Monday, February 28, 2011

4 Ways I Stabilize My Marriage Financially


No matter how close to your spouse or signficant other you are, or how strong your relationship is, there can still be issues when it comes to the combining and handling of your personal finances. From spending and saving habits to investment and retirement decisions, there are a multitude of factors and decisions that can come into your financial relationships.

Here are a few of the ways in which I attempt to stabilize my marriage when it comes to the handling of our finances.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How I Plan to Fight Inflation


Prices seem to be going up everywhere you look these days. From food and fuel to clothes and commodities, costs are rising and inflation seems to be kicking in.

While I don't think a little inflation is the worst thing in the world, I don't particularly like to pay more for the products I use on a daily basis. Therefore, here are some of the ways I plan to fight inflation and maintain the purchase power of my dollars.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Why Didn't My Parents Warn Me


Do you ever wonder why your parent's didn't tell you about certain financial realities? Me too.

Here are a few of the things I wish my parents had discussed with me or at least let me know about before I reached adulthood.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Do You Ever Wonder?


Do you ever wonder about the successes and failures of other people when it comes to their personal finances? I know I do. But it's so taboo to ask them.

So here, I will volunteer myself for the chopping block.

If you'd like to read more about some of my personal finance SUCCESSES, you can read THIS ARTICLE.

If you'd prefer to know about a few of my personal finance FAILURES, THIS ARTICLE might be more to your liking.

Enjoy either or both...at my expense!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Are You the General of Your Retirement War Plan?


Being a general isn't easy, and being a successful general is even more difficult.

Do you have what it takes to become the general of your retirement war plan?

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Saving Money By Making Your Own Fondue


Chewy, stringy, gooey, springy -- these are all words we associate with cheese, but they are not words we should associate with fondue. Preparing fondue is not difficult – preparing a fondue “correctly” though, can take some a little and the proper ingredients.

Going out for fondue with friends or family can get a little pricey, but with the right tools and the proper know how, you might be able to enjoy delicious fondue in the privacy and comfort of your own home and for a heck of lot less money.

A Brief Overview
Over the years fondue making has evolved from a process formed largely from necessity, involving cheese and breads as its main ingredients, to a form of entertainment whose ingredients can include, meat, vegetables, fruit, chocolate, even marshmallows.

Traditional fondue originated in Switzerland where alpine farmers and herders looked to make the best of their available food stores, which consisted largely of cheese and bread. The tools, recipes and ingredients have changed over the years, but the resulting product remains the same -- a delightfully delicious meal that can be both satisfying and fun.

A Few Tools
There are several necessary tools needed for properly preparing fondue. Whether cooking with wine, beer, broth or chocolate, the first and most vital tool is the pot, also referred to as the “caquelon”. While there are a variety of pots available, including those that rely on an outside fuel source, electric pots are probably the easiest and safest to use, especially for the fondue novice. Pots may be stainless steel, ceramic, cast iron or copper and can be found at places like Target or Walmart (often with skewers included in a set), typically for between $20 and $40, but fancier pots can easily range well into the $100 range or more. (In all honesty, I’ve made fondue in a regular pot on the stovetop before, but if you’re going to have regular parties or friends over, this may not make for the fanciest of presentations and it doesn’t keep the mixture heated for very long).

It is also handy to have fondue “skewers” or “forks”. These, long, thin utensils typically have a two pronged end used for “spearing” food pieces. The end of the skewer is usually formed from a heat resistant material for added safety and may be color coated to assist in identifying whose food is actually cooking. (Believe me, it can become confusing with multiple skewers all in the pot at the same time!)

The Basics
Let’s begin with the basic cheese fondue. In most cases this is a cheese and wine (beer can be substituted) mixture, made from Emmenthaler and/or Gruyere cheese, melted in a (dry) white wine. The cheese should be added slowly to already hot wine in the pot, ensuring the mixture is melted but never boiling. The amounts can vary depending on the size of your group or party, but generally, a cup of white wine for every half pound of cheese is a good rule of thumb. French or Italian bread, with a good crust can make the perfect dipping option, but let’s be honest, just about any bread covered in steamy hot cheese is going to taste delicious.

There have been many adaptations to the original recipe throughout the years and now fondue fanatics have branched out. Once cheese fondue has been mastered, consider trying meat or veggies cooked in a vegetable or beef broth. Beef, steak, pork, chicken, and seafood, as well as just about any vegetable can be boiled on a skewer.

We finish up with dessert. The most recent trend in fondue relies on using a dark, white or milk chocolate base. Now comes the good part! As with other forms of fondue, you will also use skewers to dip your food, but instead of bread, meat or vegetables, you may choose from marshmallows, pretzels, strawberries, pastries, and many other delectable desserts that will support being dipped in melted heaven.

Since fondue is now more of a social gathering than just a meal, here are several helpful tips and rules of etiquette:

• As with any communal food source, try to avoid double dipping your food once it has been tasted or applying your lips to the skewer since it’s going back into the pot.

• To avoid mix-ups, use color-coded skewers.

• Make up a fun rule or challenge to complete should someone’s food fall off in the pot.

• It can be fun and easy to try concoctions and mixtures of your own when it comes to various fondue combinations, and being open to new ideas could make your event even more interesting.

These tips can make your dining experience relaxing, more entertaining, and completely fonduelicious!



Disclaimer:
This article is for informational purposes only. The author is not a culinary or food professional. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is at the reader’s discretion. Making fondue involves heat and high temperatures, and caution is advised.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cleaning Your Home's Gutters


Spring months are fast approaching and that means budding flowers, leaves on trees, and more debris in your gutters. Having a professional come clean your gutters might be a load off your mind, but it can be costly too. This may leave you considering cleaning your gutters yourself.

If you are comfortable attempting this process on your own, having the right tools and knowledge when it comes to cleaning your home’s gutters can make the process quicker, easier, and more importantly safer. There are several important steps you may want to follow when cleaning clogged gutters, but let’s start with the basics.

HOUSE GUTTER CLEANING MATERIALS
It is essential to have the proper materials on hand before attempting to clean clogged gutters. The following tools can help you avoid time consuming and frustrating extra steps when clearing your gutters.

* Bucket with handle, or trash bags in which to place clogged gutter debris
* Hose (long enough to reach the roof and surrounding gutters)
* Gloves (water proof may be preferable)
* Scraper (paint scraper or any similar tool will work)
* Ladder (an extension ladder with rubber shoe grips for added safety if available)
* Safety rope or harness for steeply sloped roofs

STEP 1 - PREPARATION
After you’ve collected your supplies, begin the cleaning process by ensuring your ladder is placed in a stable area near the downspout of the clogged gutter. Gather your bucket or garbage bags, scraper, and gloves, and head for the roof. Depending on the slope of your home’s roof, you might find it easier to work from atop the house. If this is the case, a safety harness or rope can be used for added safety.

STEP 2 - CLEANING
Begin the cleaning process near the downspout of the clogged gutter and work away from that point do debris doesn’t get pushed down into the downspout. It’s important to note however, that if your gutters are full of water due to the collected debris, you might want to start at the far end of the downspout and work toward it (leaving a sort of dam of debris by the downspout to avoid water forcing all the debris into the downspout where it might jam.

Placing debris from your house gutters into your bucket or trash bag will make clean up easier, but can also make the process more dangerous. You may choose instead to toss debris directly from the house gutters onto the ground to be cleaned up later. Wearing gloves during the cleaning process will protect your hands from sharp twigs and debris that may be lodged in the gutter. Many downspouts and gutters have sharp, jagged edges, and clogged gutters can conceal protruding screws and metal shards.

STEP 3 - SCRAPE AND SPRAY
While clearing your house gutters, use your scraper to dislodge any hardened debris from the bottom or edges of the gutter. Dirt, leaves, twigs, and shingle debris can collect to form a crust-like barrier, blocking water from draining properly. Once the majority of the debris has been cleared, it may be time for your hose.

A spray-handle hose attachment is handy to avoid climbing the ladder with the hose already running and having to avoid spraying yourself in the process. Such an attachment may also help add pressure to dislodge debris. Begin at the far end of the house gutter and work any left over debris toward the downspout. This “rinse” phase will not only clear smaller debris not collected on the first pass, but will also indicate whether the clogged gutter and downspout have been cleared. Depending upon the amount and size of “leftover” debris collected in your rinse phase, you might want to stop to collect it or just wash it down the downspout.

STEP 4 - CLOGGED DOWNSPOUT
The weight and force of the water accumulating in the gutter above during the rinse phase will often clear a clogged downspout. If not, you may have several options.

* Use a hose, plumbers snake, or thin rod or pole to dislodge debris
* Gently bang on the downspout’s side with your hand near the clog, being careful not to damage it
* Dismantle that clogged section to clear

These tips will hopefully help make your next gutter cleaning session, a timely, safe, and relatively painless home project. And the main factor is safety. Cleaning gutters isn’t for everyone, and while it can save you money, if you aren’t comfortable with completing certain aspects of these or similar tips on your own and in a safe manner, it might be a good idea to consider hiring someone do complete them for you.


Disclaimer:
This article is for informational purposes only. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is at the reader’s discretion.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Preparing to Retire Early


When it comes to retiring early, it’s often not about how much you’ve got, but how you use what you have. Sure, it’s fantastic if you’ve managed to sock away a tidy little next egg, but when it comes to actually feeling rich, it’s often more about your lifestyle and how you manage your expenses and assets that will determine just how wealthy you will feel in retirement.

Expenses, expenses, expenses, it’s all about expenses. As a director of finance in the hotel industry, I watched revenue levels rise and fall, but one thing remained constant, expenses. They are always there and will always be there, and with the exception of the occasional unexpected event or emergency, they remain relatively consistent.

Many individuals choose to focus on income and their investments as they plan for retirement, and while those are definitely important factors, I have always been a firm believer that expenses will make or break a successful early retirement. How many examples have there been of retirements ruined by over expenditure? Sammy Davis Junior and Ed McMahon are two perfect examples of people that should have been financially secure in retirement. They made untold millions during the course of their careers and should have had more than enough money to cover their expenses as they entered their twilight years. But instead, what happened? Because their expenses outweighed their income, Sammy Davis Junior died with hardly any assets to his name and Ed McMahon needed Donald Trump’s help just to save his house.

All of us have necessary expenses, and those expenses often increase as we age, but there are ways of measuring and controlling our needs as they correlate with our available resources. Using a retirement calculator can be a helpful way of estimating how your assets will grow over the years and what income you will have at your disposal to apply to your expenses when the time comes. Beware though; these calculators can be highly deceptive if you are not realistic when entering the savings amounts, timeframes or expected return percentages on your investments. If you use one of these investment tools in your planning efforts, it may be better to ere on the side of caution when entering your values and then be pleasantly surprised later on when your returns are better than expected.

The most effective way to retire with more money than you expect is to find things that make you feel wealthier and richer than you are. Now I’m not going to blow happy smoke at you here and tell you that being surrounded by friends and family is what you need to do this, although they can be helpful in making you feel better during retirement. What I mean by finding things that make you feel rich, are the values found in the activities you enjoy.

If you like going out to eat, consider finding a restaurant where you feel you get a great meal for the price. If you like to have a drink or two, go to a bar that offers one-dollar beers for happy hour. When you buy your friends a round of drinks for ten bucks, or go out to eat with your entire family for fifty you’ll feel like you’re rich without having to spend an excessive amount of money.

Finally, understand your assets. I don’t mean just knowing how much money you have in the bank. Truly understand your assets. People say to me, “I own my own home.” And I say, “Do you own it, or are you just paying the bank to live there?” How much equity do you actually have in your home? Is your estimation of its worth accurate? Is it backed up by appraisals? If you sold your home it in today’s market, would you actually get that amount? Others say, “I have this much in my retirement account, I’ll be fine to retire early.” And I say, “Exactly how much of that will be yours after taxes or fees if you decide to take it early?” And they answer, “Taxes? Uh, I don’t know. How early do early withdrawal fees occur and how much are they?”

So when I say understand your assets, don’t just know the numbers, understand the numbers. Know where you’re money is, what it’s doing, and exactly how much of it there actually is. Watch it carefully and try to make sure that it’s well diversified in investments that will provide a secure, yet reasonable rate of return. Be reasonable in your estimates, calculate carefully, be honest with yourself, and truly be realistic about your wants as well as your needs for retirement. Playing by these kinds of rules may help you better prepare to retire early.