Tools to Overcome Overspending

shopper laden with bagsIf you’ve been bitten by the shopping bug, you know that even one quick trip to the mall can wreak havoc on your wallet. But take heart! There are many techniques to help even the most entrenched spender transform negative habits into positive behavior.

  • Avoid the Hot Spots. If you know you can’t go into a store or mall without exiting with an armload of unnecessary objects, don’t go in.
  • Use Lay-away, or a store’s “hold” policy. In other words, give yourself time to think before you buy.
  • Write a shopping list. Nothing ruins splurging like a little forethought. Make a list of what you need before you leave the house. Buy only what’s on the list.
  • Splurge … but economically and consciously. The pleasure of saying “yes” to the urge to splurge is the same, whether you’re at the Salvation Army or Saks Fifth Avenue, and the morning after is a lot less painful.
  • Count your money. Know how much you’re earning and spending. Each dollar represents a portion of your life – you traded your energy for it. Where is it going? Are you getting fulfillment for each dollar spent? Are you spending your energy (money) in ways that support your values?
  • Phone a friend. If you’re on the verge of splurging, phoning a friend is a good way to purge the urge.

Now you don’t have to wonder why it is so easy for spending to get out of hand. The reasons are many. But by understanding all these factors and working against them, you – not outside forces – can make conscious and sound shopping decisions.

©Copyright 2013 Balance

Yard Sale Dos and Don’ts

yardsale   Birds are chirping happily. Fish are jumping. Leaves are on the trees. Summer’s almost here. And that means yard sales. You can save a lot of dough by picking up items at the “lawn mall,” but money forked over for an item that will need to be replaced is just wasted. Here’s what to lock down at yard sales and what to leave alone. Snatch it up

  • Tray-1Anything silver If it has “9.25,” “925/1000,” “Sterling,” or “S/S” engraved on it, it’s either genuine silver or someone has put some real effort into faking it. Usually it’s going to be the former, so strongly consider any cheap silver item that seems to be real. Antique silver items in particular are highly collectable, so even if it doesn’t look nice on your mantle it could still bring you some benefit.
  • Quality wooden bookcases, desks, dressers or other furniture Household items these days bought at mass retailers are usually made out of very cheap wood with minimal craftsmanship. If you want an item for cheap that is going to last and show off your taste for fine artisanship, consider picking up an older wood unit.
  • Exercise equipment There may not be any category of consumer goods that has a greater cost-to-use ratio than exercise equipment. Better to be the one who brings that ratio down than the one who suffers by selling that Bowflex at a 95% loss.|
  • Kid’s clothes As fast as young kids grow, paying for new clothes for them can make you want to start crying and throwing a tantrum. Older kids may balk at the idea of wearing someone else’s clothes – at least until they get older and go through their vintage phase -but younger kids are usually much more open to wearing anything that is “pretty” or “cool” no matter its provenance.
  • Toys/games Looking for a way to create some family bonding time? Pick up a new board game for dirt cheap. Got a family road trip coming up? Keep the kids occupied with a toy or game just for them. Or, on second thought, maybe several toys or games.

Pass it up

  • SONY DSCSafety devices Whether it’s child car seats, bicycle helmets, baby cribs or any other item designed to protect you or your loved ones, you will want to think twice before picking up something whose history you aren’t entirely familiar with. Baby cribs in particular can be a chancy buy at garage sales since they may have been recalled because of a dangerous design flaw.
  • Mattresses/furniture with soft fabric With bedbugs causing so many woes across the country you don’t want to take anything home that could be a launching pad for an infestation. Clothes are safer because they can be washed and dried at high temperatures, but for items that can’t easily have the critters cooked out of them, you may be playing Russian roulette.
  • Electronics It’s best to think of buying electronics at a yard sale like buying a scratch-off lottery ticket: maybe you get something out of it, maybe you don’t. At the very least, have the seller demonstrate that the item actually works. But even then, without knowing the entire history of how the item was used you are taking a shot in the dark. Adjust your price accordingly if you do want to take a chance.
  • Anything that can go bad Even if it is on the right side of the expiration date, food, toiletries or cleaning products could have been stored improperly. You don’t want to find out the hard way that the $0.75 hair exfoliating cream has gone toxic.
  • Tires Anything that helps your vehicle stay under control is just not worth taking a chance on. Tires that have been previously used may have structural integrity issues you would have no way of seeing with an eyeball inspection.

© Copyright 2013 Balance

Dealing with Medical Debt

Med billsUnfortunately, when you get sick or injured, getting better is often not the only concern. Even if you have health insurance, hefty medical bills can hang over your head like an ominous raincloud. Many people feel that they have no choice but to ignore the bills or file for bankruptcy. However, these are not the only options. There are many ways you can make paying your medical bills more manageable.

Check the bills Often people are so shocked over how much they owe when they first open their bills that they forget to look at them in detail. However, since medical bills are frequently inflated, looking over them carefully could save you money. Maybe you were billed for a four-day stay in the hospital when you only stayed two or charged twice for the same medication. If you see that you were billed for something you should not have been, contact the medical provider to have the charge removed.

If you have health insurance, it is also a good idea to make sure your insurance company paid for everything they should have. If an insurance company denies a claim, the medical provider will just bill you, even if the treatment is covered under your plan. How easy is it to get an insurance company to pay a denied claim? If it was merely a clerical error, it should be simple. If you are dealing with a stereotypical penny-pinching insurance company trying to wiggle out of paying something they should, it could be harder but not impossible. Most insurance companies allow you to appeal decisions, and if you submit evidence to support why the treatment should be covered, like a letter from your doctor, you may be able to have the denial overturned.

shocked-face-with-gaping-mouthAsk for a repayment plan Even after billing errors are corrected, the amount you owe may seem frighteningly large. However, there is no need to panic if you cannot pay a bill in full. Most medical providers will allow you to make smaller payments until the bill is paid off and, in many cases, won’t even charge interest. Think about how much you can afford to send each month, and let the medical provider know.

If the medical provider does not accept your proposal, should you not send any money? Not necessarily. Few people will actually refuse money, regardless of how small the amount is. That does not mean you are immune from being sued or having the account be sold to a collection agency, but all you can do is send what you can afford to pay. Not paying your mortgage or other important expenses to get more cash for your medical bills is usually not a good idea.

Look for assistance If you have medical bills from a hospital, you are probably well aware of how high hospital bills can be. Luckily, many hospitals get government funds and donations to cover the bills for patients who cannot pay them themselves. (Other types of medical providers typically do not get such funds but may give you a discount if you describe your hardship.) Talk to your hospital’s billing department or financial counselor about what programs they have. Remember to find out what the application procedure and qualifications are – often assistance programs are restricted to people who owe above a certain amount, have income below a certain limit, and/or have no medical insurance. Even if you ultimately do not qualify, it does not hurt to ask.

talking-to-your-doctorHospitals are not the only places where you can get financial assistance with your medical debt – many non-profits provide the same the service. Like with hospitals, non-profit programs are often restricted to limited income and/or uninsured individuals. To find out what programs are available in your area, contact your local United Way or dial 211 (an information referral service available in most communities).You may also be able to get information from relevant disease support groups.

Create a plan for the future While your current concern may be the bills you need to pay now, chances are, you will have more medical bills to pay in the future. Getting sick is just a part of life. However, if you start saving today, it will be easier to pay whatever bills come your way tomorrow. While you can put your savings in a savings account, you may also want to make use of one of the tax-advantaged accounts available for medical expenses.

If your employer offers it, one option is to set up a flexible spending account. At the beginning of the enrollment period (which if often, but not always, January 1), you tell you employer how much you want withheld from each paycheck and sent to your account. You typically must pay for the costs out of pocket first and then get reimbursed after submitting a claim form. While the money sent to a flexible spending account is not taxed, there is one drawback: you lose any money that is not spent by the end of the year. Thus, you should not contribute more to a flexible spending account than you reasonably expect to spend.

Another option is a health savings account. Like with a flexible spending account, the money contributed to a health savings account is not taxed. However, you do not lose the money that is left over in the account at the end of the year. So, why would anyone choose a flexible spending account over a health savings account? Health savings accounts are not available to everyone – in order to qualify, you must be enrolled in a high deductible health plan (a plan with higher deductibles and lower premiums than traditional plans). If you have a traditional plan, you are out of luck.

Medical bills can linger long after an injury or illness has been treated. While the amounts owed can seem unbelievably large, remember, there are many things you can do ease the pain of bill paying.



Patient Advocate Foundation 1-800-532-5274 Provides information to patients experiencing problems with their insurance company or employer. Also offers a co-payment assistance program.

Partnership for Prescription Assistance 1-888-477-2669 Provides information on programs that offer financial assistance with prescription costs.

HealthWell Foundation 1-800-675-8416 Provides grants that can be used to pay for prescriptions, co-pays, deductibles, and insurance premiums. Available to patients with a variety of illnesses.

CancerCare 1-800-813-4673 Offers financial assistance programs to help cover the costs of cancer treatment and co-pays. Heart Support of America 1-888-430-9809 Offers financial aid to patients with heart disease.

©Copyright 2008 Balance

Phone Scams that are Still Alive and Kicking

no solicitorsJust because we are all high tech these days, doesn’t mean the old fashioned phone scams have gone away. Below is a list of the top ones that still happen on a regular basis, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

1. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will not call you unsuspectingly and ask you for private information or tell you to send money somewhere because you owe them taxes. Don’t fall for it. If the IRS has a legitimate concern with your taxes, they will initiate contact with a letter via the regular mail.

2. No matter how sophisticated our software is these days, there is no way that Microsoft or any other technical support will know out of the blue that you have malware on your computer and will voluntarily call you to help you fix it. There are scammers out there that will call you claiming to be technical support in an effort to convince you to pay them a fee to “fix” your computer. While there is probably a good chance you may have some issue with your computer, these people are trying to scam you. If you have a technical issue, you should be the one to initiate a call to support.

money trap3. We would all love to have “free money” spontaneously show up at our door. However, if you didn’t sign up for a sweepstakes, don’t let someone convince you over the phone that if you send a processing fee to them, you will be able to collect your valuable prize. Never send money to collect a prize.

4. Even the FBI is exploited in phone scams. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from there and asking you to send money to help a Prince or Princess in Distress, don’t do it. Cinderella is a fairy tale as is this line. This is just not ever going to legitimately happen. If you have a real FBI agent calling you on the phone, you may have more urgent issues with which to focus your attention.

5. Caller ID can be spoofed and sometimes scammers will do just this to try and trick you into sending money. It can look like the caller is from a legitimate organization, perhaps your bank, or even your mom hoping you will pick up the phone so they can convince you to send money. Just because the caller ID claims the number is one you may know, it isn’t necessarily the case. If the caller sounds suspicious, trust your instincts and hang up. You can always call back with a number you already have to verify the call.

screaming into phone6. Immigrants have been in the current events news a lot recently and this just makes the likelihood of scammers taking advantage of that rise. Sometimes they will pose as an official from Homeland Security (DHS) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) threatening deportation of someone in your home unless you provide private information that can be used against you or for a fee. The government doesn’t operate this way, so hang up.

7. The federal government also will not randomly call you claiming you won a government grant for some large sum of money. Even more shocking is that you didn’t even apply for one. So if you get a call like this asking for fees in exchange for your grant, it is fake, even if you did apply for a government grant. Hang up. Generally, with any official agency, you will receive notification by mail first.

8. Healthcare and medical related scams are on the rise and phone scammers may be calling you to get in on that action. Sometimes they claim to be from Health and Human Services (HHS), Medicare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare). They may threaten to suspend healthcare benefits if you don’t fork over fees or personal information. Again, this is not how these agencies will work with you, so if you get such a call, and especially if you feel like you are being threatened by the caller, hang up.

FBI guy9. Finally, there is the scareware tactic where a link results in a popup that has a phone number for you to call. The dialogue claims that you are locked out of your files, the FBI has determined your are doing something illegal and has locked up your computer, or some other ruse. There is a number to call and the person on the other end may try to scare you into sending money in some form, often by sending a prepaid card somewhere in exchange for a code to unlock your files.

Back up your files regularly either to the cloud or to an external drive. Depending on the size of the files you want to back up, you may even be able to put them on a USB stick.  In any case, don’t ever pay any type of ransom. Most of the time, this “code” is never sent and you have lost your files and your money.  If you have a recent backup, you can restore those more easily.

If you believe you have been scammed in one of these ways, you should file a report with your local law enforcement agency as well as with the FTC using their FTC Complaint Assistant.

© Copyright 2015 Stickley on Security

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy-Mothers-Day-1080x1920-HEver wonder where this most beloved of holidays originated? Its genesis goes all the way back to the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

At the same time, the holiday’s more recent history can also be traced to the United Kingdom. Mothering Sunday was celebrated there long before the holiday ever saw the light of the day in the United States.

The U.S. holiday as it is known today is a recent phenomenon and not even a hundred years old. It is thanks to the hard work of a pioneering American woman named Anna Jarvis that the day came into existence in the U.S.

Today, Mother’s Day is celebrated across 46 countries (although on different dates) and is hugely popular. Millions of people across the globe take the day as an opportunity to pay tribute to their mothers and thank them for their love and support. In several countries, phone lines witness maximum traffic. In the U.S., there is also a tradition of gifting flowers, cards and other gifts to mothers.

Best wishes to all mothers, wherever they may be, for a wonderful Mother’s Day!


You’ve Graduated. Welcome to the Workforce!


It’s time to roll up your sleeves and put that lifetime of education to work for you. Finding the right job isn’t easy—it takes motivation to go after the industry or company you want, effort to ace the application and interview process and a bit of luck to land the job. Read on for tips, advice and tools that will help ensure a successful search.


Your school career center is an excellent place to start when looking for work. As a resource provided to students, the point of a career center is to find jobs that relate to specific fields of study. Check in with a career counselor for advice on resume building or to sign up for on-campus interviews. Recruiters often come to schools and universities looking for future prospects. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door of an otherwise out-of-reach company.

Headhunters and employment services can also be a good source for job leads. One of the major benefits of working with placement agencies is that they already have established relationships within the industries they service and know exactly who to put you in front of. The downside is that some may charge you a fee for their services or require a percentage of your pay from the company who has hired you.

Networking has become the new buzzword in professional circles—and for good reason. Many of the best jobs out there are never advertised. The key to landing them is a lucky combination of being in the right place at the right time and talking to the right person. Don’t be afraid to go to social events and advertise yourself or talk about your goals. Or share your plans with friends and family. You’ll be surprised how supportive people can be. After all, everyone has been there at one time or another. If they can’t immediately connect you with a job, they can often provide valuable advice on where to look and who the best contacts might be.

Know What You’re Looking For

Think about the big picture and not just the job you want now. Beyond earning a paycheck, what skills and experiences do you want to take away from your new job? Look to the next step of your career and think about which job will get you closer to that goal. Also, look at the associated benefits. A high-paying job with no benefits may not be as advantageous as a lower-paying position with a complete benefits package.

Consider cost of living and your expenses before you relocate for a job. Every city is different, so a starting salary in one area may not be enough to support you in a new location. Moving costs are another factor to take into consideration. If your prospective employer isn’t going to pay your moving costs, make sure the salary will make up for these costs in the long run, or that you have additional funds to cover the expenses.

©Copyright Visa