Stress Less for the Holidays

Stress Less for the Holidays

Holiday Stress

Holiday Stress
Photo source: Dorothy Lee

Tis the Season Merry and Bright:

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve there are greater incidences of stress and tension related headaches and migraines. Family stresses, long shopping lines, and unrealistic expectations are enough to trigger tension headaches even in people who are not headache prone. To avoid these aches and pains a strategic plan may be necessary. 

Planning is crucial not only at the holidays but throughout the year.  Having a plan and being organized makes everything easier and more manageable.  The key is to start early and don’t wait until December. This is where Christmas in July becomes useful thinking. 

The following are some tips to help avoid stress during the holiday season.  Make a schedule that includes all tasks you have to complete, how long you think each task will take, and when each task needs to be completed.  This is why Santa makes a list and checks it twice.

  •             Start shopping early to reduce time wasted in long lines with early-bird hour sales
  •             To avoid long period of times wrapping, shop in stores where gift wrap is free
  •             Shop on-line while drinking your coffee in your pajamas
  •             Track your purchases in a notebook or in note section of your cell phone
  •             Prioritize your social events and don’t spread yourself too thin
  •             Use your computer for online postal mailing to avoid lines at the post office
  •             Instead of mailing gifts, order gifts on-line, and have gifts directly sent to gift recipient
  •             Practice relaxation and stretching to reduce stress
  •             Establish a spending limit and stick to it

Be realistic about how much you can do as nobody likes a cranky Santa.  By following these tips, you will be as jolly as old Saint Nick.

Enjoy the holiday season with family and friends as it is the greatest gift you can give yourself.  And remember, laugher is the best medicine for stress! 

Happy Holidays!

 

       

 

           

      

 

Beware of Holiday Scams

Beware of Holiday Scams

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… for Criminals, Thieves and Scammers

Red and green Christmas tree ornaments in a clear bowl

Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District

This holiday season scammers and identity thieves are hoping to take advantage of shoppers who may be too preoccupied with travel, gift-buying, and festivities to notice. Therefore, during the holidays, it is even more important to remain vigilant while shopping in stores or online.

More people are turning to online shopping for their holiday gifts. The National Retail Federation forecasts consumers to spend about $721 billion this holiday season.  However, this increase in online spending comes with a greater risk for thieves to steal your money or your identity.

Here are some common holiday scams and how to protect yourself from becoming a victim:

Deals That Are Too Good to Be True –while shopping online keep the old adage in mind, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. During the holidays, shoppers are looking for huge deals, and scammers know it. These thieves often set up websites that appear to be legitimate, just to steal your personal information and/or to download a virus onto your computer.

It is important to make sure any site in which you shop contains an HTTPS security designation. Another simple way to know if the website is authentic is to look for the padlock symbol that appears in the address bar of the retailer. Here is an example of an Amazon online address bar.

Holiday Phishing Scams – Around the holidays, beware of emails pretending to be sent from familiar companies like FedEx or UPS. These emails claim to provide links for package tracking information. These links, once clicked on, will either steal your personal information or download a virus onto your computer. Remember, if you receive an email from someone you don’t know or weren’t expecting an email from, you should never click on links. Also, make sure you are using current antivirus software on your computer.

Identity Theft and ATM Skimmers

In Store Shopping:
    • Being vigilant is key to protecting yourself during the holiday season. Thieves target shoppers who are either struggling with packages and bags or those who are unaware of their surroundings. Thieves see this as an opportunity to steal your wallet or credit card numbers.
    • When using an ATM or other key pads, make sure to check for skimming devices that thieves install on ATMs and other card readers. These skimmers are placed over the existing key pad in order to access your account. It is also advised to cover the keypad when entering your pin number while purchasing items or getting money from an ATM
    • After each purchase, take time to put your credit card back into your wallet. Also, it may be worthwhile to purchase an RFID-blocking wallet. These wallets are designed to shield your credit card information from RFID readers and skimmers..
 Online Shopping:
  • When shopping online, experts advise consumers to use credit cards instead of debit cards. In case of fraud, both payments types can be disputed, however debit card payments are automatically deducted from your bank account. Therefore, it may take longer to get your money back.

Gift Cards– Gift cards are a great idea for people on our shopping list. However, a record number of retail stores are closing their doors, so you should consider the retailer’s financial situation before buying a gift card. If the retailer closes or declares bankruptcy, the recipient may not be able to use the gift card.

Package Delivery Theft- Having packages delivered to our homes makes us a target for thieves who case neighborhoods and even follow delivery trucks looking for packages sitting on porches. There are ways to prevent this from happening to you. You can have your packages delivered to their office, a local pick-up area, like a UPS Store or try to schedule delivery times when someone will be home, if possible. Online shoppers can also set up tracking notifications, to know when an item is delivered.

Charitable Giving Tips – Give to charities wisely. At this time of year, we all want to give to charities that pull on our heart strings. But beware of giving money to charities that are fake or irresponsible. Do your research to make sure to support the many legitimate and deserving charities that can use our help during the holidays.

The 2018 Consumer Protection Guide – This guide provides more information about protecting yourself as a consumer, including online identity theft, charity scams, item recalls and more.

The holiday season brings out the best and worst in people. Therefore, you should be vigilant because the holidays are a lucrative time of year for thieves and scammers who are trying their hardest to get into your bank account.

For more tips on how to keep your identity safe and avoid holiday scams, contact Laurie Osgood, UF/IFAS Extension, Gadsden County at Osgoodlb@ufl.edu  or call (850) 875-7255.

 

Estate Planning: Starting the Conversation

Estate Planning: Starting the Conversation

The holidays are a wonderful time and for some families, it may be the only time everyone is together.

Having multiple generations together can make the holidays an ideal time to have some estate planning discussions.

Estate Planning template

Estate Planning Photo source: Julianne Shoup

Too often, family members are hesitant to talk about estate planning and they never form a plan.  There’s no one way to start this conversation, but one way to bring it up is to refer to materials you have read recently or another family you may know who is going through the estate planning process.

 

Bringing Up Estate Planning

You could say, “Do you know so and so, their parents passed away recently and they have had so many problems because they didn’t have a plan in place.  I think we should sit down and talk about some of those things so that doesn’t happen to our family.”  Or, “I was reading an article about estate planning the other day and how important it is to talk about it with your family and create a plan. I think I’d like to sit down and talk with you all while you’re here for the holidays.”

 

Tips for Smooth Conversations

If you choose to start these conversations, remember estate planning can be a sensitive topic for all generations involved.  Below are some tips on communicating and dealing with conflict from the University of Minnesota Extension.

  • Remember to be a good listener, listening for meanings and feelings behind words.

  • Respect the views of others. Even if you can’t agree, you can still show sensitivity and respect for each other’s feelings.

  • Try to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements to convey feelings. It’s important to express feelings, but try to do so in a way that does not place blame.

  • If conflict arises, try to discuss and clarify the problem and make a commitment to work toward a solution.

  • Remember to focus on why you are having conversations about estate planning. Having a plan helps prevent conflict down the road, helps create a smoother transition to the next generation, and will help give you peace of mind.

Passing On Personal Belongings

One aspect of estate planning that can be overlooked is passing on family heirlooms.  Grandparents can often be surprised by what has meaning for their children or grandchildren if they have never talked about it. The holidays can be a great time to have discussions with family members about what items are special to them, if there are family stories behind items, and how certain items can be distributed either before or after the death of a family member.

Many times grandparents may choose to pass items on while they can still enjoy giving those items to the next generation.  Another method is to create a list of items and use a personal property memorandum attached to your will.  There are many ways to deal with personal property and each way has advantages and disadvantages, but establishing what your goals are and getting the process started are key.

For more information….

For more information on transferring heirlooms, the University of Minnesota has resources online and a workbook available to order to help you through the process: https://extension.umn.edu/transferring-property/transferring-non-titled-property

Or you can watch this K-State Research and Extension Ed Talk.

De-Stress Your Holidays with These Smart Spending Tips

De-Stress Your Holidays with These Smart Spending Tips

picture of money

Creating a holiday spending plan and sticking to it can help decrease stress and reduce debt in the new year. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)

The holidays are once again upon us.  For many people, it can be a time of stress, frustration, and financial uncertainty as they drive themselves past their limits to try to make everyone happy and everything perfect.

One of the biggest seasonal stressors is spending too much on gifts, food, and home décor.  While it may seem worth it at the time, buyer’s remorse may quickly set in after the New Year when the bills start rolling in.

The most important thing that can be done to help curb holiday spending is to set a budget.

Maybe going all out for Christmas is a family tradition.  Great!  If it is, however, the best thing to do is to make a plan to save the money over the preceding months so it will be available to spend when the time comes.  Spending money that is not in the budget or overusing credit are surefire ways to increase debt and cause strife later.

The holidays should be about family, friends, and the joy of giving.  It should not be a competition to see who can have the biggest, brightest, most fabulous home, gifts, etc.

Retailers and the media work hard to send the message to consumers that the latest this or the greatest that are needed to get the full holiday experience.  However, it is important to resist their messaging and stick to the determined budget.

Including children in any discussions about holiday spending is important.  Let them know that there is only a certain amount of money available to spend on gifts and help them understand the importance of sticking to the budget.  While parents may feel pressured to get everything on their child’s wish list, focusing on a few special items will help families stay on financial track.

Cash and debit cards are the best ways to pay.  If the money is coming directly out of pocket, consumers are more likely to be more cautious before spending.  Use credit cards wisely.  Choosing to purchase with credit in order to receive airline miles or rewards points is fine, but keep close track of all purchases and only charge as much as can comfortably be paid off in its entirety when the bill comes due.  Avoid the pitfall of still paying off this year’s holiday spending next Christmas.

Some of the most meaningful and treasured gifts are those that come from the heart.  Custom, handmade gifts really show a person they are valued.

One large gift for an entire family that everyone can enjoy can also save money over buying something for each individual.  Many people also appreciate a donation in their name to a charity or cause that is near and dear to their hearts.

The holidays do not need to be stressful or break the bank.  By adopting a few smart spending practices, you can enjoy the holidays without the added worry.

For more information on holiday spending and strategies for creating a smart holiday spending plan, please call Samantha Kennedy at (850) 926-3931.

Extension classes are open to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations.

Summer’s Bounty

Summer’s Bounty

The pickin’ is plentiful and life is good. Now is the time to take advantage of summer’s bounty. Summer produce is colorful and healthy. It tastes amazing. And right now, it’s everywhere!

Fruits and Veggies in Season

Buying summer produce now means you get fruits and vegetables that taste their best.  See Panhandle Produce in Season for what’s in season in the Florida Panhandle. Because this is the easiest time to grow them, they also cost less than at other times of the year. You also may get to learn more about where your food comes from. This is a great time of year to buy local. Speaking of which…

Visit a U-Pick farm for fresh, local produce.
Photo source: Alex Hinkle

U-Pick Farms

When’s the last time you or your kids picked your own food? U-Pick farms are a great way for the whole family to enjoy the outdoors. (Hint: for max comfort and safety, go in the earliest/coolest part of the day.) Picking from a U-Pick helps you get delicious food at a good price. It also helps local businesses thrive. You can meet the local farmers in your area. You usually can get easy, tasty recipe ideas and you can even make new friends. (Working to pick your own food also can make you appreciate how hard it is to have the job of farmer.) To find the closest U-Pick farm in your area, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.

Save Some for the Colder Months

Whether from a U-Pick, farmer’s market, or grocery store, sometimes you just can’t eat all that great produce right now. What to do? Canning or freezing are excellent options. For information on freezing vegetables, see UF IFAS Freezing Vegetables. For fruits like berries, rinse berries well and let them dry on paper towels. Place in plastic zippered bags and freeze. Then just take out the amount you need for blueberry muffins in January – Yum! Or if you live in the South, it’s easy to make cold smoothies in the blender any time of year.

Fresh-picked blueberries are perfect in smoothies and salads.
Photo source: Alex Hinkle

Half MyPlate

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recommends half of your plate be fruits and veggies. Eating in this way gives your body the nutrients it needs to get healthy and stay healthy. Vitamins, minerals, water, and fiber are packed into summer produce. Eat a variety. Try produce in every color, texture, shape, and size. To pack a tasty, healthy wallop for your next meal, make a hot multi-veggie hash alongside a cold refreshing fruit salad. For more ideas on how to add more fruits and veggies into your day, go to Liven Up Your Meals with Fruits and Veggies.

Summer’s Bounty – get it now, enjoy it now!

 

 

 

Keep Your “Cool” This Summer

Keep Your “Cool” This Summer

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