Friday, August 23, 2019

Thrifty Thinking: Unexpected Savings

I'm a teacher and my husband works for a non-profit, so money tends to be somewhat tight in our house. As a result, we've had to be creative in saving money.

I'm at the point now where most savings books are things that either I'm already doing, or things that I have tried that just don't work for our family. We don't have to pinch every penny, but we do have to be careful, and along the way I've found a few ways to save money that I had originally overlooked.

School supplies - I have a dirty little secret. We never buy all our school supplies new. At the end of each year, I make sure to take the box that their school supplies were in and save what's inside so it doesn't get lost or mixed up with general household art supplies. Then, during back-to-school time, we look there first. My kids don't even care if their markers, crayons, and  colored pencils aren't new - they just grab a handful, make sure they have a variety of colors, and stick them in a pencil pouch.

Energy providers - Sometimes you can find savings in places you didn't even think to look - for example, on Georgia natural gas. If your energy market allows for competition and choosing your own provider, you don't have to automatically go with the most popular provider - and sometimes markets with competition are able to offer lower prices overall.

Toys - when your kids are young, you tend . there are so many wonderful toys for them in a variety of ages and stages. Our local ECFE has a toy lending library that can save hundreds of dollars by providing toys that are new to the family for a short time that can then be returned. This allows families to have fresh toys and a variety of playthings at a fraction of the cost.

Book/game swaps - our school hosts a book swap each year, and we've worked out trades with families on video games and novies when our kids get bored. Instead of buying new books or movies, swap them around when your kids are tired of them! By the time they come back, they'll seem like new again.

Are there other creative ways that you save?

Thrifty Thinking: College Debt by Degree

Early-career Millennials face a host of financial challenges. Lack of affordable housing, student loan debt burdens and inadequate savings are common issues. While it is convenient to think of this generation as having a shared experience, research shows distinct differences between debt profiles of those with two-year versus four-year college degrees.
The National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®), in partnership with The Ohio State University (OSU), recently published a study examining types of debt held by individuals at age 30, uncovering several inequalities between two- and four-year degree holders that highlight just how divergent these two pathways can become.
“Two-year college attendees experience major life events and transitions much differently than four-year degree holders, and these early experiences have profound, long-term effects on debt holding and financial precarity,” says Katherine M. Sauer, Ph.D., vice president of research and programs for NEFE. “It may be assumed that with time, the debt portfolios start to look the same. Instead these differences persist, and in some cases widen.”
The research, led by Rachel E. Dwyer, Ph.D., at OSU, finds that individuals who only complete a two-year degree are more financially vulnerable than individuals with a four-year degree, and in some cases are even more vulnerable than those who have no degree. When compared to other degree holders, those with an associate’s degree:
  • Are exposed to higher interest rates on student loans
  • Have more vehicle and credit card debt and a higher rate of loan delinquency
  • Experience more major life events, such as marriage and childbearing during the same period of their educational pursuit
“Most data and assumptions about college debt focus on bachelor’s degrees, but these are not universally translatable to two-year degree holders,” says Sauer. “Understanding the unique challenges of two-year degree holders forces us in the research and education field to treat them as a distinct group rather than lumping them in with traditional four-year students.”
According to the study, financial precarity is broader than just student loans. In fact, the overall portfolio of debt holding likely contributes to the difficulty of managing student loan debt, especially in the early years before the returns to any degree come fully to fruition. The study captured and compared debt profiles of each type of degree holder at three points in time. From age 20 to 30, debt portfolios between degree pathways begin to diverge:
  • Associate’s degree holders are more likely to have debt at age 20 than bachelor’s degree holders.
  • By age 25, about one in five has a mortgage and at age 30, a greater proportion of bachelor’s degree holders have house debt.
  • Vehicle and consumer debt are more common at every age for associate’s degree holders.
  • Both types of individuals are likely to hold credit card debt at age 25. The proportion of bachelor’s degree holders with credit card debt drops steadily over time, while associate’s degree holders see only a slight decrease.
For more information and to review the full study, click here.
About the Study
The principal investigator is Rachel E. Dwyer, Ph.D., at The Ohio State University (OSU) Department of Sociology. Research assistance was provided by Laura DeMarco, Ph.D., (OSU); and Emily Shrider, Ph.D., (University of Wisconsin-Madison). Two nationally representative samples were analyzed for this research: the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth—1997 from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Survey of Consumer Finances from the Federal Reserve Board.
About the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE)
NEFE is a nonprofit foundation that inspires empowered financial decision making for individuals and families through every stage of life. For more information, visit

Thrifty Thinking: National Financial Awareness Day Survey - Cash is Still King with Teens When it Comes to Purchases

Teens may love technology, but most still rely on cash when it comes to purchases and getting money from mom and dad. In fact, 80 percent of teens who receive money from parents or caregivers say it is in the form of cash and 75 percent of teens say they have made purchases in cash. Despite this, budgeting apps are gaining in popularity.
These are some of the findings from a new survey of 1,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 18 by Junior Achievement USA (JA) and Alliance Data, a leading global provider of data-driven marketing and loyalty solutions. The survey was conducted between July 16 and 23, 2019 by Wakefield Research and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. The survey findings are being released to coincide with National Financial Awareness Day on August 14, 2019.
Despite the use of cash, financial technology is having an impact on today’s teens. As a global provider of consumer-centric marketing, loyalty and payments solutions, Alliance Data partnered with Junior Achievement to assess current priorities in financial education and literacy among U.S. teens.
Key findings from the survey include:
  • A quarter of teens (26%) who received money from parents or guardians said it was wired into their bank account, while nearly as many (23%) used their parent or caregiver’s credit card for online purchases. Fewer (10%) used financial apps like Apple Pay or Venmo to receive money or purchase items.
  • Despite the use of cash, nearly half of teens (48%) said they do use mobile or online apps to manage their money, such as for budgeting and planning purposes.
  • Nearly one-in-five teens (17%) have never been in a physical bank and a third of teens (34%) don’t have a bank account. Of those who do, the largest percentage (35%) got them at 12 years of age or younger.
  • Of those with a bank account, most have a debit card (62%), while far fewer use a checkbook (18%)
  • Most teens (71%) say they are concerned about their credit score, while nearly half (44%) are concerned about future student loan debt.
“These survey results show that today’s teens are very much aware of the need to effectively manage money and that for many, technology is being used as a tool to achieve that, even when teens are working with cash,” said Jack E. Kosakowski, President and CEO of Junior Achievement USA. “It’s encouraging to see that today’s young people are being proactive in how they view money and are using resources at their disposal to become better stewards of their financial futures.”
Alliance Data is a long-time partner of Junior Achievement, and its employees nationwide volunteer their time to help students on the path to financial literacy and economic independence. With a deep focus on customers, Alliance Data uses rich data, analytics and insights to drive sales for its brand partners and deliver compelling payment offerings.
“Alliance Data’s research of consumers across age demographics shows that the most important innovations are those that save time and increase convenience,” said Wes Hunt, VP of Enterprise Data and Analytics at Alliance Data. “The results of this survey reinforce that the technology solutions younger generations will likely adopt over time will be those that meaningfully enhance their experience and make it worth it for them to trade cash for technology.” 

The JA/Teens-FinTech Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research ( among 1,000 US Teens, Ages 13-18 between July 16 and July 23, 2019, using an email invitation and an online survey.
Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.1 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.

Caring Causes: Lexington Regional Health/American Cancer Society Relay for Life

Lexington Regional Health is proud to say that $43,186 was raised for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Dawson County. The event was held at Ehmen Park and ten team members of Lexington Regional Health Center proudly participated.
The latest Relay for Life marked the 25th anniversary of the event. Lexington Regional Health Center believes strongly in giving back to their local community. More than $2,000 was raised by the LHRC team through bakesales and cookouts over lunch.
Director of Marketing for LRHC, Brenna Bartruff explained the fun and importance of the night saying, “It was a great way to spend my Friday evening, I’ve had many family members affected by cancer so it was a cause that was close to my heart.”
Events like The American Cancer Society Relay for Life provide Lexington Regional Health Center the opportunity to give back to their local community. They are always on the lookout to engrain themselves in the community as they take their responsibility as a a community leader seriously. It’s truly a matter of practicing what you preach as the organization looks for volunteers to help with various tasks for patients like watering plants, buying newspapers and delivering mail.
To learn more about the incredible work being done on a daily basis by Lexington Regional Health Center, visit
About Lexington Regional Health Center:
Lexington Regional Health Center continues a proud tradition of providing outstanding medical care. Committed to maintaining a strong spirit of community, the company invests our their resources close to home. The staff is dedicated to patients receiving a high quality of care that meets or exceeds expectations. Lexington Regional Health Center proactively embraces the concept of patient safety. The staff is encouraged to care for one another, so that they can better care for the people they serve.

Parenting Pointers: Back to School with Andrea Smith

Book Nook: The Little Book of Drawing Dragons & Fantasy Characters

My daughter loves fantasy (especially dragons) and loves art, so it was fun for her to review the book The Little Book of Drawing Dragons & Fantasy Characters.

This book had instructions for drawing a wide variety of fantasy creatures, including several types of dragons. My daughter has her own style for drawing dragons, but it was fun for her to adapt these different types as well.

Within the specific types of creatures, artists will also explore value, shading, texture, and perspective, which means it's appropriate for both beginning artists who like fantasy and more advanced artists who want to learn how to draw these fantasy creatures. With several different contributors, the book gives several different perspectives and styles that work together to create a cohesive book.

Michael Dobrzycki is an accomplished painter, carpenter, puppet maker, and sketch artist whose work has been featured in more than a dozen children's books and small press publications over the last few years. In 2001, Michael was inducted into the Disneyland Entertainment Hall of Fame. He received a master's degree in illustration from California State University, Fullerton, and holds bachelor's degrees in both art and history from Whittier College. He is currently a visiting professor at Whittier College. Michael lives in Whittier, California.
Kythera of Anevern is a self-taught artist who revels in the strange and unusual. She has designed a handful of logos for small businesses and contributed illustrations for various role-playing game books. She also displays her work at fantasy and animation conventions, including the annual Gathering of the Gargoyles, where she has won many awards. She received her BFA in intermedia from ArizonaStateUniversity and currentlylives in Los Angeles.
Bob Berry has been an artist, illustrator, and character and graphic designer for more than 15 years. While the mainstay of Bob Berry's work is for children's publishing and textbooks, Bob has also provided art and illustration for CDs, children's games, toy packaging, and more. Visit
Cynthia Knox is an award-winning artist who specializes in works of traditional realism. She is a Signature Member of the Colored Pencil Society of America, a juried member of the International Guild of Realism, commissioned portrait artist, and occasional art instructor. Her artwork is in shows, private collections, and on her website at She currently lives in Clifton Park, New York.
Meredith Dillman is an artist and illustrator living in Minnesota. Since childhood, she has enjoyed painting fairies, woodland creatures, and other fantasy and medieval themes in watercolor. Meredith graduated from Minnesota State University with a BFA in illustration and has been published in role-playing games, the books Watercolor Fairies, Fairy Motifs, How to Draw and Paint Fairies, and metaphysical magazines and journals.

Thrifty Thinking: Back to School Savings Tips

For most, retail therapy -- whether consciously or unconsciously -- is usually guaranteed  to relieve stress; unless it’s for the Back-to-school (BTS) season. A recent survey found that 29% of parents reportedly feel stressed about BTS shopping and more than a quarter feel anxious. To make matters worse, BTS shopping is becoming a literal source of grief: More than 1 in 5 parents would describe it as “a pain in the neck.”

 A few  highlights from the study include: 
  • Cram Session: More than half (57%) of parents reportedly spend 3 hours or more shopping for BTS items. 
  • Think on Your Feet: More than 1 in 5 (22%) say shoes were the single most expensive item purchased during BTS shopping season last year. The top three items parents said they were most likely to purchase second hand/used or pass down from an older sibling were calculator (39%), jacket/coat (35%) and laptop (24%).
  • Something Borrowed: More than 1 in 3 parents (34%) have reportedly purchased a smartphone for their child(ren) as part of BTS shopping. Of those, 30% purchase a new smartphone every year and 28% every other year.

According to the survey conducted by Flipp, a free shopping app with coupons and circulars from top retailers, many parents still go over budget even if they have a plan of action for back-to-school shopping. And this year, parents plan to spend an average of $440 during their haul, so every bit of savings helps. With Flipp, you can easily find deals on everything from clothes to electronics at places like Macy’s, Walmart, Staples, and more.

The full survey results are linked here.

Looking for ways to save? Check these out.

Back-To-School Savings Tips from Lauren Greutman, Flipp Saving Expert
  • Student Discount: Take advantage of student discounts to get a certain percentage off your purchase of clothing, electronics and more.
  • Price Matching: Some retailers will match competitor prices if you are able to find a new, currently available lower price elsewhere. Plus, some retailers will discount the item by an additional 10%! 
  • Apps to Help You Save: Use Flipp to find the best prices in your area. Create your shopping list, share it with your spouse, and you are on your way to saving a lot of money. Flipp is a free shopping app and website that brings circulars, coupons and deals right to your phone so you can plan your weekly shopping trip and save time and money each week.
  • Buy Now, Use Later: During back to school season, you can typically find great deals on crayons, paint sets and markers. I often stock up on these during back to school season and save them until my kids birthday parties and put them in the kids goody bags that come.
  • Solo Shopping: Keep the kids at home when school shopping and skip the trendy character patterned notebooks. You will save more money making a list and going without the kids.
  • Where to Shop: Don’t forget about the drug stores like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid. These stores offer very competitive sales as long as you are signed up for their loyalty programs.
  • Splurge-worthy Items: Parents should splurge on more expensive backpacks and lunch pails.  The same lunch pail and backpack can last your child their entire schooling.

Enriching Education: The Great Courses - Creating the Perfect Three-Course Meal

Whether you’re looking to entertain, impress or just take your cooking game up a notch, designing a cohesive three-course meal is a great place to start.

The Great Courses, an educational SVOD (streaming video on demand), is set to release a new lecture series in September on creating the perfect three-course meal at home complete with tips on recipe selection, cooking technique and execution. 

I had a chance to interview the mind behind the course, Sean Kahlenberg, a chef-instructor with the Culinary Institute of America and former Las Vegas senior chef consultant.

What makes a cohesive three-course meal a way to take entertaining up a notch?
Cooking for friends and family is one of the greatest expressions of love,
happiness and friendship you can show. There are so many options to have dinner brought straight to your door in 2019, from meal boxes to food delivery services, but none of those give you the ability to impart your emotion and love into the meal. By creating a dinner from scratch, start to finish, for your family and friends, not only do you take entertaining up a notch, but you really show them how much you care about them.

What are some things hosts need to consider as they decide how to tie courses together?
Before putting the meal together, you need to do is ask you diners about food aversions and allergies to ensure everyone will be able to eat the food you put in front of them. After that, it’s deciding what you want to be the centerpiece of the dish. I like to make my decisions based on the season. For example, tomatoes, mushrooms and squash are great in the summer while mid-fall is the perfect time to utilize apples or cherries.

It’s also important to tie each course together. While a Caprese salad and Korean tacos are both great on their own, there’s no theme and the two don’t work together. A good rule of thumb is to go by region or country — if you start with that Caprese salad, pair it with a beautiful Italian pasta dish and a flourless chocolate cake.

What will the SVOD offer that might be challenging for viewers to get from other sources?
I created the course in a way that each lesson builds off the one before it. I started from the basics and assumed the viewer knew nothing about cooking to begin, and each lesson after that I added on to what was taught previously. While you might be able to find the information in an article or video online, you’ll have to piece all the steps together yourself. By using The Great Courses, everything is cohesive.

I also wanted to create the course in a way that you’re learning the basics without feeling like you’re learning the basics. For example, there is a lesson where we are grilling salmon. While actually grilling the salmon was the main takeaway, I didn’t want to make it seem like it was the focal point. Instead we focused on the best options for seasoning, how to place things on the grill and other small details that provided a more in-depth look at the process.

Sean Kahlenberg's Professional Experience: Senior Chef Consultant, Blau and Associates, Las Vegas, NV. Chef de Cuisine, Society Café @ Encore, Las Vegas. Executive Chef, Louis’s and Louis’s Fish Camp, Las Vegas. Sous Chef, Bradley Ogden, Las Vegas. Executive Sous Chef, Commander’s Palace, Las Vegas. Lead Line Cook/Pastry Cook, Café des Artistes, NYC.

Healthy Habits: St. Jude Child Sleep Expert Shares Ways to Keep Your Kids Sleep Hygiene on Schedule as They Go Back-to-School

As America’s school children prepare to return to school after their summer break, pediatric sleep experts at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are reminding people of the importance of sleep hygiene during this time of year to maintain their children’s overall physical, mental and emotional health and have released a list of sleep recommendations for parents. 

Dr. Valerie Crabtree, Chief of Psychosocial Services at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a lead researcher on sleep and fatigue in children and a national leader in the effort to advocate for school districts to follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines on school start times, authored a list of ten ways parents can continue a healthy sleep hygiene for their children as they head back-to-school.  

“In children and teenagers, poor or insufficient sleep is related to poorer organization, poorer memory, and academic difficulties.  And, frighteningly, chronic sleepiness is correlated to higher rates of depression and increased rates of automobile accidents,” said Dr. Valerie Crabtree, Chief of Psychosocial Services at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

10 Key Ways to Maintain Children’s Sleep Hygiene as

Back-to-School Approaches:

  1. Keep a consistent sleep schedule – Make sure you wake your kids up and have them go to bed at about the same time on weeknights and weekend nights. Bedtime and wake time should not differ from day to day by more than an hour.
  1. Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine - Make the 30 minutes before bed wind-down time. Do not let children watch TV, use electronic devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) or exercise during this time. Instead, have them do something relaxing, such as playing with quiet toys, reading a book or listening to soothing music.
  1. Create an environment in your kid’s room that is only for sleeping – This means kids’ bedrooms should be comfortable, quiet and dark. Make sure the bedroom is not too warm (keep it 74 degrees or lower), as warm temperatures interfere with sleep. It is also very important to get all technology, including TVs, cell phones, computers, tablets, etc., out of the bedroom.
  1. Make sure your family is eating regular meals throughout the day and having a light snack before bed Do not feed kids large amounts of sugar or chocolate just before bedtime.
  1. Children should exercise regularly, but not too close to bedtime - The best time for kids to exercise is first thing in the morning or in the late afternoon. If possible, they should avoid strenuous physical exertion right before bedtime.
  1. Let kids enjoy the sunshine in the morning – Make sure your kids have the opportunity to spend time outside every day, especially in the morning, as exposure to sunlight or bright light helps keep the body’s internal clock on track.
  1. Limit your children’s light exposure in the evening, especially after dinner - Dim overhead lights and reduce the brightness of screens.
  1. Avoid putting kids down for naps if they are having trouble falling asleep at bedtime - Naps are developmentally appropriate in young children, and some adolescents benefit from a short afternoon nap (30-45 minutes right after school).
  1. Do not allow kids to consume caffeine after 4 p.m. or within six hours of bedtime - Caffeine has a half-life of four to six hours, which means it should still be helping you stay awake four to six hours after you take it. Consuming caffeine too close to bedtime makes it hard to fall asleep.
  1. Be mindful of teenager’s unique sleep clock - If you have teenagers in the house, keep in mind that most teens’ biology will not allow them to fall asleep any earlier than 10:30 or 11 p.m. And teens need eight-10 hours of sleep per night.

As a lead researcher on sleep and fatigue in children undergoing cancer treatment and brain tumor survivors, sleep is a major focus for Dr. Crabtree’s work.  She recently spoke at a TedX Talk in Memphis on how very early school start times are detrimental to the health of teenagers as well as those around them.  Dr. Crabtree underscores how insufficient sleep in kids and adults contributes to making us overweight, sick and sluggish. 

“Sleep is the third pillar of health, along with nutrition and movement, that keeps us healthy and balanced. Yet, as a society, we really undervalue the role of sleep in keeping us healthy,” said Dr. Crabtree.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Consumer Critique: New Zuru Products

Summer is almost over, but that doesn't mean your family can't enjoy one last water fight. I had a chance to review some products from Zuru that will help make those water battles go well, as well as one new option for more indoor fun.

Zuru X-Shot has a variety of blasters, including water guns. We got to try the X-Shot Fast Fill. My kids really liked how quickly it reloaded - with a big opening in the back, the whole gun fills up almost instantaneously. The pump action does offer a little more control over the strength of the stream (and it meant that since I was stronger, I had a longer range than my daughter did).

Zuru also makes a wide variety of Bunch O Balloons. Since we have a dog, we don't use these in our yard, but if you're going to have a water balloon fight, they make it incredibly fast to fill. You can also get some themed balloons (Minions), a catapult, and more.

I had never heard of Zuru Smashers before my daughter put them on her wish list last year, but now they have a giant dino egg full of smashers, which have a variety of ways to open them. If your kid likes Smashers, this just extends the fun and the surprise by having so many in one egg.