Monday, earlier than expected, and should help Americans cope with rising food prices and gasoline costs, as well as aid a slumping economy. "Starting Monday, the effects of the stimulus will begin to reach millions of households across our country," Bush said Friday in remarks on the South Lawn of the White House.

But these checks won't help most Americans unless they follow three steps found in my 10/10/80 Rule (TM) :
  1. 10% - Give Generously - This may seem like a radical way to start dividing your tax rebate check, but it's a way to help everyone--including yourself. Giving is the new cool. Look no further than Oprah's new hit reality show, "The Big Give" or Bill Clinton's new bestseller, "Giving." But don't leave the giving to Oprah and Bill. Here's your chance to live like a millionaire and give 10% to your community, region or even the world. Buy groceries and give them to the homeless shelter, buy some new socks and underwear for the kids up the street whose dad got laid off work. By giving away the first 10%, you're helping the economy, helping your neighbors and helping yourself feel good in the fact you can give.
  2. 10% - Save Safely -- One of the safest things you can do with this part of your check is to put it in your savings account. Let's face it, baby, the economy isn't too stable and you need as big a buffer between you and creditors as possible--this is found by putting away some dough to bake future bread. So save at least 10%, if not more!
  3. 80% - Spend Smartly -- Is smartly a word? If it is, then now is the time to behave smartly. This means that you spend it in a way that will s-t-r-e-t-c-h your dollars as far as possible. Buying a big screen TV and paying full price for it, just because you have the money is s-t-u-p-i-d. But buying that big screen TV at a store that offers "low price guarantees" such as Wal-mart, means that you're paying the least price possible and will have money left over to put toward credit card debt. Just because you have it, doesn't mean you should fritter it away. Save money and live well at the same time.

So enjoy the rebates, but make that enjoyment last as long as possible by giving it away, putting it away and spending it away--all in a smart way!

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

http://www.elliekay.com/

Monday, April 14, 2008

4.2 Million Predicted to Lose Health Insurance Benefits


Thinking of having another baby? Why not? We had five in seven years and they are all winners! I love babies--especially when they're this cute!
But you may want to make sure your health insurance is squared away before you follow up on those family expansion plans. Marketplace Watch released news today that 4.2 milllion people are expected to lose their health insurance this year due to the economy's impact on businesses. That's not good news for baby lovers!
However, there are some things you can do to recession proof your insurance needs and make sure your family has the coverage you need:
  • Individual Plans -- If you are currently covered under your employer plan and have family members covered under that group policy, then consider moving your spouse (and kids) into an individual health insurance plan instead. This will save loads of money and set up a policy where you could add yourself if the group plan benefits are taken away. The only time you would not want to do this is if family member have a pre-existing condition (like asthma, diabetes, etc) and you do not want it excluded from the policy. Otherwise, you can save hundreds each month by utilizing the benefits of an individual policy.
  • Divide and Conquer -- Remember that there is no need for an "all or nothing" approach to health insurance. If you have a family member with a pre-existing condition (see above), then put them on your employer's group policy and let the other family members go with an individual policy. By dividing your coverage among a couple of different plans, you are paying the least price possible for the most coverage.
  • Only Buy What You Need -- Be sure to comparison shop by going to a site such as http://www.progressive.com/ , http://www.netquest.com/ or http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/ . I like this site because you can compare many plans and get a price quote right away (without a sales person calling back.) You can also choose plans that fit your insurance needs. Don't buy coverage you won't use. If you're not going to have babies any time soon, then exclude the maternity coverage. By buying only what you need, you'll save.
  • Term Life -- If you're healthy, then consider purchasing term life insurance. It is fully portable and you control the premiums by the amount of coverage you buy and the provider you choose. The time to buy life insurance is when you're healthy and then if the company limits those benefits, you already have a policy in place.
  • Budget for Cobra -- If the rumor mill at work is buzzing that health insurance benefits will be cut, start setting aside money for COBRA. This benefit will allow you to keep the current group policy, even if you lose your benefits or your job--but it's pricey. I recommend that you set up an allotment from your paycheck and start putting a little extra each month into a savings account especially set up for this purpose. This method of recession proofing your insurance needs will help tide you over between insurance providers in the event these benefits go away.

Whether you are one of the millions who lose coverage or not, it's wise to re-evaluate your insurance needs on a regular basis. There's nothing worse than paying more than you need to for that baby!

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

http://www.elliekay.com/

Monday, April 7, 2008

Stimulus Check--How Long Will You Wait?



The good news: I made some money in 2007.

The bad news: I made some money in 2007.

The good news: I gotta pay.

The bad news: I gotta pay. Lots.

A stimulus check? I hope you enjoy yours! But wait a minute, YOU might be waiting a while, too.

On May 2 the IRS expects to make 34 million payments within the first three weeks. Taxpayers who choose direct deposit will get theirs between May 2 and May 16 if everything is in order and they were turned in by April 15th. If you filed via snail mail, then your checks will be mailed starting May 15 and finished by July 11

Direct Deposit Payments:
If the last two digits of your SS# is: It should be sent to bank by:
00 – 20 May 2
21 – 75 May 9
76 – 99 May 16


Paper Check
If the last two digits of your SS # is: Your check should be in the mail by:
00 – 09 May 16
10 – 18 May 23
19 – 25 May 30
26 – 38 June 6
39 – 51 June 13
52 – 63 June 20
64 – 75 June 27
76 – 87 July 4
88 – 99 July 11

My advice for this check?

  • Pay Down Debt
  • Build Up Savings
  • Budget a "splurge" factor while still doing all the above!
  • Spend Wisely (see the tips in this blog for ideas)
Hope at least YOU have a good tax day!

Ellie Kay
http://www.elliekay.com/
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Can We Save Money at the Pump and Impact Prices?



A man with a knife in his hand shouted, "The flux capacitor is..." His adoring followers responded: "Fluxing!" Cheers went up from the crowd.

He took the knife and began to sharpen the end of a stick into a fine point, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, be prepared to..."

"Die" They shout in hearty reply.

Finally the man put a marshmellow on the stick, put it over the campfire and said, "But we still have a hit record.."
He hears the response, "Yes, you do--the one hit wonders!"

He purposefully picks up a graham cracker, "You're killing me Smalls. First you take the graham. You stick the chocolate on the graham. Then you roast the mallow. When the mallow's flaming, you stick it on the chocolate and cover it with the other end. Then...."

The kids yell, "YOU SCARF!"

No, this is not a secret meeting of the deranged and demented, it's our family sitting around the campfire shouting lines from our favorite movies (the above quotes are from Back to the Future, Princess Bride, That Thing You Do and The Sandlot.) It's one of those family traditions that make forever memories. But many families' camping days may be coming to an end this summer because of crazy gas prices and the cost of hauling a trailer to the mountains.

There are emails floating around that tell us 1) buying gas from only certain pro American stations (in order to boycott Middle Eastern oil prices) will bring down the price of gas and 2) ways to save money at the pump by only pumping gas in the morning, don't buy if there's a truck delivering gas there, buy the top half of the tank and pump the gas very s-l-o-w-ly.

You're killing me Smalls!

I checked out these emails at http://www.snopes.com/ and guess what? They are a bunch of horsefeathers! Buying at certain stations will only cost you more money and they do not reduce the price of middle eastern oil--nada, zilch. Following all the rituals for buying your gas can not be proven, either. There are much easier (and painless) options for pruning back prices at the pump:
  • Prices - Go to sites such as http://www.gaspricewatch.com/ and find the cheapest price for gas both at home and enroute.
  • Pace Your Driving - Jackrabbit starts and constant speeding up and slowing down cost precious gas mileage miles. Instead, pace yourself.
  • Pushing It Up! -- Will only speed up your fuel consumption. According to the Department of Energy (DOA) it takes a lot of energy for your vehicle to push the air out of the way as you speed down the road. Driving the speed limit of 65 versus 75 can save as much as 15% on fuel consumption because of the energy needed for higher speeds.
  • Puhleeze Give Me Some Air -- At speeds of 40 mph or greater, it costs more to leave the windows open (due to drag) than it does to run the air. In a place like Palmdale, CA where the summer temps reach 110 degrees that's good news!
  • Pitch the Junk! -- Take your golf clubs, soccer chairs, Salvation Army book donations and all the other JUNK out of your TRUNK. Otherwise, you're paying more to haul it.
  • Pressure and Maintain - Make sure you have the correct air pressure and maintain your vehicle with regular tuneups to save another 5%
  • Premium, Schmium -- According to AAA, only 5% of vehicles in the US require the premium gas--it does not help your vehicle for you to pay more for it. Buy the regular stuff and have no worries.

By following these tips, you'll be back on the road as Happy Campers!

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

http://www.elliekay.com/

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Consumer Confidence Lowest in 35 Years--A Bad Thing?

According to today's latest bulletin, consumer confidence data measures at a 35 year low. That means when boomers were wearing hiphuggers and halter tops, listening to ZZ Top and the Eagles and lamenting the hedonistic value of vacuum cleaners--consumer confidence was as bad as it is now. So it's the worse it's ever been for at least two generations of consumers.
We may be in for a Marathon rather than a 50 yard dash when it comes to economic recession. Before you assume that this is a hopeless race for which you are ill prepared, let's look on the upside of the downside of today's news.

  • The Stretch - When my husband and I married 20 years and five kids ago, I inherited $40,000 in consumer debt from his divorce. The upside was that I got two great stepdaughters out of the deal. But a total of seven kids to support and lots of debt was not fun for this broker-turned-bride. It was a stretch for me to give up my well paying career and take on the challenges of being a SAHM while trying to pay down debt on my husband's military salary. But being stretched isn't a bad thing, it gets us ready for the next phase.
  • Flexibility -- One of the ways this business backgrounded mom made ends meet was to become flexible in the way I managed money. I developed a sophisticated method of recognizing ways to save on everything from clothes to corn to cars--and it worked. Flexibility did not include miserly, cheapskate, wierd ways of saving money--like collecting tin foil balls or taking other people's leftover pizza home at a restaurant (my parents generation did that kind of thing). No, I preferred the savvy savings approach that didn't embarrass me or my family. I still wear Calvin Klein suits bought at the Nordstrom Rack for the same price as a Jacqueline Smith (disposible) suit other people would purchased at K-mart. (I don't shop at K-Mart--ever!) But... I do have a Wal-mart brocaded jacket that gets more compliments than my designer suits! It's all about savvy choices. In today's economy, there's a couple of generations of consumers who can step up to the starting line and learn this same kind of "saving money is cool" approach to life.
  • Endurance -- What did the easy-credit, low mortgage rates of the past few years do for consumers? Did it make couples stop arguing about money? Did it put their kids through college debt free? Did it improve their quality of life--especially NOW in light of today's recession? No, it didn't make life better, it only made it easier to get into debt by having a house that owns you (too much house) or escalating credit card bills that are cushioned with the idea that "my home equity can pay these bills if I get in a pinch." BAD, real bad. Now that the equity has deteriorated, it's time to learn the endurance part of running the great race. Learning how to cut back, curb impulse buys, be thoughtful and strategic in your spending and implementing a little-known thing called "self control" in money issues is a good possible outcome for a bad pronouncement. It depends on the choices consumers make at this point in time.
  • Finishing Well -- David Bach's best selling book, "Smart Women Finish Rich" is a must read for all consumers (guys can get in touch with their feminine side and make a buncha money in the process--just look at Tyler Perry). Finishing well, means finishing rich but being rich may not mean having a multi-million dollar home or a self-propagating portfolio. We all know miserable misers who saved themselves into delusional denigration (ever heard of Howard Hughes? Being rich can drive you nuts!) The kind of wealth I think most Americans want is to have a nice home that will be paid for at retirement, put their kids through college debt free and have the ability to pay the bills without worrying about nastygrams from creditors. That's rich, baby!
  • The Winners Circle -- OK, time for true confessions. My husband and I recently competed in the LA Marathon and finished. I didn't end up in the winners circle, but they create a similar circle for EVERYONE WHO FINISHES. You get a rose, a medal, & a sports massage. So, with my swollen toes, wilting rose, cramping calves and smiling husband, I could say as a forty-something year old mama of many--I finished the Marathon. Just don't ask me my time. There's a lot to be said about the finishing the process. If consumers will embrace the economic challenge that a 35 year low in confidence presents, then it can be a good thing. New generations of consumers, who have never had to put on their big girl panties (or big boy underwear) will have to step up and learn a thing or two about managing money and avoiding credit. It can be done and it can be done well so that we have a whole new circle of winners.

Run well, finish well, then celebrate!

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

http://www.elliekay.com/