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IconEverything You Need To Know About "Podcasting" Cliff Ennico www.creators.com "I'm in the process of launching an Internet based business. I'm looking for some inexpensive ways to promote my business to tech-savvy customers, and I've been hearing some buzz lately about 'podcasting'. Forgive me, but when I think of iPods I think of teenagers listening to Eminem, and they're not my market. How does 'podcasting' work, and how would it benefit my business?" While "podcasting" obviously takes its name from Apple's popular iPodreg; line of products, it isn't limited at all to iPodreg; listeners, and can indeed be an exciting and creative new way for you to promote your business. But first, a quick definition: a "podcast" is a pre-recorded audio program that is posted to a Website and made available for download so people can listen to them on personal computers or mobile devices (including, yes, iPodreg; products). According to Oren Shachal, a podcast producer for software maker Intuit Corp., what distinguishes a "podcast" from other types of audio product on the Internet is that a "podcaster" can solicit subscriptions from listeners, so that when new "podcasts" are released they can automatically be delivered, or "fed", to a subscriber's computer or mobile device. Usually, the podcast features an audio "show" with new episodes that are fed to your computer either sporadically or at planned intervals, such as daily or weekly. Just like the old radio serials of the 1930's and 1940's, this encourages listeners to subscribe so they can find out "what happens next". Shachal explains that podcasts are to audio what TIVO is to video: "you can automatically receive the programming you want, and listen to it whenever and whereever you want". As long as you listen to podcasts only on your computer (as Shachal indicates the vast majority of podcast subscribers do), you don't need any special software other than the audio player that you already have on our computer (such as Windows Media Player or RealPlayer). But if you want to subscribe to a podcast "feed", you will need to install "podcatcher" software on your computer. The most popular "podcatcher" software is iTunesreg;, available as a free download from www.apple.com/itunes/download . Should you be getting into "podcasting" as a way to promote your business? Shachal says that podcasting is an innovative way to promote your business. "Podcasting goes a big step further than printed text on a Web page," Shachal says, explaining that "if someone's actually talking to you, you have to listen. You can't ignore or skim over it, so it's a far better call to action, and much more personal because you're listening to another human being's voice." Intuit Corp. offers a number of free podcasts offering advice for entrepreneurs - go to www.quickbooksgroup.com and click on the "podcast" link. So how do you go about creating a Podcast? Shachal says there are four basic steps. First, to record a podcast on your computer, you will need a USB microphone and special "podcast studio" software to help you record and edit your podcasts. For Apple Macintosh computers, the software is called Garagebandreg; and is part of the iLifereg; software package ( www.apple.com/ilife ). You can purchase iLife from Apple's Website for $79, but if you bought a Macintosh recently, it may already be installed on your computer so check that first. The most popular podcast studio software for Windows computers is Audacityreg;, available as a free download from http://audacity.sourceforge.net . Second, record your podcast carefully. Try to keep your podcast around 12 minutes, Shachal advises, adding that you should speak clearly and prepare your "script" in advance to keep the editing time as short as possible. And whatever you do, learn to soften your consonants, because a lot of your listeners are using earphones. If you "pop your P's" it's a lot more irritating than when somebody does it on radio. Third, once your podcast is recorded, you have to "post" it to a Website. If you have a Website of your own, you might be tempted to post it there, but Shachal advises you first call your Web hosting service and find out the fees. Podcasts use up a lot of bandwidth, Shachal explains, and most Web hosting services charge serious money for the extra bandwidth you will use if hundreds of people are downloading your podcast feeds. Instead, Shachal advises you use a Website that specializes in hosting podcasts, such as www.libsyn.com : "these services charge based on how much data you store, not for how much traffic goes back and forth, and you are likely to save significant money". Fourth, once your podcast is posted on the Web, you need to list it in one of the popular podcast directories, such as www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts and http://podcasts.yahoo.com . Right now, these directories will list your podcasts for free, because your podcasts are not taking up space on their Websites. Explains Shachal, "listeners download or subscribe to your podcasts through iTunes, and iTunes grabs the podcast from your Website. Listeners think they're getting the podcast from Apple, but they're really not." Shachal warns that, at least today, you won't get rich doing podcasts: typically, podcasters do not charge for subscriptions. "That's because most podcasters today are enthusiasts about one subject or another, and are just looking for the exposure," says Shachal. But Shachal adds that if you have a podcast with compelling content that's attracting lots of subscriptions on iTunes, you might be contacted by a company offering to buy advertising on your podcasts. My advice? Don't sell cheap. Cliff Ennico ( cennico@legalcareer.com ) is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series 'Money Hunt'. His latest book is 'Small Business Survival Guide' (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 2006 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

IconToddler Treat: Snappy Pea and Pineapple Salad By Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers Kids love sugar snap peas for the same reason adults do - they're crunchy, sweet and fun to eat! This is a delicious salad that's sure to be a hit at the dinner table or in the lunchbox. To bring out the incredible green color of the sugar snap peas, blanch them first. Blanching is simple cooking technique that adds eye-popping visual appeal to your veggies. Ingredients: 8 ounces fresh sugar snap peas frac12; cup fresh pineapple, diced Dressing: frac12; tsp sesame oil 1 tsp brown sugar frac14; cup vegetable oil 2 teaspoons store-bought teriyaki sauce 1 tablespoon rice vinegar Directions: To blanch sugar snap peas: Place them in pan of boiling water for 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, move them to a bowl of cold water and ice. Drain the peas when they are completely cold. Make the dressing by whisking the sesame oil, brown sugar, vegetable oil, teriyaki sauce, and rice vinegar together. Combine the peas and pineapple in a salad bowl. Just before serving, toss with the dressing. Variation: Add frac12; cup cubed firm tofu or cooked chicken for a great lunch or light dinner. About the authors: Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby, creators of products such as homemade baby food kits, baby food cookbooks, baby food and breast milk storage trays, breastfeeding reminders, and child development diaries. 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 >>

IconSecondhand Not Second-Rate Are you saving your hard-earned money by shopping at thrift stores?Why pay retail when you can purchase many items secondhand for the fraction of the cost? No one knows it's previously owned, unless you're like I am and many others that LOVE bragging how we got an item for a steal! It's a definite way to ease your budget and environmentally friendly too. Shopping secondhand is like a treasure hunt. It takes time to learn how to bargain shop, but you can become a money-saving thrift store shopper by planning ahead and being prepared. Know What You Want or Need You may not find items you're interested in during your first visit, so keep a wishlist of items handy in a notebook. Know your size and the sizes of family and friends. Consider color and style preferences too. Go through your closet and home to have a good idea of items you'd like to add to your wardrobe and decor. Write down household dimensions in your notebook. It's not fun to find what appears to be the perfect items, but you're not sure if they'll fit. Bring a tape measurer just in case too. Don't just impulsively buy just because it's cheap though. If you won't use, don't buy it. Thrift store shopping can be addictive. Keep in mind that you may find continuous great deals on clothes as an example, but do you need another five sweaters just because they're cheap? Be flexible and think creatively. Don't forget to consider possible gifts or things that can be recycled into something else. You may come across a skirt and not initially want it, but maybe the fabric could be utilized to create something wonderful or with minor alterations it could become a personal favorite. Before You Head Out Dress comfortably and practical. You may want to try clothing on or be rummaging through merchandise near the floor or in boxes. Eat something before you leave home. There are times the cash out lines are a long wait. It's possible you could be out shopping a couple of hours too. Be sure to have enough extra cash with you in case there are unexpected surprise items you find while shopping. Many thrift stores only accept cash. It would be very disappointing if you came across a super deal and didn't bring enough money. It's important to have a good idea of what items cost when brand new before you go. A little golden rule to keep in mind is that you shouldn't pay more than half the retail cost of the item when new. Try to go shopping by yourself. This is ideal because you won't have competition, a crying child, or an antsy spouse. I know some people think the experience is best shared with others, but when you both spot the perfect bargain or others are rushing you-well don't say I didn't warn you. Scope Out The Shops Thrift stores are all diverse. Some stores have higher prices, emphasize clothing or household goods, or may have more toys. Get to know which store locations have the best types of certain merchandise.Know the price ranges for the particular items you're looking for at each shop. You can add a pricebook section to your thrift store notebook. Merchandise always changes and it changes rapidly. An item that is there one day, most likely won't be there the next. You can talk to the owners/managers and inform them of items you are looking for. You can request that they contact you when particular items arrive. Not every thrift store will do this, but there's no harm in asking. My local thrift store manager called me and let me know when an oak dining set was brought into the store. Take Your Time Don't skim racks. Go through them slowly. Browse the entire store.It's an adventure to experience. Some items may be overlooked or be misplaced elsewhere in the store. It takes time to get accustomed to the displays at thrift stores. Items aren't always displayed by color and size or as neatly as in retail stores. Your initial reaction upon just peeking around, may have you thinking there's nothing but dirty junk. There's definitely more than junk there! Remember what you may think is trash is another man's treasure. Be Selective Don't forget to inspect closely and plug in electrical items to be certain they work. Look over the items for torn seams, missing buttons or pieces, chips, tears, etc. If an item has a couple of different ways it can be used, you will not be wasting your money. As an example, you may find a great basket and are trying to decide if it's worth buying. Can you think of alternative ways it can be used in the near future? Look for dept store tags. Many thrift store items are brand new with tags. Look at the tags to verify sizes too. Try items on to be certain they fit since items are sold "as is" and many thrift stores don't allow returns. Doublecheck for safety! Here's a handy safety checklist. http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/thrift/thrftck.html Best Times to Shop Many thrift stores have regularly scheduled discount days. Many shops do color coded tag discount days, seasonal discounts, or discount by department. Shop regularly or get acquainted with the employees to be alerted about sales. If you're too shy to do that, you can try tracking the sales in your thrift store notebook and see if there is a schedule. My local thrift store has color coded tag discount days and then offers additional discounts during holidays. Thrift store donations are at their peak in December. Many people are donating items, so they can write off on their taxes. There are also heavy donations made by individuals and corporations when the seasons change or it's near the holidays. Spring and Summer is also a good time to shop because many people donate their leftover garage sale items. Try and drop in frequently and early morning to get the best results. There's never a bad time to shop at a thrift store! Pay It Forward Donate items you no longer want to your local thrift store and encourage others to do the same. Many of these donations help support programs in your community. You can contact your local thrift store for their donation policies. These donations are tax-deductible.Here's some information on determining the fair market value of your donated items. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p561.pdf Now you're better prepared with some basics to begin the hunt. The possibilities are endless. You can shop for yourself, friends, family, or even to resell at places like ebay.com. Yes. You can even MAKE money shopping at thrift stores. Thrift store shopping is a simple abundance with bragging rights. It's fun and guilt-free too. If you aren't convinced by all the benefits of thrift store shopping, that's ok. There's more for the rest of us treasure hunters. It just doesn't always make "cents" to shop retail. Sara Noel is a freelance writer and the Editor/Publisher of http://www.FrugalVillage.com and http://www.HomesteadGarden.com Visit both these sites for information on getting back to basics through frugality, gardening, lost arts, simplicity, and natural family living. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

IconCooking School Parties for Kids By Cheryl Tallman Entertaining your children's friends is never an easy task and coming up with an idea for a birthday party is often harder. Recently, Fresh Baby creator Cheryl Tallman's son Spencer turned five and the event was celebrated with a cooking school extravaganza. For 2 frac12; hours Cheryl and her husband transformed their home into "The Cooking School for Brilliant Kids." Here she shares just how she did it! We started out doing a little research on the Internet and found a neat web site called www.kidsaprons.com . We ordered disposable chef hats and aprons, and picked up a few kid-sized cooking utensils to use in the take-home gift bags. We also planned the menu and developed a schedule for the party. Before the children arrived, we covered a ping pong table with white paper, did some prep on the foods, and decorated the dining room table for the birthday luncheon with balloons and the Star Wars tablecloth and plates that Spencer picked out. When each kid arrived, they were fitted with their chef hat and apron, and we took a digital photo. We printed out their names (i.e "Chef Spencer") on plain paper, cut it out, and used clear packaging tape to stick their name on their apron and hat. While we were waiting for all the guests to arrive, the children were given stickers to decorate their chef hats. This gave them something to do and also gave them some time to get comfortable. The party menu included French bread pizza, pigs in a blanket, carrots sticks and green beans, and for dessert, ice cream and cupcakes. Our school started with a "group" experience of making ice cream. Each child took a turn pouring, measuring, or whisking, while the others watched attentively. We poured our ice cream in the machine and moved on to making lunch. We spread the kids out around the table and started with the French bread pizza, each child took a piece of bread and "painted" it with pizza sauce, sprinkled cheese, added pepperoni, and placed their creation on a cookie sheet. The pigs in a blanket were next. Each child took a piece of crescent roll dough that was already separated onto a piece of wax paper. They picked up a hot dog with tongs and then rolled the dough around the hot dog, and they were placed on another sheet pan. After the main course was prepared, we took a class photo, and it was time for a break while the master chef (me!) put everything in the oven. The kids all went into the living room for a game of "Pin the Mustache on the Chef" and a magic show put on by my husband Roger, who picked up some magic books at the library the week before. By the time entertainment was done, the kid's masterpieces were ready to be served. In the dining room each child's plate had a piece of pizza, a pig in the blanket, some carrot sticks and green beans. The kids were so excited about their accomplishments. They all happily and proudly ate their lunch. After lunch, it was back to cooking school for cupcake decorating. We had colored icing bags (tied at the top) and an assortment of sprinkles. This was the BEST event of all, the kids had great time. The creativity of a five year old is absolutely precious. After about 20 minutes, it was back to the dining room, where we sang "Happy Birthday", and gobbled up our cupcakes and homemade ice cream. After that, we opened gifts and gave out the take-home gift bags. Two and half hours seemed to fly by. Spencer's thank you notes were sent with a certificate (printed on our home computer) from "The Cooking School for Brilliant Kids", and it included the child's picture and the class photo. We learned that a cooking party is a great theme to entertain kids, keep them engaged, and to teach then some new skills. This party was quite affordable too - about $100 total. It just required some upfront planning, a little research and some creativity to make it fun! If you are thinking of having your own cooking extravaganza, here are few tips that you might find useful: Keep the recipes simple and have the steps written down to follow. Do food prep in advance, so kids are not waiting, and you can avoid the use of knives, graters and other dangerous utensils. Make the experience hands-on, a combination of group recipes and individual ones worked well to keep kids focused. Have an adult work the oven or stove and keep the kids away from them. Use a big table for your workspace (the ping pong table was perfect) and line it with paper (or plastic table cloth) for easy clean up. At $2/kid the chef hats and aprons were totally worth it - not one kid took them off during the party. We heard one girl wore her hat all day! About the authors: Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby, creators or products such as homemade baby food kits, baby food cookbooks, baby food and breast milk storage trays, breastfeeding reminders, and child development diaries ( www.FreshBaby.com ). 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 >>

IconSave on Groceries Before You Leave Home By Jill Cooper www.LivingOnADime.com One of the easiest ways to save money on your grocery bill starts before you even leave the house. It's no extra work, you don't have to deprive yourself of anything and you don't have to clip any coupons. What is it? Stop wasting food. On average most families throw out 50% of the food they buy. If you have trouble believing that then watch your family's eating habits for the next few days. How many times did your child eat only half of his lunch or dinner or drink only half of his glass of milk or juice? How much food gets thrown away when you wash dishes? How many fruits and vegetables have rotted and been tossed? How much meat have you thrown away because it is freezer burned? And what about those leftovers in the fridge or the cartons of sour milk? If this is you, do you realize if you spend $400 a month on groceries you are literally throwing $200 of it into the trash? What would you think if someone you knew took two $100 bills and threw them away?!? That would make dumpster divers out of the most genteel among us. Here are some ideas on how to help you to stop the waste: Only fill a child's (or adult's) glass half full if they normally don't drink it all. You can always give them more when that is gone. If they do have left over milk or juice at the end of the meal put it in the fridge for them to finish at another time. When you get ready to cook a piece of meat like a roast or chicken, plan ahead. For example, when I take a roast out to thaw I don't think, "Ok, we'll have roast and mashed potatoes tonight." But I think "I will have roast and mashed potatoes tonight, Bar-B-Q beef tomorrow and beef and noodles the next night." That way you won't find yourself three days later gazing guiltily at that dying leftover roast thinking, "I really should do something with this but what?" and then end up throwing it out a week later. Check your fridge the night before you go to the grocery store. That way you can plan your menus and choose what to buy based on the leftovers you have. If all else fails, make one night a week as leftover night. That's when you set out all your odds and ends of leftovers for everyone to polish off. This is especially good if you do it the night before you buy groceries because this leaves your fridge empty for the new things you are buying tomorrow. Jill Cooper raised two teenagers alone on $500 a month income after becoming disabled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She is the author of Dining On A Dime, Eat Better Spend Less. To read more of Jill's articles and for free tips and recipes visit www.LivingOnADime.com . Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

IconDemystifying the Great Laundry Detergent Dilemma By Jill Cooper www.LivingOnADime.com I grabbed the phone and answered it. It was my daughter chuckling on the other end. "We got another one," she said, "Another laundry detergent e-mail." For years now we have one reoccurring question. How can I save on my laundry detergent? This may seem like an innocent enough question, but when we find out the writer's story, laundry detergent is almost never really relevant to the problem. What we've found is that a person who asks about laundry detergent is usually on the brink of bankruptcy, divorce, or losing a job. It's like some kind of code word or distress signal for "Help Me -- I'm drowning in debt". Often these people have maxed out their credit cards, have fully mortgaged a quarter of a million dollar home and owe money on several expensive new cars. They have closets full designer clothes, purses and shoes and say "How can I save on laundry detergent?" For a person in this situation, asking that question makes as much sense as saying, "My home is burning down -- I must go back in and save that $3 carton of milk I bought today!" If it were me, I would say, " Forget the milk I going to save the family heirlooms, my gold jewelry and the good silver." I have tried to understand why in a financial crisis so many people want to learn how to save money on laundry detergent when there are so many more obvious ways they could be saving. Here is what I have finally concluded: First, by focusing on a trivial issue they don't have to look at the real, more serious problem. It's like putting a Band-Aid on a scratch on your finger while you are bleeding profusely from an artery on your leg. They don't want to acknowledge the real spending problem because then they would have to deal with it. If you are in this situation and you want to be free of it, YOU HAVE TO ADMIT THERE IS A PROBLEM. You are spending more money then you make. It is important to realize that spending impulsively beyond your means is almost as bad as doing drugs. You get instant gratification and pleasure but over the long haul, it will destroy you. Second, saving on laundry detergent gets rid of that nagging guilt for a little while. As long as they keep trying to save pennies on unimportant things, they don't have to feel guilty about spending thousands on the fun things. The problem is that if they are spending beyond their means, it will catch up with them eventually, which will make the stress and damage all the worse. For those of you who have your finances under control and really do need a way to spend less on detergent, here are a few suggestions. At first I wondered how I could help anyone save money on detergent when a person uses so little of it? For a family of four, a 40-load box of detergent would last me one to two months, which doesn't give a lot to save on. It isn't the laundry detergent that people need to save on but the amount of laundry they are doing. It's seems as if people's laundry has turned into some kind of monster that is taking over their homes. It's everywhere. Piles of it on the floor, chairs, tables, and beds. Almost every horizontal surface in the house is covered with laundry -- dirty laundry, clean laundry and folded laundry. By cutting back on the amount of laundry you do, you can save quite a bit on detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener and hot water. Here are a few ways to help you cut back: Have the kids wear the same pair of pajamas every night. Before you get upset and say there is no way you would allow them to do that think about this: You bathe your kids before they go to bed so their pajamas go on a clean body. How dirty could those pajamas get while they are sleeping? Most people don't change their sheets more than once a week. What is the difference between sleeping on the same sheets and sleeping in the same pajamas? Assign each person his or her own towel to use a minimum of two to three times instead of just once. In the case of young children let them use the same towel. Up to a certain age most people toss their little ones all in the bath together so if they can share the same bath water they can share the same towel. When you get home from church or someplace where you didn't wear the outfit all day, change out of your good clothes and hang them up to wear again. If it doesn't look dirty and doesn't stink, don't wash it. We usually use jeans for a week at our house. Don't be lazy. So often we get undressed and, instead of putting our clothes away, we throw them on the floor in a heap. We don't want to iron, fold or even hang them up, so we just throw them in the wash. This makes more work later because we still have to iron, fold and hang them on wash day, but we also use more detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener, hot water and time. Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are frugal living experts and the editors of www.LivingOnADime.com . As a single mother of two, Jill Cooper started her own business without any capital and paid off $35,000 debt in 5 years on $1,000 a month income. Tawra and her husband paid off $20,000 debt in 5 years on $22,000 a year income. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com More >>

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 >>

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 >>

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 >>

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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