No Lunch Left Behind

I’ve made my share of school lunches over the years. And just when I got really good at it (which means the lunches were deviously nutritious prompting the kids to actually eat everything I packed) my boys grew up and left home. How could they?!

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Actually, that’s pretty much what parenting is all about: You work really hard to get good at it, and then your job up and leaves home without you.

Back to school lunches. How can you pack healthy lunches the kiddos will actually eat, without getting sucked into buying pricey junk food masquerading as nutritious fare? You have to refuse to be tricked by labels that promise health benefits, or fun, colorful packaging that gets the kids’ attention. 

3 Reasons to Not Borrow from a Retirement Account

Dear Mary: I am thinking of taking a loan from my 40l(k) retirement account to pay off my credit-card debt. I can repay the loan with payments taken directly from each of my paychecks, without any penalties. The interest rate is not too bad, and a lot less than I am paying to my credit card companies now. This seems like a great idea to me, but I’m worried I might be missing something. Sharon

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Dear Sharon: I would not recommend you take a loan from your retirement account to repay your credit-card debt for these three reasons: 

1. Uncertainty. If you leave your job for any reason before the loan is repaid, the entire balance becomes due and payable. That’s the law. You’ll have a couple of weeks to come up with that money. If you cannot, the balance owing will be converted to a withdrawal. You will be hit with early-withdrawal penalties and you will owe both federal and state taxes on the entire remaining balance. The penalties are stiff because you’re not supposed to have access to this money until you are at least age 59 1/2. The penalties and taxes could easily add up to half of the amount you owe. Ouch! 

An Ounce of Prevention Means Money in the Bank

Today’s topic is not pretty, but unless you have $8,000 earmarked for dental care, it could prevent a lot of pain—both dental and financial.

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Periodontal disease is an infection that affects the gum tissue around the teeth, the fibers that hold the teeth in the jaw bone and the bone itself.

Bacteria get caught between the teeth and also under the gum, forming a sticky substance called “plaque” that hardens to form tartar. This leads to infection known as gingivitis. As it spreads deeper into the bone it begins to decay and pus forms which causes swelling, redness and bleeding. If not treated, the teeth will become loose and fall out.

Do I have your attention? Great because there are relatively inexpensive measure you can take to prevent this ugly situation and all of the very expensive treatments required to treat and (hopefully) reverse.

If you remove the soft plaque from the gum margin around the teeth you will toughen the gum and prevent the disease. Here’s how to do that:

How to Save a Bundle on Prescription Eyeglasses

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say right up front that when I first heard about ordering prescription eyeglasses online, I scoffed. I rolled my eyes. What next? Mail order surgery? Online doctor visits? Not me. 

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But I’ve had an epiphany, a change of heart. 

Up until the past decade, I’d never worn glasses, enjoying perfect vision. But life happens (perhaps you’ve noticed this). I was totally unprepared for the mind-numbing cost of prescription eye wear. 

I went to a top-notch optometrist (I still do) and assumed that to take the best care of my eyes, I needed to purchase my new glasses from the little boutique there in his office. When the bill totaled over $750 for my designer frames, lenses, anti-scratch coating (don’t believe it), UV protection and the anti-glare option, I was shocked. And more than ready to consider other options.

Four Steps to Financial Confidence

For a good deal of my life I lived under a dark cloud of worry that I would end up financially destitute—a bag lady.

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A survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Allianz Insurance Group reveals that I’m not the only one. In fact, most of us have felt that way at some point in our lives, not because we’re broke, but because we don’t have confidence that we know how to hang onto our money. And that makes us timid, worried and financially insecure.

Financial confidence is a choice. It’s a matter of changing bad habits and choosing to learn simple financial principles. Then by consciously applying them over and over those principles will become automatic responses—financial habits. 

Here are four simple things you can do starting today to improve your financial confidence—and take control of your money.

New Ways to Monitor your FICO Scores and Credit Reports for Free

This is a guest post by Richard Syrop, which contains exciting new information that will help you even better manage your credit score. Richard is founder of the bill reduction website EffortlessSavings.com. You can take a look at his new book and follow him on Twitter.

There are more options than ever before to help consumers monitor their FICO scores and credit reports. Unfortunately, most of these choices have monthly fees, or hidden costs. Thankfully, a couple of new options have emerged that are truly free and do not require you to sign up for a free trial membership or subscription that may result in sneaky credit card charges.

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Free Monthly FICO Scores. Websites like Credit Karma, Credit.com, Credit Sesame and Quizzle all offer free credit scores to consumers who sign up for their services. 

However, none of these websites provide you with your genuine FICO score. Instead, they let you preview what have become known as “FAKO” scores. These scores are based on your credit history, but are often different from your actual FICO scores by wide margins.  

Help! Too Much Stuff for Too Little Space

Dear Mary: I have a young daughter who is almost three-years-old. Eventually, my husband and I plan on having more children. I have saved lots of baby things, clothing, toys and other items, but I am having trouble storing all of these things. They have taken over.

I cannot possibly take up any more space with these things. I have begun bags for donation and garage sales, but there are some things I need to keep for future children. I do not like the idea of paying for storage space elsewhere, but I am not sure what to do with growing accumulation. Can you help? Becky

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Dear Becky: Do you have friends or relatives with garage, basement or attic space you could use for a few years? If not, I suggest you decide what items you really need to retain, then plan to replace the rest.

For all of the clothes, blankets and other soft items, get a couple of Space Bags that are easily filled and then compressed using your vacuum cleaner that has a hose to suck out all the air. I used dozens of these to get all of my linens, blankets, pillows and clothing ready for long-term storage (my husband and I are still living in our seriously downsized tiny apartment as we wait to make a big move next spring) and I was surprised just how well they worked once I followed the instructions exactly. For the record: My method of overstuffing a bag before removing the air did not work. At. All. 

Tips to Save Time and Money at Home

Sometimes Home, Sweet Home can seem more like a money pit. But your house doesn’t have to cost you tons for upkeep when you ingenuity, creativity, shopping sense and savings sense to bring out the best without breaking the bank

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Enjoy these sensible tips for making your house a wonderful home, with time and money to spare.

DRY ERASE BOARD. Clean it with a dab of toothpaste on a clean, damp cloth. The board will be beautifully clean and minty fresh as well. And no more ghosting.

MAKE YOUR OWN. Extra pillowcases can be pricey, so consider making your own: When you buy your net set of sheets, buy an additional flat queen-sized sheet match (individual sheets are readily available online), regardless of the matching set. Out of the queen flat sheet you can make three pairs of matching pillowcases for a fraction of the cost of buying them ready made. By measuring a commercially made pillowcase, it is easy to create a usable pattern.