Ask an Expert // Four Tips to Help You Eliminate Food Waste and Save Money

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Did you know that the average American throws away hundreds of pounds of food every year? That’s a lot of wasted food and a lot of wasted money! These helpful tips from Melanie Jewkes, USU Extension associate professor, will help you cut back on food waste. 


The average American throws away nearly 275 pounds of food each year. The USDA estimates between 30 to 40 percent of America’s food supply is wasted. Not only is good food wasted, but good money, too, equating to about $390 per year per person. While no one should eat unsafe food, consider these strategies to minimize food waste—and put the saved money toward a financial goal.

1. Use fresh foods first. Most fresh and perishable foods that have to be thrown away are simply forgotten. Shop with a list and a plan how you will use the food you purchase. It can be easy to over-purchase when there are sale items, or when many fruits and vegetables are in season, so be realistic about how much your household will eat. Place fresh items at the front of the fridge so you see them when you open the door. Make a list of your fresh foods and place it in a prominent place on the fridge. If you find yourself throwing away fresh produce often because it spoils too quickly, purchase reusable containers or bags that ventilate the air and keep water from sitting on the produce.

2. Store fresh foods properly. Apples can cause nearby produce to ripen or decay more quickly, due to a harmless ethylene they contain that causes food to ripen. To prevent this, keep apples in a produce bag or store them alone in a drawer in the fridge. Onions, potatoes and tomatoes last longer when NOT refrigerated. For storage tips, visit www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.

3. Understand food “expiration” dates. These dates are not created equal, are not required by federal regulations (except infant formula) and do not necessarily mean food is unsafe or expired. Save money and minimize food waste by knowing the difference.

a. The “sell by” date simply tells the store how long to display the product. Consumers should eat or freeze within 3-5 days of the date printed on fresh meat packages.

b. The “use by” dates refer to peak quality, but are not safety dates (except infant formula). They are found most often on fresh and chilled foods like bagged salads.

c. “Best if used by/before” dates indicate when food will have the best quality or
flavor. Even if the “best if used by” date has passed, it should be safe if stored and handled properly. Moisture, time and temperatures affect how quickly food spoils.

4. Use safe methods for preserving foods. Freezing is the quickest way, and most foods freeze nicely. Dehydrating, canning and freeze-drying are other options. Don’t preserve food that is going rotten, as this will affect the quality of the final preserved product. Be sure to follow safe USDA-approved food preservation and storage recommendations. Check out USU Extension’s website extension.usu.edu/canning or contact your local county Extension office for further information.


This article was contributed by Melanie Jewkes, USU Extension associate professor.
 Melanie.jewkes@usu.edu




Ask an Expert // Free Help Filing Your Taxes

Free Tax Help.jpgHave you filed your taxes yet this year? There’s a reason so many people opt to hire someone else to do their taxes for them— it can be a daunting task! Doing them yourself is a good way to save a little money. Read on to learn about free programs to help you get them done.


Now that you have received your W-2 s, are you getting ready to prepare your taxes?

Before you pay a tax preparer, pay for a tax anticipation loan or buy a commercial tax preparation program, look into these two free opportunities for completing your taxes. There is a free service available to Utah citizens through the VITA program if your income is $54,000 or less.  You can go to utahtaxhelp.org. Click on Find a VITA site to find out if there is a free site in your area where trained volunteers can assist you in preparing your tax return and you can apply for earned income tax credits, if you are eligible. You can also call 211 and they can help you find a location in the Salt Lake City area and make an appointment. If you need to file back taxes, you can also check to see if they can assist you with that process.

If your income is $66,000 or less, you can file online for free. This online service is also available at utahtaxhlp.org. Click on File online for free now. You can also access the program by going to myfreetaxes.com. Don’t be alarmed that the information indicates it is brought to you by H&R Block and United Way; it is still free.   

Just think, by doing your taxes for free, any tax return you receive can be used for creating that emergency fund, paying off some bills, starting a college savings plan for your kids or planning  for a vacation. Happy saving in 2018!


This article was written by Marilyn Albertson, Utah State University Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Associate Professor, Salt Lake County




Ask an Expert // Four Tips for Money Mindfulness

Money MindfulnessTry these tips to be more mindful about your finances. 


The common buzzword today seems to be “mindfulness” – mindful eating, mindful exercise, mindful relationships, etc. The idea behind mindfulness is to be more aware. Mindfulness helps us develop attentiveness. Definitions include:

  1. The state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. A mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

If you have ever tried the mindfulness techniques used in yoga, eating or any other area, you know it is not about emptying your mind of all thought, or simply getting rid of all stress. Rather it is about intentionally paying attention to the present without emotion or judgement…which may involve being aware of uncomfortable feelings too. The main point of mindfulness is to help us spend less time worrying and allow us to step back to consider more choices and make decisions more clearly and intentionally, rather than reactively.

This reaction can especially be a problem in finances. Many of us react emotionally or impulsively rather than rationally. Statistics show that the average American household carries around $16,000 in credit card debt, approximately 34 percent of Americans admit to having no money in savings, 61 percent of adults do not keep track of their money and 60 percent have not checked their credit score in the last year. With these startling statistics, it’s important to consider how to achieve money mindfulness and attentiveness.

Money mindfulness allows us to be more present and attentive to what unfolds in our lives…so when we have looming debt, a depleted bank account or an emergency that threatens our financial stability, we can be more mindful in dealing with it. Just like with mindful meditation, it takes focused self-analysis and thought to untangle our thinking and behavior related to money.

Mindfulness regarding money requires us to do four key things:

1) Focus. Focus on the money moves you make. Are they in line with your core values? Focus on the numbers, and determine what they are telling you.

2) Avoid distractions. Avoid the “bling” and learn to live more frugally by cutting money-wasting habits. Learn to push pause on anything that distracts you.

3) Concentrate. Notice why you are spending, and think about what you could do differently and what effect it will have on things that may matter more. So often we spend money on things simply out of habit, emotion or desire.

4) Breathe new life into paying yourself first. Learn to save without feeling you are missing out. Instead, you are breathing new life into a spending plan, financial goals and a monthly budget.

Mindfulness is learning to train your mind to be more present in the moment and to be calmer in your approach and response, and that includes your money.


This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences educator

References:

Claudia Hammond.   Mind over Money: The Psychology of Money and How to Use It Better.

US News and World Report.  How to Cultivate Mindfulness to Curb Spending. https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/2016-03-24/how-to-cultivate-mindfulness-to-curb-spending

Mindful Spending:  The Happy Way to Financial Freedom.  http://www.simplemindfulness.com/mindful-spending-the-happy-way-to-financial-freedom/




Ask an Expert:  25 Holiday Money Wasters

Money Wasters.jpgMake the most of your Christmas budget and avoid these 25 holiday money wasters.


It can’t hurt to spend a little extra during the holidays because, “Tis the Season.” Right? Wrong…it can and does hurt. No matter how caught up in the spirit of Christmas you may get, being wise and careful is the name of the game to keep your finances in good standing when January rolls around. Avoid these 25 holiday money wasters.

  1. Shopping without a budget. Before you make any purchases, figure out how much you can afford to spend, stick to your budget and track your spending. Don’t make purchases you haven’t budgeted for.
  2. Not sharing the cost of entertaining. While it is tempting to just cover all of the costs yourself, share your entertaining costs with guests by assigning them such things as food, paper products and game supplies.
  3. Putting purchases on a credit card. Most of us tend to overspend when using a credit card. We are also less likely to do as much price comparison when we think we will just get it now and be done, then pay for it later. We rationalize that the few extra dollars aren’t that big of a deal breaker.
  4. Using out-of-network ATMs when shopping. Those fees can add up, so plan carefully.
  5. Shopping at the last minute. This can be a tricky one. Sometimes in a rush, we buy too much and spend too much. With that said, sometimes there are still some “perfect” items at a great price later in the game. The trouble is, things are generally picked over, and the frustration may not be worth the savings.
  6. Buying “little” gifts for too many people. In fact, consider an alternative to gift exchanges. Determine a set amount that you donate to a charity, then tell all those would- be-recipients of your gift what you have done.
  7. Buying party supplies at grocery stores. Try discount stores and dollar stores for the majority of your party supply needs.
  8. Not comparing prices. There are a number of great ways to check prices on things, so use them — they are free. Some websites/apps include: www.fatwallet.com (they even have a Black Friday app); www.pricehistories.com; www.consumerworld.org;  www.pricegrabber.com.
  9. Buying new decorations every year. Cut back on the decorations this year, and use last year’s decorations as much as possible. Get creative and put some time and effort into making decorations.
  10. Getting new holiday clothes. We don’t need new holiday attire for a family photo, gathering or night out. Learn how to dress up the basics…like a black dress that can be used many times with just a simple switch of less expensive accessories.
  11. Not taking advantage of free activities.
  12. Buying too many specialty foods or drinks. Carefully plan menus for simple and economical meals for the majority of your holiday dining. Also, carefully plan your special occasion meals watching for sales.
  13. Not shopping a year in advance, when things are considerably reduced at the end of each season.
  14. Not using coupons. This time of year there are some really good deals and promotions…so if there are discounts on items on your list, don’t pass them up. Try www.retailmenot.com for online discount codes at checkout.
  15. Buying overpriced wrapping paper just to make your gifts look “extra special.”
  16. Splurging on meals away from home, or tipping too much when you do go out.
  17. Paying for warranties on appliances and electronics. Odds are that you won’t need the extra coverage because most major appliances don’t break down during the extended-warranty period. Or you might already be covered. The four major credit card networks — Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express — provide up to a year of extended warranty protection for some cardholders, according to credit card comparison site www.cardhub.com.
  18. Not clearly planning your charitable contributions. We all want to help out those in need during the holidays, but we usually either go overboard, don’t plan a set amount or get carried away with everyone who approaches us for help. This can add up quickly.
  19. Paying full price for gift cards. It is possible to find gift cards at a discount. Try these sites www.giftcardgranny.com or www.cardkangaroo.com for up to 50 percent savings sometimes.
  20. Buying “bad” gifts. Be thoughtful well in advance regarding gifts you plan on giving.
  21. Going overboard on your kids. It is an easy thing to do, out of desire to make the season magical and a desire to grant their every wish, but be careful. Stay the course on your predetermined amount of money available for gifts, and live within the reality of your budget.
  22. Running too many errands through poor planning.
  23. Paying too much for shipping. Try www.freeshipping.org for shipping coupons and the date for free shipping for online purchases this holiday season.
  24. Spending too much on greeting cards. There are many places to access e-cards. Or better yet, design your own letter/card in a simple program, and send it electronically. You will save on postage and cards.
  25. Buying for yourself. While you may be worth it, no matter how good the deal, pass it up. On average we spend about $130 on ourselves during the holidays, according to the National Retail Federation. So be careful…that is a lot of money. Imagine what an impact that extra money will make on your gift list. Only a couple more weeks of abstaining from unnecessary personal purchases and you can get back into the swing of spending on yourself at the first of the year – if you have the money.

This article was written by Teresa Hunsaker, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences educator, teresa.hunsaker@usu.edu, (801) 399-8200




Ask an Expert // 6 Tips for Holiday Spending Plus GIVEAWAY

Holiday Spending TIps

Do you have a Christmas budget or spending plan? Here are some tips to help you keep your holiday spending in check. Don’t forget to check out the giveaway link at the end of the post!


Consumers spent $658.3 billion dollars on the holidays last year. Determining how much to spend on Christmas can be a tricky decision. Financial planners advise us to spend no more than 1.5 percent of our income on holiday expenses. So if you made $50K, you’d want to stay under $750 for total holiday spending. If you love the holiday, as I do, but do not want to be paying for it in May, here are a few things to consider now:

 

  1. Stick to it: Focusing on your gift-giving budget is one of the easiest ways to control holiday spending on your terms. Set a total spending limit on gifts. You will want to thoroughly think through the gifts you buy. If it helps you stay within your spending budget, suggest a gift exchange with family members, coworkers, neighbors, etc. Draw names instead of buying gifts for each person.

 

  1. Divvy it up: Once you’ve determined how much to spend on Christmas based on the recommended 1.5 percent, divide up the total among the people you need to buy gifts for, the holiday food extras you need, etc. Finish the spending plan before you start shopping, and keep track of the spending as you go along. There are plenty of Christmas gift budgeting apps on iOS and Android to help. Pick one with high customer ratings and use it to keep your spending plan updated as you go.

 

  1. Set it aside: If you are spending $8 to $10 each day for lunch, pack your lunch and save that money in a separate account for Christmas expenses. Over the next four weeks, that could add up to $200.

 

  1. Shop it smart: We are all familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday (the Monday following Black Friday, is referred to as Cyber Monday, when online retailers offer great deals often including free shipping). These major shopping events are designed to make you spend more! Take advantage of the sales but be ready to go with your gift list and buy only what you know you need. Stick to the list so you do not overspend.

 

  1. Power Shop it: Find someone to watch the kids during the day (to avoid the nighttime shopping crowd) and plan a power shopping day where you tackle your entire gift shopping list in one day. Make sure you do not shop on an empty stomach! Take your list and stick to it! Then enjoy time with your family making holiday memories while everyone else is stressing about last-minute gifts.

 

  1. Get Creative: You do not have to sacrifice that personal touch because you are spending cautiously. There are many ways to reduce expenditures and still give appreciated gifts. Non-monetary gifts are a fabulous way to keep costs down. Homemade gifts are often more meaningful. Coupons or certificates for service or quality time are a great way to share talents and make memories.

 

Stick to these 6 tips and you’ll be a lot less flustered as you check off your holiday gift-buying list. Between now and December 8th I’m giving away three Amazon Echo 2nd Generation Smart devices to help you check off your gift list! If you’d like a chance to win one, click the link below for the details.

ENTER GIVEAWAY


This article was written by Amanda Christensen, Extension Assistant Professor for Utah State University. Follow her on Twitter: @FamFinPro, Facebook: Fam Fin Pro, Instagram: @FamFinPro.




Beware Holiday Budget Busters

Budget Busters.jpgThanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s… holidays bring family, food, and irregular but expected costs. Find out how to protect your budget against these holiday costs in this video from @famfinpro Amanda Christensen.





Paying for College without Breaking the Bank

Paying for CollegeIt’s never too early to start thinking about how you’ll pay for your child’s education. 


According to a study conducted by Nerdwallet, an astonishing $29 billion in free college money was left unclaimed for the 2016-2017 school year. Among those statistics, Utah ranks highest in students who were eligible to receive free money, but missed out on the opportunity simply by neglecting to complete their FAFSA forms. If you or someone you know is preparing to attend college, make sure they know the numerous ways they can receive FREE money to help pay for their educational costs.

FAFSA: First and foremost, it is important to know about the website www.fafsa.gov. It is worth your while to check out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and all the financial resources they offer to help students pay for college. You can begin applying for FAFSA as early as October 1st for the upcoming year using your tax information from the previous year. Make sure you fill it out as early as possible as supply is limited, and be sure you update and reapply for FAFSA each year you are attending school. Send your FAFSA to all the schools you are interested in attending so they can send you their financial aid offers. Students must also include parent’s information on their FAFSA until they are 24 years of age; exceptions can be found at https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1718/help/fftoc02k.htm.

Employee Tuition Reimbursement: If you or your children are preparing to attend college, ask your employer if they offer any education benefits to students through tuition reimbursement or scholarships.

529 Savings Plan: These are tax advantaged savings plans that allow funds to grow tax free if used for educational purposes. There are 14 different investment choices that range from age-based options to static options, or customized options. These accounts can be opened by anyone for as little as $1 and anyone can contribute to the account at any point before the student withdraws the funds. For more information about this program, visit www.uesp.org.

Individual Development Account: This 3-1 matched savings program allows an individual to save up to $1,500 and receive $4,500 over the course of a 1-to 3-year period. Funds also grow tax free as long as they are withdrawn for use of assistive technology or educational purposes. There are income limitations and eligibility requirements. For more information, visit www.uidan.org.

Grants: Usually offered through FAFSA, grants are often based on an individual’s financial need. Grants are free money you don’t have to pay back, and the most an individual can receive in Federal Pell Grants for the upcoming year is $5,920. Be sure you apply early and often, as supplies for grant money is often limited and is distributed on a first come, first served basis.

Scholarships: Probably the most well-known form of free money, scholarship eligibility can be based on such things as interests, talents, program of study, grades and community involvement. They are usually offered through schools and universities, departments and cultural and religious organizations. Scholarships are also free money that you don’t have to pay back, and you will never have to pay to apply for one. A few helpful and fun scholarship databases include: www.fastweb.com, www.unigo.com, www.chegg.com, www.cappex.com and  https://stepuputah.com.

Work Study: This payment option is received by employment through the student’s college or university. Work study provides students with flexible jobs that allow them to complete school work during their work hours, or provide more hands-on training related to the student’s field of study. Paychecks can be used to pay tuition, fees, student loans, etc. Income received through work study must be claimed on the follow year’s taxes, but does not count against the student on FAFSA the following year. To apply for work study, mark “yes” on question 31 of FAFSA.

Federal Loans: Only borrow what you need for tuition if you choose to take out student loans to fund your education. Federal loans are offered through the government and there are four main types:

  •      Subsidized loans – These do not begin building interest until the student has graduated from the college or university. They are typically offered to undergraduate students, and repayment plans can be deferred 6 months after graduation.
  •      Unsubsidized loans – These allow interest to begin accruing from the moment the loan is signed. This means students will essentially be paying interest on interest once they graduate from school. These loans are typically only offered to graduate and professional students.
  •      Direct Plus loans – These are loans taken out for a student by a parent.
  •      Direct Perkins loans – These loans are offered through specific colleges and universities. They are usually based on financial need, and supply is often limited.

Private Loans: Again, only borrow what you need for tuition if you choose to take out student loans to fund your education. Private loans are offered through banks and other financial institutions. They are typically less flexible with repayment options, but offer all the same options as federal loans and do not require the completion of FAFSA.


This article was written by Kirstin Kvam USU Extension Finance Program Coordinator, Salt Lake County

Resources:

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/student-loans/fafsa-college-money-left-on-table/

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/student-loans-federal-vs-private-loans/

www.fafsa.gov




10 Tips for Romance on a Budget

Romance on a budgetYou don’t have to break the bank to add a little romance back into your relationship. Try these 10 tips to make it happen.


When couples first meet, romantic feelings are usually very strong and partners go out of their way to create romantic experiences together.  Over time, it can become challenging to find time, money and energy to create romantic moments together. However, creating romantic moments together does not have to be time consuming or expensive. Consider the following tips to reignite the romance in your relationship.   

  1. Candlelight dinner. Going out for an expensive dinner is a popular way to show your partner that you care, but is often reserved for special occasions because of the cost. Almost any meal (even take-out) can be made special by adding a nice ambiance of candles and soft music.  Just be sure to keep the television off and focus instead on having a conversation with your sweetheart. To make the night extra special, dress up in your best clothes to make it feel like you are at a special event.
  2. Express yourself. Take a moment to reflect on the things you really like or appreciate about your partner but often don’t say. Write them a short note and put it some place where it will surprise him or her, like their car’s dashboard or tucked inside their tablet case. While handwritten notes are a bit more personal, romantic text messages can also be a nice surprise.
  3. De-stress together. Forget about life’s challenges while watching a movie you both enjoy and giving each other a massage or a pedicure.
  4. Take a stroll. Going on a walk with you partner can provide a relaxing time to talk, and provide a boost of feel-good endorphins. For extra romance, try going for a walk at sunset.
  5. Get “board.” Board games are a timeless and inexpensive way of having fun together. To add some extra fun, decide on a prize that the “winner” will get such as a favorite treat or doing a chore for the other person, and be sure to make an effort to flirt with each other while playing.
  6. Catch some culture. Concerts or plays can make a fun date night but can also be expensive. As an alternative, check out the local newspaper and community websites for local band concerts, school plays and community-hosted events.
  7. Dream together. Escape from your current financial situation and let your imagination run free as you dream together about your hopes and dreams for the future. Consider creating a dream board or book of ideas and pictures that you can reflect on together at a later time.
  8. Get cozy. Snuggle up together in a blanket and enjoy the night sky together. For an added bonus, find a place to star gaze where you can also cozy up together in the glow of a small fire.
  9. Take a class together. Research indicates that couples who take time to learn relationship skills and insights together have stronger and happier relationships. Consider attending a healthy relationship class in your area or reading and discussing a relationship book or article aimed at keeping your relationship strong. Find classes and resources at www.strongermarriage.org.
  10. Expand your experiences. Attending community date nights can be fun because you can try new experiences and you can have a fun night out without all of the event planning! They also provide opportunities to interact with other couples who are committed to strengthening their relationships. Check out the low-cost date nights coming up this spring across the Wasatch Front found on www.strongermarriage.org under classes and events in Weber County.

This article was written by Naomi Brower, Utah State University Extension professor, naomi.brower@usu.edu, 801-399-8206




5 Steps to Spring Clean Your Finances

Get started on your spring cleaning—no elbow grease required! Try these 5 steps to spring clean your finances from USU Extension Family Finance Pro Amanda Christensen.


 

 




Quick Financial Tip // Preparing to Spend your Tax Return

Tax Return.jpgAre you one of the lucky Americans who gets a tax return? Check out this quick financial tip from USU Extension Family Finance Pro Amanda Christensen and learn how to use that extra money wisely.