Ten Money Tasks To Get Done By Thanksgiving
It might feel as if summer is barely over, but truthfully Thanksgiving is just weeks away followed quickly by holidays. Then it will be 2016. So don't dally, here are the money related tasks that you need to get started on now:
- Set a budget for holiday gifts and then stick to it. It doesn't matter how small or large an amount you decide to allocate, just don't spend more than you can afford. If you are a little strapped this year, then maybe make something instead, like a painting. The truth is your true friends really love you for your company not what physical things you give them.
- Plan how much money you want to give to charity this year. Then send the money. I normally recommend making such payments at the beginning of the year, but we all forget sometimes. If you did, then do it now and then keep a record for tax purposes. It might help reduce what you owe the Internal Revenue Service.
- Decide which stocks that you own are candidates for tax-loss selling. Depending on your tax situation, you maybe able to offset some capital losses against capital gains. You don't have to make the sale until year-end, but at least have a list of candidates to put on the chopping block. In any event, you may wish to consult a tax specialist.
- If you haven't done so in a while then rebalance your portfolio. Do you have too much of an allocation in stocks and not enough in bonds? Everyone has a different tolerance for risk. But having the right allocation cannot only provide you with less volatile returns, but might let you sleep better at night. People over 40-years-old should probably have around 30% of their investment portfolio in bonds, at least as a starting position. You may wish to consult a financial planner to assist you in deciding what is right for you.
- Check to see if your retirement contributions are on target for 2015. You might find that you can increase your contributions for the rest of year. For 2015 you can stash away up to $18,000 to a 401k retirement plan, if you are over 50 you can contribute even more. Doing so will reduce your tax bill and help secure a better retirement nest egg.
- Make sure you have had enough tax dollars withheld from your paycheck. If you think you might fall short, don't worry there's an easy way to catch up. If you change the withholding immediately there are enough pay periods between now and year end to make a dent in the difference between what you'll owe and what's already been sent to the government.
- Enroll for healthcare and other benefits for 2016. If you get employer healthcare then that should be easy, just don't forget. If you don't have that alternative, you still need to signup for insurance and there are potentially hefty government fines for not doing so.
Become a part of the season's largest food drive! iFeed Food Drive donations are now being collected at Coulee Bank in La Crosse and Onalaska until November 6th. All of the food will be delivered during the iFeed Food Drive event on November 7th. Visit bit.ly/1OlOIkK for more information.
Thanksgiving on a Budget
With our cost-conscious menu and money-saving tips, you can feed eight people for less than $80
With the economy still slumping, a lavish Thanksgiving might not be on the table this year. But we can still—and should—feast. We just have to squeeze our fistful of dollars a little harder. Our menu and six creative and practical tips will help you extract the most from your money and feed eight very, very well.
Our menu covers the high points of a Thanksgiving spread. If you feel flush with cash, $20 more will buy you the ingredients for your favorite mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and candied yams. And while the soup and pie might seem extravagant, first and last impressions linger longer than remembrances of the turkey and trimmings. In more luxe times, serving soup to start would run the risk of making everyone too full for the main event, but this year that is actually a good thing. You can count on leftovers.
The pumpkin-pecan pie is meant to be two favorite holiday desserts in one, with one outlay for the crust. But you could certainly be more restrained and make two with plain old pumpkin.
In the shopping list breakout below each menu item presumes you will already have on hand regular pantry and refrigerator items: salt, pepper, bay leaves, cider vinegar, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, poppy or sesame seeds, olive oil, vegetable oil, whole milk, all-purpose flour, and baking powder.
Go for What's in Season
When planning your meal, first consult the calendar. This is no time for asparagus and artichokes. Buy produce in season, and you will get much more for your money, not to mention livelier flavors. Brussels sprouts are at their peak in late November; farmers' markets should have them in huge quantities, still on their stalks. (Serving them sliced rather than whole not only makes them more tantalizing but also helps them go further.) Fresh herbs have become available all year round, so it can be a better deal to buy a bunch rather than an expensive jar of the dried kind—fresh sage might be $1.99 compared with $3.50 for half an ounce dried, which could go stale by the next time you need it.
Buy a Supermarket Bird
In an ideal world we would all be eating heritage turkeys. They have outstanding texture and flavor, and when we buy them, we help preserve unique breeds. But they are anything but a bargain: A 12- to 14-pound bird—which feeds eight—from Heritage Foods USA goes for $140 including shipping, or more than $10 a pound.
Supermarket turkeys can be fine alternatives for around $2 a pound. (See our Supermarket Turkey Taste Test for more information.) Plus, brining will add flavor and improve texture in even the least expensive birds, all for about $2.29 for a big box of kosher salt, an ingredient that can be used to season the rest of the meal.
Start From Scratch
Some convenience foods are often ridiculously cheap, loaded as they are with high-fructose corn syrup and chemicals, yet they rarely taste better than homemade. To cut costs and ensure the tastiest of feasts, make your own pie crust, cranberry sauce, and gravy rather than opening up a box or can. Instead of paying $8 for a single loaf from an artisanal bakery, bake up some dinner rolls with yeast, butter, and flour for a little over $7. A bakery-bought pecan pumpkin pie can go for upwards of $50, but a homemade version is under $15—and $6 less if you omit the pecans.
Know When to Buy Canned or Frozen
Some canned and frozen foods are fine alternatives to fresh. Canned pumpkin is one of the great American ingredients, and the generic brands are as good as premium labels. You could make a pie using a fresh cheese pumpkin for $5, but you would wind up with a more watery filling than one made from a $1.79 can. And frozen vegetables can be both superior to and cheaper than out-of-season fresh ones.
Don't Be a Slave to a Recipe
If you don't want to spring for three kinds of herbs in your soup or stuffing, choose one...or none. Nothing but salt and pepper is ever really indispensable. Substitute water for canned stock in a soup; use a slurry of flour and water to thicken your pan gravy rather than making turkey stock. Instead of investing in a can of shortening for a piecrust, substitute butter for the two tablespoons needed in the recipe. The great thing about Thanksgiving is that the whole really is much more than the parts. Cut corners where you have to, and all anyone will notice in the end is a heaping plate.
Make It a Potluck
Don't be embarrassed to ask for help. People are happy to pitch in and bring a dish or two, and potlucks are trendy right now (see our guide to hosting or attending a Potluck Thanksgiving). Wine is not included in the budget here, so be open about suggesting a suitable-for-turkey California Zinfandel, like Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull, which is less than $10.
Global Initiative Week
Global Initiative Week starts November 6th with the Global Celebration Kickoff Event at the Radisson Hotel in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. This free event will include appetizers, cultural celebration through dance and music performances, and information about our region's global and cultural connections. See a full list of events, details, and discounts for the entire week: http://bit.ly/1uikPXm
Security Q-Tip: Social Engineering Through the Internet
More than 200 billion emails are sent and received worldwide each day. That represents a lot of opportunity for phishing scams, in which scammers distribute emails that appear to come from legitimate organizations or individuals and try to entice the recipient into clicking on malicious links or attachments. Spear-phishing is a more targeted type of phishing in which a specific organization or person is the target. The typical goal of phishing attacks is to get the victim to give up sensitive information such as a Social Security number or financial information. Phishing is also used as a way for attackers to get inside an organization's network for cyber espionage or other malicious activity.
Scammers will use spoofed email addresses, phony websites with legitimate logos, or phone numbers to fake customer service centers operated by the scammers. Last year phishing attacks cost organizations $4.5 billion in losses.
Common Phishing Scams
When it comes to phishing, the best line of defense is you. If you pay attention to potential phishing traps and watch for telltale signs of a scam, you can minimize your risk of becoming a victim. Here are some scenarios you may encounter:
- An email appearing to be from a bank, credit card company, or other financial institution requests that you "confirm" your personal account information. Supposedly, your information has been lost, or your account is going to be closed, so it is "urgent" that you respond immediately.
- A phony email from the "fraud department" of a well-known company asks you to verify your information because they suspect you may be a victim of identity theft.
- An email may take advantage of a current event, such as the Anthem data breach, which scammers used to send phishing emails with malicious links for "free credit reporting."
- An email claiming to be from a state lottery commission requests your banking information to deposit the "winnings" into your accounts.
- A scammer pretends to have a large sum of money and needs "someone trustworthy" to help access it. The scammer promises to share the wealth in exchange for your help - specifically, your financial information.
Easy Tips to Protect Yourself from Phishing
- Do not send any sensitive personal information via email. Legitimate organizations will not ask users to send information this way.
- Visit banking or financial websites by typing the address into the address bar. Do not follow links embedded in an unsolicited email.
- Only open an email attachment if you're expecting it and know what it contains. Be cautious about container files, such as .zip files, as malicious files could be packed inside.
- If you want to verify a suspicious email, contact the organization directly – but don't call the number which is provided in the email.
- Use discretion when posting personal information on social media. This information is a treasure-trove to spear phishers who will use it to feign trustworthiness.
- Use antivirus software to detect and disable malicious programs, such as spyware or backdoor Trojans, which may be included in phishing emails. Keep your Internet browser updated with the latest security patches.
Business Corner: Does Your Small Business Need Cyber Insurance?
As a small business owner, insurance probably isn't your first priority. The number of products available can be overwhelming, and you can certainly think of other ways to spend your profits. However, high-profile data breaches like Target and Neiman Marcus should convince every entrepreneur that cyber security is worth considering, even if you run a one-person operation.
Insurance companies are recognizing the new threats and offering policies protecting digital property, and small businesses can be good candidates. Almost a third of cyber-attacks are aimed at them, but most have little to no protection – or even a written policy – about data security. Could your business benefit from cyber insurance?
What is Cyber Insurance?
Cyber insurance policies generally both safeguard against viruses and hacking, and step in if a breach does occur. Some may also cover liability for Web content. Protections can include:
- Help Mitigating Risk. If you run a small business, you may not have time to adequately manage your web security. Policies may provide periodic reviews and other assistance.
- Reimbursement for Fees and Penalties. Insurance benefits could reimburse you for additional staff you hire to recover from a cyber-attack, paperwork or filing fees, or other related costs.
- Business Interruption Protection. The smaller your business, the more income you lose if you're temporarily sidelined. Cyber insurance can offset losses.
- Legal Aid. Hopefully a data breach wouldn't result in legal action, but if it did, your plan could help find expert counsel, as well as cover legal fees and judgments against you.
Business owners should note that standard business liability policies don't offer these special protections, and in many cases, specifically exclude cyber threat coverage. Some older policies may be more inclusive, but the only way to be sure is a close read of your policy and a chat with an agent.
Who Needs Cyber Insurance?
The more business you transact online, the more likely you are to experience a serious, disabling breach. Obviously, for some businesses, like banks and hospitals, the consequences of these breaches are more serious and wide-reaching than others. Still, if you have any kind of online store – even if it's a small supplement to a brick-and-mortar operation – or you store any customer or employee data on a network, you should probably consider some level of protection.
It may come as a surprise, but smaller businesses can suffer more damaging consequences from data breaches than larger ones, especially when it comes to business interruption. In addition, there may be fewer employees to handle the fall-out. While the premiums will take a bigger chunk out of your bottom line, they may also benefit you more.
Where Can You Buy Cyber Insurance?
Once a niche product, cyber insurance is increasingly available as an add-on to big name companies' business policies. Insurers like Allstate, Nationwide and Traveler's, to name a few, all have coverage options. AIG made news recently by adding property damage and bodily injury coverage to its policies. Smaller insurers are also getting in on the action, so no matter what company you work with, it's possible they already offer coverage.
As the field develops, small business owners will have a much greater variety of policies and protections to choose from – and much lower costs. But if you store a large amount of personal data, your premiums could still be pricey. Making sure your security procedures are as strong as possible before applying – for example, by using unique, frequently changed passwords and limiting the number of employees who can access secure data – could lower your costs.
What is the Future of Cyber Insurance?
Currently, cyber insurance policies are typically aimed at businesses, but it's easy to see the potential applications for person insurance, too. Many individuals maintain personal websites or online address books that could be hacked like a customer database. While major companies like State Farm and GEICO have been slow to develop personal policies for these types of risks, many do provide inexpensive identity theft coverage. These plans often provide reimbursement for fees to correct any breaches, and more sophisticated coverage is sure to follow.
Coulee Investment Center: Your Annual Plan: Three Steps toward Your Financial Success
As the days get shorter and cooler, it's a good time to conduct a comprehensive annual financial review. And while there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all financial plan, the three-step review process outlined below can help you do a better job of keeping your financial house in order from one year to the next.
Step 1: The Year's Not Over Yet -- Make Time for a Progress Check
The main reason for creating an annual financial plan is to plot out the most efficient route to follow as you pursue essential short- and long-term goals for the upcoming year. However, it's difficult to get a clear vision of the future without first reviewing any existing plans to gauge whether you've managed to stay on the right track this year -- and to make sure you're not overlooking any opportunities that might present themselves between now and the end of the year.
It's still not too late to make significant progress before putting a new calendar on the wall. For example, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you taken full advantage of gifting strategies as part of your overall estate plan this year? This can be an effective way of supporting loved ones (or a charity) while simultaneously reducing your future estate tax burden.
- Have you considered selling "losing" investments in order to offset taxes on gains elsewhere in your portfolio?
- Are you certain that all of your beneficiary designations and other information on important legal documents remain up to date?
- Have you maximized IRA contributions yet? Technically speaking, the contribution deadline isn't until the April tax-filing deadline, but you probably shouldn't wait until the last minute to fund your IRA.
Step 2: Plan for Next Year Before Next Year
In all likelihood, you probably already know about some of the financial goals you'd like to chip away at in the coming year. The key to success, however, is to begin working on next year's priorities before next year actually arrives. For example, you may want to make sure you're in a position to:
- Set aside enough money in an employer-sponsored retirement account. If you're not yet contributing to one, find out when your employer allows new participants to enroll for next year, and then make plans to do so. If you're already participating, but not yet contributing the maximum, start looking for ways to afford bigger contributions in the year ahead.
- Accumulate enough money for other major financial priorities. If you're still working, for example, what more could you do to reach your goal of buying a home, funding an education, or paying off debt, etc.?
- Confirm the effectiveness of income-stream strategies. If you're already retired, what income sources have you been relying on, and do they provide enough money to meet your planned and unplanned expenses? Also, are you maintaining a sustainable withdrawal rate from your retirement accounts? Taking out too much money this year could leave you shortchanged later in life.
- Rebalance your portfolio. This could be necessary if market performance has altered your asset allocation since the last time you adjusted it, or if your personal outlook has changes at all since then. Keep in mind, rebalancing may trigger a taxable event.
Step 3: Give Your Plan a Long-Term Vision
There's an old adage that declares, "The only constant in life is change." Whoever coined that phrase probably wasn't talking about financial planning, but the words certainly apply to the task of conducting an annual review.
With that in mind, try to maintain a flexible outlook regarding your strategies for the future and make a point of considering priorities that will still be need to be addressed well beyond next year, including:
- Estate planning: Many people have done nothing to prepare financially for the post-death management of their assets. Have you? Failure to do so could leave your heirs shortchanged.li>
- Insurance coverage: Generally speaking, it's better to have insurance and not need it than to need it and not have it. Conducting an insurance needs analysis and reviewing your existing coverage should be on your financial "to do" regardless of what year it is.
- Meeting with your investment professional. A lot can change in 12 months. Be sure to touch base at least once year, if not more often, in order to make sure all your bases are covered.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor.
Because of the possibility of human or mechanical error by Wealth Management Systems Inc. or its sources, neither Wealth Management Systems Inc. nor its sources guarantees the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or availability of any information and is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for the results obtained from the use of such information. In no event shall Wealth Management Systems Inc. be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damages in connection with subscriber's or others' use of the content.
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Fun Midwest Activities During November
Fall is here, and winter (and Christmas) will be coming soon. But just because the warm weather of summer is behind us doesn't mean we Midwesterners hunker down inside. Here is a list of 10 great indoor, and some outdoor, events for this month across our great region.
- Art Attack: Nov. 6-8 in Minneapolis, MN
Art Attack is an annual open studio and gallery crawl at the Northrup King Building, in the heart of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District. The weekend-long event features over 200 artists working in painting and drawing, sculpture, photography, custom furniture, fiber arts, metal, ceramics, glass, hand-crafted and custom jewelry, mixed media, mosaics, textiles, and more. More here (http://www.northrupkingbuilding.com/artattack/)
- R U Chicken Trail Run and Relay: Nov. 7 in Arcadia, WI
It's off road running as it should be with nothing in your way but Mother Nature. With 3 great race distances to choose from, it's easy to make this a family affair. Participants run on the BEST Cross Country trails in the area and enjoy beautiful scenery, great hills and lots of encouragement, followed by chicken soup around the fire after crossing the finish line. More here (http://www.offnfunning.com/index.php/events/r-u-chicken-home)
- Veterans Day Parade: Nov. 7 in Milwaukee, WI
The parade starts at 11am in downtown Milwaukee. Participants in the parade include, veterans groups, active military units, military equipment - new and antique, floats, high school bands, and civilian groups.
- Autumn Festival: An Arts & Crafts Affair: Nov. 12-15 in Shakopee, MN
This festival in a Minneapolis suburb features 500 artisans from 30 states. More here (http://hpifestivals.com/autumn-festivals/)
- Winter Art Fair Off the Square: Nov. 14-15 in Madison, WI
Art Fair Off the Square, formerly the Winter Art Festival, is held in the Exhibition Hall of the spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Convention and Community Center, located 3 blocks off Madison's Capitol Square. It takes place on November 14 and 15, 2015 and the hours are 9:00 to 5:00 on Saturday and 10:00 to 4:00 on Sunday. More here (http://www.artcraftwis.org/WinterAF.html)
- Holiday Fair: Nov. 19-22 in La Crosse, WI
Join us for a shopping experience you won't forget at the La Crosse Center. The Holiday Fair is a Holiday event for children of all ages, door prizes are given out every hour, every day, Santa Claus will be available for photographs daily, and Rudolph, the red nose reindeer, makes special appearances throughout the show. More here (http://www.lacrossecenter.com/index.aspx?nid=67)
- Christmas by the Bay: Nov. 20-22 in Sturgeon Bay, WI
Festivities start with a tree lighting Friday night. A parade is 10 a.m. Saturday, and there's free trolley and wagon rides plus visits with Santa and his reindeer. On Sunday, there's a folk art fair. More here (http://www.sturgeonbay.net/experience/events/christmas_by_the_bay/)
- Outdoor Adventure Expo: Nov. 20-22 in Minneapolis, MN
The expo at the Midwest Mountaineering store on the West Bank includes dozens of speakers and seminars about skiing, sled-dog racing and ice-climbing as well as camping, backpacking and other year-round adventures. More here (http://www.outdooradventureexpo.com/)
- Holidazzle: Nov. 27 – Dec. 20 in Minneapolis, MN
The Holidazzle parade begins the Friday after Thanksgiving and runs Friday and Sat. nights at 6:30pm along Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. This is the second year of a downtown holiday village that will be in Loring Park and features free admission, with entertainment that includes fireworks, music, and ice-skating. Every Thurs. and Fri. from 5-9pm, and every Sat. and Sun. from 11am-9pm in Loring Park. More here (http://www.exploreminnesota.com/events/1924/target-holidazzle/)
- Rotary Lights: Nov 27 – Jan. 1, 2016 in La Crosse, WI
This year, 2015, Rotary Lights Display at Riverside Park will be celebrating its 21st year. We have a ton of events for you and the family: Our Rotary Lights Parade, Live music entertainment, Hay Rides, Carriage Rides, live reindeer, breakfast with Santa, our 5k Ugly Sweater Run and so much more. And remember, it's free! More here (http://www.rotarylights.org/)