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  • America’s Spring Traditions and Rituals

    The following is a guest post from Jenna, a freelance writer who most often writes about personal finance, business, and investments. You can read more personal finance writing by Jenna at paidtwice.com. Consideration was received for the editing and publishing of this post.

    Spring may well be the most welcome seasonal change of the year. Depending upon where in the U.S. you live, you might see signs of spring as early as March or as late as May. In the southeast, there is always a slight chance of a late season snow storm, but typically the first week of March is the last of the cold weather.

    In the more northern states, the first of April is a more reliable indicator of spring. The Rocky Mountains and Greater Northwest sometimes see snow in April, but by May most of the U.S. has bid farewell to snow and hello to the bright green of emerging grasses and leaves. As the temperatures slowly climb and the days get longer, plants, flowers and farm animals are the most obvious signs of spring’s arrival. As trees begin budding, flowers start blooming in small waves of colors and shapes.

    Crocus are usually the first to poke through the earth, followed by daffodils, jonquils and dandelions. Next, the lilies, tulips and iris arrive, in a bright palette of colors, from white to yellow to orange and purple. Easter arrives in the midst of many blooms, and many of the seasonal flowers are associated with legends and symbolism of the resurrection of Christ.

    Probably the most symbolic Easter flower is the white Easter Lily, often shown in drawings to be growing at the foot of the cross. It is said that the lily sprang forth from the ground where Christ’s sweat had fallen in his final hours on the cross. There are other religious legends and traditions involving the Easter Lily, and it is popular in churches with dozens of potted lilies lining the altars and pulpits. For even the non-religious, the white Easter Lily symbolizes innocence, virtue, hope and the emergence of spring. Many families gather on Easter Sunday for a day together and a shared traditional meal of baked ham, scalloped potatoes and hot cross buns.

    Family members who might not be able to attend due to distance or other obligations may actually consider Proflowers for ordering an Easter dinner centerpiece to be delivered with their regrets, or to send a potted Easter Lily to their church in their absence. Many American children receive gifts of candy and toys in Easter baskets brought by the Easter Bunny.

    Many participate in Easter egg hunts and other festivities, either at churches, community centers or at home. Easter bonnets are another Easter tradition that has been observed for hundreds of years, surviving even the Great Depression. Women are able to take advantage of the end of Lent by buying luxury items like their Easter outfit, and new clothes are symbolic of renewal, the underlying theme of Easter.

    Most Easter hats for girls and women are fancy straw or felt based hats adorned with ribbons and flowers. Going shopping for a special Easter outfit was taken very seriously. The Easter dress for many was the fanciest dress they ever wore throughout childhood until they bought a prom gown in high school.

    Another Spring tradition is deep cleaning the home by dedicating several days to “Spring Cleaning.” This is especially important in homes with harsh winters. When the warmer weather allows opening the doors and windows, carpets, drapes and upholstered furniture is shaken or aired out. The house is scrubbed from top to bottom, closets cleaned out, and seasonal clothes are rotated.

    When The Call of Duty is Frequent and Scattered

    The following is a guest post from Jenna, a freelance writer who most often writes about personal finance, business, and investments. Jenna has been writing online for a few years now and loves to apply her financial knowledge to everyday things like families and small businesses. You can read more personal finance writing by Jenna at paidtwice.com. Consideration was received for the editing and publishing of this post.

    The average station commitment for a military family is two years. This means that every twenty-four months (sometimes even more frequently than that), the family has to sort through, pack up, move, unpack and replace major possessions. It’s rough on even the toughest people. Here are some tips that will help you and your family get through it:

    Minimalism Is the New PackRat

    One thing that moving that often teaches you is how to stay detached from your possessions. Why not take that detachment even further and use it as an impetus to not buy things you don’t need in the first place? Living a minimalist lifestyle isn’t as difficult or as constricting as it used to be. Military families might find that, thanks to streaming media and extensive library systems, they do not need nearly as many things as they thought they did.

    By only buying the things you truly need to survive, you won’t have to worry about sorting through and having to say goodbye to a bunch of stuff every time you move.

    Storage Spaces Can Help Save Marriages and Money

    If a military couple learns they are going to be stationed in say, Dallas, they could try a minimalist experiment. Instead of looking for a bigger home they could find some storage in Dallas and live in a much smaller home or apartment. This can help the family save money, have less clutter, and perhaps discover that they can live with less. Plus, everything in storage should be packaged already so the next move will be much easier.

    Embrace the Internet

    When talking about the constant moving that military families need to do, most articles focus on the mechanics of the moving process. We’re going to shift from that and talk about the emotional aspect of this nomadic lifestyle. Moving to a new place, finding friends, getting attached and then having to move is difficult on even the most stoic of individuals. But, thanks to the Internet, keeping friendships alive in spite of great physical distances is easier than ever.

    Make sure kids understand and have access to email and child-friendly social media portals. This way they can stay in touch with long-distance friends quickly and easily. You might also introduce the idea of being “pen pals” via snail mail, which lots of kids still find fun. Create room in your budget for frequent phone calls and maybe even a couple of trips to visit or have old friends come visit in the new space.

    Being in the military involves sacrifices. It is a noble lifestyle to opt in to and your country appreciates everything you give up to keep it safe. Still, having some tips (like those listed in this article) to help you with the practicalities of the lifestyle will hopefully make some of the less fun parts of the lifestyle more bearable.

    Three Ways to Make Saving for College Simple

    Thanks to RBS Citizens Financial Group for this informative sponsored post. You can read the full CFO disclosure policy here.

    As a parent, one of the most important things you can do for your child is help pave their way into the future – and for most that will mean getting a college education. With education costs on the rise, establishing your college savings plans as early as possible is extremely important. Consider setting up a designated college savings account that will accumulate interest on your hard earned contributions. Here are three things you can do to make saving for college easier for you and your family:

    1. Start college savings plans early. When it comes to setting aside money for your child’s education, you cannot begin too early. Many parents wisely start funneling money into an account designed to fund their child’s future long before first words are even spoken.
    2. Put money into a college savings account on a regular basis. No matter how you want to save money for your child’s education, you should try to put money into the account with each paycheck. Designate an amount that you are comfortable setting aside and have it automatically deposited into the account of your choice. Some popular college savings accounts include:
      • Traditional savings accounts: Although it may not be specifically designated as a “college savings account”, an interest bearing savings account at your bank is really all you need to start a monthly habit of investing in your child’s future. Ask your bank about features like automatic savings account transfers, which can help you to commit to paying yourself first every pay period.
      • 529 accounts: Maybe the most well known method of saving for college, 529 college savings accounts provide college savings with a tax advantage. Money can grow in the account tax-deferred and all money saved in the account can be withdrawn by the beneficiary of the account tax-free as long as it’s being applied to qualified higher education expenses.
      • College savings account: Making monthly contributions into a college savings account provides you regular savings with interest, and some banks even offer incentives for regular contributions.
    3. Add high interest savings accounts into your college savings plan. One way to add even more money to your college savings plan is to utilize high interest savings accounts. Take a portion of what you’ve been saving for college and transfer it into a high yield account for an amount of time you are comfortable with. This will give you the opportunity to earn a bit more on your money, and diversify your savings portfolio.
      • Certificates of deposit: Opening a certificate of deposit (CD) for your children can provide them with a high interest way of saving for college that will continue to accumulate interest every term it is renewed. If desired, after the date of maturity funds can be removed from the CD and invested into an alternative savings product or used for other educational needs.
      • Money market accounts: For high interest savings with a slight bit more flexibility than CDs when it comes to withdrawals, money markets can be an attractive college savings account alternative.

    Start making college savings plans today

    Just the fact that you are thinking about saving for your child’s college career shows that you are on the right track. If you are ready to get started, a good first step is to visit your bank and talk through the options available to you. Commit yourself to regular contributions and know that you are well on your way to helping your child open doors in the future.

    Long-Distance Long-Term Care

    This post is sponsored by Genworth Financial. All opinions are my own. Read the full CFO disclosure policy here.

    As I’ve mentioned before, long-term care is something I think about because I see my parents and my in-laws dealing with issues related to long-term care with their parents. We’ve previously discussed what long-term care insurance is, whether and when to buy long-term care insurance, the cost of long-term care, and finding help for caregivers.

    But what if you don’t live near your loved one who needs care? This is a very real and personal concern of mine, because my mother doesn’t live near her mother, and I don’t live particularly close to my parents. My mother is lucky enough to have a sister who lives with their mom, so my grandmother is really well taken care of – but even then, it’s difficult. My aunt has to see when my mom is available to visit in order to plan her overnight trips for work, and it’s difficult for my mom to step in for my aunt since she’s not there all the time and disrupts their routine.

    I’m an only child, so I won’t have a sibling or two (or more) to share the caregiving with. And being many miles apart makes me wonder if I’ll be able to adequately care for my parents when they need me. I always have the option of moving them closer to me, of course, but I wouldn’t want to do that if it went against their wishes.

    Fortunately, there are some resources to help plan – and that seems to be the real key: planning. The AARP has a great recommendation for creating a “Care Notebook” with all of the important information – doctors’ contact info, medical history, community resources, and so on. There’s a more detailed list of tips for long-distance caregiving, and a searchable list of caregivers by region so you can find someone in the area of your loved one. And has emphasized the importance of preparing for a future that includes aging parents.

    I’m lucky enough that my parents are in good health, and I should have years in which to get ready for my role as a possible long-distance, long-term caregiver. But the time to start preparing is now.

    Five Tips to Vacation on a Budget

    Thanks to RBS Citizens Financial Group for this informative sponsored post. You can read the full CFO disclosure policy here.

    Desperate for a getaway but wondering how to pay for it? Arranging a vacation on a budget can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Create a budget for your family vacation, and start saving money each month for your next big trip. In the meantime, consider planning a cheap weekend vacation with your family, and follow these tips and budget vacation ideas.

    1. Create a budget for family vacations: Using a spreadsheet tool, outline the expenses for your trip. To do this, you’ll need to decide where and when you want to go. Don’t forget to include the costs of the following items:

    • Wardrobe: Will you need a new swimsuit or summer dress? A new ski parka?
    • Passport fees: If you’re going out of the country, be sure to get updated passports for the whole family.
    • Toiletries: Buying travel size items can get expensive. Instead, choose a bag to check, and pack enough toiletries for the family.
    • Camera: Will you need disposable underwater cameras? Don’t forget about extra batteries and a memory card for your digital camera.
    • Travel fare: Save enough for plane tickets, rental cars, buses, trains, gas or public transportation.
    • Activities: Plan out what you want to do before you go. Budget enough for these activities and the cost of any rental equipment required.

    2. Book early: If you’re going to fly, book as early as possible. If you can fly mid-week or on a red-eye, it’s typically cheaper. Get a credit card that will earn you frequent flier miles, and start racking up the savings.

    3. Travel during the off-season: One of the best ideas for a vacation on a budget is to travel during the off-season to save money on flights and accommodations. Plus, you won’t find your destination overrun by tourists. Consider Ireland in February, Jamaica in April, Las Vegas in August and Lake Tahoe in November.

    4. Take short day or weekend trips instead of extravagant vacations: You might be surprised how many scenic parks, historical sites and other places of interest are right in your backyard.

    5. Choose economic accommodations: When you’re planning a cheap vacation, consider splitting the cost of accommodations and meals with another family through a timeshare or vacation rental. Other options include home exchange, hostels or home stays, but be sure you thoroughly research these options. Finally, camping equipment may be expensive up front, but it can provide cheap vacation accommodations for several years.

    Budget for your family vacation by opening a savings account

    Take advantage of the above budget vacation ideas to save money during your trip, but remember that even planning a cheap vacation starts by opening a savings account. Look for an account that provides you with tools like automatic transfers and goal tracking to help you reach your savings goals. With the right tools in place, you’ll watch your savings grow – fast. To give your savings plan an additional boost, you may want to consider money market accounts or other high-yield savings options that can provide a greater return on your investment. Find a savings account that meets your needs, and set aside money each month so you have enough cash for your vacation expenses when the time comes.

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