10 Ways To Spend Your Tax Refund

tax-refundNow that tax season is over, are you one of the over 101-million taxpayers expecting a refund? According to the Internal Revenue Service the average refund for the 2013 filings is $2,860 (as of 17 Apr 2014).

There are several more sensible ways to use your refund. Consumerist.com recently posted an article titled 10 Ways To Not Suck At Spending Your Tax Refund that provide some great suggestions for using your refund wisely. But it is their bonus point that is the one we would suggest first…change your withholding!

Iliza_TaxRefundWhile it’s great to receive that fat check after filing your tax return, do you realize you are giving an interest-free loan to the Internal Revenue Service?  If you expect your situation to be the same next year, utilize the IRS Withholding Calculator and adjust your withholdings on myPay.

You can also use the Single or Married withholding calculators that we have built into our budget spreadsheet in our Personal Finance Section. They are located on the fourth and fifth tabs of the budget2014.xlsx Excel spreadsheet.

Use the extra money from your adjustment to pay down debt that is costing you interest or put it into an interest earning account. Make the money work for you!


Study: Snack might help avoid fight with spouse

SnickersAdMaybe the 2011 Superbowl commercial from Snickers had a point that “You are not you when you’re hungry.” A study out of Ohio State University proposed that low blood sugar can make spouses touchy and a snack could prevent major fights between husbands and wives. Psychology researcher Brad Bushman stated that it can make them “hangry,” a combination of hungry and angry.

“We need glucose for self-control,” said Bushman, lead author of the study, which was released Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Anger is the emotion that most people have difficulty controlling.”

The researchers studied 107 married couples for three weeks. Each night, they measured their levels of the blood sugar glucose and asked each participant to stick pins in a voodoo doll representing his or her spouse. That indicated levels of aggressive feelings.

The researchers found that…Read the full story on the AP website.

Credit Card Skimmer Victims: How much you lose depends on your actions!

On 10 April, Rapid City Police announced they are investigating a series of credit card skimmers found inside pumps at several area gas stations. They stated that the skimmers they’ve found so far have been inside the pumps where they’re not visible to consumers.

You are recommended to  monitor your credit cards and bank accounts (a practice we encourage for everyone, all the time). If you notice any fraudulent activity, report it to your financial institution immediately.

In fact, how much you lose depends on the card you used and how quickly you report the problem.

LIMITYOURLOSSESMany ATM/Debit Cards issuers have voluntarily agreed that an account holder will not owe more than $50 for transactions made with a lost or stolen ATM or debit card. However, under the law, the amount you can lose depends on how quickly you report the loss.

For credit cards, you loss is limited to $50 as long as you dispute the fraudulent charges within 60 days of receiving your bill.

For a better understanding of gas pump credit card skimmers here is a story by ABC News from August 2013 showing how the skimmers work and how your are at risk.

Daylight Saving Time Steals an Hour This Sunday, March 9th

nGl23qjIf you think you never have enough time on the weekends, you definitely are not going to like this weekend. It’s Daylight Saving Time again, and this isn’t the fun one as we turn the clocks forward an hour.

The official change of time begins at 2 A.M.  on the morning of Sunday, March 9th, 2014. Be sure to set your clocks ahead by 1 hour before you go to bed on Saturday Night.

Daylight saving time is currently adopted in over 70 countries and imposes a twice yearly 1 hour change in local clock time. Many assume that the time change only affects your sleep pattern that night, but a study out of England suggests that the seemingly small one-hour shift in the sleep cycle can affect sleep for up to a week. In my opinion, I know I didn’t need a study to tell me that.

Either way you see it, don’t forget to turn your clocks forward one hour so that you aren’t late for anything on Sunday!

Celebrating your relationship without hitting the bank account

QGAvI3qIt’s that time of year again where the cost of flowers equate to gold bullion and we start seeing television ads for chocolate dipped strawberries and giant teddy bears that will “show your love” for your significant other.

Okay, so if you’re like me and not into the whole Valentine’s Day thing you still need to be aware that Valentine’s Day is this Friday. If you weren’t aware (Gentlemen, I’m speaking to you) your significant other is and may be expecting some kind of acknowledgement of Valentine’s Day. With an average of $18 billion spent every February on flowers, chocolates, gifts, and restaurants in the United States, a lot of people are obviously into the day.

For some, expensive gifts just don’t work with the budget. For my wife and me, we don’t do flowers as they end up dead in the vase by the following week and we would rather celebrate our love (and spend our money) in other ways.

So why not use the occasion to really celebrate love?

Here are a few ways to say “I love you” during this heart-stamped month that don’t require a credit card.

Communication Counts. Most couples will agree that communication is the backbone of a good relationship, and research has backed up these beliefs. While most of us know this, many couples never have learned to communicate when it counts most.

Really listen to your partner. That means giving them your open-minded, genuinely interested attention. Take the time to fully absorb what they’re saying. Body language, word choice, tone of voice—you’ll be amazed at what you may have been missing. If you don’t understand what they have said, ask for clarification. You do have to offer your full attention when talking, so put down that phone, game controller, or remote and listen to them.

Offer your full presence when you’re together. As I mentioned above, don’t be looking at your phone or watching the game on the TV over their shoulder. Resist the usual complaining about work or daily activities. Most couples tend to slip into their usual conversation mode, similar to autopilot where conversations really only focus on surface level topics. Even my wife and I get into this rut where it sounds more like a staff meeting discussing the week’s events and challenges, then planning future activities. It is no fun and can eventually erode any relationship.

Value the little things your partner does for you—and do some in return. I challenge each member to do something for their partner (at least weekly) that doesn’t depend on what their partner does or does not do. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture, but something that they will notice and hopefully at least acknowledge and reciprocate. If you are on the receiving end, let your partner know how their gesture made you feel.

Empathy. It’s a necessary ingredient for healthier relationships of all kinds. When listening to your partner, empathize with his or her experience, even when it’s painful. Put yourself in their shoes and acknowledge how that would make you feel. If your partner wants help with the situation usually they will ask for your opinion or suggestion. Most times your partner just wants you to listen to them.

valentines_day_xkcd_mmxIf you still are going to spend the money on gifts or going out, keep in mind you don’t have to save up your romantic ideas for a few days each year.

Regularly have date nights. Couples tend to get into a routine and only celebrate their relationship on anniversaries and Valentine’s Day. If you are married, think back to what you did when you were dating. Do you remember how you felt then? Why not keep that up after your wedding?

So whatever this Valentine’s Day brings for you, first and foremost, don’t forget it, but do things for your significant other year round to help build and maintain your relationship. If you are planning on flowers and other gifts, budget for them well ahead of February 14th.  Don’t wait for the last minute where you at the mercy of retailers.

Father & Daughter Creatively Grieve Their Loss

Grief2Grief can be defined as an intense emotional state associate with the loss of someone or something with whom (or which) one has had a deep bond. It is not always associated with a death. You can go through the grieving process from a PCS, retirement or separation from a job, loss of property, ending of a relationship…the list can be endless.

It is important to note that everyone grieves in their own way and it is normal to grieve. There are five generally recognized stages of grief:

  1. Denial – Rejection or refusal to accept the truth (also known as shock).
  2. Anger – Physical expression of hostility directed toward others.
  3. Bargaining – An agreement between conscious mind and soul involving a negotiation for more time to live.
  4. Depression – Reactive grief over a specific loss and/or preparation for loss.
  5. Acceptance – An acceptance of existing conditions, a receptivity to things that can’t be changed

Recognizing that you are grieving something is sometimes harder for you to realize and then once you realize it, what do you do with your grief? Counseling can assist with recognizing and processing the loss. For Ben and Olivia, they were grieving the loss of a wife, mother, and moving from their home. The following story was shared on the NBC’s Today Show, and the Bored Panda website.Grief

“Ben Nunery and his young daughter Olivia have published a gripping and beautiful series of images in which they bid farewell to their home and to their wife and mother Ali, who died of cancer in 2011 at 31 years of age.”

“Ben and Ali were married in 2009. Because they had just purchased their new home, they decided to take their wedding photos in the home that was to be their future. After Ali passed just 2 ½ years later, however, Ben and Olivia had to move into a new home together. To say goodbye, Ali’s sister Melanie Tracy Pace joined them for one more photoshoot in the home where Ben and Ali had their wedding day photos and where they had lived together. The resulting images, some of which even shadow the original wedding-day photos, are a touching and beautiful farewell to Ali and to their old home.”

Check out the photos on the Bored Panda website (http://www.boredpanda.com/father-daughter-recreate-wedding-pictures-ben-nunery-melanie-tracy-pace/) , along with some more specific information about Ben, Olivia and Ali’s story.

What would you do if you were given a gift of time?

clock1This last spring, the bosses at Barrie D’Rozario Murphy, a Minneapolis based ad agency, gathered their 18 employees and gave them paid time off. While most of us spent the summer working, with maybe a week or two of vacation, the ad agency gave their employees 500 hours of their life back and told them “to figure out what they are passionate about and go and do it.”

So let’s do the math…500 hours of paid time off equals 12 and a half weeks (based on a 40 hour work week) or a little over three months off. Again this was paid time with benefits!

Watch the story from NBC Nightly News by clicking the picture or going to:http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/52831482/?ocid=twitter#52831482


You can also view stories from some of the staff about how the 500 hours changed their lives on the Barrie D’Rozario web page.

What would you do if you suddenly had 500 hours of paid time off?

As a civilian that just finished taking 6 furlough days over 6 weeks, I too had some free time given to me. Despite the reduced paycheck creating a hardship, it was nice having the time to get things done around the house that I don’t normally have during a busy work week.

The ad agency bosses hoped that the staff would realize that the things they wanted to do, they could always be doing and find a place for them in their life.

I remember as a kid I would say to my mother often, “I don’t have time for…(whatever she was asking me to do)” and her response would always be to me “Make time for it.”

So whether we are lucky enough to have an employer that gives us time off or we make the time ourselves, don’t let the each day pass by. Take time for those things that can enrich your life or those dreams that you always find yourself saying you will do some day if you have the time.

P.S. I did check and Barrie D’Rozario Murphy is currently hiring an account director.