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Simple Savings
05/07/2010
IconTraditional IRA vs. Roth IRA: Pros and Cons By A. B. Jacobs www.onthemoneytrail.com Not long ago I received the following inquiry from a subscriber to my newsletter: "I understand that an IRA account can be a good device for retirement planning. I've done some investigating, but am confused as to whether a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA is better. Can you provide some advice on this matter?" In drafting my response, it occurred that a good number of persons might want an answer to that question. So, if this subject strikes a chord with you, read on. Before we attempt to weigh the pros and cons of the two federally designed Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), I'll provide a brief overview of each program. The traditional (or ordinary) IRA is by far the older of the two, introduced in 1981 to provide Americans with a tax-favored means of saving for retirement. In its current operation, any taxpayer may contribute up to $4,000 annually of earned income into an established account. Such contributions are tax deductible, with the account's subsequent earnings tax-deferred until eventual distribution after the holder reaches 59frac12; years. By contrast, the Roth IRA, which originated in 1998, is not available to persons whose annual gross income exceeds certain amounts (generally $110,000 for single persons and $160,000 for married persons), nor are its contributions deductible in the year made. However, all income generated by and eventually distributed from the account is tax-free during its lifetime. For a thoroughly understandable summary of the specifics of each program, you can pick up Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax , at any IRS office, and review the dozen pages comprising Chapter 18 titled "Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)." Presuming you've now familiarized yourself somewhat with the details, it's time to broach the original question: Which IRA, the traditional or the Roth, is better? As you might guess, I harbor some strong opinions. It is my belief that if your gross income does not render you ineligible, the Roth IRA is by far the preferable choice. Although it's true that you'll not get tax deductions for the contributions, you'll receive something far more valuable-all income and appreciation generated in the account will be forever free (at least as long as the laws are not changed). I'm convinced that if you can anticipate participation for at least twenty years, this more than makes up for the deductions that the traditional IRA generates, but which is tax-deferred rather than tax-free. Perhaps, in all fairness, we must not ignore a contrary claim that deductions taken at higher marginal brackets during the working years will more than offset the taxes paid on post-retirement distributions at lower rates, thereby favoring the traditional IRA. In response to this, it's my contention that persons who conduct their financial lives wisely will find themselves in substantially higher brackets is later years. Furthermore, with federal deficits rising, along with a prevalent tax-the-rich attitude of the electorate, the tax-free distributions to be garnered in future years might well be more beneficial than deductions received in earlier years. I'll concede, however, the possibility that the laws governing Roth IRAs may be radically changed at some time in the future by a hostile legislature, and approved by an indifferent executive. If ever Roth distributions become retroactively taxed to persons in certain higher income groups, all bets are off. In comparing the two types of IRAs, there's a companion matter that warrants consideration. If you previously opened a traditional IRA, but now wish it were a Roth, a way exists to make the conversion. This is known as a "rollover." The downside is as you might guess: The transaction requires that you pay income taxes at ordinary rates on the entire transfer, although thankfully the 10 percent penalty for early distribution is not applicable. In contemplating such a maneuver, you must estimate whether, as a Roth, the assets after the tax bite will provide greater after-tax retirement income than it would as a traditional. It's my belief that for account holders no older than about 35, the rollover will prove advantageous over the long haul. For persons above that age, it probably won't pay for itself. Now that I've expressed my preference as to type of IRA, I'd like to scratch beneath the surface a bit. Although we've viewed this device as an investment vehicle, we've not yet discussed what belongs in it. Of course there is no shortage of advice in the investment community on this subject. If you tune in regularly to the nation's financial advisers, you're aware that the recommended holdings in a retirement account are a mixture of broad-based mutual funds, often with heavy emphasis on index funds. It gives me no particular pleasure to heartily disagree, but I'm convinced that assets of an entirely different nature belong in a Roth IRA. My preference is for interest-bearing vehicles as the sole investment. These will be gilt-edge securities such as U.S. treasury notes and bonds, FDIC-insured certificates of deposit, money market accounts, and high-grade corporate bonds. The benefit to be gained is unique: You will reap the rewards of compound interest-the closest thing to magic you'll ever see. If started early enough in life, such an account may well accumulate a million dollars tax-free by the time of retirement. There's insufficient space here to go into greater detail, but for additional information on this subject you're invited to visit my website, www.onthemoneytrail.com , click onto Newsletter Archives , and read December 2002, "Why Bonds Belong in a Retirement Account." AL JACOBS has been a professional investor for nearly four decades. His business experience ranges from real estate, mortgage, and securities investment to appraisal, civil engineering, and the operation of a private trust company. In addition to managing his investments on a day-to-day basis, he is a featured financial columnist for both online and print publications. He is the author of Nobody's Fool: A Skeptic's Guide to Prosperity . You may subscribe to his financial Newsletter, "On the Money Trail," at no cost or obligation, by visiting www.onthemoneytrail.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconRomance on a Budget Valentine's Day is often synonymous with lush velvety looking red roses and spending big bucks on your sweetie. You're blinded by advertisements touting the latest luxury jewelry, over-priced flowers, and exquisite five star dining. You can sometimes feel pressure from this single day that is supposed to symbolize and convey your emotion of love to your sweetheart. Expressing your love can be shown with frugal abundance and still create heartfelt memories. You may not do anything at all because you feel that you can't afford it. Don't skip the holiday completely. The following are some traditional ideas and then some frugal alternative tips for inexpensive and thoughtful ways to express that you care without completely emptying your wallet. Romantic movies Movies are popular on Valentine's Day. There isn't any doubt that this idea rates highly on the snuggle meter.The following are some movie suggestions: Sleepless in Seattle Message in a Bottle Bridges of Madison County City of Angels Bridget Jones's Diary Somewhere in Time As Good As IT Gets Jerry Maguire Something's Gotta Give Amelie Traditional: Big night out at the theater with the works. Cha-ching Creatively Frugal: Select a nice romantic comedy for your sweetie. Pop some popcorn, pour your favorite beverage of choice, and light a fire if you're able to or at least some candles. It's all about the ambience. You both can cuddle up on the couch or have blankets and pillows out on the floor. Confectionary Treats Hard to imagine Valentine's Day without candy. The holiday is notorious for chocolates. They're definitely decadent and these treats have been acclaimed to have an aphrodisiac effect. It's difficult to pass up this romantic suggestion. Traditional: Godiva chocolates or satin and velvet heart shaped box of chocolates. Oohlala. Creatively Frugal: Bulk candy or homemade candy, baked goods, or just coffee and a dessert at a quiet cafe.Here are two great chocolate creations to make yourself. Chocolate Pretzels www.recipezaar.com/recipe/getrecipe.zsp?id=104975 Chocolate Popcorn www.recipezaar.com/recipe/getrecipe.zsp?id=19087 Beautiful Bouquets Saying "I love you" with flowers can make a lasting impression. Traditional: A dozen roses with a short lifespan and hefty price. You think you're smart when you select multi-colored or any color besides red roses, but oops what about all those rose flower meanings? Are you accurately describing your feelings? Creatively Frugal: Try a single bulb to force such as an amaryllis or tulip, a collection of seed packets for spring planting, or one single flower with the recipient's favorite hot beverage in the morning. Festive Feast A romantic night out can be lovely. You can have reservations made in advance and can get gussied up for an enjoyable evening. Planning the perfect setting complete with candles, wine, and excellent service is so romantic. Traditional: Expensive restaurant out on the town. The problem is that everyone else has the same idea. You'll often run into staff that is rushed or crowded parking lots and restaurants. This suggestion has the best of intentions, but lacks privacy and could easily prove to be the least romantic. Creatively Frugal: Valentine's Day breakfast versus dinner out or breakfast in bed. So many small details can be created with serving a meal at home. It provides the feeling of appreciation. You can light small votive candles, use favorite glasses, play soft music, and use cloth napkins. The meal itself doesn't need to be fancy. Use your creativity. If you don't have a tray, use a folded tablecloth or a nice basket. By all means, don't forget to clean up! Penned Sentiments Greeting cards are an excellent choice to show you care. There are endless varieties of romance cards. A card is well-received. Traditional: The perfect card for your valentine. You look through aisles and rows of costly greeting cards and spend hours trying to find the perfect one. Valentine's Day is the second largest card-giving holiday and that is reflected in the stores. In the mad rush to grab a card and get it delivered, you just sign it "with love". Creatively Frugal: Try love coupons, homemade card, handwritten letter, or cut out cartoons from newspaper and add a few words to it.It's so much more sincere in your own words from your heart. It's all about the presentation. Don't just toss your handwritten sentiment at your love. Delightful Pampering Cupid's arrow is sure to hit when you give your love a day of overindulgence. Being carefree is so appealing. Traditional: Spending a ton of cash on a spa day gift certificate for your sweetie. Creatively Frugal: Make a comfort box. In the box add a cd, scented lotions, bubblebath, hairbrush, candles, tea, cocoa, coffee, book, bookmark, and give a massage from you. As you can see, creating loving and memorable moments doesn't have to carry exorbitant prices. It's a day of expressing your affection and doesn't have to break the bank. Traditional romance can be nice, but it is often overrated. Being creatively frugal is a gift of the heart.Give your loved one the gift of your time and thoughtfulness. If you're desperate and reading this, I'll leave you with a small list of last minute ideas: Dance to a slow song. Take a walk and hold hands. Take a drive and tell your love your feelings from your heart. Go to a local playground and play on the swings. Read to your sweetie or recite a romantic song. Add red to the day with red cookies, clothing, candles, lipstick, red fruit, etc. Sit and talk and reminisce and talk about your dreams together.Play a board game or assemble a puzzle together. Watch the sunrise or sunset together. Find a trophy at the thrift store to give. Place notes in hidden places in the house for them to find. It's extra special when they don't find them all and come across them after the holiday is over. Frame a picture of the two of you or a place you both have enjoyed together, or make a collage of sentimental tokens collected during your relationship. Balloons are nice gift. Keep in mind that you can tuck a note inside a latex balloon before filling it or attach an item to a balloon. Happy Valentine's Day and here's wishing that love fills the air as you celebrate with your dearest. Sara Noel is a freelance writer and the Editor/Publisher of www.FrugalVillage.com and www.HomesteadGarden.com . Visit both these sites for information on getting back to basics through frugality, gardening, lost arts, simplicity, homesteading, and natural family living. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconSome Year-End Tax Tips For Business Owners Cliff Ennico www.creators.com As year-end approaches, many of us are too busy to even THINK about tax season. But there#146;s still time to squeeze in a few more dollars of tax savings before the crystal ball drops in Times Square. Here are some specific tips that may save you money come April 15: Bill Late, and Give Clients a Discount for Late Payment. No, I haven#146;t lost my marbles. Wait a little while before you send out your December invoices #150; this is the one time a year when it pays to be a little lazy. Since most of your clients want to pay you before December 31 (hey, they read this column too), why not offer them a discount for paying after January 1? You can even generate some positive #147;PR#148; by telling your clients it#146;s your #147;holiday gift#148; to them for being such wonderful clients during the year. Buy Lots and Lots of Equipment. Section 179 of the tax code allows you to deduct up to $105,000 worth of machinery and equipment if you #147;place it in service#148; before December 31. If you are thinking about upgrading your computer equipment, or trading up to a new pickup truck, now is the time. Hire Your Kids. Got a son or daughter home from college for the holidays? Put #145;em to work! Your kid will have to pay taxes on the money you pay them only to the extent it exceeds the standard deduction (currently $5,000), and even if they have to pay taxes, they will pay at a much lower rate than you will. Also, if your kids are under 18, you don#146;t have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes on what you pay them (with a couple of minor exceptions). #147;Home Office#148; Expenses. Taking the home office deduction? Remember that you can deduct a fraction of just about every household expense. Maybe it#146;s time to have someone else put up the holiday decorations, and pay them to do it. Or have the carpets cleaned. Or have the pine trees in the back yard pruned. Or . . . Upgrade Your Business Books. Have you recently upgraded to Excel 2005, only to realize your copy of #147;Excel 2004 for Brain-Dead Morons#148; is now obsolete? Business books are deductible #150; buy new ones now. You can also take the old ones to your local library and donate them by December 31 so you can take a 2005 charitable deduction for the value of the books. Be sure to get a receipt signed by the librarian. Pay Your 2006 Expenses Now. Why not pay your accountant now for preparing your 2005 tax returns? If you know you will incur expenses in January or February of next year, why not ask for an invoice now so you can pay it by December 31? The #147;Egg Nog#148; Deduction. You can write off up to $25 per person for holiday gifts to #147;business associates#148;, while a holiday party to thank your employees for a job well done is fully tax deductible. Open a Retirement Plan. If you don#146;t have a retirement plan, or if you have a SEP-IRA and want to contribute more each year to your retirement fund than a SEP-IRA will allow you to do, now is the time to set up a new Keogh or solo 401(k) retirement plan. If you do it by December 31, anything you contribute to the plan up to April 14, 2006 will be fully tax-deductible for 2005 up to the limits the Tax Code imposes. And One Last Thing. It#146;s tempting, I know, but you really shouldn#146;t back-date checks #147;December 31#148; that you actually write in January. Under a recent federal law designed to speed up check clearing at your bank, the chances of getting caught for this are a lot greater than they used to be, so don#146;t do it. Besides, Santa is watching . . . Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest book is #145;Small Business Survival Guide#146; (Adams Media, $12.95). This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com . COPYRIGHT 2005 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHoliday Stress: How to Cut it Out! By Jodie Lynn Plan ahead and organize to alleviate holiday stress for the whole family. Going Away: make plans now: For many, holiday time means traveling, so get started as soon as possible. If you just thought of wanting to go away for the holidays, there's still a few good prices in air, bus fare or even a group cruise fare. When people wait until the last minute to secure tickets, sometimes, various companies have last minute cancellations due to weather and/or illness or simple change of mind from another would be traveler. Research the area of where you want to go before arriving. Stay on Your Budget: There's no need to overspend. It might create a little extra work in the beginning to price out each item, but it will save a huge chunk of time in the end and you will be forever thankful. Researching prices of gifts online is one of the easiest ways to make comparable deals. If you find an item online and see that it is significantly different from the store price, you might order it from the online store. Things to keep in mind are the shipping and handling fee of an online store. Better Safe Than Sorry: Try to begin shopping today. Make a list and truly check it twice before your shopping trip. Write down colors, sizes, manufacture names and even the names of stores who might carry the item you are shopping for along with a couple of replacement gifts should your first priority not work out. Avoid last minute shopping and trying to make quick and haphazard decisions that neither you nor neither the individual will appreciate. Shopping Guilt Free: Go into a store with a specific gift in mind and stay on track. If the store doesn't have what you want, don't waste your time trying to replace it. Move on to the next item without feeling guilty. After you return home, take a little time to rethink what you might want to replace the unfound gift with and go out again another day. Add a Tag or Initials to the Wrapped Gifts: Cut down on spending by using the same wrapping paper for many of the gifts, especially if they are leaving your house. Don't forget to tie or stick on tags with an extra piece of Scotch tape and/or turn the package over and jot down the initials of the person to whom the gift is for in the right hand corner. Always File Your Receipts in a Safe Place: You never know if the gift is going to do or measure up to what you think it supposed to; so keep those receipts filed in a special place just in case. Eight-five percent of gifts are returned or exchanged. That's a high number, but isn't too terribly complicated if you have the receipt. Make up a folder and clearly write 2005 Holiday Receipts on the outside. For online stores, make sure you know about their return policies, especially if you are sending any type of plant, food or toy. Keep a Running List of Names for Greeting Card Recipients: Make a list of each person you'd like to send out a card to. Get the kids to help address envelopes and even to put on stamps. Depending on how many cards you are sending out, it might be best to do this in steps so the kids will view it as Holiday joy and fun instead of work and dumb. That's right; delegate the card sending to the kids by separating the process into steps so no one will get overwhelmed. Meal Planer: Always plan your dinner way ahead of time. Go to the store with ingredients written on a list for each dish. If it's a dish that uses heavy creams or other fat-laden ingredients, don't forget to either scan a conversion chart for healthy substitutes or look them up on the Internet to see just how good or bad they might actually be. Utilize an Organizer: It's never too early! If you would take a few minutes to organize every couple of days now YOU WILL FEEL SO MUCH BETTER especially if you do a little delegation to other family members and don't put so many stressful things on any one day for any one person. Write every detail up and mark it off as it is done. Take a little time for yourself: It should and must be done even if it's only a 30-minute lunch with a long lost friend; sitting down with a brief short book; watching a loved but often missed TV show, taking a walk, or even making a visit to a local nursing home. Last tip: Seeing you smile sends a loving message to your kids. It's totally free and the holidays really can be cherished and fun. copy; 2005 Jodie Lynn Jodie Lynn is an award-winning internationally syndicated family/healthcolumnist and radio personality. Parent to Parent (http://www.ParentToParent.com) is now going into its tenth year and appearsin newspapers, magazines, newsletters and throughout the Internet. She is a regular contributor to several sites including eDiets.com, MommiesMagazine.com and is the Residential Mom Expert for BabyUniverse.com. Lynn has written two books and contributed to two others, one of which was on Oprah and has appeared on NBC in a three month parenting segment. Her latest best-selling parenting/family book is Mommy-CEO, revised edition . Permission granted for use on drlaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHoliday Toy Safety Tips By Jodie Lynn www.ParentToParent.com When it comes to purchasing toys and games for the Holiday season, well meaning parents and relatives go crazy when it comes to buying #147;cute#148; or #147;hot#148; items for their kids. With all of the excitement surrounding the holidays, many disregard basic safety guidelines in age appropriate gifts for infants and toddlers. Buy age-appropriate toys by reading the labels. Each toy or game will have a suggested age range listed on the item. This label contains two pieces of safety information. One is if the item can and should be utilized by a specific age due to developmental and intellectual ability, and the other is for possible health hazards. Beware of choking hazards. Parents think that their child should be able to play with a toy based on their developmental ability. However, if the toy or game clearly displays a choking hazard label, and your child puts everything in their mouth, do not buy it. Choking is the most common cause of toy-related deaths. Avoid toys or games with small detachable parts. Get an up-close look. Take the toy or game out of the box. Look for safe construction: well-sewn seams on dolls and stuffed animals, and tightly secured parts, including eyes, arms and legs. Be sure that nothing can be broken off or easily removed, including small clothing pieces and accessories. Close your eyes and touch all of the edges to be sure that they are not sharp or pointed. Avoid balls and balloons. Many times, balls and balloons are given to babies and toddlers thinking that they will be safe toys when in fact they can pop or get caught in the throat. As a test, put small balls through a paper towel roll. If it can fit inside, keep it away from babies and small children. Pieces of popped balloons can completely block the airway and are never safe for children younger than four. Avoid toys with loud noises. Children#146;s ears are very sensitive. If it hurts your ears, then you can bet it will harm a baby or toddler. Prevent strangulation. If a toy, doll or mobile has strings or ribbons, measure them to be sure that they are no longer than five inches. Skip electronic toys for young children. For children younger than age three, there is always a potential fire or shock hazard in electronic toys. Due to the lack of coordination in the manual dexterity of the fine motor skills in the fingertips of young children, they have very little patience for learning how an electronic toy works. Frustration can lead to throwing or banging on the toy, which could result in harmful splintered pieces or an electric shock. Remove cords, knobs and beads from pull toys. Younger kids will sit and push or hold a "pull" toy just as often as trying to pull it. While they are popular toys based on the thought that the interaction might possibility motivate soon-to-be walkers to actually get up and walk, kids are just as happy to hold a colorful item and push it around. Check for latex rashes. Be sure your child is not allergic to toys made of plastic or latex. If you see a rash appear around the mouth, hands or eyes after your child plays with a certain toy, ask your pediatrician about the possibility of your child being allergic. In some children, it can lead to breathing difficulties. Check for toy recalls. Check for toy recalls on a regular basis to be sure that your kids#146; toys are safe. Keep the Holidays simple, fun and safe by following these guidelines. Share them with family and friends for a wonderful season.copy; 2005 Jodie LynnJodie Lynn is an award-winning internationally syndicated family/healthcolumnist and radio personality. Her syndicated column Parent to Parent ( www.ParentToParent.com has been successful for over 10 years and appears in newspapers, magazines, newsletters and throughout the Internet. She is a regular contributor to several sites including eDiets.com, MommiesMagazine.com, ParentingBookmark.com, and is the Residential Mom Expert for BabyUniverse.com. Lynn has written two books and contributed to two others, one of which was on Oprah and has appeared on NBC in a three month parenting segment. Her latest best-selling parenting/family book is Mommy-CEO, revised edition . Preorder Lynn's new book, "Mom CEO: Avoiding the Distressed Housewife Syndrome and Winning at Motherhood," online or from any bookstore in mid 2006. See www.ParentToParent.com for more details. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconHow to Instill a Sense of Financial Responsibility in Your Children By A. B. Jacobs One question I hear often is #147;How far should parents go in helping their financially irresponsible grown children, especially when these offspring have children of their own to support?#148; The problem posed does not lend itself to resolution. Although the predicament may appear to deal with money#151;or the lack of it#151;it#146;s not inherently a financial dilemma. It actually goes far deeper and is the result of a lifetime of behavior that failed to be addressed a quarter century earlier. More to the point, attempting to instill principles or inculcate habits in children by their third or fourth decade on this earth will prove to be a futile exercise. It#146;s my belief that a person#146;s attitudes and values are pretty well established by the end of puberty. With that said, let me provide a few guidelines that may help you guide your offspring in more suitable directions. Instruct by Precept and Example. Whether you believe it or not, your children really pay attention what you say and do. As the first authority that normally appears, a parent becomes a model on which the child fixates. Even before verbal communication is established, parental activities provide guidelines that offspring tend instinctively to emulate. Through repetition, later supplemented with oral reinforcement, a bond of behavior develops that can become an ingrained pattern. It#146;s important to realize, however, that this input must be consistent if the lessons are to be learned. Thus, if the messages are contradictory, they will be received as mixed signals by kids. If, for example, parents proclaim the importance of living within their financial means while simultaneously indebting themselves through purchases they cannot afford, it will not go undetected by the children nor induce them to pursue habits of thrift. The only way that sound financial values can be transmitted from one generation to the next is by a systematic and continuous program that reinforces these values. Only through precept and example will sound habits be engrained. Don#146;t Encourage Unattainable Goals. Although I regard myself as an optimist, I nonetheless subscribe to the message mounted in a twelve-by-fifteen-inch frame on my wall. It is one of the many versions of Murphy#146;s Law, which reads: #147;Nothing is as easy as it looks. Everything takes longer than you expect. And if anything can go wrong#151;it will, at the worst possible moment.#148; Admittedly overstated for humor and effect, Murphy#146;s Law contains an element of truth. It reminds us that life is unpredictable and if not taken into consideration can bring devastating results. Often parental aspirations fail to keep things in perspective. Well-meaning parents, who urge their children to aim for the stars while ignoring reality, do them no service. One typical example is the encouragement given to attend a prestigious university when family funds are insufficient. Over the past several years I#146;ve fielded many a letter from these children , themselves well into parenthood and overburdened with tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid student loans. In most cases, the grandiose plans envisioned never came to pass. Whatever added luster a high-priced school is designed to impart generally proves to be illusion. Instead, two years at a community college followed by two more at a local state university, in keeping with my blueprint of college on the cheap , proves far more appropriate. The point I want to stress is that realistic and attainable goals, taking into consideration the inherent abilities and limitations of each offspring, must be the basis on which guidance is given. Despite the prevalent attitude in modern society that everyone is endowed to achieve at any level, the wise parent will recognize reality and seek to counsel the child accordingly. Don#146;t Fight Against Human Nature. We individuals are programmed to behave in certain ways. Just as night inexorably follows day, we may expect certain human actions to trigger other actions. As one example, it is now established, perhaps not unexpectedly, that if a high school student is rewarded for report card grades, with $100 for each #147;A#148; and $50 for each #147;B,#148; that the student#146;s grades will rise. The anticipated reward triggers self-interest, with a desire to collect the money as the primary motive. From the student#146;s perspective, any learning acquired that may in the long run prove beneficial is probably unimportant. What counts is cash in hand. Over the years I#146;ve witnessed a lot of strange behavior that ignored human nature. One of the more bizarre instances concerned an indolent young woman, who over many years repeatedly received instruction from her wealthy father on how to balance her checkbook. She habitually issued checks whenever she chose. If the account balance fell below zero, the bank phoned her father who deposited more money in the account. Somehow her father never understood that his instruction sessions ignored human nature; the checkbook balance held no meaning for her. So what is the purpose of this lesson? It#146;s to stress the importance of parents#146; awareness of what is important to their offspring. Human nature dictates that all actions actually have real meaning. AL JACOBS has been a professional investor for nearly four decades. His business experience ranges from real estate, mortgage, and securities investment to appraisal, civil engineering, and the operation of a private trust company. In addition to managing his investments on a day-to-day basis, he is a featured financial columnist for both online and print publications. He is the author of Nobody#146;s Fool: A Skeptic#146;s Guide to Prosperity . You may subscribe to his financial Newsletter, "On the Money Trail," at no cost or obligation, by visiting www.onthemoneytrail.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconToday#146;s Family Man "A Game Plan for Smoother Holiday Shopping" By Gregory Keer When you factor in the agonizing contemplation of finding the right item for your child or friend, the crowd's bodychecking their way through the aisles and check-out lines, and money draining from your checkbook or Visa card, you realize the experience is more bloodsport than sleigh riding. Retail statistics show that Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the season. That#146;s when most people have a moment to even think about a day in the mall and, most important, the sale prices appear. But the stress begins to build way before Turkey Day and the after-Christmas sales keep the pressure on for weeks after the actual holidays. Despite all the battle testing parenting gives you, holiday shopping always manages to throw you a curve. I am usually a last-minute shopper, but as life gets busier, I#146;ve found that thinking ahead -- if not shopping in advance -- can go a long way toward making gift-buying much easier. Before you get in the car or go online, glance over these tips for saner and more satisfying holiday shopping. Surviving Shopping with Kids Have Fun First, shopping for kids is one of life#146;s true pleasures. Buying something you worked hard to pay for and that you chose just for your child is wonderful. It#146;s also a way to live vicariously through your kids, buying things you would#146;ve liked to play with and certainly items you want to use in interacting with your kids. That being said, this is all a stressful proposition that you should plan for, so#133; Lower Stress Start early and shop at odd hours to lower the stress level And don#146;t shop hungry -- low blood sugar or high blood sugar can be dangerous (for you and the kids)! Money Isn't Everything Set a budget and perhaps a number of toys you plan to get. Remember that grandparents and friends may give gifts, so do not feel pressured to ply your child with too much. They will ignore most of their toys within days if not minutes. You might even consider giving your little one a box to play with. No joke, but kids can hide, make puppet shows, forts, and more with just a big old box. Age Appropriateness Especially for younger kids, opt for items that require children to manipulate them. Too many electronic games do stuff automatically. Children develop motor skills and cognitive skills with toys they can build, stack, and color. Toys that multitask and can be combined with other things. Imagination is key #150; cars, character sets, i.e., Rescue Heroes and Barbies. For the older kids, video and computer games are hard to avoid. Decide how much violence you want them to see in these games. Some research says these games are actually healthy, though never in large doses. Older kids tend to also like clothes, music, DVDs, and even cash to spend how they wish. With younger kids, you will shop with them, but older ones might like to get a budget and shop for themselves. Giving them money helps them focus on the task at hand and may get them in the spirit of giving. They may even do some additional chores to earn extra money. Balance What They Want with What They Should Have If you want guaranteed smiles, be sure to buy kids at least something that they asked for. On the other hand, you can select one or two things you think they should have, something education or challenging. If you#146;re really clever, you can lobby onto your child#146;s wish list if you make subtle suggestions like, #147;Your friend Jacob has a chemistry set. Isn#146;t that cool?#148; Gender Gap The gap is thinner than it used to be now that young boys will play with dolls and young girls covet baseball mitts. Even older boys are more into clothes than they used to be. Still, young boys favor trucks, superheroes, and trains while girls love dress-up clothes -- princesses are bigger than ever -- dolls, and fashion accessories. That being said, a creative purchase for boys or girls is costumes for imaginative play. Types of Stores Toy stores, video game stores, book stores, shoe stores, clothing stores, sporting goods shops. Bookstores are especially fine places to shop and not feel guilty.Think about balancing your list with items from the above kinds of stores. Fun Ways to Make Lists Stay Focused Go in with a list to limit the tantrums and negotiations. You will probably have a fair amount of repartee with your child, simply because toy stores are meant to overwhelm parents and kids with all that can be had. So don#146;t expect a pain-free experience. On the other hand, do expect to have a good time. Pay attention at birthday parties; see what kids get and like. Pay attention at playdates and other social visits. What does your child love? If they can write (or need the practice), have them write their own list. Prioritize Kids ask for things all the time. On the list, prioritize those items that they ask for more than once or twice. Written Promises Whatever your child doesn#146;t get, write the item down on a new list for their birthday or next year. This will lessen the crying and whining A Nifty Trick A Warning Try hiding some toys and pulling them out of the closet for well-timed opportunities throughout the year. Regarding toy safety, it's best to stick with box recommendations and use your good sense about potentially dangerous toys. While anxiety is an organic element of holiday shopping, these suggestions can truly help you minimize some of the big issues. The more you plan in advance, the more this experience will be about spending time with and teaching your kids a few things about the world of commerce. copy; 2005 Gregory Keer. All rights reserved. Gregory Keer is a syndicated columnist, educator, and on-air expert on fatherhood. His Family ManTM column appears in publications across the country, including L.A. Parent, Boston Parents' Paper, Metro Augusta Parent, and Sydney's Child in Australia. Keer's parenting advice is found at his online magazine, www.familymanonline.com , which is the #1 ranked site for fathers, according to Amazon#146;s Alexa ratings. In addition to writing for Parenting magazine and the Parents' Choice Foundation, Keer contributes to USA Today, Pregnancy magazine, DrLaura.com, ParentingBookmark.com, Pregnancy.org, and CanadianParents.com. Keer is also a featured guest expert on television and radio and advisor to the Cartoon Network. He and his wife are the proud parents of three sons. Keer can be reached at his Web site, www.familymanonline.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconChoose Now a Holiday of Significance #133; (and Less Stress) for Your Family by Lesley Spencer, MSc; Founder President HomeBasedWorkingMoms.com During the holiday season, time is a prized commodity and the preciousness of family is (hopefully) paramount in our minds. How is it then that we get so carried away with things that are not of lasting significance? I wonder too. Are you ready to make a change? Let#146;s tackle this now and relax sweetly into the holiday season while visions of sugarplums dance in our heads. First, take some time now to discuss with your family what you truly want out of the holiday season this year. Perhaps it is a good time to introduce or reinforce the original meaning of Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate). Maybe this is the year your family breaks the cycle of overspending and chooses a simpler holiday that involves more time with family and friends. For instance, I know one family who chooses to give three gifts to each child for Christmas representing the three wise men#146;s gifts at the birth of Christ. The other giving that is done is to those less fortunate. The focus in this family is on the original meaning of Christmas #150; the celebration of the birth of Christ and enjoying time with loved ones. Another way to get more significance out of your holiday is to create and enjoy some family traditions. Do your children look forward to certain things each holiday? A few of my children#146;s favorite holiday traditions include making a gingerbread house, baking Christmas cookies, watching Christmas movies by the fireplace and decorating our Christmas tree while drinking hot chocolate and listening to our favorite Christmas CDs. Childhood memories themselves are a precious gift to give our children. Here are some ideas in case you are looking for some new traditions to start: Go Christmas caroling with your friends or neighbors Roast chestnuts over an open fire Make Reindeer food (dry corn, glitter, bird seed) and have your children scatter it on the lawn on Christmas Eve Make Christmas ornaments to keep or give as gifts Attend church service on Christmas Eve Have everyone put on their favorite PJs and drive through town to view Christmas lights while singing (or listening to) your favorite Christmas songs. Go to a Christmas play or to a live nativity scene. In addition to family traditions, here are some other ideas of holiday significance your family can try: Adopt a needy family or elderly person to brighten their holidays. Take cookies to a nursing home and have your children sing carols. Sponsor a child in another country for the holidays and beyond at: www.compassion.com . Deliver homemade goodies with a smile to the homeless or those less fortunate. Invite single neighbors or friends to holiday activities. Work in a soup kitchen feeding the hungry. And for gift giving, celebrate less gifts and more substance with these ideas: Give coupons for free childcare to a couple that could use some time alone. Give #147;gift certificates#148; for a hot meal prepared by your family. Draw names instead of purchasing for everyone in your extended family. Give to a charity on behalf of a family member. Check out: www.charitygiftcertificates.org and www.justgive.org . Help hungry families feed themselves at: www.heifer.org Make gifts with your children such as: Frames, flowerpots, art, self-portraits, family photos and more. Visit these sites for ideas: familycrafts.about.com and www.kaboose.com Have a silly (White Elephant) gift exchange instead of buying presents. Ask everyone to bring something from home that is no longer wanted and needs a new home. (The sillier / funnier the better.) When everyone gathers, draw numbers to see who picks a gift first. Follow in order until everyone has a gift. The person whose turn it is can choose to take a gift already opened instead of choosing a wrapped gift. If so, the person whose gift was taken gets to pick a new wrapped (or open) gift. Continue until everyone has had a turn. Just remember whatever your family chooses, choose to create lasting and warm memories that you and your family will cherish for a lifetime. Our families and our time together are precious! Lesley Spencer is founder and president of the national association of Home-Based Working Moms ( www.HBWM.com ), the HBWM.com, Inc. Network of Websites and author of the Work-at-Home Workbook . She has a Master's Degree in Public Relations and has been featured in numerous media outlets including CBS News, Forbes, Business Week, Parents, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. She has been working from home for over 10 years and has two children whom she absolutely adores! Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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05/07/2010
IconCool School Lunches By Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers As you know by now, all parents have a different idea of what is healthy food and what is not. For years, you have had the opportunity to hand select and monitor what your child eats for lunch. Now it is time to test their ability. It is only natural for your child's eyes to wander and notice, and be envious of, what the other kids are eating. Here are a few tips that may help your child's lunch be healthy, fun and get noticed by the other kids. The lunchbox: It is important to have the right gear and the lunchbox is an important asset. Consider letting your child pick out his own lunchbox or purchase one and let him decorate it with paint or markers. Make sure your child's name is on it with a permanent marker or paint. Most schools will not provide a refrigerator to store lunchboxes, so you should select an insulated one with a re-usable freezer pack to keep the lunch fresh. Or, instead of using a freezer pack, you can freeze a bottle of water, and add it to the lunch box. It will keep the lunch cold and fresh during morning classes and by lunch time it will have thawed and be ready to drink. More gear - containers: Those gimmicky, salt, fat and sugar-filled, "Lunchables" trays are very popular with kids. Not because they taste so good, but because look so cool. There is no reason a homemade lunch needs to look dull and unappetizing. Buy colorful containers in different shapes to pack your child#146;s lunch. They are better than plastic bags and less wasteful too. If your child is drawn to characters, buy some stickers and decorate the containers. Put your child's name on the containers, but it is inevitable that some containers may not make their way home. Another option is to purchase inexpensive or "semi" disposable containers that will not disappoint you if they accidentally end up in the trash. Offer plenty of choices: Provide small servings and many choices -- variety is a key to healthy eating. Providing your child with plenty of variety is not hard or time consuming. Many lunch foods can be prepared, in advance, in large quantities. Each morning, simply fill up small containers with different foods. Quick lunchbox food suggestions include: Dried fruit Nuts Fresh fruit pieces or a piece of whole fruit Applesauce (no sugar added) Celery sticks filled with cream cheese and raisins, or white bean dip Sugar snap peas with Ranch dressing for dipping Yogurt or a smoothie Lunch meat roll-ups with cream cheese and an asparagus in the middle Hard boiled egg Cheese cubes or string cheese logs Peanut butter (or sunflower butter) and apple slices or crackers White bean dip or hummus with carrots and mini pita breads Whole grain crackers or pretzels Trail mix made from cereal, nuts and dried fruit Talk to your child about lunchtime: Don't assume that your child's uneaten lunch is sign that he did not like the food. If you ask a few questions, you may find that your child does not have enough time to eat lunch or that he is spending more time socializing with his friends than actually chewing. Asking questions will give you the opportunity to help him learn other important skills such as managing his time and selecting times to socialize. SIMPLE LUNCH BOX RECIPES: Pineapple Kabobs Ingredients: Pineapple chunks (frac12;-inch pieces) Marble cheese cubes (frac12; inch pieces) Slices of nitrate-free ham cut into 1-inch squares Toothpicks Directions: Assemble the mini-kabobs on a toothpick in the following manner: Ham square, pineapple chunk, ham square and a cheese cube. Veggie version: Substitute teriyaki-flavored baked tofu for the ham/cheese. Baked tofu can easily be sliced into small cubes and is very tasty with the pineapple. Trail Mix Directions: Combine any or all of these ingredients in an airtight container and toss gently to mix. Store airtight. Lasts for weeks. Ingredients: Dry snacks: cereal (low in sugar #150; under 5g per serving), small pretzels, graham cracker or rice cake pieces, or animal crackers. Dried fruits: Cherries, apricots, raisins, mangoes or coconut flakes (Tip: big pieces of dried fruit can be cut up easily using kitchen shears). Nuts and seeds: sliced almonds, pecan pieces, cashew pieces, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or peanut pieces. Kiwi Wraps or rolls These wraps can be served as a traditional wrap sandwich or slice it into pieces (like a sushi roll) for bite sized treats. Ingredients: 1 tablespoon peanut butter or sunflower butter 1 tablespoon cream cheese frac12; kiwi Tortilla -- whole wheat or plain (squared) Instructions: Remove the skin from the kiwi and slice it into thin rounds. Spread peanut butter over half the wrap and cream cheese on the other half of the wrap. Arrange the kiwi slices evenly over the cream cheese. Beginning on the cream cheese end, gently roll up the tortilla forming a log shape. The peanut butter will act as the glue to keep it together. Serve. About the authors: Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children, and founders of Fresh Baby ( www.FreshBaby.com ). Raised by parents who love fresh foods and entertaining, their mom, a gourmet cook, ensured that they were well-equipped with extraordinary skills in the kitchen. Both with long track records of business success, they decided to combine their skills in the kitchen with their knowledge of healthy foods and children to create Fresh Baby. Cheryl and Joan put a modern twist on the conventional wisdom that when you make it yourself, you know it#146;s better. Their goal at Fresh Baby is to make the task of raising a healthy eater a little bit easier for all parents. Visit them online at www.FreshBaby.com and subscribe to their Fresh Ideas newsletter to get monthly ideas, tips and activities for developing your family's healthy eating habits! Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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05/07/2010
IconGreat Costumes for Less! By Tawra Kellam www.LivingOnADime.com You can really come up with some cute and clever ideas for costumes, even if you don't feel particularly creative. Don't wait until the night before Halloween to start your costumes. Look at the people and things around you and ask yourself how " how can I recreate this?" Look at thrift stores and garage sales for costumes. Go ahead and buy the costume or piece of a costume if the price is right. You really can't go wrong spending $0.25 on a piece of costume. Even if it doesn'twork you haven't lost much. Costumes can be very simple and still make a big impact. For example, instead of the usual witch robes, drag out your elegant black dress and add a witch hat with a veil of spider webbing stretched over your face. Cover the spider web with plastic spiders. For a man, a nice suit and tie and a funny mask makes a good simple costume. For a couple: get a REALLY big sweatshirt, both of you get in it and be Siamese twins! Some examples of costumes for kids are: Sunflower - For the body, use a white sleeper or sweatsuit. Paint the child's face yellow, adding black spots to simulate seeds if you like. Make a flower to fit on the child's head out of felt or glue sunflowers on a white hat. Angel - Again use a white sweatsuit or long white dress for the body. Make wings out of heavy white poster board and paint the edges gold. Attach tie straps to them that go around the shoulders. You can also shape a metal clothes hanger into a wing. Make two wings, hot glue fabric around them and add straps. Pea Pod - Cut 2 small foam balls in half with an electric knife or a knife with a serrated blade. (Note: Do this BEFORE attaching them to the child!) Wrap in green fabric and pin them to the front of a greensweatsuit. Make a hat out of 2 shades of green felt and a little brown felt for a stem. Lion - Buy a yellow hat or dye a white hat yellow. Buy long brown fake fur, yellow fake fur and a yellow sweatsuit. You can get fake fur at your favorite fabric store. Add brown fur to the top of the hat (for a mane), hot-glue yellow fur into a long tail, adding a poof of brown for the end. Pin the tail on the back of the costume. Make an oval of the fur for the child's tummy and use eyeliner for whiskers. Dalmatian - Pin black felt dots onto a pair of white sweats. Paint black polka dots on the child's face. Add more polka dots to a white hat, make some black felt ears and add black shoes to finish it. I Paint, Therefor I Am - Glue a copy of a painting with a face on it on a piece of cardboard. (Ex. Mona Lisa). Cut out the face and then put their face in instead. Race Car Stroller - Decorate a stroller as a race car by adding fabric or paper racing stripes and a number. Add two flashlights for headlights, plus some reflector tape. If you want to get really creative, add a wind foil, a foil covered paper towel roller for an exhaust pipe or whatever else your clever mind conjures up. Cut asteering wheel out of cardboard for the child to hold. Your child can wear whatever clothes he wants. Just add an old helmet or baseball cap worn backwards. Think of themes for all of the kids in the family It can be fun for all the kids to dress up in costumes that complement each other. Some sample themes are - super-heros, vegetables, candy bars, rabbit family (or other animals) or cartoon characters (i.e. Mickey Mouse, Minnie and Donald Duck). They could also dress in pairslike a mouse and cheese, a plant and a watering can or doctor and patient. The sky's the limit. Christmas theme: One child could go as a present, another a Christmas tree, another Rudolph and the 4th as Santa. Ideas for how to make the costumes: Rudolph - Dye an old pair of sweats brown. Put a light brown felt tummy on the shirt, make a set of cardboard antlers and paint the child's nose red. Present - Wrap an old box that is big enough for the child to wear. Cut out the bottom of the box and make holes for the arms and head. The child can wear a turtleneck stretch pants underneath it. Christmas Tree - Cut two pieces of cardboard into the shape of a tree. Make two one for the front and one for the back. Hook them together with a piece of string over each shoulder. Paint the pieces green withlatex paint and attach old tinsel and ornaments with hot glue. Make a star head piece by gluing glitter to a cardboard cutout or use a Christmas tree angel as a head piece. Santa - Trim a pair of red sweats with white fake fur and a large black felt belt. Make a beard with more fake fur, top off with a Santa hat and add a little "Ho, Ho, Ho" for good measure. Of course if all else fails you could wrap the child head to toe in aluminum foil and send him as a frozen burrito... Tawra Kellam is the author of Dining On A Dime: Eat Better Spend Less. For more free tips and recipes visit her web site at www.LivingOnADime.com . In 5 years, Tawra and her husband paid off $20,000 personal debt on an average income of $22,000 per year. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

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