The CommunityAmerica Online Magazine get up | get out | get green Volume 10 + March 2010
It’s that time again. The sun is coming out, the trees are greening up and you’re just itching to get out of the house and have a little fun in the great outdoors. Well, here at the INsider, we feel the same way. That’s why we’ve packed this issue so full of nature-y goodness that you won’t know what to do first.
[ Savings tip ]
get what you want Evaluating your “wants” and “needs”
stress taxes Take the
Health Insurance Premiums Everybody knows that health insurance premiums are always on the rise, and for most of us, there’s little we can do about it.
is an important, ongoing financial task,
But if your insurance premiums plus your
but there are ways to plan ahead to
medical expenses exceed 7.5% of your total
purchase a “want” without busting your
income, you can at least find a little respite
budget. Let’s say you want a new car:
through an itemized tax deduction. Oh—
do your research to find out the monthly payment before making the purchase and incorporating it into your budget,
and if you’re self-employed, you don’t even need to meet the 7.5% minimum. You can simply take an above-the-line deduction* for every last cent of your medical expenses.
and then put aside that amount in a
So not only do you get a nice deduction,
savings account. If you’re comfortable
but you don’t even have to itemize all those
with that payment after six months,
you’re likely ready to purchase. Then you can use the extra stash for the
Retirement Tax Credit
down payment. If you’re not ready, you’ll
Stocking money away for retirement has
still have a great head start on your
always been a good idea. With most savings
savings. Get financially fitter on Twitter
plans, you aren’t taxed on the income you
by following our Mavens @savinmavens.
save, so it’s just like a tax deduction. But now it REALLY pays to save. Why? Because with the Retirement Tax Credit, you can get claim 50% of your retirement tax contributions— up to $2,000. That’s a simple way to get a big credit on your taxes.
*A deduction that doesn’t need to be itemized and can be taken straight from your gross income.
Every year, tax day leaves a lot of people confused, frustrated and just downright annoyed. But with the right knowledge, you can lower your stress and up your return in a potentially big way. That’s why we’ve created a list of commonly overlooked deductions that can help make tax season just a wee bit merrier.
Educator Experiences If you’re a shaper of America’s young minds,
Energy Savings Home Improvement Credit
then first of all, let us say that you are to be
Whether you want to get green for the earth
admired. Let us also say that we think you’re
or just save some green on your utility bills,
entitled to a few extra dollars in your pocket.
a more energy-efficient home is a great
That’s why we’re happy to tell you that K-12
solution. And now, with the Energy Savings
teachers, aides, instructors and principals
Home Improvement Credit, you can make it
can deduct up to $250 worth of supplies from
happen. That’s right—simply install energy-
their net income, and get a refund to boot.
saving skylights, outside doors, windows,
Get the stuff you need to help your students
pigmented roofing, high-efficiency furnaces,
get the knowledge they need.
water heaters or central air conditioning units in your primary residence, and you can
Higher Education Expenses Ready to take your brainpower to a whole new level? Well, the federal government is, too. So much so, in fact, that they’re giving
claim 30% of the cost (up to $1,500) on your tax forms come April.
Non-Cash Deductions When it comes to tax-deductible charitable
back for engaging in a little higher education.
donations, a lot of people think the only
First off, any individual filing with a gross
things that count are writing a check,
income less than $65,000 or a joint filing with
swiping a card or handing over a few
a household income of less than $130,000
dollars from your wallet. Not true. Donating
can take an above-the-line deduction of up
clothes, furniture, toys or any other personal
to $4,000 for higher education expenses. You
possessions to your local Goodwill or other
can also check to see if you qualify for either
organization can help you get a little bit
the American Opportunity Credit or Lifetime
more back come April. Just be sure to get
Learning Credit, which give you $2,500
a receipt—without one of those, Uncle Sam
and $2,000 respectively, to help cover your
can’t grant you the deduction you deserve.
education expenses. CommunityAmerica Credit Union does not advise on any personal income tax requirements or issues. The preceding comments should be used for general information purposes only, and they do not represent personal tax advice, either express or implied. Each reader’s tax circumstances may differ dramatically, and as such we recommend you consult your tax advisor.
INSIDER + march 2010
you three different ways to get some money
THE SIMPLE HERB GARDEN If you’ve only seen them on the grocery store shelves, you probably think that herbs are expensive delicacies from some far-off land. But any green thumb can tell you that by growing your own herbs, you can get the same wonderful flavors you love without spending an arm and a leg.
Get ’Em You should be able to pick up enough herb plants to give you a good start for about $20 at a nursery, or even cheaper at your local farmers’ market. The fun part is choosing what kind of herbs to get. Here’s our advice: plant two or three varieties, but make sure one of them is basil. From making fresh pesto to a delicious Caprese salad, you can’t go wrong with basil. It’s the MVP of herbs.
We CommunityAmericans have the good fortune of living in a climate where it’s pretty darned easy for all things green to thrive. So why do we pay someone else to grow the herbs we eat and maintain the lawns we enjoy? With just a few hours of time and a few beads of sweat, you can have a lawn and garden that both you and your wallet will really appreciate.
Where do you want to plant your herbs? In a backyard flowerbed? A garden all by themselves? Or maybe a container filled with soil on your deck or kitchen windowsill? Wherever you choose, make sure it’s nice and sunny and not too far from the kitchen. Also, note that some herbs will completely take over a flowerbed if they’re allowed to grow freely, so they’re recommended for containers only—we’re looking at you, mint.
Care For ’Em To keep your herbs at their best, you’ll need to pinch off a couple of inches from the top every few weeks. You’ll also need to give them fertilizer, but be careful not to feed them too much—while that can make your herbs grow lots of leaves, they won’t have that much flavor. And to help your soil stay moist and your weeds at a minimum, lay down a two-inch layer of wood chips between plants.
Cook with ’Em & Save A pack of fresh herbs runs about $3 at the grocery store, and chances are you won’t even use the whole thing before it wilts. Plus, some recipes call for two or three different kinds of fresh herbs—that can increase the cost for one meal exponentially. But for not much money and just a little bit of time, you can have fresh herbs in your garden to use the entire season, so you can make gourmet dishes at value meal prices. From the Grocery
From Your Backyard
$2.99 for a single packet that will probably go bad within the week.
$2.99 per plant that with proper care will grow throughout the season.
a lawn that would make the joneses jealous
The Grass Is Cut & So Are Your Expenses Just look at these numbers. There’s no comparison—it’ll take some man hours, but if you’ve got the time and a lawnmower, doing it yourself will cost way less than hiring a lawn care service. Although if you want to stimulate your local economy by hiring the kid down the street, that’s certainly your prerogative.
Want a yard that will make your neighbors turn green with envy? Here are some tips to help you maintain a vibrant lawn all throughout the warmer seasons.
Before your first mow of the year, get the blade on your lawnmower sharpened. Then when you do get ready to attack your yard, set your blade high enough that you’re cutting your grass by no more than one-third its height—any more than that and it might stop growing and turn brown. Each time you mow, you should also change directions, so one time you’re doing it front to back and the next time side to side. Finally, if you stop using a bag and just let the clippings fall where they may, you’ll lessen your need to fertilize.
Weed Out Weeds Weeding flowerbeds and the spots over by the shrubbery is nobody’s favorite lawn care chore, so do your best to stop them from ever growing in the first place. Apply a preemergent in the spring to kill weeds before they surface, and lay mulch on top for an extra layer of defense.
Hiring a Service
$10 for one-time blade sharpening at the beginning of the season + $10 for gas
$30 per week x 20 weeks
$15 for a 5 lb. bag of preemergent + $20 for mulch
$35 per month x 5 months
Spring Clean-Up & Fall Clean-Up
$0, if you perform clean-up right before your scheduled debris pick-up by the city
$15 for a spreader + $200 for enough fertilizer to cover your lawn three times
$450 for a season-long chemical program
The Fertilizing Process Fertilizing helps keep your lawn healthy and green, and you should start doing it once the ground warms up in spring and then periodically throughout the summer. Different kinds of fertilizer are made for different types of grass, so make sure to check the bag to find which kind is right for you. A handheld fertilizer spreader will help you evenly distribute it for a uniform greenness, and you need to wet your lawn beforehand to get it ready for the fertilizer and after to help it soak in. Lawn turned brown? You may need to apply two kinds of fertilizer: first, one that’s nitrogen heavy, followed by a second type that’s more balanced with nutrients.
Do It Yourself
Perfect Your Mowing Technique
*Based on average costs for a 1/3-acre lawn, although your total may vary based on your needs and previous upkeep.
Got more lawn care questions? Check out some of these resources online:
• Yard Care by The Toro Company yardcare.com
• About.com: Lawn Care lawncare.about.com
• Grass Pad grasspad.com
Spring is here, and there’s no better time to get up, get out and enjoy the outdoors in one of Kansas City’s many wonderful parks. But which one fits your lifestyle best? Check out the handy-dandy table below to find out.
Shawnee Mission Park
Relax with regular Theater In The Park performances.
900 Renner Rd. Shawnee Mission, KS
Enjoy the locally renowned Laura Smith Conyers Rose Garden.
5200 Wornall Rd. Kansas City, MO
Take in aerial acrobatics on a small scale at the R/C Model Airplane Field.
2 miles east of I-470 and 291 on Woods Chapel Rd. Lee’s Summit, MO
Play a round at Swope Memorial Golf Course or at the park’s disc golf course.
6600 Swope Parkway Kansas City, MO
George Owens Nature Park
Cast out into one of the park’s two fishing ponds.
1601 S. Speck Rd. Independence, MO
Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead
See more than 200 animals and birds of prey living on this turnof-the-century-style farmstead.
13800 Switzer Rd. Overland Park, KS
Tee off at the Shoal Creek Golf Course or the Robert H. Hodge Golf Course.
7000 N.E. Barry Rd. Kansas City, MO
And here’s a park of a different kind:
CommunityAmerica Ballpark Why not take in a T-Bones game—or eight—with your family this spring? Buy one eight-game mini-season pass, and get a second one free. That’s a savings of $88. Find out more at cacu.com/tbones8pack.
Part 2 of 3: Tweens It may be hard to accept, but your little ones aren’t so little anymore. Your tweens are getting big and taking on more and more responsibility. So make sure as your kids begin their journey to adulthood that they continue on the journey to a bright financial future as well.
[ tip 1: Save ] By the time your children reach tween status, they should already have their own savings account. The next step, then, is to help them fully grasp the benefit of saving their money. So whether it’s from babysitting, mowing the neighbors’ lawns or just getting an allowance, be sure to have them put a little away each week. And if there’s a big-ticket item your children have been asking for, encourage them to buy it themselves with the money they’ve socked away. Nothing will get them into saving mode quicker than a shiny new toy. A good rule of thumb is to save 10% of income.
[ tip 2: balance ] All right, you’ve followed Tip 1 and established a firm savings routine for your kids. Now show them how to use the transaction log that came with their account so they can they see how much they’re accumulating. Doing this not only teaches them how to keep track of their money today, but it helps them prepare for more complex budgeting in the future—not to mention it’ll build their math skills, too.
[ tip 3: share ] No financial life is complete without learning how to share a little bit of what we have with those who really need it. So, as part of your tween’s savings plan, make sure he or she sets aside a certain percentage to give to a local charitable organization. Ten percent is a good place to start, and if your child is so inclined, encourage him or her to donate a few hours of volunteer time as well. Volunteering is a great way for kids to connect with the community and gain a better appreciation of what they’ve been blessed with.
INSIDER + march 2010
That’s it for now, but check out the next issue of the INsider for financial lessons for teenagers.
INSIDER + march 2010
Ready to get a little R&R this summer but not sure where you want to go? Then fill out the CommunityAmerica Outta Town Showdown Bracket to find out which travel destination reigns supreme. Just choose a winner in each match-up and advance the number until you have your champion vacation destination.
Henry Doorly Zoo
Childrenâ€™s Museum of Indianapolis
Field Museum of Natural History
Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Arizona Grand Resort
Wisconsin Dells Kalahari Resort
Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort
(St. Louis, MO)
(Kiawah Island, SC)
(Wisconsin Dells, WI)
Pikes Peak Cog Railway and Summit
Arches National Park
Appalachian National Scenic Trail
(Colorado Springs, CO)
(Grand Canyon, AZ)
(14 eastern U.S. states from MA to GA)
It’s that time again. The sun is coming out, the trees are greening up and you’re just itching to get out of the house and have a little fun...