Save money on in-state tuition? Not so fast…

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 21, 2014

TuitionMy friend Kathy was living in New England when her 18-year-old son, Scott, decided to attend a four-year college in a neighboring state. Scott’s grandparents lived in the town where his college was located, so Kathy, Scott, and the grandparents decided that it would be most prudent for Scott to live with his grandparents through his freshman year of college.

Once Scott had lived with his grandparents for 12 months, he would be eligible for tuition at the in-state rate. This would equate to nearly $10,000 dollars for each of Scott’s sophomore, junior, and senior years.

When –and why—to Cash Out Your 401k

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 25, 2013

401k401(k) plans are a great vehicle for saving for retirement. Typically, an employee can choose to allow an employer to contribute a portion of his or her salary to the plan. Some employers might even match those contributions. The 401(k) contributions are invested in funds that might include money-market, mutual, or bond funds.

You are not taxed on 401(k) funds until you withdraw money from your plan. And, while it is your money, there are consequences to withdrawing money from your 401(k) before you reach age 59 and ½.

Energy Audit: Worth the $100?

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 18, 2013

Energy AuditMy husband and I bought a 1950s-era home last year and sank quite a bit of money into updating it. Even though our contractor and my husband have added rolls and rolls worth of insulation to our home, our utility bills have been higher than reasonable: particularly our gas bill in the winter (for heating) and our electric bill in the summer (for air conditioning).

We’ve gone through parts of our home squirting “Great Stuff” insulating foam sealant into the visible cracks but what more could we do? At our wits end to determine just where the heat/AC was leaking from our attic and sunroom, we contacted our electric utility supplier for a home energy audit.

Selling a Domain Name with Escrow.com

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 2, 2013

Selling DomainsWhile we would never recommend domain-name speculation as a no-risk avenue toward untold profitability, it has been known to happen. Last week, I sold a domain name I’d had for 15 years to an interested buyer.  He didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him, so we needed to find a way to keep our own interests protected through the process.

I’d sold a domain name a few years ago, and used Escrow.com to facilitate that process. It worked very well, so I recommended to last week’s buyer that we use that service. He agreed.

Roth IRA vs. 529 College Savings Plans: Who Wins?

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 20, 2013

College Financial AidIn the best-timed article of the year, we covered 529 College Savings plans on 5/29. During that assignment, the Wallet Blog editor asked how a 529 plan stacked up against that other popular savings vehicle for higher education: the Roth IRA. I contacted Timothy Parros, CCPS, HECA, NACAC of Parros Financial Group & Parros College Planning in Ann Arbor, MI, to get the scoop.

Beating the FAFSA

Fire Your Lawn Service & Save Some Money This Summer

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 11, 2013

lawncareIt’s summer! If you’re thinking of dumping your lawn service and pocketing the difference, here are some tips for maintaining your own yard without breaking the bank.

Lawn Care

Summertime Money-Saving Tips

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 3, 2013

Summer SavingsMoney never seems to go as far in the summertime. Here’s a collection of money-saving tips to help you maximize your summer dollars!

Entertainment

Just in time for 5/29: 529 College Savings Plans

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 29, 2013

529 Savings PlansDuring the past 10 years, the cost of tuition and room and board at 4-year public universities has risen by nearly 49%. To offset this sticker shock, simple investments specifically designated for college planning are a good way to go. A Section 529 college savings plan allows you to save for the upcoming higher-education expenses of a beneficiary of your choosing.

When the beneficiary withdraws funds from 529 plans for qualified education expenses, those withdrawals remain free from federal income tax. Such qualified expenses include:

Small Claims Court: How to Win Against Deadbeat Clients

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 22, 2013

Small Claims CourtMany people —including yours truly— work as consultants on a contract basis. Typically, this is a straightforward business arrangement. Consultant does the work, client pays as dictated by the signed contract.

But some clients aren’t always so forthcoming, which means it might be time for a visit to small claims court. The filing fee ($15-$150) depends upon your state and the amount you’re claiming in damages. Likewise, the dollar-amount limits for claims range between $2,500 and $25,000 depending upon the state in which you work and reside. Nevertheless, the process is typically the same.

Sequestration: So Much For The Tired & The Poor

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 13, 2013

Budget CutsWhen sequestration’s automatic budget cuts went into effect on March 1 of this year, many were unclear as to how these cuts would affect daily life and social programs. We were told that although the sequester would reduce the federal budget deficit by $1.2 trillion dollars over 10 years —as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was enacted in part to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis— the cuts would not go into effect immediately.

Well, it’s two months later and few people seem to be talking about where these cuts are headed, so Wallet Blog did some investigation.

Our Wealth Disparity & What it Means For Future Generations

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 2, 2013

Money and JusticeLast week, the Pew Research Center announced that between 2009 and 2011, the mean net worth of the wealthiest 7% of U.S. households increased by an estimated 28%. Meanwhile, the rest of us saw our net worth fall 4%.

This makes sense, right? After all, the richest people typically invest the bulk of their wealth in the stock and bond markets (and can afford to ride out economic valleys), while the less affluent are more likely to call their homes  their primary investments.

Check That Charity Before Opening Your Checkbook

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 25, 2013

Americans like to help. In fact, total charitable contributions by individuals, corporations, and foundations was an estimated $298.42 billion in 2011, up 4% from 2010, according to a report from the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Unfortunately, there are people who try to profit from tragedy. In 2009, the FTC launched the “Operation False Charity” initiative in conjunction with Attorney General offices and law-enforcement departments nationwide in order to crack down on “fraudulent telemarketers claiming to help police, firefighters, and veterans.” If you feel that you have been defrauded, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Break Out of Your Grocery Rut (and Save in the Process!)

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 18, 2013

Supermarket SavingsSome people shop at the same store at the same time on the same day, week in and week out. If this sounds like you, you’re missing out on some great bargains. Here are some ways to break out of your grocery rut and save money on your food budget.

Couponing? Nope.

Home Warranties: Worth the Price?

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 10, 2013

Home WarrantyA home warranty/home protection plan is a service contract that protects many of the appliances or systems (heating, plumbing, air conditioning) in your house in case they fail. They can serve as a security blanket of sorts to homeowners, particularly if you’re purchasing a home that is older or hasn’t had much in the way of upkeep over the past number of years.  Plans are often offered on an annual basis and can cost much less than it otherwise would to fix a home system or replace a home appliance should one of those cease to function.

There are many, many home warranty companies, and you can read reviews about them as well as request a free quote online. Some warranties only cover appliances, and some only cover systems. If you want both areas covered, be sure to note that when you ask for your quote.

Springtime… when a consumer’s fancy turns to thoughts of Yard Sales!

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 3, 2013

yard saleHappy April, everyone! It may be 37 degrees where I live, but the sky is blue, the snow is gone, and I’m itching for yard-sale season to begin. I’ve hosted and attended a number of these consumer extravaganzas over the years… here are some tips for hosting as well as attending a yard sale that I’ve amassed along the way.

Hosting a Yard Sale

“For Me, For You, For Later”: Financial Foundations from Elmo and Friends

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 27, 2013

In an era when the 400 richest Americans account for the same amount of collective wealth as 62% of the nation’s entire population combined and the United States is the fourth most wealth-unequal country in the world, something is grievously wrong with the way income is earned, saved, and distributed. Fortunately, someone has come to the rescue of our next generation, encouraging them to “spend, save, and share” the money they earn. Who is this economic powerhouse preaching to our kids?

Elmo, of course.

Getting Paid as a Caregiver Without Jeopardizing Medicaid Eligibility

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 20, 2013

medicaidThe most recent figures show that 48.9 million people in the U.S. have served as adult caregivers, with 86% of them providing for a relative in need. Not only do these people have to contend with the myriad difficult and thankless tasks associated with caregiving, but most also have to work outside jobs in order to pay the bills. In all, more than 70% of caregivers effectively work two jobs.

As you might expect, that burden ultimately proves unsustainable for many, as nearly one-third of working caregivers choose early retirement, take a leave of absence from their job, or give up working entirely. What’s more, two-thirds adjust their work hours or take time off in order to provide care.

Laid off = Back to School? Not so fast…

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 12, 2013

Back to SchoolGoing to school is a typical fallback position when you’ve lost a job. My dad always says, “Time spent pursuing education is never wasted.” And a few new initials after your name will make you more desirable once you’re back on the job market, right?

Maybe, maybe not.

Surviving the Sequester: Quick Tips for Laid-Off or Limited-Hours Workers

by Lynn B. Johnson on March 6, 2013

Budget CutsIf you are one of the many government workers who has been laid off, might be laid off, or has had your hours slashed, you need to be thinking of a new plan, pronto. The U.S. economy added 741,000 jobs between September 2012 and January 1, 2013. The CBO estimate of jobs that will be lost due to sequestration is 750,000. That means you’re going to have a lot of company in the unemployment line.

Unemployment Benefits

The Paradox of Medicaid

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 28, 2013

medicaidMy mom has Parkinson’s disease. Twenty percent of people with Parkinson’s disease also get Parkinson’s dementia, and she has that, too. I cared for her for five years, the last two of which she lived with us so that I could provide the around-the-clock assistance she required. This past summer, when she forgot how to stand up, it was time to move her to a skilled-nursing facility.

I evaluated a few different places and chose one that was reasonably priced, cooked from scratch, didn’t smell, and took the best care of residents’ personal grooming requirements.  Mom had enough money to pay out of pocket for a few months, but it soon became necessary to apply for Medicaid. Mom has Medicare part A, B, and D: none of which covers long-term skilled nursing care.

A Recipe for Savings: How to Cut Costs By Baking Your Own Bread

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 21, 2013

chefGrocery stores utilize myriad strategies to trick customers into purchasing more than they truly need: playing depressing music, putting the kid-friendly food at kid-eye level, hiding the milk all the way in the back, etc. Add to this the fact that the average food shopper ends up throwing away 12-percent of the food they’ve purchased due to spoilage and you’ve found a money-exploding minefield.

It therefore makes sense that we spend less money when we limit our grocery trips. I, for one, used to spend an additional $50/week on those “just a couple of things” grocery runs, but fortunately I found a way to curb both my trips to the store –primarily for milk and bread– and my spending.  I started baking my own bread.

MOOCs: Worth a look for free higher education

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 13, 2013

With the rising cost of higher education, my husband and I joke that we’re going to homeschool our children for college. With the advent and rise in popularity of Massive Open Online Courses —MOOCs— we might not have to.

ABOUT MOOCs

Punting your Cable TV Bill

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 6, 2013

punt TVSuper Bowl 2013 is over and by now, you’ve probably seen that it was the third most-watched television event in U.S. history, with more than 108 million Americans tuning in. It seems as though the $3.8 million that advertisers shelled out for each 30-second spot was money well spent.

But some of those advertisers didn’t get my eyeballs; instead, I saw the ads that were delivered via the cbssports.com live stream. This year, I connected a laptop to my television to watch the Super Bowl for free, because months ago I decided to save $100/month by dumping my cable-TV service.

How to Adjust Your Student Loan: Income Based Repayment (IBR) Plans

by Lynn B. Johnson on January 16, 2013

My husband and I are typical of a lot of married Americans: we both have student loans and I lost my job last year. We realized pretty quickly that a $500 monthly student-loan payment simply would not jibe with our new one-income budget. That’s when we started investigating what to do next, because we have two small children and homelessness is not an option.

If you lose your job, the first call you should make, that very day, should be to your state’s Unemployment office. If you have a student loan repayment plan that is now outside your budget, the minute you’re done registering for an unemployment claim you should call your student-loan holder, to determine a new repayment option.

How to Save Money on Life Insurance

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 27, 2010

InsuranceIf you have kids or someone in your life who will need to be supported in the event of your untimely demise, you should have some life insurance. But how much is enough, and how can you make sure you’re getting the right rate? Here are some important facets that I recently had to consider.

When my husband and I had our first child, we went to talk to a life-insurance agent. Our agent suggested that term-life insurance would be the most affordable option for us. We were new parents, and therefore paranoid, so we covered my husband for $600,000 and me for $500,000. This would be enough to support us in a manner in which the survivor would like to become accustomed, while also saving enough for Babykins to head to an Ivy-League school in 2018. Good plan.

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