How to REALLY Prepare for a Winter Storm

Growing up in Buffalo, NY, I know a thing or two about living through a winter storm. As weather patterns keep changing, we all need to be prepared for the winter storm season. Here’s how to really prepare for a winter storm.

Start In The Fall, Or As Soon As Possible

Preparing in advance for a New England Winter will save you a lot of headaches when the snow starts falling. As soon as the weather starts getting cold, or before late January/early February hits, do the following:

  • Get your heating system serviced so you know it is good working order.
  • Clean your gutters to avoid ice dams.
  • Inspect and clean your chimney.
  • Weatherproof your doors and windows.
  • Make sure you have fire extinguishers and know how to use them.
  • Have your shovels at the ready. Keep WD40 handy to spray the shovel so snow doesn’t stick.
  • Purchase rock salt or similar product to use on sidewalks and entryways.
  • Check your flashlight supplies. Purchase extra batteries.
  • Purchase a weather radio so you can stay up to date on weather conditions if you lose power.
  • Inventory your blankets. Do you have enough for everyone in your house if you were to lose power and a way to heat your home?
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors if you don’t already have them. Check expiration dates if you do have them installed.
  • Investigate cooking alternatives.
  • Purchase hand and foot warmers.
  • If you are working, check your company’s inclement weather policy.
  • Check all internet and remote access connections if you work from home or plan to.

Pre-Winter Vehicle Preparation

Get your car serviced and winterized in late November. Follow your vehicle’s manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedule. Determine if you will need snow tires and if so, have them put on your vehicle. Put a snow shovel, extra windshield wiper fluid, and an ice scraper in your vehicle. Ensure your roadside assistance membership is up to date.

When A Storm is Predicted

Running out to a gas station or grocery store is the last thing you want to do the day before a winter storm. You also don’t want to be working from home and realize you can’t get online because your IT department has changed your remote access protocols. Avoid these problems and more by doing the following as soon as a winter storm is predicted.

  • Go to the grocery store first. Get milk, bread, and meals for whatever the duration of the predicted storm is. Do this as soon as the storm is predicted.
  • Fill the gas tank of your vehicle. Add extra weight, such as a bag of cat litter or sand, to the trunk, if you have a front wheel drive vehicle to prevent getting stuck on unplowed roads.
  • Charge all electronic devices.
  • Know where all your emergency items are and make sure you have easy access to them.
  • Inventory your water supply. Make sure you have at least 3 gallons of water per person for at least 3-5 days.
  • Check your prescription meds to make sure you won’t run out for at least 2 weeks.
  • Pick up pet food.
  • Make sure you have gasoline for your snowblower and extra shovels if your driveway is too small for a snowblower. If you are unable to clear your own driveway, contact a shovel or plowing service in advance to ensure you don’t get stranded.
  • Stock up on flashlights and blankets in the event of a power loss.
  • Don’t forget your pets! Pick up extra cat litter, wee wee pads for dogs, and pet food.

When The Snow Starts Falling

Stay safe during a winter storm with the following tips and to dos.

  • Let every faucet run ever so slightly to avoid pipes freezing if temperatures dip below freezing.
  • Keep your thermostat at the same temp in the night to avoid pipes freezing.
  • Use flashlights over candles to avoid fires.
  • If you lose power, close doors to unused rooms and wrap pipes in towels to keep them warm.
  • Dress in layers if you lose power.
  • Have family members bunk up in the same bed to share body heat.
  • Use your garage as a refrigerator if you lose power. Use the outside as your freezer. You are less likely to lose food this way.

Winter storms are by far one of the most challenging aspects of life in New England, but with some advanced preparation, you and your family can stay safe and warm during even the worst Old Man Winter has to offer.

Photo Licensed from Adobe Stock.

How to Shop at Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Home Goods

Discount department stores can be a great source of high quality, brand name merchandise at deep discounts. They can also be a potential drain on your budget, and source of clutter, if you don’t shop carefully. Have you ever notices when you go to these discount stores that you are drawn to go into the entire store to find what you are looking for? You may have one particular item on your shopping list and before you know it you have much more in your shopping cart. Try these strategies to avoid overbuying. Here are some helpful tips and strategies on how to shop at Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, and Home Goods.

  • Shop Your List – Just like you do when you go grocery shopping, you must stick to your list. Don’t get sucked into a cute bobble as it is going to end up being clutter in your home and a drain on your budget.
  • Take A Shopping Cart – Even if you are only going for one item, taking a shopping cart makes it harder for you to navigate through their clothing aisles. If you are going for a particular clothing item, you may still want to take the cart and just go into the clothes section and ONLY look for that item.
  • Know Your Prices – Not all items at a discount department store are bargains. Be aware of the prices and consumer reviews on different items before you buy. Know what you can find for less at each department store and what you might be better waiting for a sale at Macy’s. A few solid staples that you can consistently get for less at a TXJ store Include: K-Cups, travel snacks such as chips, popcorn, etc., gourmet flavored coffee, fat free coffee syrup, drink mixers, sheet sets, certain brands of makeup and skincare products, and workout wear.
  • Use Tunnel Vision on the Checkout Line – Have you noticed that discount department stores make you wind through a line that have merchandise on both sides of that line? They are betting on you making a rash decision while you are waiting to check out. Don’t get sucked in!!! Instead, focus on what is IN your cart and make sure it is indeed what you came shopping for and not an unplanned purchase.

Lots of thought goes into how stores are laid out and how to draw shoppers into making more purchases than they planned. Try not to be one of those shoppers! You can do it!

Photo Licensed from Adobe Stock

Getting Your Child Organized For the College Application Process

Preparing for college starts with the often terrifying college application process. In order to create a successful college application your teenager need to organize the data they will need and have it ready when they sit down to fill out applications. Getting your child organized for the college application process doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Being prepared will make this task so much easier for you and your teen.

  • Identify The Top 3 – Knowing which colleges your teen wants to apply is the first step in this process. By now you probably have visited all the colleges that are on the top of your teen’s wish list. Schedule an appointment with your teen and their guidance counselor to narrow down the list to the 3 best schools.
  • Create a List – Each college has its own application information and documentation requirements. Create a spreadsheet or word document table with a checklist of all of the application requirements for each college your child intends to apply to. Creating a checklist will ensure nothing is missed and that everything the college needs has been supplied to them.
  • Gather What You Need – Before beginning the application, make sure you have all the necessary items the college needs. Gather all of the information you listed on your checklist above together in a single place and separate it into 4 folders or electronic files: “Every College Requires”, “College A Requirements”, “College B Requirements”, “College C Requirements”. Then when you are ready to complete the application it will be a simple step to locate what they are asking you to upload.
  • Know The Application Deadlines – On the spreadsheet you create make sure you include the deadline for each application. Each college may have a different date and you don’t want to miss any deadlines. The colleges are very strict in this area, so don’t ignore the dates.
  • Allocate Ample Time – You know the deadlines, DON’T wait until the night before to start working on the application. Essays may have to be written and who wants to cram on this step? Map out time to work on the essays and the applications weeks before the deadline.

Getting the applications completed will be well worth the time you put in beforehand by properly being prepared. What a great life lesson to pass on to your teen! Celebrate when all the applications are completed. You both deserve it!

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How To Take a Standardized Test

An essential component of passing any sort of exam, from a high school or college mid-term to the SAT, ACT, GRE, or GMAT is knowing how to take a test. Use these tips to prepare yourself for taking exams and you will succeed, no matter the test. Here’s how to take a standardized test

  • Study Daily– Learning is a gradual process, not an instantaneous one. You cannot ignore a textbook all semester and learn everything you need to know to pass the final two weeks before semester’s end. If you want to succeed you need to start studying way before the actual exam date. Start by studying for at least an hour a day. Don’t wait till the last minute to cram for your exam!
  • Mix It Up– Besides just reading, try another way to learn. Are there online instructional videos you can watch? Take a practice test. Flash cards work for any sort of material and are easy to make. The important thing is to change it up, so your brain is learning in different, but important ways.
  • Know The Rules– How is your test scored? How much time do you have to take the exam? Is it a digital or pen and paper exam? Are you penalized for incorrect answers? Can you go back and change your answer or skip a question and go back to it? Ask and get the answers to these questions in advance of the exam. This information will be helpful and less stressful to you if you know in advance how to take the exam.
  • Get A Good Night’s Rest– This is the most important component to setting yourself up for success. Don’t stay up the night before cramming for the test. Get a good night’s sleep. Set at least 2 alarms so you don’t oversleep and miss or be late for the exam!
  • Don’t Skip Breakfast– Make sure you eat a good breakfast. Don’t skip it! Eat protein and avoid sugar so you don’t crash mid exam. Drink plenty of water so that you are well hydrated and don’t get thirsty during the exam.
  • Gather What You Need– Make sure you have all the items you need to take the exam. Do you need to bring a calculator, your own pencils? Arrive early. Scope out the room.
  • Eliminate What You Don’t– Use the bathroom prior to exam time. Leave the cellphone in the car or at home, or if you must have it with you in the exam room, turn it not just to silent, but off entirely. Even a silent phone will still vibrate, creating an unnecessary distraction.
  • Do What You Know First– If you can, read the entire test. Then go back and answer all of the questions you immediately know the answers to. Answer the rest of the questions in the order of difficulty, doing the slightly difficult questions after you answer the easiest ones and saving the most difficult questions to answer last. This will maximize your time and ensure you the best possible score.
  • Review– IF time permits, do take the time to review your answers, especially, if you were unsure of a question but were at first concerned about timing. It’s ok to change an answer. Trust that you put in the time to study and are in control and know your stuff.
  • Don’t Panic– Most importantly, try to stay calm. If you feel yourself starting to panic, take deep, long breaths. Don’t be hard on yourself if a lot of the room has finished. Take whatever allotted time you need to complete the exam. Everyone takes a test differently. Trust in yourself that you have prepared for this exam and will the best of your abilities.

The hardest part about taking a test is often not the test content, but overcoming our own fear of taking the exam. By following these tips, you can increase your self-confidence on test day, allowing you to ultimately ace even the most difficult test. It’s important to remember, that while you can always retake a class, an exam, or a standardized test such as the SAT, you cannot take back the hours of agony you spent stressing out over taking the exam. Don’t spend time doing that.

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Get Rid of Those Unhealthy Habits!

The old adage that diets – food, financial or otherworldly – don’t work is true. A diet is a temporary restriction or elimination of something to reach a specific goal. Studies have shown that most food-related diets fail. Instead of dieting, setting up a strict budget, or restricting something you love (that is otherwise healthy in small amounts), focus on purging unhealthy food, financial, and procrastination habits. The scale and your savings account will almost invariably follow. Here’s how to get rid of those unhealthy habits!

  • Know Yourself – The first step in breaking a habit is to recognize it as a habit, be it grabbing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s when you’re feeling down or hitting up Macy’s after a stressful day at the office. Ask yourself how you benefit in the long term from that comfort food or mall binge. If the answer is no, ask yourself if you really want to break that habit. Be sure to answer honestly, just to yourself. If the answer is “Yes, I know this is bad for me and I want to break this habit,” then proceed. If the answer is “Maybe” or “No”, pause.
  • List Reasons Why– Regardless of whether or not you are ready to break a habit, you can still improve your life by increasing your level of self-awareness. Start by listing all of the reasons why you need to break that habit in positive statements such as: “Breaking that habit will improve my energy,” or “Breaking that habit will allow me to take the kids to Disneyworld next year”. It doesn’t matter how long or short of positive reasons are, the important part is writing it down.
  • Make the Decision to Start– With your self awareness and commitment to stop the habit, each day you need to consciously act on stopping. Getting in the practice of saying self-acclamations is really powerful. Saying, I choose to eat healthy (or whatever the bad habit is that you want to break) often will enforce the change within you.
  • Take Action– Here is where you need to have a plan of attack. Start small so you don’t burnout and fail before the week is out. Want to lose weight? Start an account on MyFitnessPaland start tracking calories or join Weight Watchers. Don’t purge anything from your daily diet, just track. Trying to save money? Grab an empty jar and at the end of every week, drop your pocket or wallet change into it. Want to get in shape? Start by walking at a comfortable pace every other day.
  • Accountability– Tell your closest circle of friends and family. Set aside time every week and go to Weight Watchers meetings. Share your goal and plan. If you are comfortable, ask them to check in on your progress. By telling others you have really made a commitment to take charge of changing your bad habits.
  • Increase The Difficulty– As you become more and more comfortable with cutting calories, saving money, and/or exercise, increase the difficulty. Use the NIH website to figure out your healthy weight and calorie range and enter that number into MyFitnessPal. Add an extra dollar or two to that jar of coins. Add some wrist weights to your every-other-day walk or change it up to a daily walk.
  • Deal with Failure– You will not be alone when I tell you that you will have setbacks. Everyone does. There’s always that party you overeat at. You will fall prey to that sale at Macy’s. You’ll occasionally miss your walk. The key is how you handle those things. Pick yourself up and acknowledge actions. Ask yourself why they happened and file the information away for the next time. Then get moving. Recommit to breaking that habit and off you go!
  • Reward Yourself– Keep a chart so you know your progress. Give yourself a reward at various goal points. It doesn’t have to be something big. But congratulating yourself will encourage you to keep going!

Habits are hard to break. We all know it. However, the reward is unbelievable!

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How to Give Gifts Without Breaking Your Budget

Seems like we just finished our December holiday shopping and here comes Valentine’s day. The stores are full of gifts for the occasion. Advertisements saying, “Follow Your Heart” and “Share The Love With [Insert Gift Suggestion]” abound. Just because the calendar says it’s February 14thand Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you have to be sucked into the Hallmark holiday. Gifts and experiences don’t have to break the bank. There are many ways you can show your love to another person without having to spend big bucks. Here’s how to give gifts without breaking your budget.

  • Set A [Mutual] Budget –At the beginning of the year, list out each holiday, and each person you have to buy for in a Word Document Table or Excel File. Set a budget for each person. For spouses, and siblings, nieces and nephews, you can set a mutual budget.
  • Get A Gift Closet– I love the idea of a gift closet. In my case it’s actually a large drawer in my home office. Set aside your own personal space to capture gifts throughout the year. As you see something you know someone on your list will love on sale or otherwise, grab it and put it in the “Gift Closet.” You can also put gifts you received that you intend to regift in this space.
  • Shop The Sales– A friend of mine’s father’s all around favorite gift is an iTunes gift card. Each year at Christmas she grabs a discount multipack of them at Target or BJs. They go into the gift closet. Each dad-related holiday: his birthday, Father’s Day, etc., she grabs a gift card from the closet. Or maybe it’s a teen who has a full, technology-laden wish list by September each year. As soon as something they wants goes on sale, grab it. HINT: If you are buying tech, including video gaming systems and games, purchase an extended warranty. It will cover the period it stays in the gift closet and then some.
  • It Doesn’t Have To Be Diamonds– The old saying “It’s the thought that counts” is true. A good friend of mine is remarried five years. Her husband has never given her a diamond. Instead he pays attention to his wife’s musings throughout the year about things she plans to get “someday.” Every year he buys her something she has repeatedly mentioned from her “someday” list. Every year my friend is floored and amazed that her husband knows her so well. Choose a gift that fits what you know about the giftee.
  • Choose A [Mutual] Theme – This works great for siblings and significant others. Agree to give each other a certain item, or an item in a certain theme, each holiday. This can be t-shirts, pajamas, mugs, or anything else you can think of. Choosing a theme and a specific item to give each other eliminates the “I don’t know what to get them” conundrum and helps keep you on budget.
  • Gift Basket– This one works great for Bridal and Baby Showers. Think of all of the things a new couple and/or a new baby needs and create a custom gift basket. Find a pretty basket and start filling it with items that you know that person loves. It could be a themed basket such as spa treatments they can do at home or if the person loves to cook, it could be gadgets to make cooking easier or ingredients to create a really special meal.
  • Hand Written Note– One of my favorite Grandparent Gifts is the handwritten note and photo combo. This works for anyone. Write a note to your loved one. If that is hard to do, pull down a couple photos from Facebook or your Smartphone and make a collage in Microsoft Word with a caption under each. This can be pictures of you and that person, or pictures of, in the case of grandparents, the grandkids.

In today’s connected world, it’s very hard not to be sucked in by smart marketing campaigns and miss the important thing: the person you find important enough to give a gift to. By keeping it really personal, your gift will mean more than the standard chocolates and flowers. Remember, love is in the everyday little things.

Photo: Licensed From Adobe Stock

Creating a Budget You Can Live With

January is an excellent time to take a hard look at your finances. You’re already starting to gather the financial paperwork you need to start your taxes. While you go through your checkbook for charitable donations, business expenses, and other things you need to bring to your accountant, take note of where your money is going and reassess your budget. If you don’t have a budget, it’s time to set one up. Knowing where your money goes and staying on top of how much you have to spend will prevent credit card debt, increase savings, and ensure you are prepared for the unexpected. Here’s how to create a budget you can live with.

  1. Chart It – Start by creating a simple, 2 column table in Microsoft Word, or if you are familiar with Microsoft Excel, open up a new Excel Worksheet. Label 1 column in either software “Expenses” and the other “Income”. This seems like a no-brainer, but most budgets fail because people don’t list everything, they spend money on. Creating a blank table in either Word or Excel will facilitate creating and storing for future reference.
  2. Get Into the Nitty Gritty – Start by listing all of your expenses every month. Do this by going through your checkbook or online checking account and credit card statements. Note any recurring expenses, major bills, and how much you spend in general for necessary items with variable costs such as gasoline, car repairs, car maintenance, groceries, medical expenses, prescription drug expenses, and entertainment. Be completely honest with yourself. Do not leave any stone unturned.
  3. Categorize It – Once you have a list of all of your expenses, sort them into categories. Common categorizes include: Household Expenses such as Rent/Mortgage, Cable/Internet/Phone, Cell Phone, Electric, Water, etc., Automotive Expenses such as Gasoline, Maintenance, Roadside Emergency Service Club Dues, and Personal Expenses such as haircuts, clothing, makeup, and even manicures and pedicures if you get them. Be sure to include a category for Charitable Giving and Entertainment to make sure these expenses are factored in to your budget.
  4. Add It Up – Once you have categorized all of your expenses, write down the amount spent on each item based on your most recent statement. For variable expenses such as electric bills, cable bills, and water bills, I recommend taking the last 3 payments, averaging them, and writing down the average. When every expense is listed, add up the total and write it in a final box below all of the expenses. This is the amount of money you spend each month.
  5. Review Your Paycheck – Once you’ve got all your expenses listed and categorized, review your last two paychecks and determine your average monthly income. You can also look at your W2 from last year and take your gross net pay and divide by 12 to get a monthly average. Helpful hint: if you’re online to your employer’s website, reviewing your paycheck is a perfect time to review your W-4 withholding as well to make sure it is correct in light of new tax laws. For additional information on the latest W-4 regulations, check out this articlewritten by my BNI Minutemanmember Damien Falato. Write your average monthly income in the income column of your chart or worksheet.
  6. Where Else Does The Money Come From? – List any additional reliable income you receive, such as child support payments, alimony, or income from part time work below your salary in the “Income” column of your chart or worksheet.
  7. Subtract It – Subtract your expenses from your income. If you have a positive number, that is a great start. If your number is less than zero, you will need to see what expenses can be reduced for you are spending more than you make. The easiest category to cut is “Spending”. You can reduce the number of meals you eat out, the number of movies you see in a theater, and even the number of streaming services you have. The second easiest category to cut is “Gifts.” You can significantly reduce your spending on birthday, holiday and other gifts by shopping sales and creating a gift closet, or choosing to only give gifts to those closest to you and setting a budget for each person.
  8. Maintain It – Maintain your budget by recording every penny you spend. You can do this multiple ways: Quicken,YouNeedABudget,Mint, and EveryDollaror good old pen to paper. If you use a credit card for every purchase, you can download this info into an app or online budgeting program. If you spend cash, you will need to record that as well. Keeping receipts will help you with cash spending. Then at least once a week, if not more frequently, record your spending, or download your transactions so you see where you stand before the month is out. This will make it very clear where you are overspending and any adjustments you need to make.
  9. Expect the Unexpected – Things happen. You will need to create a line item for emergency saving. Experts say you should have at least 6-9 months of income saved for an emergency. Don’t freak out if you don’t have this YET. You have to start somewhere, today is the day to start saving for the unexpected.
  10. To Use Electronic Budgeting Software or Not? – Quicken, YouNeedABudget, and Mint all offer budgeting solutions. There are also a wide variety of templates out there for creating a budget in Excel. I recommend a basic excel spreadsheet that lists all of your expenses, and your income, copied 12 times, with each tab labeled for a different month of the year, and saved as a workbook. I also suggest Quicken for basic checkbook management. Quicken forces you to categorize each expense and therefore track your money more effectively. Of course, these solutions only work if you consistently update them.

By creating a budget, you will no longer be in the dark on where you stand financially. It will also help you evaluate where you are spending your money and identify ways you can save for your future.

Image Licensed from Adobe Stock.

How to Organize Your Holiday Décor

The holidays are over, but the cleanup has just begun. Here’s how to quickly organize your holiday décor and store it for easy access next year.

  1. Capture It– If you like the way you decorated your home this year, take a smartphone photo of each area of your home you decorated, inside and out, and save them in a file called “Holiday Photos” on your computer. You can add other holiday photos to this folder as well. You can pull these photos up next year and know exactly how to decorate your house for the new holiday season. 
  2. Protect It –If you decorate a tree, you have ornaments that need to be stored. The easiest way to put away ornaments is to have a storage container that has dividers for the ornaments. This way you don’t have to individually wrap each ornament. All of the big box stores put these boxes on sale the week after New Years. For smaller ornaments, wrap each one individually in newspaper or used wrapping paper and store them two to a compartment. This will prevent scratching or breaking. 
  3. Wrap It Up –Locate a sturdy piece of cardboard, cut it to 12” wide by 18” long, and wrap your holiday lights around the 18” section. Place all of your lights in a separate holiday container. An Amazon shipping box works or empty liquor box works great for this purpose. Next year you won’t have to untangle the lights when you put them out. You can also use this trick for garlands.
  4. Box It –Place holiday figurines, candle holders, village houses, and other collectibles in boxes appropriate for their size and shape. If you have the original boxes for these items, use those.  If not, here is a great way to reuse all of those empty boxes that seem to be generated during the holidays, including clothes boxes, kitchen appliances boxes, shoeboxes, and even jewelry boxes. Be sure to wrap everything in a protective cover before putting it into the box first. 
  5. Sort It All Out– There are 2 different ways to store room décor. The first is to put like items with like items. All your Santa’s would get gathered and put into a storage bin. The second way to store room décor is by the room they were in (if you want to easily repeat how you decorated your home). Each storage bin is labeled by room and you can list the items in the bin for easy retrieval. 
  6. Label Everything! –Label your storage boxes with a black sharpie magic marker in big letters. Note the contents and the room it goes into. Put this information on the storage container lid and at least 1 side of the box so you can easily find identify the contents if the box is stacked in storage. I like to use 2 labels. One for the short side and the other for the long side of the container.
  7. Make a List –As you are putting away your holiday decorations, make a list of what you need for next year. Was your tree short of hanging ornaments? Did the lightbulbs burn out on your electric or battery-operated candles? Better to know now what you will need next year so you are sure to buy them early in the season before the pickings are scarce.
  8. Wreaths –If your wreaths aren’t too oversized, you may find it easier to store them in round containers designed specifically for wreaths. If you can’t find them this time of year, put that on your list for next year before they are sold out.

Putting the holiday decorations away isn’t nearly as fun as getting ready for the holiday, but, if you do it in an organized fashion, it shouldn’t be so awful. You can always hire a professional organizer to help you if you are so inclined.

Photo Purchased from Adobe Stock

Consolidate Large Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is the white elephant in everyone’s checkbook. No one wants to talk about how much debt they have or have accidentally walked into. All of those store card application offers you accept to get your percentage off at the register and the sheer access to credit that most people have these days means that credit card debt can quickly spiral out of control without you even realizing it. This can happen even if you’re staying on top of your credit card bills and paying them off or on time. A large number of credit cards can reduce your credit score because you have that much credit out and available to you. Here’s how to quickly consolidate large credit card debt when you see that you’ve got one or more large outstanding balances.

  • Who do you owe?– Sounds like a silly question but unless you have a list in front of you showing you the creditor, the amount owed, and the interest rate, it’s hard to know the big picture of your debt. Sit down and list each creditor, the status of the credit card, and the amount you owe. Update this list every month.
  • Pay the at least the minimum each month– It’s not the most ideal situation by only paying the minimum due each month but if you don’t you will incur late fees and more interest charges. Either put the credit cards on autopay to pay the minimum every month or develop a system for paying the minimum so you don’t forget to pay. If you can, pay a few dollars over the minimum every month to stay ahead.
  • Pay It Off Highest to Lowest – Figure out who is charging you the most interest and pay that debt off first. When you are done, allocate the amount of that payment to the next highest interest debt and so on. You still will pay the minimum due on the other cards, but your focus is to reduce these high interest rate cards first.
  • Set Aside Time– No matter how busy life gets, set aside time each week to review your finances. Reviewing your finances each week allows you to stay on top of your spending at all times. Staying on top of your spending allows you to see areas where you could be saving money and are spending frivolously (meals out anyone?) and make instant adjustments. 
  • Use cash– Ditch your credit cards in a drawer and stick to cash. Visit the bank each week and take out your spending and gas money. Once that money is gone, that’s it. 

It will be a hassle to pay down the debt but in the long run you will have less stress and more time after you consolidate your large credit card debt.

Photo:Steve Bussinne

What Do I Do With All This Memorabilia?

I have worked with many clients over the years, and for some, the area of memorabilia just brings them to a solid halt. They can more easily deal with less emotional objects but the minute we delve into their diaries, school papers, and other memorable items, they all ask me the same thing, ‘What do I do with all this memorabilia?’

  • Sort It– A basic, but necessary, first step is set aside time and go through it all. Discard anything you don’t want your kids to see or that carries no emotional importance. For example, it may be important for you to remember your high school boyfriend, but do your kids really need to know about him? Set aside anything that you want your children to have, or that defines who you are now. My friend still has her scrapbooks from her first marriage in storage. She wants her son to know that she and his father had a happy marriage at one point.  If you can pare down what you are physically keeping to a pre-determined box or container, that will help you know what you can and cannot keep.
  • Scan It– If your diaries or school paper mean something to you and you can’t seem to part with them, why not scan them so you could re-read them and yet, free up valuable real estate? If not, choose just a few pages, cut them out of the diary at the binding, and discard the rest.
  • Take a Picture– If you have any large objects that you would like to remember but don’t want to store the item, take a photo of it. You could create a digital photo album of all your special mementoes’ and whenever you want to remember, look at the album. Just think of it as an early start to any downsizing you may have to do in your life!
  • Box It – After you have pared down your memories, find a special box to store them in. If you still have too many items, maybe you need to go through them once more, so they can all fit in one box. You can easily pick up a memory box at TJ Maxx or Michaels. Choose one that matches your unique personality or the theme you are going for.
  • Frame It – I have seen many lovely shadow boxes of themed memories. One was of special event ticket stubs. Another was pieces of fabric from beloved clothes. A friend of mine lined hers with a velvet background and put her wedding invitation, her husband’s dried boutonniere, and a swatch from her wedding dress in one. Use your imagination and see if there isn’t a theme of memories that you would like to display.

What other ways have you used to save your memories?

Photo: Cristina M. Miller