To Manage Your Home and Finances

  • How to be Clutter Free
  • Downsizing - Live Simply!
  • Purging Papers
  • Getting Your Finances Organized
  • Record Keeping Made Simple  
  • What to Do When you Have Lost Your Wallet

  • Stopping Junk Mail Before It Starts
  • To Reduce Junk Mail and Avoid Scam Pleas for Money
  • Ways To Avoid Identity Theft
  • Tax Time Help
  • Planning Your Child's Birthday on a Budget
  • Breaking Bad Habits

How to be Clutter Free

January  is traditionally the time of year to  make resolutions, but you don't  need to wait until then to make a  change! You might want to lose those  pounds you put on during the  holidays, communicate better with your  spouse, or (my personal  favorite!) clean the clutter in all the rooms of  your home.

Here  are a few tips to get you  started in any room of your home. Using this  simple procedure over time  will allow you to have a clutter-free home!

  • Think about the activities that take place in the room.
  • Create zones in the room to contain these activities.
  • Eliminate items from the room that do not apply to the activities taking place in the room.
  • If you have other people living in your home with you, call a family meeting so that everyone understands the new plan.
  • Have  everyone sign a "contract" to maintain the space as you have  planned.  The contract can be as simple or complicated as you'd like.  It can have  rewards and penalties. Have fun with this!
  • Recycle, donate, or throw out items that don't fit anywhere in your home.
  • Be disciplined and passionate about the choices you have made and allow them to become new lifestyles for you and your family.


Downsizing - Live Simply!

All  of us will downsize eventually. If you  are young or middle-aged right  now, it's not too soon to develop a  lifestyle that will make it easy to  make the changes you want when you  want.

If  you are a senior right  now--even if you are physically able to stay in  your present home you  may not want to deal with the extra maintenance  and expense of home  ownership. You may be tired of cooking three meals a  day and would like  to take advantage of the meal plans available in  senior adult  communities. You may want to embrace the freedom these  retirement  communities offer so you can travel near and far and do the  things  you've been waiting to do while you were busy maintaining your  home.

Here's some quick advice to make your job of downsizing easier and more manageable.

  1. Begin  now. Don't wait. Choose to live simply now. Develop a habit  of going  through your possessions and giving things away on a regular  basis. I do  this myself once or twice a year. I am careful about making  impulse  purchases that I will have to store or maintain.
  2. Do  a little bit every day or week rather than procrastinating and  having a  huge job with a deadline looming. If you work carefully and   thoughtfully now you know the job will be done right, the details taken   care of, so everyone benefits.
  3. How  will this benefit you? You will be in control, in charge. You  won't be  at the mercy of a family member or friend who may force you  to make  quick decisions you may regret.
  4. How  will this benefit your family? You will be able to carefully  and  thoughtfully pick and choose what you would like to give to each   relative. Having your choices clear should eliminate family squabbles.   Tempers can flair when the time frame is short. If you take the time  now  this should reduce conflict. Your wishes will be known and carried  out.
  5. Get your home ready to sell quickly by clearing out the clutter now so your rooms look larger and more inviting.

How do you start?

  1. Walk  through your home and take note of the furniture and  possessions that  really make you happy or have sentimental or historic  value.
  2. As  you are walking through your home also take note of those  things you  have not used for a long time. Really look at your  possessions as if for  the first time. Our eyes become accustomed to the  familiar objects and  we don't even really see them anymore. Do you  remember how it feels when  you are going to be giving a party? Suddenly  you see the clutter, the  dust bunnies, the dull paint or the worn  carpet. Before you knew company  was coming over you didn't even notice.  You will look at your home this  way when you are trying to sell it.  Keeping your home appealing now on a  daily basis will go a long way  towards reducing stress once the  decision to sell is made.
  3. Work  one room at a time. Tell yourself you are going to take  bites out of  this job a little at a time. Find the job, focus on the  job, and finish  the job. Even if you only do one drawer a day-that is  good. Keep up the  pace, increase the pace as you are able. If you'd  like to get the job  done faster, bring family trusted family members in  or hire a  professional organizer.
  4. The  lovely thing about hiring a professional organizer is they  are neutral,  unemotional about your possessions, and can be a wonderful  buffer  between you and family members.
  5. As  you are sorting through things be determined to save only the  items you  are using, give away those things you do not use, and throw  away things  that are broken, mismatched or have parts missing.
  6. If  you do this on a regular basis you will be clutter free and  really at  peace in your home. You will have a great home to enjoy each  day and an  easier time downsizing when the time comes.

To eliminate future clutter:

  1. Ask  your family and friends to stop giving you more unwanted  stuff. I have  some suggestions over at this table of great gifts for  seniors. I tell  my family to only give me "consumables". Some nice food  or beverage  treat that I might not buy for myself. Tickets to a play.  Or a donation  to my favorite charity. (See tip on Gifts for Seniors in  this website).

Purging Papers

Here's some advice about what to do about all those papers which are piling up on your desk, or in a drawer or filing cabinet.

Check  with your accountant,  lawyer, or office manager for retention  guidelines on tax and legal  papers. If you must keep these papers for  legal reasons, place them in  storage. Confidential files must never be left out on your desk and must  be filed in lockable storage. Keep "core information" only - materials  you are actually using.


Ask these questions to purge your piles:

  •    Does this paper tie in with the core activities of my business?
  •    Will this help me complete a project I am working on right now?
  •    Does this paper represent a viable business opportunity?
  •    Do I refer to this paper on a regular basis?
  •    Will this paper help me make money?
  •    Do I have time to do anything with this paper?
  •    Are there tax or legal reasons to save this?
  •    Would my life/work change if I didn't have this piece of paper?


Recycle or Shred:

  •    Old product solicitations - ads, mailings, catalog items
  •    Old magazines, newspapers, books, and articles
  •    Old research materials and literature
  •    Duplicates of documents - keep the original in a plastic sleeve for protection
  •    Previous drafts of letters and proposals - retain final version only


Getting Your Finances Organized

"Getting Your Finances Organized" - By Lynn Brenner (as printed in Parade Magazine, September 17, 2006) (Spire/Revell, 2006)

You carry your basic financial information in your head-like the name of   your bank, the location of your checkbook, where to find last year's  tax  return. (OK, it might take a while to put your hands on that  return,  but you know where to look.) But does anyone else know what you  know?  No? Then create a one-page crib sheet. It's the smartest,  easiest way to  prepare for the unexpected. If anything happens to you,  it will be  vital to your survivors. And if you're ever forced to flee a  natural  disaster, it will help you reconstruct your financial records.

What You Should List

Contact  information: Write down  the names and phone numbers of family members,  your closest friend,  your doctor, any professional advisers (lawer, tax  accountant, broker,  insurance agent) and the person who handles employee  benefits where you  work.

Financial  accounts: List your  accounts and the institutions where they're  located. For example:  "Checking and savings accounts, First Citizens  Bank, 124 Bank Street."  No need to list account numbers if you put down  your Social Security  number; that should be enough to identify your  accounts.

Where to find your important personal documents:

  • Current bank, mutual fund and brokerage account statements
  • Employee benefits information
  • Life insurance policies
  • Marriage license
  • Prenuptual agreements
  • Birth certificates and adoption papers
  • The  original copy of your will (the only copy that's signed and  witnessed).  A photocopy won't do. If your original will can't be found,  the law  assumes that you destroyed it because you had changed your  mind about  what it said. Your heirs must convince a court that that  didn't happen.  If they don't succeed, your assets are distributed  according to state  law, as if no will existed.
  • The  forms naming your retirement account beneficiaries. It's  these  forms-not your will!-that determine who gets your retirement  accounts.  If you don't have your own copies, ask your account  custodians for new  beneficiary designation forms. "Fill out two  copies," advises Ed Slott, a  tax accountant and IRA expert in Rockville  Centre, N.Y. "Mail them back  to the custodian with a cover letter  asking the company to return an  acknowledged copy for your files."

Where You Should Keep It

Make three copies of your crib sheet. Keep one for yourself. (Tell your spouse where it is!) 

Give one, in a sealed envelope, to your sibling, adult child, best friend or lawyer. 

Mail the third to someone you trust who lives in another town-preferably one
 unlikely to experience the same natural disasters.

As for documents on your one-page list, relocate them to a fireproof file cabinet, with 

active drawers (for current bank statements, for example) and inactive drawers
 (for long-term papers, like insurance policies and passports).

If you have documents stored in a bank safe deposit box in your name alone, ask the bank 

how your survivors could gain access to it. (Getting authorization can be time-consuming.) 

Better to keep documents like your will at your lawyer's office or in a locked file cabinet at 

home, where they will be immediately available to your family.


What To Do When You Have Lost Your Wallet

It  happens to the best of us. What can you do  ahead of time to minimize  the damage when you lose your wallet, and  what should you do afterwards?

Suggestions for Security:

  • Photocopy the contents of your wallet - both sides of all cards.
  • Keep all the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel
      with the photocopies.
  • File the list in a safe place.

What To Do if Your Wallet is Stolen:

  • Cancel all credit cards immediately.
  • File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen.
      This proves to credit providers you were diligent and is a first step
      toward an investigation if there is one.
  • Call the three US national credit reporting organizations immediately
      to place a fraud alert on your name and SS #. The alert means any
      company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen
      and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
  • Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
  • Fraud line: US Social Security Administration: 1-800-269-0271
  • Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289

Stopping Junk Mail Before It Starts

Getting   organized is also about eliminating waste in your life, and I'm all  for  getting rid of junk mail BEFORE it comes into the house! -Bet

From the Bucks County (PA) Department of Consumer Protection:

Q:  I've been getting  solicitations in the mail for refinancing and other  financial services.  I don't give out my personal information and I  always opt out of these  type of notices. So how did I get on this  marketing list?

A:  They may have gotten your  information from one of the credit bureaus.  They sell your personal  information, including how much your home is  worth and how much you owe  on it. This is probably why marketers know so  much about you. Some  consumer advocates have been trying to stop this  practice and the issue  may go to court. Our suggestion is to contact the  credit bureaus and  opt out of these programs. Call (888) 567-8688 or go  to www.optoutprescreen.com. You'll need to provide your Social Security  number and other personal information. This should stop the  solicitations.


To Reduce Junk Mail and Avoid Scam Pleas for Money

Reprinted from The Fresno Bee Action Line article by Blair Looney, President and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California.

A reader: All of a sudden, my Dad is receiving stacks of mail every day. I’m not sure how it started but it has really gotten out of hand. He has received lottery and sweepstakes mailings. He also receives mail from charities that I have never heard of. How do I stop it?

Action Line: Your father could have donated to a cause or entered a drawing. The first thing to do is to start by asking each of the senders to remove his name from their “list”.

To stop unwanted mail, you can register with the Mail Preferences Service of the Direct Marketing Association, www.dmachoice.org. You can also register for phone calls and email as well. This will help but will not completely eliminate the “junk” mail. You also need to allow several weeks to see the progress. I had one consumer tell me that if the “junk” mail includes a postage paid envelope, she takes the contents of the mailing, puts it back in their postage paid envelope and mails it back to the sender on their dime.

If you suspect fraud, contact your U. S. Postal Inspector at 877-876-2455, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Better Business Bureau’s Scamtracker. 

If you decide to open it and review the offers, the FTC warns that some con artists use the lure of a sweepstakes to convince consumers to send in money to claim a prize they’ve supposedly won. They tell consumers that the only thing that separates them from the winnings is a fee to cover the taxes or service charges. But as all too many consumers know, the winnings as described never turn up.

Crooks are getting bolder, using names of government agencies and legitimate phone numbers that mask where they’re calling from. Claiming to represent the National Consumer Protection Agency, the non-existent National Sweepstakes Bureau, and even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), they say that the delivery of the sweepstakes prize is being supervised by the supposed government agency.

They also use internet technology to make it appear that they’re calling from Washington, D. C., the nation’s capital, or the consumer’s own area code. These scammers then convince consumers to wire money to a foreign country and they usually suggest a money transfer company like Western Union to wire the money to an agent or an insurance company to ensure delivery of the prize. In reality no insurance company is involved and con artists take the money and disappear.

According to the real Federal Trade Commission, consumers can keep from falling for the lure of the sweepstakes scam by taking a few precautions. 

Avoid the following if:

  • You have to pay anything.
  • You have to wire money.
  • You have to deposit a check they’ve sent you
  • Your “notice” was mailed by bulk rate.
  • You have to attend a sales meeting to win.
  • You receive an unsolicited call saying you have won something.


Ways To Avoid Identity Theft

Concerned about working online? Worried about identity theft?

Here's a few tips to help protect yourself and your family.

  • Check your credit report annually (annualcreditreport.com)
     a. You may receive one free report from each of the three bureaus
      every year. It is recommended that you choose a different bureau
      once every four months. You will have to enter your social security
      number at this safe site to receive the information.
     b. There is a fee if you wish to get your credit score.
  • Use caution with e-mail - Avoid unfamiliar e-mails and be very cautious
      about e-mail with Internet links or attached documents
  • Keep your computers secure
     a. Keep your operating system up to date
     b. Personal firewall - free - zonelabs.com
     c. Virus protection - free - grissoft.com
     d. Anti-spyware - free - lavasoft.com or spybot.com
  • Stop receiving convenience checks - Call your credit card company and ask them not to mail or shred those that you receive
  • Stop mailed credit offers - Or shred those that you receive
  • Avoid  telephone scams - Never give caller personal information if  you did not  make the call. Remind others, especially the elderly,  about scams.
  • Buy  a home shredder - Shred anything with any personal  information that is  to be disposed, especially old checks, statements,  tax returns, etc.
  • Buy a secure mailbox - or use a PO Box. Never leave outgoing bills in an unsecured street mailbox.
  • Request  privacy policies - from anyone that you give confidential  information  to. The privacy policy tells you what they will do with  your  information. If they give or sell information to third parties ask  to  "opt-out."
  • Stay informed - Google yourself to see what, if any, information is "out there" on you.
  • Use the Internet, but with caution
     a. Pay bills on-line (safe and avoid sending checks through the mail)
     b. Use credit, not debit cards, for online purchases
     c. Expect stronger security measures from bank web sites (additional passwords, security phrases, etc.)
     d.  Look for secure sites when purchasing online. Look for "https://" in web  site address (the "s" stands for "secure") and the lock icon on the  task bar.
     e. Be very cautious about "pop-up" web pages that you did not open
  • Copy  the contents of your wallet - front and back of all cards,  etc. If your  wallet is stolen you will know what was in it and who to  contact.
  • Watch  for your bank and credit card statements - If they do not  arrive in the  mail within reasonable time call the financial  institution. They may  have been taken from your mailbox or your address  may have been  fraudulently changed in order to hide unauthorized  charges.

Excellent  information is available at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft about Avoiding  Identity Theft. This is the Federal Trade Commission's site.

What to do if you are a victim:

If  you recognize a credit/debit card charge that you did not  authorize,  call the company immediately and identify fraudulent charges! If  you suspect  that your personal information has been compromised or  that someone has  used your personal information to establish credit:

  • File a police report (necessary for seven year alert with credit bureaus)
  • Call one of the three credit bureaus - place a ninety day fraud alert
  • One call triggers all three
  • Review credit reports (you'll receive after fraud alert)
  • Send police report by certified letter to all three
  • Request documentation of fraud (credit application, receipts, etc.)
  • Close fraudulent accounts immediately
  • Remember, time is not on your side!!!

Credit Bureau Contact Information

  • Experian - (888) 397-3742 - experian.com
  • Equifax - (888) 766-0008 - equifax.com
  • Trans Union - (800) 888-4213 - transunion.com

Tax Time Help

Tax  season stresses everybody out. Here's a  few websites to help save you  some money. Find out the value of your  donations to charitable  organizations so you can itemize on your income  tax:


Planning Your Child's Birthday Party On A Budget

By Liz Martin

  • Decide what you can afford to spend on the party. Stick to it.
  • Pick  an inexpensive location. Parks and backyards are great for  warm  weather; inside the house or a public building (church, fast food   restaurant with play land, etc.) for cool weather. 
  • Invitations:   Handwritten or computer-generated invitations work  well and add a  personal touch to the party. If you like, you can even  give them out by  hand and save a few dollars on stamps. Or, if your  child's friends (or  their parents) all have e-mail addresses, consider  using an online  service such as Evite.com.
  • Food:   Try to make as much of the food yourself as you can, even  if it’s not  fancy.  This includes the cake, if possible. Enlist the aid  of  grandparents, family members.  Purchase any premade foods in bulk,  and  remember that kids are usually happy with inexpensive foods like  hot  dogs and pasta salad. Have plenty of snacks such as goldfish  crackers  and pretzels on hand, too.
  • Beverage:  Serve juice, punch or soda from large bottles, rather than offering individual containers or juice boxes.
  • Games:  Play classic games such as Red Light, Green Light or Hide  ‘n Seek.  For  games with “props", see if you can make any of the  components yourself.   Prizes for preschoolers are not necessary; if  desired, consider  offering a “service reward” such as allowing that  child to pick their  goody bag first, have the first piece of cake  (after the birthday child,  of course!), etc.
  • Entertainment:  Expensive, expensive!  Consider having Dad or Grandpa dress up as Elmo if you need to have this!
  • Make a pinata yourself instead of purchasing one.  See www.e-how.com  Fill it with inexpensive treats sold in bulk.
  • For  theme parties, choose a few paper goods to purchase in the  (expensive)  print and then fill in the rest with coordinating  solid-colored paper  goods.  Same goes for balloons – pick one or two  mylar ones and fill in  the rest with less expensive latex ones.
  • Try  incorporating some items you already have on hand as part of  the  decorations instead of purchasing (expensive) party store  decorations.   Not everything needs to come from the party store so  think outside the  box and be creative!
  • Use  paper lunch bags as goodie bags.  Decorate with stickers or  rubber  stamps.  Or have the birthday child decorate them for his  friends.
  • Pick  a few areas to splurge for those “must-haves” but watch your  spending  in other less important areas.  Be sure to stay within your  set budget!

My favorite web sites:

Breaking Bad Habits

"Breaking Bad Habits" By Abigail Walch - adapted from the March 22, 2015 edition of Parade Magazine.

Snacking late at night, skimping on sleep, nail biting, binging on House of Cards—nearly   everyone has vices.  That’s because, try as we might, bad habits are   maddeningly hard to break.  On the flip side, good habits, such as   eating more healthfully or exercising regularly, never seem to stick.    The upshot:  Most people throw up their hands and surrender.

But now a new book "Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives",   (Crown, 2015) by best-selling author Gretchen Rubin, offers some insightful solutions.  (Warning: There’s no one-size-fits-all  strategy.)

“It would be so great if there was a magic answer that would do it for all   of us, but it doesn’t exist,” says Rubin, 47.  “We know that because   we’d all have great habits if there was one thing we could all do.  You   have to take it back to yourself.”

Rubin, whose fascination with habits evolved during her exhaustive research on happiness—which resulted in two blockbuster books, The Happiness Project (2009) and Happier At Home (2012)—found   that our inability to master unwanted behaviors was a major downer.    So, after guiding millions of readers down the path of true   contentedness, New York City-based Rubin, a former law clerk for  Supreme  Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, turned her investigative  skills  towards habits.

Her   most revealing find? Change is possible if we do some soul searching   and identify how we respond to expectations.  And, just about everybody   falls into one of four personality categories:  Questioners, Obligers,   Rebels, and Upholders.  (To find out more about your personality type,   visit parade.com/habits to take Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz.)

Rubin   believes herself to be a classic Upholder, someone who forms habits   relatively easily because she responds well to both other people’s   deadlines and her own. As   to the other types, Questioners will only form a habit if it makes   sense to them; Obligers work hard to meet other people’s expectations   but often let themselves down.  And Rebels resent—and resist—habits.

The trick, says Rubin, is to “tailor your habits to suit yourself.”

After   acquainting readers with tendencies, Rubin poses questions in the book   to help tease out more nuanced personality puzzle pieces.  Are you a   lark or an owl, a lover of simplicity or abundance, an underbuyer or an   overbuyer, an abstainer or a moderator, a sprinter or a marathoner?

“Think about the habit that you want to form and then think, What’s everything I could do to set myself up for success?”   says Rubin.  For example, if you want to exercise more and you’re an   Obliger and a lark, call your friend who lives across the street to  meet  at 6:30 every morning for a walk.

At   the end of the day, good habits free us from making decision after   decision and from exerting self-control.  “The more things you can   make into a habit, then the less you have to drain yourself using your   willpower,” she says.  As Rubin sees it, better habits pave the way for   growth—and growth leads to greater happiness. 

And, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?