Money, Health, and Other Things

Educational Blog in the Area of Family and Consumer Sciences for the Middle Peninsula


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[Replay] FAT-TOM

With all of the holiday cooking this month, we thought we would revisit a previous post. This week, we’ll dive a little deeper into the topic of food safety and discuss “FAT-TOM”, and how remembering that can help reduce the chance of food poisoning!

The F stands for food – bacteria require nutrients to grow. Foods high in protein and carbohydrates, such as animal proteins and dairy foods, may be at a particularly high risk of bacterial growth.

A is for acidity – bacteria generally require a pH of 4.6 or higher to grow. Low-acid foods, such as meats, need to be properly cooked and processed since they can often be breeding grounds for bacteria. This is also the reason low-acid foods, like many vegetables, need to be pressure canned and not water bathe canned; without pressure canning, the low-acid environment makes the canned food susceptible to clostridium botulinum, the bacteria responsible for botulism.

T is for temperature – most bacteria grow in the “Temperature Danger Zone” between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and particularly well between 85- and 120-degrees. Through refrigeration and hot-holding, keep foods out of the Temperature Danger Zone as much as possible.

The other T is for time – certain bacterial cells responsible for food poisoning can double approximately every 20 minutes in the Temperature Danger Zone. That would mean, in 12 hours, 1 bacterium would become 68 billion bacteria! The “Cooking for Crowds” curriculum suggest leaving food that requires hot holding or refrigeration in the Temperature Danger Zone for no longer than 2 hours before consuming, and only one hours if it’s between 85 and 120 degrees.

O is for oxygen – while most bacteria require oxygen to grow, there are some bacteria that actually grow better in the absence of oxygen, such as the previously mentioned clostridium botulinum.

Lastly, M is for moisture – bacteria need water to grow. This is why dehydrating food can often lengthen how long food will be safe to eat. It’s also why salt and sugar, which binds with water molecules and make them unavailable for bacterial growth, are often used as food preservatives.


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[Replay] What are Periodic Expenses and How can they Wreck your Spending Plan?

Looking to cut back on spending and save some more money ahead of the holidays? Over the next few weeks, we’ll revisit past posts on reducing spending. This week, we’ll discuss periodic expenses!

First thing, what are periodic expenses? Periodic expenses, also known as irregular, seasonal, or occasional expenses, are expenses that occur just a few times a year and are often overlooked when developing a spending plan. Some examples include personal property taxes, certain insurance plans with annual or semi-annual premium payments, gifts, birthday expenses, holiday expenses, school expenses, home furnishings, repairs, auto licenses and inspections, home warranty plans, and vacations and trips to name a few. These have a way of really throwing off your month-to-month spending plans if not adjusted for. Let’s say your monthly fixed and flexible spending is typically $3000 a month. However, in August you have about $400 in back to school expenses, as well as $200 for a birthday, and $600 for a home warranty annual premium. Then in December, you have $500 for holiday expenses, $100 for personal property taxes, $200 for another birthday, and another $400 for an annual insurance premium. All of a sudden you have two months that are measurably different than the rest, creating potential challenges towards having the funds to cover those two months.

So how do we adjust for this? One way is to create a reserve fund. To do this, we’ll total all of our periodic expenses for the year, divide by 12, and save that much each month. Going back to our previous example, we’ll add up the $400 for the back to school expenses, $400 for the two birthdays, $500 for the holiday expenses, $600 home warranty annual premium, $100 for personal property taxes, and the $400 for the annual insurance premium, totaling $2400. Divided by 12, we’ll save $200 a month, much more reasonable than coming up with $1200 in August or December. Keep in mind, this reserve fund savings should be separate from savings plans you’ve developed for other financial goals. You can also keep track of your reserve fund by creating a simple table, each month tracking how much you spent on periodic expenses, how much you saved for periodic expenses, and your balance.


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[Replay] Tips: Saving some Green at Home

Looking to cut back on spending and save some more money ahead of the holidays? Over the next few weeks, we’ll revisit past posts on reducing spending. This week, we’ll discuss ways you can reduce that power bill!

Stuck at home and the enlarging power bill got you down? Here are just a few ways you can reduce that power bill:

– Check your home for appliances that use standby power. These are typically appliances that have a digital display, or “instant-on” feature. Some examples include – TVs, DVRs, sound systems, video game systems, cable boxes, computers, laptops, printers, microwaves, and coffee makers, among others. Cell phone chargers and other items with an external power supply or a rechargeable battery use standby power as well. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at UC Berkeley, the average home has around 40 such devices which could add up to over $100 per year in standby power. You can reduce your electric use, and therefore your power bill, by not only turning off these appliances when they’re not in use, but also unplugging them. Alternatively, to conveniently reduce power to appliances, use a quality surge protector. For example, plug your television, cable box, and video game system into one power strip to be turned off when you are not using the TV. You can do the same for the microwave and coffee maker in the kitchen, as well as the computer, laptop, and printer in the office. This should help lower your power bill!

– Use fans instead of air conditioning. This doesn’t mean in the height of summer foregoing air conditioning entirely; however, setting your thermometer just a few degrees higher on those hot days, and instead using a fan to cool you down, can save you money with lower energy usage. In a simulation study by the Florida Solar Energy Center, a research institute of the University of Central Florida, using ceiling fans and raising a home’s temperature by just 2°(F), reduced energy usage by 14%

– Change your light bulbs. Lighting makes up about 10% of home energy costs. Switching from incandescent bulbs to CFL or LED will save on lighting costs. Although CFLs and LEDs are often more expensive than incandescent bulbs, they use up to 75% less energy and last 10 to 25 times longer. Replacing five incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient bulbs can save up to $45 per year.


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[Replay] 4 Tips to Plugging Possible Spending Leaks!

Looking to cut back on spending and save some more money ahead of the holidays? Over the next few weeks, we’ll revisit past posts on reducing spending. This week, we’ll discuss plugging spending leaks!

With these uncertain times, saving money is more important than ever. If you’re having trouble cutting back your spending so you can increase savings, here are some ideas to plug those spending leaks!

  1. Don’t fall for the sales – Sales, clearances, and coupons can be great ways to save money, but they can also be potential spending leaks if you purchase non-necessities that you weren’t planning on buying otherwise. Ask yourself this; “am I buying this just because it’s on sale?” If the answer is yes, chances are you shouldn’t be purchasing it!
  2. Don’t develop “payday syndrome” – Do you spend more money on paydays? Here’s a possible approach: after receiving a paycheck, don’t buy any non-necessities for at least 24 hours; this gives you a full day to reflect on what bills need to be paid off, how much of the paycheck needs to go to savings, and helps to rein in overspending!
  3. Don’t forget about those little expenses – Those little expenses can add up quickly. For instance, spending just $5.00 every day (whether it’s getting a fast food combo meal, getting expensive coffee, or smoking a pack of cigarettes) will cost you close to $2000 per year! Finding cheaper alternatives, or cutting those habits in half or out entirely will go a long way towards cutting back on spending!
  4. Avoid the minimum payment trap – Pay off as much of your credit card as you can to avoid accumulating interest, and pay in full and on time if able! On an 18% APR credit card, if you only paid off the minimum 2% of the balance each month on a $5,000 credit card debt, never purchased anything on the credit card again, it would take you 38 years and $17,674 ($12,674 in interest payments) to pay the debt off! Paying in full and on time will not only save you from owing any interest at all, but it is also the best way to improve your credit score! (For more ideas on improving credit scores, check out our previous post here!)


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[Replay] Planning for Retirement, Part VII

This week, we conclude our review of our series on retirement planning! We’ll discuss estimating how much you need to save for retirement, and strategies to make your retirement money last.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed asset allocation, how much you’re putting aside for retirement, and how much and how long you’ll need retirement income. Once you have all of that information, you can plug it into a retirement calculator and see if you’re meeting your retirement goals! Below, you’ll see a non-exhaustive list of retirement calculators.

What happens if you’re not reaching those retirement goals? There are a few avenues to explore. Can you increase how much you’re saving each year? Are you willing to invest in something with a higher average rate of return, but with more risk? While you likely don’t want to consider working longer than you plan to, or adjusting your goal retirement lifestyle, these considerations may need to be made as well.

Alternatively, you can also look at some strategies to make your retirement funds last. While living off of your income – social security income, pension income, and any income from dividends and bond coupons – without touching your principal retirement savings would be great, it’s not realistic for most households. Instead, you could consider the 4% rule. The 4% rule involves withdrawing 4% of your retirement funds in your first year of retirement. For instance, if you had $750,000 in a retirement account, you would withdraw $30,000 in year one, and add that to any other sources of retirement funds you have. To account for inflation, you would need to increase that amount each year by 3% or so, withdrawing $30,900 in year 2, $31,827 in years 3, and so on and so forth. As long as your retirement funds are growing at least 3%, that would provide you a minimum of 25 years of retirement income. Additionally, if you want to protect against a down market, you can withdraw for the following year as well, and keep next year’s funds in a certificate of deposit (CD) or somewhere else safe that accrues interest. For instance, in the previous example, you could withdraw $60,900 in year 1, and place year 2’s $30,900 in a CD, so you won’t have to withdraw from your retirement funds next year if it’s a down market.

Whichever direction you choose to go with your retirement planning, the important point is that you need to begin planning as soon as you can, so you can make the necessary adjustments to your future retirement savings, to allow you to live the lifestyle you dreamed of during retirement!


That concludes our retirement series, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to email me at gjsturm@vt.edu!

http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/retirement/retirement-plan-calculator.aspx

https://investor.vanguard.com/calculator-tools/retirement-income-calculator/

http://money.cnn.com/calculator/retirement/retirement-need/

http://www.schwab.com/public/schwab/investing/retirement_and_planning

https://www.aarp.org/work/retirement-planning/retirement_calculator.html

https://tools.finra.org/retirement_calculator/

https://www3.troweprice.com/ric/ricweb/public/ric.do

http://www.dinkytown.net/java/RetirementNestegg.html