Dr. Laura, America's #1 Relationship Talk Radio Host
On: SiriusXM Stars Channel 109
Call 1-800-DR LAURA (1-800-375-2872) 11am - 2pm PT
Image 01 Image 02
Simple Savings
05/07/2010
IconSpendaholic The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman I am 22 years old and I live in NYC. I am in some serious debt, which I have turned over to a debt consolidation company. I make a decent amount of money, however, I can't seem to keep it for more than a few hours. I end up spending my entire paycheck within the first day I have it....seriously. I am trying to find a support group in NYC, but am having no luck. I know I have a problem and I can't continue to live like this. Donna My Dad used to call it 'letting money burn a hole in your pocket'. Call it what you will, but it's a serious problem for some people. If you regularly spend all the money you have, you'll always be broke. There are two main strategies that Donna can use. First, she can severely limit the amount of cash and credit that she has available for spending. Second, she can change the way that she relates to money. Let's begin with the tools that will limit how much money Donna has at any time. If her employer offers it, she should use direct deposit. If that's not available, she'll need to deposit her entire check as soon as she receives it. Donna should use payroll deductions to force savings. Otherwise, she's probably going to have trouble accumulating any. Deductions are also a good way to save for retirement. She might want to consider making regular monthly contributions to an IRA or mutual fund account. It's foolish for Donna to carry much cash. She'll just be tempted to spend it. Before she leaves the house in the morning Donna should list the items that she expects to buy that day. Include everything. Even snacks and the daily paper. The idea is to only carry the cash she'll need and get in the habit of only making purchases that are on the list. Donna has already seen what credit cards can do. They're meant to be convenient to use. And, that's the problem. It's easy to keep charging until she reaches her credit limit. Leave them at home unless they're needed for a planned purchase. Once Donna limits the amount of cash and credit that's available, it's time to change the way that she relates to money. She already recognizes that it's easier to reach your goal if other people are involved. Contacting a local social services agency could turn up a support group for spendaholics. Another source of support is an 'accountability partner'. It could be a friend, relative or mentor. Someone who can be trusted. Donna would regularly report to the partner on how well she was doing. Sometimes just knowing that we'll have to confess our failures is enough to keep us from stumbling. That partner can also be helpful when Donna does suffer a setback. And they will come. A compassionate partner can help dust us off and get us back on track. If you can't find someone to hold you accountable, create a system to hold yourself accountable. It could be as simple as keeping track of the days that you stuck with the morning spending list. Donna should also consider using a budget. It would put her on notice when she had already spent the money that she had allocated for entertainment, clothing or any other category. Avoid the places that are most likely to trigger spending. Just as the alcoholic can't hang around bars, the spendaholic shouldn't go window shopping. It's like dancing with the devil. You're bound to get singed. Use rewards and punishments to encourage good spending behavior. We all respond to appropriate rewards. Donna might find that she's never had the money for good seats at a Broadway show because the money is always gone. The idea is to pick something that had not been attainable under the old system and then reward yourself after an important goal has been met. It will get easier the longer you persist. It's hard to break old habits. Especially if they contain some behavior that could be addictive. Remember that tomorrow will be easier than today. But you have to get through today first. Donna has already taken the first two steps. She's recognized the problem and started to look for help in solving it. Hopefully she'll be successful in using some of the tools to take control of the situation and begin to build a new pattern of relating to money. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website TheDollarStretcher.com and newsletters. You'll find hundreds of articles to help you stretch your day and your dollar! Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
05/07/2010
IconTo Boycott or Not to Boycott, that is the question The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com In light of the recent arrests of illegal workers hired with the full knowledge of Wal-Mart, some have called for us to boycott their stores. Will you share your thoughts on this? I understand that small time boycotts (a handful of people in each community) will never register with the powers of the world's largest retailer. I would like to do my part but where do I draw the line? I'm cost-conscious and my best grocery value is with consistent Wal-Mart shopping. However, if it's at the expense of someone's job am I being fair to pinch a few pennies? Additionally, Wal-Mart is the only store in my area that sells general merchandise. If I want a spool of thread or a pair of pajamas, I have to drive 15 miles one-way if I don't shop at Wal-Mart. There's a huge trickle-down effect. If our local Wal-Mart has declining sales, our county loses revenue and people lose jobs because our shopping will have to be done in the nearby city. Ellie in Virginia Ellie sure asks a big question. Let's begin by finding out a little about boycotts. According to BoycottCity.org the practice began in Ireland and targeted a ruthless landlord named Boycott. All of his tenants were so upset that they refused to have anything to do with Boycott and his family. The practice came to the U.S. in support of labor movements. And in the 1960's it gained popularity as a political tool. Over recent years you've seen more boycotts. That's because they appear to be working. However, you won't find many statistics because companies are reluctant to comment on boycotts and certainly don't want to admit that they work. The purpose of a boycott is to get an organization to change because of an organized refusal to continue to do business with the company. For example, Ellie feels that Wal-Mart shouldn't hire illegal aliens. Boycotters argue that an organized refusal to shop at Wal-Mart will cause them to stop the practice. Please note that I haven't studied what Wal-Mart's hiring policies are so I don't have a position on this particular boycott. But I do believe that in a free market system it's fair to vote with your money by financially supporting businesses that you admire. Or to withhold your business from companies you disapprove of. Now on to the question of whether Ellie should join this particular boycott. To decide, Ellie needs to consider how important the goal is to her, whether the boycott could help achieve that goal, whether her personal sacrifice is worthwhile compared to the goal and would an alternative strategy be better. Ellie's goal appears to be to protect the jobs of American workers, primarily in her hometown. Can a boycott help achieve that goal? Even though Wal-Mart may be the largest company in the world, yes, a boycott could be successful. But, as she points out, it would take a large number of boycotters to affect Wal-Mart's bottom line. So good leadership of the boycott is required. One position for Ellie to consider is only shopping at her local Wal-Mart if that store meets her standards. Each store's sales and profit figures are measured separately. So it might be easier to affect a change in her local store. And, if her real concern is local jobs, then a national boycott might not be necessary. Plus, it is possible that boycotting the local Wal-Mart could cause them to lay-off her neighbors. For every job saved, the boycotters could cost two or three. Now for the toughest question. Is the goal worthy of the sacrifice? If she abandons Wal-Mart that means driving further to buy household items. No big deal if she visits the city regularly. But it's a different situation if her car is troublesome and she rarely leaves home. Or the difference in costs. For Ellie paying a little extra may be no big deal. But for a family just barely to pay the rent, those pennies might mean missing a meal. Plus the poorer family probably spends less in Wal-Mart when they do shop. So the wealthier family will have a greater impact on Wal-Mart even if their sacrifice is less. Finally, Ellie should consider the alternatives. A visit to the local store manager could reveal that the store isn't hiring illegal aliens. Or she might want to ask if the local paper would do an investigative piece on Wal-Mart's hiring practices. Another option would be to continue to shop at Wal-Mart, but to set aside the money saved for a contribution to the local food bank. In most cases it's wise to exhaust other options before resorting to a boycott. Boycott issues aren't often easy. You can't mathematically calculate the 'right' answer. So the bottom line is usually a decision about what is important to you. And that's a question that only Ellie can answer. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website thedollarstretcher.com and newsletters. You'll find thousands of time and money saving articles. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
05/07/2010
IconA Painful Grocery Bill The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com My husband and I live alone. My mom comes over for dinner andbreakfast three days per week, and I send her lunches for worktwo nights a week. We are spending over $400 a week forgroceries. I am not buying extravagant things, and I reallydon't buy a lot of "junk" food. Where on earth are we goingwrong? Couldsomeone explain this to me? I feel like we are beyond help.What are we doing wrong? Diane O. Diane asks a great question. Groceries are the largestcategory of spending that we can affect without making majorlifestyle changes. According to the U.S. Statistical Abstract for 2002, thetypical family of three spends $6,093 on food each year. Andthat includes $2,407 for food eaten away from home. So Diane'stotal is significantly above the norm. But, as Diane points out, everyone doesn't include the samethings in their grocery bill. The Abstract shows typicalspending of $553 for "housekeeping supplies," $693 for"personal care products and services" and $399 for "tobaccoproducts." Those are not included in the $6,093. In fact, nine items (laundry detergent, peanut butter, fabricsoftener, toilet tissue, diapers, coffee, toothpaste, papertowels, shampoo) will account for $17 billion in annual sales.With the exception of peanut butter and coffee, none of theseitems are "food" items. Other bill boosters are pet food andliquor products. And don't forget greeting cards and videorentals! Many people buy non-food items at the grocery store. And eventhink of them as part of their grocery budget. With the riseof "supercenters," more people are combining their groceryshopping with their "other" shopping. Often it is moreconvenient to buy everything in one stop. But it's often notthe cheapest solution. If Diane wants to control her grocery spending, it's probablynot going to be helpful to compare her bill to her neighbor's.Every family situation is different. And some families areeven able to grow or raise their own food. A better way to reduce her bill is to study her own habits andsee where changes could save money. Start by analyzing your receipt. What items are the mostexpensive? Work on them first. Can they be eliminatedentirely? If not, are there lower cost alternatives? Buying junk food is not the only thing that can drive up yourgrocery bill. Your diet also makes a big difference.Vegetables and starches cost less than meat. A diet heavy inmeat will be more expensive. Likewise low calorie, low sugar,low salt foods will add heft to your bill. For instance, according to the Organic Trade Association,consumers are willing to pay up to 25% more for organics thanthey would for non-organic equivalents. Some consumers willpay up to 100% more. The grocery store is often not the best place to buy thosespecialty items. If you buy them often, look for more direct,lower cost alternative sources. Another grocery bill booster is our desire for convenience.Most of us are short on time. Grocers see this as anopportunity to increase their profits. Most are offering "everything-in-one-box" type of meals.Others are experimenting with a menu plan. A portion of thestore is stocked to allow the shopper to buy everything theyneed for a specific meal on one shelf. In either case, theconsumer pays for the convenience of not planning their ownmeals and buying pre-measured ingredients. While you're waiting in line, take a look at your grocerycart. How much prepared food is in the cart? You may not havetime to clean carrots. But you will pay extra for the littleprepared ones. If you know the difference in price, you canmake an intelligent decision whether to save your time or yourmoney. Finally, Diane needs to be able to compare prices so that shecan identify and stock-up when she finds a true bargain. Thebest tool for this is a price book. It's simply a listing ofitems that she commonly buys and the lowest price(s) for eachitem. That will help her identify the true sales. Shoppers whouse a price book regularly claim to save up to 20%. Diane will probably never get her bill down to $130 per month.But if she works at it, a lower bill is possible without asignificant impact on her lifestyle. Gary Foreman is a former purchasing manager who currentlypublishes The Dollar Stretcher website: www.stretcher.com andnewsletters: www.stretcher.com/menu/subscrib.cfm copyright2003 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
05/07/2010
IconMoving on a Dime: Save Money, Save Time, Save Your Sanity by Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam www.notjustbeans.com Have you ever been so stressed out moving that you wondered if the easiest way to pack was to get a gallon of gasoline and a box of matches? Moving can be a stressful time for everyone involved, but don#146;t make it more stressful than it needs to be. Just getting started is the hardest part. Here are few tips to point you in the right direction. ORDER IN WHICH TO START PACKING Start with things you don#146;t use every day. Memories - Grandma#146;s dishes, quilts, old books, Bibles, childhood toys and photos Garage items - Christmas and Holiday decorations, camping equipment and things in storage Things stored in closets that aren#146;t used often and out of season clothes Knick-knacks, pictures, mirrors and wall hangings Seasonal dishes, canning equipment, roasting pans, good china, good silverware, large serving platters Unnecessary CD#146;s, DVD#146;s and video tapes. Sewing room and craft items. Home office - Pack as much as possible except bills that need to be paid. Leave office boxes open and tape them closed at the last minute before moving just in case you need something out of them. Children#146;s toys and games - Pack most of the toys they don#146;t play with regularly. One week before moving - Pack all unnecessary kitchen items, clothes and linens (except what you need for one week). Tips to pain free packing: Don't leave empty spaces. Here are some examples of how you might use all available space: I fill my china cabinet with light weight soft things like stuffed animals, balls of yarn, quilts, artificial flowers and greenery. If you will be moving your refrigerator or washer or dryer, fill it with pillows, wicker baskets or plastic items from the kitchen. Fill clothes hampers with bathroom items. If you have a lamp that needs special protection, wrap it carefully in towels and place it in a clothes hamper. Fill up even small items like plastic pitchers with kitchen utensils or kitchen knick-knacks. I clean out a large outside trash can and use it to pack my hoses, small pots and gardening tools. If I#146;m not sure if I should keep something, I allow myself to take it if I can fit it in that one trash can. My son-in-law says it is one step closer to the curb that way. Don't pack glass, porcelain or ceramic containers with loose items in them that could break them. Canning jars filled with marbles or baby food jars filled with nuts and bolts are recipes for disaster. Pack heavy things such as books in small boxes. Don't pack things like photos, videotapes, cd's, candles, plants or pets (especially pets!!!) where heat or cold can get to them. Don't think any of those things will be safe and protected in a car or truck overnight. If it gets cold, they will freeze. Also plants left in a hot car will not be safe because the heat will kill them. When transporting plants in a car, protect them from direct sunlight with a covering of newspaper because the sun will fry houseplants. Pack kids#146; rooms last. They need the security of having their room the same for as long as possible. Be sure to put their favorite items in the car such a blanket, stuffed animal or books. Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are the authors of Moving on a Dime: Save Money, Save Time, Save Your Sanity. To order Moving on a Dime and for more free money saving tips visit our web site at www.notjustbeans.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
05/07/2010
IconSmallest Bill? Or Highest Rate? The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com My husband and I have accumulated some credit card debt, a personal loan from my mom, and a home equity line of credit. Recently getting married, purchasing our first home, and some medical bills have really put a hurting on our budget. Some advice that I have read says that one should pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. Other advice says to pay off the smallest debt first and work my way up the debt ladder. Which one is the most effective in our situation? Amy According to the Federal Reserve currently there is over $1.7 trillion in consumer debt. So an awful lot of people are facing the very same choice. So let's see if we can figure out what would work best for Amy. Paying the debt with the highest interest rate will reduce the total debt quicker. The reason is clear. The higher the interest rate, the more interest is added to the balance you owe each month. Suppose you owed money on two different accounts. The first account charges 5% interest. Paying off $1,000 would save Amy $4.17 per month in interest expense ($1,000 times 0.05 divided by 12 months). Now suppose the second account charges 10% interest. Paying off $1,000 would save $8.33 per month. Clearly, she'll save more, and reduce her balance quicker, if she pays off the account the highest interest rate. But, there is a risk to this strategy. It might take Amy quite awhile to pay the entire balance of the account with the highest interest. And, after 6 or 8 months of trying she might get discouraged and be tempted to give up if she's still writing a check to them each month. Let's face it. Some people are more determined than others. And some of us need immediate feedback or gratification. One way to get that positive feedback is to have an account disappear because it's be entirely paid off. The fact that it's the account with the smallest balance doesn't matter. What's best for Amy? Paying off the highest rate of interest first is the most efficient answer. But depending on Amy's personality, paying off the one with the smallest balance might be the best answer. Before she decides, there are other ways to get positive feedback as you pay down debts. One simple way is to watch your total indebtedness drop each month. Just list the balance on all your accounts and add them up. Then compare the totals after a few months. Notice how the mountain of debt is getting a little smaller. If Amy is into visuals, she could keep a running graph of the total. Another way to encourage yourself is to watch the amount of interest owed drop each month. Remember that the interest you owe each month doesn't buy you anything. It's the price you pay for borrowing the money some time in the past. Just list the interest charged by all of your accounts and total it. Again, compare it to the total from a few months ago. If the total amount owed is going down, so should the amount of interest that you pay each month. Watching her balances drop might not be enough for Amy. She might be one of those people who won't feel successful until she's writing fewer checks each month. If that's the case she should pay off the smallest account first so she feels like she's making progress. Amy will probably find that her most expensive debt is on credit cards. The least expensive will be her mortgage. If she's sure that they don't have a problem with uncontrolled spending, they might even want to use a home equity loan to pay off some higher interest debt. But only if they're not "spendaholics". One other strategy would be to pay off one or two of the small accounts to get started. Once Amy is past the point of needing encouragement she can shift to paying more on the accounts with the highest interest. Finally, it's more important that Amy starts now than which account she pays first. Each month she delays all of the accounts add to the interest owed. The hole gets a little deeper. It's better to pay off low interest debt, than no debt at all. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website: www.stretcher.com You'll find thousands of articles to help you stretch your day and your dollar. Visit Today! Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
05/07/2010
IconTackling Back-To-School Expenses Homebodies www.homebodies.org By Cheryl Gochnauer Copyright 2003 Just when I#146;d settled into my summertime routine, the ads started blaring: #147;The first day of school is right around the corner!#148; According to local retailers, it#146;s time to hit the stores in search of the perfect everything. In the face of this media blitz, my one-income budget demands a clear head and a bit of creativity as I begin gathering true essentials for the coming school year. SCHOOL SUPPLIES. Thanks to discount stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target, school supplies aren#146;t too scary. Since everybody needs them, competition is fierce. They#146;re practically giving away glue, markers and folders, hoping that you#146;ll pick up a backpack or two while you#146;re there. Resist the impulse and recycle last year#146;s more expensive items whenever possible. Use coupons and bring competitor#146;s fliers for price matching. Keep your eyes open for rebates, which are very common this time of year. CLOTHES, COATS AND SHOES. Hopefully you remembered to purchase the kids#146; fall and winter coats last spring at the 70 percent-off sales. If not, it#146;s not too late to scour neighborhood garage sales in search of a gently-used jacket. Since jeans are the uniform of choice for most students, watch sales. Recently I spotted flares at Wal-Mart for my 5th grader - $15 jeans marked down to $10, then $7, then $3 each. I grabbed five pair and headed to the registers, where they rang up at ONE DOLLAR EACH. (God bless Sam Walton!) EXTRACURRICULARS. There#146;s not much lee-way in dodging sports and band fees, but you may be able to save on the uniforms and instruments. Check the classifieds for second-hand items. Email friends and classmates to see if anyone has something you need for sale. Ask coaches and tutors for leads on used equipment. If there#146;s a good chance your child will be on the same team next year, allow some growing room. Buy a little big; there#146;s a good chance that soccer or cheerleading outfit will work for two seasons instead of one. FUNDRAISERS. Most schools kick off with some type of fundraiser. Parents, I hear those groans! But don#146;t turn away every kid who knocks on your door, because they might be peddling something that benefits YOU as much as their sports or drama team. I#146;m talking about those Entertainment and Gold Coupon books (and their many clones). I love these buy-one, get-one-free deals. They allow me to splurge on a night out or fun fest #150; at half-price. The books usually pay for themselves the first time I use them. Hint: Think through fundraisers before pitching products to your neighbors. To offset cheerleading costs, I bought 20 fundraising coupon books at $1 each #150; which my daughter was then supposed to sell for $5 apiece. (She would pocket the extra $4 per book, clearing a total of $80.) But each book #150; which offered discounts at my favorite grocery store #150; included a #147;$5 off the total purchase#148; coupon, along with another $50 or so in additional savings. Since I shop at that store every week, I gave my daughter $80 toward her uniform, kept the books and used the coupons myself. The $5-off coupons alone saved me $100, plus I saved hundreds more with the remaining coupons in the 20 books. Next year, I#146;ll buy FORTY books and double this year#146;s savings! MORE QUICK TIPS: If your kids don#146;t take the bus to school, carpool with other families. (That goes for before and after school practices, too.) Most days, have children take lunches instead of buying at the cafeteria. Get required vaccinations through your local county health department, where shots are often offered at a discount or free. If you#146;re paying tuition, work part-time or substitute at the school to offset expenses. (It#146;ll make it easy to pop in on their class parties or keep an eye on your teen, too!) Comments? Email Cheryl@homebodies.org or visit www.homebodies.org to read more articles relating to at-home parenting. Copyright 2003 Cheryl Gochnauer. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
05/07/2010
IconHow 'Charge Offs' Effect You The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com Can you describe or define what the term "charge off" means concerning credit cards and credit reports? I am seeing it quite often and do not quite understand what it signifies. Thanks for your help. Patty Louisiana Patty's right. You are seeing the term "charge off" more frequently. That's because about 1% of all credit card debt is ultimately charged off. And, whether you struggle to make credit card payments or you have a perfect credit history, charge offs will effect your finances. Let's begin by finding out what a charge off really is. Wachovia Bank offered a good definition on their website: wachovia.com : "The removal of an account from a credit card issuer's books as an asset after it has been delinquent for a period of time, usually 180 days. When an account is charged off, the credit card issuer absorbs the outstanding balance as a loss." For those of you who don't speak 'financialese' that means that a 'charge off' or 'write off' is really just an accounting entry. The lender is saying that they don't expect to collect the debt and are not willing to claim it as an asset of the company any longer. But it will not affect whether the borrower still owes the money. A charge off does not free you from the debt. Think of it this way. Suppose you borrowed $100 from Joe. After a year passes he doesn't really expect to get his money back. Mentally he's 'written off' the loan. He doesn't believe that your IOU has value any more. But, that doesn't mean that you don't still owe Joe $100. You do. In fact, in the world of credit card debt it's possible that it will be harder to avoid paying the debt after it has been written off. That's because the original lender often sells those debts to a third party when they write them off. And the third party, often a collection agency, gets to keep any money that they collect. So they will work very hard to collect as much as they can. Even if that means using questionable pressure tactics. Note that it's the lender who gets to decide whether to write-off a debt as being uncorrectable. You may have lost your job six months ago and not made a payment since. But you really plan on making one next month. That doesn't prevent the lender from writing off the debt. On the other hand, in approximately 50% of the cases charge offs occur when a borrower declares bankruptcy. Between one and 1.5 million people declare bankruptcy each year. Their bankruptcy triggers the charge off. So what happens to your credit rating when your card balance is written off? Thirty-five percent of your credit score is based on past payment history. A 'charge off' is about the worst mark that you can get on your credit report. It says you are someone with a history of not paying their debts. And you don't need a charge off to be penalized. If you struggle to make your minimum payment, the fear of a write off will cause the credit card company to raise your interest rate. Based on a borrower's payment history they can predict when someone is becoming a high risk. When that happens they'll increase the interest rates on the account very quickly. That costs you more money every month. OK, what happens if you always pay your bills on time? Unfortunately, you're still effected by charge offs. The credit card companies expect that some loans will not be repaid. So in an effort to stay profitable, they have to charge everyone a little higher interest rate to make up for the losses. So everyone who uses a charge card makes some small contribution. One final issue. If you do have a charge off on your record you might want to consider repaying the debt if you have the money. Negative remarks will be stay on your report for 7 years. You may be able to negotiate a deal where you pay the debt and the lender changes the status of the account to "Paid as Agreed". If you attempt to do this, make sure that you get the agreement in writing. Thanks to Patty for a good question! Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website: www.stretcher.com and ezines. You'll find thousands of articles to help you save time and money. copyright 2003 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. All rights reserved. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
05/07/2010
IconHealthier First Birthday Cake Ideas By Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers www.FreshBaby.com Parents are often looking for a healthy alternative to the standard, sugary, preservative-filled birthday cake for their baby's introduction to the wonderful traditions of birthdays. We've heard from parents looking for ways to buy an egg-free cake, to those seeking recipes for "healthy" cakes, or even whether to make/buy two cakes (one for Baby, one for adults). To answer the last question first - there is no reason to create extra work for yourself, make or buy one cake, relax and congratulate yourself for making it through the first year! Most people will be gracious guests and enjoy whatever is served. And let's not lose sight of the real reason for the birthday cake - THE PHOTO. We do it all for the precious scrapbook shot of your cake-faced little one delighting in being the life of the party! Here are some ideas that keep the tradition of the birthday cake treat, but add some healthy twists (you can use these ideas for any age!): Egg-free: If your baby has not been introduced to whole eggs by their first birthday, this is probably not the occasion to give them a try. Many egg substitutes contain eggs, so to be safe, look for cake and frosting mixes labeled "vegan" which are free of all animal products. You'll need to go to a health food store to find these products. Or jump on the Internet, Vegan Baker is one company that offers cake and frosting mixes. If baking is not for you, many urban cities also have vegan bakeries too - check the Yellow Pages or ask someone at a vegetarian restaurant. Healthier cake flavors: If you decided on a traditional layer cake or cupcakes, there are healthier cakes choices over the standard white or chocolate layer cake varieties. Some cake flavors to consider include banana cake, applesauce cake or carrot cake. Cakes than contain fruit usually have less sugar. Made from scratch, a mix or from a bakery, they are a step up on the healthy scale. Frosting: You must have frosting for the photo! Healthier frosting choices can include organic yogurt thickened with cream cheese or a traditional cream cheese frosting. The ultimate substitute for sugar-laden buttercream is whipped cream. Homemade whipped cream is pretty simple to make and just a couple tablespoons of sugar will sweeten it. Homemade Whipped Cream 1 cup of heavy cream 2 Tbsp sugar 1 tsp vanilla Directions: Chill the heavy cream for 24 hours in your refrigerator. Pour heavy cream in a chilled, large, deep bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat the cream on high until it thickens. Add the vanilla and sugar, and continue beating until soft peaks form. To test the whipped cream, stop the mixer and pull up the beaters, if the cream forms little mountains that stand up, then the whipped cream is done. Makes 2 cups and must be refrigerated. Forego the frosting: You don't really need frosting to have a good time. Make an applesauce cake and dust it with powdered sugar. To jazz up the look, make or buy a stencil and lay it on the top of the cake. Using powdered sugar and a sifter, dust the top of the cake. Carefully remove the stencil - Viola! An impressive presentation and low in sugar too! Go for cool: While a Mississippi Mud Pie is not a healthy ice cream choice, you can make or buy a frozen yogurt cake. Many ice cream shops also have wonderful choices in fruit sorbets too. A cake made with frozen vanilla yogurt and mango sorbet is a great treat for all ages. About the authors: Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby. Creators of products that include the So Easy Baby Food Kit and Good Clean Fun Placemats; Fresh Baby offers parents convenient and practical support in raising healthy children. 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! Fresh Baby products are available at many fine specialty stores and national chains including Target, Wild Oats, and Whole Foods Markets. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
05/07/2010
IconQuit My 401k? The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com Gary, Like a lot of people, I'm not happy with the way my 401k plan is doing right now. I have not lost a great deal of money like some my friends have. However, I have been wondering if I should pull out of it right now and then maybe later start up on the plan again. I have a friend who decided that he was just wasting too much money by investing in the 401k that he stopped contributing to it. The way the economy is going right now I might better off to keep what I make and even though I would have to pay taxes on it, at least I would still have some left over. What do you think? Ruben in Florida Ruben is not alone. Most everyone with a 401k plan invested in the stock market has suffered some decline in the value of their account. So it's only natural to wonder if it's wise to continue contributing to an account that seems to keep losing money. Ruben is really asking three questions. Should he take all of his money out of the account? If not, should he continue to contribute? And, is there some way to improve the performance? Before we begin, let's make sure that everyone understands that a 401k plan is an account that allows workers to contribute to their own retirement plan. The money that they contribute is deducted from their pay and is not taxed as ordinary income. Many employers match a portion of the employee's contribution. The combination of tax advantages and employer matches allows money to be saved much more rapidly than would otherwise occur. Now for the first question. Should Ruben close his account. There are exceptions, but for most people who are still working closing out their 401k plan would be a bad idea. Withdrawing before you reach age 59 1/2 is expensive. Not only will Ruben have to pay a 10% penalty, but all pre-tax contributions will be added to his income to be taxed. So, depending on his tax bracket, Ruben could see one quarter or more of his 401k go to the government. A much bigger loss than any likely stock market drop. The money withdrawn will need to be invested somewhere. For the most part he'll end up with the same investment vehicles (stocks, bond, CD's, annuities, money funds) as inside the plan. They won't perform any better outside of the 401k than they did before. In fact, they'll grow more slowly since interest, dividends and capital gains are subject to taxes each year.So Ruben shouldn't sell out. Should he continue to contribute? John Bogle was one of the pioneers of the mutual fund industry. In his book "Commonsense on Mutual Funds" he studied returns based on the Standard Poor's Composite Index. From 1927 to 1997 the return over any 10-year period averaged 10.3%. The only negative 10-year return was for the period beginning in 1930 and that produced a -0.8% result. What's the message for us? That unless you'll need the money soon, it should be worth more if you leave it invested. Time is the best friend an investor or saver has. A 401k plan is designed to take advantage of time and also of an investment strategy called dollar cost averaging. That's where you invest the same amount of money regularly. You'll actually accumulate more money if stock prices drop periodically. That's true because your regular investment buys more shares when prices are lower. So market dips are a great time to buy. Selling now would be an emotional response. Professional investors will tell you that emotions are dangerous to your financial well-being. Also, unless Ruben's a very disciplined person the money that had been going into the 401k will simply disappear. Adding that money to his take-home pay is an invitation to spend it. Can Ruben improve the performance of his account? Although the 401k's do limit your investment options, he does have some choices. When the stock market was roaring many people liked to brag how well their stock picks were doing. But, that's not the purpose of your 401k plan. Your goal is to gradually increase wealth over a longer time frame so that it's available at your retirement. His best strategy will include a mixture of investments. Ruben might want to study something called "asset allocation". It's understandable that Ruben is concerned with his 401k plan. But bailing out is probably the wrong answer. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher : www.stretcher.com website and ezines: subscribe@stretcher.com copyright 2003 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
05/07/2010
IconPersonal Loan After Bankruptcy The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman gary@stretcher.com I've filed bankruptcy about a year ago. I understand that a secured credit card would help to re-establish my credit. What I want to know though is that even if I've filed bankruptcy, is it possible for me to obtain a personal loan? If so, do you know of any establishments that would offer loans to someone who has filed bankruptcy? Thank you, Vi With about 1.6 million personal bankruptcies occurring in the last year Vi has company. And, in a society where the availability of consumer debt is assumed, she's got a real problem. Before we get into specifics, let's learn a little about credit and debt. The first known use of credit was about 3,000 years ago in Assyria, Babylon and Egypt. It appears that debt came to American with the Pilgrims. They consolidated their debts in London and made four installment payments. Store credit was common all the way back in colonial times and has been popular throughout our nation's history. Many items, including sewing machines and vacuum cleaners, were introduced into our homes on the installment plan. The first credit card came out in 1951 and was only good at 27 New York restaurants. Once the magnetic strip was introduced in the early 1970's the use of credit cards skyrocketed. But, having all the credit available has a dark side. Some people take on too much debt and have trouble repaying their loans. Thus the need for bankruptcy protection. Our current bankruptcy law was passed in 1978 and amended in 1984. We've come a long ways from the debtor's prisons that existed until the early-1800's. Yet, even today you can land in jail for committing debts of fraud and child support. With a few exceptions (student loans, child support and alimony), bankruptcy wipes out all debts. That's the good news. But, as Vi's found out, the bad news is that a bankruptcy is the worst thing that you can have on your credit report. Depending on the circumstances it can remain there for up to 10 years. So where does that leave Vi. She's looking for a personal loan. Hyperdictionary.com defines a personal loan as "a loan that establishes consumer credit that is granted for personal use; usually unsecured and based on the borrower's integrity and ability to pay". So the lender doesn't have anything to repossess. Just Vi's promise that she'll repay the loan. And by declaring bankruptcy before, she's already demonstrated that she's willing to walk away from her debts. Can Vi find someone who will give her a personal loan? Yes, possibly she can. But unless she borrows from a friend or relative, she can expect to pay much higher rates than someone with an average credit report. Where would Vi find a loan? She might want to try online using a search for "subprime personal loan". Or look for a business that offers 'payday loans' or 'signature loans' locally. But a better question for Vi to ask is should she take the loan if she can find it. And the answer in almost all situations is no. First, she'll be paying very high interest rates on the money she borrows. That means that she can't afford to borrow except for a very short period of time. Second, it makes it harder to repair her credit rating. As she pointed out, she needs to get a secured card to begin the rebuilding process. A secured card will require her to save money first and then deposit it on account. A personal loan with a high rate of interest will make it impossible for her to save the money needed to obtain a secured card. That means she's going backwards. Vi didn't say why she wanted the personal loan. But unless it's absolutely vital, she'll be better off avoiding a personal loan at this time. That probably means not buying something that she really wants or may even feel that she needs. And, that's hard. But given her circumstances, borrowing money today could make the future just that much harder. Which is probably something that Vi really doesn't need. Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website: www.stretcher.com You'll find the web's largest collection of free time and money saving articles. Visit today! More >>

PERMALINK | EMAIL | PRINT | RSS  Subscribe
Stay Connected
or connect at a place below
Normal Gear
Latest Poll
Have you compromised on a deal breaking situation because you were truly in love?
Yes
No
Archives  |  Results
Programs
About Dr. Laura
Letters
E-mail of the Day
From Listeners
Audio & Video
YouTube Videos
Stay at Home
Parenting
Relationships
Simple Savings
Work at Home
Tip of the Week
Subscription
Membership
Help & Support
Family Premium Help Center
Podcast Help
Contact Us
Legal
Terms of Use
© 2014 DrLaura.com. Take on the Day, LLC
Terms & Conditions  |  Privacy Policy
Powered By Nox Solutions