Monday, December 22, 2008

Money Management in Tough Times

The gloomy forecast for the economy has many people asking questions about what actions they might take to help improve their personal or family situations. Money Management in Tough Times is a new focus for eXtension which can help. At you will find resources are organized into five categories: business, families, farms & ranches, individuals, and youth. The articles and reports found in these categories are the "best of the best" resources available on finances today.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tonight's Money Management Session Postponed

Due to the weather, we are postponing tonights Money Management Session until January 14th.

On January 14th Cole Ehmke from the University of Wyoming will provide valuable information on how to create a spending plan you can live with and the true cost of using credit. The information from this session will come in handy as you develop and implement your resolutions for the new year.

Be sure to mark 6:00 PM on January 14th, 2009 at the Laramie County Library on your calendar.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Be Wary of Investment Fraud

On Wednesday, Karen Wheeler the Director of the Compliance Division for the Wyoming Secretary of State's office spoke about the types of fraud and scams that are being perpetuated in Wyoming. I wish I had a transcript of all the information she provided to share with you, but unfortunately I don't. I do however, have the next best thing. AARP Wyoming has given me permission to print the following article by Karen Mockler that was printed in the February 2006 edition of The Wyoming Sage. I hope you find it as informative as I did. If you have any questions about the validity of investments you have either made or have been offered, be sure to call the Secretary of State's office at (307) 777-7370. They are more than happy to help.

By Karen Mockler

The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Web site identifies 11 types of fraud, including the case of high-tech fraud described below.

“Satellite Broadcasting Corporation, from Irvine, California, was selling an investment in direct TV to Wyoming citizens by phone. The promoters claimed they had agreements and support from Direct TV© and were applying to be a member of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, which are real companies who provide satellite television to subscribers using a "dish antenna." Both claims were false. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the company did not have an exclusive broadcast area as claimed and the California company could not engage in the business for which it was collecting money.”

This scam was shut down by a joint state-federal action, but new scams pop up every year. One of the most common is the pyramid scheme, where money is received not by selling a real product or useful service, but by recruiting new participants. A current incarnation of the pyramid scheme is the “airplane” pyramid, in which “passengers” pay to ride, in hopes of eventually becoming “pilots.” People who start pyramid schemes are often the only ones who receive money. Ponzi schemes also use the money of new recruits to pay off earlier investors.

Gold, silver, and other precious metals have always been popular operating areas for con artists and shady dealers. The private or skeptical nature of many individuals who buy precious metal investments is a benefit to the crooks. Promoters typically claim that the precious metal they are selling is sure to go up in value due to increased demand, world conflict, or some other economic or political factor. Purchasers usually receive a receipt as evidence of ownership, but not the metal itself.

When it comes to oil wells, potential investors should be particularly cautious if they hear any claims emphasizing oil shortages, fears of anticipated OPEC actions, or blockades. Scams often stress the urgency to act now. If people do invest, they should verify with the county clerk that their ownership is actually recorded in the county land records.

In order to avoid fraud, a potential investor has to know when an offer is too good to accept. According to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Web site, “There are usually three characteristics typical of every fraud or scam: a promise of higher than normal returns, a promise or guarantee that you can't lose money, and pressure to act quickly. If you sense any of these warning signs, lock up your checkbook! Get more information and really check out the offer before you go any further!”

The Better Business Bureau’s Web site also offers six “resolutions” for 2006 to help avoid fraud:
1) Look before you leap. “Don’t sign anything without reading and understanding what you’re doing. If you sign a contract, it is legally binding and probably cannot be broken. If the paperwork doesn’t say the same thing told to you verbally, trust only what is written. Verbal promises are very hard to prove!”

2) Listen carefully to what’s said--and not said. “Understand the terms. If you don’t, ask again. Some cons glide over pertinent facts in such a glib way that you cannot charge them for misrepresentation. They told you; you just didn’t understand.”

3) Keep private information private. Never give it to anyone who contacts you. “Too many callers tell the BBB after they have given out credit card or bank account numbers or other private information that can be used for fraud. It doesn’t do any good to shut the gate after the horse is out.”

4) Investigate before you invest. Do your homework with official agencies – not just Aunt Martha.

5) Learn financial basics like contracts, mortgages and interest payments. Recognize you’ll never get something for nothing, so don’t send money to collect “your millions.”

6) If you have a financial dispute that needs resolution, consider a mediator. Talk to the BBB to find out more.

Finally, Tom Cowan, the Secretary of State’s director of securities, offers some additional red flags for securities investors to watch out for:

1) If you call a broker and he is never there, if she doesn’t return your phone calls, if he makes a lot of chit-chat but never answers your question, beware.

While the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t give advice on investments, it can answer specific questions about a specific stockbroker. Staff can look up anyone in the United States and find their record, how long they’ve worked, or whether they’re even registered. If they’re not, Cowan says, what they’re offering an investor may not be legal.

2) “In no circumstance does a securities agent issue his own statement to the clients… those statements go out at a minimum on the company’s letterhead or a monthly statement as required by law.”

Investors can also contact the broker’s manager – most statements now have a 1-800 number, and they should feel free to call.

3) “If it’s too complicated to understand,” Cowan says, “they shouldn’t invest in it. Stock is pretty straightforward. It goes up or down in price. Plain vanilla.”

That doesn’t mean legitimate investments are without risk, he adds. You can buy a legitimate stock and still lose. But at least the game’s not rigged.

“The best advice I can give right now is if you can read about it in the Wall Street Journal or Barrons or Money Magazine, it’s probably real. If you can’t, it probably isn’t real.”

In the end, Cowan says, investors have to know themselves and their limitations.

“If I’m the average person without a lot of money, why go into a complex financial strategy? Not every person in the world is destined to buy commodities contracts. If I’m retired from civil service, I wouldn’t know about that kind of thing and what makes me think I can beat the big boys? Maybe my money is better kept in a bond or CD. What do I know about gold mining or oil and gas? But as a civil servant, I know the state of Wyoming is always issuing good quality bonds. I know the state is good for it. The state isn’t going to rip somebody off. Maybe that’s a better place for me to invest.”

Cowan says the biggest problem he sees in investments is not actually fraud but suitability – that is, the sale of investments to people which are much too risky for them, for perfectly legitimate reasons. For instance, a woman in her 70s or 80s buying long-term securities or very complex commodities simply may not live long enough to see her investment pay.

“These people aren’t sophisticated investors who’ve worked in the finance industry. They’re in over their head. They bought based simply on a purported rate of return – they see they can make 20 percent in a year, but oftentimes those people are the ones who lose their money.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Despite economy, planning for the future is critical

Free session Nov. 12 at library is sponsored by AARP, University of Wyoming and Library Foundation

Even during this national economic crisis, it’s important to consider your financial future. Waiting until the stock market rebounds may cost you more than you think – you lose both the ability to buy when prices are low and the power of compound interest, particularly if you have many years of work ahead of you. But investing for the future isn’t just about the stock market.

At the Laramie County Library in Cheyenne from 6-7 pm on Wednesday, unbiased experts from AARP and the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office will explain how to make the most of your financial future – regardless of your stage in life – and will provide tips to help you protect the money you invest and navigate the often confusing investment industry.

“Understanding the terms used by financial planners is like learning a foreign language,” AARP Wyoming Director Rita Inoway said. “We’ll translate the terminology and explain how to take charge of your financial future.”

The session, which is sponsored by AARP Wyoming, the Laramie County Library Foundation and the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, is the second in a three-part series. The third session will be held Dec. 3 and will discuss how to make the most of your money during the holiday season. More information on both sessions is available by visiting or by calling the Laramie County Library at 634-3561.

“Retirement happens sooner than you think,” Inoway said. “It’s important to take small steps now, even during times like these, to ensure you have the retirement of your dreams.”

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Beware of credit card scams

I was recently forwarded a warning (snopes checked - more on that in a minute) about a credit card scam whereby the scammer already had your credit card number and is attempting to obtain the 3 digit security code on the back of your card. Essentially, someone calls and claims there is a fraudulent charge on your account. They then have you confirm information that they already have and finish by asking for the three digit code on the back of your card. Legitimate financial companies will not call you to request information that they already have or should have. A good rule of thumb is to never provide sensitive information to someone over the phone unless you initiated the call.

I often receive forwarded warnings from people, some of which are very helpful, many of which are false or misleading. A great resource for checking the validity of warnings (or other information) that is forwarded via email is to use Snopes researches and reports on the validity of urban legends and internet claims and warnings. Whether you want to verify that the fraud alert you received is a real threat or whether the Mister Ed series used a zebra instead of a horse, can provide you some additional information.

To check the validity of the credit card fraud claim go to For snopes information on whether Mr. Ed was a horse or a zebra go to If you do check out the Mr. Ed urban legend, be sure to click on the link at the bottom that provides you additional information. In fact, if you read nothing else, go to the link on the bottom of the Mr. Ed urban legend to read more information on that particular topic.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Do You REALLY Need It or Just Want It?!?

As the economy continues to struggle and we look ahead to uncertain financial times, asking yourself if you really need something or just want it before you make a purchase becomes more and more important. If you find that you are buying a bunch of things that you truly don't need then you've just found an extra source of money that you can put into an emergency savings account by holding off on making the purchase.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

markets, jobs and credit histories

I saw today that commodity prices were down (gas, steel) -- good news for consumers. But it also means that industry is using less of these things. In some industries, the cutting back may mean job losses. For instance, I also heard that here in Wyoming the gas companies are doing less investing. Thay may not mean job losses -- perhaps it just means fewer new jobs. In any case, no matter our job situation we have to deal with building strong credit. And a strong credit report is an excellent thing to have should things tighten up. Here are a few insights on indications of strong and weak credit.

Indications of a solid credit history:
• Some, but not extensive borrowing.
• Prompt payment of monthly bills.
• Paying down balances over time.
• Steady employment.

Items that can hurt your credit report:
• Filing for bankruptcy.
• Too many credit cards.
• Too many applications for credit.
• Late payments.
• Increasing credit card balances.
• Several credit cards with balances close to their limits.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Calling all ostriches including me

The financial news is definately troubling and the markets are all over the place but that is what makes this the ideal time to evaluate your finances and where you want to go. Depending on your goals, you might be able to find some good deals out there in the stock market. Confidence in the market is so low that even companies with good fundamentals are selling at bargain prices. However, before you go bargain shopping be sure you do your research and know what you are buying. As volatile as the market is right now, you might want to hold off until the market stabilizes, even if you don't get rock bottom prices.

Let me know what you're thinking.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Struggling to make ends meet?

Learn how to lower your home heating bills and make the most of your money. Gain strategies to stay afloat during tough economic times from University of Wyoming’s community development educator Juliet Daniels. Discover which home improvements will save you money this winter – and which ones won’t. Wyoming Energy Council Executive Director Tiger Adolf will discuss how to weather this winter’s home heating storm.

Join us for this free session Wednesday, Oct. 15 from 6 to 7 pm. Get information and ask questions. Speakers will be available after the presentation for additional questions.

This is the first of a three-part series designed to help you make the most of your money, sponsored by AARP, Laramie County Library and the University of Wyoming’s Cooperative Extension Service (other sessions will be held Nov. 12 and Dec. 3). For more information, call AARP Wyoming at 1-866-663-3290, Laramie County Library at (307) 634-3561 or UW Cooperative Extension in Cheyenne at (307) 633-4383.

I will be one of the main speakers at this session so be sure to come to the seminar and lend me your support.


Home Energy Makeover Workshop & Expo

The Wyoming Home Performance Alliance is hosting a Home Energy Makeover Workshop & Expo On Saturday October 4th from 8 AM to 4 PM at Laramie County Community College at the Center for Conferences & Institutes in the Union Pacific Centennial Room (#14).

The event will feature speakers on the following topics:
  • Energy Efficiency Assistance for Low-Income Homeowners
  • Whole House Energy Efficiency Improvements
  • Utility Program Offerings for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
  • Financing Options for Home Energy Efficiency Improvements
  • Renewable Energy Options

The Expo portion of the event will feature vendors who can help you to implement the energy saving ideas you obtain during the workshops.

Event doors open at 8 AM and the workshops will conclude by 4 PM.

Tickets for the Workshop & Expo are available at the Cooperative Extension office (address is in the sidebar to the right) or at a number of non-profits in both Cheyenne and Laramie (contact information is available on the event website). Tickets are $10 per person if purchased ahead of time or $15 at the door.

For additional information visit

Hope to see you there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Economic Crisis in Laramie County - What You Can Do to Help

According to information from the Laramie County Community Partnership (2008 Gaps Analysis):

  • In 2005, 23% of our students did not graduate from high school
  • In 2006, 21.1% of female-headed households lived below the poverty line.
  • There are more households earning less than $25,000 (inflation adjusted) annually now than in the last twenty-six years.

Each of us has the opportunity to get involved and change these statistics for the better. Here in Laramie County the Connections Corner initiative of the Laramie County Community Partnership is launching a new initiative called Circles(TM). Circles(TM) is an intentional way for people to build relationships across class and race lines to end poverty in their communities. Circles(TM) is a high impact strategy that will:

  • Change the mind-set of the community so it wants to end poverty
  • Change goals, policies, and approaches to end poverty and,
  • Empower people in poverty to help solve community problems while transitioning out of poverty themselves.

A Circle is a supportive, intentional, reciprocal, befriending relationship made up of one Circle Leader who is living in poverty and two to five Circles Allies who usually are from middle class. A Circle typically meets once or twice a month to build friendships and to work on the Circle Leader's dreams, plans, and goals.

To learn more about this exciting initiative please plan on attending the Community Engagement Session for Ending Poverty in Laramie County on September 29th from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Laramie County Community College in the CCI center in room 129.

Another opportunity to get involved is to attend the Breakfast with Business Leaders at the Hitching Post Inn in room CCR West on September 30th at 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

For either of these events please RSVP to Stephanie Pyle, the Connections Corner Director at or call her at (307) 634-3333.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Troubling News but Don't Panic

Once again, it is impossible to open the newspaper or watch the news without coming across financial news stories that make you want to run screaming for the hills. The key thing to do during turbulent times such as we are facing now is to remember what your long term financial plan is and not make decisions based upon the hysteria resulting from recent events. If you haven't done so, I encourage you to develop or re-evaluate your financial goals and the steps you are taking to reach them. Hopefully, your investment portfolio is diversified and will allow you to weather this current storm.

Remember that savings and checking accounts in FDIC insured banks are guaranteed up to $100,000. If you have investments in a brokerage account they too are insured against the failure of the brokerage company (up to $500,000) but not against declines in the values of your investments. When it comes to the insurance of your financial assets, having access to current statements is critical so that you can prove how much money you had in your savings account or how many shares of a specific stock or mutual fund you own.

Keep your chin up. The financial news is bound to get better eventually.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Maximizing Adjustments to Minimize Taxes

The other day at our staff meeting a comment or two (or even three) was made that I am a type A personality. Of course I protested but just now I found myself gleefully punching numbers into Dinky Towns 1040 tax calculator. Because this isn't the first time nor the second that I have happily plugged numbers into this calculator or others like it, I have finally come to the conclusion that the comments about me being an A personality are right. Be that as it may, I hope you can benefit from my love of playing "what if" with numbers.

Before going into the example I used to look at the difference that using pre-tax money for retirement savings and flexible spending accounts would have on a family's tax burden. I think it might be helpful to explain the process that is used to calculate a person's income tax. Calculating your taxes can be a fairly complicated process. If you find that your situation is complex enough or you are confused enough I highly recommend hiring a professional to assist you. Although I have some valuable information to share, I am not a tax professional and don't have the latest information on all the rules and regulations involved in calculating your taxes.

Calculationg your Income Taxes:

Total Income
― Income exclusions =
Gross Income
― Income Adjustments =
Adjusted Gross Income
― Deductions & exemptions =
Taxable Income
  1. The first step is to calculate total income. Your total income is all the money, property and services that you received in exchange for any work that you did and any profit that you earned from selling your "stuff".

  2. The next step is to calculate Gross Income. Gross Income is calculated by subtracting out the income from total income that is supposed to be excluded. For many of us, the two figures are the same.

  3. The third step is to calculate Adjusted Gross Income. This is the number that I will be "playing" with in my example below. Adjusted Gross Income is calculated by subtracting your adjustments to income (flexible spending accounts and tax-deductible retirement accounts fall in this category) from Gross Income.

  4. Next your subtract either your standard deduction or your itemized deduction from your Adjusted Gross Income.

  5. Then you subtract out your exemptions for your family members. This gives you your Taxable Income.

  6. Now you use the tax table or a tax-rate schedule to determine what taxes you are responsible for.

  7. But before you finish you subtract out any tax credits you might have.

  8. And finally you figure out how much you owe or are owed based upon what you have already paid.

Phew, that was a big process and painful. Luckily for those of us working for someone else, we only have to go through it once a year. Okay, back to my little analysis. I used a family of three for my example (two parents and one child) earning a total of $100,000 per year between the two adults. To keep things simple I didn't include any excludable income so their Total Income and Gross Income are both $100,000. What I did include was a number of adjustments to income so that we can compare how changes to Adjusted Gross Income will impact this hypothetical family's tax burdern.

Without any income adjustments (pre-tax retirement savings or flex spending accounts) this family's Adjusted Gross Income will be the same as their Gross Income ($100,000) and their Taxable Income (Adjusted Gross Income - Deductions [standard deduction = $10,900] and Exemptions [$10,500]) is $78,600. Without taking into consideration any tax credits their tax bill would be $12,338.

The next thing I did was to assume this family spends $500 a year on medical bills so I deducted that by putting it into a Flexible Spending Account for Health Care and I assumed they spend $500 per month on child care so I deducted $6000 a year by putting it into a Flexible Spending Account for Dependent Care. I also helped this family put together a spending plan so they can contribute $15,500 to one of their 401(k) plans and $4,000 to a Traditional IRA. Making these changes dropped this family's Adjusted Gross Income down to $74,000 and subtracting out their Standard Deduction and Exemptions gave them a Taxable Income of $52,600 reducing their tax bill to $7,088. A difference of $5,250 a year.

Now for most of us, putting almost $20,000 a year into a retirement account probably isn't feasible but this examples shows what a difference using your adjustments can make to your tax bill. In the case of this family their after tax income wouldn't be reduced by the full $20,000 they put into retirement accounts since they saved over $5,000 in taxes. In essense, Uncle Sam would be putting over $5,000 into this couples retirement account for them.

Even though the money they are putting into a college savings account for their child doesn't decrease their taxes today, they won't have to pay taxes on the interest that money earns when they use it for approved educational expenses.

Again, I would highly recommend that you contact an income tax professional about strategies that you can use to legally reduce your tax burden.

Let me know if you have any questions or would like additional information on this subject.


Kids and Money

Saving--the ability to set aside some money routinely from a stream of income--is at the heart of household asset development. It is the springboard to investing in property or stocks. Though one may believe that people in poor households absolutely cannot save, research has refuted this notion repeatedly.

So how do we learn how to save? I learn alot about how kids see money from talking with families in our 4-H program. There seems to be two different paths parents set their children on one allows kids to spend what they have on their wants, the other encourages kids to think about what they really want and plan their purchases.

The life-long benefits of teaching your children good money habits makes it well worth the effort. Parents can begin to teach the money concepts of earning, spending and saving when children can talk in sentences. Spending refers to how kids decide to use money.

A couple of spending concepts to teach include:

The difference between wants and needs. Help them find a balance between these two spending motivations . Let your child know you know you can't afford to buy everything you want, either. This could be brought out while window-shopping together.

Explain the bigger financial picture. For example, a movie involves not just the price of admission, but gas for the car, popcorn, pop, time and energy.

I'm noticing it's this latter concept, the bigger financial picture that has many young people planning movie nights at each other's houses ----renting a movie, popping some popcorn and sharing a liter of soda is a way to enjoy a Friday evening and still save some of their allowances.

And in my own life, as I work to practice what I preach, I'm learning to filter my purchases through my needs or wants conversation with myself, and trying very diligently to spend less on the wants category. Several years ago I taught a class "Saving Dollars When You Don't Have a Dime to Spare" which helped me better understand my impulsive purchases. i.e. magazines at the grocercy check out; eating lunch out everyday rather than brown bagging, buying from the vending machines. I think there's many teachable moments available to us as we have conversations with young people about needs and wants----theirs and ours.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Lost account information

Recently, several banks in Wyoming were affected by a lost bag with a data tape containing account information. It sounds unlikely that the information will be misused however all account holders of the affected banks received a letter explaining protective measures to take including a free one-year membership to Identity Guard Credit ProtectX3sm.

If anyone ever becomes a victim of identity theft, a helpful four-step guide is outlined at the Federal Trade Commission website,

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Confused about how to save for your child's college education?

Well you're not alone.

Over the weekend our good friends and their 4 year old daughter came to visit us. In addition to the hiking and horseback riding we also ended up discussing taxes and college savings plans. Not having children of my own, I haven't spent a lot of time looking into the details of tax-deferred college savings plans but I know how important they can be for a family with young children.

As a result of our conversations I decided to do some research to help my friends out and figured that you might be interested in what I came up with.

Liz Pulliam Weston on MSN Money does a great job explaining the difference and the benefits of the college savings options that are available in her article "College plans for the rich, poor and in-between" and provides what she considers the top 5 college savings plans in her article "The 5 best college-savings plans".

Check out the two articles and let me know what you think.

Later this week I'll explain how college savings plans and other investment choices can help to reduce your taxes. Less taxes = more money in your pocket.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Upcoming Money Management Workshops

As you may have noticed the topic for the October session of the Fall Money Management Series has changed slightly. Given the expectation of rising heating costs we thought it would be timely to include tips on how to control your home heating expenses at the same time that we talk about strategies to make the most of your money. The two just seem to go hand in hand. Be sure to mark your calendars for October 15th. The workshop will start at 6 PM.

Along these same lines. The Wyoming Home Performance Alliance is hosting a Home Energy Makeover Workshop & Expo in Cheyenne on October 4th. Tickets will be available at the Laramie County Extension Office.

I will keep you posted with more information as we get closer to the date of the Money Management Workshop and the Home Energy Makeover Workshop & Expo.


Friday, August 22, 2008


Credit card debt continues to increase across the nation and savings accounts continue to decline. This is not a good omen when the cost of consumer goods continues to increase. During the holiday season the pressure to buy increases greatly. It’s important to evaluate your financial standing and your credit card debt and communicate your financial plans to your spouse and children.

Credit card balances should be kept low and paid off monthly. Resist the temptation to buy more than your income can support. In 2001, the average family had a credit card debt of $7,000; in 2004 this amount had grown to $12,000. This includes the 40% who paid their debt off each month. Those who carry a $7,000 debt balance pay approximately $1,400 annually in interest. Using this example, if you were in your 20’s, and if the average monthly payment of $116 could instead be invested in a retirement account, it would grow to approximately $180,000 at 5% interest or $330,000 at 7%, by the time you reached retirement.

Credit card companies are targeting young people, especially those of college age. The more immediate consequences of misuse of credit include being rejected for a car or student loan or even a home loan. It is important to budget your money and make a plan, determining budget categories and following your budget.

Every time you prepare to make a purchase ask yourself whether it is a need or a want. Much of what we buy falls in the “want” category. These things are okay to buy as long as they will fit in our budget and we can live within our income. If we have to purchase them with a credit card, with no clear-cut payoff plan, we are starting down a troubled path.

Here are 15 things that indicate credit card trouble:
Your credit card balances are rising while your income is stable or decreasing.
You are only paying the minimum amounts required on your accounts, or maybe even less than the minimums.
You are juggling bills and applying for new credit cards to pay off old ones.
You have more credit cards than a gambler has poker chips.
You are at or near the limit on each of your credit cards.
You consistently charge more each month than you make in payments.
You are working overtime to keep up with your credit card payments.
You don’t know how much you owe and you really don’t want to find out.
You have received phone calls or letters about delinquent bill payments.
You are using your credit card to pay necessities like food or gasoline.
Your credit cards are no longer used for the sake of convenience, but because you don’t have money.
You are dipping into your savings or IRA to pay your monthly bills.
You are hiding the cost of your purchases from your spouse.
You are playing the card game by signing up for every credit card that sends you an offer.
You have lost your job, or are fearful that you are about to, and are concerned about how you are going to pay all your bills.

If you feel you need assistance in developing a plan to deal with overwhelming debt there are free credit counseling services available. Be sure they are accredited by the National Foundation for Consumer Credit ( Find a service near you by going to

internet security - getting the basics right

It's always good to get the basics right, and when we risk losing all our computer's data, the stakes become high. If your personal computer doesn't have adequate security, others may gain unauthorized access to the information stored on your PC or your browser. With this information they can also gain access to your accounts and personal information. You should take precautions to protect your computer from unauthorized access and use.

A good Internet security plan begins at home. Here are a few tips to help you safeguard your personal and account information when using online services:
· Install anti-virus software, a firewall and spyware-detection software on your PC; and update this software on a regular basis, as recommended by the software providers. Remember, new viruses continue to be created. Always check to make sure the security software is running before accessing the Internet.
· Do not respond to emails, web pages or telephone inquiries requesting you to verify your account information. Your providers will likely never ask you to verify your account information, user name or password, via an email using a non-secure web site. Never provide personal or account information or respond to any attempt to collect this.
· Keep your PC and browser updated with current patches that are released by your system vendor. Be sure to download patches only from official vendors' web sites, and not from third-party providers.
· Forward suspicious emails claiming to be from your service provider to that provider so that they are aware of the risk their customers might face.

Naturally, never share your password with anyone, even someone you know. Providers of online services will ask you to create a username and password. In creating your password, do not use numbers or words that can be easily guessed, such as your phone or street number, or your child’s name.

Teaching your kids to budget and spend money wisely

As promised yesterday, today I am going to tell you about a great tool for teaching your kids to budget and spend money wisely. If done right, this tool shouldn't cost you an additional cent. My guess is, you already have this tool available to you.

Are you wondering what it is!?! Is the anticipation getting to you yet!?! Are you ready to strangle me if I don't hurry up and tell you!?!

Okay, okay - - it's an allowance. "An allowance" you say in puzzlement. Yep, an allowance. Not only is it a source of fun spending money for your kids but used wisely, it can teach them valuable lessons about saving money and making decisions on where to spend money.

Check out the article "Back to School Allowance Advice for Parents" on


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back-To-School Budgeting

Back-to-school season is here again and with it comes the spend spend spending on back-to-school supplies. With fuel prices incredibly high and winter heating expected to be costlier than last year you are probably feeling a pinch (or a major squeeze) on your wallet. I know if I had kids I would be squirming right now trying to figure out how to pay for it all.

I can't make the expenses go away but I did find a great resource which provides tips on how to minimize your spending on back-to-school "STUFF". Check out the article "10 Steps to Conquering Back to School Spending" on

I highly encourage you to include your kids not only in the budgeting process for the back to school spending but also the budget for your household. Including them in the process now will give them the tools they need to make sound financial decisions when they are adults.

Check back tomorrow for some great information on another tool to teach your kids how to handle money.

Until then.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Rainy weather heralds winter weather

Today's rainy weather reminds me that winter will be here before we know it. As you have probably heard, this winter is going to be much tougher on our wallets than previous winters have been. I know this first hand. We just ordered our propane for the winter and it is almost a dollar a gallon more than it was last year.

For helpful hints and tips on reducing your heating costs check out the Montana Weatherization Training Center at


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reduce taxes and save the environment at the same time.

Okay, todays blog is a bit of a stretch but I needed to get on my soapbox and reducing taxes as a topic allows me to jump on up. You are probably wondering what in the world I am talking about so let me start at the beginning...

Over the weekend as my husband and I were riding our horses in Vedauwoo we came upon pile upon pile of trash. I was outraged. Not only was it unsightly but also dangerous. I can't even count the number of broken beer bottles and pieces of rusted metal lying around waiting to cut an unsuspecting person (or in our case horse). Luckily we managed to avoid direct contact with the trash but I am still saddened by how it ruins the peace and serenity you are supposed to feel when you are in the mountain.

So my plea to everyone out there is ... "Please please pick up your trash when you are enjoying our national/state/city forests, parks and recreational areas and if someone has mistakenly left some trash behind, be a good neighbor and pick that up too." I guess it goes without saying that putting non-combustible items into a campfire isn't cleaning up after yourself either. Who wants to come upon a used fire pit with broken glass in it and bits of rusted metal or charred plastic.

About this point you are probably wondering what this soapbox of mine has to do with taxes. Well, it is a stretch, but I figure if we all pick up our trash and are good citizens in our recreational areas then the parks won't need as many rangers and they can reduce their budgets thus needing less money which should reduce our taxes. At the very least our recreational areas will look a lot nicer.

Thanks for doing your part.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Is shopping online really safe!?!

I thought this would be a good topic for today since I mentioned the safety of online shopping yesterday and this morning I heard a story on NPR about US stores being hacked and 40 million card numbers stolen (Listen to the story HERE). I still think shopping online is safe but not absolutely, just like driving is safe but you can still end up dead if things go wrong. Would all of those credit card numbers have been safe if people didn’t shop online? Probably not. The hackers gained access to the main computers of the companies via unsecured wireless access at the storefronts and had access to customer’s personal information. If companies store your personal information whether it is from an in person transaction or an online transaction and then get hacked, you are vulnerable. The only absolute way to protect yourself from thieves (online or otherwise) is to live on a deserted island and have no contact with humanity. Living on a deserted island probably isn’t very feasible for most of us but luckily there are other steps we can take to protect ourselves.

Visit the following sites for valuable information on how to protect yourself or respond to internet fraud and theft.

  • Shopping Safely Online by OnGuard Online (

  • Request your Free Annual Credit Report compliments of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) – Don’t go to the consumer reporting companies individually or they will charge you for your report.
    ** (be careful how you type the address. This is the only valid address to get your FCRA authorized free credit report. Lots of companies have created similar addresses so they can sucker you into paying for the report or even to scam you.
    ** Call 1-877-322-8228
    ** Print the form from the website

  • FTC’s Identify Theft Site (

Shop safely and wisely (within budget).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Paying extra to pay your bills on time?

Okay, I know it sounds ludicrous but it happens. It has almost happened to me a couple of times. There I was trying to do the right thing and pay my bill on time (granted, it was at the last minute because time had gotten away from me) and the customer service representative told me it would cost an additional $15 to pay over the phone. Think this is unusual!?! Then check out the article on MSN Money "And now, a fee to pay your bill." According to the article companies aren't just using fees to ofset their costs but they are also using them to make additional money. Luckily I have either been able to talk my way out of the fee or have been able to pay online.

Speaking of online payments, according to this same article paying on the internet is now considered safer than sending a payment by mail. Are you reading this Mom?

So now it is your turn. What have been your experiences. Who does this type of policy on the part of these companies hurt the most?


Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer vacations on a budget.

Who says you can't go on a vacation without destroying your budget. I certainly don't. Although your sanity might be another matter entirely. This past weekend, my husband and I treated our nieces to an extremely cost effective (albeit labor intensive) mini vacation. For just a few dollars more than we would have spent if we had stayed at home our nieces got to enjoy a "water park", "botanic gardens", "gourmet meals" and a "meditational retreat center". Where did we go you might ask. Just up the road to Vedauwoo.

Twenty two miles from our house we pitched a tent (the "meditational retreat center") next to a natural spring (the "water park") near a meadow (the "botanic gardens") and grilled steaks, corn on the cob and banana boats (the "gourmet meal") over an open fire. The girls are still ooohing and awing over the banana boats. I'm more than happy to share the banana boat recipe, I'm just waiting for someone to request it in the comments section following this post.

For those of us living in Wyoming, we are blessed to be right smack dab in the center of a vacation destination. So, do as we did and save a bit of money by enjoying the amenities we have right in our backyard. Your children, relatives, significant other, etc. should enjoy it just as much as we did and you will sleep easy at night knowing you had fun while still able to put away a few bucks towards a rainy day.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Psychology of spending using credit cards

I heard an interesting story on NPR the other day. According to the economics professor they were interviewing, people spend more when they make a purchase with a credit card than with cash. I can definately see how this happens, however, I find that cash burns a hole in my pocket and I can never seem to remember where it went.

One of the solutions for better management of your money that was mentioned on the program was to use your debit card instead of your credit card. That way you have to ensure that you have the money before you spend it. The program was really quick, 3 minutes and 20 seconds, so be sure and check it out yourself.

NPR Program: Why We Spend More Using Credit Versus Cash

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Will You Outlive Your Retirement Assets?

Hopefully not, but the odds don't look good. Even if you are a long way off from retiring, you should keep reading. This might affect you sooner than you think, especially if your parents run out of money during their retirement. Also, if you don’t plan for retirement in your youth, you run the risk that you won’t have enough time to accumulate the assets you will need when you do eventually retire (Yes, I’m speaking to all of you 20 and 30 year olds).

While reading through the Wyoming Tribune Eagle today I came across an article entitled "Put more money into retirement savings." This article referenced a study by Ernst & Young that was commissioned by Americans for Secure Retirement. After reading the article I decided to go to the source and find out who Americans for Secure Retirement are and get more information on what retirees can expect financially post retirement. Right up front I want to say that I didn’t do an extensive amount of research into Americans for Secure Retirement or their coalition members. I was primarily looking to see if AARP has any involvement with them since I know that AARP is working diligently on this same issue. In looking through the list of coalition members, I found the names of some organizations that sounded familiar, but none that I am personally acquainted with. I’m giving you this information so that you can do your own due diligence before deciding whether to support the proposals of this group or not. It appears that they have quite a few members who are in the business of selling annuities and the coalition’s solution appears to be linked to more people buying annuities. This doesn’t mean they aren’t legitimate or it isn’t a good solution, it just means you should be double sure to do your homework.

Anyway, back to the quest6ion at hand. Will you outlive your retirement assets? Unfortunately, the answer is probably. According to the press release put out by Americans for Secure Retirement, “almost three out of five new middle-class retirees will outlive their financial assets if they attempt to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.” When I checked the results for Wyoming the news got even grimmer. According to the study approximately 8 out of 10 people nearing retirement (58 to 65 years old) and 7 out of 10 people at retirement (65 years old or older) in Wyoming will outlive their retirement assets.

Pretty scary news but there are things you can do whether you are at or near retirement age or even if retirement is a long way off. The following suggestions apply whether you are twenty or twenty three times over.

  • Trim your budget. If you are a long way off from retirement this will enable you to put more into your retirement account and fund that rainy day/emergency account that you have been meaning to start. If you are close to or at retirement, trimming your expenses back will help to preserve your assets.

  • Review your financial goals. Whether your financial goals are for tomorrow or 30 years from now, reviewing your retirement savings and strategies on a regular basis is an important step to ensure that your money is working for you. As you get nearer to retirement your needs and tolerance for risk change. I’m not suggesting that you chase the market or make drastic changes on a regular basis but I am suggesting that as you get older you make prudent changes in your portfolio to reflect the fact that you are getting closer to relying on your retirement nest egg as a source of income and probably won’t be as comfortable riding the ups and downs of volatile markets as someone who has 30 years until they need the money.

  • Rethink how much money you will need in retirement. The old rule of thumb of retiring on 70% of pre-retirement income doesn’t seem to be holding true anymore. According to a financial consulting firm at an AARP conference I attended, people need to plan on having 100% of their pre-retirement income available to them at retirement in order to maintain the same standard of living post retirement as they did when they were still drawing a paycheck.

  • Plan on retiring later. By continuing to work you reduce your dependence upon your retirement savings and leave more money for those days when you can no longer draw a paycheck.
If you fear that you are going to outlive your assets and don’t know where to turn, give me a call or drop me an email and I will do my best to get you in touch with people that can help.


Friday, July 18, 2008

To buy, or to sell: that is the question!

And a question that I can't necessarily answer for you. However, when thinking about buying or selling stocks (or mutual funds or exchange traded funds) be sure to take into account the long term outlook. It can be quite scary to think about investment choices when the market is down and doesn't look like it is going up anytime soon, but history tells us that what goes down must come up. Conversely, as we have all unfortunately learned the hard way, what goes up quite often comes down too. That being said, you should still consider the stock market when contemplating your investment choices.

Although the advice in essortment's article "Investing advice: tips for buying during a bear market" is geared towards buying individual stocks, the explanation of the psychology behind bear and bull markets still applies to mutual funds and exchange traded funds.

Read the article and let me know what you think and what your experiences have been.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Recession, Inflation and Bubbles … Oh My!

How the financial news affects you and strategies to succeed no matter what.

It seems that you can’t turn on the television or the radio without hearing the doom and gloom reports about our national economy. Most of the talk centers on a US recession (impending or existing depending on who you talk to), inflation and the bursting of the housing market bubble. All of this talk is enough to make even the calmest person panic. But is panic necessary? The short answer is “No”. The long answer is that some, if not all, of the economic news will affect you. However, panicking won’t do you any good but implementing some sound financial strategies will. Read on to find out what you can do to protect yourself and your family from the consequences of less than ideal economic times.

First, know the facts…
What exactly is a recession anyway? Simply put, a recession is a longer than normal decline in the economy. All economies go up and down on a regular basis. If the down period lasts longer than expected then the country is considered to be in a recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research ( is the organization that officially determines if our economy has been down enough to declare a recession. During a recession people and organizations typically buy fewer goods and services. This in turn leads businesses to slow down or halt hiring new people and in some cases forces them to lay off some of their employees.

Recessions don’t affect all areas of the country the same. In Wyoming we have seen quite a bit of growth in our economy over the last couple of years. In fact, the current forecasts indicate that employers will have a hard time finding enough employees. This is in stark contrast to other areas that are forecasting higher unemployment rates.

Second, heed the warning…
Now is the perfect time to get your finances in order. Wyoming’s economy is holding its own today, but historically we have experienced some hefty downturns. By getting your finances in order now you will be able to take advantage of the opportunities available in a good economy and will be prepared to weather any downturns that come our way.

If you haven’t already done so, start an emergency savings fund. Most financial advisors recommend having enough money in this fund to cover three months of expenses. In an economic downturn, where finding a new job can be difficult, it is wise to increase this figure to six months of expenses and up to a year for one-income families. Now is also a good time to reduce credit-card and other high-interest loans.

If you are interested in getting more information on this topic, please email me and let me know. I will put you on the Community Development mailing list and keep you posted on upcoming events. Plans are currently underway to offer financial management workshops in the Cheyenne area.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pay Less Taxes and Get Free Money Too

I know, it sounds too good to be true, but in this case it is the real deal. With a little bit of work and sacrifice on your part you can reduce your taxes and increase your savings with money from Uncle Sam and your employer. Contributing to a tax deferred retirement plan earns you money in three ways.

1. Your contributions reduce your tax liability by reducing your taxable income. For every dollar that you contribute to a tax deferred retirement plan your taxable income is reduced by a dollar. As an example, if you are in the 27% tax bracket you will reduce your taxes by 27 cents for every dollar you contribute. It might not seem like much, but it adds up. If you were to contribute $1000 you would save $270 in taxes.

2. Many employers offer to match an employee’s contribution into a tax deferred retirement plan up to a certain amount. If this is the case with your employer, you are guaranteed a 100% return on your money. For example, if you earn $30,000 a year and your employer is willing to match your contributions up to 4% of your annual salary, you will earn an additional $1200 for your retirement account by contributing $1200.

3. Once invested into a retirement account your money doesn’t just sit there. By utilizing wise investment strategies your money will grow over the years. Once again, an example really illustrates the benefit of contributing to your retirement plan. If you were to invest $1200 per month for 10 years and earn a 5% rate of return you would have $15,528 in your account at the end of the 10 years. This is $3528 more than the $12,000 that you contributed over the 10 year period of time.

Unfortunately many people don’t take advantage of the benefits of a tax deferred retirement plan. Don't wait until tax time to start think about this important topic, talk to your employer today about contributing to an employer sponsored retirement plan and don't forget your IRA options. For more information on Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) check out this website

Monday, July 14, 2008

Welcome to Wyoming Money Talk

Welcome to the Wyoming Money Talk blog. This blog is an opportunity for me to share my thoughts on personal financial management and hopefully help you to wade through the information/mis-information that is on the web regarding this topic. I will do my absolute best to keep this blog updated with pertinent information. This is my first shot at blogging, so please bear with me as I start this process.

For my first blog I will share a bit about me. I'll do my best to keep it short and sweet so I can get to the good stuff on money management. As you can see by looking at my profile, my name is Julie and I am an educator for the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service in the area of Community Development Education. I started in this position on September 5, 2007.

I am really excited about working for the University, especially the College of Agriculture since I am an alumni from the college. In 1997 I graduated from the University of Wyoming, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics with a Master of Science in Agricultural Economics with an emphasis in Community Development. After graduating from UW I moved to Sheridan, Wyoming and worked in Economic Development for a number of years.

Okay, that is enough about me for now. Please feel free to comment on this post and tell me a bit about you.