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Surviving Wedding Season

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

A Guest’s Guide To Avoiding Financial Ruin By Labor Day

More than 61 million Americans will attend at least one wedding this year, and they’ll spend at least $30 billion in the process.

According to new research by American Express, the average guest will shell out $339 to attend each wedding they’re invited to—and that’s not even considering a gift.Plan on giving one? That’ll be $150. Oh—you’re in the wedding party? You’ll drop at least another hundred in incidentals (an expensive dress and pre-wedding cocktails).

With five weddings on my dance card this season, including one stint as a bridesmaid, it’s all adding up to a very romantic budget-breaker. But according to AMEX’s Melanie Backs, I should be thankful that it’s 2012—and not 2011- -that’s my busiest wedding year to date. “Last year expenses were considerably higher,” she tells me. In fact, according to their numbers I’m saving more than $700 on what I would have shelled out last year.

So stretched as my spending may be for the summer, there is a silver lining. “We’re seeing people spending much smarter than they were in the past,” says Backs, adding that the deal-seeking mentality is one positive repercussion of the recession years. These days looking to cut costs isn’t just the norm—but the rule, she says, pointing to clothing and hotel spending as the areas with the biggest decrease in dollar signs.

 

And lucky for everyone, the web provides ample resources to do so. Thanks to online services and mobile apps, consumers and wedding guests are better equipped than ever to save.

Here, 10 financial tactics for cutting costs this wedding season:

If you want to save on gifts…

While the number one most preferred wedding gift is, of course, cold, hard cash, more than one in five couples surveyed by AMEX said they’d prefer to receive a gift off of their registry. What’s the problem? If you don’t get in early you can find yourself browsing a registry with only Dyson vacuums and Kitchen Aid mixers left over. That’s right—the expensive stuff. Don’t fret. Elle Shapiro, “expert wedding guest” and founder of SurviveWeddingSeason.com says your best bet is to team up with friends for big ticket items. Look for sites like SplittABill and WePay to make getting your pals shell out their share painless.

If you’ve got a multiple weddings lined up this summer and are anticipating a major wallet-wringing in July, take a breather. Press pause on your shopping and remind yourself that you have at least six months to make good on your gift. (“Or a year,” says Shapiro. “Just add a tag that says “Happy anniversary!”) Use this time to stagger gifts over the coming months when your budget isn’t as taxed with trips up and down the coast for wedding weekends. She says it also leaves you open to taking advantage of sales down the road—an appliance that’s full price in July just might be much cheaper come Black Friday. But if you do forgo the gift on the day of the ceremony, she advises at least bringing a card to give the couple a memento of your celebrating their day.

If there simply isn’t room in your budget for a present, Shapiro’s advice is to forgo it altogether and instead give the gift of your time and talents. “Offer to do the bride’s hair and make-up if you can,” she says, “or maybe you’re great with flowers and can arrange the centerpieces.” With so many brides and grooms looking to cut their own wedding costs, offering them a place to save as a congratulatory gift might be the perfect solution for both parties.

Maxed out your credit cards on plane tickets and hotel rooms? Backs says you might as well put your rewards points to good use. “So many reward points can be traded in for products or even gift cards that can make great gifts in a pinch—and not leave you looking for cash,” she says. “If you’ve got a bunch of points that you don’t know what to do with, gift cards are a great option.”

If you want to save on looking good…

Why shell out a few hundred bucks on a cocktail dress when you can rent the thing for a quarter of the price? Shapiro says that when it comes to wedding attire, it’s best to become a renter. For $50 she wore a Bagdeley Mishka gown from RenttheRunway to a recent wedding and felt like a million bucks. With prices that range from $40 to $200 for the weekend it certainly beats five trips to the mall and a closet full of formalwear.

But for those of us (like moi) who have enough weddings this summer that even $50 a pop seems like an unnecessary expenditure, Shapiro’s still got a solution: rally your friends for a dress-swap. “When you’ve got a closet full of dresses you’ve already worn and don’t want to keep seeing them pop up in Facebook photos, call your friends and organize an exchange.” It’s a win-win, she says. “You’ve all got something to wear and you got to hang out in the process.”

Whether you’re in the bridal party or not, we all want to look our best at weddings. But rather than wait until the last minute for your manicure at the hotel spa the morning of, Shapiro advises we book all grooming appointments at home where prices are often cheaper (Cost around the corner from the FORBES office: $12. Cost at the nearest hotel spa: $31)“I’ve noticed WashingtonDC has much more expensive manicures than we do in L.A. or even in New York,” Shapiro adds. “Just be sure to check with the bride on a preferred color if you’re in the party.”

If you want to save on travel…

The average amount wedding guests spend on travel is on the decline according to the numbers from American Express, from $96 in 2011 to just $56 in 2012. Why? According to Backs, there are two factors at play: consumers are getting savvy to travel deals and discounts online and they’re taking advantage of travel miles. Both she and Shapiro say looking into off-peak travel timescan help considerably, both with flights and train rides. I can say from experience that catching the red eye back to New York after an L.A. wedding isn’t the most fun morning-after, but it can be the best option for your budget.

The bride and groom may have booked a block of rooms at the Ritz, but finding a half-priced Hilton down the block is a perfectly acceptable way to cut down on wedding weekend spending, says Shapiro. One caveat if you’re looking to book a price-conscious nearby hotel: make sure to inform the bride of your plans—especially if you’re a member of the wedding party. “As long as you approach her with grace and consideration she’ll understand,” Shapiro says. “Look at a map and make sure you’re nearby. The last thing you’d want is to be late on the big day.”

We all know that checking bags on a flight is a prelude to an in-flight freak-out: Will they lose my bag? Will my shampoo explode all over my dress? Will my tweezers be confiscated? But when it comes to a wedding weekend the benefits of carrying on are threefold: you save on checked-bag fees, you rest-assured your bridesmaid dress will make it to your final destination and—if you’re nice to the flight attendants—they’ll hang it so it gets there wrinkle-free.

Source: forbes.com

Health Savings Account

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Family Health & Safety

10 Reasons to Love a Health Savings Account

Many consumers are eager to learn more about health savings accounts (HSAs), which continue to generate buzz as a growing trend in health care coverage. The general assumption is that a financial tool with this much potential must be complex and difficult to understand. However, HSAs are simple to outline, and can be broken down into a list of ten basic points for consumers to easily digest.

  1. HSAs fund health care needs

The HSA is first and foremost designed to fund health care expenses in conjunction with a high deductible health plan (HDHP). An HDHP is a requirement to set up an HSA. The HSA is a savings account that secures pre-tax dollars in a fund for future medical needs, and helps meet the deductible on one’s health insurance plan, should something happen that takes medical expenses beyond what is readily affordable.

  1. HSAs utilize pre-tax funds

HSAs may be set up through employers or through financial institutions like banks, insurance companies, or third-party administrators. Contributions to HSAs through employers are set up as pre-tax investments. HSA accounts created through financial institutions are designed so that consumers can take an “above-the-line” deduction on personal taxes. One asset for many is that taxable income is decreased, so fewer taxes need to be paid out.

  1. HSAs come with significant premium savings over traditional insurance plans

High deductible health plans also come with much lower premiums than a traditional plan. This is especially apparent to someone who pays the premiums all year long but doesn’t actually go to the doctor or utilize medical services very often. For this person, the premium can feel like money out the window. Based on premium savings alone, some HSA consumers see 20 to 40 percent savings each year.

  1. HSAs offer expanded coverage options for consumers

Unlike typical insurance plans that have a highly negotiated list of medical products or services that are covered, HSAs allow many additional health-related expenses. So doctors’ visits, hospital expenses and prescriptions are covered, but coverage also extends to some dental and vision services, and certain “non-traditional” treatments such as acupuncture and deep tissue massage.

  1. HSAs allow negotiating power to secure discounts on medical services

Because an HSA is a “cash” account, it empowers consumers with an option to negotiate pricing on many medical services, which can lead to substantial savings on medical expenses. For example, standard imaging services can vary widely in price depending on location and payment method. An MRI, for example, can cost anywhere from $400 to $1,800 for the exact same service.

  1. HSAs offer control and choices regarding health care needs

With these plans, consumers have unlimited choices regarding services, service providers and medical expenditures. With an HSA, one can go to the doctor of his or her choice.

  1. HSAs are portable

If a consumer switches jobs, the HSA account follows. And, unlike traditional insurance plans, consumers do not lose unused funds in these accounts at the end of the year. The consumer “owns” this account and all benefits that come from its good management.

  1. HSAs create financial incentives for managing health care expenses

There are always unfortunate cases where a catastrophic event occurs and emergency medical services are required that do not allow time to “shop around.” But the majority of medical transactions faced in the course of a lifetime are more predictable. Since the HSA is a consumer-controlled cash account, that consumer is encouraged to think about whether a particular expense is worth it or if a cheaper alternative, like a generic medication instead of name brand, might work just as well.

  1. HSAs are a powerful tool for retirement investing

Over time, a relatively healthy person or someone who is a decent financial manager can save a good deal of money and investment earnings in an HSA. Consumers who are between the ages of 55 and 65 also have the opportunity to make additional “catch-up” contributions to the fund. Increased access to this fund begins at age 65. The account can continue to be used for medical expenses with no penalties, but withdrawals for other purposes are also possible (after age 65) and often face fewer penalties than withdrawals from an IRA.

  1. HSAs create a health-conscious community and put market forces to work that drive down health costs for everyone

Because of the incentive to save and earn money, consumers are encouraged to become educated on health care and medical services to become active participants in the control of their health and wellness. Providers of medical products and services are forced into a healthier competition for consumers. Additionally, there is a personal incentive to make smarter decisions about the use of the health care system, then decreasing the likelihood of its abuse. Overall, it becomes a more efficient system, and the costs of medical services decrease to meet the new market realities.

The HSA is an easy-to-use tool that offers consumers a way to take control of their health investments. It puts all of the financial incentives in the right place to encourage the consumer to make healthier lifestyle choices, better health care-related financial decisions, and to invest and save money over time for future medical needs. Consumer driven health care has the power to change a family’s financial future while also catalyzing positive change in America’s health care system as a whole.

Signs of a Kidney Stone

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Live Well, Work Well

A recent study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings journal found that the prevalence of kidney stones has increased more than fourfold in women and more than twofold in men over the past 30 years.

If treated in a timely fashion, kidney stones usually don’t cause permanent damage. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain so severe that you can’t sit still or find a comfortable position
     
  • Pain accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever or chills
     
  • Blood in your urine
     
  • Difficulty passing urine
View more Live Well, Work Well tips here.

Most Commonly Stolen Passwords

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Personal Tips, Trips & Traps

How clever is your password? If it’s on the list below, your password is just as easily stolen as it is remembered. Protect yourself by making sure you’re not using one of the top 25 most commonly stolen passwords of 2017, as determined by IT security firm SplashData.

To create a more secure password, make sure you are not relying only on numbers, and try to avoid simple keyboard patterns. You may also want to avoid easy-to-find information such as birthdays, favorite sports teams and addresses.  Attempt to create a password that is eight or more characters long, and avoid using the same password for multiple access points.

1 123456
2 password
3 12345678
4 qwerty
5 12345
6 123456789
7 letmein
8 1234567
9 football
10 iloveyou
11 admin
12 welcome
13 monkey
14 login
15 abc123
16 starwars
17 123123
18 dragon
19 passw0rd
20 master
21 hello
22 freedom
23 whatever
24 qazwsx
25 trustno1

Life Events Affect Your Insurance

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Hedda's Hints

Life Events that Affect Your Insurance Needs

As we age and reach different milestones in our lives, our insurance needs change. In order to ensure adequate coverage, contact your insurance broker if you’re affected by any of the following life events:

  • New home ownership— Purchasing a new home is a big investment—one that you will want to protect. After purchasing a home, ensure that you have homeowners insurance to protect against things like fire, weather damage, theft, vandalism and accidental damage. This advice also holds true if you are buying a new condo or vacation home.
     
  • Home renovations—Once you own a home, you may want to make updates to create a better living space. Be sure to report major home improvements to your insurance company to protect any increased value to your home.
     
  • New children—Having or adopting children is not only a huge life change, but it’s also a major financial commitment. As such, it’s important to purchase the right policy to secure your child’s future. Add your child as a beneficiary on any life insurance policies, and make sure your coverage is sufficient.
     
  • Teenage drivers— Teen drivers often carry the highest risk of auto accidents. While you want your teen driver to remain safe on the road, costly accidents can happen without warning. Consider adding your teen driver to your auto policy, as it is generally cheaper than purchasing a separate policy.
     
  • Retirement—When you retire, you may change residences. If you have more than one home, this is a good time to let your insurance provider know where you plan to spend your time.
     
  • Valuable purchases—A standard homeowners policy has limited coverage for highly valuable items. Supplement purchases and gifts that exceed the policy’s limits with a floater—a separate policy that provides additional insurance.
     
  • Marriage—When your marital status changes, so do your insurance needs. Marriage typically leads to the combination of households, vehicles and other property, so it is critical to update your insurance policies accordingly. What’s more, life insurance is vital to married couples as it can ease the financial burden in the event of an untimely death of a partner. Ask about discounts on car insurance for married policyholders.
     
  • Purchasing or selling a business—If you’re an entrepreneur, there will likely come a time when you will either buy or sell your business. During these times of major change, the proper coverage is crucial.

Insurance is critical for nearly every stage of life. Seeking coverage should be an active process, and individuals shouldn’t assume their insurance needs remain steady over time. Consider contacting your broker today to better understand your insurance and future needs.

Smoking Cessation Tips

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Insurance Discount Strategies

 

Quitting smoking is one of the best choices you can make to improve your overall health, but it’s also extremely difficult. The following are some suggestions to get you started on your journey to being smoke-free:

  • Make a quit plan. A quit plan will help you stay focused and motivated. This plan should outline your quit date, reasons for quitting, smoking triggers and ways you intend to fight cravings. You can build your own quit plan from scratch or with help from Smokefree.gov.
     
  • Avoid smoking triggers. These triggers differ from person to person, but include the people, places, things and situations that set off your urge to smoke. In general, it’s a good idea to spend time with friends and family who can encourage you or in places where smoking isn’t allowed
     
  • Try smoking cessation tools, like nicotine patches. While some individuals have used e-cigarettes to limit cigarette usage, the long-term health impact of these devices has yet to be seen. In general, it’s better to try and quit cold turkey.
     
  • Focus on the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle. Within a few days of quitting, you may notice that your sense of taste and smell is improving. In addition, as you quit, your breathing will become easier and your smoker’s cough will lessen over time. Best of all, quitting smoking will extend your life expectancy.

Don’t be discouraged if you slip up. One cigarette is better than an entire pack, but that doesn’t mean you can safely smoke every now and then. Speak to a doctor for more ideas on how to quit smoking.

Read the complete inSIGHTS newsletter here.

April 2018 Festivals and Events

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Spotlight on the Community

The Washington, DC area and its surrounding communities in Maryland and Virginia host lots of annual festivals and special events. All dates, prices, and activities mentioned are subject to change, so please check the official website or call to confirm information. Please note that most of these events are held each year and the dates are updated as available.

National Cherry Blossom Festival
See the blossoming of thousands of cherry trees on the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. The capital welcomes spring with this annual tradition begun by the gift of 600 trees to the United States from Japan in 1912. Don’t miss the best events including the parade, kite festival, concerts, fireworks and cultural events..

Passover in Washington, DC
March 30-April 7, 2018. Find resources for planning and celebrating the Jewish holiday in the Washington DC area, including kosher markets, restaurants, synagogues and more.

International Pillow Fight Day
2018 Date to Be Announced.
National Mall. Massive pillow fights breakout in cities around the world.

Spring Theater in Washington DC
Check out the spring theater scene in Washington DC. With dozens of performances around the capital region, here is the schedule of the top shows for the upcoming season.

Smithsonian Jazz Appreciation Month
Throughout April 2018. Various locations. The Smithsonian celebrates the month with special talks, workshops, concerts and more.

Washington Nationals Baseball
Nationals Park. Opening Day is April 5, 2018. The team will play against the Miami Marlins. The Nationals 2016 schedule includes 81 home dates. The major league baseball team plays through September.

Washington Capitals
The NHL Hockey team plays at the Verizon Center through April. Find information on tickets, schedules and more.

Parade of the National Cherry Blossom Festival
April 14, 2018, 10 a.m. See wonderful entertainment for the whole family including decorated floats, gigantic colorful helium balloons, marching bands, clowns, horses, antique cars, military and celebrity performances, and more.

Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival
April 14, 2018, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. The huge Japanese street party includes live entertainment, food, arts, games and a Ginza Marketplace.

DC Emancipation Day
2018 Date to Be Announced. The anniversary of the Emancipation Act, when Lincoln granted freedom to 3,100 enslaved persons in the District of Columbia is celebrated with educational and cultural events throughout the city. Note this year’s events are a week earlier than usual due to Easter. 

Anacostia River Festival 
2018 Date to Be Announced.  1-5 p.m. Anacostia Park, SE Washington DC. The festival features a wide variety of activities including outdoor recreation, musical performances,  a photography exhibition, a bike parade and more.

Southwest Waterfront Festival and Fireworks
2018 Date to Be Announced. Southwest Waterfront, Washington DC.  A highlight of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the free event features music, water-related activities, cultural experiences, live entertainment and fireworks.

National Park Week
April 21-29, 2018. The National Park Service encourages everyone to enjoy the natural wonders found in parks across the country. Special activities will take place around the region.

Filmfest DC
April 19-29, 2018. Multiple venues around Washington DC. The city’s oldest film festival returns this year featuring a wide range of films from around the globe including features, documentaries, comedies, shorts and award winners.

Bay Bridge Boat Show
April 27-29, 2018. Kent Island, Maryland. The show kicks off the boating season each spring with a display of hundreds of new and late model brokerage boats and boat equipment displays.

Bethesda Literary Festival
2018 Date to Be Announced. Dozens of authors and writers conduct readings, talks and other activities at galleries, bookstores and other sites in downtown Bethesda.

Earth Day
Throughout the month of April, celebrate Earth Day with special activities that make caring for the planet fun for all ages. Find activities in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia.

National Math Festival 
2018 Date to Be Announced. Washington Convention Center,  Washington DC. The family-friendly event will include lectures, hands-on demonstrations, art, films, performances, puzzles, games, children’s book readings, and more. 

Virginia Historic Garden Week
April 21-28, 2018. A garden-lovers paradise! This annual event features tours of the gardens at Virginia’s most prestigious private homes and public attractions. See lush gardens, stunning architecture, and historic furnishings. See a guide to more upcoming garden tours around the region. 

White House Spring Garden Tours
2018 Date to Be Announced. Visit the White House grounds and explore the beautiful gardens. Tickets are required.

DC Craft Beer Festival
2018 Date to Be Announced. Nationals Park,  Washington, DC. The American craft beer tasting will feature seminars and food and the spring releases from approximately 75 breweries.

Arlington Festival of the Arts
2018 Date to Be Announced. Clarendon, VA. The new arts festival features vibrant paintings, contemporary and whimsical art, life-size sculptures, photography, handcrafted jewelry and much more.

Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival
2018 Date to Be Announced. Historic Leesburg, Virginia. The family friendly event displays landscape designs, gardening supplies, outdoor living items, plants, flowers, herbs and much more.

Smithsonian Craft Show
2018 Date to Be Announced. This is your chance to buy unique crafts from the most prestigious exhibition of contemporary American arts in the nation.

Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show
April 20-22, 2018. Annapolis, MD. The show includes new and brokerage catamarans, monohulls, racing boats, inflatables, and day sailors. Cruisers University features hands-on training by cruising experts.

Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival
April 27–May 6, 2018, Winchester, VA. The annual celebration of spring showcases the blooming apple trees in the Shenandoah Valley with more than 45 events including the Coronation of Queen Shenandoah, the Grand Feature Parade, band competitions, dances, a carnival, a 10K run, Firefighters events and more.

Georgetown French Market
2018 Date to Be Announced. The spring shopping extravaganza features fashion, French fare, quaint home and antique shops, galleries and live music.

National Harbor Food & Wine Festival
April 28-29, 2018. Enjoy food and wine pairing, artisinal and organic products, lectures on culinary and wine trends and more.

For more information on attractions, sightseeing, entertainment, shopping, recreation, sports, and things to do all year-round, see Top 10 Things to Do in the Washington DC/Capital Region

Tax Refund

April 5th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Lifestyle

How Saving Some of Your Tax Refund Could Win You a Cash Prize

An income tax refund may be the biggest check some people see all year. That makes tax season a great time to jump-start a savings plan, financial experts say.

“Tax time is a critical moment, especially for vulnerable consumers,” said Brian Gilmore, senior innovation manager at Commonwealth, a nonprofit in Boston that focuses on helping people improve their financial security.

Although the economy is humming and unemployment remains low, many people still are not setting aside much cash in savings.

About one in five workers in a survey by the personal finance website Bankrate, published this week, reported not saving any income. And although financial advisers typically urge people to keep enough savings to pay six months of bills, recent research by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that about two in five households lacked the cash to cover a $2,000 expense. The Federal Reserve’s Economic Well-Being report for 2016 found that 44 percent of adults either could not pay an unexpected $400 expense or would borrow or sell something to do so.

The average federal tax refund last year was about $2,900, according to the Internal Revenue Service. To encourage people to save at least a portion of that sum, Commonwealth has teamed up with America Saves, a Consumer Federation of America initiative, to promote the “Save Your Refund” campaign.

Participants agree to deposit all or part of their refunds in a savings or retirement account, or to buy savings bonds. In exchange, they qualify for the chance to win cash prizes. Because many people use part of their refund to pay bills or credit card debt, Mr. Gilmore said, the minimum amount that Save Your Refund participants must agree to save is just $50.

To be eligible for the prizes, participants must first file I.R.S. Form 8888with their federal income tax return. The form allows the splitting of a refund via direct deposit into two or more separate accounts. (It also allows for part of the refund to come in the form of a paper check.)

To qualify for the $100 prize drawings, tax filers must then submit a Save Your Refund entry form, copies of which are available online and at most Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program sites. Each week during tax season, 10 participants will be randomly selected to receive $100.

Each participant can also submit an additional entry for a shot at two $10,000 grand prizes to be awarded after the tax-filing deadline on April 17. (The deadline is two days later than usual this year for several reasons, including a local holiday in Washington.)

Mr. Gilmore said the “prize-linked” approach was one way to motivate people to increase savings, which otherwise can seem like a dreary chore. “It’s a way to use prizes to make savings feel more fun and exciting, and less stressful,” he said. Some research suggests that the potential to earn cash prizes can motivate people to save more.

So far this year, 2,295 people participating in the Save Your Refund campaign have arranged to save just over $1.9 million, an average of about $880 each, said Lindsay Ferguson, outreach coordinator with America Saves.

Here are some questions and answers about saving:

How do I buy savings bonds with my tax return?

You can buy up to $5,000 in Series I savings bonds with your tax refund by indicating the amount you want to purchase on I.R.S. Form 8888. The tax-time bond purchase option is now the only way to buy paper savings bonds, which some people prefer when giving bonds as gifts. You can also buy bonds in digital form, if you prefer.

What kind of interest rates are savings accounts currently paying?

Rates for basic savings accounts have been anemic for years, but that may change as the Federal Reserve proceeds with its plans to raise benchmark rates. Online banks typically offer annual percentage rates of 1.5 percent or more — hardly earth-shattering, but better than the paltry rates offered by big brick-and-mortar banks.

Rates on certificates of deposit are higher, depending on the amount deposited and the term chosen.

How can I track my income tax refund?

The I.R.S. suggests using its online “Where’s my refund?” tool, or its IRS2Go smartphone app.

Source: nytimes.com