Easy Ways to Save on Your Water Bill

SaveOnWaterBillYou know there’s money to be saved by using less water in and around your home, but you aren’t quite ready to put a brick in your toilet tank or reduce your shower flow to a trickle. Have no fear; there are still steps you can take to seriously reduce your water bill each month.

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Fix leaks to faucets or pipes.
  • Only do full loads of laundry or dishes.
  • Don’t leave the faucet on while you brush your teeth or shave.
  • Buy more efficient appliances, like a laundry machine or toilet.
  • Use a dishwasher instead of doing dishes by hand.
  • Put food coloring into your toilet tank and see if the dye ends up in the bowl. If it does, you have a leak and you are wasting hundreds of gallons of water each day.
  • Capture rainwater to water the lawn or plants during dry times.
  • Use hose water to clean—such as the sidewalk, gutters, or roof—as infrequently as possible.
  • Don’t water your lawn on windy days.
  • If your children want to cool off during the summer, use a small pool instead of constant-stream water toys.
  • Choose plants, flower, shrubs or trees that don’t require a lot of water.
  • Wash your car at a car wash instead of at home.
  • Don’t use the toilet as a wastebasket. Throw everything you can into the trash instead.
  • Put a plastic bottle full of water into your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water that is fed into the tank each time you flush.
  • Avoid using your sink’s garbage disposal feature.
  • Put mulch around plants to slow the evaporation of water.
  • Teach your children to turn off faucets properly.
  • Shower instead of taking a bath.
  • Don’t thaw food by running water over it. Thaw it in the microwave instead.
  • Keep cool water in the refrigerator so you don’t have to run the tap water until it turns cold when you want a drink.
  • Replace your toilet flapper if it doesn’t close properly. It’s the rubber stopper at the bottom of the tank.
  • Save the water you use to rinse fruit and vegetables and use it water your house plants.
  • Wash your pet in an area of the lawn that needs watering.

You will likely find that one or two of these actions alone won’t put you on easy street. However, if you are conscientious about your water use, the savings could add up to hundreds of dollars more in your pocket every year.


© 2013 BALANCE

Childcare Options That Won’t Leave You Crying

childcare_blocksThere are line items on your budget worksheet that you can feel fairly comfortable skimping on, like paper towels or toothpaste. However, the supervision of your child likely isn’t one of those areas where you’d like to cut corners. So getting the best care for your son or daughter means shelling out major cash each month, right? Not necessarily. There are some options out there that won’t force you to erase your child’s college fund just to have them looked after.

Family or close friends The idea of having your big loved ones looking after your little loved one(s) can be very comforting. And the fact that you could work out an arrangement that involves little or no money changing hands makes it an even more appealing choice. Do your best though to not make the caregivers feel like they are being taken advantage of. That can cause the situation to turn sour quickly and leave you back at square one.

Local low-income childcare programs If your income level qualifies you, city, county or state programs may get you access to special childcare programs set up to help working parents. Check with your local social services office to learn more.

Co-ops More and more babysitting or childcare cooperatives are springing up in response to the high costs of traditional daycare. The savings over regular daycare can make all the difference. Some co-ops let you earn points by providing childcare for others. Then you can exchange these points for the care of your own child and end up paying little to nothing. Read reviews online to find a reputable group. If one doesn’t exist, research how to create one!

In-home daycare Often, enterprising parents will create a daycare in their home to make some extra money while watching after their own children. Once again, the savings vs. a traditional daycare facility can be amazing. Check to make sure the proprietor of the home daycare has the appropriate licensing for your state. It’s also a good idea to ask for some referrals.

Non-profit organizations The YMCA is probably the best known non-profit that provides affordable daycare, but check to see if there are any other groups in your area that offer this service. Because there is no profit motive, the costs are held down. And there are often just as many, if not more, activities for the children to participate in.

Care sponsored by an employer, college or place of worship All of the above organizations have been known to provide or subsidize childcare programs. While they may not completely meet your needs, it’s wise to check what kinds of programs are available before you make any decisions. Know that your employer’s benefits may be offered through an employee assistance program.

Extended baby-sitting or nanny care Before you dismiss this possibility, consider how many young people there are out of work these days. Many of those young people have large student loans or other debts to pay. You may find that because of the competition among young people to provide childcare services, you can actually get a reliable and conscientious person to look after your child for much less than you had anticipated. Sites like SitterCity.com or Care.com can provide a list of caregivers in your area who have background checks and come with referrals. You’ve probably heard a lot of fretting over the years about the cost of childcare and the lack of affordable options. However, where there is a need not being filled, services usually spring up to fill those gaps. With some dedicated research, you may find care that will feel good for both the attention your child will receive and the impact to your bank account.


© 2013 BALANCE

Secure Your Web Cameras To Keep Others From Spying On You

EyeIt’s difficult to find a computer, mobile phone, or even television without a webcam as standard equipment these days. They’re certainly handy and have allowed us to be the selfie-taking society that we are, whether we like it or not, and give us the ability to video chat with those far away. However, this great technology also comes with some reservations and warnings: It can allow others to potentially spy on your every move.

There are some indicators, such as the little LED light to tell you you’re being watched. But some hackers have figured out a way to activate the camera without that happening. Fortunately, that is a rare occurrence.

There are a few other precautions to take with regard to that camera.

  • If you’re not using the camera, cover it up with a piece of black tape or a sticky note so that even if it does suddenly click on, it won’t show anything.
  • If you can deactivate it in your settings, do so when not in use.
  • Make sure you have anti-malware installed and updated on your computer. Also, make sure those patches and updates are applied when they are released.
  • Don’t open attachments or click links that are unsolicited. Many times, malware that allows for spying is within those.
  • Keep the firmware on the devices updated as well. The manufacturers release those periodically and you should apply them. Check for updated versions the first time you install an internet-connected device as well.
  • Don’t forget to change the default passwords on internet-accessible devices in your home such as baby monitors or security cameras. Make sure those passwords are strong passwords that are a mixture of upper and lower case letters, as well as numbers and special characters. Also, don’t use passwords you have used on other accounts such as your bank account.
  • Any time you use a public computer, there is no guarantee it’s free from malware, so if you don’t want to be on camera when using those, put something over the lens.

Miss Teen USA of 2013, Cassidy Wolf, was a victim of spying by a former classmate. He had installed a remote access trojan (RAT) called Blackshades on her laptop without her knowledge and took naked photos of her. He subsequently tried to blackmail her with them. She contacted authorities and he was eventually arrested and served a prison sentence.

The European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit arrested nearly 100 people for developing and using Blackshades last year. It’s estimated that between September 2010 and April 2014, Blackshades generated sales of more than $350,000.


© Copyright 2015 Stickley on Security


Big Budget Blind Spot: Food Shopping

Grocery-shopping-on-a-budgetYour relationship with food is probably pretty complex. Rather than just being sustenance, food may be used for comfort, social bonding, distraction or pleasure. When you really commit to tracking your food expenses as part of putting together a spending and savings plan, you realize food can be a complicated part of your financial life too. While meals are of course a necessity, your food buying habits can become so deeply engrained in your routine that you take all the decisions you make for granted. Making changes will take a little work, but the rewards can make it all worth it.

When you look to maximize your food money, your mind may be geared toward eliminating certain expenses. That is fine for line items like dining out or buying those extra steaks. But also keep in mind that a successful food purchasing plan isn’t just about cutting things out. It’s also about understanding your habits and making sure they are as wise as possible.

Going out to lunch at work You may grab “a quick bite” at work because it’s easy. But it might actually take you less time at home to put together the same meal. Then you get to spend more of your lunch period at work relaxing, going for a walk or reading a book. Or you could just spend the time thinking about the hundreds of dollars you will save this year by brown-bagging.

Convenience store or check-out aisle buys If you actually look at the prices, you realize that the mark-ups on the quick-grab items near store cash registers are incredibly high. But that’s just the thing. Stores realize you don’t stop to examine and consider prices in those situations. If you find yourself reaching for a pack of gum or some candy as you are about to check out, instead make a commitment to stock up ahead of time and keep these items in your car or your purse or your desk. By buying them online or at a bulk retailer, you could pocket a bunch of extra dough.

Fast food The fast burger or taco for $0.99 sounds like the perfect recipe for our modern sensibilities; we want food in a hurry and we don’t want to pay a lot. While the speed of delivery may be enticing, the end price may not be all that great. Consider: how many times have you gone to a fast food restaurant and ordered just one thing? The advertised item may under a dollar, but when you add on a drink and fries or another side order, you begin to put your purchase in to the not-so-economical category.

Shopping when you are hungry It’s silly to think that you are always going to shop on a full stomach. So instead of feeling like you need to plan all your grocery shopping excursions in tandem with meals, just be aware of why you are putting each item into your cart. Are you reaching for that plastic canister of candy rope because it’s a part of your budget or because your blood sugar is a little low?

“High end” grocery stores You may like to go to the more expensive grocery in your area because they have a few specialty items that you can’t find at other stores. That is certainly understandable. But make sure those items aren’t available for a lower at your regular grocery first. They may be tucked away in a place you hadn’t thought to look.

Buying prepared items Any financial counselor worth their salt will tell you that cooking your own meals instead of buying prepared meals saves you mounds of cash. But also think about the fruits and vegetables you buy. Fruit medleys or even individual chopped fruit packages can cost much, much more than just buying the fruit in its whole form. Same goes for salad mixes. Is it really worth the extra money to have someone cut up your fruit or mix up some greens for you?

Failing to plan If you are one of those people who wander around the grocery store until they find some things that look yummy, you are probably paying more than the list makers of the world. In a perfect world you would plan out your meals for a couple weeks and create a shopping list based on that. But at the very least, try to formulate a list of necessities. Allow yourself one impulse buy if that helps you stick to the plan.

Meat-centric meals If you plan your dining experience with meat as the centerpiece, you are not alone. It’s a common tactic. But it doesn’t have to be an all-the-time way of looking at meal construction. By sometimes substituting in tofu, beans or legumes as your protein source, you can save significantly at checkout time.

Brand name insistence There are certain consumer items for which you can make an argument that brand name goods are a better choice. But that isn’t generally the case with food. Lima beans are lima beans, whether the name on the can is the one you heard on TV or it is completely new to you.

Making money-smart choices about your food purchases doesn’t have to mean denying yourself the things you love. Instead, think of putting the above tips into practice as a way to still get all the food you enjoy while giving yourself some extra money to put toward other areas of life enjoyment.


© 2013 BALANCE

The History Of Flag Day

Flag-Day3The Fourth of July was traditionally celebrated as America’s birthday, but the idea of an annual day specifically celebrating the flag is believed to have first originated in 1885. B.J. Cigrand, a schoolteacher, arranged for the pupils in the Fredonia, Wisconsin Public School, District 6, to observe June 14 (the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of The Stars and Stripes) as “Flag Birthday.” In numerous magazines and newspaper articles and public addresses over the following years, Cigrand continued to enthusiastically advocate the observance of June 14 as “Flag Birthday,” or “Flag Day.”

On June 14, 1889, George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City, planned appropriate ceremonies for the children of his school, and his idea of observing Flag Day was later adopted by the State Board of Education of New York. On June 14, 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia held a Flag Day celebration, and on June 14 of the following year, the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution celebrated Flag Day.

Following the suggestion of Colonel J. Granville Leach (at the time, historian of the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution), the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames of America on April 25, 1893, adopted a resolution requesting the mayor of Philadelphia and all others in authority and all private citizens to display the flag on June 14. Leach went on to recommend that thereafter the day be known as “Flag Day,” and on that day, school children be assembled for appropriate exercises with each child being given a small flag.

Two weeks later on May 8, the Board of Managers of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution unanimously endorsed the action of the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames. As a result of the resolution, Dr. Edward Brooks, then Superintendent of Public Schools of Philadelphia, directed that Flag Day exercises be held on June 14, 1893, in Independence Square. School children were assembled, each carrying a small flag, and patriotic songs were sung and addresses delivered.

In 1894, the governor of New York directed that on June 14 the flag be displayed on all public buildings. With B.J. Cigrand and Leroy Van Horn as the moving spirits, the Illinois organization, known as the American Flag Day Association, was organized for the purpose of promoting the holding of Flag Day exercises. On June 14, 1894, under the auspices of this association, the first general public school children’s celebration of Flag Day in Chicago was held in Douglas, Garfield, Humboldt, Lincoln, and Washington Parks, with more than 300,000 children participating.

Adults, too, participated in patriotic programs. Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, delivered a 1914 Flag Day address in which he repeated words he said the flag had spoken to him that morning: “I am what you make me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.”

Inspired by these three decades of state and local celebrations, Flag Day—the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777—was officially established by the proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after Wilson’s proclamation, it was not until August 3, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.


Article courtesy of usflag.org

The Finances of Becoming a New Parent

Cute KidHow can something so small cause such a major upheaval in your life? Not the least of this upheaval is financial. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that the average middle-income family will spend over $241,080 raising a child until the age 18—and that does not include any college costs.

But just as you find the extra time and energy you will need to take care of the little bundle of consuming joy, you will find ways to work it out financially.

Planning for Parenthood Brace yourself. You will be spending much more than expected to buy things you never even thought of. Start planning financially for having a baby as soon as you can—before conception if possible.

Set aside as much as you can every month in a savings account. The actual event of birth can be expensive as well as all the first time purchases you’ll make. Don’t forget to save some money for your maternity or paternity leave. This is usually unpaid time off work.

How much do you need? As much as you can save. Any funds left over make a great starter for a college fund. If you’ve amassed a considerable amount well before the due date, you can invest in a short-term certificate or other insured investment. But don’t tie up your entire fund in investments. Babies will not sign contracts and they have not agreed to your schedule.

Have a brainstorming session with an experienced parent to figure out all the things you need to purchase before the delivery. It will be extremely helpful to have most of what you need before the baby is born. Your spare shopping time after birth is reduced drastically. If you need to shop after the baby is born, try the Internet. Nobody on the Internet cares how loud your baby is crying, what you are wearing or what time it is when your baby gives you a free moment to shop.

Here’s a starter list for your brainstorming session. This is far from a complete list, but it will help get you thinking.

  • Car Seat By law, you can’t even take the baby home from the hospital without one.
  • Crib You want one that meets the highest safety standards.
  • Bassinet One with wheels will add to your mobility around the house.
  • Stroller Consider getting one that’s part of a stroller/car seat combo. It makes transitions easier.
  • Baby Monitor “Baby calling Parents, come in, Parents.”
  • Safety Gate Keep your newly mobile child away from staircases and other hazards.

Maternity and Paternity Leave Most companies don’t provide paid maternity leave—and don’t have to. The Family and Medical Leave Act, which only applies if a company has more than 50 employees, ensures mothers should be able to return to their old job or an equivalent job up to 12 weeks after they begin their leave. The actual policy varies from company to company, especially if the company has fewer than 50 employees.

If you are a father, ask your employer about paternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act does not cover this time, but many employers are offering the same or similar benefits to their male employees.

Plan monetarily for maternity and paternity leave, as it is unpaid. You may be able to save up sick time and vacation time to continue receiving income for several weeks. But most likely, you will lose some income during this time.

Copyright © Visa