Author Archive

Coach’s Corner: Getting Your Financial House in Order


Getting Your Financial House in Order
It’s springtime and that means it’s time to freshen up your finances!  Here’s a checklist from our coaches to get started.  It’s all about makingCHANGE:

Check credit score: Get a copy of your report free once a year  Check for inaccuracies.

Hire estate planner: Review your will, powers of attorney and insurance needs.  This is especially important if you’ve had changes in your financial responsibilities.
A djust budget: Review last year’s expenses.  Looking at where you’d hoped to spend and save versus where your money went can help you reprioritize and set realistic goals.
Negotiate monthly bills: Review recurring expenses (cell phone, internet, utilities).  Check with competitors for the best deals. Ask your current service providers to match the competition, allowing you to save money without interrupting service.
Get organized: Track monthly expenses and find out where your money really goes. At the end of the month, evaluate areas where you can save and set those savings aside.
Evaluate savings goals: Review your savings, investment and retirement accounts.  Challenge yourself to put more away. Use electronic funds transfer (EFT) to make it automatic.
Keep on top of these tips, and your finances will bloom!
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Decades ago, my high school English teacher, Mrs. Vecchioni, used that word to define tenacity.  I liked the description – sticktoittiveness.  It suggested that there was real effort in the quest to achieve the goal.  Somehow, you knew with that description that there would be bumps in the road and the need for determination and perseverance.

Now we are once again in the midst of resolution season.  Once again this year, financial resolutions are topping the list with scores of people committing to saving more or paying down debt.  But, as with most resolutions, remaining committed past the first few weeks of January will require sticktoittiveness…tenacity.

There are ways to set yourself up for success.  Simple acts can help you make the leap from resolution to reality.

Change the routines that lead to overspending. 

  • Buying groceries at Target may be convenient, but do you find yourself tempted to buy things you don’t need?  It may be better to shop for food at the grocery store – with a list of course!
  • Lunch at the food court, can be more affordable than eating at a restaurant, but are you using those last few minutes of your lunch hour tempted by the sales? Eating at the restaurant may end up saving you money – better yet, bring your lunch and save about $1,200 a year.
  • Shop in the morning.  Studies suggest that you will be better able to avoid temptations earlier in the day when you are more rested.

Tell the people around you about your resolution.   Get your friends and family excited about supporting you and your resolution.

  • Getting together for coffee or lunch?  Try meeting at the lake for a walk instead.
  • Redefine girls’ night out and try a get together, like a game night, at home.

Change your gift giving traditions for birthdays and holidays.  Now is the time to throw out the idea of drawing names to exchange gifts in a group for the coming year.

Engage in new activities that will lead to success.

  • Have a gym membership?  Try at class during your lunch hour.  Better yet, bring along a friend for the class, too!
  • Learn to cook.  Make it fun to try new recipes at home.
  • Take up reading.  There is nothing better than getting drawn in by a great book – especially one at no cost from the library! Plus, there are no advertisements or coupon codes to tempt you.

Exercise sticktoittiveness!

You will be tempted and, chances are, you will end up reverting to your old habits every once in a while.  The key is to start fresh the next day, reaffirm your commitment to improve your finances and stick to it!!!

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Home(less) for the holidays…

by Lisa Jablonover, Volunteer at makingCHANGE

November signals the beginning of the holiday season.  For many of us that means enjoying the warmth of family and friends, decorating our homes, and eating more pumpkin pie than we care to admit.  But for some of the homeless people in our area, the falling leaves signal falling temperatures, scarcity of light, greater preoccupation with finding a warm place to sleep and increased demand on our food pantries to satisfy hunger.

Boasting a median income level of more than $100,000/year, it’s hard to imagine homelessness in Howard County.  But for the more than 200 people who are living in shelters, the woods or in cars, homelessness is not something they imagine; homelessness is a daily struggle for food, safety and stability.  Hundreds more of our residents are at risk of becoming homeless– doubled up, moving from sofa to sofa, threatened with eviction or foreclosure.  Shelter beds are almost always full with about a dozen people being turned away each day.

Some of the faces of our homeless have changed in recent months and others remain the same. Our chronically homeless population, those people who may suffer from severe mental illness or addiction, continue to need our help.  In addition, the struggling economy has created a growing number of situationally homeless families, those people who for a variety of reasons lost everything.  Many were laid off and can’t find work; some lacked adequate health insurance when a major illness occurred; and some simultaneously lost a loved one and the steady income they once provided.  For many of these families, homelessness was something that happened toother people… until it happened to them.

Homelessness is not inevitable. We don’t have to learn to live with it.  It can be prevented and other communities are showing it can be done.  Howard County has a Plan to End Homelessness (visit, click on Departments, then Citizen Services, to download a PDF of the full report).  To accomplish this goal, there must be a focus on prevention and rapid re-housing.  Prevention involves increasing efforts to identify and provide stabilization to people who might otherwise become homeless.  Rapid re-housing (Housing First) refers to an approach to move homeless people to permanent housing quickly in conjunction with organized efforts to provide basic support services to keep them housed.

Homeless people in our community have several places to turn for support. Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center is Howard County’s only full service shelter serving both men and women.  There is also the Cold Weather Shelter, run by Grassroots, which is open during the late fall through the winter.  Consisting of a network of several faith based organizations in our community, congregations take turns offering our most vulnerable residents a meal and warm place to sleep.  In addition, also relying on the generosity of volunteers, the Day Resource Center, sponsored by Grassroots and located on Rte. 1, provides a safe place to take care of basic needs for homeless people who do not have shelter. But for the Center, homeless people living in the woods would not have a place to shower, do laundry, get basic medical care or receive support services.

There are a number of other non-profits in our community, in addition to Grassroots, that strive to prevent homelessness, help our homeless population regain stability, and treat the devastating consequences homelessness creates.  Bridges to Housing Stability provides both transitional housing and case management to help families get beyond immediate crisis and remain sheltered.  The Community Action Council also provides a variety of support services including housing, food and energy assistance. The Domestic Violence Center provides women in crisis a place to rebuild their lives through shelter, counseling and case management.   And there are many more organizations in our area providing support services and financial assistance to residents in immediate need. Unfortunately, the emergency funds run out before the emergencies do.

The holiday season is traditionally a time when we think of others—sending cards, gifts and warm wishes.  This year, please consider supporting the organizations that provide services to our homeless population and those at risk of becoming homeless. They need our help.   Here are some links to get started:

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Bargain or budget burden? Think twice about those deals!

About a year ago we signed up for our Baltimore Gas and Electric’s Peak Rewards program. We were able to get credits on our bill ($200 the first year, $100 in subsequent years) if we agreed to let the company cycle off our air conditioning during times when energy demand reached a peak. We thought it was a good deal to get a $25 discount each month of the summer in exchange for a little suffering during the heat.

 Fast forward to the heat wave of this week… On Friday, as we expected, the A/C was cycled off at 11:30 and remained off for about 8 1/2 hours. The temperature in the house reached a toasty 91 degrees. With that, we abandoned ship and headed out for dinner and relief in an air conditioned restaurant – to the tune of about $40. So, there goes the $25 credit for this month – plus some!

 We’re sticking with the program. This is the first time we have been uncomfortable enough to have to seek relief so we’re still over $200 ahead since we enrolled – but this is a perfect example of how the quest for a discount can cost you. How many people do you that drive far out of their way to save a few pennies per gallon on gas, or drive across town for a small discount on an item? Discounts are great, but be sure that as you search out a great deal, it’s not costing you more overall!

 PS – While we’re at it, here are some great tips for saving money on energy costs: BGE Blog – Let’s Get Summer Ready!

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Summer Fun with Money

During the summer, many families look for ways to keep their kids learning even when school is out.  Learning about money can be a great way to keep math skills sharp and develop some important life skills, too!

Young Kids (K-2nd)

Make money fun for young kids.  One summer, our family had a daily treasure hunt around the house early each morning.   We had a jar of coins and mom would hide 15-20 each evening after the kids went to bed.  In the morning, the kids would hunt for the coins and then add them on a piece of paper.  Then, the coins would be returned to the jar for the next day’s hunt.  It was a great way to keep up their math skills and the kids loved it!

Young kids love to collect coins too.  Think about using the summer to begin a collection of the state quarters, or coins from particular years.  You can add a social studies lesson to this activity, too!  Learn the capital of each state, or an interesting fact about each asyou  go.

Older Kids (3rd-5th grade)

As kids get older, they can begin to add to their money sense by earning money and making choices about needs and wants.  If you pay your kids an allowance, check out this great, free site —   You can set up the system to automatically track the amount your child earns weekly.  Then, kids can set up a login, track their earnings, and even “write a check” when they want to cash out their allowance to make a purchase.  It’s a great way to begin teaching kids banking skills.

Pre-Teens (6th-8th grade)

For middle school aged kids, keep developing money sense at home with lessons around earning, spending and saving, but consider taking advantage of some of the great financial education camp experiences that are available.   Our local community college offers some great money camps for kids (Course: Money Matters), and organizations like Junior Achievement have amazing summer programs. 

High Schoolers

The summer is a great time for teens to add to their money skills.   Take your teen to open a bank account.  Have them make regular deposits of the money they earn.  Begin to talk to your teens about your family budget.  Help them understand the REAL cost of housing transportation and food.  They will be on their own soon, this is the time to get real about money.  This is also a great time to keep talking about careers and philanthropy as well.

Battling with your kids over “screen time”?

There are some great computer games that teach money skills.   Visa’s Financial Football is a fun way to sneak in some money lessons during the summer.   Also, television shows like Biz Kid$ can offer a fun way to learn about money and business while watching TV.  Click the link and enter your zip code to find out when the show airs in your area. 

There are so many great options to keep kids developing their financial skills during the summer.  Let us know how your family keeps the learning going even when school is out!

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Gift giving…cheapskate style.

With graduation and wedding season right around the corner, family and friends are faced once again with the challenge of finding just the right gift for the honoree.  But, with soaring gas and food prices, family budgets are tighter than ever.  So how can you give a great gift without breaking the bank?  Consider these ideas…

Gifts with meaning…  Consider giving a little piece of family history to your niece/nephew or grandchild who is graduating or getting married this year.  A piece of your family’s china you haven’t used in a while can make a very special gift.  I have proudly displayed a small, single saucer given to me by my aunt that was a piece from my great grandmother’s set.  Be sure to include a little note or sticker to highlight the family significance.  (Another option if you don’t want to break up the set is to buy a piece at Replacements.)  Regardless, by giving pieces with meaning, you can get away with giving less.   Graduates may enjoy a special family piece of jewelry (or a tie tack or cuff links for the guys).   

Gifts with a theme… Think useful!  Gifts with a laundry or fix-it theme are great for grads.  And for the newlyweds, you can expand the ideas to include the kitchen or the garden.   In any case, the container starts these gifts off right.  First, package the items in something useful!  (Laundry basket, toolbox, mixing/bowls or baking dish, or flowerpots all make great containers for the gift — check places like Walmart to get great prices on these types of items.)  Second, fill the container with some low cost items.  (Things like bath or dish towels, or event potting soil will work.)  Finally, top the package off with 1-2 small, special items.

Get crafty… You can save big money if you’re willing to put in a little time and elbow grease when it comes to giving.   Grads might enjoy picture frames, bulletin boards, storage boxes or desk blotters that you create yourself.  For the couple-to-be, make a no-sew table runner and placemats — here’s inspiration from Ballard Designs:  Be sure to grab one of the 40% of coupons for the larger craft and sewing stores to stretch your dollars further. 

Put a personalized spin on the gift…  You can use fabric stamps to personalize table linens for newlyweds.  For grads, some stamped, personalized stationery or a personalized tote-bag is a perfect gift.   The key is to take something ordinary and transform it into a special one-of-a-kind gift. 

In the end, giving a gift with special meaning adds value and is a great way to avoid overspending on gifts.  What great, budget-friendly gifts have you given or received???

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Thanks and a Round Tuit for you?

First, let us give a great big THANKS to Duane at HoCoConnect for posting about the importance of financial literacy!  Since jumping into the blogosphere just a couple of months ago, Duane has done a fantastic job of shining a spotlight on a number of non-profit organizations doing great work in Howard County.  I always enjoy the chance to connect with Duane — he is easy-going, thoughtful and reflective while at the same time full of energy and great ideas.  He is a runner, a thinker, a grandpa, a neighbor, an advocate and so much more.  If you ever get the opportunity to have coffee with him, take it.  You’ll come away better for it.  And while you’re there, ask him about his commitment to working to provide opportunities for youth aging out of foster care.  His dedication to the effort is nothing short of inspiring.

Next — our school system’s Academy of Finance program is looking for a few good businesses out there who might be willing to offer a summer position to a business student.  I serve on the community board for the program and we have 5 teens who have not yet been placed in jobs.  The Academy of Finance program is an intensive 2 year high school program for juniors and seniors looking to jumpstart their career in business.  The students take a series of classes (truly college-level material) in economics, banking, accounting, marketing and international finance. 

In the summer after their junior year, the students are expected to obtain a paid internship experience at a local business.  In this economy, it’s tough to come by those paid jobs though.  The internship should be 180 hours at minimum wage (or higher) — a total cost of just over $1,300 or so for the host business.  Check out what local law firm Davis, Agnor, Rappaport and Skalny said about their 2010 intern DARSLAW.

Our remaining five students have expressed strong interest in working with firms in the areas of:  law, marketing, accounting and finance.  All have indicated that getting experience with general business work would be helpful too.  So really any local organization could provide a perfect opportunity to learn the fundamentals of business.  I’m attaching the flyer with the contact information for the instructor of the Academy of Finance program. Flyer for Internships2011

If you have some pesky projects and no sign of getting a RoundTuit… perhaps working with one of these students this summer might be just the ticket. 


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