Use Tax Season to Organize for the Future

For more advice on saving money on your taxes check out Tax On Tax Off

 

Financial planner Rick Rodgers, author of The New Three-Legge Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning (www.TheNewThreeLeggedStool.com), says tax time is a great time to get organized.

“Most people are going through their records to get ready to file their return,” he says. “This is the time to get smart about what you need to keep and then set up a system to store it efficiently going forward.”

Rodgers suggests these five steps to help you effectively organize your finances for 2012 and beyond:

1. Out with the old – Discard the records you no longer need: Tax returns older than seven years; bank records and credit card statements that are not related to the tax returns you’re keeping; brokerage statements that aren’t related to purchases of current holdings. Be sure to shred all your old documents before throwing them out.

2. Go digital – Convert the documents you plan to save into digital images that are stored on your hard drive. Invest in a good scanner and scan as you go through your paperwork, shredding and tossing the hard copies as you go. On your computer, file by tax year, so your 2011 folder will contain your tax return for 2011 and all pertinent bank records and receipts. Organize the previous six years the same way. Next year you can delete the oldest folder when you add the 2012 folder.

3. Save a forest – All of the financial institutions you deal with would prefer to send your statements electronically. Stop receiving paper statements. Instead, download your statements electronically and store them in your new filing system.  Most banks and credit card companies keep at least a year’s worth of statements available.  You need to download these files only once a year to complete the year’s file.

4. Save backups in case of emergency – Make backup copies of your files on a CD. Choose a CD-R (recordable) as opposed to a CD-RW (rewriteable), because CD-R cannot accidentally be overwritten. Depending on your computer operating system, you may be able to continue adding data to a CD-R each year, until the CD is full. However, some operating systems won’t allow that, so you’ll need a new CD for each year.

5. Go paperless – Your new electronic filing system can be expanded to include all your financial records, from car maintenance receipts to pay stubs.  Wills and insurance policies can also be scanned and stored but, of course, keep the originals of those in a safe deposit box or fireproof safe.

Gone are the days of saving your financial documents in box and shoving it into the attic.  Technology advances have made organizing your personal finances easier with minimal cost.  Make 2012 the year you get organized by moving your finances into a 21st century filing system.

About Rick Rodgers

Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa. He’s a Certified Retirement Counselor and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers. Rodgers has been featured on national radio and TV shows, including “FOX Business News” and “The 700 Club,” and is available to speak at conferences and corporate events (www.rodgersspeaks.com).  

 

For more advice on saving money on your taxes check out Tax On Tax Off

How To Save Money on Your Wardrobe | Tips for Working Moms with Style

save money on fashionIf your primary occupation over the last few months (or years) required more bedtimes than deadlines, you’re not alone.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 5 million women classified themselves as stay-at-home moms in 2010. Yet, that figure is down from just two years earlier as more mothers return to the workforce.

For any mom taking on new 9 to 5 with duties that go beyond diapers and dinner, your wardrobe will likely need a makeover. However, sprucing up your business style doesn’t have to drain your kids’ college funds nor limit your options.

Here are 8 tips to help you update your wardrobe with fashionable work-wear on a budget.

1. Scope Out Consignment Stores


Back when you were expecting, consignment shops were goldmines for inexpensive maternity wear. Lucky for you, they’re also a great resource for professional attire. Sell some of your gently-used maternity wear and stock up on business basics including blazers, slacks and pencil skirts. For tips on navigating consignment racks, check out this article from Woman’s Day.

2. Shop for Shoes Online


Ultimately, footwear is one of the most important parts of a professional wardrobe. Despite the sheer joy of finding that perfect pair of black-patent pumps, shopping with a toddler is often a trying experience. Avoid the department-store drama and shop online at e-retailers like Endless or Piperlime, who offer free shipping both ways. Alternatively, find free shipping codes for Macy’s and other popular retailers from sites like FreeShipping.org to avoid delivery charges.

3. Think Simplicity

You obviously can’t afford a series of tailor-made suits, but you can afford a few simple pieces you can dress up or down, as the situation requires. Button-up blouses are a must and can be found on the cheap at Target, Old Navy and other discount retailers. And don’t forget cardigans – find a few in your most flattering colors to wear all year long.

4. Avoid Trendy


Keeping up the trends is expensive and you’ll often end up with a closet full of unwearable items from last scene. Go for the classics and use accessories to showcase your inner trendsetter — think freshwater pearls, stud earrings and a tangerine handbag. For more inspiration, consult the 12 Jewelry Trends for 2012 from JCK Magazine.

5. Keep it Clean


Cleanliness is next to godliness, or at least next to a good first impression. No matter the quality or cost of your clothes, it’s vital they remain clean and pressed at all times. You can reduce dry cleaning costs by avoiding such items altogether or using the home-laundry packets readily available at your grocery store.

6. Gauge the Office Culture


You’ll feel really uncomfortable in a formal suit if the business owner is sporting jeans and a graphic tee. Many younger entrepreneurs encourage a more relaxed look, so it pays to gauge the office culture before heading into an interview. If the company website doesn’t yield any insight, talk to the hiring manager about the office dress code when you schedule the interview.

7. When in Doubt, LBD


The last thing you want to deal with during a job interview is insecurity over your appearance. If you’re struggling over what to wear, keep it simple with a little black dress. This versatile piece can be paired with a blazer and smart pumps for corporate cultures, or with a bright cardigan and layered necklace for more casual environments.

8. Swap Your Maternity Clothes


If you have friends or family members who recently announced they’re expecting, it’s time to dust off your maternity clothes and consider a swap. Ask the new mom to be if she has any business attire that she would be willing to exchange for your pregnancy wear.

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Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. As a nationally recognized media source, Andrea has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles.

Personal Financial Stress Affecting Retirement Savings and Employee Performance

A survey of employer-sponsored financial education initiatives shows that U.S. workers’ money worries are impacting their work performance and retirement savings plans. (Survey BITLY: bit.ly/wPi89A)

The survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) asked HR professionals key questions, including, “In the past 12 months, have employees been more likely to dip into their employer-sponsored retirement savings plans compared with previous years?” More than half—55 percent—of HR professionals agreed while 17 percent strongly agreed. A little less than a quarter, or 24 percent, disagreed, and three percent strongly disagreed.

When asked the impact of employees’ personal financial challenges upon work performance, roughly one in five—22 percent—of HR professionals cited a “large impact.” Sixty-one percent noted “some impact” while 16 percent responded, “slight impact.” Only two percent of HR professionals observed “no impact” upon workers.

“The source of money woes is unsurprising but the toll it’s taking on both workers and their employers, in addition to the persistence of the weak economy, are all troubling issues,” said Mark J. Schmit, Ph.D., SPHR, vice president of research at SHRM.

A closer look at the impact on work performance shows that:

— 47 percent of HR professionals noticed employees’ struggle with their “ability to focus on work”;
— 46 percent noticed issues with “overall employee stress”;
— 26 percent observed a negative impact on “overall employee productivity”;
— 24 percent said money woes are leading to “employee absenteeism and tardiness”;
— 20 percent are concerned about “overall employee morale”;
— 12 percent noticed a negative impact on “overall employee health” ; and
— Seven percent said “working relationships with other employees” are the least impacted.

To understand what employer-sponsored financial education programs need to cover, the survey examined the sources of personal financial stress.

Nearly half—49 percent—of HR professionals said employees are stressed by an “overall lack of monetary funds to cover their personal expenses.”

Some money woes were more specific like “medical expenses” and “saving for retirement” said 35 percent and 26 percent of HR professionals, respectively.

Twenty-two percent of HR professionals attribute worker money woes to “credit card debt” and the same number also cited “home mortgage payments.”

Roughly 12 percent of HR professionals said “education expenses” were causing workers’ financial stress that was noticeable in the workplace. Education expenses include the employee’s own tuition costs, that for dependent children, or other family members.

More than half, 52 percent, of organizations represented in the survey currently provide financial education to their employees. A closer look shows that 79 percent offer access to an employee assistance program that includes financial counseling and resources. Sixty-eight percent provide financial education specific to employer-provided benefits such are retirement, medical insurance, and flexible spending accounts. Nearly half, or 47 percent, offer financial education limited to retirement-related planning.

Among the 52 percent of organizations that teach employees about financial planning, 39 percent cover budgeting, paying for education, debt reduction, credit card use, homeownership, and taxes.

SHRM surveyed 458 randomly selected HR professionals from its membership.
For details, visit the survey section of SHRM Online at http://www.shrm.org/surveys.

Follow SHRM Research on Twitter @SHRM_Research.
For more news, follow @SHRMPress.

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About the Society for Human Resource Management
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in over 140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. Visit SHRM Online at www.shrm.org and follow us on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/SHRMPress.—-——————————————————————-

How To Recover Balances from Gift Cards

Forget about cramming your hands between the couch cushions to scrape for spare change.

Instead, dust off your secret shoebox or dig deep in your drawers to find any unwanted gift cards.

According to a recent article from The Wall Street Journal, $41 billion in gift cards has gone unused since 2005, so odds are you have at least one that still hasn’t seen the light of day.

While heading straight to the store and spending every last cent is one way to use up your card’s balance, it’s not always an option if you don’t like what the retailer offers or you don’t have a store nearby.

Luckily, there’s a great alternative in GiftCardGranny.com, an online marketplace that lets you sell your unwanted gift cards for cold, hard cash.

As a start, here are some basic tips for getting your card listed on the site.

1. Auction it Off


Gift Card Granny offers gift cards from resellers across the Web, but if you want to cut out the middle man and reach a wider audience, you’ll have to set up your own eBay auction. This is the only method to make your card available for sale without going through a third-party reseller. Ebay has some very specific guidelines for gift cards such as a $500 maximum value, so it helps to read up on them first.

2. It’s All in the Name


Titles are critical when you’re trying to capture the attention of a wide audience, and the same goes for selling second-hand plastic. It’s best to keep the title of your eBay listing direct and to-the-point using the merchant name and value of the card. Use the gift card balance check tool to confirm your card’s value, and remember any listings appearing on Gift Card Granny must contain the phrase “gift card.”

3. Keep it Current


Shelf-life is probably something you consider when buying a gallon of milk, not selling gift cards. However, current is key when it comes to selling your card online. All listings appearing on the site have to be less than 10 days old. This ensures the seller is active and the auctions aren’t outdated.

4. Share the Wealth


If you wanted to spend $50 to buy a $50 Home Depot gift card, you might as well pick it up at the store. Gift Card Granny is all about saving shoppers money, so if you plan on using eBay’s Buy it Now feature, your card has to be listed at less than face value. A $50 card with a $50 Buy it Now price will not appear on the site.

5. On the List


Unless you ended up with an obscure gift card, there’s a pretty good chance it already appears on the site. This is good because your card won’t show up if there’s no page for it. Before you create an auction, save yourself some trouble by checking this list of featured stores first.

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GiftCardGranny.com is one of four websites operating under the brand name The Frugals and serves a marketplace to buy and sell gift cards online.

Do you lack confidence in your ability to get a loan?

Heading into 2012, more than a third of U.S. consumers don’t like their chances of getting approved for a loan, according to a recent online survey from new social network lending site Weemba and Harris Interactive.  The survey asked more than 2,000 U.S. adults age 18+, “If you needed to apply for a loan (e.g., home, personal), how confident, if at all, are you that you would be approved for that loan?”  Forty-four percent of respondents said they were “extremely/very confident,” 21 percent said “fairly confident,” and 35 percent said only “somewhat” or “not at all confident.”

“The survey results bear up the fact that a very large portion of the population is still very gun-shy when it comes to applying for a loan; the perception persists that today’s lending environment doesn’t favor them and that’s a roadblock to our economic recovery we need to overcome,” said Annette Gallagher, CEO of Weemba, the social networking site that aims to facilitate connections between borrowers and professional lenders of all kinds. “One of the reasons Weemba was created was to give borrowers an alternative path to securing a loan that saves them time, money, and the fear of rejection – they never hear ‘no’ from a lender.”

 

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • ·         Confidence appears strongest in the Midwest and weakest in the Southern region.
  Northeast Midwest South West
Extremely/Very Confident

47%

49%

43%

39%

Fairly Confident

19%

21%

18%

26%

Somewhat/Not at all Confident

35%

29%

39%

35%

 

 

  • ·         Confidence grows with age.
  18-34 35-44 45-55 55+
Extremely/Very Confident

28%

38%

43%

62%

Fairly Confident

30%

20%

17%

16%

Somewhat/Not at all Confident

43%

42%

39%

23%

 

  • ·         Employment status appears less of a factor in confidence than one might expect – retirees appear most confident, while “unemployed” appear more confident than “part-time employed”:
  Employed Full-Time Employed Part-Time Unemployed Student Retiree
Extremely/Very Confident

47%

36%

44%

23%

71%

Fairly Confident

20%

24%

21%

33%

14%

Somewhat/Not at all Confident

33%

40%

35%

43%

16%

 

About the Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Weemba from December 12-14, 2011 among 2,036 adults age 18+. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Sue Parente at sparente@tieronepr.com.

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About Weemba

Weemba (www.weemba.com) revolutionizes the way borrowers and professional lenders connect via an online financial platform. Weemba provides, by means of unique proprietary methods and state-of-the-art safeguards, a virtual way for borrowers to post their needs and for lenders to find those borrowers.  Protected by a nickname, borrowers post project profiles for lenders to review; interested lenders ask borrowers to access their private information, and if granted access, can contact borrowers directly. Weemba facilitates the borrower-lender interaction without interfering in the negotiation process.

 

63% of US Households Spend More on Technology Bills than Utility Bills

I’ve just read a new report published by iYogi Insights titled, Consumer Research on Growing Spends on Technology Services 2012.

 

The report revealed that 63% of US households spend 35% more on technology bills than utility bills. The research also shows that mobile phones top the chart on monthly technology spends.iYogi, a leading remote tech support company published this new research based on surveying nearly 1100 of its customers to understand their technology usage and monthly spend on services.

 


The rising cost of energy has become a topic of hot debate, with US Department of Energy reporting that consumers spend 6% to 12% of their income on utilities. iYogi put its hypothesis, “is technology now the real utility” to the test through this research. The research based on an in-depth survey offers interesting insights into the digital home, with technology bills for services surpassing utility bills for a majority of the respondents. Research shows that with the ever-increasing role played by technology in every sphere of life, consumer spending on connecting to the Internet, subscribing to online services, mobile communication, and multimedia entertainment has also risen.

Key highlights from iYogi Insights: Consumer Research on Rising Technology Spends 2012:

  • Number of technology devices in households with more than two members goes up to 10-11.
  • The highest expenditure is on mobile services with an average of $94 a month and an additional $19 on downloading games, music, movies, etc. Voice and data services are the most popular with 60% respondents saying they subscribe to such packages.
  • Triple Play package for Internet +TV+ Phone is the most popular with 50% respondents opting for this.
  • Households spend $20-$180 per month on their ISP bills.
  • Online back-up services, still a new concept, has already reached 30% adoption with a spend of about $10 per month. Such cloud services have immense potential as new types of services are launched.
  • Nearly 30% use instant messaging applications, and app downloads topped the chart followed by music, movies, videos and games.

To read the detailed report go to http://insights.iyogi.com

 

Seven shopping tactics for eating at home in a eating-out society

Remember how every one says you  should cook at home rather than eat out?

Well not so fast.  A recent study by the government agency estimated the price gap between eating at home and dining out will narrow even further in 2012. Grocery prices are expected to rise 3 percent to 4 percent, while menu prices will likely go up 2 percent to 3 percent.

That doesn’t mean you have to resort to the McDonald’s Dollar Menu, however. It’s still cheaper to eat at home, but amateur chefs will have to cut even more corners this year. Here are a few tips on dining at home frugally in a dine-out world.

1. Shop on Tuesdays
Wednesdays are the heaviest shopping day for supermarkets as that’s when they publish their weekly newspaper ads. (Manufacturer ads are usually distributed with the Sunday paper.) That means grocery stores are interested in ditching last week’s produce and meats on Tuesday night. Talk to the butcher and produce clerks about slapping a better price on those products they’re about to toss.

2. Plan Your Meals Around Ads
If you plan on shopping after newspaper inserts are printed, plan your menu around featured items and build a list before you hit the store. You can use apps like Grocery Gadget (Apple) and Grocery IQ(Android) to create lists based on your supermarket’s layout.

3. Shop Stores That Double Coupons
Not all supermarkets are willing to double-up on coupons, and not all maintain such a policy continuously. The acceptance rate has gone down since the advent of “Extreme Couponers,” so check before you start clipping. This practice is usually limited to specific days and allows you to double the face value of a coupon, up to a certain amount.

4. Don’t Overbuy Bulk
It may be tempting to buy the super-sized box of Cheerios, but you have to consider whether you’ll actually eat all those little oat donuts before they turn into rocks. Buy just enough to last until the next sale.

5. Limit Produce Purchases
Americans throw away roughly one quarter of the food we buy. For a family of four, that figures out to $2,200 a year in food, according to author Jonathan Bloom. Rather than grab fruits and vegetables that look appealing, stick to your list and avoid spoilage. You’re also more likely to use produce if you don’t hide it away in your refrigerator’s bins. Keep it in plain site or make a list of contents that you stick on the fridge drawer as a reminder.

6. Avoid Temptation
King Soopers (owned by Krogers) has launched new “Marketplace” stores in the west, with layouts similar to Whole Foods. Walk in the door and you’re immediately assaulted by the smell of stunning flower arrangements, fresh deli items, and beautifully arranged produce. It’s tempting to fill your cart in this section, so be on your guard. Also beware of the non-food items for sale, including everything from furniture to high-end jewelry.

7. Don’t Use a Cart
Ditch the carry-all cart and carry a basket for quick trips. The less room you have to fill, the less likely you are to make impulse purchases.

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Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc., and has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles.

 

8 Best Things to Buy in January

Getting back to everyday life after Christmas requires serious adjustments. Instead of cozying up to the fire with a good book, you’re stuck analysing lifeless spreadsheets and sending uninspired emails.

Going back to work combined with credit card bills often leads to a general refusal to spend money. But stashing credit cards away and vowing not to buy until the weather warms up may actually do more harm than good.

According to The Best Time to Buy Guide fromFreeShipping.org, certain products are offered at some of the best prices of the year in January.

1. Linens and Bedding
Thanks to decor non-conformists, “white sales” don’t carry the same weight they used to. These days designs and patterns are right there with their colourless counterparts. Still, the spirit lives on in the post-holiday discounts you’ll find on bedding and linens. Sheets, pillows, towels and more are all marked down to entice even the most practical spender.

2. Calendars
Finding a good discount on a calendar in January is a no-brainer. With each passing day, calendars loose a little bit of value. Savvy shoppers wait a few weeks into the new year to see prices drop by as much as 70 percent.

3. Gift Cards
Gift cards seem like such a safe present, but somehow there’s always an aunt who thinks her college-aged nephew would really benefit from $50 at Pottery Barn. This sort of misguided gift giving has created a huge secondary market for unwanted cards, with inventory at it’s highest after the holidays. So before you throw down cash for your next purchase, buy gift cards at a discount and enjoy immediate savings.

4. Motorcycles
If winter weather has forced you to abandon your open-air ride for the confines of a stuffy automobile, feed your desire for two-wheel freedom by shopping for motorcycle parts, accessories or even the whole bike itself. Once the snow finally melts and spring fever strikes, prices climb as more people have a hankering to hit the open road.

5. Perfume
This perennial holiday present usually sees its sales drop after Dec. 25 has passed. However, Feb. 14 isn’t far away and demand will rise quickly. While there might still be some good Valentine’s Day sales, stocking up on favorite fragrances during the month-long lull should get you some of the best prices of the year.

6. Holiday Supplies
Wrapping paper, lights and inflatable snowmen are all fair game for big savings in January. With nearly another year until the next holiday season rolls around, merchants are desperate to get whatever price they can for remaining red and green inventory. If you pick up some Christmas cards for cheap right now, you’ll still have another 11 months to capture the perfect awkward family photo.

7. Video Games
When January arrives, gamers are concluding the mythical quests and top-secret missions they embarked on over Christmas. With no foes left to vanquish, they’ll trade in their overplayed titles for something else, meaning more used games on the shelves. Also, many popular titles are targeted for release in the months leading up to the holidays, and such games see a drop in price after the hype has died down.

8. Furniture
Most new furniture models hit stores in February and August, which means leftovers from last year’s collection have to go to make room for the latest and greatest. In January, retailers are more willing to wheel and deal to free up precious floor space. And don’t hesitate to haggle for an even better price — try a few of these helpful strategies from WiseBread to hone your skills.