Important Document Organization Can Save Time, Money and Grief

Consumer Reports’ blog had a great article today about having your documents  organized in case of emergency.  I’m reproducing their included table here and linking to them.  I figure if maybe I link enough times they won’t ask me to remove it.

The  good news is that I already do most of this.  Spending so many y ears as an insurance agent I saw the value in these preparations.   Something I also recommended that I don’t see here is a written and video inventory of your possessions, including as much detail as possible (where bought, how  much paid) expecially for the big ticket items.

SAFE-DEPOSIT BOX Birth and death certificates; marriage license; adoption, citizenship, divorce papers Yes Home file
Inventory and photos of household property Yes Home file
Deeds, titles, bills of sale, car title, mortgage Yes Home file
List of location of important papers Yes Home file
HOME FILE CABINET Tax returns; supporting documents for past 3 to 7 years No
Passport No
Bank-account information Yes Friend’s or relative’s home or at your office
Insurance policies No
List of all assets, including brokerage and mutual-fund accounts, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, real property, and employee-benefit accounts Yes Friend’s or relative’s home or at your office
ATTORNEY’S OFFICE Will, durable power of attorney Yes Home file and executor or personal representative
Funeral instructions Yes Friend or relative
Living will, health-care power of attorney Yes Home file, physician, personal representative
Location of safe-deposit box Yes Joint owner, friend, or relative
WALLET Driver’s license or other photo I.D. yes Home file
Auto insurance card Yes In car
Emergency contacts No
Blood type, list of allergies, medications No

I don’t know about you, but I know it would help calm me in the time of an emergency to know that much of the information I need is safe and sound, organized and easily accessible.  And when we lose someone we love our grief is tempered slightly by the knowledge that they cared enough to prepare and make the logistics of dealing with the aftermath as easy as possible.

Go forth and organize!


Making my Contacts Last Means No Vision Coverage Needed Next Year

Next month I’m going to get a packet from Husband’s employer and we’re going to have to select our benefits for next year.

It’s difficult for me to throroughly review every benefit in the short enrollment window we’re given, even though I’ve got a bit of experience with insurance and insurance matters. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for people who aren’t lucky enough to have worked slinging policies for more than ten years.

One of the things I’m sure of is that our health insurance premiums will increase. I’m just not sure how much. Alison at This Wasn’t In the Plan already received her increase, and I empathize with her frustration about paying more for mediocre coverage. I only hope and pray our plan hasn’t changed again, as there’s not much we can give up in terms of coverage at this point – what with a diabetic and an asthmatic in the family.

I have already figured out, though, that I’m going to save some money by cutting vision coverage next year. I’m the only one who wears corrective lenses, and I got new glasses last year. I haven’t used my allotment of contacts this year yet, as I make my six month supply last at least a year (Shhh! Don’t tell my Opthamologist!).

I will make an appointment for myself in November and get next year’s allotment. So I won’t need vision coverage next year. That frees up about $7 a month to use towards my Health increase. Not a lot, but as every snowflaker knows, every little bit helps.

Thirty-nine Hours

Thirty-nine hours.

My Dad’s big move from the 5 bedroom house to the 2 bedroom condo is was today, and I’ve been out there all day every day this week packing and organizing what’s going, what’s staying and what’s going to be donated. There is much craziness, especially since Son’s birthday party is on Saturday.

At this point there is nothing done for this party, except for the invitations. I have not finalized the menu, done the goodie bags, decided on a cake, nor gone to Costco, Publix or Walmart.

And I’m not crazed. Which is very surprising, considering that this is the only large party I throw each year, how anal I usually get (just ask my sister-in-law) and how normally 90 percent of what needs to be done would be done by now.

So, tomorrow I will take Son to his swim lesson and afterwards drop him off with my sisters (who came into town to help with the move). Then I will do two weeks worth of errands in one afternoon, start the set-up, bake most of the cakes (I think I’m doing cars, which means several separate cakes). Saturday I’ll have plenty of help from my sisters, which is good since I’ll need at least four hours to decorate the cake(s) and the party starts at two.

I know I don’t have to put new Son-centric labels on the Play-doh or spend six hours on a cake, but I enjoy it, and so does Son.  Last year he and his friend A sat mesmerized by the train cake I made, practically drooling with anticipation.  Son has an unhealthy love of cake, but really, who can blame him?

So, do it I will. And if there are only burgers and dogs and two types of hors d’oeuvre instead of ten, so be it.

And in forty-eight hours I will get to relax and enjoy the memory of my son’s glee as he blows out the candles, sees his friends and plays hard enough to make him fall asleep before his head hits the pillow.

Hold the Mayo

I don’t use a ton of coupons because I buy a lot of generic food items. If the coupon makes the brand name item a better deal I’ll use it, but more often than not I wind up leaving the coupon on the shelf for someone else to use.

I try lots of generic brands. I’ve got nothing to lose, as most grocery stores want you to buy their more profitable store brands so badly they offer a money back guarantee. If we try something and don’t like it we can return it for a refund. Much to Husband’s chagrin (“You can’t return that! We ate some!”) I do indeed return generics that don’t taste good, like WalMart’s Crystal Light Iced Tea knockoff (which, according to Husband “tastes like ass!”).

Many times, though, the generic tastes as good or better than the name brand. One such example of this is raisins. WalMart’s Great Value raisins are, in my opinion, better than the more expensive SunMaid. And lots cheaper.

There are exceptions to this, of course. There are certain foods where only the name brand will do. Diet Coke and Hellman’s Light Mayonnaise are two exceptions. No generic I’ve tried has ever come close to tasting as good. So my plan is to buy them on sale, and use coupons whenever I can.

Diet Coke is easy to find on sale. In any given week it’s either Pepsi or Coke are featured in the circulars, so I can stock up easily, though coupons are rare.

Hellman’s isn’t quite so easy. Publix runs Buy 1 Get 1 mayonnaise sales occasionally, and I always buy 4 jars to make sure we never run out. Coupons usually appear somewhere along the way between stock-ups, so I can often use 1-2 to get an even better deal. I refuse to pay $4.46 for a jar of mayonnaise!

Well, at least I refused until today. We have (gasp!) run out of mayonnaise. An unthinkable sin in my house. Publix did the BOGO sale a few weeks ago, but I was dealing with everything at my Dad’s house and never made it to the store that week.

I was in Publix yesterday and just could not spend the $4.46. I thought they’d have it at Costco (my next stop), where I hoped to at least get the bulk discount. Much to my chagrin Costco doesn’t carry Hellman’s Light. Which left us mayonnaise-less.

So today I went to a grocery store near son’s school I don’t normally patronize. I hoped their price would be better. It wasn’t. But they did have a great sale on Crystal Light Iced Tea and the shampoo I use. As I was sitting in line waiting to check out I decided it was time to try to make my own mayonnaise. After all, it’s only eggs, oil and lemon juice, right? I can make it for under $1!!! So I paid the $4.46 today, weeping all the while (okay, not really, but in my soul), and vowed to learn how to make my own.

Turns out it’s a little more complicated than that – or a lot more, depending on the recipe. So, here are a few links to homemade mayonnaise and mayonnaise substitutes. Click on one and join me, or post your favorite recipe in comments!

Homemade Mayonnaise

Fat Free Mayonnaise

Another Mayonnaise Recipe

$4.46 for a jar of mayonnaise? Not again.

Weathering Storms

It’s interesting being under a tornado watch.

We don’t normally have tornadoes here. The occasional waterspout, sure. And very occasionally hurricanes throw off a tornado or two, but being under a tornado watch is very, very rare.

After 24 years in Florida I’m used to hurricanes. With hurricanes we have days to prepare. We can buy supplies, protect our homes with shutters or boards or tape. We can get out of town if we choose, or at the very least head inland.

But with tornadoes there’s almost no warning. They go where they want to go, no rhyme nor reason. The meteorologists can tell us that conditions are ripe for tornadoes, but they can’t tell us with much advance notice whether one is actually coming – let alone who’s in the path.

So there’s really no way to prepare, other than to keep the television on, and to know where inside our home to head if things look ominous. I’ve watched The Wizard of Oz. Just head to the root cellar or basement, right?

But this ain’t Kansas. There is no basement. There’s certainly no root cellar. We’re built on the Everglades, for goodness sake.

So, we’d head to the bathroom under the stairs. The stair structure and plumbing make it the safest place in the house. But that doesn’t do us a whole lot of good if the tornado takes the entire house, does it?

Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts.

So, my son is sleeping upstairs in his bed, and I sit here, keeping vigil. And thinking.

Thinking about how much life is affected by the weather. And how much life is like the weather. Thinking about how we think we have control of everything in our lives, but we really do not. Thinking about how sometimes we have lots of time to prepare to weather the storms life throws at us, and sometimes we do not. And thinking about the weathermen in our lives – the doctors, financial planners, lawyers and teachers – who try to steer us away from danger and help us along the way.

But the bottom line is that we’re all responsible for our own safety. I can’t control everything, but if I know a hurricane is coming and I leave my home unprotected and go stand out in the middle of the street, well, I shouldn’t be surprised when the storm knocks me on my ass.

And if I see a tornado coming, I’ll get us to the safest place and duck.

Then, after the storm is over, I’ll hopefully get up and brush off the debris. Then I’ll survey the damage and rebuild. Or move on.

Sounds like an emergency plan to me.

Where Did I Learn THAT?

PaidTwice over at I’ve Paid For This Twice Already has a very interesting post today about how her attitudes about money have shifted as she travels her road towards getting rid of debt. She asks of her readers, “What change in your financial behavior happened so gradually you didn’t realize it was happening, but you wouldn’t do without now?”

That started me thinking about my own attitudes about money, and how they came to be. I realize that most of them developed as I grew up, living with and watching my parents and how they interacted with money – just as I’m sure most of you did.

My parents divorced when I was six, and my Dad re-married a short time later. Dad, a Certified Public Accountant, has always been very good with money. My mother… not so much. I was given a unique opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t work regarding money, and make my own choices about how to be.

In my Dad’s house frugality was a second religion. With five kids (his two and her three) there wasn’t much choice. Our clothes came from K-Mart, and hand-me-downs were the norm. We often wore all our clothes at once because the heat was set at 68 degrees. Generic products were used wherever possible, even if they sucked. Light tuna was cheaper than white, so that’s what we had. Orange juice was only available to drink in the mornings. No midday glass of the orange stuff allowed (though I think that was so there would always be OJ when my Dad wanted some). There was even the dreaded powdered milk phase, which my Dad to this day insists was about nutrition. Yeah, right. I’m still having nightmares. He gave us allowances and taught us to save up for the things we wanted. Dad’s frugality is done with an eye to the future, providing for his family’s health, well-being and education, and where he wants our family to be.

In my Mom’s house we went to The Middlesex Diner and McDonald’s quite often, and Carvel even oftener. Three degrees outside and we’d be shivering as we ate our cones. I’m pretty sure we were the reason that guy stayed in business through the frigid New Jersey winters. When we arrived home, though, we could wear our tank tops and shorts, as our heat was kept at 80 degrees. My mother never buys anything on sale, unless it’s an accident, and then she’d want to give the salesperson a twenty for their trouble. We had yummy white tuna and real, non-powdered milk. Moooooo. And we could drink the OJ anytime we wanted. Money was like water running through her hands, but we sure had fun spending it. How can she be out of money? She still has some checks left. Mom lives for the moment, the here and now, not thinking much about the future and what we’ll need when we get there.

Both homes loving, both homes providing everything necessary to grow happy, healthy children. Just differently.

So, I took what I saw in both homes, and here’s some of what I learned.

  • Generic products are to be used, but only where they are an acceptable substitute. Walmart’s generic Great Value Crystal Light-like Tea tastes like ass (according to my husband, and you’d have to ask him how he knows what ass tastes like), but their generic Great Value raisins taste better than SunMaid. Don’t be afraid to try them – just about everywhere will give you a refund if you try and don’t like their store brand. On the other hand, all mayonnaise must be Hellman’s. There is no acceptable substitute. Same with Diet Coke.
  • Heat/AC should be set at the lowest level for which you are comfortable. If you’re wearing so many clothes you can’t bend your arms, it’s not worth the savings.
  • Ice cream is yummy in the winter, but not every day.
  • Save money for your future, as it’s going to get here sooner than you think. Dad is doing pretty well financially. Mom struggles every day, but with some help she’s okay, too.
  • Acquire as little debt as possible, but have some fun with your money, too.
  • Don’t ever, ever give your children powdered milk.

There’s a ton more that I’ll explore in future posts, but really, this is long enough.

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