Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mother's Day Gifts - 8 Cool & Inexpensive Gifts

This is a test. It's a test to see if ANY of my kids ever read my blog. If I get at least ONE item from the following list, then I'll KNOW you guys read your mama's website. If I don't....well you don't wanna know--trust me! :-) So if you know my kids and you read this blog, you might want to send them a heads up that their heads are on the line on this one!

Here are some ideas I came up with that are cool and inexpensive gifts for Mother's Day 2009. And I would be happy with ANY of these!

1. Gift Mom Her Own Facebook Page: Middle aged women are the most quickly growing demographic on facebook! Set it up and have the family write a profile for Mom. Tweens and teens love this one and even Dad can get involved Your Mom can then use the site to do her own social and professional networking as well as keep in touch with the family.

2. Help Her Organize A Room: Give Mom a room of her choice and help her clean it out and simplify things. Design a gift certificate that’s good for a few hours one morning or afternoon. From the kitchen to her office, this is a great idea for any home area that needs de-cluttering. She’ll not only love the stress-busting effects of an organized environment, but even more importantly, the time she’ll have with you. For more ideas on how to organize, go to Marcia Ramsland's site, www.organizingpro.com

3. Assemble a Playlist for her iPod or other portable music player: Know some songs that bring your Mom to mind? Nothing will bring a smile to her face faster than music with lyrics that say what she means to you or take her back to a special time. Think Bette Milder’s Wind Beneath My Wings or the Caribbean tunes she fell in love with on vacation.

4. YouTube Tribute: Take it one step further and marry one or two of her favorite tunes with photos and funny videos from the family collection for a full multi-media extravaganza. Post it at www.youtube.com . These can also be assembled into a special Mother’s Day e-book online at need website suggestion here.

5. Personalized Coupon Book: If all these tips are too high tech for you, then let's go back to yesterday and a low tech, but meaningful gift, one that I remember my kids making for me when they looked like the kids sitting on this camper! Make your own coupon book with gift certificates for everything from doing the dishes for a week and mowing the lawn to a Mom and Dad’s night out or allowing Mom to be queen for the day. The latter means that dinner is on the table when she gets home, no one argues with her and she gets to watch her favorite TV show or movie without interruption! The one catch: you gotta mean it!

6. Coupon Collection: Speaking of coupons, agree for a month to take over the chore of maintaining and organizing the coupon collection. For Ellie, who saves $8,000 annually on groceries, this is a huge help and time saver especially with the number and variety of coupons available on the market today.

7. Plant a Vegetable Garden: Stake out a piece of the backyard or fill window boxes, barrels and tubs, urns or even pots and hanging basket with seedlings and starter plants for a vegetable and/or herb garden. Aside from the food bill savings, harvesting the bounty will provide months of good taste and good cheer for your Mom and others.

8. If you’ve left it to the very, very, very last minute: Remember anything personalized is better. So, instead of the generic stuffed animal, go with the item labeled “World’s Greatest Mom.”

Remember, Kay kids, that your mama loves you!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Americans Lose Confidence in Ability to Retire --Ellie on Neil Cavuto (Fox News)

A recent report said that only 13% of Americans believe they will be able to retire in comfort due to the current recession throwing them a curveball. I know that a lot of people are pessimistic right now. But it's not the time to panic, but be purposeful instead!
Gone are the days when we can trust the company, social security or Uncle Sugar to fund our retirement--but it doesn't mean we're without resources! I went on Neil Cavuto this week to talk about ways we can take charge of our own retirement and regain hope that we WILL be able to still have the gold in those golden years!

**PARTICIPATE - take advantage of 401(k)s in your company while you can, maxing out the matching portion. Yes, the market stinks, but the matching portion is FREE MONEY and even a 25% match is better than anything you're going to see in today's market.

**PRIORITIZE - start to be more agrressive in taking charge of your retirement by fully funding ROTH or traditional IRAs, including catchup funds if you qualify. Or, if you or your spouse own a homebased business, then fund a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) IRA. Not only will it help you fund retirement tomorrow, but it will give you a significant tax break today!

**PURSUE - look at alternate sources for retirement funding such as HSAs (health savings accounts) that are tax favored, can be rolled over each year & are available at retirement. This would be a supplemental fund for retirement, not a primary. It basically works like this: you buy a high deductible insurance policy (and save tons on insurance), then you put the amount of your deductible into an HSA. So if a family had a $2500 deductible, they can put that amount into this account every year. If they don't use it on medical related expenses, then it will continue to rollover and grow until retirement. Go to http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/ for more info.

**PROJECT - what will you really need for retirement? Reevaluate & simplify to streamline your retirement needs, downsizing as necessary. By having an accurate estimation of your expectations and adjusting them to meet your projected income, then you can still retire, but maybe just do some things differently. Go to my tool center for a cool calculator that will help estimate what you'll need at retirement.

**PROTECT - learm to guard your retirement from people & projects that would deteriorate your funds. Even well meaning folks can mess you up big time. For example, now is NOT the time to loan your Uncle Harry $50K for his dream of starting an Emu farm! As parents to seven kids, my hubby and I know that bailing kids out of consumer debt or trying to fix their financial problems could also leave use vulnerable to a deterioriated retirement fund. So we set the precedence with the older ones by refusing to co-sign, bailout or fund anything that has to do with consumer debt. When it comes to giving friends or family long term loans, investing in speculative businesses, etc--JUST SAY NO!

Happy Retirement,
Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tax Time Tips from Ellie

Wait for Your Refund – If you’re like everyone else in this economy, you need every penny of that tax return. So even though a tax preparer offers to advance you your refund, just wait. Fees can range from $60 to $100 on an average refund of $3000. In fact Americans spent $890 million in fees for money they would have received anyway in 2007.
Don’t Cash That Check – Some consumers are trying to get a jump on their spending while they are waiting for the IRS check to come in by cashing the checks that come in with your credit card statements. These “checks” have high fees and interest associated with them and the interest starts accumulating immediately.
Rainy Day Strategies – I’ve recommended that single income families have 8 months of living expenses in an emergency fund and dual income families put back 6 months worth. But most families do not have anywhere near that amount, so get a jump start on your savings by depositing your check into an emergency fund.
Beware ID Theft when Filing Taxes – Last minute filers who go to a temporary tax preparer are particularly susceptible to identity theft as the personal information on tax forms are exactly what predators are trying to find. Never go to a temporary tax preparer who may lure you with the promise of quick & cheap tax preparations. Instead, look to Turbo Tax, another software program, or a permanent CPA or tax prep service.
Don’t Believe the IRS – Another tactic for ID theft during tax time is from scammers posing as IRS or Social Security representatives who try to trick you into revealing personal info via e-mail or phone calls. To validate whether an IRS inquiry is the real deal, call 1-800-829-1040.
Homebased Business Tips – One of the few areas of our economy that is flourishing is in some of the direct sales companies. There are a lot of ways to make sure you get every deduction coming to you such as using Turbo tax or going to a professional. Homebased businesses can get tax breaks for buying their own health insurance, using a dedicated portion of their home as an office and job related moving expenses. But one of the most overlooked tax breaks is the SEP, or Simplified Employee Pension IRA because they think they are too small to qualify. So as your tax pro if contributing to a SEP IRA will help reduce your tax bill while building your retirement!

Here's to minimal tax trauma for you and yours!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ellie on Neil Cavuto -- Financially Pinched Companies Pinch Employees

Goodyear Tire announced that they were reinstating their 401(k) program after cancelling it in 2003. But it's not the "good news" it appears to be because at the same time they froze more traditional pensions, thereby saving hundreds of millions of dollars at employee's expense! So what do YOU do when your company cuts benefits--do you have a recourse?
Basically, you take charge. You don't rely on your company to be your uncle sugar, you realize that you have to rely on other resources that are available to you. Today, I shared this on Neil Cavuto
1) TAKE ADVANTAGE WHILE YOU CAN: Invest in your 401(k) if/when it comes back into play. Companies are reinstating formerly suspended 401(k) plans. These may come back for six months, a year or longer. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE MATCHING PORTION up to the the % the company allows (usually 4% or 5%). Even if they are only matching 25%, that's a much better percentage than what you can make on your money in today's market.
2) TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS: One of the things that companies are doing is kind of a bait and switch tactic. For example, they may be reinstating 401(k)s but they are coming in the back door and cutting pension programs that are far more costly. It used to be that you could cound on social security and your pension to retire, but that is no longer true during a recession. Therefore, you need to fund your own retirement through Roth or Regular IRAs or even a SEP IRA (Simplified Employee Pension) if you or your spouse own a small homebased business. Max out the amount you contribute to your IRA based on your age (up to $5,000 for a traditional IRA or $6,000 if you are over 50) and don't trust your company to fund your retirement.
3) TAKE CARE OF YOUR OWN HEALTHCARE: Just about the time we find out that healthcare costs are rising 7% to 8%, we also find out that more and more companies are cutting healthcare benefits. Yesterday was the time to check into a high deductible individual or family plan with an HSA (Health Savings Account). For example, if you're an individual and have a $2900 deductible on your health insurance, you can tuck up to $2900 into a tax favored HSA account. If you're a family you can contribute up to $5800 per year. These tax favored funds are not the old fashioned "use it or lose it" rather they are your funds that will be rolled over from year to year and can eventually be used at retirement. Premiums for this high deductible plans are about half what a costly group plan can cost you and your family, so now is the time to have that safety net of covering the big medical expenses while not trusting your employer to be there for you when it comes to healthcare.
4) TAKE IT TO THE TOP & BE THE TOP: Employers still want to attract and keep the best talent. Show them you are not the weak link and make yourself indispensable. Go the extra mile, do quality work, bring in business, get along with your peers, support your boss and make sure that YOU are the talent they want to keep.
5) TAKE THE HIGH ROAD: If you are in the position of having to accept a severance package realize that you can still negotiate it. You can often test the wiggle room to get a higher amount and you can determine whether you take a lump sum or a longer payout. You also need to be sure to negotiate for longer lasting health and life insurance benefits. Don't sign any papers the day you are let go and don't make any rash or emotional decisions. Take a breath, take your time and realize that you still have options.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)