How to Stay Financially Responsible While Renting With a Roommate

Getting a roommate isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. While it may seem like the best decision for your wallet, you could actually be harmed financially in the process if your roommates are terrible. You’ll want to avoid some notorious pitfalls along the way if you want to save money and your sanity. Most importantly, you always want to make sure you choose your roommates wisely by doing a roommate background check, and by working together with your housemates to figure out the finances up front to avoid conflict.

How to choose a roommate

In addition to running a background check, getting a credit report is also a good idea. Also, do they have a job and a good temperament? You want to be sure they are someone you can imagine yourself living with. Are they tidy and can you trust them? These are just a few things to ask to make your decision easier. Below are some pieces of advice on financial matters.

How to split rent

The simplest way would be to divide the rent based on square footage, amenities, and the number of people in each bedroom. There are actual rent calculators out there that help you determine who pays what.

According to Forbes, to get an accurate breakdown, you take the square footage of each bedroom, including the closet or en suite bathroom, and divide by the total square footage of the apartment. This gives you the percentage of space each room occupies. Then take each person’s percentage and apply it to the total cost.

However, there’s an even easier method that just takes into consideration the square footage of the bedrooms. You don’t need to consider the total space that includes the common areas of the house because each roommate has equal access to those areas.

Example from My First Apartment:

Total bedroom area = 500 sq.ft.

Monthly rent = $1,000

Room 1: 250 sq. ft. (includes closet and private bath) = 50%  of area, rent $500

Room 2: 150 sq. ft. (includes closet)= 30% of the area, rent $300

Room 3: 100 sq. ft. (includes closet)= 20% 0f the area, rent $200

There are a number of ways to divide up rent, just make sure every roommate agrees upon the method of splitting, and make sure all renters are on the lease.

How to split utilities

Try to get all renters’ names on each account, if possible. If that’s not an option, collect all of the money up front before paying the actual bill. I once had a roommate who promised to pay me the $300 she owed. The outcome is predictable: She kept saying she’d pay, but never did. I didn’t have the money to cover the entire bill, it went to collections, and I was stuck with the whole thing. Come to find out, she had quite the history of delinquent accounts. Had I dug further into her past (and ran a background check), I’d have known this.

Basic utilities like water and electricity should be split equally. Is it really worth nickle and diming who uses the most? However, if a roommate is being frivolous with utility usage, such as leaving lights on or running the air conditioner all day and night, that warrants a conversation.

Other types of services or utilities could be negotiable, such as cable. Everyone should pay cash to the person whose name is on the bill and that person makes one payment on behalf of the group.

“When I lived with five other roommates under one roof, the best way of keeping track of who owed what was to create a chart each month and keep it on the fridge,” according to an article in Money Crashers. “It listed everyone’s name along with columns for rent and utility costs. As people paid, their names were crossed off. Everyone knew who had paid and who still owed – a great way of keeping everyone motivated to pay on time.”

Everyone needs to be on the same page before slapping up a chart on the fridge, though; no one wants to be caught off guard.

How to buy groceries

It’s probably easiest to each buy your own groceries and keep the food separately. If you all go to the store together, buy your own food and then split the other costs. You could split costs on staples such as milk, toilet paper, bread, butter, cleaning supplies, etc. and design a budget on how much you will each spend a month on these items. The key will be to communicate up front so there are no misunderstandings.

Just don’t eat your roommate’s food without asking. A lot of arguments can be prevented if you just show respect to your roommates and talk about groceries up front.

Use Rent Calculating Tools

Math isn’t everyone’s forte, so try using an online calculator. Some to try include,,, and Even if the space isn’t divided equally, tools can help manage everyone’s finances.

Living with a roommate (or multiple roommates) can be enjoyable, and a good way to save money, especially if you’re not financially in a position to invest in buying your own home. Just be prepared to resolve inevitable conflicts and divvy up necessary expenses, and your living arrangements will be that that much better.

Top 3 Ways to Save Money Around the House

It’s kind of a drag. You buy your first home, so now you’re in debt and paying a mortgage. You don’t have time to think about simple ways of conserving cash around the house? Money goes down the drain as you go about your life.

Or you save money on the small stuff. You keep paying on your mortgage and credit card debt, and you keep saving what you need for that first trip to Italy or that new car. Sounds like a better scenario, right?

Conserve Energy

Remember when you had that roommate in college who always left the lights on? Well, now you don’t. As an added bonus, these energy tips to save money are actually a little less obvious than just turning off the lights:

  • Balance thermostat usage: Summer or winter, basic intel says to set the thermostat higher or lower to save energy while you’re not around, but when you get back and adjust it that actually makes the unit work harder; instead, keep it at a consistent, reasonable temp
  • Keep interior doors open: This maintains air circulation in the house so that you use your thermostat to peak efficiency
  • Turn off fans when you’re out: They don’t cool down a room—they just push around air and consume energy
  • Change air filters: Dirty filters keep your HVAC system from running properly
  • Inspect and repair ductwork: A service professional can tell you if there’s any leaky ductwork in the house—leaks in ductwork can waste up to 28 percent of your cool air
  • Inspect dishwasher: If your washer isn’t Energy Star certified, it may be wasting a lot more water than handwashing would; try washing dishes by hand for a month and see the difference in your water bill
  • Repair leaks: Check for leaks in plumbing and get ‘em fixed; a single leak can waste over 3,000 gallons a year
  • Slay energy vampires: No I’m not talking about people like your old roommate; vampire power is the juice that feeds energy vampires, which are devices that suck electric blood when you’re not using them

All the above solutions to conserving energy are easy to implement. The next step is to consider what you truly need around the house.

Forget the Big Screen TV

As someone who has done social work and seen abject poverty, I can tell you one of the big items I noticed in people’s houses a lot was the gigantic flat screen TV. True, they’re only a couple hundred bucks these days, but do you really need one? The fact that you’re reading this means you probably have a computer that will do fine for shows.

People who accumulate wealth don’t spend money on luxury items they don’t need until they can afford to, and I’m not just talking about electronics. The big screen TV is symbolic of a kind of senseless consumerism on the part of many Americans. Save up money, pay off the debts you must take care of first, and start earning some positive income towards that TV and the other accessories that are signs of a moneyed citizen.

Consider Solar Power

Yes, this is one of those down-the-line things because right now you don’t have a ton of cash. But once you are in a healthier place financially, solar is a great way to save money over time. How much you’ll save depends on where you live because of differing power costs, and it also depends on how much you spend on installation. All told, though, if you live in, say, California, solar power could save you $28,360 over 20 years.

Happy money saving! And congrats on the new place.

How to Be Financially Literate While You’re in College

You might be physically fit while you’re young and in college, but staying in good financial shape is another matter. Being solvent is easily one of the hardest of accomplishments because there are a lot of other things to focus on: the effort to get good grades, your social life, your love life, and your health. Most students eschew financial considerations in hopes that they’ll make good money with a decent job after college.

Statistically speaking, counting on your postgraduate job does make some sense. In terms of college degree earnings, college grads make $549 per week more than high school grads on average. And, nearly 15 percent more college grads are employed. Yet, student loan debt provides a stark contrast to these numbers. The average class of 2016 grad owes $37,172, and the grand total of nationwide debt is $1.31 trillion (yeah that’s 1.31 with ten zeros after it).

No one would blame you for wanting to keep from apart of that stat. To avoid looming student loan debt, consider the following:

Take Online Courses

Why online courses? To avoid student loan debt, you should work while in college, and online classes allow you more flexibility so you can tailor your schedule accordingly.

Here’s how it works

You have some great options in terms of paying for college:

  • Find an employer who offers tuition assistance: For example, Starbucks will pay for your tuition at Arizona State University, and there are other companies that will help you pay for college as well
  • Apply for federal grants: A grant is basically sponsorship money for your education
  • Apply for scholarships: There are a great many scholarships available from private and public organizations
  • Join the military: A tough pill to swallow for some, but the G.I. Bill can help pay your way through college

Noticing a common trend with all of the above? They require extra legwork, but don’t fret; if you work hard to pay your way through college with all the available options, your time after school will be much more enjoyable.

Student Loan Debt Is Like a Steel Trap

Here’s how it works

You’re not required to begin paying on loans till after you graduate, and even then there’s a grace period. But once the payment terms kick in, they’re a very serious loan, and your history with payments reflects on you for a long time. Never default on student loans—it hurts your FICO credit score. Within the first year, skipping a payment on a fixed-rate 15-year loan will hurt you for the next 22 years. If you default on the loan—which means you don’t make payments for more than 270 days—it will seriously damage your credit score for seven years. You won’t be able to buy a house, it’ll be tough to buy a good car—just don’t do it.

Build Good Credit

If you’re working, you have the opportunity to start building your credit score, meaning when you graduate you’ll be in good financial standing, ready to succeed on your own.

Here’s how it works

Even if you have to take out loans, student debt and credit score are not necessarily poor bedfellows. Save up money while you’re working and then make regular payments on your loan. Don’t make partial payments, pay the entire amount due each time your bill comes around. Credit agencies will take note and your score will climb steadily.

Even during college you can begin building good credit. Get a student credit card and get smart with it. Only make credit purchases you can afford pay off immediately. In other words, make strategic purchases on the card. Check how much you have in the bank, then buy a few things (the fun part), then pay what you owe at the end of the month.

The interest rate on your college card will skyrocket after the initial terms expire, I guarantee it. That’s one reason why you must pay off card debts in full when payment is due. Once you have the chance to get a new card with better terms (such as a cash rewards card), take it. Then, make sure your original card is free of all debts, dispute any incorrect records, and leave the card open with zero debts. This shows creditors you’re responsible.

You Can’t Lose

If you maintain a job during college, look into grants and scholarships, and pay your way, you’ll graduate debt-free and in good financial standing. Maintain that college credit card in good standing along the way. Or, take out loans, get a job, save money, and pay your loans off reliably after you graduate.

You can’t lose with these strategies because you’ll be free of the steel trap that is student loan debt, and your credit score will be stacked to make important purchases. What’s more, you’ll have that degree, which pretty much guarantees you’ll make more money than high school grads. It also guarantees you learned something, and that’s the most valuable thing of all.

Power breakfast: Strawberry Smoothies!

The very basis for saving money on groceries is to stock up when on sale.

Now, strawberries are ripe, ready and cheap!

Stock up on the great sales of fresh strawberries. Wash, remove stems and freeze whole for refreshing after school smoothies in the blender with juice or yogurt. With yogurt or protein powder added makes a great breakfast on the run! You can even sneak in some dry uncooked oatmeal.

My boys always enjoyed frozen bananas in their smoothies too. So if you buy bananas, and they begin to ripen before you can eat them, peel them and freeze in a plastic bag to add to smoothies. When Davi was living with us, my cute basketball player exchange student from Cayman Islands, he loved what he called “Chunky Monkey”. In the blender, he put: milk, frozen bananas, peanut butter, and dry instant oatmeal, and a scoop of protein powder. He would run out the door to basketball practice with his high protein, power breakfast in hand.

You can freeze and later enjoy any in season fruit that’s on sale!


Dixie’s Sweeeeet Southern BBQ!

Gotta sing it to say it, “Dixie’s Sweeeet Southern BBQ”

Miss my mom. But some of our favorite recipes, we still have. Tastes like home. Good memories.

A little BBQ in the winter, sort of warms things up, and makes it seem like summer, at least indoors!!!

I made oven BBQ pork spareribs last night. Cooked slow for five hours. They were delish!!!! Put them on a baking sheet at 350 degree for one hour, then down to 225 for 3 more hours. Then slathered on Dixie’s Sweeeeet Southern BBQ sauce, last hour and covered, then let sit covered about half hour with oven off, just because we were still watching bull riding, and weren’t ready to eat! 

Here’s how my mom did it with chicken. Bone sucking tender, delicious. You probably have everything you need to whip some up. If you don’t have liquid smoke, you can still make it without. Pull some of that chicken you bought on sale from the freezer to thaw. Have a summer BBQ in your oven! This is SO easy!

Dixie’s Sweet Southern BBQ Sauce

4T prepared mustard (mom used 1T dry mustard instead of prepared)

2T mayonnaise

2T Worcestershire Sauce

1t  Liquid Smoke

4 dashes Tabasco sauce

2t  vinegar

2T brown sugar

pour over baked chicken last 20 mins

Blender Hollandaise and decadence at home!

A few years back, we decided it was just so much nicer to stay home for Valentine’s. Saves money, less hectic, and just relaxing. Maybe it’s old age! LOL

All day yesterday, my internet was down. And I was so frustrated, because I wanted to tell everyone to do what we were doing, if you didn’t already have Valentine’s plans. But I’m telling about it today, because the great Valentine’s sales are still on. So…

If you’re a Vons or Safeway shopper, you could easily guess what we had as a main course and vegetable last night. If you missed the deals, today is the last day for Vons and other Safeway banners great Valentine’s steak and lobster deals! We had $6.99 lobster tails and $3.47/lb. NY steaks, 99 cents/lb. asparagus and hollandaise, and twice baked potatoes for our Valentine’s Day dinner last night! Still on sale today! Awesome! Decadence at a discount!

Our favorite hollandaise is SO easy too! We make it in the blender, and it’s just as good, if not better than all that double broiler ridiculousness!

Blender Hollandaise recipe

4 egg yolks in the blender –  separate cold, about 30 minutes before dinner to allow to come to room temperature

Add a dash of cayenne pepper into blender

In a clear microwave safe 2 cup measuring cup, squeeze juice of one whole lemon, and 3/4 stick of butter. 

Heat lemon and butter in microwave until almost boiling over (clear cup so you can watch it bubbling up, and catch it before it bubbles over). Then while whirling egg yolks in blender on low, quickly pour in boiling hot lemon and butter. Blend on medium speed for about 30 seconds. 

I always want a little thicker consistency. So I pour it back into the measuring cup, and back into microwave NO more than 10 seconds, and stir with a fork. It will thicken even more as it cools. So if it’s still a little too runny after the extra 10 seconds, it will be perfect once on the table or on the asparagus. 

Super easy! And always delicious!

Note: We like very “lemony” hollandaise. You can use half the juice, if you prefer.

The Future of Work: How to Be Absolutely Essential

Earlier this year, McDonald’s started rolling out its program to replace cashiers with digital kiosks for customers to order from. As expected, the company’s shares hit an all-time high following the deployment of the order-taking machines.

While McDonald’s made headlines with its program, it is hardly the first company to replace human employees with automation and the food industry will certainly not be the last to add more machines to its lineup. Working life in the 21st Century will be defined by the conflict between human workers who want to keep their jobs and administrators who are lured by promises of cheaper automated labor and the ability to cut costs.

Experts estimate that 38 percent of jobs in the United States will become automated by the year 2032. The question on every working class person’s mind should not be “Will my job be automated?” Instead, we should be asking: “How can I make myself automation-proof?”

While it seems unlikely that any position will be safe from automation into the distant future, there are certainly things that every employee can do to keep his or her job safe for the next few decades. Here’s how to become absolutely essential in the job market of the future.

Get a Nursing Job

While the field of healthcare might not be safe from automation, at least some healthcare jobs are going to be very safe in the near future. These include highly-trained doctors and nurses. Of these fields, there is already a huge nurse shortage in the U.S., making nursing an ideal job option for the present and the future.

In fact, unlike many other modern careers, nursing is expected to grow in the future. The job market for advanced practice nurses is expected to grow by 31 percent between its 2014 volume and 2024.

Nursing as a profession is made resilient by its complex and varied demands. Oftentimes, nurses are required to think on their feet with a patient, making it almost impossible to design a one-size-fits-all machine that could replace a nurse in every conceivable scenario. Nursing is also difficult to replace because of its hands-on nature. Patients respond well to good beside manner, which no machine can replicate.

Interactive Jobs

If your job requires complex interactions with other people, then you’re in luck. Positions like therapist and social worker rely on the worker’s ability to engage on a personal level with their clients. Machines cannot bond with people in the way that another human being can and this human connection is necessary for work in these fields.

In addition, like nursing, social work is expected to grow in the future. The market for social work jobs is expected to grow by 12 percent by the year 2024, driven by America’s aging population.

Get Into Teaching

Like nursing and social work, teaching is another job that requires interaction with other people. While aspects of learning have been automated, there is no way to teach a machine to give each student the kinds of hands-on touch that a good teacher can give.

It’s a unique challenge to teach students who come from wildly different backgrounds and many require their own approaches to classroom material. This makes it hard to design a computer program that can lead each student through lessons with a similar level of success. For now, teaching seems to be safe from automation.

The Bottom Line

Noticing a trend so far? Jobs that have a strong human element are unlikely to be replaced by machines anytime soon. Instead, the need for these jobs seems to be growing as the population grows and there’s a need for more people who are ready and willing to take care of other people. Find a job that demands a personal touch in almost facet, and you are sure to stay safe from automation for the time being.

Is College Really Worth It?

The question of whether college is worth it is a fairly new one in the scheme of things. When you’re looking at payment options so you can afford college, you have to deal with the fact that tuition has gone up by 296 percent since 1995. A price increase of this magnitude is hard to deal with when post-collegiate employment options don’t look promising. It’s not that there aren’t any jobs available. It’s that wages are low and the cost of living is high, making it hard to pay off student loans.

A recent poll found 47 percent don’t think college is worth the cost, while 49 percent do. Young people between 18 and 34 were especially negative, with 57 percent giving college a thumbs down, while 39 insisted college is worth it. These numbers have changed drastically over the course of four years. In 2013, 56 percent of young people were optimistic and 38 percent weren’t.

This graph shows the breakdown of opinion:

Where do you stand on the efficacy of college? There are, of course, studies that show college graduates earn a lot more. But it’s not my intent to trot these studies out for you. Instead, I’m going to focus on the current state of the US economy, and show why it indicates college is indeed worth the cost.

Jobs Numbers and Wages

Wages have stagnated for the bottom 20 percent of workers since the 1970s. By and large, the bottom 20 percent of earners are those who only have a high school diploma, or less. A college degree prepares you for a job in the upper 80 percent. And there may be good news on the horizon for wage growth.

The unemployment rate is currently 4.4 percent, the lowest it’s been since before the Great Recession, and maintaining full employment is the key to raising wages. As the economic argument goes, the more people are employed, the more demand there is for workers. Greater demand for workers translates into higher wages as employers have to do more to attract qualified employees.

At the current rate, barring unforeseen catastrophe, there’s no reason the unemployment rate won’t continue to fall.

A lower unemployment rate also means more job openings. The more people are employed, the more productivity and growth for businesses, which means employers need to increase the number of positions as they grow. Again, businesses want to attract qualified employees, and they view those with a college degree as being more qualified.

The current economic picture points toward more job opportunities and higher wages. This means people with college degrees will not only be able to find a job, they’ll also be able to pay off student loan debt faster than they can now.

And when it comes to finding a job, nothing beats personal connections. College gives you the chance to make plenty of personal connections that could last for the rest of your life.

A Matter of Degrees

There are other added bonuses. Some degrees prepare you to help people in ways you never could without the degree. A master’s in social work allows you to provide therapy to clients who sorely need it, and the US Bureau of Labor expects social work careers to grow 19 percent by 2024. That’s a low estimate. The median salary for social workers is $46,890, but you can expect that number to rise too. Careers that require empathy, such as social work, are among the low risk jobs when it comes to automation. You won’t find a robot giving anyone therapy anytime soon.

The same applies to nursing jobs. Nurses need empathy, something artificial intelligence will never have. There are nursing school scholarships available to help ease the cost of tuition. You’ll earn a Bachelor of Science in anything from Therapeutics to Microbiology to Pathophysiologic Foundations. Aging baby boomers are going to need great care from qualified nurses. You’ll be well-equipped to help, and there will be no shortage of jobs available.

Once robots take over, it will be an incredibly competitive market when it comes to scoring social work jobs and nursing jobs. But if you get in on these fields now, you’ll be ahead of the pack.

Furthermore, degrees in high paying fields today are becoming easier to get. Health administrators earn an average of $63,414 a year. To get a master’s degree in health administration, you don’t need to take the GRE, you can do it online, and it only takes two years.

College Is Worth It

Given the fact that low-paying jobs such as cashier, toll booth worker, and fast food worker will be automated in the coming years, from the job availability and money perspective, it’s definitely worth it to go to college. And college is an eye-opening experience. If you have to take out loans, just prepare yourself by studying as hard as you can. Meet as many people as you can and look into good jobs before you graduate.

Smiling Your Way to Financial Success?

What’s the deal with smiling? That might seem like a joke of a question. You probably didn’t laugh. But shouldn’t you have at least smiled? Will you be more successful if you smile more often? Now we’re getting deep. You might be surprised to find out there’s conflicting information on this subject.

On one hand, science says smiling is healthy for you, even when you’re faking it. Researchers separated people into three groups and had them work on stressful tasks. The first group put chopsticks in their mouths to simulate a smile. The second group forced a smile, while the third group kept a straight face. Turns out the two groups with fake smiles experienced less stress. Their heart rates were lower, which aligns with research that shows smiling—particularly the genuine kind—is good for heart health.

So, you’re young, and you’re looking for that great job that can become an incredible career, but the interviewing process is stressful. With the above evidence in hand, it’s easy to assume you should smile more during your interviews. Doing so will help alleviate stress, which in turn will help you perform better. Further, since your life on the job can be stressful, you should smile more often while you’re at work.

“People who smile appear to be more likeable, courteous, and even competent. This is reason enough to smile at every person you potentially want to do business with,” says Vivian Giang, citing research from Penn State. She goes on to discuss how smiling can train your brain to be happy: “The more we train, the easier it becomes to think positively, shut out negativity, and, in turn, boost your productivity and creativity, which allows you to perform better at work and life.”

If smiling more helps you deal with stress, and helps you become happier and more productive, maybe a good grin is just the thing you need to land that great job. But this isn’t an open-and-shut mouth—I mean, case. Assuming you should smile more during interviews is like assuming it takes a gimmick to get a job, when what it really takes is professionalism.

Several studies found that less can be more when it comes to smiling during interviews. In other words, be natural. If you’re applying for a position where the work is serious, such as reporter, police officer, or social worker, treat the interview with the type of seriousness it deserves. Prepare yourself with important questions to ask at a job interview. For example, find out about company culture and ask what the interviewer really likes about working for the company. Naturally, you’re going to smile if the interviewer says something humorous. But wouldn’t it be awkward if you forced yourself to smile although the person across the desk isn’t saying anything worth smiling about? If you’re going to force a smile, it’s best to do so at the beginning and end of an interview, meaning you’re happy to meet the person and you’re happy the interview went well.

How much you smile also makes a difference once you’re on the job. People who smile too much and are too cheerful in the workplace are at a disadvantage. Researchers found that, “People who appear really happy also appear to be more naïve than people who seem just a little bit happy.” Co-workers are more likely to try and manipulate you and take advantage of you if you seem happy all the time. The European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology even found that agreeable and nice people have lower salaries than those who are assertive. No one says that’s fair, but it seems to be the way the world of work is.

Ironically, smiling more may be better for your heart and your health, but it’s not necessarily better for your career. This definitely says something about the hazards of our career-oriented society.

When it comes down to it, be natural when you’re interviewing and when you’re working. When you’re on your own time, remember that it helps your health to smile. If you’re just naturally more cheerful than most, so be it—in the long run, it won’t hurt.

My Top 5 Favorite Things About Maine’s Credit Unions (CUs)

They care.

Big financial decisions can be intimidating. Where to open an account, buying homes or vehicles, and using credit cards are financial decisions that we want to make responsibly. 

Get a head start in life by joining a credit union.

With a supportive system made up of people who care about helping people, these decisions are not so scary.

Credit unions began as a movement to help the underdogs when big banks would refuse to serve them. Credit unions care about giving people a fair start in life.

They offer shared branching.

With 170 branches, Maine’s credit unions have nearly three times more locations than any single bank in Maine by “sharing their branches.” You can access your money from almost anywhere. When I moved away from home to college, this was important to me.

Shared branching means if you have an account with a credit union, but are traveling out of the area, you can perform account deposits, cash and check withdrawals, transfers, cash advances, loan payments, etc. at any other credit union that offers shared branching. You only need your photo id, your own credit union name and account number, the last 4 digits of your Social Security number, and the primary address on file for your account.

They are local, and they support the community.

Walk to Stop Hunger with Maine State Credit Union, 2013.

I love that my credit union supports the Campaign for Ending Hunger. Since the campaign began in 1990, credit unions and their members have raised $5.3 million, with 100% of proceeds, toward the cause. They also offer financial education and resources, and raise money through the Swish-Out Childhood Cancer Challenge, where 100% of all sponsorships help children with cancer and their families. 

They make life easy.

With convenient mobile apps, online banking services, and mobile check deposit, I can bank from anywhere!

Use your phone to deposit your checks! 

With mobile check deposit, I use my phone to deposit checks. By taking a photo of the front and back of the signed check, you have access to your money almost immediately.

The SURF ATM network in Maine has 230 SURF ATMs – the largest surcharge-free ATM network in Maine! I use the ATM locator – to find easy access to my money, wherever I travel, for free.

With online services, life is easy and convenient. You can track your spending, manage your budget, make online transfers, and create separate club accounts to better manage your finances. All of this can be done from home or on-the-go with mobile banking.

They have less fees and better rates on loans. 

As a student who graduated from the University of Maine, this is important to me. College is expensive, and I want the best rates on loans as possible. I also don’t want to pay extra money in fees.

Because credit unions are not-for-profit, they can return money to members in the form of better rates on loans, less fees and more annual dividends dispersed to your savings account each year.

Take Care! 

SK-II Cellumination Mask-In Lotion: Beauty Spotlight

Since the seventh grade, I had been a loyal devotee of the Clinique 3-Step Skin Care System. But after moving to gritty New York City from rural Vermont, my skin took a major beating. I knew I needed to try something that not only cleansed my face, but wouldn’t irritate or burn.

Cate Blanchett — a fashion icon with impeccable skin — is the global ambassador for SK-II. So, when I happened upon the brand’s latest product, Cellumination Mask-In Lotion, I barely hesitated. You’d have to be crazy not to want radiant skin like Cate’s!

I applied the iridescent liquid — which feels cool at first and dries a bit tacky — in the morning and before bed. Within a couple of uses, I noticed that some of my red spots were drastically clearer and my skin actually felt smoother. After one week of use, a stranger approached me to comment on my complexion — something that hasn’t happened since I faithfully started my skin care routine years ago.

Smog & The City: How Urban Life Can Age Your Skin

According to New York dermatologists, Dr. Eric S. Schweiger and Dr. David E. Bank, urban settings are rife with factors that rapidly dull skin, coax out wrinkles and splatter complexions with the type of pigmentation spots that accelerate the look of your years.

Now as a city girl, I don’t like the sound of this one bit.

Not only do I have to deal with a cost of living that makes a cardboard box apartment seem plausible, but now I have to worry about looking old before my time?

I asked the good doctors to explain the city’s biggest culprits that speed up the hands of mother nature’s clock, and tips for mitigating and even reversing the symptoms into beautiful, healthy-looking skin.

So if you pound pavement daily in any of the country’s major cities, put down that Blackberry and steal a New York minute to learn how to protect and recharge your skin against the less-than-glamorous parts of city life.

City sun rays are more dangerous, because they’re sneakier. While non-city folk usually experience their strongest daily sun exposure in a predictable pattern that hits the driver’s side half of the face and body, city dwellers often unknowingly bathe completely in the age-inducing rays. “We’re walking everywhere, and we’re constantly being exposed to the sun,” says Schweiger. Add to that the fact that most people are out and about during the most intense light during the morning and lunch hour, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for premature wrinkles. Make applying a daily sunscreen lotion for the face and body of at least SPF 30 part of your grooming routine, and you’ll quash one of aging’s most dangerous triggers.

Pollution taxes skin, and requires deep cleansing. “Think about all the car pollution, construction zone soot and other allergens and dirt that gets kicked up by subways, people and cars daily. Don’t sleep on an unwashed face!” says Schweiger. For a more intensive cleaning, look to foaming formulations or a tool like the Clarisonic to loosen and remove layers of pollution that invisibly melt onto the skin during the day. Schweiger recommends Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser or Purpose Moisturizing Foaming Cleanser for dry skins, while I can personally attest to the addictively squeaky-clean results left in the wake of a Clarisonic cleansing.

Stick to smoke-free areas. Cities like Los Angeles, Boston and New York may ban smoking in enclosed public places, but you can still ask for a light in destinations like Dallas, Las Vegas and New Orleans. What you may not know: even if you’re not the one doing the smoking, your skin is paying the price. “Smoke is one of the worst things for your skin. It accelerates skin aging and leads to early sagging and wrinkling,” says Bank of the vapors that settle onto skin like pollution. “The best thing is to avoid being in smoking areas, and to stop smoking if you’re a smoker yourself in order to prevent damage.”

Try allantoin to soothe city-weary skin. Found in the comfrey plant, allantoin stimulates skin cell regeneration for a softer, smoother and more luminous complexion. “Allantoin is very helpful in protection from environmental conditions and helps the outer layers of your skin shed, which is beneficial in a city lifestyle that is filled with pollution,” says Bank. H2O+’s line of cleansers, masks and toners contain the healing ingredient, as does Obagi Clenziderm M.D. Therapeutic Moisturizer.

Lack of sleep and stress takes a toll on skin. The dizzying pace of city life combined with high expectations for a demanding career usually makes for little sleep and lots of coffee. The resulting stress triggers inflammation to spike in the body, which is the cause of aging. And without sufficient sleep, the body doesn’t have time to heal during the necessary regenerative phase. “Establishing stress management and good sleep habits are critical to looking younger,” says Bank.

Antioxidants are the best prescription against aging. The age-inducing free radicals caused by all the different factors of city life can be ‘eaten’ or even reversed by the presence of antioxidants. Diet-wise, you an find the powerful fighters in richly colored fruits and veggies, like blueberries, strawberries, pomegranate and kale. Antioxidants are also present in skin care ingredients like Vitamins A, C, E, and are most effectively absorbed through serum form at bed time. Loading both your diet and skin care routine with the powerhouse element can harbor dramatic anti-aging results, says both dermatologists.

Stick to a routine, day and night. All the fancy ingredients in the world can’t compete with simple routine if they’re not applied consistently, says Bank. A twice daily cleansing and protective moisturization is needed morning and night to protect skin that is under constant assault from the city environment. “To keep skin healthy and young when living in the city, it takes more work and dedication,” says Bank. “It’s about sticking to a routine morning and night, including cleansing and sun protection. The most important thing for city dwellers is to make sure they take care of their skin so the skin has god natural immune function.”

Expert Says S&P Will Surge in Next Two Weeks!

The blue-chip S&P 500 Index will surge 5 percent to reach a new record level in the next two weeks, investing expert Tom DeMark stated recently. He estimated that the benchmark index will rise to a level of 1,480 before global market participants become tired of the benchmark and begin selling it, according to Bloomberg.

Accurate Forecaster

Having studied the inflection points for the movements of asset prices and provided consulting to hedge funds such as George Soros’s Soros Fund Management LLC, DeMark provided an accurate prediction when he stated that the S&P would stop depreciating at 1,076 and the group of stocks started moving upward again once it reached 1,074.77 on Oct. 4, the news source reports.

‘Unfinished Business’

Demark wrote in an emailed statement that the index’s rally will fade out before it falls between 12 and 17 percent, the media outlet reports. He said that “there is still some unfinished business upside that will totally surprise and shock most market followers,” and that the recent “rally is a solo move in a sense that the overall market trend has been down since September 14.”

The S&P 500 has spiked as much as 15 percent after falling to its recent low on June 1, as markets were bolstered by news that central banks around the world will stimulate the economy through monetary easing, according to the news source. After reaching 1,474.51, its highest value of 2012, the index has since fallen 3.9 percent as markets have been roiled by worries that corporate earnings will not be in line with the expectations of analysts.

No Indicator for End of Rally

DeMark said that the S&P 500 has not exhibited behavior that would indicate that its rally is over, the media outlet reports. He said that other indices such as the Nasdaq have already reached their top value since September and have subsequently declined.

He said that the current inability of the index to complete a ‘top countdown’ is similar to its behavior in August and September of 2011, when the group of stocks did not indicate that it had reached a valley, according to the news source.

Bloomberg reported on October 22 that the blue-chip S&P 500 Index had surged 14 percent year-to-date, and as a result had displayed better performance than any other major asset class. 

Corporate Bond Sales Surge in 2012

The sales of corporate bonds have surged in 2012, approaching the record amount issued in 2009.

Near-Record Bond Issues 

Data compiled by Bloomberg reveals that earlier in October, global conglomerate General Electric Co. sold $7 billion worth of these financial instruments derived from corporate debt. Business application provider Oracle Corp. issued $5 billion worth of these corporate bonds.

These major issuances brought October’s total bond sales to $347 billion, which represented a new record for this month, according to the news source. The monthly sales figures left the 2012 corporate bond sales total within $116 billion of the record $3.4 trillion issued during the first 10 months of 2009.

Emerging Market Bonds 

Data provided by Benzinga reveals that the market for emerging market (EM) corporate debt has been growing this year, as the sovereign debt of these economies is experiencing strong demand and dwindling supply.

Investment firm Pacific Investment Management Company, LLC (PIMCO) recently wrote that “the supply of U.S. dollar-denominated EM sovereign debt is decreasing and yields are near historical lows,” according to the news source. As a result of this, the investment firm is encouraging market participants to explore the corporate debt offered by companies in these regions.

In a recent PIMCO note, Ignacio Sosa and Anton Dombrovsky stated that “the dollar-denominated EM corporate market has been growing steadily, and many corporates can offer higher yields and lower durations than sovereigns.”

Surging Bond Markets 

Exchange traded fund provider WisdomTree recently said that the market for corporate bonds in these developing economies has increased roughly 100 percent in size since 2008, the media outlet reports. In a note written earlier in the year, WisdomTree wrote that “since 2003, EM U.S. dollar-denominated corporate bond issuance has outpaced sovereign issuance in a trend we believe will make EM corporate debt an increasingly larger allocation to emerging market fixed income.”

Bonds and Monetary Easing 

In the week of the financial crisis, governments have injected record amounts of money into the economy and keeping interest rates at very low levels, according to Bloomberg. Many market participants have also sought bonds amid strong risk aversion. These factors have helped push the yields on sovereign debt to 0 percent or even lower, which has motivated investors to put their funds into corporate debt.

“There’s a lot of money out there looking for a home,” Elisabeth Afseth, an analyst at London-based Investec Bank Plc., who suggests investors refrain from putting money into debt issued by euro zone nations including Spain, Italy and Portugal, told the news source. “Government bonds give you almost nothing, so you’re left with corporate bonds, which give you a little bit more than nothing.” 

Flat Broke? Find Help for Rent, Food, Heat & More

What do you do when you max out your unemployment? Is there anything worse than not knowing where your next meal is going to come from? We don’t think so; this is why we’ve put together a list of places that you can find help when you really need it.

$1000 Grants

Modest Needs is a fantastic charity. They help low-income workers from falling into poverty and/or homelessness. If you can’t pay your rent or your heating bill you can apply for a Modest Needs grant (a grant means you don’t have to pay it back) that can help you get through a rough patch.
If you want to help a family in trouble it is easy to donate to Modest Needs; you can help families receive the emergency money they need.

*Clarification: Modest Needs can only assist people who are employed.

Rent or Mortgage

The site offers loads of information on state, federal and private organizations and charities that can help you pay your rent or your mortgage. The site also has links for help paying heat, electric or water bills.

Most state’s have rental assistance programs. Call your state’s Department of Social Services or Department of Human Resources and ask them. Or, dial 211. You can visit, enter your zip code, and download a booklet of all the places in your area that can provide help.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can provide help for homeowners and for renters.

USDA Rural Development Program can help people in rural areas with their mortgage or rent.


The Federal Food Stamp program is now called SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This program provides monthly funds so you can buy food.

Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Family Investment Program (FIP) provides cash payments and Medicaid health care coverage to families with dependant children and limited income and resources. The amount of your monthly cash payment is determined by the number of members in your family and your current income and resources. Do a search for “Family Investment Program” and the name of your state.

Emergency Assistance to Families with Children (EAFC) is a program in most states. Family with dependent children under the age of 21 facing an immediate crisis including, but not limited to, eviction notices, mortgage foreclosures, gas and electric turn-off notices and delinquent water bills. Do a search for ” Emergency Assistance to Families with Children” and the name of your state.

SHARE (Self Help and Resource Exchange) is a great program that lets you trade volunteer work for less expensive groceries. Search for food co-ops in your area.

Soup Kitchens can provide a hot meal.

Food Pantries provide emergency food packages.
Feeding America is a terrific program. If you need help, Feeding America will help you. It just released a new study Hunger America 2010. Here are some key findings from their study:
• The 37 million Americans served annually by Feeding America include nearly 14 million children and nearly 3 million seniors.
• Each week, approximately 5.7 million people receive emergency food assistance from an agency served by a Feeding America member. This is a 27 percent increase over numbers reported in Hunger in America 2006, which reported that 4.5 million people were served each week.
• These numbers are based on surveys conducted at emergency feeding centers, such as soup kitchens and food pantries, but do not factor in many individuals also served at non-emergency locations, such as Kids Cafe programs and senior centers.
You can donate to Feeding America to help feed people in our country.

Can’t pay your heating bill?

Call you heating company and ask what help they offer. Most have services or organizations that they can refer you to

Each state has its own chapter of HEAP, the federally funded Home Energy Assistance Program.

My Mother’s Day Menu Plan

As in all holidays, I like to have an array of beautiful food, but I’m always about saving money, and making it easy!

I don’t plan the menu completely until the new sales ad comes out. So for Mother’s Day, it’s the same. All I’m really looking for in the last few days is produce sales. Typically, I already have everything else that I’ve been investing in, in terms of staples and freezer foods, and even refrigerated items. So that makes it cost much less than it would if I ran out and bought everything now.

I have the meat in the freezer, already bought on sale and with coupons weeks or even months before. But I can opt to invest in more meat this week, which is a good idea to check sales, as they’re great in holiday weeks. This week, rib eyes are on a great sale. I’ll go ahead and invest and freeze. But I already have ribs and tri tip, which Greg wanted to do in the smoker. I’ll pull out some bacon, thaw and fry for the salad. I also had some whole chickens in the freezer, that I planned to butterfly and grill. But, this week’s Vons (Safeway), has wild Coho salmon. And I love that! So I think I’ll splurge for Mother’s Day and save my chickens!

I already have all the non-produce things I need for my menu, since my menu is planned around what I  have. I already have BBQ sauce, marinade, mayonnaise, ranch dressing dip mix, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, brown sugar, etc. I even have some refrigerator items I’ll use, gorgonzola cheese, hummus, plain yogurt, etc. All bought at a great price over the last few weeks or months. This is what I call ”investing” in groceries, simply buying blue items on our Grocery Game LIST before I need them. In doing that, blue items are usually about 67% off the regular price. The opposite of “investing” would be “need shopping”. So much of what I will use for Mother’s Day, if bought this week, “need shopping”, would cost me three times more.

So to recap, I didn’t know what my menu items would be until I saw the produce sales offerings, and finished my ideas for side dishes and appetizers, based on what I have and what produce is on sale…

So now I know what I’ll buy this week: Corn on the cob (on sale), lettuce etc. for salad (already have gorgonzola, bacon, balsamic, olive oil). I’ll buy the strawberries (on sale), and make a sweet yogurt dip with brown sugar (already invested in those). For appetizer, raw veggies (on sale) with ranch dressing (already invested in it). I see artichokes on sale. I may also steam them, chill them and serve them cold to dip in the ranch too! It’s one or our favorites! Three friends are bringing other sides.

So easy, and easy on the budget when your grocery shopping lifestyle is centered around the concept of investing!

Happy  Mother’s Day! 

May is National BBQ Month!

May is National BBQ Month!

I just read in a recent poll by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), 6 out of 10 Americans say they can’t wait to fire up the grill!

If you’re grilling burgers, be sure to have all the trimmings. The same poll says that 66% use ketchup most often, and 62% with mustard. (I say, “What about mayo”?)

  • Two-thirds of Americans say, “add cheese, please!”
  • Overall, 74 percent of Americans add lettuce, onion and/or tomato.
  • Women lean towards the veggies more than men (80 percent of respondents vs. 68 percent).
  • Seventy percent of adults say they are all about the buns, and prefer a traditional bun to complete their grilled sandwiches.

The good news is that you can stock up on the trimmings , starting now through the end of summer. A quick look into our Grocery Game databases for last year’s savings, turned up the following stats, all for name brand products. By combining sales with coupons, we never paid full price. And in most cases, we stocked up enough to get us through the next three seasons:

  • 24 oz. Ketchup: Original price 2.29 – We paid .79-1.00
  • 12 oz. Mustard: Original price 2.39 – We paid FREE-.50
  • 30 oz. Mayonnaise: Original price 4.49 – We paid .99-1.50
  • 18 oz. BBQ Sauce: Original price 1.99 – We paid FREE-.69

Plus, look for sales and coupons to be used on name brand buns. But the best deals end up being the store brand buns, both hot dog and hamburger. Normally, the store brand buns sell for 1.59-1.79. We saw sales during BBQ season (which is starting now), from .79-.88. When you see these sales, buy extra for your freezer!

Hamburger meat can be expensive, unless you stock up when it’s on sale. We’re already seeing 80% ground beef, originally 3.49-3.89/lb on sale for 1.69-1.88 nationwide. And 93% lean as low as 1.97/lb. Fill your freezer, and never pay full price for those burgers!

And thankfully, once BBQ season gets going, and especially just in time for Memorial Day, look for prices on lettuce, like this from last year’s databases:

  • Iceberg Lettuce: Original price 1.29-1.49 – We paid .47-.77

Tomatoes are still a little high, even on sale, but they’ll start coming into season soon. Fry’s in Arizona has fresh Roma tomatoes for .50/lb (Today’s the last day!). Last year’s various tomato varieties from Roma to Tomatoes on the Vine ranged as follows:

  • Tomatoes: Original 1.89-2.99/lb. – We paid .79-.99/lb.

Assuming all goes well with the crops, we could have some yummy tomatoes on our burgers without breaking the bank!

Final word, again… PLEASE… Never pay full price for groceries!!!

Healthy Food For Healthy Families

There are so many ways to make small changes that can really boost your family’s nutrition. I’m with you if you cringed at that thought. Years ago, when all the coupons started coming out with healthy alternatives, my family acted like I was pulling their teeth to get them to eat whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta. They’re over it now, and all is well. And I would encourage you that it’s worth going through it! 

I read a thread on our message board that sparked some good ideas for improving the family’s nutrition. So I made a list of some easy changes that can really improve the health and nutrition for your family, without making your wallet or your family’s taste buds scream:

1. Puree extra veggies into sauces, soups, chili, casseroles, etc. They won’t dislike it, if they don’t know it’s there!

2. Make more dried bean meals, or add beans to meat meals. They’re loaded with fiber, complex carbs, and protein. My husband doesn’t like beans in chili. But if I mash them, it thickens the chili, and he doesn’t realize the beans are there. Get creative!

3. Switch to whole grain bread. Don’t give in to your family’s complaints, if they’re addicted to white bread. Trust me. If that’s all they get, they’ll learn to love it. I went through it for over a year, but no more complaints. And it was worth it. BTW – There’s tons of coupons for these things, so you don’t have to blow your budget to have healthier alternatives.

4. Cut down on HFCS, high fructose corn syrup – Read the labels. There are MANY more options now without it, on the same shelf in your supermarket. And they taste just as good.

5. Serve the salad before the meal. This works for my husband, who will pick at a salad, unless if it’s all there is.

6. Cut out sodas at home. Or, if you like to have them for special occasions, and they’re on sale, buy them, and hide them, and dole them out when the time is right.

7. Choose the “low sugar”, “low fat”, “low sodium”, “high fiber” options. Nearly every food line now has those options for things like cereal, soup, bread, yogurt, etc.

8. Use “good on any” coupons on organic – Nearly every major food manufacturer has organic in their lines now. Use “good on any” coupons to buy the organic in the manufacturer’s line of foods. For example, a “good on any Brand X” coupon can be used on their organic Brand X products. Organic will never have HFCS, among other things.