Posted by: F.E.S.T. | April 5, 2010

NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG

PLEASE VISIT OUR NEW WEBSITE: FINANCIALSURVIVALTOOLS.COM WHICH WE”LL BE UPDATING REGULARLY WITH FINANCIAL NEWS, INFORMATION, AND ADVICE. A NEW BLOG IS ALSO ATTACHED TO IT: MY MONEY BASICS

Last week, the FTC issued its 2009 report on funeral home practices. Every year, the Federal Trade Commission conducts an undercover investigation of funeral homes to make sure that they are complying with the FTC’s Funeral Rule enacted in 1984. The Rule protects consumer rights through the following main provisions:
Funeral homes:
*Must provide a price list of products and services at the beginning of any in-person discussion of arrangements
*Must give consumers a price list for caskets before any are shown
*Cannot require customers to buy any item, such as a casket, as part of the funeral services
*Must allow customers to compare prices and buy only the products and services they want
With the assistance of states’ attorneys general and the AARP, the 2009 investigation found a high percentage of violations in funeral home operations throughout nine states and Washington, DC. For example, in El Paso, Texas and Nassau County, New York half of the funeral homes inspected had serious violations. Funeral homes engaging in unlawful practices can elect to participate in a three-year Funeral Home Offenders Program in lieu of fines or an FTC lawsuit.
Funerals are expensive and occur at a sensitive and vulnerable time. Consumers can be convinced to pay thousands of dollars for funeral goods and services because they don’t understannd their rights. For more detailed articles and explanations on funeral home rules and regulations visit the FTC’s website: FTC.gov.

Posted by: F.E.S.T. | March 22, 2010

The Rewards of Spring Cleaning

Spring has just sprung and so the time is right to think about spring cleaning. Before bringing out the dust rags, buckets and industrial strength soap, take stock of the things you have-clothing, furniture, equipment, knick knacks, etc.. What items have gone unused in the last year? What clothing hasn’t been worn in ages?

This exercise gives you the chance to simplify your life, clear out the clutter and get cash for the things you don’t need or use. If the idea of having a garage sale sends shivers down your spine, here are a few tips to make the process easier:

Get all family members to participate, including the kids: From the attic to the basement, have everyone do a survey of his or her belongings and make a list (or pile) of the things they have outgrown, haven’t worn or used since last spring.
Get neighbors and friends to do the same thing: Misery loves company. If several families get involved then you can have a combined garage sale which will add to the supply of offerings and helpers. Your town may designate a specific Saturday or Sunday during the spring and summer months as “Garage Sale Day” when neighborhoods can have sales going on at the same time, luring more shoppers. If it doesn’t exist where you live, start the tradition.
Review items before the garage sale: Swap unused or slightly worn children’s clothes with neighbors who have children of various ages to get a new wardrobe for your child for free. On the day before sale day, price and coordinate items with neighbors and friends to organize sale categories and displays. Use different colored price stickers for each family’s things to make it easier to divvy up the sale proceeds at the end.
Be an organized team on sale day: Have people sign up for shifts during the day and one designated cashier with a cash box. (Get extra change from the bank.) Allow children to sell lemonade or refreshments on the side so that they can participate and earn money.
Make the most of leftovers: Items that didn’t sell can be donated to Freecycle (look on their site FreeCycle.org for a group in your area) or to another local nonprofit organization. Get a receipt for your donation indicating the estimated dollar value of your contribution, for tax deduction purposes.

Once the sale is over, clutter has been conquered, clothing swapped, items sold and donations made, your spring cleaning will be easier and wallet will be fatter!.

Posted by: F.E.S.T. | February 28, 2010

Cheap and Easy Dessert :Green Saint Pattys Day Watergate Salad

1 pkg. instant pistachio pudding & pie filling mix 1.29
1 (20 oz.) can crushed pineapple, undrained 1.69
1/2 c. miniature marshmallows .50
1/2 c. pecans, chopped 1.00
1 (8 oz.) carton Cool Whip 2.00
Total cost : 6.48

Pour dry pudding mix over undrained pineapple and mix. Add marshmallows and nuts. Slowly fold in softened Cool Whip. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Posted by: F.E.S.T. | February 28, 2010

Financial Resource Updates

Mint.com is a financial tracking site that allows you to input all of your financial information like checking, savings and investment accounts, credit cards, etc. along with your income and spending. The site then generates a report that shows how your budget is operating, analyzes your investments and offers ways to save.

Shortcut.com is a site that gives the electronic coupon offers for a variety of grocery stores which you can load onto your grocery store card ahead of shopping.

Posted by: F.E.S.T. | February 26, 2010

Can You Afford to Live ’til You’re 87?

I just read an article on MoneyWatch.com about the average life spans of women and men and for women now in their 50′s (like me) the expected average age is 87. The big question is can our savings and retirement money support us until then? This is also the average age; what if we live to be 90 or 95? In the article it mentions a website Livingto100.com which has a life expectancy calculator based on your answers to 40 questions. So answer the questions, see what the future looks like and review your retirement plan.

Posted by: F.E.S.T. | February 24, 2010

Cheap and Easy Menu- Steak Pizzaiola

Ingredients:
2 lbs chuck steak $8.00
1 cup frozen peas 1.00
4 Idaho potatos (cut in quarters) 2.00
1/2 cup olive oil .50
1/4 tsp oregano .05
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes 1.50

Total $13.05

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Coat the meat with the olive oil.
Place in a roasting pan.
Add potatoes and peas.
Cover with crushed tomatoes and oregano.
Bake for 1 hour and 45 mins.

Serves 4

uround the meat with the potatos and peas
Cover meat and potatos with tomato
Sprinkle with oragano
Cover with foil and bake for 1hr 45min.
Serves 4

Posted by: F.E.S.T. | February 23, 2010

Credit Report Services are Expensive, DIY for Free

Last month, TransUnion Interactive, a division of TransUnion, began advertising a brand new debt and credit management website and service called ZenDough. For a $15 per month fee (or approximately $180 per year) you will be able to “begin your path to financial mastery.“ This service will give you:
*access to your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax,
*a ZenDough “Snapshot” of your debt and credit position
*a summary of your accounts
*your FICO credit score (300-850) and grade (A-F)
*the 6 secrets to your determining your score
*personal ID theft case management and risk assessment
*credit ID email alerts
*assistance with credit report disputes
*debt analysis- debt-to-income ratio

There is a Free Trial period, which is actually 7 days. If you don’t wish to continue with the service you must call and cancel before the trial period ends otherwise you will start receiving a monthly bill.

In, fact almost all of the above listed items can be obtained for free or done by yourself very easily. With respect to accessing your credit reports, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each person is allowed to get a free credit report once per year from each of the three main credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, which can be requested by mail or online through AnnualCreditReport.com.

You are also entitled to an additional free report if:
*You were denied or notified of an adverse action in the last 60 days, related to credit, insurance, employment or government related licensing or benefits as a result of information on your credit report.
*You were denied a house or apartment rental in the last 60 days and were made to pay a higher deposit because of negative information on your credit report.
*You provide proof of unemployment and interview for jobs within a 60 day period.
*You provide written certification that you receive welfare assistance.
*You provide written certification that you believe your credit file at a specific agency is inaccurate because of fraudulent activity.
*Your state allows for a free annual report in addition to the three others, e.g. New Jersey.

Getting a free credit report does not include a free score, but through annualcreditreport.com it costs approximately $10. If you stagger your reports throughout the year-pull one every 3-4 months- then check you score annually, you will have a clear picture of what your credit profile and behavior look like.
The credit bureaus have made the reports more user friendly, clearly listing your personal information, fraud alerts, collections accounts and civil actions (if any) and a list of your debts by account, payment history, ownership and classification.

The three bureaus are very similar in the way that they calculate your score based on
the Fair Isaac Corporation rating system. There may be slight score variations but if the difference is more pronounced, inaccuracies or identity theft could be the cause. Since account statements are available online or mailed monthly, reviewing the statements regularly will alert you to fraudulent or unauthorized charges and if the fraudulent activity is reported within 60 days of getting your statement, generally you will not be liable once the credit card company or bank determines your claim is valid.

Fair Isaac has a very informative website: MyFico.com that provides consumer education and information on how their scoring is determined, how to read a report and how to best manage your debt. It stands to reason that if your credit score is 450 your “grade” is probably a “D” and if your score is 800 it deserves an “A“.

Part of ZenDough’s service is to show you how to dispute inaccuracies on your report; they don‘t do it for you. At the Federal Trade Commission’s website FTC.gov there is a variety of consumer guides, articles and alerts, and a dispute form that can be downloaded. The site also explains the steps needed to file a dispute, which should always be done in writing.

The remaining service that ZenDough offers is a debt-to-income evaluation and ratio. Well, if you add up the monthly payments you make on all of your debt and add up all of your monthly income sources, that should give you the totals and the ratio. Obviously if the ratio is high, that is not a good indicator.

To summarize, although ZenDough does have an attractive site, virtually all of the services they provide for $180 per year you can do yourself using annualcreditreport.com, myfico.com, and ftc.gov and the cost will only be $10 to get an annual credit score ($20 if you want to check it every six months).

Posted by: F.E.S.T. | February 15, 2010

Cutting College Cost the Easy Way

Upromise is a SallieMae college savings program that everyone paying or saving for college should know about and utilize. In partnership with over 700 online retailers, 8,000 restaurants and 22,000 grocery and drugstores nationwide, a percentage of the amount that you purchase from any of these companies will be rebated into your Upromise account. For online purchases through the Upromise shopping portal each participating retailer will give you back a percentage of your spending from 1-25%. When you register a credit card with Upromise for eligible gasoline, drugstore or food purchases at participating companies a percentage of that spending will also be funneled into your account.
With your Upromise savings you can accumulate money to pay for college-related expenses by opening a high-yield savings account and opening a 529 account where the interest will grow tax-free. You can also use the money to pay off existing student loans, or request a check to pay off a particular college expense.
A really cool feature is the ability to invite family members and friends to sign up with Upromise to contribute to your account, thereby harnessing the purchasing power of many people. In signing up with Upromise part of their gasoline, grocery, restaurant dining, travel and online spending would flow into your account and every day there are online coupon deals, discount coupon codes and super saver promotions by various retailers.
According to Upromise President David Rochon, only 5% of the population is able to pay for all anticipated college costs. Recent studies have shown that students graduating from a 4-year undergraduate program are carrying approximately $25,000 in government student loan obligations which have to be paid back-they cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy.
Now over 10 million people are members of Upromise. Parents can become members when their child is very young and start saving for college early and easily. The cost is FREE so getting everyone you know to participate is a no-brainer.

Posted by: F.E.S.T. | February 13, 2010

Cheap and Easy Menus: Nutritious Three Bean Soup

Three Bean Soup

Ingredients:
1 28 oz can crushed tomato $1.59
1 15 oz can kidney beans, drained 1.00
1 15 oz can black eyed peas,drained 1.00
1 15 oz can cannelli beans, drained 1.00
1 6 oz can tomato paste .89
1 cup chopped carrots .25
1 medium onion chopped .25
2 tsp chopped garlic .10
1 tsp chilli power .05
1 tsp Dijon mustard .05
1 tsp pepper .05
1 tsp dried orangano .05
1 tsp dried basil .05
1 cup chopped zucchini .50
3 cups water
Total Cost $6.83

Combine all ingredients in a large pot exccept the zucchini.
Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer covered for 10 min.
Add the zucchini and cook another 10 min.

Makes 12 servings

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