Eight Reasons to Consider Canning

food canning

Canning your produce can make your harvest go a long way. The practice is economically beneficial and preserves your gardening efforts!


 

Now that gardens are planted and fruit trees are showing signs of small fruit, many people begin planning how they will preserve the harvest – canning, freezing, drying and even freeze-drying. However, even die-hard food preservers may ask at times if the efforts of growing produce and preserving are really worth it. Here are eight things to consider.

            Emergency preparedness – Preparing for potential job loss, earthquakes or other natural disasters serve as incentives for many to participate in food storage and preservation.

            Economically beneficial – Whether food preservation actually saves money depends on several factors: if you are able to grow your own high-quality produce; if you own the correct equipment in very good to excellent condition; the cost of electricity, natural gas or propane; and the cost of added ingredients and supplies such as sugar, pectin, lids, bottles or freezer bags. A first-time food preserver may find it cost prohibitive to purchase a new pressure canner, dehydrator, or water-bath canner along with all the containers, etc., but those can be purchased over time.

            Time saving – When considering this factor, it is important to think beyond the actual time to harvest, prepare and preserve the food. The time savings actually comes into play down the line when the convenience of having a bottle of stewed tomatoes or frozen chopped onions and peppers on hand to make spaghetti sauce alleviates a trip to the grocery store or time spent preparing these items fresh.

 

            Quality control – Time from harvest to jar or freezer is minimized when you can pick peaches in the morning and have them canned that same afternoon. Sometimes several days go by between harvesting/picking in a commercial orchard to the processing plant. Also, when it’s your hands sorting through the produce to make certain everything is cleaned and unwanted pieces are discarded, you are more confident in the overall quality of what you preserve.

            Flavor – In general, it is difficult to find commercially preserved foods without added salt, sugar, spices and in some cases dyes and firming agents or other additives. To a large degree, home preserved foods can be prepared with reduced salt/sugar and added spices in your preferred amounts.

            Health benefits – Those who have food allergies must always be on the watch for commercially prepared foods that have possible contamination from tree nuts, gluten and other potentially harmful allergens. Besides the freshness factor, when food is preserved at home, you are in control and can ensure that foods are properly prepared for your family. Reduced sugar recipes for diabetics and lowered salt content for family members with high blood pressure can also be used.

           Reduced food waste – Home gardeners often produce more food than can be harvested and used fresh. For example, rather than having many stalks of ripened corn go to waste, cobs can be shucked, then cobs or kernels may be blanched and frozen. Remaining stalks can then be donated to a farmer to be used to feed goats or other livestock.

            Emotional satisfaction – The idea of producing high-quality foods for future use – and from scratch – can be very satisfying. The best way to feel totally confident in what is sitting on the shelf or in the freezer is to simply follow the approved guidelines and steps established by science and research; not necessarily from a blog, Pinterest or a Facebook post.

For more information on home food preservation, contact your local USU Extension office or visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation at www.nchfp.uga.edu.

 


This article was written by Kathy Riggs, Utah State University Extension professor, kathleen.riggs@usu.edu or 435-586-8132




Avoid Charity Scams this Holiday Season

Tis the season for increased awareness of and opportunity for charitable giving. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of the holiday season to tug at our heartstrings and try to get to our wallets. I stopped by Studio 5 to chat with Brooke about how a little research will help you avoid a scam and ensure that your gift goes to a reputable charity that will use the money as you intend.

Head over to famfinpro.com to read Amanda Christensen’s list of things to consider before giving this holiday season.




When Is Enough, Enough? Planning for the Holidays

When is enough.jpg

Take a moment this holiday season to check in as a family and eliminate excess in your life.


We all know it is easy to get a little carried away with “decking our halls,” and the concepts of excess, over indulgence and over scheduling come to mind during the holiday season more than ever. In general, however, there is a trend toward excess in our lives.  

What messages are we sending to our children?  When is enough, enough for them, and for us?

Here is a checklist of questions to ask ourselves:

  • Are we spending a disproportionate amount of family income on any one category…i.e., clothing, entertainment, child enrichment (lessons, sports, etc.)?
  • Are we spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy in any one or two activities? Sports, screen time, cell phones, social media? William Doherty, in his book, The Intentional Family, warns that many families are over scheduled outside the family and under scheduled inside the family.
  • As a parent, are you keeping your child from learning age-appropriate developmental tasks by doing things for them, or taking care of things for them that they should be learning to do themselves? Examples include: picking up their own toys, doing their own laundry, paying for some things with their own money, learning to cook, etc.)

A few signs of over indulgence include: trouble learning to delay gratification; trouble giving up being the center of attention; trouble being competent in everyday life skills, including self-care and relationship skills; trouble taking personal responsibility – feeling like it’s always someone else’s fault; and trouble knowing what is normal.

As a result of over indulgence, kids have come to regard overload as normal, and anything less is boring. In contrast to this is a term coming to the forefront called “creative deprivation.” Parents are coming to understand that kids can have too much of a good thing, so they place limitations on it.

An example from an article in “The Tightwad Gazette” outlines this concept nicely. On a recent trip to the mall, children ordered junior ice cream cones and consumed them in complete silence, savoring every bite. Many parents, seeing their children appreciate junior cones, would start buying them cones on every trip to the mall. Then, seeing their kids’ enthusiasm waning, would assume they must “wow” them with banana splits. When those no longer produced the desired effect, they would move up to the jumbo deluxe sundaes, and on and on, until the kids become impossible to please.

When there is diminished appreciation, it is a sign that children have had too much of something. Instead of moving up to the banana splits, we need to, instead, decrease the frequency of the junior cone. We have habituated a certain level of expectation without appreciation. Another example of this is how frequently we go out to eat. It is no longer a treat, but a norm.

Here are four rules of creative deprivation to consider as we move into the holiday season:

  1. Limit things your kids don’t need, but do not limit the things they do need, such as good nutrition and parental attention.
  2. Provide them with creative alternatives to substitute for passive entertainment and “no brainer” play.
  3. Limit screen time, including cell phones, TV/video time and gaming. This will decrease the stimulation overload in their lives.
  4. Set boundaries, and provide rules and limits in all aspects of your child’s life.

Maybe it is time for all of us to take a step back and evaluate our own lives. Are we needing increasingly more expensive gadgets, clothing, vacations, foods or other stimulating events to keep us happy?

Creative deprivation may be just the ticket. Not only will it save money, but the simplification will also reduce stress levels and increase quality of life.

 


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

Sources:

Clarke, J.I.; Dawson, C.; Bredehoft, D. How Much is Enough?  Marlow and Company.  2004.

Tightwad Gazette article by Amy Dacyczyn

 




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




Wasted Food is Wasted Money

wasting food.jpg

Don’t throw your money away with your leftovers. Learn how to cut down on food waste and save money in today’s article.


Holiday time is upon us. It’s the time of year when people start feeling the pressure of extra demands on the paychecks. Much of holiday celebrating centers around food, and that puts a strain on the average food budget. However, holiday season isn’t the only time that staying within a tight food budget is necessary. It’s a monthly task that takes extra planning, and any trick to save a few bucks is helpful. Here are some interesting facts that may surprise you and get you thinking about ways you can save money.

A study done by George Washington University claims that 33.19 million tons of food were wasted in the United States in 2010—enough to fill the Empire State Building 91 times. Household food waste accounts for 55-65 percent of this total. Each month the average American throws away approximately 20 pounds of food. That’s 240 pounds per year at a cost of about $370 per person! Protein foods make up the biggest waste while breads and pasta are least likely to be dumped.

Why do we toss food? The biggest reason is because it spoils before we can eat it. Other reasons may include over-purchasing perishable food, cooking big meals and throwing some of it away, or not eating everything on our plate. The International Food Information Council reports that more than half of Americans say they take leftovers home from restaurants, use leftovers from cooking, plan their meals, make shopping lists, and use or freeze leftovers in a timely manner. This is a good start, but there are other critical ways to lessen the waste.

  • Think smaller portions. Super-sized portions are popular now. If we compare these portions to 20 years ago, many have doubled in size. We don’t need the extra calories. Using smaller plates also helps.
  • Store food correctly. Fruits and vegetables will last much longer if stored in the proper place. Bananas and tomatoes should be stored on the counter, out of the refrigerator. Onions, garlic, potatoes and winter squash should be in a cool, dark, dry place such as a cellar for optimum storage life. Apples will last up to a week on the counter but more than a week in the fridge. Keep them away from other produce as they produce ethylene gas which causes fruit to ripen faster. Citrus fruits should be stored in a mesh bag or the crisper drawer in the fridge. Berries, grapes, and cherries should be stored, unwashed, in the fridge. Washing these before storage hastens rot.
  • Keep a tidy fridge, freezer and pantry. If it’s out of sight, it’s usually out of mind. Much of fridge food isn’t discovered until it has grown green fuzzies. Remember that freezer food doesn’t last forever but dries out over time. When you bring new groceries home, move the older food to the front of the pantry or freezer and consume them first.
  • Understand expiration dates. A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires. The “Best if Used By” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. “Use-By” dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome, and of good quality if handled properly. Trust your sense of smell and sight in these cases.
  • Be conscious of what you throw away and why. This way you can prevent the same from happening again.

Getting the most for our money is important. Some of these ideas may seem overwhelming but once practiced, they become habits that add extra money to our wallets and lessen budget stress.


This article was written by Ellen Serfustini, FCS Agent, Utah State University Extension




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.




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




Did You Know? Free Tax Assistance Programs

tax assistanceHave 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. Today we’re featuring some free programs to help you get them done.


Spring is here, and you know what that means: tax season. If you haven’t filed yet, there are some great programs through Utah Tax Help that can guide you through the process of filing online or even file your taxes for you, depending on your household income.

Earn it. Keep it. Save it. is a coalition of Utah statewide partners from the public, private, and non-profit sectors and provides free tax preparation and filing assistance for people who make $64,000 or less and want to prepare their own federal and state tax return, FOR FREE, with limited assistance. To get started taxpayers need basic computer skills, internet access, an email address, a valid Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and tax documentation.  CAP Utah leads this coalition.  T

To file your federal and state tax return for FREE visit,www.UtahTaxHelp.org (tax filing software is provided by unitedway.org/myfreetaxes).

If your household income is less than $54,000, you can qualify to have your taxes prepared for free at a VITA site located in many of your local communities.  Call 211 or 1-888-826-9790 and they can set up appointments in your area.  This Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service is provided by Earn it. Keep it. Save it Coalition.

1: Visit a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Site

You can file your taxes utilizing the skills and expertise of one of our IRS certified volunteers by visiting a designated Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site. There you will be matched with a volunteer trained to assist you. If your household income is $54,000 or less you qualify to have your taxes prepared for free at a VITA site.

Call 2-1-1 or 1-888-826-9790 to schedule an appointment.

Find a VITA Site.

2: File Online Now for FREE

You can also file your taxes for free from the comfort of your own home. All you need is a computer, internet access, an email account, and all of your tax documentation. The process takes about 60 minutes. If your household income is $64,000 or less, you qualify to file online for free. 

File online for free now.

If you are going to file online for free make sure to download and print these instructions to help you through the process.

pdfDownload the instructions.

If you have questions or are experiencing difficulties (including if you are accidentally charged by the online software), please contact the national helpline:

  • 1-855-My-Tx-Help or 1-855-698-9435
  • Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday, 7:00AM – 8:00PM MST
  • Email support: info@myfreetaxes.com

Visit utahtaxhelp.org for more information on these great programs.




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.