12/23/2011

The New Year is here! Are you ready?

Resolve to make resolutions a reality in 2012 with this free eBook

New Beginnings offers a step-by-step guide to turning resolutions into action-oriented steps that make achieving financial success in 2012 a reality. New Beginnings covers everything from steps to get a grip on financial clutter to ways you an personalize goals in order to make them more achievable. Resolve to ring in the New Year right, and prepare with New Beginnings.

New Beginnings eBook
Click here for the New Beginnings eBook.

Courtesy of MoneyManagement International, a Virginia Saves Partner

12/15/2011

Retirement Savings for Procrastinators

Getting a late start in saving for retirement? The percentage of your annual salary you need to set aside might be more manageable than you think - if you're willing to spend some extra years at the office. To find out more on this from SmartMoney click here.

Courtesy of SmartMoney

Retirement Confidence

The past few years saw a sharp decline in Americans' confidence about their ability to secure a financially comfortable retirement. What has happened to confidence now that some economic indicators are improving? Click here for the Fact Sheet from Retirement Confidence Survey.

Courtesy of Retirement Confidence Survey

12/05/2011

SIGTARP, CFPB, and Treasury Form Joint Task Force to Combat HAMP Mortage Modification Scams; Release a Consumer Fraud Alert to Protect Homeowners

Washington, DC - The office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Program (SIGTARP), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the creation of a joint task force to combat scams targeted at homeowners seeking to apply for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). SIGTARP, the CFPB, and Treasury have partnered to protect taxpayers by investigating and shutting down these scams and by providing education programs to vulnerable homeowners. The joint task force issued a consumer fraud alert to protect homeowners from HAMP- related mortgage modification scams.
Tips for avoiding mortgage modifications scams are available online at www.SIGTARP.gov/pdf/Consumer_Fraud_Alert.pdf.

Courtesy: U.S. Department of the Treasury

Retirement Contributions and Saver's Credit

Did you know that you may qualify for the Saver's Credit of up to $1,000 ($2,000 if filing jointly) for making eligible contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan or an individual retirement arrangement (IRA)? Unlike a deduction, a credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your federal income tax liability and can reduce the amount you owe or increase your federal income tax refund! See the Full Story on IRS Outreach Corner.

Courtsey of IRS Outreach Corner

11/04/2011

Holiday Savings Planning

It’s easy to overspend during the holidays. An American Express survey found its customers plan to spend approximately $1,500 this year on gifts alone.Sale doesn't always mean savings. That's why it is important to create your savings plan for the holiday season. Holidays -- once a time for family, food and gifts -- are now prime seasons of financial peril. When using credit cards to purchase items, it's easy to forget how much has been actually spent. Here we've written some guidelines to help make the holidays manageable. Visit our page here on Holiday Savings Planning for more information.

Some Suggestions to Follow:
• Decide on how much you can afford to spend
• Budget in hand, write down your shopping lists for the year
• Look at the list and see where you can cut back
• Don’t forget to include the extras when cratingyour budget
• Plan your gift buying shopping trips
• Use store’s convenient lay-a-way plan, if unable to pay for full item
• Make gifts at home: baked goods, picture collages, or arts and crafts

Additional Resources:

Holiday Meals without the Stress

It's that time again! The carols, the holly, the mistletoe (oh la la!) and unfortunately the stress. Between wrapping gifts, preparing meals and decorating who doesn't get stressed over the holidays? Here are some ideas and resources for filling hungry stomachs without emptying out your piggybank. Plan your menu, shop for your groceries and extra things needed, and begin making preparations early. View our page here on Holiday Grocery Shopping: How to Bring Home the Bacon Without Breaking the Pig.
Planning meals may seem strange when most of us are hustling to get the job done. A planned menu saves time, money, and reduces stress. No more extra trips to the supermarket!  A menu plan also reduces impulse spending and improves good nutrition. Thus, there is more time to create healthy sidedishes and salads complementing your meal.
Remember:
  • Write the date of when you purchased the items. Take advantage of plentiful coupons and rebates in advance, by buying non-perishable items when they are on sale. If you buy certain items regularly, stock up for additional savings.
  • Know what you need. Then you won’t be tempted to spend on extra items
  • When you are planning that menu, remember you aren't feeding 10,000. Pick a few great things and make them gret this holiday season.Or better yet, host a potluck and have each member of the family bring their favorite hoilday items.
  • Many grocery stores double coupons, but some will even triple them from time to time. Increase your savings by combining a manufacturer coupon with a store coupon for the same item.
  • Be an early bird, and beat those early birds! Wake up and get those savings! Some stores offer huge sales in accordance with the holiday, or during certain times of the day for a few hours. Go there early in order to bag the best deals on items. Success comes to those who prepare and put in the extra effort. So roll up your sleeves, read the papers, and find those coupons. 
Extra Resources:
  • Holiday Meal Planner- this helpful guide outlines the date, occation, what food items are needed and who is bringing them to the table
  • Grocery List- here is an helpful grocery list outline to help plan your shopping trip.
  • 20 ways to spend less on groceries.- 20 helpful tips for spending less.
  • Hoilday Turkey Dinner Calculator- from www.csgnetwork.com, this calculator finds the approximate amount of turkey along with the appropriate quantity of stuffing (dressing) and gravy needed to feed a family. There is tabled information below on thawing and cooking.
  • Coupon Guide: learn strategies to make the most of your couponing.

Holiday Gift Giving Resources

The holidays should be a time for happiness and celebration. Most families look forward to gift-giving, holiday activities, and visits with families. However, it can also be stressful with hectic shopping trips, budget planning, and the holiday “hustle and bustle”. Focus on alternative gifts to your family and friends without spending a fortune. For more information on how to save while giving, visit our full page Gift Giving Ideas for the Holidays: Gifts from the Heart
Quick and Easy Shopping Tips:
• Don’t wait until the day before the big event to shop
• Leave the credit cards at home
• Charge carefully
• Get organized
•Remember that online items will cost more due to shipping charges 


Interesting Gift Suggestions:
  • Create a brag book in minutes by uploading images to a CD and bringing them to a photo-printing kiosk.
  • Prove that eco-cleaning does work and can smell nice, too. Fill a pretty bottle with a homemade cleaner scented with essential oils. Find easy-to-make formulas at ehow.com. On the home page, type in “how to make green cleaning supplies.”
  • Make a recipe booklet with your favorites handwritten on cute cards. Punch a hole in the corner of each and tie together with a festive ribbon. Offer a dessert sample with the booklet.
  • Dip pretzels in melted store-bought almond bark and lay them on wax paper. Decorate with red and green sugar crystals, then package in holiday-themed cellophane bags.
More Resources:
  • Gift Coupons- a personal coupon book is inexpensive gift that is loved by all.
  • Holiday Stocking Stuffers-  Keep track of the little items that add up on your shopping list with this easy to use chart.
  • Gift Giving List:  100's of ideas for gifts they will remember, but your budget won't

New Year's Resolutions Now

New Year's Day may seem distant, but don't let that stop you from making a resolution today to start saving. Your personal wealth is always an important thing to keep striving for. With so many resources, it's easy to find effective ways to save. Find out just how much your assets are worth with our personal wealth estimator, learn about savings and investments, and take control of your debit and credit. Learn how to save for auto purchases, emergencies, or a home. Take control now.
Savvy Savings: Information You Need to Know About Savings Accounts and Resources
Budgeting Resources: What to Remember About Your Budget

Tips for Saving:
  • Make a budget: Visit our Virginia Saves blog for tips here
  • Save your loose change.  Putting aside fifty cents a day over the course of a year will allow you to save nearly $200.
  • Take the amount the item costs and divide it into your hourly wage. If it’s a $50 pair of shoes and you make $10 an hour, ask yourself, are those shoes really worth five long hours of work?
  • Shop for food with a list and stick to it.  People who do food shopping with a list, and buy little else, spend much less money.
  • Communicate by e-mail rather than by phone.  If you're on-line, e-mail communications are virtually free.
  • For more savings tips click here
  • Learn about the four types of savings recommended by financial advisors on our Virginia Saves Blog- Four Golden Rings: The Four Types of Savings
  • Become a Virginia Saver! Enroll now and take your first steps to building long term personal wealth.
  • Learn how to save for emergencies, a home, or automobile- Click here.
Earn More Money Before the Holiday Season:
  • Apply for a seasonal position: A lot of retailers hire on new members to their teams during the holiday season. Not only is it a way to build cash, but also can be an easy way to establish contacts, build your resume, and learn important new job skills.
  • Sell unwanted items like DVDs, video games, or comic books to specialty stores which generally give you a better deal. For collector’s items or items of higher value, list online through auction websites.
  • Hold a garage or yard sale to get rid of your remaining items or things of lower value. If you don’t have much to sell, consider hosting a joint or neighborhood sale to increase traffic.
  • Take advantage of opportunities around the neighborhood.
Controlling Your Credit:
  • Gifts bought on a credit card usually end up costing more in fiance charges
  • Unexpected post-holiday expenses might postpone your credit card payment plan, lengthening your credit card debt.
  • Set a predetermined spending limit
  • Don't apply for new credit cards just because of the discount
  • Visit our blog and learn more about the full cost of holiday credit card spending here: The Cost of Holiday Credit
  • Use our Credit Card Cozy as a reminder to think before you spend.
Tax Tips
  • Get your free Credit Report: The only "free" credit report can be found at http://www.annualcreditreport.com/ you are entitled to one free report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. This website is your portal to get all three reports 
  • Avoid High-Cost Anticipation Loans. These loans actually worth more than you get. They have high interest rates that can sometimes cost even more than your tax credit. By planning ahead, you can save money so that you will not have to take out one of these costly loans, and have more money to put forth towards savings
  • Stockpile Savings: Save as much as you can in preparation for your lean season. Even if there are no unexpected costs during the year, having the extra cash provides a cushion as well as financial security

Holiday Decorating on a Budget

A lot of extra money is wasted over the holiday season. Conveniences such as professional gift wrapping and novelty attachments can really add up. By creating your own holiday spending plan, you can organize your inventory of items for each person on your list. Also, it becomes easy to see how much you are actually spending verses the estimated cost. For more information visit: Decking the Halls: Decorating on a Budget

When Decorating For the Holidays:
• Consider inexpensive decorating strategies, such as children's artwork and crafts
• Inspect and inventory holiday decorations and only purchase items to enhance current decorations
• Check light strands for cracked or broken bulbs and replace bulbs. The bulbs are less expensive.


10 Ways to Save:
1. Decorate with holiday ribbon. The ribbon can be tied to curtains, banisters, windows, and placed on mantles with a few unlit candles.
2. Bring the outdoors indoors. Don't be afraid to use pine cones and needles for decorations. The cones can also be painted or dipped in glitter for unique ornaments.
3.Want a unique table runner? Use an old holiday scarf instead!
4.Wrap your doors in Christmas wrapping paper and attach large bows make from fabric or purchased at your local craft store.
5. Use a holiday pop-up book as a centerpiece. Just open the book up to a desirable picture and place the open book in the center of your table.
6.Trim door frames, window frames and the edges of mirrors with Christmas garland.
7. For convincing "snow" on your tree  lay lengths of rolled cotton, available at drugstores, on the branches.
8. Stuffing potpourri in bowls or baskets is another great idea to make a beautiful centerpiece.
9. Tie cinnamon sticks with ribbons and hang them from the mantle, Christmas tree, etc.
10. Make your own garlands with the help of popcorn, buttons, beads, cranberries, charms, candies, etc. Use these garlands for decorating the house.


More Resources:

10/03/2011

Are you Saving Enough for Retirement?

Everyone knows they can't really depend on Social Security to be enough to live on in retirement, but with so many demands on our budgets, how can we be sure that we are saving enough to retire?  So many of us choose our retirement contributions based on what we have left in our budgets after all other bills, but this strategy could shortchange your retirement dreams. 

You can know how much you need to be saving by using a free calculator called the Ball Park Estimate from the American Savings Education Council.  You can find it by clicking on this link.  Just fill in a few simple questions and the calculator will tell you exactly what you should be saving.

The Social Security Administration has issued announcements that people who are working should work closely with their financial planner to assure their needs are met in retirement.  You can get personal financial planning advice by attending the Virginia Beach Financial Planning Days on October 22nd.  Just visit www.financialplanningdays.org/virginiabeach to register.  See you there!

Financial Planning Day

We’ve all heard that there’s no free lunch, but in these challenging economic times, Hampton Roads-area residents will be able to get free financial planning advice and guidance from professional financial planners at Virginia Beach Financial Planning Day.  The event will be held on October 22nd at Virginia Beach Convention Center and  will feature experts from the Financial Planning Association® and highly qualified Certified Financial Planner™ professionals, all volunteering their time and expertise to work with local residents one-on-one to address important financial issues. 

Financial planners will be set up at their own tables to meet one-on-one with attendees to answer questions on budgeting, getting out of debt, income taxes, dealing with mortgage foreclosures, paying for college, estate planning and insurance, among many other topics.  The advice will be offered on a “no strings attached” basis and planners will not give out business cards or sell financial products or services.

Betsy Duke, governor of the Federal Reserve Board will be the keynote speaker for the event.

The event will also feature a series of classroom-style educational workshops addressing key personal finance topics, including: Virginia Beach Financial Planning Day is organized by City of Virginia Beach in partnership with the Financial Planning Association of Hampton Roads  as part of a national Financial Planning Days initiative created by Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Financial Planning Association, Foundation for Financial Planning and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  The collaboration is a first-of-its kind effort involving city governments and thousands of financial planners nationwide united in an effort to provide free financial education and programming to communities throughout the U.S.
  • Managing Money in Hard Times: Financially Surviving a Job Loss
  • Financial Firedrill
  • Accomplishing Your Financial Mission 
  • Financial Planning for a Home of Your Own
  • Real World Retirement Planning
  • Taking Control: A Financial Planning Starter Kit
  • Estate Planning: What Everyone Needs to Know
  • Planning for Higher Education
                                                                                                       
TO PARTICIPATE:  Virginia Beach Financial Planning Day is free and open to the public.  Members of the news media are invited to attend the event and interview the organizers.  The event will be held on Saturday, October 22nd at Virginia Beach Convention Center.  Events will begin at 9:00 am and will run until 3:00 pm.                                                                                                         
Free online registration for the Virginia Beacch Financial Planning Day is available at www.financialplanningdays.org/virginiabeach, or by calling 877-861-7826. Walk-ins are also welcome.

9/25/2011

Lowering College Costs—To Live at Home or Not To Live at Home?

That is the question if your child is considering staying on campus during college, and if you will have to pay for them to do so. Certainly, living on campus would be a great experience for your child—but really think about if you can afford it. Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary revisits how to lower college costs and urges parents to reconsider what costs are truly necessary. The decision to attend college is a major one that affects not just your child’s life, but yours as well—emotionally and financially.

What are your thoughts on the on-campus versus off-campus experience? Is it worth the price? Let us know—we’d love to hear from you!

And don’t forget, if you are a parent it’s never too early to start saving for college. Join Virginia Saves today!

8/15/2011

Back to School Savings Can be Misleading

Can you imagine - it is already time to start thinking about how to finance  back to school needs.  If you notice, there are many events being provided for those returning to school or college such as tax savings month, if you buy certain products. 

But have you noticed how everyone is trying to tempt you to purchase items that you truly do not need?  They have bought into the concept of ‘back to school’ savings - you can even buy a lawn mower which has nothing to do with your education. 

Many of these tax savings are lucrative but have you compared the prices to what you paid for pens pencils and the like to that of last year?  Which brings me to this -  you have missed the curve if you are just thinking about how to finance your newly about to be purchased items.

My Mom and Dad always had a way of teaching me and my 3 siblings how to save money and most of all they not only preached it but they did it as well.  They were mentors to me and my brothers and sisters.  The old saying that pennies make dollars - just imagine what dimes will make.  You can start saving by taking the very small baby steps of using an empty tin juice can with a slit at the top cut just large enough to hold dimes.  You will be surprised just how many dimes you can get into that recycled juice can - and guess what, you cannot open it unless you destroy the entire can.  We used to save hundreds of dollars using this method.  It became more of a fun game just waiting for those dimes to appear in the change that the local grocer gave back after a purchase or during a shopping spree.    I know, I can hear it DIMES, well then go for quarters.  One thing about quarters, you may want to bust into your bank for those quarters to do laundry.  Dimes - are  a safe bet since you may find you have less use for them. 

You will be shocked and surprised at how much money you will have when your next school semester begins.  You will also be very pleased with yourself when you can just about purchase any items with money that you have saved and not from money that you did not earn yourself through your daily chores.

To join the league of savers who have committed to their fresh financial start by setting a savings goal, visit www.virginiasaves.org/enroll today!

8/04/2011

Back to School Shopping – Ways to Save

Shopping for back to school supplies and clothing doesn’t have to break your wallet. In fact, there are ways to find what you need without spending money at all.

Virginia Saves recommends shopping at home first to see if you already have items on your child’s school supply list. Things like rulers, pencil boxes and backpacks can be reused if they’re in good shape. Also, do a clothing inventory. You may find your child’s clothes are still in great condition. And if they’re not the latest style, update them with paint, patches or sequins.
If you do have to shop for school supplies and clothing, a way to maximize spending is taking advantage of Virginia’s upcoming tax holiday, August 5-7. During this three-day period, purchases of qualifying school supplies selling for $20 or less per item and purchases of qualifying clothing and footwear for $100 or less per item will be exempt from sales tax. That means saving on everything from pencils and binders to jeans and sneakers—every penny counts! And don’t let those pennies go to waste; they could be the foundation for your back to school savings for next year. Become a saver at virginisaves.org today!

For more information and a full list of tax exempt items, visit www.tax.virginia.gov.

7/04/2011

Christmas in July - Shift the Date

Holidays can be overwhelming.  Places to be, relatives to visit, meals to plan and host, events and parties galore.  It is all good, but sometimes can be too much.  Shear logistics of managing the schedules and events can be so difficult that it can take the joy out of the actual experience. 

Virginia Saves has an idea that can keep the joy of the season but spread more throughout the year as well!  Creative celebrations can bring new life to old routines and to keep the spirit of the season all year long.  One idea is to shift some of the celebrations normally reserved for November and December to times when you can have more intentional focus. 

Summertime can be a great time for breaking from routines and reconnecting with family.  Shared vacations can be a great way to bond with sisters, cousins, aunts and grandparents.  Consider adding some family fun to your get togethers by having Christmas celebrations out of season.  It can help you keep the season in your heart and remember all the reasons for the holiday.

Who says you can't enjoy a turkey feast with all the trimmings during the summer.  Perhaps even plan a Christmas party with family and friends.  Singing holiday music, like "Let it Snow" can create some festivities and add a lot of fun to the summertime heat!  Plan a gift exchange and pull out all the ornaments and baubles from your last celebration to bring new life and joy to your summertime fun!

Christmas in July - The Best Gifts

By making plans now for the holiday season, you have plenty of time to save for that very special gift for the ones you love most.  But what you may not have considered is that by planning now, you can make personal gifts that will not only tell your loved ones you care at Christmas, but all year long.

Our friends at Virginia Tech Extension Services put together some ideas of gifts that you can use to make this year the most special one ever.  Use this Holiday Gift List to stimulate your thinking to make or buy a very personal gift that will be remembered not only Christmas week, but may become a centerpiece kept all year long.

Christmas in July - Counting the Costs

Have you ever wanted something but weren't sure how much it would cost?  Maybe it was a remodeling project, some landscaping, or perhaps a car.  It is very surreal to make plans for something when you don't know the costs, but frequently that is how many approach the holidays each year.  Without a real figure to plan for, we set aside way too little in savings because the costs are so indefinate.

Virginia Saves with some help from our friends at the Virginia Tech Extension Services have put together a planning tool to help you identify and plan for the costs of the holidays.  This budget worksheet can help you plan for all  the costs of the holiday and build a budget that will ensure that you have more than sufficient funds to meet your needs when the time comes.

If you read our last blog post, you know how to go about creating the gift giving list, but that is just the start of the total holiday costs.  With this holiday planner, you can plan for the food, travel, gifts and all the other incidental costs of the holidays and be prepared for the best season of your life!

If you need some help pulling together the costs, take a look at your bank statement from last year to get an estimate for the costs of postage, cards, food, etc.  If you use on-line banking or a credit card, often you can review history and get estimates that way.  Don't forget that with a plan in hand, you can look for special discount and sales in the off-season that will allow you to cut the costs and still enjoy a full celebration during the season.

Planning also reduces impulse buying as you have plenty of time to plan for and make the right purchases.  Advertisers thrive on incentivising you to act on impulse, but impulse buying can be very costly and not very satifying in the end.  The joy of the purchase leaves soon after the act and you are often left with the fallout of the costs of your decision.  Impulse buying disconnects you from your goals and priorities and drives you to act on the immediate desire.

Finally, buy building your budget now, you can make adjustments to your savings plan so that if additional funds are required to make your holiday dreams come true, you have enough time to make the adjustment.  You may also find that you may have been saving more than what was needed and you can redirect that spending to other priorities in your life. 

Planning ahead will destress your holiday and make this season the best ever.  Tell us what you did to enhance your holiday!  We want to hear from you!

7/01/2011

Christmas in July - Making a List

As the savvy saver, we know you have become, you have already begun making plans for your future by setting aside savings to cover the costs.  In preparing for Christmas you may already have begun participating in a Christmas Club or have some savings set aside for the holidays.  By preparing ahead, you take the financial and emotional stress out of the holidays and add to the celebration of the season.  The most effective way to stretch your dollars is to disconnect financial decisions from emotional stress and impulses. 

With this in mind Virginia Saves in partnership with Virginia Tech Extension Service has prepared a Christmas list to help you plan ahead even during the summer so that you can find that perfect gift for those special ones in your heart.  The best part is that you can do this without the use of debt to haunt you into the New Year.  The concept is simple and we have attached a form to assist.   Holiday Gift List

Step one:  Identify the people on your holiday shopping list.  Remember not only immediate family but also remember those other gifts that crop up during the season, like the office party, your women's club, neighbors, the baby sitter, the mailman...all the people who have impacted your year.  To help you - begin making a list of those people you purchased for last year and then modify your list from there.

Step two:  Identify the dollar amount you would like to spend for that person's gifts.  You can use an amount from last year and make adjustments or get creative this year... since you have time to plan ahead, you can perhaps make something more personal saving money and adding personality to your gift at the same time.  See our article on Creative Gift Giving this Christmas.

Step three:  Total up the amounts for the individual gifts and now you have an amount for your Christmas Gift Giving Budget.  See our article on Budgeting for Christmas.

Step four: Now that you have people, amounts and even perhaps ideas for gifts in mind, you can start tucking away items over the next few months to destress the shopping portion as well.

5/09/2011

Backyard Parties

As the summer heats up, our activities gravitate to the great outdoors.  Hosting a backyard party during the summertime can be a great way to connect with family and friends.  Here are some ideas to help you throw a party to be remembered for years to come.

Engage other friends and family:    You don't have to do it all.  Consider how you can include the participants in the planning where possible.  Family members will enjoy the party more when they had a part to play.  Aunt Susie may be an awesome cook and might take charge of the food planning (that doesn't mean that she has to do it all but she now has an area that she oversees).  Cousin Tommy, might be great at games, someone else on decorations, invitations, pictures, music, set up, clean up....  You get the idea.  All you need is a theme and then begin the plan.  By engaging all family members in the process you build anticipation for the fun day and increase the joy on the day.

Be Available:  Prior planning can help you to be available more during the big party.  People came and they want to see you.  Disappearing to take care of logistics behind the scene makes the event work for you and not what your guest had hoped for.  By creating a checklist and assigning duties, everyone gets to enjoy more of the fun.

Plan For Weather:  Have a plan in case it rains or the weather does not cooperate.  Having a covered shelter or a tent can be a great way to give people a way to stay dry if a sprinkle or two should crop up.  Also if you have decorations for your party, make sure they are securely fastened in case a wind should blow up (don't forget about paper products - they blow nicely if they are not secured).

Lighting:  If your party will go into evening hours be sure to have plenty of lighting around the yard so your guests don't have to search for their food and drinks!  If you don't have outdoor lights, consider renting them from a local rental supply.

Food:  Have as much of the food prepared in advance as possible.  That way you are not slaving over preparations while the guests are there.  Also consider foods that cook quickly like burgers and dogs to maximize the enjoyment of the fellowship with friends.  If you are having guests bring a dish help them to know what would be helpful.  You might suggest that they bring their dishes in low cost aluminum containers so they don't need to worry about taking empties home and you don't have to stress about reconnecting people with their dishes.

Bugs:  Citronella candles can be a great addition to a backyard party.  Also consider having a few cans of bug spray floating around for guests to use.  Don't forget to provide cover for the food as well.  Having a mesh tent for the food can keep bugs out and make your life much easier.

Chairs:  Have extra chairs available for people to sit and enjoy the event.  For those who do not bring a folding chair consider having some extra available.

Games and Activities:  Simply providing a soccer ball or football can be enough to get a game started.  In addition to the list below, check out our summer games list:

-:- Backyard cricket
-:- Basketball shoot out
-:- Discus throwing using a frisbee.
-:- Egg and spoon race
-:- Relay race with batons
-:- Sack race
-:- Volley ball match


Pictures: Your party is an event that you want to remember, so don't forget to take pictures not only of the set up before hand, but also of the guests enjoying themselves.

Music:  Don't forget the music!  Select music that is in keeping with the theme of your party to help your guests get into the mood.

Decorations:  The internet can be a great resource for creating themed decorations without spending a lot of dough.  If you decide to use a theme for your party, you can create the mood by creating decorations that convey the character of the theme.  Decorate your fence with balloons and streamers to add to the festive nature of the event.

Theme Parties
  • Luau:  Go polynesian by decorating with a luau theme.  Bamboo mats and floral decorations can create a wonderful mood.  Fruity drinks with umbrellas can make the occasion very festive.
  • Garden Party:  This can be a great excuse to get some of that landscaping done!  Add some baskets and buckets of plants and flowers around and you have created a feeling of lushness.
  • Years Gone by: Create a theme of fifties, sixties or seventies to add a little life to the party.  Guests come dressed in theme.  Decorate with items from the time gone by.  Vinyl records, muscle cars, drive-ins, create the appearance of going back in time!
  • Outdoor Theater:  create the effect of the outdoor drive in by hosting a movie outdoors!

5/07/2011

Travel Games and Activities

Planning ahead to have activities along the trip can make the difference between frustration and fun for your vacation travel.  Games can make the travel time go quickly and keep the family in a festive mood to make the vacation memorable.  Here are some ideas to get you going:

1.  I Packed my Trunk For India:  This is a memory game that everyone can play.  The game begins with the first player saying: "I packed my trunk for India and with me I took:" then they name something starting with the letter "a".  Example:  "I packed my trunk for India and with me I took an apple."  The next person has to recant the list and then add an item with the next consecutive letter.  Variation of the game we have enjoyed is packing the trunk with absurd items that couldn't possibly fit in a trunk or be needed on a trip to India.  It adds to the humor of the game. 

2.  Treasure Hunt:  When on a long trip, we have fun by listing off things that we might likely see along the way and creating two different lists and dividing the car into teams that will be on the lookout for the items on our list.  Here are two sample lists, but you can create your own:

Team 1
18 Wheel Truck
Vegetable garden
Grocery Store
Waterfall
Car from out of state

Team 2
Truckstop
Swingset
Billboard for the destination
Falling Rock Sign
Car with cargo on top

3.  Word Games: Make a game out of considering how many words you can form with the letters of you destination.  For instance, if you are going to Busch Gardens, write down how many words you can form with those letters like: (bush, guard, gas, bus chard, den, etc).  This can also become a competition between teams to increase the fun.

4.  20 Questions:  One person says: "I have something in mind, see if you can guess what it is".  The players ask yes/no questions to determine the item.  The players go around the circle asking one question each until they reach 20 questions.  If someone uncovers the answer, they win - if no one uncovers the answer, the person answering the questions wins.

5.  Hangman: Old fashioned game of hangman can be great fun on a vacation.  Increase the connection to the travel destination by selecting words that would be associated with that location. 

6.  Wave game:  When on the highway, make a game out of seeing how many travelers on the road you can get to wave back to you.  It can be a lot of fun and people will wonder how they know you.

7.  Story telling:  If visiting a family member or going to a location that is a family favorite, share stories about great memories that you had of that person or location.  It will not only help prepare the family for creating memories of their own, but will also help them to become acquainted with what to expect and they will know you more personally as well as a result.

8.  MORE GAMES:  If you didn't find the perfect game for your family check out the Top 21 Travel Games for the Car.



Fun Doesn't Have to Cost Money

One of the best things that has come from our economic reality has been that people are rethinking their priorities and getting connected to those things that are most important.  We all need a bit of fun in our lives, but we don't always need the gadgets, the game systems, the expensive tickets to enjoy a bit of relaxation. 

Virginia Saves is here to help you find some great ways to enjoy some fun without busting the bank.  This is also a great opportunity to teach children to prioritize their spending choices and to think in advance about activities they can do that don't cost a money.

Here are some ideas that we have collected, but we would love to hear yours as well:

Fun for Free Box: is a fun parent activity sheet that you can use with your children to plan ahead for activities that don't cost money.  You can create a box of activities you can do as a family and then an individual box of ideas that the child can use when they are bored and looking for something to do.

Libraries:  Check out your local library for fun free activities.

Money Bunnies:  Integrating a little learning as you plan your vacation can be a great opportunity to communicate to your children the things you value most.  To get you started, take a look at Money Bunnies Take a Vacation.  A fun story with some underlying principles that you can introduce to your children.  Parents can download a presenter's guide and additional activities to follow up the story here.

Parks: You might want to look into what local Parks and Recreation facilities have to offer.  Even state and national parks frequently offer some great free or low cost activities for kids.  Plan a picnic and a day of romp and fun.  Look to some of our family games section to integrate some fun with the great food.

Clubs: Have children become involved in a local kids club.  Churches and civic organizations often offer free fun things to do for kids in the summer.

Local Free Activities: Look to your local community calendar to see if there are activities offered in your city http://www.americantowns.com/ is a great website to check out activities not only in your town but also in other towns you might visit.  During the summertime you will find that these calendars can fill up with great fun.

Movies and Entertainment:  Do you enjoy concerts, ball games and plays?  Ask the management if they don't have volunteer usher positions that would allow you to enjoy the event without having to incur the costs!  Also check out Free Summer Movies: Regal Cinemas offer free family movies during the summer time.

More Ideas: Disney Family Fun Page: Great ideas for making summertime fun.

Share your favorite ways to enjoy free summer fun.  If you try out some of our suggestions tell us what you think.


5/06/2011

Kick Start Your Savings Series

If summer is closing in fast around you, it may be time to kick start that savings plan so that you can enjoy all that summertime fun you had planned.  Sometimes we just need a kick start to get going.  Check out these great ideas for helping get you back on track for your goals:

Overcoming Summer Temptations

Starting the Emergency Fund

Creating Savings Goals  Start Small Think Big

Make More Money

Save on Food and Groceries

7 Ways to Save

Last Minute Vacation Savings



Back to Vacation Guide



Summer Projects

Making a summertime memory doesn't have to be done in a day.  Taking on a family project like a garden or a family craft that can be used as a gift later in the year can be a great way to bond together as a family.

We would love to hear about your ideas for taking on a project with your family. 
Your ideas contribute to the 2013 Vacation Planning Guide! Send us a tweet or email. Contact Virginia Saves.

Disney has a website with some great family fun activities.  From building a clubhouse to starting your own pumpkin patch there are some great ideas to start your family project.  Combining learning and play family activities can be designed with a larger purpose in mind!

Or, if you want to stay a little closer to home, Virginia has a lot to offer.  Check out the summer festivals, beach and local community events.

Tell us about your fun projects you have planned for the summer, and we will post some of our ideas on Facebook.com/Virginiasaves.

For more ideas, check out these ideas at:
Parenting.com: 101 Fun things to do in the summer.

Plan to have FUN and SAVE this summer.

Kids in the Kitchen


Summertime can be a great time to introduce kids to fun recipes that are easy to create.  The extra time afforded as kids are out of school is great to begin training them to create snacks and meals on their own.  As parents, we want to see our children learn the life skills they need to succeed. 
Here are a list of websites we found.  If you have some favorite recipes, please share with our readers!

Easy Kids Recipes  Check out their suggestions for great fun foods for the fourth of July!

Kids Health Has a lot of great healthy recipe ideas that kids can create for themselves

Kids Recipes A-Z has fun ideas from Bunny Salad to Octopus dogs.  Great cooking with a little whimsy!

Recipes from Disney Family Fun:  Disney has some great fun ways for kids to get started preparing snacks and special foods. 

Nick Jr. has a wealth of recipes that are fun for kids.


Great Summer Games for the Whole Family


They say the family that plays together stays together.   Remember the games you used to play as a child?  As a culture, we have become so accustomed to being entertained, that we have lost touch with all the great interactive games of old.  Here are some ideas we found on various game sites to get you started; we encourage you to share yours as well:
Ring Toss - All you need is a stake and some "rings" to toss. Horseshoes would work just as well.


Mother May I? - The adult can play the part of the "Mother" who instructs the children to take steps, or hops, towards her. For example the "Mother" could say "Take five baby steps towards me." or "Take two bunny hops towards me." Meanwhile the child she speaks to must reply with "Mother may I?" before proceeding, otherwise they are kicked out of the game. The last child standing or first child to reach "Mother" wins.


Treasure Hunt - In the mood for some summer adventure? Organize a game of treasure hunt. You draw up a map and burying the treasure throughout the yard. You can leave small mounds of dirt where each treasure is buried to make it easier for the kids to find the buried treasure. Or you could mark the area around the buried treasure as another way of giving your kids a hint. The actual treasures can be things like marbles, beaded necklaces, quarter machine toys, coins, and other small objects.
Scavenger Hunt - What could be more fun than going on a scavenger hunt? Scavenger hunts can be simple or hard depending on the "clues". Simple clues would be "Find something blue.", "Find something soft.", or "Find something shiny." Harder clues could be made up using a combination of two easy clues "Find something blue and shiny." You can divide the teams up with one adult and one child per team. Whoever finds the most items or finds them all first wins.

Hide and Seek - The ultimate hunting game has always been "hide and seek". One player is the counter who must cover their eyes while the others hide. The player who is found first becomes the counter during the next round. Adults can easily participate in a game of hide and seek, either as an individual game or as a team game with their child.


Kick Ball - With just a ball and a few family members you can have hours of fun and competition playing this variation of baseball.  Instead of hitting a small ball with a bat, you kick the ball and then run the bases!
Relays:

Egg Relay
- Two spoons, one egg, are the basics of the classic egg relay game. To play a game of egg relay with adults and children you can have the adults line up in a row and the children line up in another, facing each other. Give each child a spoon with a boiled egg and have them race to their adult partner meanwhile trying not to drop their egg. The first one to reach their assigned adult wins. Then you play again allowing the adult to carry the egg on the spoon back to the child.


Three Legged Race - The three legged race is a classic summer barbeque game where two people tie one of their legs to the other and race to the finish line. This game can be played by both adults and children though I would not recommend mixing the two unless the child is older or the adults understand that they need to keep pace with the child and not the other way around.


Water Balloon Toss - Looking for a way to cool down at your summer barbeque? A game of water balloon toss may be just what you need to cool off during the warm summer months. Two people stand within feet of each other and one tosses their water balloon over to their partner who in turns catches the balloon. If they are successful they each take one step back and repeat. If they aren't successful the water balloon bursts and someone has just managed to cool themselves off meanwhile being kicked out of the game. The last dry pair is the winner. Kids and adults can play this game together or separated by age group.

Tag  Remember how much fun it was to play a simple game of tag? When kids of decades past wanted to play something fun outdoors, tag was always at the top of the list.
Hide-and-Go-Seek A favorite outdoor game from yester-year.  Find a good hiding spot where no one else would think to look, and to make the game even more challenging, move to a new hiding spot after the seeker begins searching.

Ghosts in the Graveyard  This outdoor game that kids loved to play on a moonlit night. One person was chosen to be the ghost, and everyone else hid in the yard. The ghost would begin counting, one-o'clock, two-o'clock, three-o'clock, and so on until shouting midnight! At that point the ghost would search the yard for kids to run after and tag. Once they were tagged they also became ghosts who went in search of those hiding in the bushes and elsewhere in the yard.

Looking for more great fun?  Check out 50 Ideas for Old-Fashioned Summer Fun


Computer Games


If you have a child that is "plugged in", finding computer games that are age appropriate and child friendly can be a challenge.  Check out some of these free locations for games that can be entertaining and sometimes educational too. 

Free summer fun computer games for kids to mix up some of the activities in the summer. 

From Scooby's Rippin' Ride to Mower Mayhem to puzzles and word games all appropriate for kids.  Check out this summer games selection from Primary Games!

The US Mint has a great selection of fun games that teach about money, art, history and just plain action games.  Play When Pigs Fly to build your own plane an see how long you can keep it in the air.  The Lewis and Clark Adventure can inspire the explorer in you.  Join the journey into the old west and overcome the challenges that were faced by Lewis and Clark.  Many more games at H.I.P. Pocket Change 

The FINRA Investor Education Foundation has a website Dollars from Sense a beginners guide to getting started with money management, saving and investing.  Great information for the whole family.

Learn for Good is a great website with a great array of fun online games for kids.  Some educational and some just plain fun.


5/05/2011

Vacation Savings Guide

Take a Break without breaking the bank!  
Vacation is a time for taking a break from our routines of  life to reconnect with the important things in life, like family and friends while taking time to unwind and get rejuvenated.  Virginia Saves is here to help your family create a vacation to remember!

Staycation Ideas



Fun can reside in one’s own backyard!  As parents, you can use the summer staycation to help your child explore their interests  Check out some of the great arts, crafts, exploration activities right in your own area.  Staycations can provide great fun with family without the costs of travel. 

The trick to a successful staycation is to create the mood of a traditional vacation.  Breaking from routine and enjoying fun activities together as a family. 

Backyard Parties  Great ideas for connecting with family and friends right at home.

Backyard Recreations:  Having a party or just enjoying games as a family can be a great way to create summertime memories.

Explore your own Backyard:  One of my favorite things to do is to investigate some of the history of my hometown and visit historical locations.  Check out your local historical society or search for a book on the history of your area.  Roadside America can also introduce you to some oddities that might be right in your own area!  Finding that hidden treasure in your community can be a great adventure.

Family Reunions:  You don't have to wait until Thanksgiving and Christmas to reconnect with extended family.  Family reunions allow your children to connect with the roots of their family tree (and perhaps all the branches as well).  Check out this website with all the resources you need to plan the perfect family reunion: http://family-reunion.com/  From concept to the actual event, there are lots of details to cover.  The planning can become a family project with every member contributing something to the event.

Summertime Projects:  Summertime can provide the time needed to tackle some of those projects.  Doing projects together as a family can be a great way to create a memory this summer.

Random Holiday:  I enjoy this one.  Plan a day several weeks in advance for a special day to honor someone you love.  It could be a grandparent, Dad or some other important person in your life.  Spend time preparing a celebration that will show them how much they mean to you.  Because it is random, it adds to the celebration - they will never expect it, but your family can have a great time as you plan and anticipate the event!

Pitch a Tent: You don't need to leave town to go camping.  Consider camping in your own back yard.  Just the very act of leaving the house can create a sense of adventure and fun.

If you are looking for some additional inspiration check out Smart Ideas for a Summer Staycation.



5/04/2011

Building Family Ties

You don't have to wait until Thanksgiving and Christmas to reconnect with distant family members.  Summertime can be a great way to build family ties while strengthening the relationships in your own household.  Planning a family vacation, reunion or just a gathering in your back yard can be a great way to connect family members to their extended roots.  Here are some great ideas for getting started:

1.  Host a family picnic:  Invite family to a family picnic.  You can make it as simple or elaborate as you desire.  If family are located close, you can have them bring a dish to pass and share the costs or you can provide the food and have them contribute the activities or decorations.  The more every member is involved in the planning the better.

2.  Plan a family reunion: Check out this website with all the resources you need to plan the perfect family reunion: http://family-reunion.com/  From concept to the actual event, there are lots of details to cover.  The planning can become a family project with every member contributing something to the event. 

3.  Combine a Vacation:  Sharing a vacation can be a great way to create family memories!  Choose a destination and start making plans.  To help inspire you, check out http://www.favoritefamilyvacations.com/  as a resource for ideas to build your vacation plan.  Pick a location in the middle or go to a favorite spot.  The possibilities are endless!
Check out our vacation planning tools in the guide as well.  Share your stories with us!



Back to Vacation Guide

Vacation Planning



Vacation Planning can save you lots of money on the total cost of your vacation, but can also be a great family activity with each member getting involved in the choosing of the destination, planning the activities and the costs.  With everyone involved, saving for vacation becomes an adventure in itself. 

Planning for your vacation includes not only considering the costs before you go, but also allocation of time for travel and activities as well as creating a list of all the things you will want to take with you.  By planning ahead you can save yourself not only money but stress as well! 

Start with the budget:  Knowing the financial boundaries before you begin planning will help simplify the decisions and lessen disappointments when lofty vacation dreams don't fit within your financial reality.  The budget is the amount of money you have saved or will have saved prior to the vacation.  Saving each month toward the costs will allow you to grow a larger reserve from which to plan activities.  If you are planning a vacation to cost $1,200 then by saving $100 each month, your reserve is completely built before leaving.

Plan your destination:  Getting the entire family involved in determining what you would like to do on vacation.  Knowing the amount of money you can spend on the vacation, have a family meeting to discuss possibilities.  The dream vacation you thought the kids would love may take on a new flavor with the kids involved in the planning.  Establish rules for contributions so that no one is excluded and all ideas are considered.  Good rules allow for unrealistic ideas to fall off the radar pretty quickly.

Make a list:  You will want to get the family involved in making a list of all the potential costs for the vacation.  The more detailed the list the fewer surprise costs.  Consider the cost of preparing the car for the long trip, the cost of gas to get there or the cost of alternate travel.  How will you get around once you are there?  Where will you eat?  How much will you spend on souvenirs?  What is the cost of activities once you arrive?  Use this worksheet to get started.  As you develop the list, you will find new ideas cropping up from the team about what they would like to do - great time to discuss the costs and logistics of all the ideas.  This way you are training your children to plan in advance for the costs of other items as well.

Begin Preparing:  After the list is made there will likely be many things that need to be done to make the vacation successful, from adding to the vacation fund by giving up some of the costs of other daily things or packing, preparing the home for leaving, preparing travel meals and activities. 

Consider Food Costs: Having snacks and drinks for the car can save a ton on stopping along the way.  Also discuss boundaries in advance for eating out.  You can save a great deal by drinking water instead of ordering beverages and skipping the dessert in favor of something tasty later.  If you will be staying at a location that has a fridge with a microwave or stove, you may be able to purchase some groceries to make meals and save on costs of eating out.

Here are some more resources to get you started:

Plan Your Summer Vacation Now.   Extension Service offers some great suggestions for getting started planning your summer vacation great strategies for breaking down the costs of the summer vacation and worksheets included.


Budgeting: Summer Travel.  Practical Money Skills for Life offers some great tips for saving on your travel costs this summer.  Arm yourself with a good vacation plan that accomodates all the costs.

How to save for the vacationMSNBC offers 9 great travel tips for creative ways to save for vacation.

Travel Budgeting- Do you know how much you're going to spend on your travels? The Travel Budget Tool will help you plan your your vacation costs   Little things add up so this tool can help you create a realistic budget for your total cost of vacation.

10 money-saving tips for a vacation  Get creative and think about some great alternatives to those costly vacations.