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  • How to Save for Emergencies

    Can you quickly come up with $1,000 for an emergency – without resorting to borrowing? Two-thirds of Americans would struggle to do so, according to an Associated Press poll released May 18, 2016. This includes almost 40 percent of households earning more than $100,000.

    how to save moneyA short-term savings is a vital tool in an emergency preparedness kit. One study by the Urban Institute found people with a small amount of non-retirement savings – $250 to $750 – were less likely to be evicted from their homes or need public benefits, according to an AP story.

    It’s possible to save $1,000. Here are some ways to do it.

    First, make a budget. The easiest way is to look at what you spent last month in various categories and input those numbers. Many budgeting programs will do that for you. One free program is Calendar Budget.

    “I have been using [Calendar Budget] for 5 months and I love it,” Shelly Robertson, of American Fork, Utah, wrote in an e-mail.

    Remember also to set aside money for occasional expenses like holidays and car registration fees.

    Once you’ve got a budget, review to make sure you’re sticking to it.

    “Set aside 30 minutes a week to update everything you've spent for the week,” Robertson wrote.

    Next, cut the budget. Peter Dunn, a financial columnist for USA Today, suggested decreasing spending by 10 to 15 percent over time.

    “You’ll tighten the budget before you are forced to tighten the budget,” he said.

    Financial planner Dave Ramsey had some suggestions for immediate cuts: Get rid of cable or satellite TV. Make coffee at home. Reduce dining out and entertainment expenses. Lower the thermostat during the winter and raise it during the summer. Other ideas include shopping around to get the best rate on insurance and cell phone plans.

    how to save

    Kayleen Chen, a peer mentor at the University of Utah’s Personal Money Management Center, suggested the 50/30/20 rule. Fifty percent of a paycheck should go toward fixed expenses, like house payments and utilities. Discretionary expenses, like groceries, should take up about 30 percent. Twenty percent should go toward short-term savings, an emergency fund, and retirement.

    Second, look for ways to earn additional money. This is especially useful for those of us whose fixed expenses take up waaay more than 50 percent of our income.

    “If your job allows, overtime is another great way to bring in extra money,” wrote financial planner Dave Ramsey.

    If not, consider your skill set.

    “Learn new skills that could be turned into a small job such as a piano teacher,” Chen wrote in an e-mail.

    Third, deduct savings first.

    “If we have automatic deduction … we save automatically. Then we live on what’s in the checking account,” said Ann House, coordinator of the Personal Money Management Center at the University of Utah. “I know if I keep extra money in my checking account, I will spend it until it’s gone.”

    Fourth, stash cash.

    Whenever possible, I pay with cash. Then, when I get home, I stash the small bills, like $1’s and $5’s, into an emergency fund. House suggested keeping up to $1,000 in cash in small bills in a 72-hour kit.

    Years ago, my family had just finished moving when a record Colorado snowstorm stranded us in our home. We had no snow shovel, so a young man offered to dig us out. We ended up paying him an exorbitant amount for a half-hour’s work because we only had large bills on hand.

    Finally, and most important, just get started.

    “Even as small as setting $5 aside, it’s still a start,” Chen wrote.

     

    What tips would you add to help others know how to save?

     

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  • Severe Weather Has Its Own Timetable: Now Is the Time to Prepare

    Tornado Severe WeatherIowa’s statewide tornado drill, held on March 24, was supposed to be held the day before. It was postponed because of bad weather.

    Natural disasters don’t exactly conform to our timetables. Yet many have a seasonal ebb and flow. Although tornadoes occur year-round, most take place in the spring and early summer – hence, tornado season. Floods are common in March and April because of heavy rain and melting snow. Hurricane season peaks in August and September.

    This seasonal nature of wild weather could explain why 33 states and U.S. territories held severe weather awareness events in March. Another 21 events are planned for April.

    Events varied from state to state. Last week, for example, California sponsored Tsunami Preparedness Week, while Colorado nailed some extremes with Flood Safety and Wildfire Preparedness Week. Maryland’s Severe Storms Awareness Week highlighted a different hazard every day.

    The point of all this is, if you haven’t started preparing for a natural disaster, now’s a good time.

    One goal of Maryland’s awareness week was to highlight the difference between a watch and a warning, so people can act appropriately.

    A watch meansTornado Watch - Severe Weather that atmospheric conditions are right for severe weather to develop, but it hasn’t yet. Severe weather watches tend to last for longer time periods. A warning means severe weather is imminent or occurring, so take appropriate action now. The terminology is the same for many types of severe weather: tornadoes, flooding, severe thunderstorms, winter storms and hurricanes.

    Sometimes the National Weather Service issues weather advisories. These can refer to specific weather hazards within a storm, like a high wind advisory. They can also refer to severe weather that is imminent or occurring but won’t have quite as adverse an impact. A flood advisory, for example, is for flooding that shouldn’t really affect life or property.

    A month ago, eight tornadoes touched down in Virginia, killing five people.  Virginia’s governor referenced that disaster in a proclamation calling March 22 Tornado Preparedness Day.

    “All Virginians should know where to seek shelter during a tornado, whether at home, at work, at school, or elsewhere,” the proclamation said.

    Part of preparing for a disaster is knowing how to respond appropriately. For example, before a tornado, pick the safest place to shelter in a building. A basement is best, but if that’s not available, go to the center of a small, interior room on a building’s lowest floor. Either way, get under something and cover your head and neck. This advice doesn’t apply to mobile homes or buildings. From those, go to the nearest shelter.

    Flooded Street of Des Plains City - Severe Weather

    Evacuating if directed is also the best course of action during a flood. But be careful. Flooding is the deadliest weather hazard, mostly because people try to drive or walk across flooded roads and bridges. Be sure to have alternate routes to get to a shelter in case the main route is flooded.

    Once you’ve got a plan, practicing it is equally important.

    Employees of the Clear Lake, Iowa, Chamber of Commerce participated in this year’s delayed Iowa tornado drill. The Chamber’s Director of Tourism, Libbey Patton, said in a TV news story that chamber members had inclement weather plans for both office and events.

    “And we have had to use it a few years ago for [a weekly event] just to get everyone home and off the roads,” she said.

     

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  • Thanks for the Rain, Pineapple Express! (Got any more?)

    Finally. After an unexpectedly warm, dry February, the Pineapple Express has dumped enough rain and snow on northern California to bring reservoirs there up to average levels – the first time they’ve been that high since the drought began.

    Drought Monitor Released Thursday March 17, 2016 - Pineapple Express Drought Monitor - Released Thursday March 17, 2016

    This doesn’t mean the end of the state’s drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest report shows 55 percent of the state is still in extreme or exceptional drought. Groundwater is a major concern too. The state’s underground aquifers, which have been building their supply for hundreds or thousands of years, are being depleted far faster than they can be refurbished. Some of them have caved in and will never recover.

    The good news is the drought has been a wake-up call for the need to better manage water use.

    Here’s how some people are trying to save water.

    In California’s Central Valley, where a huge percentage of the food the U.S. eats is grown, declining aquifers have become a health hazard. Shallow municipal wells have gone dry as large agricultural companies draw down groundwater from deeper wells. This has left residents without water, or with polluted water.

    One problem is, when a lot of rain falls, the area doesn’t have enough surface storage, like reservoirs, to keep it, according to a story in the Christian Science Monitor. According to the story, George Goshgarian, an almond farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, is trying something new: flooding his almond orchards during the winter rainy season when his trees are dormant and don’t need the water.

    The idea is, the water will soak into the ground and hopefully some will trickle into the aquifer below. If he’s careful, the flooding shouldn’t hurt the trees because they are dormant. Then, during the drier growing season, the ground will have more moisture. And the aquifer below will have a bit more water.

    According to a study for the California Water Foundation that was cited in the story, groundwater in the southern San Joaquin is being depleted at a rate of 250,000 acre-feet per year on average. Using the rainy season’s runoff could reduce that amount between a third and a half, the study estimated.

    Homeowners and municipalities are also trying to figure out how to use rainwater runoff. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power last August presented a plan to capture more rainwater for the city.

    According to Andy Lipkis, president of Tree People, which advocates for sustainable urban water use, an inch of rain falling on Los Angeles represents 7.6 billion gallons of water. Half that runs off into the ocean, he said in a story in the Christian Science Monitor.

    The utility’s master plan suggests projects to capture water that range in size from major basins to individuals’ yards.

    Drip Irrigation - Pineapple ExpressThe yard of Carrie Wassenaar of North Hollywood, Calif., is a case study in how water catching works. As described in the Christian Science Monitor, her yard has drought-tolerant plants watered by a drip-irrigation system that uses rainwater. A depression in the yard allows water to pool and seep down to the aquifer below. The water comes from an above-ground cistern that collects rainfall from her roof.

    “You want to feel like you're at least trying to help with the solution instead of just contributing to the problem,” she said in the story.

    Ready.gov says the best way to prepare for a drought is to use less water beforehand. Here are some tips from ready.gov for saving water inside the home.

    Replace washers in dripping faucets and repair pipe leaks.

    “One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year,” ready.gov said.

    Insulate water pipes. This will reduce heat loss, which means it’ll take less time to heat water from the tap.

    Install low-flow appliances, toilets, and shower heads. Some water districts will offer rebates to offset the cost.

    Instead of rinsing dishes and using the disposal, scrape dishes into the trash or compost.

    Lawns - Pineapple ExpressOutside, reduce the lawn and put in plants adapted to your climate. According to a study, lawns cover an estimated 50,000 square miles of the country. That makes lawns the biggest crop in America. And you can’t even eat them.

    Don’t water too much. Lawns only need about a half inch of water per week and less in the autumn and winter. If water’s running down the gutter, you’re using too much.

    Consider using grey water for outdoor watering. For information about installing a rain catching system, check out the web site for the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association.

    Be aware of regulations when considering water-saving tools. California offered homeowners tax-free rebates of up to $2,000 to help homeowners pay for water-efficient yards. As of February, the state had spent $22 million in rebates. Unfortunately, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is taxing those rebates as income.

     

    Drought Preparedness - Pineapple Express

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