Simplify Your Finances

yoga at sunset  #9Go on the web and you will find that there’s an official day, week or month for just about everything. “Talk Like a Pirate Day” (Sept 19) comes to mind.  This week, though, the Official Thing seems pretty useful – or has the potential to be. August 1-7 is “Simplify Your Life Week.”

As Thoreau said, “Simplify, simplify.” Personally, I have always thought it would be…simpler to say it just once, but what do I know? Anyway, you go to one of the semi-official Simplify websites and you will see gems like, “Place an artificial rose on your desk to remind you to stop and smell the roses.” Umm, yeah.

How about some real advice?!? Here you go… Woman’s Day offers “20 Moves to Simplify Your Finances.”

How can we possibly make our finances simple? By knowing the right tricks. Choose to become accountable, and then use every tactic you can to streamline—and destress— your financial life. If you can pare things down in the following areas, you’re well on your way.

The article has a ton of ideas on simplifying and taking the stress out of Spending, Banking, Bill Paying, Taxes, Credit Cards, and much more. I won’t even excerpt it here.. you MUST check it out.

Do any of these tips speak to you? Got any of your own to share? Let us know at the MindFieldLive Facebook Page!

Sales Tax Summer Savings!

taxfreeWe talked previously about gearing up for the grind of back to school sales. But some folks in certain states – and ones nearby – will catch a break in the form of the annual sales tax holiday.

Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, and Guam impose sales taxes on the sale or lease of many goods. Of those forty-five states, just under half offer some sort of break on sales tax for school supplies, energy efficient appliances and hurricane preparedness. Most offer their holidays at the end of July or the beginning of August in order to attract back to school shoppers.  Yahoo Finance

So, where and when are the savings? Check it out:

  • THIS WEEKEND (7/26): Mississippi
  • Weekend of August 2: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
  • Weekend of August 9: Georgia, Texas
  • Aug 11-17 (Sunday-Saturday): Maryland
  • Aug 18- 24 (Sunday-Saturday): Connecticut

MUCH more detail at the original article!

When I first moved to SC from Ohio, many moons ago, was the first time I had heard of the tax holiday. (Note that Ohio is not on the list!) I have heard of big savings over the years, though. So, if you live in one of these states – or next door to one – saddle up for summer savings!

Have you done the tax holiday for back to school? Have any tales of big savings? Leave a comment at the MindField Online Facebook page. And have a great weekend!

The Ways We Save

Unfortunately, that penny was dropped from the roof of the Empire State Building
Unfortunately, that penny was dropped from the roof of the Empire State Building

Unless money truly is no object in your family, then you have cut back like the rest of us in the past 5 years. The things we do or buy and places we go are a little more modest.

It’s no surprise that in a thriving economy, consumers don’t watch their spending and budget as closely. They splurge on…getting their hair done frequently…vacations and redecorating their home. When the economy took a turn for the worst, consumers cut back on those extra expenses and became determined to save on daily expenses such as grocery shopping and gas. The

So, how are we doing it?

  • Postponing (indefinitely!) that dream vacation, that elective surgical procedures (get used to the crow’s feet!) And, the oddest item: not getting divorced. (Staying together because it’s cheaper…yay?)
  • Investing in energy-efficient appliances and home upgrades, security systems and… get ready… pregnancy prevention products. (No comment – read the article.)

And last but not least:

  • Thievery. Ask my wife the commercial property manager about the relentless Copper Wars. On second thought, don’t get her started. Other popular items include feminine hygiene, toilet paper and dogs. (Again, read the piece.)

Of course, your mileage may vary. In our house, it’s not a matter of cutting OUT certain things; we seem to do the same NUMBER of things, but each thing is scaled back. Except for thieving. Don’t touch my thieving! Anyway…how are you getting by? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page!

Organic Food Skeptics

usda_organic_mediumBefore we begin, I am just starting a conversation here…

A recent poll found that, by and large, consumers were skeptical about the benefits of organic food and not eager to pay more for it.  In fact, the survey found that 59% of consumers believe labeling a food as “organic” is simply an excuse to charge more for it. Consumer Affairs

Now, that may be true or not. There are a LOT of health conscious consumers out there, and a lot of well-meaning vendors trying to serve them. But, even if organic food DOES provide greater health benefits than, well, whatever you call non-organic foods, this article suggests that the whole system is very much under-regulated and under-policed. “Where the food comes from” seems to be the biggest question.

 “It’s one thing to go out and find a farmer and buy directly but if you go to Whole Foods and buy something that’s certified organic, it could be from Turkey. You don’t know if it’s safe. How do you know that the farmer didn’t use Round-Up, that he didn’t cheat, that there weren’t human feces in his fields? (Editor’s note: that’s gross.)  Consumer Affairs

So, a bunch of people think that the organic thing is a waste of money and effort. A bunch of other people completely swear by organic. What do YOU think? Let us know at the MindField Online Facebook page. And have a great weekend!

Location, Location, Location

Apartment-For-Rent-Sign1Are you a renter in the big city – or want to be? Is it hard to find a decent place you can actually afford?  Apparently, the credit crunch means there are too many renters and not enough square footage!

Although the average rent across the U.S. is $1,231 per month, in certain areas it can be triple that number. Landlords can afford to charge such daunting prices because there are so few apartments available in high-demand cities.  CBS MoneyWatch

MoneyWatch averaged the costs of studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments across the USA, and came up with the ten most expensive cities for rentals. I hope you’re not on this list! Here are the averages…

10. San Diego: $1,670 per month

9. Seattle: $1,718

8. Miami: $1,742

7. Oakland, Calif.: $1,812

6. San Jose, Calif.: $2,165

5. Los Angeles: $2,177

4. Washington, D.C.: $2,699

3. Boston: $3,190

2. New York: $3,344

1. San Francisco: $3,396

Bet that’s the only time New Yorkers AREN’T upset about NOT being number 1! So, if your town is on the list, so sorry. The good news is that they also figured out the CHEAPEST places to live.  That list is HERE, but be warned: some of these towns have more cattle than people. You get what you pay for!

Back to School “Creep”?

Pictured: Me.

Does it seem like the Back to School sales are starting earlier and earlier each year? Apparently, you’re not imagining it, according to Ad Age magazine.

Instead of merely waiting until August and then hoping that shoppers spend a lot of money at once, stores are having sales now to sell certain items in June and July with the idea that they’ll come back in August and spend some more, most likely on apparel.  Ad Age

The phenomenon has a name: “Back to School Creep.” Sort of like how the stores start putting out their Christmas displays the week before Halloween! I didn’t know this, but Back to School is the second biggest retail time of the year, second only to Christmas, and accounts for $84 billion in sales.

When I was a kid, I had an odd mindset during the summer: gradually increasing dread. I saw the summer as a long weekend. The piece of June left after school let out was Friday night. July was Saturday. And August was Sunday, when I could really feel the last of the sand leaving the hourglass before school started again. (PS…I HATED school.)  And those obnoxious Back to School sales at the mall didn’t help my mood at all!  But at least they waited until August. Today’s kids have it rough!

How about you? How much do you spend on Back to School? How soon do you start shopping? Do you think the retailers start pushing it too early? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page. And have a great weekend!

The Evolution of Cashing Out

The statistics don’t lie: in business, in government and in our day-to-day lives, we are using fewer and fewer checks, and more electronic payments. The examples are all around us, starting at the top – the Federal Reserve:

In the 1990s, the number of paper checks processed by the Fed (was) 19 billion. Since then, it has only gone down. In 2000 the number was 16 billion; in 2007, 10 billion and in 2011, just 6.8 billion checks – and of those, almost all were electronic images – were processed by the Federal Reserve.

In fact the volume of checks the Fed processes is only one-third of what it was 20 years ago. Whereas they once had 45 check-clearing centers in the US, now they have ONE. Meanwhile, the cost of processing checks has gone up by 55% in recent years.

So, that’s the spirit behind the announcement you saw on the MindField Online news page last week:

The ability to cash out using checks will no longer be available starting today. Very few of our members still use this service and it has become too costly and unreliable to maintain effectively.

“Costly and unreliable.” What’s that mean? Well, as we said, the cost of processing checks – even when there are NO problems, is rising. When there ARE problems, though, it gets ridiculous. The Post Office loses your check? Someone swipes it from your mailbox? Suddenly, your $5 cash out check costs MindField $20 to replace!

Is this a huge problem? No, but it’s big enough to be a distraction. And, ultimately, it’s an unnecessary distraction when there are so many other efficient, reliable solutions out there:

We continue to look for exciting cash out options to add to PayPal, Amazon, WalMart and Sam’s online options. We are also looking to add some charitable giving options like St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Make A Wish, or Wounded Warrior programs.

In the end, it’s the price of progress. Check distribution is an avoidable expense, and thousands and thousands of companies have realized it. But we want to hear YOUR thoughts:

If you have cash out ideas, please send them to our support desk, [email protected]. We’d love to know which retailers and charities are of interest to you.

4th of July Spending Revisited

See what I did there?
See what I did there?

So, fellow MindField-ers… having a good holiday weekend so far? Did you manage to get Friday off? I hope so! Last Friday, we did a post about 4th of July spending. I thought I would actually track my own this year, just for fun. First, the agenda…

Starting out from the suburbs of Charleston SC, it’s:

  • July 4: Cookout at in-laws
  • July 5: Antiquing in West Columbia SC
  • July 6: Going to the beach at Kiawah SC
  • July 7: Charleston Harbor tour and dining downtown

And here is my spending, real and projected:

  • Cookout: 4 bags of chips, sodas and my homemade guacamole… $21
  • Antiquing: Maybe $50, meals $25
  • Beach: Sodas, snack, parking fee…$12. Lunch after, $20
  • Harbor tour for 2: $20 (thanks Groupon!) Meals $40
  • Gas for the weekend: 450 miles, at 30 miles per gallon, times $3.15 per gallon (it’s CHEAP in SC)…$47

Total Independence Day 2013 spending: $235

How does that sound to you? High? Low? About right? We had talked about spending the weekend in Asheville NC, which probably would have brought it up to at least $500, which is more in line with the numbers we reported last week. Fortunately, I am a CHEAPO! Wife is too, so at least we’re compatible!

So, what are YOUR plans. Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page. And have a great weekend!

BONUS: If it’s been since 9th grade that you have read the Declaration of Independence, you really should revisit the old girl. Read it HERE.

Summer Survival with Bored Kids

Activities-to-Fight-Summer-Boredom-MainPhotoAs they say, “Insanity is hereditary – you get it from your kids.” That is never truer than the summertime. So, your kids have been out of school nearly a month…have you gone crazy yet? Spoiler alert: it’s coming.

Never fear – MindField Online presents ten links to help keep your little darlings occupied and out of your hair!

Did they miss any? What kinds of things do YOU do? Let us know over at the MindField Facebook page!