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The Real Economic Impact Blog is Moving!

May 18, 2010

NDI’s Real Economic Impact  Blog can now be found at http://realeconomicimpact.tumblr.com. We hope to bring you even more great info and posts at our new home on the web. Please edit your bookmarks!

Save Face, Manage Cents

May 13, 2010

Cindy Battles

I’ll admit, there was a time when I couldn’t balance a checkbook. I remember my dad asking, “Cin, how can you control what has to go out if you don’t write down what’s coming in?” All I had to do was to start implementing the simplest of structures: In/Out expenses by the month. Do you think I listened?

My dénouement: one night I was in the supermarket and got my groceries up to the checkout and swiped my debit card when… “DENIED” popped up on the screen. “Um, miss, can I put back the avocados, chocolate chip cookie dough and the Grape Nuts?” Can you spell mort-i-fied

I realized — the hard way — it was high time to structure my expenses and institute a monthly budget. 

Since then, I faithfully manage my checkbook to the dime so I don’t deplete my debit account like that again. No need to go public with your debts!

How you can avoid this: one book I ran across in the library really makes it easy — and ease of use is what the novice budgeter is looking for because, after all, at the start, it can seem a bit overwhelming (and frankly, I find Quicken just plain intimidating!). But The Budget Kit: The Common Cents Money Management Workbook  (by Judy Lawrence) makes structuring your finances a snap with all kinds of useful tips and tools. Here’s the summary from Amazon:

  • Create a simple, functional system for managing your finances, with or without financial software
  • Navigate the latest developments in the paperless world of electronic banking
  • Discover the freedom of being able to achieve your personal and financial goals
  • Make a plan to pay off debt and plan for the future

Don’t get me wrong, The Budget Kit is not fun. It will require a few hours of planning, categorizing and recording your spending each and every month. Judy even helps you get organized for tax time so you can get a jump on 2011. Most importantly, the relief you’ll feel to have a better grip on your finances is worth the effort. No more embarrassing supermarket checkouts!

Actually, I didn’t need that cookie dough anyway.

Cindy

Cindy Battles is a freelance writer based in Rutland, VT, winner of the National Disability Institute’s 2008 Blog Contest and a regular contributor here on the Real Economic Impact blog.

Saving for Your Summer Vacation

May 6, 2010

Cindy Battles

I love to travel but generally don’t get much farther than my favorite café for lunch, most of the winter. That’s one of the many reasons why I look forward to summer. Perfect time for a road trip. And now is neither too early nor too late to start saving for a summer getaway.

This year my mom, best friend and I are going to venture down to Cape Cod for a week. Specifically, the little town of Harwichport, conveniently located at mid-Cape. We’re planning on staying at a charming yet affordable inn we’ve frequented before, just a grassy country road down from the ocean. In order to keep prices way down, we’re going in early September, off-season there.

Indeed, if you simply budget the time to plan ahead, a trip doesn’t mean you have to blow your bank account or rack up egregious credit card debt. I like to save the old-fashioned way with a cookie jar into which I toss change and dollar bills saved from not going out to lunch or dinner for a few months, brown bagging lunch once a week, getting my books from the library rather than Barnes and Noble, you get the (frugal) picture.

Plus, There’s always your tax refund at this time of year to go right into the jar, a nice chunk of change to get you started. You could also go big-time and open a savings account, to which you can have part of your regular paycheck easily — and wisely — directly deposited. 

You could go online and shop around from Priceline to Expedia.com for the very best flight and hotel deals. But chances are, if your vacation spot is within driving distance, your overall costs will be lower. And if, like me, you’ve got a fuel-efficient smart car, you’ll save even more.

In preparation, a little advanced research never hurts; take this book I found online called The Little Budget Travel Book which promises tips and tricks for splendid vacationing that doesn’t involve pending a small fortune. It’s subtitled: “Secrets of a Frequent Traveler Who Goes on Vacation Like It’s Free.” Perfect. In addition,  plan to visit my local library and look up Cape Cod low-cost travel books which offer suggestions on free galleries, reasonable Cape Cod dining spots, grocery stores and the various entertainment to be found on the cheap. 

It helps, too, if you can meet up with a vacation spot local like a friend or family member — an insider who can give you any additional savings skinny.

Just know that it’s not too late to start your own summer holiday savings plan! You deserve a vacation! And June, July, August, and September will be here before you know it. 

Cindy

Cindy Battles is a freelance writer based in Rutland, VT, winner of the National Disability Institute’s 2008 Blog Contest and a regular contributor here on the Real Economic Impact blog.

Get REAL: Tax Benefits

April 29, 2010

Steven Mendelsohn

Welcome to Real Economic Impact’s Get REAL (Reliable Experts, Answers & Lessons) series: reliable advice re: your economic concerns from leading money, legal, and financial experts from around the country.

This week’s Get REAL expert is Steven Mendelsohn, Attorney and Co-Principal Investigator and Researcher at Syracuse University’s Burton Blatt Institute.

Q: Why is it important for individuals with disabilities, parents and family members, teachers, support coordinators, and rehabilitation counselors to know more about tax benefits

A: Recognized or not, tax law touches upon everyone’s life. From the wealthy investor who makes a variety of personal and business decisions on the basis of tax consequences, to the individual who receives services through tax-exempt community organizations, tax law plays an inevitable if sometimes invisible role.

For people with disabilities, their families, their employers and the nonprofit organizations with which they may work, this role can be very important, and an understanding of tax options and strategies available can — in many cases — make the difference between being financially able or unable to pursue a particular course of action or attain a particular goal.

For these many points of interaction between tax law and living or working with a disability to be understood, an in-depth knowledge of both the issues facing people with disabilities and the intersecting provisions for law is necessary. 

Most importantly, a general understanding of tax benefits can individual consumers, families and service professionals to the existence of a major tax dimension to their activities and situations. Where employment-related, assistive technology, accommodation or other specialized expenditures are involved, there is usually a means within the tax law for obtaining some degree of tax benefit; however, the way the transaction, expense or action is documented and explained, as well as its timing, will largely determine how much of the potential benefit can be realized.

One thing to keep in mind: often, conventional sources of tax advice (books, IRS publications and even professional tax preparers) may provide only limited help to taxpayers with disabilities. Many key provisions are obscure and rarely encountered, and tax preparers may also find it awkward to raise disability-related issues if these are not surfaced by the taxpayer.

Our Get REAL blog series welcomes your questions. Simply e-mail us at GetREAL@RealEconomicImpact.org.

Putting Your Tax Refund to Work

April 22, 2010

 The best thing about Tax Season? The green grass? Sunshine? Beautiful yellow jonquils everywhere? Naaaaah. Getting your state and federal refund checks in the mail!

Cindy Battles

If you, like me, have difficulty saving beyond occasionally stuffing the cookie jar, a refund check always comes as a blessing! It’s like someone did the hard work of saving for me… now all I have to do is decide what to do with it. For me, that means depositing it directly into my savings account. And feeling the wiser for it.

Why? Because in five years or 10 years or 30 years that deposit will grow and grow and grow. And before I know it, I’ll have a good chunk stashed away for whenever I might need it — especially knowing that the average refund weighs in at over $2000 (not remotely mine, I’m sorry to say, but thank you for that info, Forbes)!

If maybe it’s your first time saving your refund check, think of this as only the beginning. What if you were to create an automatic deposit of your paycheck into your savings account each pay period? Just think, $25 per week = $1300 per year. In 10 years, you’ve got $13,000 plus interest!

The best thing about a growing savings account? Knowing that you’ve created your own financial safety net — that you can take care of yourself by weathering a financial crisis. Nothing beats that security. 

So save your refund (which should be arriving soon, track yours here). A year, not to mention a decade, passes quickly and your savings will thank you.

You can do it!

Blue skies — also nice,

Cindy

Freelance Writer How-To’s

April 15, 2010

Cindy Battles

This post was contributed by Cindy Battles, a freelance writer based in Rutland, VT who’s been diagnosed with and managing bipolar disorder for many years.

In journalism school, I’d always dreamed of being a freelance writer. And thankfully, technology now makes it much easier for my dream to become a reality. Why?

In the past, not only did you have to work much harder to obtain contact information (there was no “Google”) but most of the time you were simply waiting for snail-mail to first, deliver your query and second — hopefully — deliver a response.

There was a lot of waiting.

Today, it’s so easy to search online for editors’ e-mail addresses and send multiple digital queries/writing samples; the potential job pool is unlimited. And, the range of topics available seems never-ending. I’ve written about book clubs, economic fund-raising festivals, state fairs, a judicial profile, a peony farm, elderhostels, and a pediatric outpatient center, among other topics. Certainly, the variety keeps it interesting!

Plus, with so much writing happening across the Internet, freelance writers are in demand. So it’s a great time to try it out and perhaps earn a little extra income.

Things you could do to start bringing your writing dream alive:  

  • Attend local writing groups and workshops to both improve your work as well as to network with others in the field (check your local library or newspaper for listings, often, they’re free)
  • Research through reading (again, the library’s a great place to start, try Starting Your Career As a Freelance Writer)
  • Call local magazines/newspapers and ask what their submission procedures are (chances are, you’ll find a helpful person on the other line willing to push you in the right direction)
  • Expect to “flail;” meaning: be patient, experiment, learn the hard ways, learn the easy ways — just know that often, there is no direct route to success, it can take time — for sure, flailing is necessary! It will be key in teaching yourself persistence and resilience you’ll need.

So go ahead. You can do it! Dream, write, flail!

Cindy

Bringing Financial Education Into the Home

April 8, 2010

Michael Roush

This post was contributed by Michael Roush, National Program Director for the National Disability Institute and “Chief Financial Officer” of his family.

Often, when we think “financial education,” we might think of a structured classroom setting or an online course — likely the opposite of most family living environments. So when it comes to bringing financial education into the home, a great way to make your approach easy, fun and entertaining is to turn it into a game. 

Menu Management

Managing spending is a key piece of financial education. For most households, one of the largest monthly expenses is food.

Start by planning out your menu for one week with a Menu Planning Worksheet. Every member in the family can have an opportunity to contribute ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Assign one family member a designated day. For one week, one person is in charge of breakfast everyday. Or mix it up. There’s lots of possibilities and it’s fun to use colored markers to identify each person involved.

You’ll also want to create a Shopping List. So before you hit the grocery store, check the cupboards and refrigerator to see what items you need and add each item to your Shopping List; again, assigning certain members different areas to check keeps it fun. Put someone in charge of writing down each needed item on the list while others look.

Now, identify how much money you have to spend on groceries for the week. Write this number at the top of your Shopping List. Will the ingredients on your list reasonably fit your budget? If not, it’s okay to re-examine your Menu Planning Worksheet and adjust as needed.

Next, divide up the list among each family member and pile everyone into the car and head to the grocery store — remember, financial education is a team effort! And, as this stage of Menu Management is very much like a scavenger hunt, everyone can play. Remember: congratulate items found but be sure to emphasize that each member only retrieve the items on his or her list; if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t belong in the cart.

Once you’ve arrived home, the game continues as the entire team puts away the groceries — not only will your children be learning valuable financial skills but Menu Management also serves as a great teambuilding exercise!

Lastly, find a prominent spot for your Menu Planning Worksheet and keep it on display for everyone to refer to throughout the month.

You can download and print Menu Planning Worksheets, Shopping Lists here.

Michael

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