December 2008 Newsletter

No program this month. Mark your calendar for January 14, 2009.
View tentative schedule at end of newsletter.
Redefining Christmas http://www.redefine-christmas.org/is neither commercial venture, nor money-maker. It's simply a charitable idea, shared by many, that our holiday gift giving could be more meaningful and do more good. In addition to the gifts we enjoy shopping for and giving, we're often compelled to give gifts that aren't so meaningful. Imagine if we replaced those gifts by giving others donations to their favorite charities. And we just request that others do the same for us.”
“It's not about reinventing the holiday. It's about changing the way we look at gift giving and receiving. It's taking money we usually spend on obligatory gifts with little meaning, and creating gifts of charity that give in multiple ways, to the receiver, the giver, and people who truly need.
There is no question we are in the midst of difficult financial times. And if it has you feeling unsure or uncomfortable this holiday season, imagine how purely difficult it's becoming for people who already, or are about to, depend on the generosity of others for the things that only a donation can provide.
As we consider our individual place in this world we can be of help to others with a simple gesture that bestows the gift of charity on those who are in need, on behalf of the ones we care about. If this sounds like a good idea to you, redefine Christmas by giving others donations to their favorite charities, request that others do the same for you, and use this site to share this message with as many people as you can think of. Chances are, you'll like the way it feels.”
End of year charitable contributions:
If you itemize your tax deductions: Donations charged to a credit card before the end of the year count as deductible in 2008; checks to charities mailed before the end of the year can also be deducted for 2008. 
Problems with Gift Cards
When did a simple gift of a check, cash or gift certificate get displaced by gift cards?  Retailers want you to spend the entire amount at their store (and not save a penny of the gift) while they also profit by draining the value of the card in insidious ways. Gift cards often impose fees to purchase, some expire before being used, while others impose fees if not used within a certain time. Visa and MasterCard  gift cards are among the worst because they charge $4-5 to purchase. Despite being more widely accepted than single retailer cards, they can’t be used at  many gas stations, hotels, car rentals, and other businesses that place temporary holds on transactions. Many recipients lose or forget about the card. The gift card recipient cannot save part and spend part (a good way to encourage kids to save) and if the company files bankruptcy (like Sharper Image and many other retailers) the gift card holder is out of luck. In today’s economy, some gift card recipients would rather have the cash to help pay their bills and put food on the table. Write a check instead of giving a gift card. When a child receives a check or cash they can be encouraged to spend some on themselves, save some for the future and to donate some to charity.
Before you buy that big screen TV…
“Flat screen televisions deliver dazzling pictures, but they also consume huge amounts of electricity. Some big TV sets can use more electricity than a refrigerator, even ones that meet the government's newly revised " Energy Star " efficiency standard.” Learn more at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97036615
Reduce your carbon footprint: http://www.americanforests.org/resources/ccc/
I may sound like the Grinch who stole Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.) at a time when retailers are desperate for sales but the global economic crisis reinforces the need to reassess how Americans consume. To paraphrase singer Nanci Griffith: we don’t need to fill up our lives with “unnecessary plastic objects.” Current levels of consumption in America are destroying our planet and filling up the landfills.
Ideas for Getting the Biggest Bang from Your Holiday Spending Buck 
CUNA and CFA suggest the following tips to avoid getting deep into debt during the holidays.  “With just a little planning, consumers can substantially reduce their holiday spending without sacrificing holiday quality.”
Make Budget, and a List: Right now, decide how much you can afford to spend and stay within that budget.  Staying within budget will be much easier if you make a price list of all gifts and other holiday items you plan to purchase. It's easy to overlook extra expenses for holiday foods, party clothes, holiday décor and postage.
Comparison Shop: You can easily save more than 10 percent on most items, sometimes considerably more, by comparing prices at different stores. The easiest way to do this is to identify sellers using the Yellow Pages, and then call several. Or use the Internet and compare offers online. But when shopping online, shop wisely.  Be sure you are purchasing from a secure site (look for the “https” in the website address and the locked padlock icon on the toolbar), and review emailed statements for accuracy as you receive them.
Pay Off Debts Quickly: You’re less likely to overdo it if you pay in cash.  If you must make holiday purchases using credit, use a lower-interest card and pay off this debt as soon as possible early next year. Don’t borrow more than you can repay in several months. Remember that credit card debt is relatively expensive.  And if you only make the required minimum monthly payment, you may never pay off the debt.
Plan for Next Year by Opening a Christmas Club Account: While these accounts do not pay much if any interest, they provide a practical way to save small amounts over time. Ask your credit union or bank to automatically transfer funds from your checking to your Christmas Club account every month. The discipline of saving reinforces your good budget intentions.
Be Smart About Gift Cards: If you don’t use a gift card promptly, it can lose value in one of several ways:  It can expire and become worthless; monthly maintenance fees can erode its value to zero; the store that issued it can go bankrupt or stop honoring gift cards.  If you give or receive a gift card, read the fine print.  And remember, a gift card is handy and convenient, but like cash, if you lose it, it's gone.
Pay Attention to the Return Policy.  Some stores are tightening their policies.  Pay attention to the return policy when you make a purchase; keep receipts and note time limits, restocking fees, and other factors that may affect your recipient.
Find Low- or No-Cost Ways to Celebrate.  Adding a few changes can ease the strain on your spending budget.  For example, draw names to limit the number of people for whom you purchase gifts; give homemade items; make your own gift wrap; organize a potluck rather than trying to make, and pay for, the entire holiday meal. 
CUNA is the primary national trade association for the country's 8,300 state and federally chartered credit unions, which are not-for-profit financial cooperatives serving more than 90 million Americans.
CFA is a non-profit association of 300 consumer groups that was founded in 1968 to advance the consumer's interest through research, education, and advocacy.
Understanding the global financial crisis and its impact on you
15 Things You Absolutely Need to Know About the Panic of 2008
A crash course in why it happened, how it's strangling the nation's finances, how it might work itself out and what you can do while you wait.
http://www.kiplinger.com/magazine/archives/2008/12/why_the_financial_crisis_happened.html
Crunchonomics: "A collection of recent articles and past advice on what readers can do to secure their family finances, careers, retirement savings and homes during financial turmoil."
http://online.wsj.com/public/page/crunch.html
Comment: since these articles are from The Wall Street Journal they may be geared to the high income crowd but still worth reading.
One way to deal with financial stress: pay off credit card debt now! Use PowerPay.org or make an appointment with a Housing and Financial Counselor at the USU Family Life Center. Call  797-7224 for an appointment. FLC website and workshops
http://www.usu.edu/fchd/housing/  
Also see UtahSaves.org website.
CFP Board eNewsletter
November 2008
http://www.cfp.net/enewsletter/November2008.html#1
Articles:

Traditional IRAs versus Roth IRAs: Should You Switch?  
Finding Your Feet when You Lose Your Job: How Financial Planning Can Help  
401(k) Contribution Limits Raised for 2009  
Bank Fees up again in 2008 Study
Financial Alerts
Stop credit card offers (protect against ID theft; save paper and trees): 1-888- 567-8688 or http://www.optoutprescreen.com/
Workshops and events:
Smart Money education series for teenagers 14-18 years and their parents.
Wednesday,  December 17, 6:30- 8 p.m. @ USU Charter Credit Union, 198 N. Main, Logan. In downstairs conference room (enter at rear of building). Workshops are free. To register: 753-4080, ext 3400 or moneyteacher@usuccu.org
Home Ownership Workshop Saturday, December 6: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 435-797-7224 to register. Presented by USU Housing and Financial Counseling program at USU Charter Credit Union, 198 North Main, Logan
http://www.usu.edu/fchd/files/uploads/docs/counseling/hfc_workshops.pdf
Resources
Read The Wall Street Journal Sunday in the Sunday Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret Morning News Business Section or read it online: http://www.wsj.com/sunday
All of financial columnist Jonathan Clements’s Getting Going articles from The Wall Street Journal are available on-line: http://online.wsj.com/search/aggregate.html
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine on line: http://www.kiplinger.com/magazine/contents.html
Personal Finance Top Tips via e-mail: Often the best way to learn and take action is to receive information and advice in small amounts. Sign up for email advice from Money magazine columnists: http://money.cnn.com/services/newsletters/
Idaho's Two Cent Tips newsletter and podcast archives: http://extension.ag.uidaho.edu/madison/itct.htm
To subscribe send an email to erickson@uidaho.edu
Find a Utah Lawyer Directory. www.findautahlawyer.org
Thursday Night at the Bar “is a pro-bono legal clinic designed to assist the public in determining their legal rights. Volunteer attorneys are available during those meetings to meet briefly with individuals to provide preliminary counseling and general legal information.” 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month @ Cache County Courthouse, 199 N. Main Street, Logan.
Family Finance open courseware class available free at: http://ocw.usu.edu/Family__Consumer____Human_Development/Family_Finance
Small Steps To Health And Wealth: http://njaes.rutgers.edu/sshw/
The USU Family Life Center, 797-7224, 493 N 700 East (bottom of Old Main Hill), provides individual financial counseling. This is the best source for basic money management and getting out of debt. They offer the PowerPay computer debt analysis. Counseling sessions cost $5 for first session with sliding scale charges based on family income and family size for subsequent counseling sessions. http://www.usu.edu/fchd/housing/
Thanks to the Certified Financial Planner Board Grant for financial support of FPW.
FPW topics for 2009 (tentative schedule)
January 14 Start the year off right: More small steps to health and wealth
February 11 Planning to retire soon? On the verge of retirement- what to do?
March 4 (first Wed.)  Financial Security in Later Life; Making your money last in retirement
April 8 Why we do dumb things with our money: Understanding economic psychology
May 6 (first Wed.) IRAs and Mutual Funds
June 10 Spend, spend, spend like there is a tomorrow! Dr. Jan Andersen: Family Resource Management Extension Specialist
July 8  The Financial Checkup
August 12  Getting a grip on debt: 8 benchmarks for borrowing
September 9 The Sandwich Generation: Caught in the Middle: Are You Financially Prepared?
October 14 National Savings Rate Guidelines for Individuals.
November 11 IRAs: Should you switch from traditional to Roth in 2010?