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Even though many women are starting to have a larger role in family finances and taking care of the money, there are some women who are still uncomfortable dealing with the finances. Here are five rules that can help you keep on the right financial track. (And you will find that these rules can help men, too!)

  1. Don’t let your partner control the finances: You are in a partnership. This means that you need to help make the money decisions. You need to know what sort of position you are in, and be involved in deciding where the money goes. Learn about how money works, and take an active interest. This also goes for stay at home partners: You are making a valuable contribution to the family finances by doing things for free that you would have to pay others to do. You deserve an equal say in the finances.
  2. Take care of your own needs first: To some, this may sound selfish. And for many women, the idea of taking care of themselves first seems wrong. However, you should make sure you are saving for your retirement before you take care of the college fund for your children. And you should also have access to money that you can save up — just in case something should happen to your marriage. Look into a spousal IRA for yourself, and consider a pre-nup to protect your assets.
  3. Stay away from co-signing: When you co-sign on a loan, you are assuming responsibility for it. If the person turns out to be unreliable, your credit score is lowered, and you are responsible for discharging the debt. You may feel bad, and you may want to help, but co-signing can be a bad financial move. Along the same lines, be wary about lending money to friends and family.
  4. Know your value: Whether in a salary negotiation or considering your “worth” to your family, know your value. Do research, and know how much your counterparts make in similar situations with regard to experience and education. Don’t accept less, just because you don’t want to rock the boat. (If the company really can’t afford it because of the economic times, that’s a different story.) If you know your value, don’t be afraid to be assertive. When you know your value, you are more likely to be valued. Your family should recognize your contributions is you are a stay at home partner, and value you as an integral part of the family.
  5. Take a risk or two: Many women are naturally risk averse. This shows up in money decisions, such as investments. If you want to grow your money more efficiently, you will need to take a financial risk or two. The good news is that you can use some investments, like index funds or proper diversification, to limit your exposure to risk, helping you grow your money without the emotional stress that comes with timing the market.

It might help to meet with a financial professional to discuss your finances, and set some reasonable goals. If you have a partner, this is a good thing to do together. Learning about how money works, and getting a little help with your finances can help you go a long way.

Summer days are longer and the kids are home from school, so that means your air conditioner is being used more, and it’s easy to increase the amount of energy you use every day. This can cause a big increase in your average electric bill, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By being more conscious of how you use the air conditioner, coming up with outdoor activities that require little or no energy, and making some changes around the house, you can lower your energy costs during the long days of summer. Consider the following energy efficiency tips to save money and have an energy efficient summer.

1. Try to keep your air conditioner off as much as possible.

Running your air conditioner is one of the biggest household energy expenses at any time of year, but it’s especially bad in the summer. Many experts in the prepaid electricity industry note that usage skyrockets because of  air condition use. You can cut down on those bills if you keep it off most of the time and make a few simple adaptations to your usage patterns. First, you can use fans more frequently, while keeping the windows closed and the curtains shut so your house will be cooler when the sun’s at its hottest. When it’s cooler outside, you can open the windows and try to create a cross breeze. If you have a two-story house, you can also spend more time downstairs or create a family center in the basement where it is cooler. Go outside for a few fun activities in the summer sun, including swimming and picnics. You can also go out to air-conditioned places like the movies, the mall, and other fun venues. Make sure you encourage your whole family to wear light clothing that they’ll stay cool. If your family is staying inside wearing sweatshirts in the summer because the air is too cold with air conditioning, you are simply wasting energy. Instead, use the air conditioning less and wear clothing appropriate to the season. When you are using your A/C try to keep it at 78° for optimal energy efficiency.

2. Make sure your air conditioner is energy efficient.

When you are using the air conditioner, make sure it’s running efficiently. It’s a good idea to look into this before the heat of summer is upon you. Check your home insulation and seals to make sure the cool air stays in and the hot air stays out. Change the air filter when it’s dirty to prevent the air conditioner from running longer and wasting energy. You might need to look into buying a newer, more energy-efficient air conditioner if you have an outdated model. Plus, do chores that cause heat, like drying clothes and using the oven, at night when it’s cooler so the air conditioner doesn’t have to work as much to keep the house cool.

3. Cut down on indoor cooking.

Use the grill for most of your cooking during the summer months. Grilling is a great summer activity and can expand your cuisine from winter comfort foods. You can grill meats and even many of the side dishes, including corn, vegetables and toasting buns. You can even cook some foods in baking dishes and pots on the grill, like baked beans and berry cobbler for dessert. If you decide to cook some items inside, try to keep it to only simple side dishes and do the bulk of the cooking on the grill. Another option is to make more lettuce salads and cold summer dishes like chicken salad and tuna salad that don’t require cooking. Cutting down on cooking inside will also prevent the house from getting as hot, so it can cut down on costs to keep the house cool. If you need grilling ideas, checkout this post on cheap and easy grilling recipes.

4. Take a break from electronics.

Kids and adults spend endless hours on the computer, on smartphones, watching TV, playing video games, and using countless additional electronic devices. But summer is the perfect time to enjoy some electronics-free fun. There are endless indoor and outdoor activities for kids and adults that can save on energy costs, including bike rides, reading, putting on a play, playing dress-up, playing board games and with toys, playing with water guns and water balloons, exploring the outdoors, fishing, camping, going on day trips, and more. Try to get the neighbors involved as well, so the activities can be more social. By engaging in more of these activities, you can save energy by not using electronics all day, plus you can unplug them during that time to prevent wasting energy through the standby functions.

5. Cut down on hot water use.

During the summer, it’s hot anyway, so it’s not so hard to cut down on hot water and save money on water-heating costs. Encourage your family to take cooler showers, which can be refreshing after a hot day in the sun. Practice shorter showers, no baths, and turning the water off when brushing teeth and shaving. Use cold water to wash the car and water the plants.

6. Cut down on the costs of your pool.

Pools take energy to run the filtration pumps, plus extra if you heat them and run lights at night. To cut down on energy usage here, consider going to a community pool instead, using a friend’s or neighbor’s pool, or going to the ocean or other natural bodies of water. If you want to continue to or start to use a pool at home, there are a few tricks that can help you save money. Use a cover on the pool when it’s not in use to cut down on cleaning, to prevent evaporation, and to keep the water warmer. Consider investing in a solar heating system if you need to heat the water. Also, specific filters, such as sand multi-layer filtration systems, can help you save money in energy costs by not using as much hot water.

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As our lives become increasingly mobile, it is little surprise that we are interested in taking more of our finances with us. And with smart phones, like the iPhone, Blackberry and G1, it is possible to keep track of just about everything related to your financial world.

Using apps on your smart phone is a great way to make sure that you are always up to speed with your financial situation — no matter where you are and what you are doing. Some of these financial apps are free, and others will cost between $1.99 and $25, depending on the company and the version that you get.

Here are six different types of financial apps that you can use on your smart phone:

  1. Banking/Personal Finance: It is easy to find apps that can help you with your banking and personal finance. Most of the major banks now have apps that allow you to check balances from your phone, as well as make balance transfers and pay bills. You can also find nearby ATMs. Personal finance apps let you keep track of your income and expenses remotely, and many of them can be attached to your bank accounts so that you get access to those as well. Mint and Pageonce are two examples of personal finance apps.
  2. Investments: If you are an investor, you can get the latest price alerts, stock quotes and financial news. You can also see if your brokerage offers apps for your smart phone. If so, it is sometimes possible to manage your account, buying and selling from your cell phone. Bloomberg Mobile and iStockManager are two examples of investment apps that can help you stay connected to your portfolio.
  3. Calculators: There are some really cool calculator apps out there. These do more than just help you add up numbers. You can can calculate tips, get the latest currency conversions and even figure out a pay-off rate for debt and a payment schedule for your mortgage. Some apps that fall into this category include Pay Off Debt, Mortgage Calculator and eCurrency.
  4. Shopping: You can even increase your shopping efficiency with the help of your cell phone. There are coupon applications that help you search for the coupons you want and then download them to your phone — no paper necessary. Additionally, it is also possible to use some applications to comparison shop with other places in town or online. Some great shopping apps include ShopSavvy, GasBuddy and Coupon Sherpa.
  5. Searching Real Estate: If you are interested in getting a little help with home shopping, there are a number of apps that can help you locate homes in the neighborhood you are in. Many of these apps use a mash-up with mapping technology to help you search homes via MLS. You can also do some research and find agents. Some of the real estate search apps you can try include Zillow and Homes for Sale.
  6. Add Money to Your Parking Meter: This is actually a really cool idea. In some 100 locations around the world, including Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Vancouver and Dallas, you can sign up to pay your meter remotely from an account. This will work with any cell phone. All you do is call the number on the meter, enter the code, and decide how much time you want. You are billed later. Your cell phone will keep you updated with regard to how much time you have left. Verrus and Clancy Systems International provide these services.

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We are heading into the 1st quarter of the year. There’s less than three months left to make an impact on your 2017 taxes. Understanding tax deductions vs. tax credit and how it’s enveloped into your personal finance is essential. I am sure you will agree with me that it’s better to not owe taxes than to owe taxes. Many times, young adults don’t understand they may be eligible for tax deductions or a tax credit. Most young adults don’t know the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit. I wrote in a previous blog the difference between the two terms. Here’s my explanation of tax deduction and tax credit: “A tax deduction is an amount of money or expense taken “off the top” from your gross income. Examples of a deduction would be your traditional IRA contributions, 401(k) or 403(b) contributions, student loan interest, etc. After all the deductions are subtracted from your gross income, you are left with your adjusted gross income (AGI). Subtracted from your AGI is your standard deduction or itemized deduction. After “all is said-n-done” you are left with your taxable income. This amount determines how much tax you will owe known as tax liability, or as prefer to call it your tax bill. A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction. This amount is not taken “off the top” from your gross income, but, rather is subtracted from your tax bill. For example, your tax bill is $1500 and your tax credit is $1000. Your tax bill is reduced to $500 ($1500-$1000).”

Moreover, it’s essential you keep a folder of any documents relevant to your finances; such as your education expenses, moving expenses, mortgage interest, investment statements, etc. By the end of January 2018, you should have received your W-2s, 1099s, etc in the mail from the IRS. Furthermore, make sure you visit the IRS website: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p552/ar02.html#en_US_publink10008588. This website provides more information on what records to keep, why you should keep records, and how long to keep records.

There are many ways a person can become eligible for a tax deduction or tax credit. Depending on your finances, handling your own taxes can be a simple process or complex. Speak to your CPA/tax advisor in order to get direct advice for your financial situation. Therefore, I am going to shear the various methodology to 4 tax tips that may help you minimize your taxes:

1. Donate:

Is your closet full of clothes you no longer wear anymore? My mother is an advocate of donating any little bit of clothing, shoes, furniture, etc that was no longer was utilized. Ever heard the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” Recently, I donated two chests to the Furniture Bank and I was given a receipt for my donation. If you are donating cash, make sure you keep records of that as well. Again, have records acknowledging your donation.

2. Contribute to your retirement plans:

As you may already know, you contributions to your Traditional IRA (max contribution is $5,000) and defined contributions plans, such as a 401(k), 403(b), and/or 457 plans (max contribution is $16,500) is a tax deduction. Your contributions to these plans are pre-tax which means you are contributing a portion of your gross salary. Contributing $50 every paycheck doesn’t mean a $50 reduction from your net pay. It means $50 from your gross salary.

3. Moving Expenses:

If you had to move because of a job, you can deduct the cost of moving as long as the job was at least 50 miles from where you lived.

4. Hope Credit and Student Loan Interest:

For the Hope Credit, you may be eligible to claim up to $1,800. Keep in mind you will apply the Hope Credit to your tax liability. For the student loan interest, you may be eligible to deduct from your income up to $2,500.

My move from California to Georgia in 2018 is a classic example I have used before. I kept all my moving expenses in a separate folder. When tax filing for 2018 came around, I used H&R Block to file my taxes myself, which was so easy. I deducted my moving expenses, and it really helped!