Monday, June 18, 2018

What My Father Taught Me About Money

by Doria Lavagnino, June 11, 2018 in Money Matters

Let’s face it: Most of our parents play a major role in how we relate to money. They are often our first financial advisers, ideally giving us thoughtful feedback and guidance on how to handle — and not handle — our personal finance.
My own father was the most important financial literacy teacher I’ve had. His life embodied financial struggle and survival, but he eventually reached a position of strength.
When he came to this country in the mid 1950s — a decade after World War II — “financial literacy” didn’t formally exist. He had been raised in Italy, then a war-ravaged country, where he endured famine, nightly bomb raids, and the wrath of fascism.
All the same, he yearned for a bright future. He was young, hungry for success, and eager to have a shot at the so-called “American dream.” Perhaps most important, he had nothing to lose.
His financial life was an epic journey. He started with empty pockets and ended up as part of the one percent. This group — sometimes vilified, but often comprised of honest and hard- working entrepreneurs — shouldn’t be thrust into the same category as disingenuous businesses that commit fraud. They are not one in the same.
As the president and co-founder of CentSai, a financial literacy platform, I often return to the basic money lessons I learned from my dad. There are no guarantees of financial independence for anyone, but these have helped me along the way:

Don’t Live Beyond Your Means

For several years when my dad was getting his business off the ground — introducing a soil erosion product called a gabion to the United States — he could barely make ends meet. He initially lived in a dank room at the YMCA on 34th Street in New York City, then later in a shoebox apartment in the Bronx.
He had no discretionary income. He had to learn to budget to survive. He watched his expenses like a hawk. This budgetary discipline remained throughout his life. Even when money was no longer an immediate concern, he would still drive past a gas station that was offering gasoline at a price five cents higher than what he would pay elsewhere. “Why should I waste money?” he would ask me. Being young and impatient, I preferred convenience, but watching these small decisions shaped me.
Money matters, and anyone who tells you otherwise either hasn’t worked for it or lives in a utopia.

Hard Work Is Your BFF

My dad knew how to hustle. After establishing a small office on 42nd Street and 6th Avenue in New York, he started driving around the U.S. selling his product. Barely able to speak English, he started pitching it to the forest service, various engineers working for local municipalities, and anyone else who would listen. He would drive across the country several times a month, exhausted but determined to succeed.
As an early-stage entrepreneur, he was responsible for driving his product sales along with another partner. Every new sale or relationship gave him the strength to go further. Twenty years later, his company had grown to about 50 people, who manufactured gabions for Canada and all of the Americas. He retired at 55.
I realize that financial independence is not a top priority for everyone. And unless you win the lottery, it doesn’t happen easily. The news inundates us with supposed overnight successes. We just never hear about the 10 years of sweat, blood, and sacrifice that went in to a venture before it became well known. Keep doing your thing and don’t get distracted or easily discouraged.

You Don’t Need an MBA to Understand Business, But You Do Need Instinct

Nowadays, we are put under so much pressure to become educated in school, and often accrue debt at the start of our professional lives. But my dad did not graduate from college. I think he may have had the equivalent of an associate’s degree. What he did have was drive; charm; the “gift of gab”; and an insatiable curiosity about world events, personal finance, and economics.
He also had a sharp “sixth sense” about business. We all do to some degree. If something doesn’t make sense or seems too good to be true, it likely is. Scammers often prey on people who are afraid to ask questions about money for fear of looking dumb. Whether it’s the fine print on a loan or a return on an investment that doesn’t seem possible, there are no dumb personal finance questions.

Failure Sucks, But Never Let It Stop You

At one point in his career, my dad got kicked out of his own company by his investors. My parents’ car was repossessed. They nearly lost their apartment. For a few months, money became exceedingly tight, and their future looked grim.
Rather than throwing in the towel, my dad found new investors. He let his anger become a catalyst for reinvention, slowly regaining his clients one by one (or stealing them, depending on how you want to look at it). And yes, he enjoyed it.
Financial setbacks happen, and sometimes they are completely unexpected. That’s why protection in the form of insurance and emergency savings is essential, especially in our gig economy. Moreover, hitting some bumps (or craters) in the road does not give you a license to give up. Sure, a handful of people are exceedingly unlucky, but grit, determination, and mindset can take you just about anywhere.

Never Stop Learning About Money

Later in his life, my father became a student of the financial markets. He was completely self-taught, learning through networking, observing, doing, and reading publications such as the Wall Street Journal. There was no democratization of finance like there is today: no internet, no CNBC, and no Jim Kramer.
The markets were played by the elite. Day trading was impossible. But my dad taught himself about various financial instruments and plays: stocks, bonds, treasury-bond laddering, going long or short, hedging, and the relationship between a world event and its financial effect. For example, when bad weather hurt orange crops, he would go long on orange futures, knowing that scarcity creates demand.
Luckily, today people don’t have to learn all of this on their own like my father did. There are many sources of unbiased financial information that can help you make smart decisions. Knowing how to invest, the proper diversification of a portfolio, and how much one needs to live comfortably in retirement are some basics everyone should calculate.

The More You Give, The More You Get

My father was a big believer in paying it forward — in other words, giving to his family or to charity with no strings attached. He gave with great joy. He preferred giving anonymously, as he was a down-to-earth man until the end, and he shied from accolades.
That said, he always made sure he was protected. He kept a low profile and never lost sight of the fact that the world can be a tricky and treacherous place, particularly when it comes to money.
My father would be 91 this Father’s Day. I often wonder what advice he would give me in my current entrepreneurial ventures. One thing is for sure: I am as bullish on financial literacy as my dad was. He just didn’t know it.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Your Summer First Aid Guide

from Walgreens

Summer is a time for fun outdoor experiences. But sometimes splashing, hiking and adventuring in the heat can lead to accidents and injuries. From twisted ankles to sunburn to bug bites, here’s how to stay safe and avoid summer hazards.
Submersion injuries and drowning  
Swimming is the ideal way to cool off on hot summer days. But water also can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions. Submersion injuries or near-drowning events, can happen in a matter of seconds. While children 5 years and younger have the highest risk, accidental drowning is also the second leading cause of death in people ages 5–24 years.
Prevent it:
  • Don’t leave children unattended when near or in water.
  • Only get into a pool, lake, ocean or other bodies of water if you know how to swim.
  • Never swim alone. It’s a good idea to only swim when a lifeguard is present.
  • Always wear a life jacket when boating.
  • Learn CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation).
Treat it: Follow the American Red Cross Chain of Drowning Survival:
  • Recognize the signs of someone in trouble and shout for help.
  • Rescue and remove the person from the water (without putting yourself in danger).
  • Have someone call 9-1-1 and begin CPR if the person is not breathing until medical help arrives.
Twisted ankle
Sprains are twisted or torn ligaments that can quickly swell and cause pain. Ankle sprains are the most common type of sprains. They can happen when you walk or run on an uneven surface, twist your ankle too far or land awkwardly on your foot.
Prevent it:
  • Wear appropriate shoes for the activity when hiking or playing sports.
  • Watch your step when walking on uneven surfaces.
Treat it: 
Follow the RICE approach – rest, ice, compression, and elevation:
  • Rest the injury for as long as your healthcare provider says to. Know that ankle sprains can take anywhere from days to months to heal.
  • Ice the injured area with a cold pack as soon as possible. For the next couple of days, continue to use ice four to eight times a day for 15–20 minutes each time. 
  • Compress your ankle with a bandage or elastic wrap.
  • Elevate your leg to be higher than your heart when possible. This can help reduce swelling.
Heat-related illnesses
Hot, humid weather causes us to sweat, and for a good reason. Sweating is your body’s way of cooling itself off. But in extreme heat, your temperature may increase faster than your body can cool down. This can lead to heat-related illnesses, such as dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Prevent it:
  • Schedule outdoor activities during the morning and evening hours, when it’s coolest. During the day, take plenty of breaks in the shade.
  • Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight and light-colored, clothing.
  • Drink plenty of water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Your fluid needs are higher in hot or humid conditions.  
  • Be careful when exercising in the heat. You may need to dial back the intensity and duration of your workouts until you’re used to being active in hot weather.
Treat it:
  • Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke:
    • Heat exhaustion can cause heavy sweating, cool, pale or clammy skin, a fast, weak pulse, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, muscle cramps, tiredness, headache and fainting.
    • Heat stroke can cause a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, hot, red, and dry skin, a fast, strong pulse, nausea, dizziness, confusion and loss of consciousness.
  • If you have signs of heat exhaustion, get out of the heat. Move to a cool place, loosen your clothing, put cool cloths on your body and take sips of water. If you’re vomiting or if your symptoms don’t get better with treatment, get medical help right away.
  • If you have symptoms of heat stroke, call 9-1-1 at once. Heat stoke is a medical emergency.
Not only is sunburn painful, but the damage to your skin increases your risk of skin cancer. What’s more, sunburn hinders your body’s ability to cool itself down. It can also make you dehydrated.
Prevent it:
  • Seek shade when you go outside.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and long sleeves and pants made from a tightly woven fabric.
  • Apply a generous amount of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a SPF 15 or higher to all exposed skin at least 30 minutes before you head outdoors. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours or right after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
Treat it:
  • Drink enough water. This can help replace fluids and prevent dehydration.
  • Use a cool, wet washcloth on affected skin or take a cool bath.
  • Apply topical aloe, a moisturizing cream or 1% hydrocortisone cream to your burned skin.
  • Consider taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin, to reduce pain and fever.
  • Avoid spending time in the sun until your sunburn is healed.
Bug bites
Mosquitoes, red ants and other insects often show up as unwanted guests at summer get-togethers. While they’re often harmless, their bites can be painful or itchy.
Prevent it:
  • Use insect repellent on exposed skin. Choose one with 20–30% DEET. Apply the repellent as directed according to the package directions.
  • Choose your clothing carefully. If you’ll be outside at night or in a wooded area, wear clothing that will protect you from bug bites. Wear long sleeves and pants, socks and closed-toed shoes.
Treat it:
  • Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling.
  • Try an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-itch cream, such as hydrocortisone cream, on mosquito bites and other bites that itch.
  • Consider using an OTC pain medication for painful bites and stings.
  • Prevention is often easier than treatment. Still, adverse summer events can happen when we least expect them. Knowing how to deal with common summertime misfortunes may help you feel better prepared as the weather warms up.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Green vs. Sustainable: What Is the Difference?

by Bridget Hillyer, May 30, 2018 in Homeowners Tips

Many consider the ’60s and ’70s to be the real beginning of the environmental movement, with the establishment of the United Nations Environmental Programme in 1972.  However, in recent years, the focus on protecting our planet has been an increasingly discussed topic. New information, better technology, alternate research and trendy lifestyle blogs seem to spring up constantly. This excess of information can make living your own environmentally conscious lifestyle difficult. Even the terminology looks designed to be confusing.
Let’s look at one of the biggest confusion culprits: Green vs. sustainable.

The Misconception

People may use the terms “green” and “sustainable” interchangeably, although they don’t mean the same thing. The words are similar in intention, with both focusing on a desire to protect the Earth and its natural resources, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.


Webster’s Dictionary defines green as, “concerned with or supporting environmentalism.” This makes a lot of sense to anyone who’s ever used or heard the term, but the big point here is the definition’s vagueness. How and why something gets classified as green isn’t covered. The area becomes even murkier when you consider the heavy use of the word in company marketing and product labeling. Right now, there just aren’t any hard and fast rules for the use of the word “green” in marketing.
The EPA has attempted to rectify this issue by working with independent standard developers to create a system for classifying products. This includes creating what the EPA calls “ecolabels,” which allow consumers to quickly see the environmental impact of potential purchases.  ENERGY STAR is an example.
Currently, participation in this process is optional for companies that label any portion of their products, services or mission statement as green. Guides have also been created, but the EPA states that “these guides largely address when and how very specific and narrow environmental attributes can be claimed, not how to construct a broad-based environmental standard or ecolabeling program.” Green as a description of products and services is just too vague to effectively regulate at this point.


The word “sustainable” doesn’t have the same definition issues. While the term “green” reflects the environmental movement in general, “sustainable” has clear-cut criteria built right into its definition. Sustainability takes the notion of green to the next level and challenges us to look deeper. Webster’s Dictionary describes it as, “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” For a product, service or action to be considered sustainable, it cannot use any resource at a rate in which the resource is unable to be replenished. If a product uses bamboo and the company cuts down the bamboo faster than it can grow back, then the product isn’t sustainable.

The Lifestyle

With these definitions in mind, striving to be completely sustainable through movements such as Zero Waste is far more easily understood than it is undertaken. Sustainability has set requirements that going green doesn’t. There’s no wiggle room with the term.
However, that doesn’t mean striving towards a sustainable future isn’t worthwhile. Adapting our choices and mentalities is an important first step. We can be green while we all work towards being sustainable. Some may choose personal goals like switching to LED lightbulbs and installing water efficient showerheads. Others may choose more involved methods, like working towards a neutral carbon footprint. No matter how you decide to get started, consistency and knowledge are key. Protecting our planet is a goal we all can work towards, even while we’re still trying to get the differences between the terms straight.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Spring Cleaning with Young Kids – One Family’s Successes and Failures

by Andy Hill, April 19, 2018, in Family Focus

Spring is here! The days are getting longer and the sun is shining more brightly. It’s time for us to crawl out from under our winter rocks and take on the season of new beginnings with a smile.
Part of embracing spring for our family is setting aside time for a deep clean of the entire house. Although tedious and difficult to accomplish, having a truly clean home in the spring is a cathartic experience. If you have small kids like we do, your home can take quite a beating in the winter. The deep clean is a must for our family.
Since we have a 6-year old and a 3-year old, we had to get quite crafty with this year’s spring cleaning. Usually, we do this when our kids are out of the house (God bless Grandma).
Revealing the good, bad and the ugly, here’s how we approached our big house cleanse with two small humans in tow.

Set a Date and Time 

With our busy family schedule, nothing important gets completed if we don’t put it on our calendar. My wife and I sync our iPhone calendars together (through iCal) so we’re always aware of what’s happening each day.
For our big clean day, we set a date a few weeks in advance so we didn’t miss it. Blocking out an entire Sunday can be tricky, so I’d highly recommend doing it as soon as possible.  We blocked off 9:00 a.m – 6:00 p.m. for this family cleaning adventure.

Divide and Conquer

With two adults and two children, we decided to split up. My wife and son took on the upstairs while my daughter and I focused on the kitchen and first floor.
This helped in two areas:
  1. Splitting up our kids so there would be fewer fights that we’d have to break up
  2. Created focused one-on-one time (father and daughter, mother and son) made the process a little more special for all

Assign Age Appropriate Chores for the Kids

When it comes to kids and chores, it’s important not to overdo it. The last thing you want is a trip to the emergency room on spring cleaning day.
With my daughter being slightly older, she could help with some slightly more complicated tasks like wiping the counters, washing windows and emptying the garbage cans. My 3-year-old son pretty much-moved dirt from one spot to another with a broom. It was hilarious.
We eventually found a sweet spot for him with our small vacuum. He was able to do a chore that he liked, and it was actually helpful!
Having the kids performing their tasks nearby was the best way to go for us. That way we could support them with the tougher chores if needed. This decreased the likelihood of temper tantrums tenfold.

Include Break Time

When we got tired from cleaning, we took breaks. The kids’ breaks were much longer and more frequent than our breaks, but that gave my wife and I some time to get some major cleaning done.
Kids aside, when you’re doing any physically strenuous activity, you need to hydrate and to take a load off. If you keep pushing hard for too long, you may not be able to complete the big spring clean in one day. Two days of this kid-wrangling and deep-cleaning would be just too much.

Create “Do Not Enter” Zones

Right when we were nearly finished with a room, our kids (still on break) would come and start creating messes where we had just cleaned. It was beyond frustrating.
To remedy this, I decided to put up a sign that said, “Kitchen Closed: Do Not Enter for 1 Hour.” This communication tactic came from the book, How to Talk So You’re Kids Will Listen & Listen So Your Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It essentially reduces the amount of yelling happening on Spring Cleaning Day, letting the sign do most of the work.
Surprisingly, the sign was met with curiosity and respect. It kept my 6-year old at bay for a decent period of time. 30 minutes later, there was a bag of chips dropped all over the kitchen floor… c’est la vie.

Make It Fun

Let’s face it. Spring cleaning and chores can be really boring especially for kids. That’s why it’s our job as parents to spice it up a little bit and make it fun.
Now some of these tricks might only work because my kids are younger, but I’m going to keep using them until they fail me.
  1. Play fun music for the kids: My daughter likes to jam out to The Descendants and Moana soundtracks, while my son prefers Muse. Go with whatever makes your kids happy and motivated to keep cleaning.
  2. Incorporate games into the house cleaning: The old counting trick always works. “Let’s see how fast you can put away your dirty laundry! I’ll count. Go! 1-2-3-4…”
  3. Laugh and have fun with technology: Earlier this year, we got an Amazon Echo. While we were cleaning, we’d ask Alexa to tell us jokes. She’s got a wicked sense of humor.
Both my wife and I listened to audiobooks during our focused cleaning time without the kids (they were taking more breaks). Time flies when you’re into a really good book.

Realize You’re Going to Redo Your Kids Work…and That’s Okay

When all was said and done, my wife and I had to redo about half of the “work” that was done by our kids.
Would it have been a lot easier if they were at Grandma’s house again? Definitely.
Honestly, I still preferred it the way we did it. Although we really wanted a sparkling clean house, it was much more important that we spent the day together doing something for the betterment of our family.
After all, our kids will only be young and wild for so long. We better enjoy these beautiful and memorable spring days together while we still can.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

How Bad Can It Be: Three Money Questions

by Patrick Chism, April 5, 2018, in Saving Money

We’ve all made money mistakes in our lives, whether it’s over-drafting on a checking account or impulse buys charged to credit cards. It’s best to be aware of these mistakes (and their consequences) before you find yourself making them. Let’s take a look at three common financial questions people have and the answers that make the most sense for your bottom line.

Should I Pay the Minimum on My Credit Card?

Answer: Yes – and then some!

Credit cards often get a bad reputation. And it’s easy to see why. In 2017, total credit card debt in the United States increased to over $1 trillion – the highest point in our history. Per American, that comes out to an average balance of $6,375.
If you just make the minimum monthly payment, you’re paying much more in interest and very little on the amount you actually owe.
Let’s assume that you’re the average American with $6,375 in credit card debt, and your card has an interest rate of 16.15% (the average in the U.S.). If you only pay your minimum payment each month, you’ll have a balance for 16 years and six months and pay a total of $11,613.06. That’s almost double what you originally owed! Once you get into credit card debt, it can be incredibly difficult to get out.

What Should I Do Instead?

Instead of paying the minimum on a credit card, either increase your monthly payment or consolidate debt with a lower-interest personal loan. This will speed up your debt payoff and lower the amount you would pay in interest. It’s a win-win, and it could save you thousands.

Can I Afford to Skip a Payment?

Answer: In most cases, no.

When you’re in a tough financial spot, it’s natural to look for places to cut back on expenses. However, if you don’t pay your debts, you (and your wallet) may experience some long-lasting difficulties. First and foremost, you’ll be charged a late fee. Depending on the type of loan, the amount of the late fee will vary.
The bigger concern is your credit, which can experience some significant drops if you skip payments. This, in turn, will make it more difficult to get financing, and the loans you’re qualified for will have a higher interest rate. In the end, not making a single payment could cost you big down the line.
The most significant consequence, however, is losing an asset that you’ve been paying for. Whether it’s a foreclosure on a home or a repossession of a car, not making your payments can create challenges for you and your family. It’s better to nip them in the bud before they get to this point.
In the event that you don’t have enough money to pay your bills, start by reaching out to your creditors. Call these companies and tell them you’re struggling. In most cases, they’ll help you find a solution. After all, creditors want to be paid. It’s in their best interests to help you come up with a plan to fix your situation, whether that means smaller monthly payments or removing late fees.
If you absolutely have to skip a payment, prioritize what you do and don’t pay. Start by paying the bills that most directly affect your life, such as your mortgage, car loan and utility bills. You may need to triage some of your other bills, such as student loans and credit cards. While this isn’t a perfect solution, it does give you a little time to get out of a money rut. If you decide to skip a payment, use this time to start cutting back on expenses and looking for opportunities to make more money on the side.
Debt can be scary, and it’s important to come at it with a cool head. To guard yourself against debt, start prepping an emergency fund today.

Should I Have a Savings Account?

Answer: Yes – but don’t overdo it.

Thirty-four percent of Americans don’t have a savings account, and of those who do, less than half have $1,000 tucked away. That means that if there’s a financial emergency – the loss of a job, a medical emergency, an expensive car bill, etc. – the majority of us will be in deep trouble.
So it’s important to have a savings account, specifically for building an emergency fund. For most of us, a well-stocked emergency fund requires three months’ worth of expenses. So if your family lives off of $5,000 a month, you’d need $15,000 tucked away in a savings account.
Sound impossible? The best way to grow your savings is through automation. Decide how much you want to save every month and have your bank automatically transfer that amount into your savings account. You’d be surprised how a little extra each month adds up in a big way. And if you’re still worried about your willpower, try an app that helps you save excess money during the month.

Go Beyond Savings

Once you have a fully funded emergency fund, don’t keep putting money in the savings account. While they’re great for emergency funds, they aren’t the best places to grow your wealth. Once you have three months’ worth of expenses saved, start putting your extra money into investments. With the stock market, you can typically expect 6 – 8% in returns, which is hands-down a better investment than leaving all your money in savings (which usually has less than a 1% rate of return). Let your money work for you!
The beauty of a savings account is that there’s little risk involved. The stock market can be more volatile. So start with an emergency fund and expand to investments when you’re ready.

Questions and Answers

Taking these steps can help you pay down your credit card debt and improve your financial health.