Archive of ‘Personal Ponderings’ category

The Season of Giving

The Christmas holiday will soon be here. I know most of you if you haven’t started your gift shopping will be starting very soon. It’s been a very difficult year for many of us. In our family, my husband experienced a 6 month layoff, and when recalled, lost all of his seniority. We’re struggling with getting a healthcare policy in place and really have no savings to speak of. This is also the start of the slow season at his workplace which lasts through March in most years, so money is a big concern right now, especially with 13 nieces and nephews to buy for plus our own 3 children.

My oldest son graduated college in June, but to date, has not had any job offers, with the first loan payments looming in December if they can’t be deferred.

But, considering our own hardships, we know that other familys are having a more difficult time than we can even imagine, either due to illnesses or financial issues.

My question to you is… What can you do with $5? If someone gave you $5, how would you spend it. My guess is that it wouldn’t go very far. That barely buys you a meal at a fast food shop.

Now, what can someone else do with $5? Imagine your $5 is combined with the same amount from 100 people. Imagine how many Christmases can be brightened with $500, or $5000. It takes very little from each of us to change someone’s life.

I encourage each of you to take some change from your pocket and donate it to an organization of your choice. This year, we’ve donated $50 to The Children’s Miracle Network which works locally to purchase necessary items for sick children being helped at Hershey Medical Center here in Central Pennsylvania. This is in additional to our annual contributions to Toys for Tots.

If your grocery store offers a $1 slip of paper to donate to local charity, don’t be so quick to say no. You’ve probably added something to your cart priced at much more than a dollar that you didn’t need. Your small contribution added to others can make a HUGE difference.

earn college savings with uPromise

I was at the grocery store this evening and had my uPromise card out and the cashier accidentally scanned my card for the customer ahead of me in line. I jokingly said, “That’s OK, I don’t mind taking credit for her purchase.” this started an interesting conversation with the other shopper about how it works.

I signed up for uPromise in June 2005 (at least, that’s what my online account says). I simply register my store cards for places I normally shop (two area grocery stores, a drug store, etc) and shop normally. I can also get credit for online purchases from participating websites like TigerDirect where I shop regularly. All in all, I’ve earned almost $300 for my children’s college funding. This may not seem like a lot, but when you consider that I’m not shopping any differently than I normally would, this really is free money! We’re already taken money from the account (my oldest son just graduated college in June). My younger son will be going to college in fall of 2009 and my daughter will be about 6 years behind that.

No matter what ages your children or grandchildren are, you can earn money for them. Friends and family can join you in earning to increase your earnings. So, don’t miss out on free money, sign up and register your store cards for savings.

www.upromise.com

Paying your mortgage with less pain

A co-worker and I were talking a few weeks ago about mortgage payments when we discovered that we had the same mortgage company. Several years ago, I had made the jump over to weekly payments. I’ve been doing this for many years now. She has a young family and like many of us, lives paycheck to paycheck. This topic came up again when she told me she had to call the mortgage company to work out a plan when she couldn’t pay her mortgage at all this month (her husband’s work hours were cut recently).

When I paid a monthly mortage payment, we felt broke constantly. Half the month we had no money because the mortgage payment was due. Depending on what day of the week the first fell, we didn’t always have the money in the bank and paid it a week late, sometimes more (using most of the 16 day grace period we were allowed). In order to change over to weekly payments, our mortage had to be current (this was a struggle since we were often paying on the 5th, which techically was past due). We also needed to have about half our mortgage payment on hand, because the weekly payments would start coming out immediately. This again was a struggle. It seems the easiest time to do this is after a nice tax refund or sale of a large item.

The beneifts of weekly payments: My husband and I both work and each of our payments is enough to cover the weekly payment, this means that one check (or about 2/3 of one) goes to the mortgage, the other check goes to other expenses. Budgeting is so much easier when the bills are staggered out. Our vehicle insurance is due the first week of the month, vehicle payment the second week, (another vehicle recently paid off was due the third week), and health insurance and fuel oil budget payments are paid from the fourth. This has allowed us to control the flow of our expenses much better and their is no longer a two week span of being completely broke.

Depending on your mortgage company, you may also pay down your mortgage faster. Some weekly payment plans apply the payment immediately upon receipt (ours unfortunately does not, holding the partial payments until the first of the month when they’re applied as a full payment). The later will not give you the early payment like the first. Some plans are also a 48 week plan where there are no additional payments, mine is a 52 week plan where we make the equivalent of one full payment to paydown principal. We refinanced our loan in November 2006. According to our mortgage company, we’ve already reduced our 15 year mortgage by 4 months by participating in the weekly payment plan. We hope to have it paid off several years early.

For us, the real benefit was paying the mortgage without feeling the constant struggle to balance everything. We pay many of our bills by automatic draft (I only recommend this if you know you’ll have a consistent amount of money in your account every week or you’ll face a lot of high bank fees .. ours are $40 per overdraft). I highly recommend contacting your mortgage company to see if they offer a weekly plan if you feel you could benefit like we did.

Could you be a victim of fraud?

Hopefully you’ve at least heard of the Nigerian Scams. You receive an unsolicted email asking you to help move some funds from a dead diplomat and for your assistance, you’ll receive a nice sum of money for your trouble. Oh, but you’ll need to pay some fees (few hundred to thousands, but not to worry, you’ll be made over $1million so what’s a few thousand)… you’ll never see that money… the money promised or the money spent. Now, you’d never fall for that would you? Or the fake lottery winnings (you just need to pay some money to release your prize or get it through customs or whatever).

http://www.snopes.com/crime/fraud/nigeria.asp

But, these scams can sometimes be a little harder to spot. There’s something in the back of your mind that says “Hey, this doesn’t sound quite right.”. Well, if you don’t listen to that voice, you could be out a lot of money.

So, here’s what happened to us this week. My husband has been trying to help his brother sell a large number of fish tanks that had belonged to our late nephew. They’ve been listed on Aquabid a few times, with no reasonable offers. Finally, a bidder steps up. Unlike ebay, there’s not a pay now button on this site. Payment is handled off-site by the bidder/seller. The first email sounds fine, interested in the tanks, can I pay by Cashiers Cheque (notice the spelling Cheque, not Check, not as common a spelling in the US, but not unheard of). I mention to my husband to be very careful, as there’s a good bit of fraud with Cashier’s Checks and that it could take 2 weeks to clear. Of course, he always thinks I’m quite paranoid about everything. But, something is nagging him just a bit or he wouldn’t have brought it up. So, he responds back to the seller that he’d take a Cashier’s Check. The next email is the one that causes the full red alert. The buyer now wants to send an extra $1000, have us send $900 of it to his shipper via Western Union as soon as we RECEIVE the check (he does actually capitalize the word receive). OK, this is a HUGE red flag. All auction sites and many banks will tell you that if the buyer wants to send you more than what you’ve asked for and send money elsewhere, end the transaction IMMEDIATELY. This will always be fraud. My husband tells me the new twist and I take a look at the email from our “friend” with a very english sounding name sending from a yahoo account with a very definite African IP address (if you don’t know how to check an IP address, contact your favorite geek and send the email as an attachment so the headers will be intact). My husband decides he wants to play with the scammer now and says that he’s fine with the arrangement but he’ll need to wait 2 weeks for the funds to clear. Of course our scammer is irritated and reminds him that the funds will clear in 3 days or less. DO NOT BELIEVE THIS. We contacted our local bank and they suggested 2 weeks, although some fraud prevention sites will tell you it can take even longer.

Answers to questions that we asked our bank:
If I deposit a cashier’s check, how long do I need to wait before I can be sure it’s good (we gave them the details of the “transaction”)?
They did say that the funds would be released into our account within a few days, but it could take 2 weeks for the check to be officially cleared by the issuing bank. They said that the cashier’s check would list security features on the back of the check, look at these features carefully and check to be sure they’re all there (if there are no security features listed, it’s a fake).

Would it be better to do a wire transfer?
NO, never allow a wire transfer from someone you don’t want to have your bank account numbers. (I had always been concerned about this myself and I was glad to hear the bank back me up on this).

Federal Trade Commission website: Check Overpayment Scams: Seller Beware
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/overpayalrt.shtm

This scam has been going on for some time. In fact, you can see a similar story that dates back to 2002 here.
http://www.scamvictimsunited.com/our_story.htm

Remember, while you would never cheat anyone, there may be someone out there looking to take advantage of you. If you fall victim to a scam similar to this, and don’t have the funds to cover the amount of the loss (the amount sent back or sent to a shipper via Western Union), you could not only be out the funds, but spin into a devasting whirlpool of bank fees, bounced check fees, and bad credit. The scammers are smart, but we can outsmart them by being vigilante. If the tiny voice inside you says something is wrong, trust it. As the saying goes, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.

Negativity

Recently I’ve had an interesting experience with someone I know. When I first met her, she seemed so happy-go-lucky, good hearted and joyful about life. Recently I’ve spent more time with her and it’s been quite a different experience. Why…. attitude. Some of you might be suffering from this as well.

Negativity. It’s amazing how negativity and bad attitude can really hurt us and keep us from reaching our goals and our full potential. This once joyful woman now constantly complains, no one ever helps me, my parents did more for my brother than they did for me, my parents don’t believe I can finish college, and other similar negative statements.

Now, what I see, a woman who’s parents bought a second home so that she could live rent free with her children while she got back on her feet, a woman who’s parents put her through college right after high school so that she could learn a marketable skill….but didn’t stick with it long… a woman who wants a lot of things done… but doesn’t want to take the responsiblity for doing them. It’s sad when we take for granted the things that truly are gifts to us every day. We start to feel that we are entitled to these things and that we deserve even more. Sometimes we complain that nobody is helping us get back on our feet (without realizing how many people have been trying to push us up while we continue to keep our butts on the floor or worse.. dig deeper holes).

I’ve spent many hours at her home trying to help her learn to break the cycle of CHOAS (see Flylady.net), but she still doesn’t want to do more than the absolute bare minimum (or less). We have our fate and future in our own hands. We have to stand up, shake the dust off ourselves, give ourselves some direction and start moving. I know, this is much harder than it sounds, but many of us sit, waiting and waiting for someone to tell us where to go and how to get there. Most of us don’t have that person to tell us.. and if we did, we would resent them for telling us what to do. It’s up to you. It starts with ending the negativity. Find something positive in your life every day. Stop taking things for granted and tell the people who are helping you how much you appreciate them and what they do. Tell your spouse or significant other that they are important to you. Spend time with your children, even if it’s just cuddling on the sofa under a blanket watching a TV show that they enjoy (you’d be surprised how entertaining the shows are Disney Channel are even for adults if you give it a chance).

You can see the theory of negativity around you even in some of the strangest places. “My name is Earl”. Watch the opening of the first season… the main concept.. I did bad things and bad things happened to me, so if I do good things, good things will happen to me. This concept is true. If you see only the negative things around you, only negative things will happen. If you choose to see the positive things around you, more positive things will happen.

A few weeks ago at my workplace, we were having communication issues that were leading to a lot of bad feelings. Someone left notecards on each desk stating “What I like about you is….” that had a positive message in them. No one will admit to doing it (we’ve asked at each of our staff meetings but no one has confessed), but it was a nice gesture on someone’s part. Even a small gesture can go a long way in letting people know that they are appreciated.

Try an experiment. Nice time you go to the grocery store, smile at everyone that you pass. Now, how many people smile back (it’s a lot). If you get stuck behind someone in an aisle. Don’t fume, smile, wait patiently (Don’t huff “EXCUSE ME”). I’ve on occassion simply turned around and gone around the aisle the other way. You can act angry and feel angry and shopping can be a bad experience or you can walk leisurely, act friendly and shop reasonably stress-free (this works best if you leave small children with a spouse).

Try seeing the positive just once a day. Try smiling at strangers for no reason (OK, not a crazy smile, just a small friendly greeting smile). Tell the well dressed woman in front of you in line that you admire her outfit, speak kindly to the cashier, especially if she seems rushed or rattled). Small gestures are meaningful to the people you share them with. Good things happen to you when you end the negativity, you will be more relaxed, you will be less angry, you will feel more loved. What can it hurt?

Post Easter Ponderings

It’s been quite a few months and I’ve fallen behind on my blogging (and a lot of other things recently).

Of course, the Christmas season is always hectic and my oldest son was home from college again for a few weeks. How strange it still is to only see him twice a year as he attends school 1,000 miles away from what I still think of as his home. He’ll be graduating in only a few months and we’re still uncertain what part of the country he’ll end up in. He’ll be receiving a degree in computer science, but his actual major is Video Game Design and Development.

Who would have thought, as we played our commodore 64 in college and wrote our reports on DOS based programs that our children would have such an amazing world of opportunities with computers. I still recall wanting to take Vo-Tech courses in data entry which involved punch cards. What a difference just over 20 years makes.

In January, my step-father was diagnosed with a new brain tumor and received surgery soon after. This is his second fight against a very relentless illness. It’s been quite a struggle for he and my mother and of course, we’ve been doing anything we can to help them. We’ll be celebrating his 65th birthday next week, one we weren’t sure we’d see a year ago and with each one we pray it won’t be his last.

Earlier this month, our 27-yr-old nephew committed suicide after a long battle with a Bi-Polar Disorder which kept him constantly at war with his demons. We still don’t know how to make sense of this, including the fact that his two young sons have lost their father, the youngest one as he grows won’t remember the sound of his voice or the glimmer in his eyes. We loved him and we may never come to terms with the fact that we couldn’t help him because he wouldn’t help himself, refusing to take the medication which kept the demons leashed. So frustrating when I’ve heard it from my own son “I don’t like the way it makes me feel.” We’ve lost him in body only, his spirit lives on in us and his children. We can only hope he’s found the peace that he so desparately searched for in vain while here on earth. Goodbye Randy, we love you, we miss you, I wish you hadn’t had to leave us, I hope you found what you were looking for and that you’re whole and well now. Our hearts are broken as we try to hold on to the good times we’ve each had with you.

When our nephew was stationed in Kuwait, he’d send emails periodically, often complaining about the taste of the sand as well as the difficulty sending email. Here’s a blurb that summed up his personality:

“The post I work on has set up a firewall that doesn’t allow me to get to my hotmail account. The only way I can get on hotmail is to drive for about an hour and a half and walk into a 5-star hotel like I own the place.”

That was his way, no matter what was going on, when he walked in the door, he’d yell, “alright I’m here, let’s get this thing started.” Wherever you are now Randy, I know you walked in like you owned the place.

Holiday Fire Safety

This content is provided by the Philadelphia Fire Department and is a reminder to all to prevent tragedies such as the one that took the life of local 2nd grader Amanda Shoenberger and her parents in a preventable Christmas Eve fire. The only smoke detector in the home had no battery.

Take a moment NOW to prevent a holiday fire tragedy. This is a timely reminder from the Fire Prevention Division which urges everyone to keep fire safety in mind when handling trees, lighting, decorations, wrapping, and gifts.

Here are some suggestions for keeping the Holidays “Happy.”

ELECTRICAL

  • Check light wiring and sockets for breaks and shorts; replace as necessary
  • Never connect more than three strands of lights to one extension cord.
  • Use only UL (Underwriter’s Laboratory) listed decorations and cords
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to house, trees, or posts, with sockets pointing down to keep moisture from collecting. Don’t use indoor lights outside.
  • Do not use electric lights on metallic trees. Use spotlights instead for illumination.
  • Turn off electrical decorations when you leave home or go to bed.

CANDLES

  • Do not use candles near decorations in your home.
  • Avoid placing candles near drapes or curtains.
  • Place candles in a safe base to prevent tipover.
  • Keep candles out the reach of children, and where they won’t be knocked over by pets. Do not leave candles burning in unoccupied rooms.

TRIMMINGS

  • Live decorations such as evergreen boughs and wreaths, laurel and holly last longer and are less of a safety hazard when displayed outside. Indoors, place them in water if possible and keep them away from heat sources. Discard promptly when dry.
  • Make sure artificial decorations are labeled “flame resistant,” or “fire retardant.”
  • Apply artificial spray “snow” in well-ventilated areas and avoid using near ignition sources.

TREES

  • If you buy a natural grown tree, be sure it is fresh. When the tree is brought home, cut the trunk about one inch above the original cut. Place the tree in water and leave it outdoors, if possible, until you are ready to decorate it.
  • When you bring the tree into your home, place it in a sturdy stand with plenty of room for water. Check the water level and add as needed. Keep the tree away from stairs, doorways, and exits. Never run electric trains under the tree, a spark could set it on fire.
  • Take the tree down as soon as the needles start to fall off; place the tree, untied and free of decorations, outdoors in a safe area until rubbish removal day.

ALCOHOL AND CIGARETTES

  • Overindulgence on holidays by those who drink, particularly if they also smoke, contributes to thousands of house fires and other accidents every year. Droppd cigarettes, often associated with drinking, are the nation’s leading cause of fire deaths.
  • Check ashtrays carefully, letting them stand overnight before emptying.
  • Check furniture, carpets, and wastebaskets for smoldering cigaretters after entertaining.
  • Keep alcohol and smoking materials out of the reach of children

HOLIDAY GIFTS

  • Having trouble finding a gift for a family member or friend? Lithium batter smoke alarms make thoughtful gifts. Escape ladders and carbon monoxide alarms show your concern for your loved ones and make Holiday shopping easier. Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and plan a home fire drill.

Some other general holiday reminders include: keep children from playing under or near Holiday trees, to avoid the danger of it falling over; be especially careful with matches and smoking materials; and review the family’s home escape plan for quick exit in case of a fire emergency. Also, even with the pressure of last-minute shopping and errands, never leave children alone or without proper supervision.

If your family is financially unable to purchase smoke detectors for your home, please contact your local fire departments. Many fire departments offer programs to donate smoke detectors or provide them at greatly reduced rates.

Raymond Yeager Fund – Postcards or Baseball Caps Needed

Normally I don’t pass along this type of information, because by the time I receive it, the information is so outdated that the family is begging people to stop sending whatever it is that was initially requested. In this case, it’s quite current and there’s a blog where you can monitor the status to see if your support is still wanted.

This call is being sent out to truck drivers, but we can all reach out to help a child/young man in need of moral support during a very trying time fighting a terrible disease, neuroblastoma. Ray is going to feel much worse before he starts feeling better, so at the very least, say a prayer for the families dealing with cancer.

The information below can be found at www.operationroger.com‘s bulletin board

POSTCARDS OR BASEBALL CAPS ETC NEEDED
RAYMOND JONATHAN YEAGER, 14, went water skiing on Friday, July 6, 2007, woke up Saturday morning with a severe stomach ache, and was taken to the hospital. Exploratory surgery revealed an advance tumor called neuroblastoma, level 3, cancer. He is currently facing 5 – 6 months of chemotherapy followed by 6 months of radiation hoping to shrink the tumor so it can be removed. Surgery currently cannot be performed because the tumor is wrapped around blood vessels. Doctors stated Raymond will be hospitalized for approximately one YEAR!

His father, Raymond Yeager, Sr, is currently a team member with Operation Roger … Truckers Pet Transport and drives for Shaffer Trucking. Raymond, Sr., told his son truck drivers from all over the country would probably send him postcards or ball caps. At first Raymond, Jr. scoffed at the idea then after thinking about it, brightened, and said “That would be way cool.”

We, at Operation Roger, are asking everyone reading this to take a moment to send Raymond a postcard or whatever to show him your support at this trying time of his young life. His NEW address is:

Raymond J. Yeager, Jr.
Ronald McDonald House
621 Oak Street, S.E., Room 137
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Updates can be seen by clicking on the Form Name “POSTCARDS…”

If you wish to forward this on to someone else, please feel free to do so.

Classy Lady
Operation Roger … Truckers Pet Transport

For up to date information, visit http://www.operationroger.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=565

Lessons to teach

My son is away at college, 1,000 miles away. We went over a lot of critical skills that he needed to learn before he went: how to be responsible with his debit card, managing his account online, how to do laundry, and all the finer points of life. There were a lot of humorous spots along the way. Yesterday, it became clear that the fine art of mailing was not gone over well enough. My son needed to send me some documents for his next round of student loans. The first time, luckily I was still with him setting up his first apartment when the documents arrived needing both our signatures, this time, he needed to print them, sign them and send them to me… his first question… where do I get an envelope that will fit them (about 14 pages). I had to laugh, apparently it wasn’t obvious that any stationery store (Walmart, Staples, even the Post Office itself might be a source of these mysterious envelopes). To make things simple on his since he has a very difficult school schedule (they actually attend class 40 hours a week)., I suggested he just get one at the Post Office since he’d need to stop there anyway (at least, this was assumed). Yesterday, the package arrived in the mail… 12-14 pages, in a large padded envelope (wouldn’t want them to break I suppose LOL), with a single stamp attached… and accompanied by an envelope from the mail carrier requesting an additional 72 cents. Obviously, it never once occurred to my son that the post office looked at different sized packages different.. I mean, they did have to get to my house anyway didn’t they 🙂

So.. this will be our next life lesson.. not everything that fits in an envelop can be sent with a single stamp LOL.

Over the past year, probably one of our most humorous moments (OK, maybe it was only funny for me), was when he told me that he couldn’t use his debit card. He tried it at two different gas stations and the ATM. So, on our next trip to Walmart, we went to the ATM and I had him show me what he was doing, assuming it was something obvious like putting in the card backwards or upside down.. nope.. he had it perfect… read the instructions to the letter. “Push in and pull out quickly”. You’d have thought the boy was sticking his hand in the mouth of an alligator.. he pushed and pulled the card so fast it didn’t stand a chance. I started laughing immediately. It is quite easy to misunderstand those innocent instructions if you think about it. So, we learned that the push in was soft, the pull out was smooth and not even close to as fast as he was trying to do it… and success was found LOL. I look back and try to remember if my new-found adulthood was this difficult. I’m sure he’s laughing at me too, trying to figure out new things (like how to use my MySpace account.. I finally managed to post a few pictures) and pronounce chatspeak works (somehow I don’t think I’ll ever past p*wn LOL), but we’re both learning how to function in the world (real and cyber). It’ll continue to be a grand adventure for both of us I’m sure.

Trying to find a bargain

Yesterday, we headed out to the York Fairgrounds for one of those Merchandise closeout type sales they hold in expo centers everywhere. We’d tried this once before and weren’t too impressed with what we saw, but it had been a few years and we decided to try again. The admission was $6 per adult (free for kids 12 and under) so our grand total was $12 to get in. Of course, the advertisements promised $99 TV’s, $5 Levi jeans, and all kinds of other incentives to show up. The first thing in the door, there were signs everywhere saying that the jeans price was a misprint and there were no HDTV’s or anything else worth showing up for basically. This show was about half the size of the last one we attended and no real bargains that I could see. Clothes were still do expensive (we’d have done better at the outlet malls nearby), computers were along the historical reference book category (most were slower than my oldest computer which is 6 years old). Very disappointing, total waste of $12 and to be honest, someone should sue them for false advertising. We tried it twice… not doing it again.

 Some good did come of our excursion though. We stopped by Value City on our way home. This is not a store that would be anywhere in our normal commute. There we found quite a few clothes on discount, 40% off in most cases. My daughter has been outgrowing her pants, in height not waist. We were able to find her quite a few pair of pants, many with matching belts that were only 5.99 – 7.99 after the discounts. I spent $102 dollars on a bag full of pants and a few shirts for me. There are a lot of children’s clothes posted on Freecycle, and it’s very easy to get rid of things there, but there’s a lot of competition to receive clothes, so I normally don’t even try. My daughter gets a lot of hand-me-downs from friends which she loves, but somehow, we ended up with a lot of size 6 pants which are all getting too short, she too small for the next full size up, so strangely enough, we’re finding a lot of size 5/6 and 6x that find her (beats me how a child can be too tall for a 6 but the 5/6’s are longer, it may just be manufacturer or just the style these days with the bootcuts and such).

One more stop at Ollies rounded out the day. I got a great book on making storage shelves and cabinets for only 4.99. I’m pre-planning making over my son’s old bedroom into an office after he graduates from college. I’m hoping to do a great “Trading Spaces” type makeover on a tight budget. After watching what they do to create storage, I  think just about anyone with some self-confidence and the right tools can be pretty inventive on their own. I LOVE to watch TLC’s Flip This House and Property Ladder. It’s really opening my eyes to what can be done with the space I already have. Sometimes, you just have to allow yourself to experiment and realize anything you don’t like, you can always paint over later 😉