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Archive for the ‘What Can I Do Today?’Category

What Can I do Today? Take Care of Your Teeth!

My apologies, no regular post today due to a broken tooth!

Once upon a time, I went 10 years without seeing a dentist. I have such sensitive teeth that they need to numb me for a cleaning. I’ve got fillings in many teeth, had a terrible time with braces as a child, and due to a bike accident, 4 of my top teeth are crowns.

For some reason about 5 years back I decided to head back to the dentist. 11 visits later and I was done. Yes, 11. My own fault, for not going in so long. 1 for x-rays, 2 for cleanings, and the rest for fillings, a couple of root canals, and some new crowns.

Today? Now I go like clockwork every 6 months, and I’ve had only 1 cavity in two years, by simply following the advice our mother’s and our dentists’ have given us for our entire lives.

Brush twice a day, floss, rinse, cleaning every 6 months. That’s it.

If I was stranded at my house for a month due to an ice storm and had an unfilled cavity go infected, that could be close to a worst case scenario. In many cases, dental problems can be more painful than many other injuries and ailments. An untreated mouth infection can kill.

So don’t delay, call your dentist today if you haven’t been in more than a year and make an appointment. And consider picking up Where There Is No Dentist for your preparedness library.

17

05 2010

Financial Preparedness Friday 401(k) edition

Financial Preparedness Friday’s will be articles that combine a ‘What Can I Do Today?’ with a more detailed look at a financial topic or question. 

So today’s ‘What Can I Do Today’ is:  If you are currently working, and are employed at a company that has a 401(k) and you are not signed up, call the Benefits department today and get the paperwork to join.  If your company offers a dollar match in your 401(k) and you are not taking advantage of it, you are not participating in what could by the highest return percentage available to you. 

If you are in your companies 401(k) and you are not getting the maximum match, increase your contribution percentage until you are getting the maximum match.  And if you are already contibuting to get your maximum match, congratulations!  Now take it one step further and raise your percentage by 1%. 

If you say you can’t afford it, my response is that you can’t afford not to do it.  Take a look at the above image.  It shows that Social Security is currently in the red, many years before almost anyone predicted.  That means that Social Security, today, is now spending more money than it takes in.  If you are relying on Social Security to assist you in your old age, don’t.  Being prepared means being financially prepared to take care of yourself without depending on anyone. 

I absolutely understand it is challenging to put money away in a very difficult economy, but I implore you to make saving at least a little bit the first thing you spend your money on (the 2nd if you tithe), not the last.  For those working hourly jobs without access to a 401(k), I’ll let you know a little method that literally changed my life, with little effort.  I’ll warn you though, you will need some willpower.

In 1999, my life, financially and otherwise, was a train wreck.  I was unemployed, I smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day when I could afford it, drank too much beer, and otherwise was on a self-destructive path.  I had $43,000 in credit card debt and another $3,000 in student loan debt. 

When I say I know how bad it can get, I do.  In late 1999 I filed bankruptcy.  While I believe in paying my debts, at that point in my life I just had no idea how that was possible.  I was making $8 an hour, and I couldn’t even afford minimum payments on my debt, let alone extra to pay down principal.  However, it was after the bankruptcy when the most difficult choice appeared.

Within 2 years of my bankruptcy, credit card companies were offering me credit again.  I actually opened 2 credit lines, and very quickly found myself staring at $2500 in credit card debt.  One day I looked at myself in the mirror and couldn’t stand what I saw.  What I saw was a complete and utter lack of control over my own life.  And it was that day I took a stand.  I called and cancelled one card, and hid the other one and swore I would use it in emergencies only.  And while I can hardly believe it now, I stuck with it.  I paid off the credit cards by 2004, paid off my student loan about the same time, and started on my sometimes-rocky financial recovery.

So how did I manage it?  From my first day of work, even when I didn’t know why, I always paid myself first.  When I first got the job for the company I am still working for and was only making $8/hour, I put $10 a week into an envelope.  It was the first thing I did with every paycheck.  It wasn’t a lot of money, and I couldn’t really imagine that I would ever save any real money that way.  But what it did was more psychological than financial.  It gave me peace of mind.  When a water pump blew on my car, I usually somehow had just enough in my evelope to cover it.  When I had to have insurance or risk driving without, the envelope usually helped me with the last $50 or $60.  When I wanted to take a pretty girl out on a date, I thought that was an emergency too and usually raided $40.  Before I knew who Dave Ramsey was, I had created my own emergency fund. 

When I got a raise at work, I increased the amount I put in the envelope from $10 to $20 per week.  If I did an odd job or sold something on eBay (something I did more and more as time went on), I put a portion into the envelope.  There were some weeks when I would have $800 or more in the envelope, and others where it was near empty, but I never skipped a week or made excuses why I couldn’t put some amount of money in it.  Eventually I even used a good chunk of ‘envelope money’ to pay off my credit cards and start a debt-free lifestyle. 

Today I challenge you, no matter what your current financial status, to stretch and take one small extra step.  As I have said, I will be doing anything I ask you to do.  After I post this article, I will be increasing my 401(k) contribution from 5 to 6%.  (my match is 5%)  I hope y’all will do the same.    So whether it is putting $5 in an envelope or saving some of your birthday money instead of spending it, I guarantee there will come a time in your life when you will be glad you did.

14

05 2010

What Can I Do Today? Document Edition.

 Welcome to the Document Edition of What Can I Do Today!

Today, let’s work on getting our vital documents together and organized. As these events are supposed to be things we can do in 15 minutes or less, what you can do is gather your documents together over the course of the next week as you clean the house, organize a closet, or other chores where you might run across things you need to save.  Then, when you have time, you can develop a filing system for each item.

I’ll admit, organizing paperwork is an incredible challenge for both the Advice-Wife and I.  We have a poor filing system, and things often get misplaced.  What we’re looking for is usually somewhere, but often not where we can actually find it.  Thus today, like every episode of WCIDT, I’ll be following my own advice.

First, what documents should we be holding onto? Let’s start with these (I’m assuming your Driver’s License lives in your wallet!):

Birth Certificate

Social Security Card

Passport

These are your primary identification documents, and are often used to apply for other pieces of identification, such as a Drivers License. While not everyone has or needs a Passport, it is often a better form of identfication than your Driver’s License. If you plan on travelling out of the country, work on getting your Passport well in advance of your trip, as it can take some time. There are methods to expedite the process, but it makes it more expensive.

I actually don’t have a copy of my Birth Certificate; I sent off for a certified copy few years back in order to get my Passport, but then I proceeded to lose it.  Thus, I will go here, pick my state, and follow the instructions in order to get a copy. Remember, to get a copy of your birth certificate, you need to apply in the state where you were born, not the state you are currently living in.

The next category of documents we should put our hands on are our estate documents.  There are few things more tragic than an extended probate process due to a lack of simple planning.  If you do not have a Will/Living Will, I’d recommend starting the process (though it is outside the scope of this episode!).  One of my wife’s clients offered to do up a Will/Living Will for us as our wedding present.  We’re still working through the process, but we’ll put it back on a front burner today!

So look for these:

Will/Living Will

Marriage License

Divorce Papers

Death Certificates of family members where you were a beneficiary

Power of Attorney

Life Insurance Beneficiary Forms

Car Title

DD 214 (If you were in the Military)

Financial Account Beneficiary Forms (such as for a 401(k) or an IRA)

Status of Finance Document – This is something that I put together quarterly that shows the state of our family’s finances, including where each account is held, along with passwords for my wife so she doesn’t have to worry about having access to our accounts should something happen to me.

Previous Year Tax Returns

W-2’s and 1099’s

There are some other financial documents that should be on hand, usually because they will make life easier in the event you need them for some reason.  However, for this project, putting your hands on the first two categories is a great start!  If you are truly bold though, work on a filing system for these as well:

Mortgage Documents

Pay Stubs – 6 months (these are useful to have on hand when applying for a mortgage or car loan.)

Bank Statements – (If you can get these online, don’t worry about keeping more than a rolling 12-month cycle)

Chartitable Giving Statements (For example, if you give to Goodwill, they will give you a receipt for tax purposes)

So now that you have them all together, what should you do with them?  For the first two categories we went through, I absolutely recommend either putting them in a Safe Deposit Box at a local bank, or putting them into a fireproof box or safe. For the others, file by date and purge appropriately.  For example, you don’t need to be holding on to your mortgage documents from 3 houses ago.  If you are obsessive compulsive (like my dad), you can set up a long term storage box that lives in your attic with these types of documents.  In any case, get them out of the way of your current documents, and make sure you label your long-term boxes by year(s) and document types.

That’s enough for now, I am going to go follow my own advice!

13

05 2010

What can I do today 1? Let There Be Light!

For humans, light not only provides the ability to work when the sun goes down, but it is comfort in times of stress.

As the singular William Shakespeare said:

Now, God be praised, that to believing souls gives light in darkness, comfort in despair.

While water, shelter and food are more immediate needs in times of stress or crisis, often it is a good source of light that will provide the most comfort.

So today, let’s make sure we have multiple light sources available in case of an emergency.

First, pull out your flashlight, check the batteries, and put it someplace you will be able to reach it easily when needed. Me, I stick with simplicity and my main flashlight is a D-Cell Maglite. Not only does it put off great light, it is a very solid item with a comforting weight to it, and can be used as a club in a pinch. We keep our flashlight right next to the TV, as often when the power goes out, that’s where we’ll be.

Next, make sure you have at least a dozen small candles.  Even tea-lights will do.  As in times of trouble I hate to have to look for things, I always make sure there is a lighter or matches wherever I keep my stash of candles (Plus, a lighter is part of my ‘everyday carry’ which we’ll discuss next week).  Although my wife keeps candles in almost every room in the house, our candle stash is also right near the TV and next to the flashlight.

And finally, if you want to follow the rule of 3, pick up an Electric Lantern, or an oil lamp or two (Don’t buy oil lamps from the store; they are a regular yard sale item and we usually pay only $5-$10 for some really interesting ones of much higher quality that the $10 ones you find at Wal-mart.  The Advice-Wife found a great buy the other day and picked up 4 chimneys for $1 each; be on the lookout for these as well.). These items have a higher burn time and put off enough light to play a game by.  Be careful with oil lamps though, and please don’t place them anywhere they might easily be knocked over!

04

05 2010