How Long to Keep Important Papers?

Every year about this time my mailbox tells me it’s time to review the general guidelines on how long to keep statements, paid bills and other important paperwork.

Today’s quick review should help you get your paper work in order just in time to file your Tax Year 2016 return.

Here are the general rules for how long to keep important household papers:

ONE YEAR. Keep pay stubs for at least one year so you reconcile them against both your W-2 Wage and Tax Statement (this is the form from your employer that shows how your annual earnings were allocated that you attach to your tax return) and the Social Security Earnings Statement you receive once each year in the mail (you can request a copy any time from www.ssa.gov). If your records do not match the entries on these forms you’ll be happy to have your pay stubs to prove your earnings and withholding.

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Great Dates for Couples on a Tight Budget

Wallet a little thin this Valentine season? That shouldn’t mean you cancel all dates until things begin to look up in the finance department. The solution is to get creative, to find reasonable and fun alternatives that require only pocket change and the right attitude—or with any luck, some that are absolutely free.

Here are nine ideas to get your creativity going:

VOLUNTEER TOGETHER. Find a local charity that meets the needs of some area of life you are passionate about, such as a soup kitchen or pet shelter. Volunteer for the day—together!

FREE DAY. Most art galleries and museums have a free day or hours each month or have gone to a “pay as you wish” policy. Here’s an example: Los Angeles County Museum of Art is free after 3pm Monday-Friday for L.A. County residents; also free on the second Tuesday of each month. Also in Los Angeles, The Getty Center is always free. Check those in your area.

KARAOKE. Just hear me out. Karaoke is guaranteed to be a fun night, even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Let your hair down, spring for a few drinks and have a ball.

STAR GAZE. When is the last time you lay down on a blanket and stared at the stars? Grab some hot chocolate, warm blankets and your best gal or guy, then try to find your favorite constellations. If you need some guidance, you can download apps like Star Tracker (Google/Apple).

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How to Buy a Mattress

If you want to drive yourself nuts, go shopping for a new mattress. You’ll hear dozens of theories on coils, fabrics, stuffing, foam density and warranties.

What I know about buying a mattress I’ve learned from the best: Insiders now retired from the sleep product industry.

CONFUSION FACTOR. All of the major brands—Simmons, Serta, Sealy, etc., make decent mattresses but if you’re planning to go from one chain store to the next comparing prices, forget it. The major brands change the names of the same mattress for each of the stores so it is impossible to compare by make and model.

SHOP BY LEVEL. Each company makes “levels” of mattresses: Very cheap, decent cheap, good and best. That’s not what they call them, but you can tell by the pricing within each manufacturer’s line of products. Expect several models in each price level.

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How to Have More Money

You need more money. You need it now. So what are your choices? You have two: You can increase your income or you can reduce your spending.

INCREASE INCOME

Get a bigger paycheck. Ask for a raise, land a new job that pays a lot more than your current job or get a second (or third) job to supplement your current income.

Win a lottery. Do keep in mind when considering this option that your chances of being struck by lightning are much better than winning a lottery.

Sell assets. Finding a cash buyer for your grandmother’s sterling silver, the boat or other asset you own is another option for increasing your income.

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2017 Valentine Gift Guide—24 Fabulous Gift Ideas for Him and Her

 

Friends. Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away. I know, I can’t believe it either. Before you begin to stress, let’s get a plan together.

The way I see it, you have four options:

  1. Ignore the day altogether and assume your spouse, kids and family will think you forgot and give you a pass.
  2. Get thee to the card shop and post office to pick up Valentine cards and postage stamps, then get them into the mail, pronto!
  3. Make sweet treats in your kitchen befitting the day*.
  4. Find that perfect something for that perfect someone in your life—there is still plenty of time.

Should you be leaning toward option #4, here are 24 great gift ideas:

GIFTS FOR HIM

1. MOSCOW MULE COPPER MUGS. These are gorgeous 100% copper mugs, each one in the set of 2 weighing in at 1/2 pound. If your guy is into home mixology and the classic Moscow Mule, this will make an amazing gift. About $28.

2. TACTICAL 300 LUMEN ULTRA BRIGHT FLASHLIGHT. This very cool, very bright flashlight runs off a single AA battery, for hours of use. Heavy duty, compact and tough as nails! About $12.

3. BEER CHILLER STICKS. Impress your guy with the newest way to keep beer at the right drinking temperature. Freeze chiller sticks for 45 minutes or leave them in until you are ready to open a bottle. Insert in beer and enjoy without having to worry about it getting warm. Comes in an impressive gift box with bonus bottle opener. About $28.

4. MAGNETIC WRISTBAND. Wearing the MagnoGrip magnetic wristband, he’ll keep tools on his wrist while he works. Ideal for holding nails, screws, fasteners, wrenches and small tools. Finish jobs in less time and with less frustration. Breathable lightweight design allows you to wear the magnetic wristband all day. Super strong magnets also provides therapeutic relief to the wrist. About $13.

5. DIGITAL TIRE PRESSURE GAUGE. The only gauge he’ll need. When he puts the Ionox Digital Tire Pressure Gauge in his hand, he’ll know right away he’s holding the best tire pressure gauge he’s ever used. About $15.

6. VEGETABLE GRILL BASKET. If your guy is into BBQing, he’ll flip for this large non-stick BBQ grid pan for veggies meat fish shrimp and fruit. About $18.

7. WHISKEY STONES. This set of 9 premium whiskey stones will ensure no more watered down whiskey! Easy to store in the wooden box, in the freezer! The stones substitute for ice cubes and keep a drink cold four hours! Use the stones over and over again. About $11.

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Rules for Buying a Car for All Cash

An automobile is a major purchase and the consumer purchase most likely to throw a major kink into your fragile financial situation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. What’s required is a little radical thinking and forethought.

Here are the three rules to follow when buying a car:

RULE 1. Pay cash. Hang on. I know you may not be able to do that right now. Just be patient and I will teach you how. This principle is so important that I will repeat it: Pay cash for your car.

RULE 2. Opt for a late model. Make sure you are not the first owner. Let someone else take that 20 percent depreciation hit. Your goal is to drive the best late-model, previously owned car you can afford paid for with the cash you have.

RULE 3. Always make payments. I hope that got your attention! On the one hand, I just told you always to pay cash for your cars. And now I am telling you always to make payments. Both principles are true. You must adopt the attitude that as long as you intend to own a car you must cover the the cost by making monthly payments to yourself ahead of time—in anticipation of your next car. This way you are always earning interest (because you hold that money in a savings account), not paying it.

Even if your current car is doing well I can promise you that car will not last forever. That’s why I want to challenge you to start today so you can pay cash for your next car. 

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Beyond Laundry: 10 Ways to Use Washing Soda Around the House

It looks and feels for all the world like laundry detergent. White. Coarse. Powdery.

A mineral mined from dry lake bottoms and extracted from the ashes of vegetation from the Middle East, kelp from Scotland and seaweed from Spain, it’s used to make glass, bricks, paper, rayon and toothpaste. It cleans silver and softens water.

Its real name is sodium carbonate, but this stuff also goes by soda ash, Na2CO3 and good old Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda.

Washing soda and I go way back. Since first married (47 years, yay us)  I have added washing soda to the wash for cleaner, whiter, brighter laundry. More recently it has become one of the ingredients in our homemade laundry detergent.

Best of all, washing soda (aka sodium carbonate) is cheap. Depending on the source, expect to pay around $.10 per ounce.

As of late, I am discovering that washing soda is much more than a laundry detergent booster. With a powerful pH of 11, washing soda acts as a solvent all around the house, garage. Sodium carbonate removes dirt, grime, greasy build-up and a range of stains.

STOVE TOP, OVEN. Remove the burners. Sprinkle dry washing soda dry on a damp sponge and scrub that stove top, broiler pan and oven making sure to avoid the heating element. Soak the burners in a solution of 1/2 cup washing soda dissolved in a gallon of warm water for at least an hour. This will soften and break down all of the greasy gunk and grime. Scrub as needed, rinse well and dry.

COOKWARE, POTS, PANS. To remove greasy, burned-on stains from cookware (do not use on aluminum cookware), fill the pot with hot water. Add a spoonful washing soda and a squirt of splash dishwashing liquid. Bring to the boil over high heat then simmer for 15 minutes. Do not use on aluminum cookware.

COFFEE POTS, CUPS, CARAFES. Coffee and tea often leave ugly brown stains in kettles, pots and cups. Fill the stained item with hot water and add some washing soda. Allow to sit for at least and hour or even overnight. Stains easily rinsed away in the morning.

PLASTIC. Clean and freshen garbage cans, tablecloths, shower curtains, patio furniture and anything plastic with 1/2 cup washing soda dissolved in 1 gallon warm water. Wash and rinse.

TOILETS. Use a cup of washing soda down the toilet to clean and freshen, and to help prevent blockages.

TILE, GROUT. Clean wall tiles with a regular solution (1/2 cup washing soda to 1 gallon warm water) clean tile and grout. You may need to scrub the grout with a stiff brush. You won’t believe the clean and sparkling results.

WINDSHIELD. A mild solution of washing soda will help remove dead flies, bugs and grime from windshields. Avoid splashing onto the car’s painted surface. Do not use on aluminum alloy wheels.

PEST CONTROL. Get rid of white fly and mites by spraying plants and trees with a mild solution of 1/2 cup washing soda to two gallons water.

STAINS ON CONCRETE, GARAGE FLOOR. Pour a generous amount of dry washing soda on spills and stains. Sprinkle lightly with water to create a thick paste. Allow to sit overnight. The following day, scrub with a stiff brush (re-wetting as needed). Hose down then wipe the surface clean.

TARNISHED SILVER. To removed tarnish from silver, line a non-reactive pan or bowl (glass, plastic) with aluminum foil. Fill with a solution of 1/2 cup washing soda to one gallon hot water. Add the tarnished silver pieces and allow to soak for 15 minutes. The tarnish will simply disappear. Rinse well then buff the silver pieces until they sparkle. Can also remove tarnish from silver plate, jewelry, gold, copper, bronze, stainless steel and most brass following manufacturer’s guidelines.

Look for Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda in the laundry aisle of some supermarkets, discount stores and online (about $.11 per ounce with prime shipping). Generally, a 55 ounce box runs about $5 in the store. When the price is right, I buy it online as soda ash. Remember that both Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda and soda ash are 100% sodium carbonate—exactly the same.

CAUTION: While washing soda doesn’t give off harmful fumes, you do need to wear gloves because it can cause skin irritation. DO NOT use sodium carbonate (aka washing soda, soda ash) on aluminum, fiberglass, leather, silk, wool, no-wax floors or treated wood surfaces.  ALWAYS test in an inconspicuous place first on those types of surfaces.


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Parents’ Financial Decisions and Their Adult Children

Parents of adult children may believe it’s none of their kids’ business how they handle their finances and what they do with their money.

While that may be true, never forget that every financial decision you make has the potential one day to become either a burden or a blessing for your family.

Dear Mary: One of our friends suggested that we look into a plan called “Life Estate,” which would make sure that our home goes to our children no matter what.

We own our home and have no debt, but have no long-term care insurance either. Of course, we hope to stay well until we die, but in the event we would have to go to a nursing home and our monies run out, we understand this plan would preclude the nursing home from taking our home. Your thoughts? Tom and Jackie

Dear Tom and Jackie: I am not an attorney, but I do have experience as a real estate broker. Generally, I can tell you that “life estate” is a term used to designate the way legal ownership or title is held on real property.

To do this, you would deed your property to your children, who become the “remaindermen,” while you become the “life tenants.”

As the life tenants, you retain possession of the property including full costs of maintaining the property. The life tenants cannot sell the property without the consent of the remaindermen. Further, your children would receive full ownership (fee simple) immediately upon the death of the last life tenant, without the property going through probate.

There are advantages and also a few disadvantages for you to convey your property now to a life estate that you need to fully understand before making a decision. I suggest that you meet with a qualified real estate attorney.

If you decide to deed your property to a life estate it should be as simple as completing forms and having them properly recorded in the county where the property is located.

Dear Mary: I have been reading your books, newsletters and this daily column for years. You have really helped me a lot. Thanks! I have passed along everything that I could to my parents, but evidently they haven’t read a thing.

A year ago, my brother bailed our parents out from foreclosure and they are still so far in debt they can’t see even a glimmer of light.

Now they want to come for a visit and I want to tell them not to come because I know they can’t afford it. If you ask them if they can afford it they will laugh and tell you they can’t afford anything, but that doesn’t change anything. They have nothing in savings, and spend money (credit cards) like they have all the money in the world, trying to keep up appearances.

Should I tell them that they can’t come visit until they get back on their feet again, or just let them come and continue to flounder and get more in debt than they already are? I’ve been able to put them off for a couple of months, but I don’t know how much longer I can. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Debbie

Dear Debbie: There is a reason I have NOT written a book, How to Manage Your Parents’ Money. That’s because you can’t control your parents or make any useful demands on them.

My advice is to back off. Call and invite them to come and visit at the earliest possible time. Do everything you can to make their visit enjoyable including not talking to them about their financial situation. Let the way you live and manage your finances speak louder than anything you can say.

Should they die broke leaving all kinds of debt, you will not be liable for any of it, provided you have not added your name to any of their accounts.

Please, just love them and allow them to have a warm and loving relationship with you despite your differences.

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