May 2010 - Posts - Dollar Stretcher Guest Bloggers
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Dedicated to bringing you some of the best information to help you survive tough economic times

May 2010 - Posts

  • My Story: Starting Perennials and Biennials

    contributed by Gloria

    Your annuals are coming along or in pots. Your perennials are growing fast. So why not just sit back and not worry about your flower beds until next spring?

    There is a good reason not to do this. Now is the time to start perennials and biennials for next year. It is easy, personally rewarding, and it can save hundreds of dollars. Consider that a small starter perennial will usually cost $2 and up to $10. If you want lots of those delphiniums and want them in specific colors, what can you do? Plant now for next year and arrange your colors and heights to please you. Don't depend on box stores or nurseries to have the selection you want.

    Here's what I am doing right now. In the past two days, I have used 21 8-ounce styrofoam cups, 21 fold down plastic sandwich bags, and a modest amount of good seed starting mix to literally start a few hundred perennials: 3 kinds of delphiniums, 5 kinds of hollyhocks, 2 kinds of echinacea, Canterbury Bells, 3 kinds of foxgloves, etc. Most of these seeds I bought from a very old seed company, Crosmanseed.com. Their seed prices range from $.59 to $.89 with a modest delivery charge. Very specific special varieties I will buy at stores or order online at other seed companies.

    Now, you are ready to plant your seeds for next year's plants.

    1. Take a styrofoam cup and puncture a couple of holes at the bottom. A sharpened pencil or pen does fine.

    2. Write on the cup the name of the plants and the date of sowing in the cup.

    3. Fill the cup with slightly moist growing medium, leaving about a half inch from the top.

    4. Carefully shake out a few seeds (you should have plenty left for later sowings if you need them,) and gently sprinkle them over the top surface. At this point, you may press the seeds into the soil. Sometimes it is good to sprinkle a fine covering of sand or vermiculite over the seeds if 1/4th cover is suggested on the seed packet.

    5. Loosely put the fold down sandwich bag over the cup, leaving it somewhat pulled up at the top. This does not need to fit tight. It allows some air to seep in.

    6. Place the cups in a sunny windowsill or even better under a flourescent light (I use a 48" shoplight).

    7. Check with regularity for germination and growth. When the seedlings are big enough to handle, wet the medium thoroughly and gently pull the seedlings out with roots intact and place in a much larger container to grow on until they are large enough to put in the garden.

    8. Protect from sun scald by gently laying a piece of $.59 coarse nylon netting over them. This gives enough shade to harden them off. After several days, you may remove the netting and the plants should be hardened off and ready for full sun. If the plants are shade plants, then skip this part and put them directly into the shade first thing.

    9. These little plants will require careful watching so that they don't dry out. Monitor them well and next summer you will have all the blooming size perennials you could possibly want. Your only limitation is your imagination. Use garden books and local gardens for inspiration.

    Everyone is smart about something! That's why we have The Dollar Stretcher Guest Blog. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by email to MyStory@Stretcher.com.

  • How Credit Card Debt Can Affect Your Marriage

    courtesy of A New Horizon Credit Counseling

    Marriage in these difficult economic times can be stressful enough, but when both spouses have credit card debt, it can make things even worse. Stress can sometimes lead to arguments and problems within a marriage and unmanageable credit card debt can be the leading source of this stress. When partners begin to blame each other for the financial situation that they may be in, it can’t be good for the marriage.

    One approach, instead of wasting time and energy on finger pointing, is to concentrate on solving the problem by getting your credit card debt in order and maybe even trying to pay off the debt entirely, if possible. At the very least, identify a solution like contacting a reputable credit counseling company to assist you in paying off this debt. This will probably bring the two of you even closer together.

    Couples can have arguments all the time about things like who will do the laundry and even how the kids should be disciplined, so having a disagreement about something like how to handle credit card debt is not uncommon. It’s likey! One person may want to attack the credit card debt aggressively until it’s paid in full, while the other person might prefer to make minimum payments so they can save up to pay cash for a vacation. Having unmanageable credit card debt is something that never brings two people closer together - NORMALLY.

    Some marriage experts say having financial problems such as credit card debt is the single biggest reason for filing a divorce, while some other experts in the marriage field suggest that financial difficulties might just be a default problem that couples can blame all of their other problems on. Below are a few ideas on how to do to deal with credit card debt and avoid having it become a relationship problem:

    1. Share information with your partner. If you have not merged your finances, your spouse must have an accurate idea of your financial situation – No matter how embarrassing it may be.

    2. Sit down with your partner and plan your attack. Create a budget and stick to it. Make it fair and realistic to the both of you.

    3. Make sure you stick to the plan. Keep each other accountable in all financial matters. Buying a new TV with your credit card when you don’t need it and it’s not in your budget is unacceptable. Both of you should agree on the purchase and it should be budgeted for.

    4. Forgive each other. You’ll probably both slip up occasionally when it comes to paying off your credit card debt. A healthy marriage will allow both partners periodic mistakes when dealing with money and in other areas.

    Now if you’re recently divorced and need help on how to take care of the financial mess that you may have inherited, or want to be proactive and avoid future problems, here are some things you should do:

    1. Get your credit report. Get an idea of what type of financial situation you are dealing with. Educate yourself on what’s being reported about your credit.

    2. Protect your good credit. You are responsible for joint accounts. Even if a divorce judge orders your ex-spouse to pay a certain bill, you’re still legally responsible for making sure it is paid because you signed an Agreement with the creditor to do so. Close or separate joint accounts. Keep paying all bills timely.

    3. Establish new credit independently. Start small and build slowly.

    4. Bankruptcy is your LAST resort. Bankruptcy should be the last option if you are in over your head.

    5. Consider mediation to assist you. For communication and commitment issues, consider a Marriage Counselor. For financial issues, consider a reputable Credit Counseling Company.

    Either way, if you are married and have credit card debt or are getting divorced and have credit card debt, making sure your credit stays positive is very important.

    courtesy of A New Horizon Credit Counseling, a national, non-profit credit counseling organization dedicated to providing counseling services and financial education programs to individuals and families from all walks of life helping them with debt consolidation of their unsecured debts.

  • My Story: Real Social Security

    contributed by T

    A friend of mine that I met through work and I were talking. I find his situation tragic. He is in his late forties and has suddenly gone blind in both eyes. He is unable to return to work as our work mandates that an employee be fully visually functional. He said something interesting as we were discussing his finances. He said, “I will be OK.” I did not fathom how he would be fine as he has very little retirement or investments. He does have a little in savings. I know he is on medical disability, but I also know that he does not receive very much monthly.

    When I further explored why he felt that he would be fine, he began discussing his frugality. First, he purchased a home in a blue collar neighborhood several years ago and worked his full-time job as well as odd jobs to pay it off within five years. So his home is now completely paid off. He has always owned secondhand cars. He currently lives in a city that has available public transportation. He has never lived extravagantly and has always learned skills in which to be self sufficient (auto repair, roofing, electrical, plumbing, and carpentry). He has always cleaned his own home and cooked for himself and mended his own clothes. He would never consider hiring someone to do these things for him. He has never taken extravagant vacations. On more than one occasion, he has said to me, "You do not have to go on a cruise to enjoy your vacation.” He has no credit card debt. In fact, he has no debt at all.

    At this point in time, he is very hopeful that his blindness through treatment will be reversed or that at least he will gain back partial vision in one eye. He is receiving assistance in cooking from his family. Other than that, he is able to function independently within his home and he is optimistic as he is debt free and able to live frugally and be happy.

    Everyone is smart about something! That's why we have The Dollar Stretcher Guest Blog. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to MyStory@Stretcher.com.

  • Credit Card Mail Solicitations Increase 29%

    by Bill Hardekopf

    As the economy recovers, households are receiving substantially more credit card offers in the mail.

    During the first quarter of 2010, US households received 481.3 million credit card offers, a 29% increase from the 372.4 million offers mailed during the same period a year ago, according to the latest study by Synovate Mail Monitor. Some credit card issuers, such as Capital One and HSBC, more than doubled their mail offers during this quarter versus the prior quarter.

    While the total offers represent a substantial increase over recent volume, the figures are far below the record 1.58 billion pieces sent in the third quarter of 2005.

    Direct mail is an expensive advertising vehicle, and since credit card issuers are investing more money in this area, it is a significant sign that business is turning around for them. While this is a good sign for credit card issuers, many households would probably rather avoid the return of unsolicited credit card offers.

    The study shows direct mail offers are also becoming more widespread for soliciting new debt as more issuers offer attractive introductory interest rates. 65% of the total offers mailed in the first quarter had an introductory purchase APR compared to just 58% in the final quarter of 2009.

    How Issuers Find Your Information

    Even if you don't want a new credit card but you have a good credit score, issuers are determined to get an offer in front of you any way that they can. Since direct mail is successful, they will buy lists of names and addresses.

    Many businesses and non-profits that require your name and address may sell your information to a creditor for their own revenue. Credit card issuers buy the names and addresses.

    They usually don't cross-reference these lists to see if you are under 21, alive, or even human. That is why you have instances of children and even pets getting a credit card offer.

    Credit bureaus can also sell your name and address to lenders and direct marketers. If you get a pre-screened/pre-approved loan offer, you have already met some of the criteria that the issuer submitted when it purchased a list of eligible borrowers from the credit reporting bureaus. Credit bureaus do not release specific information on a consumer but provide lists based on consumer characteristics. The CARD Act does require lenders to exclude anyone who is under the age of 21 from the pre-screened list.

    In the past, some colleges and universities shared their alumni lists with banks as part of affinity credit card programs. This proved to be a substantial fundraiser for schools. Most lists targeted alumni and excluded current students.

    If You Are Interested in the Offer:

    • Read the terms and conditions carefully. Know how long the grace period is. Look at all of the fees--annual fee, late fee, balance transfer fee, cash advance fee, and especially if you travel a great deal, the foreign transaction fee.

    • Look at the range of APRs in the terms and conditions. If you have average credit, you probably won't qualify for the lowest rate. Remember that these rates are variable and will increase if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates. If it has an introductory rate, know what interest rate you will pay once this intro period ends.

    • Compare the offer with other cards. The bold print may say the offer is a great deal, but that doesn't mean it is the best credit card for you. The LowCards Complete Credit Card Index compares interest rates, grace periods and annual fees for over 1,000 credit cards.

    • If you don't want the card, shred the application and throw it away.

    How to Reduce the Solicitations

    If you have a good credit score and good payment history, it is difficult to stop the banks from courting you. But you can put a stop to some of the direct mail.

    The credit bureaus offer a toll-free number that enables you to "opt-out" of having pre-approved credit offers sent to you for five years. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com for more information. When you call, you'll be asked for personal information, including your home telephone number, your name, and your social security number. The bureaus will keep your information confidential and will use it only to process your request to opt out of receiving pre-screened offers of credit.

    You can also send a letter to the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) to notify them that you don't want your personal information distributed for promotional purposes.

    Bill Hardekopf is CEO of LowCards.com, a site dedicated to simplifying the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories, such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates. It also gives an unbiased ranking and review for each card.


     

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