Unexpected expenses? Be prepared with a “rainy day” fund. Photo credit: UF/IFAS Northwest District
It began as a normal six-month dental check-up – no pain, no problems. After the X-rays, cleaning, and exam, my dentist informed me the X-ray showed an abscess above a back molar. The next thing I knew, I was headed to the endodontist for a root canal then back to my dentist for a permanent filling – wow! Who saw that coming? That was a classic “Life happens” moment!
We all face those unexpected events – a flat tire, a faulty alternator, an appliance on the fritz, a medical emergency. The question is, do we have the funds available to cover it? An emergency, or “rainy day,” fund helps us to handle those surprise expenses more easily, reducing our need to borrow to pay for them.
How much should we have in our emergency fund? A minimum of $1000 is a good starting point – that typically will cover most emergencies. A fully funded emergency reserve is three to six months of expenses; some financial advisors recommend eight to 12 months of expenses. If you are the sole breadwinner in your household, funding it to six months or beyond gives you a greater cushion. What is significant about these numbers? If you were unable to work due to a job loss, layoff/furlough, illness, or a family emergency, you would have funds available to tide you over until you could get back on your feet. Having funds to keep you afloat for a few months removes a lot of pressure and may allow you to explore your options without feeling like you need to take the first job offer that comes along because you “need the money.”
How do you fund your emergency fund? Look at your finances and, if you aren’t already in the habit of doing so, set aside a portion of your paycheck for savings right off the top – pay yourself first! Even if it’s just a few dollars per paycheck, those dollars will add up. If you receive a pay raise, save the difference between the new amount and your pre-raise salary. Your income tax refund is another great way to jump start your emergency fund – use Form 8888 Allocation of Refund to direct deposit your refund into one or more accounts.
It is a fact of life that life happens – be prepared with an emergency fund!
For more information on saving for emergencies, please see UF/IFAS FCS 7014 Money and Marriage: Saving for Future Use.
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
The holiday season is here and, with it, many colorful decorations, delicious treats, and fun events. There also are hidden dangers that can mar this special time of year if we aren’t careful. Follow these twelve tips for a safe holiday celebration:
- To reduce fire risk, do not connect more than three strings of incandescent lights. Follow label guidelines for stringing together LED lights. Check lights for frayed or exposed wires, loose connections, and broken sockets and replace as needed.
- Place candles on stable surfaces away from trees, curtains, and other flammable items and out of reach of children. Never leave burning candles unattended or sleep in a room with a lit candle. Consider using battery-operated candles.
- Use caution when decorating with “angel hair” and artificial snow. Angel hair is made from spun glass and can irritate eyes and skin; always wear gloves when handling or use non-flammable cotton instead. Artificial snow can irritate your lungs if inhaled; follow package directions carefully.
- Keep kids and pets in mind when decorating the tree. Place breakable ornaments or ones with metal hooks near the top out of reach of little hands, playful paws, and wagging tails.
- Use a sturdy step ladder, not chairs or other furniture, to reach high places. Get someone to “spot” you and assist with handing or taking items.
- If you use a fireplace, have your chimney checked and cleaned at least once a year by a certified chimney sweep. Cleaning removes soot and other by-products that can lead to chimney fires and carbon monoxide intrusion into your living space.
- Use special care when giving toys that use coin lithium batteries to children. Older children’s devices with these batteries can be enticing to young children. Ingestion of button batteries can cause serious injury or death. Lock away spare batteries and closely supervise young children around products with button batteries. In case of ingestion, contact the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline, (800) 498-8666.
- If you want to fry a turkey, consider using an oil-less turkey fryer or purchase a fried turkey from a professional establishment. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that since 2002, there have been 168 turkey-related fires, burns, explosions, or carbon monoxide poisoning incidents, 672 injuries, and $8 million in property damage. Don’t add to the statistic count!
- Use a food thermometer to ensure meat reaches a safe internal temperature. Click here for a convenient temperature chart.
- Refrigerate food within two hours. Cut leftover meat in small pieces and store foods in shallow containers so they will chill quickly. Use leftovers within four days or freeze or discard.
- Reheat sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil before serving.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water to reduce your risk of illness.
Have a happy, healthy holiday season!
National Safety Council
Chimney Safety Institute of America
Electrical Safety Foundation International
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
After an extended power outage, your refrigerator and freezer may develop unpleasant odors from spoiled food. To get rid of these odors, remove all food items and clean the inside, including drawers and bins, with a mild cleaning solution of dish soap and water. You also can use a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda and 4 cups warm water. Strong cleansers may affect the taste of food or ice cubes or damage the interior finish. Rinse with a bleach solution of one tablespoon unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water to sanitize. Lemon juice and water solutions are not strong enough to sanitize effectively. Leave the unit unplugged with the door open for 1-2 days to air out. Spray disinfectant around hinges, locks, and into any openings.
If odors persist, try one of these methods:
- Spread activated charcoal, clean cat litter, or baking soda on trays and place on refrigerator or freezer shelves. Activated charcoal is extra dry and absorbs odors more quickly than cooking-type charcoal. It is available at drug or pet supply stores. Run the appliance empty for 2-3 days. If the odor remains, replace with new charcoal and repeat.
- Place trays of freshly ground coffee on appliance shelves and close the door. Run the appliance empty for 2-3 days. If a slight coffee aroma remains, wash and rinse shelves and the aroma should dissipate.
- Pack each shelf with crumpled newspaper. Set a cup of water on the top shelf or sprinkle the newspaper with water. Allow appliance to run for approximately 5-6 days. While this method is time-consuming, it is effective in removing strong odors.
- Use a commercial product designed for refrigerator and freezer odor removal. These products are available at hardware, grocery, discount, and variety stores.
Once the odor is gone, rinse and dry the appliance. Don’t forget to clean gaskets with a mild cleaning solution and warm water; rinse and dry. Dirt and spills can prevent the gasket from sealing well, resulting in a loss of cold air and higher utility bills. Also, clean the coils and front grill with a brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt that can hinder air flow to the condenser.
Use an appliance thermometer to check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. The refrigerator should be between 33˚F and 40˚F and the freezer at 0 degrees or below.
If there is still an odor after trying these steps, it is possible meat or fish drippings have seeped into the insulation. An appliance service technician may need to remove the liner and replace the insulation or the appliance may need to be replaced.
My Florida Home Book – University of Florida/IFAS Extension
Solving Odor Problems in Your Refrigerator or Freezer – University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Extension
When the Power Goes Off – Clemson Cooperative Extension
Cleaning the Fridge – North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension
Check your air conditioner filter monthly and replace when dirty.
Photo Source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
When the temperature is in the 90s and the heat index in the triple digits, you certainly don’t want your air conditioner to conk out! Follow these simple steps to keep your AC running efficiently and to save money on your electric bill:
Check the filter monthly. Your air conditioner’s filter catches dust, dirt, and allergens to keep your home cleaner. During periods of high use, like summer, a lot of air passes through the filter so it can become dirty more quickly. If you live in a dusty area or have pets, these, too, can “fill” your filter so be sure to check your filter monthly and clean or change it as needed. Some filters are washable and reusable, such as in window unit air conditioners. To clean, turn off the unit and remove the filter. Wash in warm, soapy water and allow to air dry; reinstall in unit. Replace the filter if it is worn or torn. Inspect and replace window seals to prevent cool air leaks.
Central air conditioning systems typically use disposable filters. Turn off the system to prevent dust and dirt from entering the unit while you are cleaning it. Open the intake grate and remove the filter. Hold the filter up to a light; if you see very little light through the filter, replace it. Make sure to install the new filter so the air flows in the direction indicated by the arrow on the filter frame. Also, dust the grate with a soft cloth. Use the filter type recommended by the manufacturer for best performance; keep a supply on hand so you can change them regularly. Pick a day of the month, such as the 1st or when you receive your electric bill, to check the filter. This also is a good time to dust your ceiling fan blades.
Does a clean filter make a difference? A clogged filter makes your air conditioner work harder to pull air through the filter. Many of the newer air conditioning units now have a safety feature that shuts down the unit if air cannot pass through the filter to prevent the compressor from overheating. When this happens, a service technician must inspect and reset the unit, resulting in a service call charge. Getting in the habit of checking and changing your filters regularly will keep your unit operating efficiently and extend its usable life. You can reduce your air conditioner’s energy consumption by 5 to 15 percent by maintaining clean air filters (www.energy.gov).
Clean leaves and other debris from the fan, compressor, and condenser. Trim shrubbery so it is at least two feet away from the outside unit to allow for proper air flow.
Check and clean the evaporator coil every year.
Use a “fin comb” (available at hardware stores) to straighten bent coil fins.
Twice a year, insert a stiff wire through the drain channels to clear and prevent clogs, which can lead to backups and flooding.
Have your air conditioner serviced at least once a year. Spring is an ideal time to have a qualified service technician inspect and service your unit so it can handle the demand of the hot summer months.
Keep your “cool” this summer with these maintenance tips!
For more information, visit:
Energy Saver 101: Everything You Need to Know About Home Cooling
Florida Energy Systems Consortium
Photo Source: University of Florida
It’s tax time, and many of us will be seeing refund checks soon—time to celebrate!
Now, what are you going to do with all that extra cash?
Maybe you have some bills to take care of, and it’s certainly a good idea to get those off your plate. But after that, let’s say you have some money left over. What then?
Think about putting those extra dollars in a savings account. Or, if you don’t have a savings account, open one. Even if it’s just $100, that first deposit could be the start of a lifelong savings habit.
Which brings us to another question: Why is it important to save?
Let me answer that question with another question: If you had to cover a $1,000 unexpected expense today, could you do it?
These little emergencies come up all the time. Your car needs repairs. You get sick and miss work. You have to travel out of state unexpectedly. These challenges are just part of life, but you can be prepared to meet them.
That $100 you tuck away is not much now, but consider this: If you saved $100 each month for a year, you’d have $1,200 in your bank account. That’s a good financial cushion that can keep you afloat when the unexpected happens.
Need a little encouragement to stick to the savings habit? The Florida Saves Pledge (floridasaves.org) is a great tool for setting financial goals. With this pledge, you’re making a commitment to work toward some type of savings objective, such as an emergency fund, a down payment on a house, or even retirement.
As a Family and Consumer Sciences Agent in Washington and Holmes Counties, part of my job is to help our community members learn to take charge of their money. In fact, there are people like me all over the state helping their neighbors with everything from horticulture to nutrition and youth development. We’re a network of experts who make up the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension. And we’re here to help, today.
For more information, contact your local Extension Office.