How to Create a Family Budget That Works

Create A Family Budget

If it’s time to create a family budget, it’s important to focus on long-term goals, along with your family’s current expense situation. If a budget is not designed for a specific person’s spending in mind, it will often fail very quickly. A good budget should be realistic and made to work for the person it was meant for, rather than strictly following a guideline or template. Here are 5 of the most common features in a successful budget.

Categories Unique to the Family’s Spending Habits and Situation

To make a budget that works, it is important to create specific categories and be as detailed as possible. Strict personal budget planning usually fails because it does leave any room for a family’s unique financial situation. Creating categories that are important to a family, such as a weekly music lessons or eating out once a month, will make it easier to follow through with.

Accurate Income and Expenses Estimations

Be sure that every category which fluctuates, such as groceries and gas, has a flexible amount of money designated for its specific purpose. Aim for the average of what a family earns each month, instead of what they can make maximum. Also try and be accurate when accounting for purchases such as free spending for everything from seeing a movie to getting some new clothes. While some families are embarrassed to write down how much they actually spend on luxuries, it is essential when personal budget planning.

Cutting Spending When Possible

When all of the categories have been assigned and accurate income and expenses have been accounted for, many people are shocked at how much they are really spending. Personal budget planning should leave extra money for saving, so if a family notices that all of the money earned is being spent on expenses, it is essential for it get reevaluated. If groceries for one month are a little higher than needed, focus on cutting back and spending less. Changing plans for auto insurance, switching cell phone providers and using coupons on everyday purchases can all make a dramatic change in somebody’s budget.

Preparing for the Unexpected

Personal budget planning that doesn’t leave room for the unexpected will typically fail in the long run. There needs to be leftover money put into a savings in the case of an emergency, such as a medical problem, auto repairs or a ticket. If there is no money left after paying all of the monthly expenses then the family will face financial complications if they encounter some unexpected expenses.

Create a Family Budget With a Positive Attitude

When there is no motivation behind creating a budget, it is easier for someone to overspend in certain areas and be left scrambling when paying for necessary expenses. A budget can simplify life and make a way to get to future goals. For other people, a budget can be seen as something holding them back from what they really want. Creating a budget doesn’t need to be about cutting all recreational spending. A successful budget simply adjusts and tracks spending so it is easier to make payments to the things that matter most. Successful personal budget planning is created when the family is dedicated to sticking to it with a positive attitude.

Free Small Business Tax Return Help For Small Business Owners

business tax return

In order to ensure the accuracy of your small business tax return, it is important that small businesses learn how to catalog and report their business expenses. For most small businesses (especially those that do not have a full-time accountant on hand to manage their finances), efficiency is also important when managing and recording expenses.

Here are some tips to help you efficiently manage your business expenses so that you have an easier time reporting your expenses when tax season times around.

Develop a system to cataloging information

When it comes time to managing your records and preparing for a business tax return, having an efficient cataloging system can go a long way in helping you stay organized and, ultimately, efficient. Many small business owners can effectively keep track of their expenses, income, and cash flow using a basic Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The benefit of using an Excel spreadsheet for managing financial records is that you can customize the spreadsheet to suit any possible need or preference you have. However, in order to be most effective with your spreadsheet design and use, you may want to take a course in Excel to ensure that you know how to use the software optimally.

While this is free tax help, not everything out there will be free. QuickBooks is one of the most popular financial software applications – especially among small business owners but will cost you a bit of money. QuickBooks also links to many banks, making it easier for you to capture and record your banking and credit card information with just a touch of a button. QuickBooks can also be used to easily manage invoices, payments, customers, and other common financial tools that many small business owners use on a regular basis.

Old-fashioned ledgers are still effective methods of capturing information and cataloging expenses. Unlike computer software applications, the ledger system does not provide the flexibility you may want when it comes to moving information around or adjusting your records. Therefore, you may have to be comfortable performing manual calculations and staying organized with your results when you use a ledger system.

Know your business tax return categories

When you file your business tax return, you will be required to state the amount of your expenses based on categories. For example, your office-related expenses will not be recorded in the same place as your professional fees, travel expenses, and others. Therefore, if you have never seen a business tax return form before, you may want to take a look at one so that you can get a better idea of what expense categories you may want to create in your cataloging system.

Common categories used by small businesses include:

Office expenses – these include office supplies, furniture for your office, and any equipment you may buy or rent

Building expenses – these include rent, facility fees, utilities, and anything else you may pay for that is directly related to the building structure itself. If you have a home office, you’ll deduct a portion of your mortgage and overall home expenses that is relative to the percentage your home office occupies in your home.

Repairs and maintenance – these are different than building expenses. Repairs and maintenance items may include installing a new light fixture, or items that you’ve purchased to maintain your office space.

Commissions and wages – if you have employees that you pay, be sure to keep track of all payments made to them.

Benefits – benefits are different than commissions and wages. Benefits include employee plans, retirement plans, and any pensions you may have set aside.

Professional development – this is where you keep track of any continuing education efforts, including conferences and classes related to your business.

It’s important that you speak with your accountant for more information about categories that may specifically relate to your business. Just about every small business should use an accountant to ensure that taxes are filed properly.

Keep records however possible

In addition to the record-keeping system you develop either on your computer or in a ledger, it is important to keep all receipts and paperwork related to those records. These receipts and paperwork will not only augment the quality of your record-keeping to help you remember what your payments were for, but they will also be requested by an auditor in the event that your business is ever audited.

Keep paper copies of all of your invoices, receipts, bank deposit slips, cash register receipts, credit card charge clips, and anything else. It may also be helpful to you if you take notes on your records. For example, if you take a client out to a meal, that meal becomes tax-deductible. You may want to include a note on the receipt for the meal in order to jog your memory when it comes time for you to tally your receipts and expenses.

Small business owners need to be sure that their records are not only complete, but that they are as accurate as possible. Not only is accuracy important for your own finances, but if you are ever audited, you may be penalized if you cannot prove that an expense was for a business-related purpose. Therefore, it is wise to take the time now to develop your record-keeping system and habits so that you can be prepared for an easier tax season.

Good luck and we hope you found some value from this free tax help!

Money Market Funds Advantages and Disadvantages

money market funds advantages and disadvantages

In recent years, money market fund investments have become increasingly popular as investors have become increasingly risk-averse. Particularly, during the recent credit crisis, investors have discovered a sort of safer investments in money market funds as opposed to short-term bonds and traditional savings accounts. However, the drop of the share price of Reserve Primary Fund (RFIXX) below the $1 level (‘breaking the buck’) has shown that money market funds are not the safest of options for risk-averse investors.

Money market funds use the invested money to buy into a large pool of short-term bonds that may include corporate bonds, government bonds or municipal bonds. Unlike other investment vehicles such as stock and bond mutual funds that are subject to price fluctuations, money market funds maintain a net asset value (NAV) of $1.00 per share. This gives investors the feeling that money market mutual funds have virtually no risk.

Money market mutual funds were not supposed to lose their value. Their short-term nature (290 days) provides a considerable level of security against default because, typically, corporate difficulties do not arise in such a short period of time. Theoretically, if a company faces difficulties that would make lending to it a risky option, it would take more than 290 days for the money market mutual funds to exchange their securities at full value. Yet, the default of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the Internet bubble and the implosion of Enron are prominent examples of major companies that defaulted on their debt seemingly overnight.

Money market funds are risky because they are subject to different factors that can drive their price below $1 level. Breaking the buck implies that investors’ returns are less than the invested principal. Indeed, the price decline of the Reserve Primary Fund to 97 cents a share has shown that money market funds can lose their value and be as illiquid as any other mutual fund.

For 2010, analysts cannot estimate accurately when and if there will another surprise related to money market investments. However, there are some factors that are likely to contribute to money market funds ‘breaking the buck’ barrier, affecting their value.

In particular:

a) Company’s declining assets

Since mid-2009, capital markets have been on an uptrend bull rally as many companies reported profits. On the other hand though, the banking sector continued to fail and job losses continued to mount across several industries. For 2010, the uncertainty is likely to limit investment, while new regulation for investor protection are likely to be implement throughout the year. In such an uncertain and turbulent environment, companies may not be profitable enough to sustain a net asset value of $1.00 in their bonds. If the company whose bonds the money market funds owns faces financial problems, the bonds’ value will decline causing a proportional decline in value in the funds owned by each shareholder.

b) Investors redeeming simultaneously

In majority, money market funds are invested in short-term bonds that have similar maturity dates. If a large number of investors redeem their money simultaneously, it will create a major problem of liquidity in the market that will cause loss in the value of money market funds. Large simultaneous redemptions could lead a money market fund to sell a part of its assets prior to their maturity date. This may cause a decline in the value of fund.

The truth of the matter is that ‘breaking the buck’ happens all the time. Investors may not realize it because it is not obvious, but considering that they spend their after-tax, after-inflation money, it is certain that by factoring in tax and inflation, money market funds lose their value. However, as this is more a technical thing, investors seek for the confidence level associated with the fact that the NAV will almost never fall below the $1 level.

Money market mutual funds diversify their short-term investments to protect investors against unexpected difficulties. In doing so, even if one company were to unpredictably default on its debt, the other investments would trade-off for those losses. Besides, in case of a widespread fluctuation in the short-term debt markets, the price of all short-term securities could drop considerably regardless of the financial situation of the individual companies that issued the debt. This explains the “breaking the buck” situation of 2008 where several money market mutual funds collapsed.

Investor expectations in relation to net asset value, particularly after years of consistent NAV, are that a major crisis is required to cause a severe fluctuation in the net asset value of money market funds. However, as investor confidence is shaken, it is possible that, in 2010, money market funds are not an option, unless investors feel protected under new regulations that will allow borrowing and investing with evident reassurance. The Treasury temporarily guaranteed money market mutual funds aiming to put off further investor confidence problems in the short-term debt markets. To that end, the Federal Reserve guarantee that was originally scheduled to expire in October, 2009 has been extended until February 1, 2010.

What Are Fixed Expenses Examples

What Are Fixed Expenses Examples

Fixed expenses are those that don’t vary from payment to payment. They may happen every month, every six months, or every year. An example is a car payment. Just because you don’t use the car for a month, the payment does not disappear or change; therefore, it is considered a fixed cost.

To find out what your fixed expenses are, look back to your assets and liabilities list. You will notice that, possibly, your fixed expenses make up a large percentage of your total liabilities.

The housing cost, mortgage or rent, is the number one fixed expense. This amount cannot be easily manipulated. Selling or refinancing the house is harder now than it was a few years ago. If you are renting, you may find a less expensive accommodation; however, if you leave earlier, chances are, you will incur in penalties.

A car payment might rank high on the list of your fixed expenses. This is also a cost not easily changed. It can be done, but a lot depends on your vehicle, its condition, its current value and the amount you have yet to pay.

Life, health, auto, and home insurances are another big part of your costs. Life insurance provides the surviving family with the financial stability in the event of a loss of life. Health insurance covers the individual or family when medical expenses occur. You may be purchasing health insurance through your employer, which is the best way to obtain coverage, or you may be providing it on your own. Mandatory auto insurance provides the driver with coverage in the event of an accident. Home insurance, mandatory for home owners with a loan on the property, covers the insured in the event of a partial or total loss of the home and/or its content. It might be possible to lower these insurance premiums.

One last fixed expense is generated by loans such as personal loans, and student loans. They could both possibly be modified, with a little bit of work.

All other expenses fall under the variable costs.

Utilities are the first costs to come to mind under this category. Water, electricity, and natural gas(unless living in an all-electric home) are expenses necessary for basic living conditions. The monthly amount will vary, unless you have set up the accounts under budged billing, in which case the billed amount stays the same independently of the monthly usage. With some creativity, these costs can be lowered.

Other miscellaneous home expenses are for such items and services you are accustomed to accessing but are not necessary for basic living. These costs include phones, dish or cable, Internet, exterminator, home alarms, and yard maintenance. These costs can be easily changed.

The remainder of the variable expenses makes up the rest of your liabilities.
These include food, gas in the vehicle, or public transportation, clothing, grooming, entertainment, and pet care.

While some of these fixed expenses might not be easily changed, the majority of these costs can be modified to help you gain control of your finances and achieve financial success.

Finding Financial Sucess

As you may have noticed, the economic events of the past couple of years, from job loss to housing market crash, have awakened an awareness of financial instability in most of the population worldwide. The job loss prediction made by the UN News Center in January 2008 became a reality which also carried over in 2009.

The economic outlook for 2010, as outlined by Business Wire, is not much better; among other things, they caution the public to not expect a quick and easy recovery. The possibility of an economic recovery with subsequent downturn is still very much existent.

Does this mean you should fold your arms, declare that all is lost, and wait for personal economic failure to strike? No. On the contrary, there are several things you can do to change your economic situation. Let’s start with step one.

1. Where Do I Stand Financially?

In order to evaluate your personal financial situation and create a plan for your financial security, you need to take a step back and assess your net worth. In few words, you need to find out how much money you have, after all your possessions and financial obligations have been taken into account.

These possessions are your assets. They are anything tangible you have: house, furniture, appliances and gadgets, clothing, car, books, movies. They are the spare coins you place in a jar, savings, money markets, stocks and bonds, and retirement funds. In short, anything you can sell, or liquidate, is an asset.

Your financial obligations are your liabilities. They consist of your expenses: mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance premiums, car loans, student loans, and any other types of payment you make. In short, a liability is any money you owe, either for a service, such as utilities, or goods, such as a car.

To assess your net worth, which is the difference between what you have and what you owe, you need to prepare a list of all your assets (possessions) and liabilities (financial obligations). Generally speaking, only major assets are part of the list, such as homes, cars, and jewelry; however, for this purpose, you need to think of anything you have that could provide you with a financial return, should you find yourself in need to sell it.

Prepare a list of all your possessions and their worth, starting with the most valuable one. You may search the Internet for ready made templates to fill out, or you can prepare your own, either on computer or using the old fashioned pen and paper method. If you choose the computer, an Excel spreadsheet will work best, as it will allow you to do calculations with ease.

Begin by listing the items vertically. Your home may be the first on the list, or perhaps your car might be. If you don’t own either, your furniture might be the number one. Whatever your most expensive material possession is, list it first. Continue with all the other items you have accumulated through the years. For example, you may have purchased, long time ago, a book collection of classic authors; list it. Continue with your inventory until all items that could give you a financial return have been listed.

Next, record their value. To assess their worth, you may need to do some research. What would that item cost if purchased used today? Naturally, you need to consider its condition. You also need to be conservative in assigning its value. Don’t appraise something over its actual worth. Some items may gain value with time, such as a home or an autographed first edition of a book from someone famous. Other items lose value with time and use, such as a vehicle or a computer.

When you are finished listing your assets, it is time to list your liabilities. Begin with the most expensive item you have. It may be your mortgage or rent, it may be the car payment, or it may be another type of loan. Continue your list until all of your debts have been recorded.

Remember to list any insurance you may have: home, health, life, and auto. List all of your utilities and other home bills. Go through your checkbook and bank account to make sure you have recorded all. Did you remember to include the exterminator? What about the yard service?

Last step is to calculate your net worth. Add all your assets; add all your liabilities; subtract the two figures. If your assets are more than your liabilities you have a positive net worth. But don’t rest on your laurels quite yet. There is still room for creating an extra savings cushion.

If your liabilities are more than your assets, you have a negative net worth. But you need not despair, should you owe more than you have.

Empowering Your Employees

The flat organizational model embraces the principles of flexibility, interpersonal communication and organizational learning. The conceptions of decision-making, problem solving and communication are interrelated. In addition, the success of the organization that adheres to the principles of flat organizational structure heavily depends on interpersonal communication skills. Therefore, the methods used to prepare employees at all levels for shifts in individual and group decision-making responsibility that come with flat organizational model, are very important.

Employee empowerment is one of the most important conceptions in organizational psychology, as it is used to express the ways and methods in which the company’s employees can make decisions (autonomous and independent decisions) with consulting no manager, or other authority in the organization. In the companies with strong hierarchical structure the necessity to make autonomous decisions is not very high, as there is always a manager or another authority able to decide for the employees and provide the most efficient decision. At the same time, when it comes to the companies with flat organizational structure, the managers often prefer giving the employees the ability to make decisions on their own, as employee empowerment is conductive to effective leadership and effective communication, continuous improvement orientation, positive working environment, shared vision, and positive links to community. The flat organizational model is a key element of a successful company, as it values the employees, and considers the employees to be worthy of achieving personal recognition, fulfillment and satisfaction through employee empowerment, thus increasing loyalty and fostering ownership. In addition, flat organizational model provides the company with the ability to cultivate profound relationships, and allows the organization operating in more efficient way.

In such a way, in the company with flat organizational structure the managers focus attention on various methods and ways to prepare the workers at all levels for shifts in individual and group decision-making responsibility that come with flat organizational model. To put it differently, employee empowerment in such organizations is the process where the culture of empowerment is clearly stated and developed; all the employees have shared vision, clear goals and objectives, as well as clearly defined boundaries for decision making (either individual, or group); the results of their efforts are shared, the employee’s competency (either in the form of experience, or the form of training) is also developed, and the support (in the form of cultural support, mentoring, or encouragement) is provided.

The managers should implement effective procedures and policies, as they are communication tools providing the employees with consistent approach to accomplish their daily tasks. In addition, these procedures and policies facilitate the employees’ communication and daily work, and focus their attention on the most important things, required to achieve the shared goals. On this step, employee empowerment implies adequate training, shared vision, and communication of necessary information.

Training and coaching are important as they are able to remove the barriers to employee empowerment present in the company’s organizational structure, and provide the employees with skills and knowledge required for making better decisions. The managers of the company should learn to give up control, share information, and create autonomy and feedback by coaching and training employees and making sure that the employees have required authority to accomplish their tasks properly. Training and coaching also provides the employees with necessary resources and support, and when the employees are properly coached and trained, they make decisions more effectively.

Next, the employees should be able to convey the company’s management policy and shared vision. In case the employees know the company’s vision, they hesitate less while making decisions, either individually, or in group (Pett, 1994). Then, the managers should undertake all measures to improve communication between the employees, and run operations between the company’s departments efficiently.

Employee empowerment may also be implemented through self-managed work teams: problem solving teams, and work teams. While problem-solving team is created for temporary purposes, work teams tend to be created as a permanent team. The work team, therefore, comprises of a group of individuals (5-12 persons) with the authority they require to direct and manage their operations. Team activity is expected to enhance working conditions, and to provide employees with better opportunities for self-development, self-expression, and enhanced productivity of the company in general. Self-managed teams provide the employees with the responsibility of decision-making and initiating organizational changes with less supervision. This is also important, as empowering the employees to make (and implement) routine decisions, and empowering them to make organizational changes (such as procedures, rules, policies, the physical plant, or equipment and supplies) are the important parts of employee empowerment. In such a way, effective teamwork strategy is the effective tool for employee empowerment, as it results in greater cooperation and commitment, and allows the employees to be able to respond to and to solve complex problems quickly.

Finally, as it was already mentioned, the support (in the form of cultural support, mentoring, or encouragement) is important. The encouragement boosts morale and acknowledges the job well done, thus providing employees with confidence and control in their work.

Add Silver To Your Portfolio

There are a number of things an individual investor, unversed in bullion or commodities, needs to know before dropping a dime into physical bullion. The first major obstacle is the premium price charged to individuals for physical ownership. The second aspect is a general understanding of the silver market. Finally, an investor must have specific goals for investing in silver and other precious metals. It is not too late to buy silver, but you need to be armed with a little knowledge.

When an individual investor purchases a 1oz silver round or bar, the cost is far above spot metal price. Assume silver is at $17.50 per ounce. The cost to acquire one ounce, including premium and shipping or sales tax, may be as much as $23.00 per ounce. Small investments create huge spreads. Selling silver will net you slightly less than the spot metal price in most cases. Silver would need to rise considerably just to break even. A more sensible approach is to purchase 10oz or 100oz bars. A larger investment means a much lower price per ounce for the individual owner. Another cost to analyze is storage. Utilizing a bank safe deposit box eats at your investment via fees. Storing silver under the mattress is awfully uncomfortable. This leaves a safe as the best home storage option, and expensive investment. Know what you are really spending to acquire and store silver, then decide how to best approach meeting your goals.

The silver market has risen dramatically in the last year due to investment in silver based paper, and by direct physical bullion investments The silver market operates on a fractional system similar to banks. That means one ounce of vaulted silver might be covering many times that amount in paper investments. What is the eventual result of this system? Collapse will occur if silver consumption exceeds supply over the long term. This has already begun. Electronically traded silver is simply not matched by vault stores. The entire system is awash with price control attempts and manipulation, and possibly outright fraud. 2009 American Eagle silver rounds have been cancelled by the U.S. Mint. The main reason for this move is to limit silver prices. The U.S. Mint operates for-profit. Clearly, there is demand for U.S. Mint silver. The only reason for rationing and cancelling bullion issues is to avoid a run-up in price. There is no remaining cheap silver supply. The U.S. Government stores are effectively gone.

The goal in silver, as other precious metals, is as a hedge against inflation. An investment and physical delivery of silver is a bet against the U.S. dollar. Inflation caused by government spending will drive up prices over the long term. While the current jump in metal prices may ease considerably as the equities markets begin to recover, silver is an excellent investment for the long term. There is no longer a huge supply available to hold prices in check. Mining production is steady, but does not meet demand. Buy steady, take physical delivery, and hold on to your silver.

Understanding Capital Gains

It’s the end of the year and a new one’s just begun. We’re all interested in seeing the hope and opportunity for the year to come; we all want to make the most of the time we have. We need to be happy, we need to be healthy, and we need to make money. But what about last year; what about what was? We hear all manner of financial folks and talking heads yammering on and on about capital gains taxes, how to shelter tax deferred income, appreciation, deprecation, and so on. “That’s not anything I need to know about; I’m not one of those hot-shot Wall Street guys. I only have some mutual funds.” But what are capital gains? Who has to worry about capital gains? How can capital gains affect your situation? Where should you go to lean more? All interesting questions; with answers that may surprise you.

First of all we should be sure we’re talking about the same thing. From a “capital gain” is described as “an increase in value of a capital asset that gives it a higher worth than the purchase price.” What is a capital asset? All sorts of things: real estate, stocks, stamps, fine art, rare rugs, antiques, coins, precious metals, and other items you may have if you’re doing business out of your home; computers, desks, chairs, and copiers are just a few of the myriad of items which can be considered capital assets. While most of your business merchandise will depreciate in value, with other things that’s not always the case. If you snapped a Polaroid with Michael Jackson and got him to sign it in 2009, for example, that may be worth considerably more posthumously.

Capital gains are not realized until the asset is sold. If you have that Polaroid and you keep it until the signature has faded, the image has worn away, and you wait until a point in the future when the commodity is no longer particularly valuable, you will have waited too long. Just like stocks, the value of your asset is only relative to your capital gains until the time that it’s sold. It’s impossible to know if you’ve sold at the high point without the benefit of hindsight, so don’t break your neck about it.

Capital gains exist with stocks and mutual funds. If you are a mutual fund investor you should be aware of when your mutual fund distributes “capital gains.” When you’re investing in a mutual fund, you’re investing in a bundle of stocks and commodities. Depending on the type of fund you’re invested in, this will determine the mix of your fund. Typically towards the end of the year a mutual fund will sell off some profitable investments which will potentially drive down the share price of the mutual fund, but will also afford investors “capital gains.” These gains can be found on Form 1099-DIV; investors in mutual funds should be aware of this as capital gains are taxed at long term capital gains tax rates regardless of how long you’ve personally held shares of the fund.

Capital gains can become something of a nuisance for the inexperienced investor (granted, capital gains are preferable to capital losses) so if your situation is unclear it’s a good idea and well worth your time to sit down and talk with a tax professional. Getting hip to your capital gains situation can help you from having to pay the piper well on down the road.

DIY Home Staging Tip Sheet

If you’re trying to sell your home and are on a low budget, try some of these do-it-yourself tricks.

Exterior and Landscaping

To help sell your home, be sure the area that everyone notices when they pull in your driveway is clear of clutter. DIY tips for exterior:

* Make the front door/entrance area inviting

* Remove rust and paint from railing

* Pick up any clutter from the yard or sidewalk

* Weed flower beds, mow lawn, rake leaves and trim shrubs

* Remove personal items from porch or deck

* Give your mail box, front door, window ledges, shutters and down spouts some fresh paint

* Replace or repair shingles

* Boats should be kept in a garage or behind a fence

* Outdoor furniture on a deck is very appealing.

* Remove grass growing in concrete cracks

* Any area that is dirty or moldy, power wash it

* Consider adding mulch around flower beds and trees


* Place fresh flowers around the house or bake some cookies the day you will be showing the home

* If an item is not needed for your day to day life, box it up or get rid of it

* If you have many family pictures, it is best to remove some when showing your home. If it is too “personalized”, buyers cannot envision themselves in the home.

* Painting is one of the best ways to bring your house up to date. Play it safe by using white, cream, beige or pastel colors.

* Empty trash and ash trays


* Closets should be neat and organized

* People like storage space and if a closet is more than two thirds full it will appear that there is not adequate storage space

* Hang clothes neatly and organize shoes

* Place some cedar chips in closets


* Baseboards need to be dusted

* Replace worn vent covers

* Clean or replace carpet


* Bookshelves should be dusted and organized

* Stand a brass plate or something shiny on a dark bookcase

* Hide or get rid of worn-out throw pillows

* All beds should be made

Kitchen & Bathroom

* Remove magnets from refrigerator

* Remove small appliances or other items from the kitchen counter

* Replace any damaged caulk on sink, tub or counter

* Clean tile grout

* Straighten medicine cabinets; people like to take a peek

* Tighten or replace knobs or wobbly drawers

* Use window cleaner to make the faucets shine

* Replace any missing or damaged tiles

* Repair any leaking faucets

* All drains should be free flowing

Walls & ceilings

* Paint or stain woodwork

* Repair cracks in ceilings or walls

* If you have small nail holes, you can dab some toothpaste in the holes and let dry. For larger holes, you should use caulking.

Windows & Lighting

* If the view from a window isn’t attractive, hang a plant in front of the window

* Increase light bulb wattage to help brighten rooms

* Keep curtains open during daylight hours to use natural light

* Turn on enough lights so the home is well lit when showing the home

* Clear window ledges to give a clear view of the yard

* Curtains should be clean. If you have dark curtains, replace them with light colored curtains

A fact sheet is a strong marketing tool. It should include the total heated/cooled square footage, sizes of each room, as well as any additional information about the home that you feel is important. Talk to your Realtor about a fact sheet for your home.

Guide For Building A Diversified Investment Portfolio

Diversification is a time honored risk reduction method used in constructing investment portfolios. Usually it is recommended that the small investor own at least 5 stocks in 5 different sectors. While the concept is sound for the small or individual investor there are three problems. First, one may pick a stock that underperforms in an other wise strong sector. Second, stocks can be like time bombs. A major, unexpected blow up in one stock can lead to a major devastation of up to 20% of an investment portfolio. Third, working with individual stocks can be time consuming. To be done properly keeping up with developments in 5 stocks can take up 5-10 hours a week. That’s fine if you have the time, but if you have a demanding job and family it just may not be practical. Further, there are people who lack the temperament or skill set to properly research and utilize available information. For many people a practical alternative is called for.

One solution is to build a portfolio using closed end funds. Closed end funds have a fixed number of shares. Their price is determined by what people are willing to pay for them on the open market. They may trade at a premium or, more frequently, a discount to their net asset value per share.

Here is a sampling of closed end funds that could be used to build a diversified portfolio of closed end funds. Factual data is from and is accurate as of close of business 01/07/2010.

Tri-continental Symbol: Ty Price: $11.84
Established in 1929 this is the granddaddy of closed end funds. It invests primarily in large cap United States stocks. In a conservative portfolio it would probably be the largest holding.

Royce Value Trust Symbol: RVT Price: $11.13
This is a fund that invests in small cap United States stocks. Small cap stocks are a growth engine in a portfolio and typically about 20% of stock investment dollars would go into a fund like this.

Latin America Equity Fund Symbol: LAQ Price: $40.68
Foreign stocks should generally make up about 20% of a portfolio. It’s possible to invest in closed end funds that focus either on general regions or specific countries. The regional approach provides additional diversification.

Templeton Dragon Fund Symbol: TDF Price: $27.93
This fund invests in the Asia.

Central European And Russia Fund Symbol: CEE Price: $35.06
This fund invests in former Eastern block countries.

Spider S&P Emerging Middle East Fund. Symbol: GAF Price: $64.24
This fund invests in the Middle East and Africa. Investment opportunities in Africa are highly llimited and this is one way to play the last continent that is largely undevloped.

Cohen & Steers Total Return Real Estate Fund. Symbol: RFI Price:$9.75
This is fund that invests in a variety of real estate investment funds. About 10% of a portfolio belongs in real estate and this is way to diversify easily amongst numerous classes.

Full Disclosure: I am not employed in any fashion by any firm in the securities industry nor do I have a business relationship of any type with the companies mentioned. As of this writing I do have a small holding in LAQ. This is not an offer to buy or sell any security, nor is it a recommendation. These are simply my thoughts on these securities. Please consult your own investment advisor and research any security thoroughly before making any investment.