Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thrifty Thinking: 5 Tips for Making Decisions for Your Financial Future

If you are someone who hasn’t sat down to determine how much money you will need each month when you retire, you are not alone. In fact, according to the United States Department of Labor, less than half of all Americans have taken the time to calculate how much they need to save for retirement. What’s more is that they also report that the average person will spend 20 years in retirement, making it crucial that they have saved for those Golden Years.
“Many people assume that retirement is a long way off, and they don’t get serious about planning for it,” explains Ed Meridian, founder of the Network Advantage Card. “But your financial future doesn’t just have to mean retirement either. It could be next year, or in the next few years. It’s important that we take the time now to plan for our financial future, whether we are planning for next year, when our child starts college, or for our own retirement.”
While it’s easy to push planning aside, many people may find that if they lose their job, their bills increase, or something happens that they didn’t see coming that they wish they had taken the time to make better financial decisions all along. The good news is that it is never too early or too late to get started making better financial decisions. Here are 5 tips for making decisions for your financial future:
1.    Look for alternatives. In today’s high-tech world we can find ways to help us save right at our fingertips. Searching around to find legitimate ways to save is easier than ever before. For example, those who become Network Advantage Card members will find ways to save on everything from making health-related purchases to getting advice on a home loan or student financing. Programs they offer, such as Tele-health, where people can speak with a doctor on the phone, rather than have to always have an office visit, can help greatly reduce healthcare expenses and free up money that can be used for reducing debt and saving for the future.
2.    Save something. Many people shy away from saving money because they feel they can’t save a lot each month. No matter what it is that you can save, whether it’s $20 per month or $2,000 per month, make sure you are saving money. This will get you in the habit of saving, give you a place to start, and it will all add up over the years.
3.    Avoid debt. We live in a debt-driven society, where people have a wallet full of credit cards and bills rolling in each month that are laden with huge interest payments that have been added. Paying down debt and avoiding adding new debt will go a long way toward helping to plan for your financial future. Get in touch with what are needs and wants and do your best to stick to the needs, so that debt won’t be created for the wants.
4.    Commit to a plan. Making decisions for your financial future will not mean much if you are not committed to a plan to make a difference. Talking about being more financially responsible and saving money is one thing, but actually putting it into action to pull it off, and continuing to do so long term, is completely another. Get serious about your financial future so that you hold yourself accountable even on the days when it’s not all that fun.
5.    Get counseling. While many people can benefit from some financial counseling, it’s often expensive and not always convenient. Opting for convenient financial counseling will help you do a better job of sticking to your plans. For example, Network Advantage Card members get financial counseling as part of their membership, making obtaining the guidance affordable and convenient.
“Better financial decisions and saving money for your family is all about knowing what to do and where to start,” added Meridian. “That’s where we come in. For just $20 per month, we help people save for the future, save on current expenses, and give them the tools and resources they need to live a healthier lifestyle today and well into the future.”
The Network Advantage Card is a membership-based card that helps families stay healthy for just $20 per month. The membership gives people access to discounts on health and wellness programs, special low-cost life insurance programs, travel discounts and deals, lifestyle and entertainment discounts, and a wide variety of health programs that will help them save money. The membership also provides them with financial advising at no additional charge. Those interested in learning more about NAC or becoming a member can learn more online at: https://mynac.com.

Amazing Apps: FastToll

FastToll, a new toll tracking mobile app, launched just in time for Labor Day weekend travel. Last year, an estimated 7 million+ vehicles traveled on the Illinois Tollway and that number is expected to rise this holiday weekend. FastToll allows users to drive on the Illinois Tollways without having to stop at tollbooths to pay the fare by cash. FastToll’s proprietary technology allows travelers to pass through open-road tolls and pay the fare at a later date within seven days of travel. FastToll can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play.
“FastToll was created to provide a convenience for drivers who do not wish to have an I-PASS account or for out-of-state drivers. An estimated 7 million vehicles will travel using the Illinois Tollway this Labor Day weekend and not having to stop to pay the tolls will be saving everyone time and get them to their vacation destination much quicker,” says Heather Mista, business operations manager for FastToll. “Also, the rise of the Illinois Tollway’s ‘all-electronic toll roads’ makes FastToll a necessary tool for drivers without a transponder since recording toll information manually is difficult and dangerous while driving.”
How FastToll works:
1.       Get the App: Download FastToll for free from the App Store or Google Play.
2.       Don’t Wait in Line at Tollbooths, Drive in the Fast Lane: FastToll keeps track of each toll plaza drivers pass through so they can pay the fare at a later date without stopping.
3.       Pay: Pay the standard cash rate through FastToll with a processing fee of 99 cents or 10% of the total payment within seven days of travel.
 
ABOUT FastToll
FastToll, a new toll tracking mobile app, allows users to drive through the open-road tolls on Illinois Tollways without having to stop at tollbooths to pay the fare by cash. FastToll records each toll driver’s pass-through so they are able to pay the standard cash rate through FastToll with a nominal processing fee at a later date. For more information, please visit FastToll on http://www.pragmistic.com/fasttoll/. *Disclaimer: FastToll is an independent app and is not affiliated with the Illinois Tollways.

Caring Causes: Top 5 Reasons to Volunteer Abroad as a Teacher

Next week, hundreds of thousands of North American students and teachers are returning to school for the new academic year. For international volunteer organization Projects Abroad, staff and volunteers are also gearing up for the start of school in underdeveloped areas around the world. Teaching Projects are vital for development and uplifting communities, and volunteers are needed urgently to fill the gaps and raise literacy levels. 

Here are the top five reasons to get involved at a Teaching Project in a developing country:
Make a tangible difference in underprivileged schools
Many of the schools that Projects Abroad is partnered with are located in severely disadvantaged areas. These schools lack resources and the majority of students have never had the chance to interact with a native English speaker. There are endless ways that volunteers can have a significant impact, from giving individual attention to students that are being left behind in overcrowded classes, to introducing educational games and creating engaging materials that make learning more fun. Some volunteers also go the extra mile and run afterschool programs such as English clubs to give children a safe space to learn and have fun in the afternoons.
Your impact will continue after you have left
One of the most important aspects of the Teaching Project is the help given to local teachers. Volunteers spend a lot of time at their projects helping their colleagues improve their English fluency and introducing new ideas and techniques for English education into the classroom. By helping local teachers, volunteers are indirectly influencing the futures of thousands of children – as well as contributing to sustainable development! Projects Abroad has had excellent results with these types of programs, especially at the Teaching Project in Peru, where the organization runs a specialized training program for Peruvian teachers from January to March each year.
Gain practical experience in the classroom
At each project, volunteers spend several hours in the classroom each day, assisting with or leading English classes, as well as teaching other subjects like music, art, or drama if they are up to the challenge. The experience of being in an actual classroom setting and working alongside qualified teachers is an invaluable one, especially for volunteers interested in pursuing careers in teaching or ESL. For university students, an international volunteer program can also potentially be used for academic credit. A previous Projects Abroad volunteer even used her experience at the Teaching Project in Costa Rica to contribute to research for her graduate study project!
Get support in the classroom when you need it
For Projects Abroad, giving volunteer teachers the support they need is a vital part of the program. Each volunteer has access to a database of lesson plans and classroom management techniques and experienced Projects Abroad staff are always on hand to give advice when needed. In addition, the organization holds regular workshops specifically for Teaching Projects where volunteers can ask questions and discuss what they can do to improve themselves as teachers. This is extremely helpful for teachers of all levels and volunteers find it especially useful to talk to each other about their classes and exchange ideas.
Build on the work of other volunteers, lay the foundation for the future
At a Teaching Project, volunteers join throughout the year and commit for however long they can. Even if you are only able to spare a short period of time, you can be confident that you are continuing the work of previous volunteers or laying the foundations for the volunteers that come after you. If you choose to volunteer at a time when the school is on a break, Projects Abroad organizes vacation classes and camps that you can teach.
Projects Abroad offers Teaching Projects in more than 30 countries across the developing world in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the South Pacific. Volunteers can choose from various types of programs aside from teaching English, such as teaching French, IT, or Physical Education. For more information on how to get involved with international teaching programs, please visit www.projects-abroad.org/volunteer-projects/teaching.

World Wisdom: Harmless Travel Tips

Harmless Harvest, the company behind the first ever "Fair For Life" certified coconut water, knows a thing or two about minimizing their impact on the planet. They are constantly thinking about ways to support the environment, and wanted to share some mindful travel tips that help minimize travelers' carbon footprint this Labor Day weekend. 
 
>> IT'S COOL TO CARPOOL
Labor Day weekend is an opportunity for families and friends to hop in a car and go on a quick getaway. Opting to take one car (instead of several) significantly reduces greenhouse emissions and makes for an entertaining round of carpool karaoke.
 
 >> SNACK SUSTAINABLY
Choose snacks that are close to how nature intended them and produced by companies that care about their ingredients. Harmless Harvest is a coconut water company that practices sustainable farming methods, which have minimal impact on the planet. Choose wisely, stay hydrated and drink up!
 
>>  HARMLESS LODGING
You may not realize this, but hotels are large energy consumers when it comes to energy and water use (e.g. lighting, air conditioning, laundry). Instead of booking a room at a hotel, consider packing a tent and going camping instead. You'll reduce your impact on the environment and be closer to nature. 
 
>> SHARE A BIKE
There are few better ways to sightsee than by bicycle. Leave your personal bike at home and rent from a local bike shop. Not only will your ride emit zero pollution, your family and friends will also get a great workout!  Because in the end, what's good for you is also good for the planet. 
 
Harmless Harvest Coconut Water is a company that is revolutionizing impact the beverage industry has on the planet with it's ecosystem-based business model. They produce the best-tasting coconut water around and are leading the efforts in educating consumers on ways they can reduce their impact on the environment. 
 
So gather your friends and family, pack your tents, and plan a "greener" Labor Day weekend.

Mealtime Magic: Back-to-School with Lemons

September means the beginning of fall, the changing of leaves – and yes, back to school. As schedules and calendars become more predictable and understandably more hectic, keeping meal prep easy is a staple of any smoothly-running home.

That’s where Limoneira comes in, because lemons and other citrus fruits can help. Check out Megan Roosevelt’s top tips for saving time in the kitchen here. Megan is a Registered Dietician, spokesperson for Limoneira Lemons for Life™ and the founder of Healthy Grocery Girl®.

“Citrus fruits such as lemons and oranges are great staples to keep in mind when meal planning because they’re versatile and full of nutrients,” says Megan in her latest video for Limoneira. Check out her time-saving back-to-school tips and tricks below.

  1. Citrus & Apple – Apples are a great snack. To prevent them from browning once sliced, squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over the slices.
  2. Citrus Snack Bars & Bites -  Store bought snack bars can be high in sugar, and low in fiber and other wholesome ingredients. Make your own snacks on the weekends for the week ahead.

No-Bake Cashew Lemon Cookie Bites
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup soaked cashews
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • a pinch of sea salt
Pulse together until you create a batter. Roll into bites, and store in the fridge or freezer.
  1. Chocolate Dipped Oranges – We all love a little treat after lunch, and chocolate-dipped orange slices are not only full of great antioxidants, but are easy to make in advance and keep stored in the fridge or freezer over the weekend.
  2. Citrus Water – Lemon (or orange) water is a great way to make hydrating just a bit tastier. Keeping a jug of citrus water on hand in the fridge provides a yummy (and healthy) alternative to juices and sodas all week long.

Each month, Megan will be featuring another wonderful facet of lemon living. Subscribe to Limoneira’s Youtube channel for more information on the many ways this endlessly versatile fruit can improve life inside the home and beyond.

About Limoneira®
The Limoneira Company was founded in Ventura County, California in 1893. Today, Limoneira has evolved into a global company whose mission is to preserve and promote its tradition, heritage and legacy in agriculture and community development.   With 11,000 acres of agricultural production, Limoneira is the largest provider of lemons and avocados in the United States. In addition to agriculture, Limoneira has a long history of community building. Finally, sustainability has been woven into Limoneira’s fabric for over a century with strategic investments in water, solar, soil, and integrated pest management.  For more information, visit www.limoneira.com.

About Megan Roosevelt and Healthy Grocery Girl ®
Megan Roosevelt is an internationally published author, cooking show host and producer as well as a nutrition expert for regional and national television and magazines. In addition to being a plant-based Registered Dietitian, Roosevelt through Healthy Grocery Girl® provides her extensive audience with on-line cooking videos and says “I love helping people get healthy in ways that are realistic and fun”.
Roosevelt is the spokesperson for Limoneira’s Lemons for Life™ campaign and says “As one of the largest growers of lemons in the United States, the partnership with Limoneira made a great deal of sense”, she said. “It’s synergistic. We all know that lemons are among the healthiest products people can integrate into their diets”. Lemons for Life ™ highlights a variety of ways that lemons can be integrated into consumer’s lives. These include recipes, natural cleaning, beauty and health tips as well as lifestyle applications.

Fun Freetime: Get My Goat

What happens when a clever dog, an oblivious Billy goat, and a scheming wolf come together for a brand new series? Close calls and laugh out loud moments are sure to ensue in DreamWorksTV’s “Get My Goat.” The 14-episode series debuts on September 3 and will air Sundays on DreamWorksTV.

Dimwitted Gold Fang is one hungry wolf who won’t be satisfied until he can sink his teeth into oh-so-juicy Billy the Goat. There’s only one problem - Billy’s best bud is Dutch, a clever herding dog who protects his flock of one against all of Gold Fang’s outrageous schemes. It doesn’t help that Gold Fang is not the sharpest pitchfork on the prairie. No matter how elaborate the plan, Gold Fang is always outsmarted by Dutch and inevitably left covered in bumps and bruises!

About DreamWorksTV:
DreamWorksTV is a breakthrough digital entertainment brand for kids with an endless supply of laugh-out-loud jokes, lovable characters, life hacks, music, magic, gaming and more. Combining DreamWorks Animation’s expertise in family entertainment with the digital savvy of AwesomenessTV, DreamWorksTV creates fun, fresh short-form content made just for kids. Since its launch in 2014, DreamWorksTV has acquired over 1.7 million YouTube subscribers, making it the #1 major kids brand on the platform, and has produced more than 100 live action and animated series. Highlights include hit shows like Life Hacks for Kids and Junk Drawer Magic, which each average over 2.5 million views per week on YouTube. With content available across multiple platforms around the world, DreamWorksTV gives kids what they want to watch anytime, anywhere.

Thrifty Thinking: How to Graduate from College with No Debt

Graphic courtesy of http://www.personalincome.org/ .

How to Graduate From College With No Debt

Book Nook: Bella Donna - Too Many Spells

Bella Donna seems just like any other student at her school, but she has a secret: she’s really a witch! The other witches who live on Coven Road are having a spell casting contest, and Bella is determined to win. When strange things start to happen at school and begin to spin out of control, Bella wonders if she can really handle it all.

I recently had a chance to review this book, Bella Donna: Too Many Spells, aimed for middle-grade readers. It's a cute story, one that my daughter really enjoyed. The magic in the story is lighthearted and fun, not spooky, and it's a nice way to encourage kids to keep trying, but also to ask for help if they need it.

Mealtime Magic: Apple Recipes from How D'ya Like Them Apples?

We get apples from my in-laws every year, and although we love making jelly, butter, syrup, and applesauce, we often have more than enough, and enjoy other recipes. That's why I loved having the chance to review and share some recipes from How D'ya Like Them Apples? The book has 75 creative, simple, and delicious ways to utilize one of the most popular fall harvest foods. As the state fruit of Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia, it’s clear that the apple is an easy fruit to love. These easy-to-make dishes make apples even more lovable, showing what a versatile, exciting addition they can be to many recipes from hearty apple and lentil soup to apple stuffed chicken to spicy apple curry!

Honestly, I never would have thought of some of these recipes (apples in soup!?), but it's great to have so many ideas now.

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Turkey Meatballs with Apple-Dijon Glaze

Makes 30 meatballs

3⁄4 cup fine bread crumbs
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3⁄4 pound ground turkey or chicken
1 1⁄2 cups finely grated apple
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 tablespoon sage
1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1⁄2 teaspoon paprika
1 egg
3⁄4 cup apple jelly
1 teaspoon creamy Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or wax paper sprayed
with cooking oil.

In a small bowl, mix bread crumbs, cornstarch, and flour together. Place turkey, apple, salt, seasoned salt, sage, thyme, paprika, and egg in a medium bowl and add bread crumbs. Mix until well combined. Roll into 3⁄4-inch balls and place on baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.

Combine jelly, mustard, and vinegar in a large saucepan over medium heat; stir until smooth. Remove meatballs from oven, transfer to the hot glaze and stir to cover. Using a slotted spoon, move meatballs back to the baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Repeat the process and bake for 3 minutes more. Serve with any remaining sauce for dipping. Cooked, glazed meatballs can be frozen in an airtight container for later use.

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Dressed-Up Pork Medallions

Makes 4 servings

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large sweet onions, sliced 1⁄4 inch thick, rings separated
2 large sweet apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 12–16 wedges each
12 (3⁄8-inch-thick) slices pork tenderloin
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pound mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tablespoon butter or margarine

In a large, deep frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Cook onion rings, stirring occasionally, until they have turned golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer onions to a bowl and set aside. Raise heat to medium high and add 1 tablespoon oil. Cook apples until they soften or begin to turn golden, about 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Transfer apple slices to a bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to lowest temperature. Heat remaining oil in the same frying pan and place pork medallions flat on bottom of the pan (cook in batches if necessary). Sprinkle lightly with Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Transfer to a warm oven.

Deglaze frying pan with vinegar. Cook mushrooms in butter over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they begin to turn golden brown. Add reserved onions and apples to reheat. Season with salt and pepper. Serve pork medallions with vegetable-apple medley on the side. Spoon any juices remaining in the pan over the meat.

Chicken Quesadillas with Apples & Brie
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Makes 4 servings

2 teaspoons olive oil
1⁄2 cup thinly sliced leek, including white and tender green parts
2 large crisp sweet apples, cored and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons white balsamic or distilled vinegar
2 teaspoons demerara sugar*
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄4 cups cubed Brie cheese
1 1⁄4 cups roasted chicken, cut into small bite-size pieces
4 flour tortillas

Heat oil in large frying pan. Sauté leek over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, stirring once.

Add apple slices and sauté until apple begins to soften (a little brown color adds flavor, but avoid burning). Sprinkle with vinegar, sugar, and salt.

Add cheese and chicken to frying pan. Cook over medium-low heat until cheese is melted and chicken is hot. Mix all ingredients together well and spoon onto center of warm tortillas; fold in half.

*1 teaspoon brown sugar can be substituted.

Soul Sustenance: Successful Women of the Bible

I love getting to review books from Hachette, and my latest, Successful Women of the Bible, is no different. This book takes a fresh look at some of the most famous women in the Bible - like Deborah, Esther, Miriam - and some of the ones that less is known about - like Lydia, Priscilla - to provide insights on what success means in the context of a God-fearing life.

Author Katara Washington Patton isn't afraid to share the women's faults - for example, Miriam sometimes made rash decisions and used her leadership position and traits to negatively influence the Israelites. However, this makes these great women seem more human and relatable. She explores the positive aspects of each woman, and what that looks like in today's world, providing a chance to reflect on and pray about our own role in our lives. She does all this in a Biblically-sound, easy-to-read devotional style, educating and inspiring readers at the same time.