<![CDATA[Safe Money News - Steve Dinnen]]>Wed, 13 Jan 2016 08:54:30 -0800EditMySite<![CDATA[Choosing Safe Dogs]]>Tue, 09 Sep 2014 21:11:21 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/choosing-safe-dogsPicture
Breathes there a kinder, gentler dog than a Golden Retriever?  “Not really,” surmises petMD, the online pet information site that ranks the Golden as the safest of all major dog breeds to have around families.  A Golden Retriever is confident, smart, kind and loyal – all the qualities that kids and parents alike will view as safe and positive attributes in a dog they choose.

If it’s a safe dog you want, you probably don’t want a Pit Bull Terrier.  Nor, sadly, would you want a German Shepherd. I speak from personal experience here, as the mostly Shepherd mixed-breed that we once acquired in Kentucky was a lovely and loyal dog but prone to nip at children. The smaller the kid, the bigger the nip, and with two-inch fangs, she could strike fear into the heart of child and adult alike.  Heck, I didn’t even lock our doors most nights, knowing that the dog was on patrol – she was a shepherd, after all – and was ready, willing, and able to take on all comers. 

Big dogs trained to guard tend not be the best pets: Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers, and St. Bernards – which are territorial – to boot.  But there are other breeds, just a hair smaller, that fill the bill. The Labrador Retriever, for instance, is a great pet for the family, as it is listed by petMD as “playful, patient, loving, protective, and reliable.”  It has a great disposition, as well.

Third on the list, perhaps surprisingly, is the Poodle.  It’s smart and gentle, as well, and it’s a good dog to have if you have allergies, since it sheds very little. Though we know the Poodle to be French, the breed actually started in Germany.  And although we figure it to be the ultimate pampered pooch, it seems quite a few Poodles were drafted into World War II and used to guard American munitions factories (the Shepherd eventually became the Army’s official duty dog).

Next up on the “safe and popular” list is the Irish Setter. It’s described as playful and energetic and able to play well with children.  Like the Retrievers, Irish Setters need a lot of exercise.

A dog you don’t hear much about, but which is also great for a family is the Vizla.  It’s reported to have a lively disposition but a gentle manner.  The Vizla is also loyal and affectionate.  It’s able to learn new tricks – something I’ve never figured out with a dog – and has the added allure of casting off little “doggy” smell.

Though there’s a lot of fur to deal with, Collies are known for being gentle. They are easily trained – which certainly came in handy on the set of the Lassie TV series – and they love to please their owners and protect their family. Collies are traditional herders, so without instructions to the contrary, your Collie might try to corral your kids every now and then!

Other top “safe” dogs include the Beagle, the Bull Terrier, and the Bull Dog,  Bull Dogs, however, might been described as on the lovable ugly side; however; they are very docile animals and apparently don’t mind the cramped quarters of an apartment.

Adding a new member to your family – one with four legs, a wagging tail, and an unlimited appetite – is a decision every new pet owner must make based upon a number of criteria – not the least of which is pure emotion!  If you have young children in your family, you might want to follow my suggestions here and a little more research so that the dog you choose is both a joy to love and a safe new addition to your home!

<![CDATA[Safe Boating Choices]]>Wed, 25 Jun 2014 16:09:50 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/safe-boating-choicesPicture
Now that summer is in full swing, you could while away the hours on a golf course, hacking at a small ball until it flies into the nearest rough. Or you could zip about on a lake or the ocean of your choice in a brand new boat – or perhaps on a used boat, especially if you’re reluctant to spend what can easily approach a million dollars!  Money aside, boats can be fun, and they come in an endless variety to suit just about every need and desire.

For information on sailboats we contacted Jim Kavle of Annapolis, Maryland, a marina manager there and lifelong sailor – Jim has crewed on Americas Cup boats three times.  We learned that the creature comforts available on boats today are better than ever, and they’re built sturdily enough that some hulls now come with lifetime warranties.

Kavle summed up the choices among sailboats easily:  “It’s a huge array.” They range from 10- or 12-foot dinghies to 100-foot plus monsters that take experts such as Kavle to pilot.  There are “day sailors” which, as the name implies, are meant to accommodate you and a few pals for just a day. These could be sailboats that you park at your home and then load onto trailers for trips to dockside. 

You’ll also find countless boat makers and hundreds of designs, including something called “One-Designs” which offers a standard template that different manufacturers use to build boats to its specifications. Kavle also mentioned that “J Boats” are some of the more popular One-Designs. These J Boats have open cockpits, range in length between twenty and thirty feet, and can hold three or four passengers.

Kavle pretty much grew up around sailboats, “but,” he adds, “If you didn’t, there are tons of sailing schools, many of which are run by communities.”  He also says that it’s “very common to learn about sailing by signing on to crew a vessel at a local yacht club. You don’t typically need to be a club member.”

The choices for power boaters are just as wide. Do you want a bass boat, so you can, well, fish for bass?  How about a “cigarette” boat (so named because they were developed to smuggle cigarettes from Canada) that can zip around Biscayne Bay at up to 80 mph?  For his money, Paul Cuellers, owner of D & W Marina in Celina, Ohio, would opt for a pontoon boat (also called a houseboat). They have a larger seating capacity than a cigarette boat – ten or even fifteen people or more, versus the five for a cigarette boat – and cost way less to buy and operate.  

No, these pontoons or houseboats aren’t as sexy as speedboat; however, some of them go fast enough to haul a skier.  And they can be roomy. We spotted one for sale in Kentucky that sports three bedrooms, a gas grill, washer and dryer, and even a Jacuzzi.  You’ll find standard sized bathrooms, rather than cramped “heads,” frequently on these boats, too.  “A pontoon boat fills about all the things you’re looking for in a lake boat,” Cuellers says

It’s important for any buyer to size up the environment in which you will be operating the boat.  Grand Lake St. Mary’s, where Cuellers is based, is a shallow and thus favors boats with little draft. That’s not the case on the north coast of Ohio – Lake Erie. There, you’ll want something that can operate in rougher waters, so a houseboat may not be you best choice.  As with all major investments, do your homework, talk to the professionals, scout out your water locale, and then “dive in!”  “Safe Boating Choices” can lead you to one of the most enjoyable experiences in your life!

<![CDATA[Choosing a Safe Summer Camp for Your Kids]]>Wed, 02 Apr 2014 18:52:58 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/choosing-a-safe-summer-camp-for-your-kidsPicture
Think about it. Summer’s coming. What are you going to do with your kids? You could watch them play video games for weeks on end, or you could send them off to summer camp where they’ll learn arts, crafts, swimming, and hiking. You, or more likely, your children or grandchildren, can have a safe and uplifting summer by attending camps that stretch from Maine to California. An estimated 27,000 of them nationwide cater to a huge assortment of tastes and capabilities.

Americans have a long tradition of sending their children to summer camps to commune with and learn a bit about nature. America’s love of sending children to camp got its official start in 1876 when a Pennsylvania medical doctor founded the North Mountain School of Physical Culture. Now, we have thousands of day camps and overnight camps and those that specialize in teaching kids about music, sports, or even math. Some camps cater to religious or ethnic preferences, and some address children with medical issues.

My first – and thankfully only – encounter with a snapping turtle came when one of my pals hauled one out of the Tippecanoe River where we had gone to experience a little nature as summer campers at Culver Military Academy in Northern Indiana. I was a city kid who had never been on a river or fished or canoed or bumped into ill-tempered turtles. But I guess that was the point of it – to get me out of my urbanized comfort zone and learn something about the natural world – how to enjoy it and learn from it.

You may already have a camp in mind, such as one affiliated with your church or synagogue, or local YMCA or YWCA. Word of mouth also works, too: My father selected a military camp for my two brothers and me because he knew people who had attended it as youths and figured a little extra discipline would serve us well!
But, if you don’t yet have a camp in mind for your children, a great place to start your search is www.acacamps.org, the website for the American Camp Association. It has a handy search tool that lets you sort through day or overnight camps by location, price, and religious preference. You can also look into specialized camps for music, for instance, or sports or other specialized kinds of activities. 

Your kid can brush up on Italian or Mandarin during a four-week stint at the Lawrence Academy, in Groton, MA. On the other side of the country, at Santa Catalina Camps, on an island just “26 miles across the sea” off the coast of Southern California, your teenager can become an expert in skin diving, sailing, sea kayaking, and other assorted aquatic ventures, while humming the tune from that old Four Preps’ song! These are skills, many of which they will use for a lifetime, that your children rarely get in public schools.

In a 2012 story in The Atlantic Monthly, author Jared Keller cited researcher Michael J. Unger’s position that being placed in a minimalist environment away from the watchful eyes of parents can make children more resilient. “There are the simple challenges of learning how to build a fire, going on a hike, or conquering a high ropes course,” Unger wrote in Psychology Today.

Among the skills I acquired at camp were sailing, archery, target shooting, and an appreciation for the Native Americans who had lived long ago on the land where we now stood. I also socialized with young people from places both far and near. My first roommate was from Venezuela, and I encountered my first Canadian at Culver. Kids showed up from Chicago and Cleveland and Ponca City, as well, and we all had to learn to get along in an unfamiliar, challenging setting.

I also learned how to march and obey a chain of command. Oh, and “spit” polish shoes! At that time, my father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Air National Guard, and before every drill weekend he put me to work on his shoes. Hey! You don’t suppose that’s why he opted for a military camp?
So, give some thought to the idea of sending your kids to summer camp. It will be an experience they will remember for their entire lives, and they might even learn how to identify and avoid those snapping turtles they might encounter when they’re all grown up!

<![CDATA[Safe Movie Watching]]>Mon, 03 Feb 2014 22:10:25 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/safe-movie-watchingPicture
Check the reviews and ratings before going to see the movie in theaters.

My school teacher daughter likes movie actor Leonardo DiCaprio, but said she was taken back during her recent viewing of his latest film, the Wolf of Wall Street. It seems that along with a tale of cheating and deceit by money grubbing Wall Streeters, director Martin Scorsese tossed in a whole bunch of steamy sex scenes. 

Both Mr. Scorsese and my daughter knew it was rated R - Restricted - meaning it is intended for people 17 years and older. This viewing guide was assigned by the movie industry trade association Motion Picture Association of America. Regarding Wolf of Wall Street, the MPAA specifically stated that the movie has sequences of strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language throughout, and some violence.

She might have made a safer decision had she followed a review written by the Catholic News Service, catholicnews.com/movies.htm. Its rating on this film was “O” - morally offensive - a little finer point than that made by the MPAA. To the news service reviewer, Wolf of Wall Street “contains a benign view of sinful and illegal actions, domestic violence, strong sexual content, including graphic aberrant and adulterous sexual activity and full nudity, drug use, frequent profanities, pervasive rough and crude language and a few  gestures.”

Wow, what a difference. Yes, there are divergent opinions when it comes to movie reviews and guidelines. The safe way to figure out if a film suits your demeanor is to check out several reviews whenever possible. The MPAA review is obviously the most widely used and understood guide, but not the only. Besides Catholic News Service, longtime film reviewer and shareholder activist Nell Minnow does a fair assessment of movies on her “Movie Mom” blog, which you can find at beliefnet.com. 

Minow actually liked Wolf of Wall Street, though her notes on its clearly spelled out that it contained those objectionable snippets of sex, drugs and rock and roll. And she even said that parts of the movie were more worthy of an MPAA rating of NC 17, which means anyone under 17 is not supposed to be allowed to view the film.

NC17 is a death warrant for general movies, and film makers will go to great lengths to avoid it. They’re apparently OK with an R rating, as studies have shown that between 1995 and 2012 that category was the most widely assigned, ahead of both PG and PG 13.

PG means parental guidance is advised. PG13 means parental guidance is strongly recommended. The other category used by MPAA is G, for general audience. Nowadays this is a relatively rare rating, as Hollywood types figure a G rating will be seen as too much of a film for little kids. Maybe that’s why the Christmas-time fare from Disney, Frozen, scored a PG rating (for mild action), though my 51-year-old nephew just saw it and reported back that “for 98 percent of the people, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.”

The PG rating is apparently for the other 2 percent.

<![CDATA[Safe Travels in 2014]]>Tue, 26 Nov 2013 14:55:31 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/safe-travels-in-2014Picture
Much (sad) news has been made of the old soldiers who traveled to Washington, D.C., recently only to find that the World War II Memorial they planned to visit was closed due to the federal government shutdown.  Likewise, Yosemite National Park, the Statue of Liberty, and every other national park and monument hung out “Unwelcome Mats!”  The government is now reopened and so are those sites. But wrangling in Washington continues, which means tourists could easily find themselves in the same situation in a few months.

However, you can find dozens of safe ways to avoid this frustration going forward.  For example, try state parks, or private museums, or whatever is not tied to Congress and its seemingly endless infighting.
For instance, although we honor Orville and Wilbur Wright with a national park in Dayton, Ohio, that site was a no-go during the shutdown. Nonetheless, it was business-as-usual just sixty minutes to the west, at the Wilbur Wright Birthplace and Museum near Millville, Indiana. This privately run museum (http://www.wwbirthplace.com/#) features the still-standing birthplace home (c. 1867) of Wilbur Wright, along with a mockup of the Dayton neighborhood where the brothers built their airplane. You can also visit various static displays of their adventures in North Carolina, including a model of their airplane. There’s even an airfield out back where model airplane enthusiasts regularly gather to put their planes through their spins and turns.

In Dearborn, Michigan, you’ll find still more homage to the Wright Brothers at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, likewise both privately run. These places feature a lot of impressive collectibles gathered by Henry Ford, such as a camp bed used by George Washington (yep, he actually slept here!), the rocking chair in which Abe Lincoln was sitting when he was murdered, and the home of Noah Webster.

You can spend hours viewing massive displays of everything from washing and sewing machines to light bulbs, all of which are meant to mark the economic and cultural development of America. You can devour a good dose of transportation items, such as Model T’s (you can even ride in one), locomotives, and airplanes. Stop to read the 1934 letter from bank robber Clyde Barrow, thanking Mr. Ford for building peppy engines.  “For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned,” he bragged of the V-8 that he favored for getaways.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park that straddles Tennessee and North Carolina may have been closed, but numerous public highways pass through it, and you can take in the wonderful scenery from them or the byways just outside the park. You can enjoy plenty of places to camp or lodge just outside of the park.

Out West, the infamous former federal prison at Alcatraz Island is part of the Golden Gate Bridge National Recreation Area. Closed due to Congressional bickering? Then head to Angel Island, which also is in San Francisco Bay, and is run as a state park – and didn’t miss a beat during the shutdown!  Angel Island (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=468) served as the Ellis Island of the West Coast from 1910 to 1940, mostly for Chinese immigrants.  It later served as a Nike missile base. The view of San Francisco is just as spectacular from there as it is from Alcatraz.

So get out there and enjoy the land and all it has to offer. Ignore that wet blanket called Congress.

<![CDATA[Safe Food Can Lead to a Safe, Healthy Life!]]>Tue, 24 Sep 2013 18:59:29 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/safe-food-can-lead-to-a-safe-healthy-lifePicture

Having just finished a day at the Iowa State Fair, I have to say that I’ve nibbled on my last corn dog for a while. They’re tasty, but they sure aren’t a very good way to watch your diet.  And, although State Fair food can be fun, it’s not very healthful nor is it safe (ever tried fried butter?)!

Midway foods aside, there are some very safe ways to watch after your health with foods. Here, in no particular order, are some of the experts’ “faves”:

There’s a craze these days for Greek-style yogurt. As if the regular version wasn’t healthful enough, Greek-style is strained more to remove whey, lactose, and sugar, and, as a result, Greek-style yogurt contains twice as much protein for the same serving size. 

Blueberries carry just about the highest amount of antioxidants as any other food. They’re low in calories and fat, and you can use them to sweeten that cup of Greek yogurt (whose health effects tend to dampen when if you add sugar or artificial sweeteners).

Tomatoes are another great source of antioxidants, which neutralize unhealthful free radicals that float around in our bodies. Tomatoes contain a huge amount of lycopene, which has been shown to help prevent heart disease, cancer, and cataracts.

Broccoli. No, president George H.W. Bush (the elder) famously does not like broccoli, but Dr. Rachel Franklin, an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Oklahoma, does!  Dr. Franklin says former President Bush was missing the boat on broccoli because this veggie helps fight bladder, prostrate, and colon cancer. It has more vitamin C than an orange and a high dose of vitamin A! 

Spinach is another vegetable that does not float everyone’s boat. “Too bad,” says Dr. Franklin, “as spinach is an excellent source of iron, potassium, and fiber, and it helps fight heart disease and macular degeneration. It can lower your blood pressure and help prevent memory loss.”

Vinegar. WebMD says that apple cider vinegar, in particular, may lower glucose levels, which is important for diabetics. It can cut cholesterol and blood pressure and may kill cancer. Health food people recommend two teaspoons a day of apple cider vinegar. They say you can dilute it with water to make it more palatable, but I prefer using vinegar as part of a dressing on spinach salad … or on top of those delicious tomatoes! You’re getting safe, healthful benefits of two super foods, perhaps even three if you slice up some garden-fresh Big Boy tomatoes and toss them onto a spinach salad!

The list of safe, healthful foods goes on and on; for example, try lemons, honey, eggs, beans, nuts, or salmon. You shouldn’t go crazy with any of these, however.  Eggs in the morning, at noon, and at night are bound to boost your cholesterol level, and remember that nuts are high in fat.  Sensible portions – an ounce a day of those nuts, for instance – make good nutritional sense. 

One super food I would not recommend, however, is quinoa – not because it’s unhealthy, but for another, sociological reason.  Quinoa, a grain-like crop, is high in protein, zinc, and selenium, and it makes WebMd’s list of top ten foods.  But, its rise in popularity has outstripped production capacity, so its price has jumped dramatically. Since quinoa is a staple among indigenous peoples of the High Andes, this price increase is making it increasingly difficult for them to afford.  So for now, please pick on something else. After all, there’s plenty of broccoli to go around! 

We all know that State Fair and other junk food can be fun, tasty, and a special treat; however, we all also know (or should know) that a steady diet of such “cuisine” is not healthy and, in fact, not safe!  If you haven’t tried some of my simple suggestions, go ahead … I dare you!  Your body will thank you.
<![CDATA[Pity the Poor Volvo Owner!]]>Mon, 24 Jun 2013 19:19:03 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/pity-the-poor-volvo-ownerPicture
Pity the poor owner of a Volvo S80 sedan … or, perhaps not, when he buys it! The S80 is a fine looking, smooth operating, and extra safe vehicle. But when that proud new owner tries to sell that car five years down the road, his original investment of $ 38,825 is likely to fetch a piddling 18 percent of its original value. 

Bengt Halvorson, a writer at www.carconnection.com, pegs the S80 as shedding the most value of any mainstream car. The Lincoln MKS is another loser in his books, retaining a mere 22 percent of showroom value.

However, a much more worthwhile endeavor for all of us car owners/buyers is to focus on what will hold the most value as a trade-in. For this information we turn to the folks at Kelley Blue Book and their long accurate history of predicting car values.

Kelley’s safest bet for 2013 is the Toyota FJ Cruiser. As they say, the FJ Cruiser “manages to be both more pleasant and more rugged than one might guess, and offers better predicted resale value than any other 2013 model.” Kelley figures that after 36 months, the FJ Cruiser will have dropped only 24 percent from its new car sticker price. At 60 months, it will have fallen just 37 percent. We all know that new cars lose value the moment they leave the showroom. The idea here, if you looking to minimize the hurt, is to choose a model that will hold as much value as long as it possibly can.

Second in ranking behind the FJ Cruiser is the Toyota Tacoma. This pickup truck has earned Kelley’s Best Resale Value award, an impressive 10 times at www.kbb.com/new-cars/best-resale-value-awards/best-resale-top-10-cars-2013/ . At 36 months, it is predicted to lose just 30 percent of its value; 43 percent after 60 months. 

Third place in the parade goes to the Jeep Wrangler, which happens to be the only exclusively U.S.-based vehicle on the list (that is, if you can set aside the fact that Italy’s Fiat owns the lion’s share of Jeep’s parent Chrysler Motors). Jeep has come a long way since the 1950s when rear seats were an option, and it was used almost exclusively as a utility – not sport utility – vehicle to scoot around range lands out West looking for stray cattle. Kelley finds Wranglers to be, well, “comfortable.” And they have always had a reputation for durability, so maybe that’s why they hold a whopping 67.6 percent of their value at 36 months and 55.4 percent at 60 months!

The rest of the cars in the Kelley annual ranking all maintain around 50 percent of their value at the five-year mark. Toyota has two more offerings, while Honda makes the show with the CR-V and Civic. The Lexus LX is on the list as is the Porsche Cayenne. The latter vehicle appears to disprove the notion held by some Porsche purists that an SUV might trash that brand, as it is now the German automaker’s best seller in the United States. 

So, if you’re in the market for a new car (truck or van), by all means, buy and drive whatever you want, but to be “safe with your money,” please take into account the potential resale value of your purchase. 

<![CDATA[An Un-Happy Birthday to Them!]]>Tue, 09 Apr 2013 20:38:23 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/an-un-happy-birthday-to-themPicture
Here’s a birthday few of us look forward to celebrating: federal income taxes turn 100 years old in 2013. Hmm? How should we celebrate? Maybe by spoiling their party just a bit by depriving that “inside-the-beltway mob” of a little bit of your cash that they’ll just waste anyway!  Here are some safe - and perfectly legal - ways to reduce your annual tax bill. You can implement these tips now, for your 2013 taxes, or in some cases, you can even qualify for this year’s tax savings if you haven’t yet filed for 2012.

Bunch medical deductions.

Luckily, most of us don’t seem to have enough medical expenses to exceed the adjusted gross income tax floor (7.5 percent for 2012, rising to 10 percent this year). But if you face elective procedures, such as cosmetic surgery or braces, you have an opportunity to bunch them together into one tax year.

 Take advantage of catch-up provisions for retirement savings and investment plans

Once you pass a certain age, you can typically contribute more money to these tax-favored plans, such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and IRAs. For instance, in 2013, a worker 50 years old or older can kick in an additional $ 5,500 to the standard $ 17,500 deduction allowed for a 401(k) plan.

Donate appreciated stock

Wall Street has seen a smart recovery these past few years. If you want to cash out your position in a winning stock, you’ll have to pay a capital gains tax. If you’re in a giving mood, however, you could simply donate the stock to your favorite charity. The beauty of this is two-fold: You avoid that capital gains tax, and you get to take the deduction for the price of the stock at disposition time, not at acquisition time. Oh, and you get to look like a hero to the recipient.

Fund a retirement plan

You can put as much as 20 percent of your net self-employment income, or a maximum of $ 51,000, into a SEP-IRA. And you can do this as late as October 15th , as long as you filed for an extension on your original return. Similar tax dampening funding rules apply to the Simple IRA and Solo 401(k).

Pay your teenager to work for you

Obviously, you have to own your own business. If so, and your child is under 18, you avoid employment taxes. This is a win-win, as it reduces your taxable income while putting some tax-advantaged money into the hands of someone who’s going to be asking for it in any event! And along the way, it will give “junior” an insight as to what mom or dad does for a living, plus possibly training your potential successor!

In a move that shows it may be getting a bit soft in its old age, the IRS itself actually offers tips on reducing the tax bite. Though the IRS cleverly waits until after nearly half of Americans already have filed their taxes, their tips, (visit its website at: www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Five-Tax-Credits-that-Can-Reduce-Your-Taxes), offer guidance on taking advantage of tax credits—yes, credits, not deductions. These are aimed mostly at lower income earners. For instance, the IRS notes the “Savers Credit,” which provides a credit of up to $ 2,000 beyond the deduction of the income you might have earned from contributing to a qualified IRA or 401(k).

So, maybe, just maybe, we should be saying “Happy 100th Birthday IRS!” Their tips are some birthday presents we can all celebrate!

<![CDATA[Safe and Charitable Giving]]>Tue, 22 Jan 2013 19:03:28 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/safe-and-charitable-givingSafe and Charitable Giving
Yearning for world peace but can’t quite pull it off on your own? Why not link with Armed Forces with Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Washington-based charitable organization that promotes the quest for such tranquility.  Interested in human rights?  Dash off a check to Amnesty International. And if you’re into ending hunger, Bread for the World is the place to be.  All of these are, of course, charities, and all of them may be very safe, worthwhile causes/organizations on which to spend your money to help do some good on this globe. 

Charitable giving is a time-honored tradition in the United States and is even enshrined in our tax code as a legitimate deductible expense.  Thus, you can save some tax dollars if you’re willing to open your wallet to worthwhile causes.  There are thousands of charities (half of whom have seem to have clogged my mailbox with solicitations during the past few months).  I welcome many of these charitable solicitations: however, I admit I must ignore most because my pockets are only so deep.

But the most important question you and I must answer is, “Where do I begin?” 

The answer is to find a charity that works on projects or causes that interest you.  Personally, I try to support charities that relieve human suffering, especially in poor parts of the world.  I figure the least we can do is try to give people a shot at the basics, such as food and shelter.  This organization (www.heifer.org) for example, has a distinguished record in buying animals – chickens, rabbits, water buffalo, and so forth – for  people who then either raise their livestock to feed themselves or to sell for cash.

I also favor charities that work on clean water, stamping out malaria, or other diseases that bedevil the third world. These organizations are working for folks who simply don’t have the means to cure what ails them.
Some of this charity work is hands-on, and I have traveled to both Guatemala and El Salvador to help with sanitation and health projects. But let’s face it: I am not an expert in confronting these issues. Nor do I necessarily have the time to travel. So I usually find it is more efficient to put some money into the hands of those more expert. 

Charitable work dollars and efforts need not stretch to Latin America. I have also found plenty of worthwhile charities right in my backyard, helping local people while bettering my community.  But, regardless of where you spend your money, you want to know it’s being put to good use. So, I try to avoid charities with impressive buildings or bloated CEO salaries.  Can a charity that spends 94.6 percent of its money on fundraising be expected to accomplish anything more than spending more money on fundraising? I crossed them off my list after spotting that sorry statistic on www.charitynavigator.org. 
Yes, some charities don’t really accomplish much, but groups such as charitynavigator or the American Institute of Philanthropy help you sort the good from the not-so-good.  It’s important to spend money on causes you support, but it’s just as important to make sure that it’s being spent wisely and safely.  In short: find a charity you can “relate to,” but then check ‘em out completely before parting with your hard-earned cash! 

<![CDATA[Do you really need a library card to shop for Christmas?]]>Tue, 04 Dec 2012 23:03:36 GMThttp://www.safemoneynews.com/steve-dinnen/do-you-really-need-a-library-card-to-shop-for-christmasPicture
Do you really need your library card to shop for Christmas? I thought not. Nor does Heather Battison, Senior Director for Consumer Education at TransUnion, who in the interest of safeguarding your identity says that you also can venture into a shopping mall without your Social Security card or birth certificate. These and other non-essential bits of personal identification will do little to help you complete a commercial transaction, but they might find a very warm reception with someone bent on stealing your identity. In the interest of helping you enjoy a safe-money holiday shopping season, here are some important tips.

Holiday shopping means lots of extra trash, some of which might likewise help an identity thief. So Battison suggests you shred everything that contains personal data. You can buy shredders at any office supply store, though you may want to look for an upgrade from the model used by the Nassau County (NY) police, who found that some of their investigative records containing Social Security and telephone numbers ended up as easily decipherable bits of confetti in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Other “credit-safe” steps to take include:
  • Only shop online with merchants whose websites have built-in security features. Before you provide any personal information, look for a URL that begins “https,” not merely “http.” This extra letter indicates important security features. Also look for the emblem of a lock on the page, typically next to the address bar.
  • Keep an eye on your credit card bills. Checking your monthly statements carefully can help you catch any charges you don’t recognize. 
  • Ditto for bank statements, especially now that nearly everyone uses debit card and ATM transactions frequently. The added bonus here is that you can easily look up credit and bank statements online.
  • Consider changing your PIN numbers after a heavy bout of online shopping. Yes, it could be a hassle; however, every victim of identity theft would happily trade that small extra effort for the herculean task of restoring their identity to its former “clean” status.
  • Monitor your credit. You might enroll in a credit monitoring service that will alert you to changes to your credit report. This could tip you off immediately when someone tries to open a credit card in your name, for example.

You can buy credit monitoring either as a stand-alone service or, in some instances, simply as an add-on to your homeowners’ policy. Farm Bureau Financial Services, for example, offers Identity Services and Fraud Expense Coverage for just $ 25 extra per year on home, ranch, farm, or liability policies that the Iowa-based insurer sells. From its perspective, Farm Bureau Services also advises that if you’re in a charitable mood, you should be aware that not all of the emails, letters, and telephone calls you get asking for money are from legitimate sources. If you want to give, you should contact the charity directly.

Farm Bureau Financial also reminds us that identity thieves are a clever lot – they keep up with the latest changes in security and technology. Here’s one scam you may not be aware of: these crooks are using scanners that can grab your personal account information from a “contactless” smart card you use to make a payment at a cash register. “How?” you might ask. Your card emits a radio frequency, which is open to wireless access. Since most credit card companies now issue contactless credit cards, you should make sure the one you get has a sleeve that blocks radio-frequency identification.

None of these tasks should burn up too much of your time, but more important, taking these simple precautionary steps will let you enjoy a happy, safe-money holiday!