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Stop Junk Mail For Good With These 4 Steps

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Do you ever wish your snail mail came with a spam filter?

Your mailbox, once the place of joyous discoveries like a handwritten letter or an unexpected paper check from a distant relative, is now the site of unwanted clutter. What can you do to basically stop junk mail from annoying the living daylights out of you?

Here are four ways to reduce the volume of unwanted mail delivered by USPS:

1. Opt out of prescreened credit card and insurance offers.

Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit optoutprescreen.com and you can choose not to receive unsolicited offers for new credit cards and insurance. This free opt-out service is operated by the four major consumer reporting companies and generally gets high reviews for effectiveness ― unlike, say, the national Do Not Call Registry, which hasn’t stopped the proliferation of unsolicited spam calls.

Consumers can block prescreened credit card and insurance offers for either five years or permanently. To do so will require that you provide certain identifiers, including your Social Security number, birthdate and home telephone number. You can also reverse an opt-out, should you wish to receive offers again.

Keep in mind that these offers are more than just a paper annoyance: When preprinted with your personal information, they can pose a financial risk to you if your mail falls into the wrong hands, since a fraudster may be able to open accounts in your name without your knowledge. It isn’t the most popular form of identity theft around, but it does happen, says the Federal Trade Commission.

2. Tell the Data and Marketing Association to bug off.

Much of the junk mail we get is from members of the DMA, the largest U.S. data and marketing association. The DMA includes nonprofits and others who market goods and services directly to consumers. In 1971, the group launched DMAchoice as a way for recipients to screen what they want to get. The DMA will allow you to opt out of entire categories of mail, such as catalogs.

The program costs $2, but will block unwanted DMA mail for 10 years. It also offers registration for DMA’s eMail Preference Service, which reduces unsolicited commercial email.

Just keep in mind that not all unsolicited mail is evil or even unwanted. For example, if you just bought a home, you likely will start receiving a torrent of discount offers from home improvement, furniture or appliance stores. A 20 percent off coupon at Home Depot or Lowe’s or Target can come in handy, and the odds that you will be shopping in those stores are high. A new baby will likely lead to offers for discounts at baby and toy stores; a retirement will flood your mailbox with offers from cruise lines, financial planners, timeshare presentations and mortuaries. Yes, mortuaries.

There is evidence that this type of mail works, which means it isn’t going away anytime soon. Last year, more than 70 percent of Americans shopped direct, said the DMA. More than 80 percent of U.S. households read some or all of their advertising mail, and nonprofit organizations raised nearly $200 billion from donors through direct mail, the organization claims.

3. Ban smaller marketers and “prospect” catalogs.

While DMA may be the Goliath in the room, there are many scrappy smaller direct marketers. Valpak delivers those blue envelopes filled coupons and ads from local contractors and companies, and you can stop them from being sent to you with a few clicks. If you like some of their offerings, but don’t want them in your mailbox, you can still go to the site and print out just the coupons you intend to use. You can also unsubscribe from any RedPlum publication (now known as RetailMeNot Everyday).

If you receive junk mail from companies you’ve never bought anything from, you’re what is known as “a prospect,” and your name is on a list that’s sold or rented to companies trying to find new customers. However, if you have purchased something from a company in the past, you’re considered a customer, and there’s a good chance you may actually want them to keep sending you catalogs or discount coupons.

So basically, you want to be able to pick and choose the junk mail you actually want to receive. Catalogchoice.org is a free alternative to DMAchoice, and it allows you to unsubscribe from catalogs one at a time. It won’t unsubscribe you from catalogs and businesses you’re a customer of, but it will eliminate those for which you’re a prospect.

4. Do it yourself, piece by piece.

You can reduce the volume of credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers, donation requests, retail promotions, bank offers, and many other things. You cannot stop bills, statements, notices and political mailings, although many companies will allow you to switch to paperless billing and statements.

Political mailings can and will proliferate as Election Day nears, and there are no laws, regulations or opt-out mechanisms to prevent this from happening. One thing you can do is look near the bottom of the pamphlet or letter, since occasionally there will be a phone number you can contact to opt out of future mailings. Though political organizations are not obligated to provide an opt-out number, some still provide one.

The more cynical among us may take that postage-paid envelope intended for donations and return it with a note that we do not wish to receive further correspondence.

You can also download PaperKarma, an app that lets you take a photo of the unwanted mailing with your smartphone and then attempts to do all the unsubscribing work for you.



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This Is How Much You Should Save In Your Emergency Fund

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You might say Matt Matheson is the perfect picture of stability.

As a full-time educator, he enjoys great benefits and job security. He also runs a successful freelance writing and blogging business. He’s married with two healthy children, “one who’s potty training right now, which is the biggest ‘emergency’ I typically have to face on a daily basis,” he said. And yet, Matheson is no stranger to financial disasters.

Over the last seven years, Matheson estimates his family has averaged one $1,000 emergency every year. “One time it was the water heater, and another it was an unfortunate incident involving our laptop and some piping hot coffee (it didn’t end well for the laptop),” he said. “We’ve had unexpected deaths in the family requiring expensive flights, car repairs that went way beyond what we had budgeted for and an iPhone die an untimely death in a mug of hot tea.”

The one thing that saved his family’s finances each time? An emergency fund.

Matheson said having emergency cash on hand made covering these expenses way less stressful. “It also gave me a sense of financial empowerment and pride knowing that I had planned and executed a strategy to protect my family from financial hardships,” he said.

But despite the many benefits of having an emergency fund, many people don’t. In fact, nearly a quarter of Americans have no emergency savings at all and only 39 percent could cover an emergency of $1,000.

“It’s not a question of if you’ll have an emergency, it’s a question of when.”

– Rachel Cruze

Maybe that includes you. If so, don’t worry ― it’s never too late to build up an emergency savings account. Here’s how much you should aim to save.

What’s the right amount for an emergency fund?

Depending on whom you ask, the “perfect” emergency fund can come in different sizes. But one thing all experts agree on is that you need something set aside for unexpected expenses. “It’s not a question of if you’ll have an emergency, it’s a question of when,” said Rachel Cruze, a New York Times best-selling author and personal finance expert. “It’s important to build an emergency fund so that you’re not tempted to rely on debt when life happens. And trust me, it will happen!”

The generally accepted principle for an emergency fund is three to six months of after-tax living expenses, according to Mike D’Andrea, a financial planner and chartered financial consultant. He also said those funds should be saved in a stable, liquid interest-bearing account. That means you shouldn’t tie up your emergency savings in the stock market or illiquid assets like property; it should be readily available in a savings account that still lets you earn a bit of interest, too.

And although three to six months of expenses is the general standard, that might not be the right amount for everyone. Often, the size of your emergency fund should be based on your particular lifestyle and financial situation.

Here’s a look at how much you should have socked away if you fall into one of these circumstances.

How much to save if…

Digging yourself out of debt can be a vicious cycle. You put every dollar you have available toward paying it off, and just when you’re about to become debt-free, a major expense hits. Now you have to borrow money again to cover the cost.

That’s why you should focus on building a small emergency fund before you think about tackling your debt. “If you have debt, the first thing you need to do is build a $1,000 starter emergency fund,” Cruze said. “Having this emergency fund in place will help to avoid the temptation to go further into debt to cover any surprise expenses.” Once you’re truly debt-free, you can go back to focusing on fully funding your emergency fund.

You’re the sole earner

If you have a partner or family member who contributes to the household income, financial emergencies can be easier to manage. But if you’re the sole breadwinner, “that income is more vulnerable,” D’Andrea said. “Six months would be the ideal minimum liquidity reserve in this situation.”

Your income is inconsistent

If you work seasonally, on commission, a contract or freelance basis, or rely on bonuses for compensation, your income likely fluctuates month to month. It can be harder to predict your income and expenses. In this case, it’s a good idea to have a bit more set aside for emergencies. “Some of those individuals may feel more comfortable with six to 12 months of accessible funds,” D’Andrea said.

You’re self-employed

“The benefits of self-employment are vast and for another letter, but one of the benefits that are typically lacking are, well, benefits,” D’Andrea said. Working for yourself can make it more difficult and expensive to get the same benefits you would under a group plan, such as disability insurance and life insurance. “Also, you are likely to be responsible for other people’s income and may have to forgo paying yourself to pay staff.” For these reasons, D’Andrea recommends setting aside at least six months’ worth of living expenses so you have more flexibility and peace of mind while running your business.

How to get your emergency fund started

Building up an emergency fund from scratch might seem overwhelming at first. But if you focus on taking small steps, your fund will grow over time. After all, the longer you wait, the longer it will take. Here are a few things you can do to get started right away.

1. Follow a zero-based budget. According to Cruze, the easiest way to build up your emergency fund is by having a solid budget. “I recommend doing a zero-based budget, which means that your income minus your expenses equals zero each month,” she said. “Tell every dollar where to go.” By following this method, you’ll quickly see the areas where you’re overspending and could be doing something better with your money, like building an emergency fund. Cruze uses an app called EveryDollar to manage her budget; you can also try others such as Mint, YNAB or Mvelopes.

2. Increase your income. There’s only so much scrimping and saving you can do, but there’s no cap on how much you can increase your income. “Maybe you work a little overtime, pick up a part-time job or start a side-hustle,” Cruze said. “There are probably household items you don’t need that you could sell for some quick cash, too!” Remember that you don’t have to hustle forever. The situation can be temporary as you work to build up your fund.

3. Create a separate account. Cruze said it’s important to separate your emergency fund from your day-to-day checking and savings accounts. “You’ll be tempted to spend it for non-emergencies and take a little bit here and there.” Instead, she recommends setting up a completely different savings or money market account. “That way it’s accessible, but not so accessible that you’re tempted to dip into it when you don’t really need to,” Cruze said.

4. Automate your savings. The physical act of transferring money from your checking account to your emergency savings account can be mentally painful. So painful that you might be tempted to skip a transfer when money is looking tight. But if you automate the process, either by setting up a direct deposit from your paycheck to your savings or an automatic transfer between bank accounts, you won’t have to watch it happen. In fact, you may not even miss the money.



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This Is How Much You Should Save In Your Emergency Fund

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You might say Matt Matheson is the perfect picture of stability.

As a full-time educator, he enjoys great benefits and job security. He also runs a successful freelance writing and blogging business. He’s married with two healthy children, “one who’s potty training right now, which is the biggest ‘emergency’ I typically have to face on a daily basis,” he said. And yet, Matheson is no stranger to financial disasters.

Over the last seven years, Matheson estimates his family has averaged one $1,000 emergency every year. “One time it was the water heater, and another it was an unfortunate incident involving our laptop and some piping hot coffee (it didn’t end well for the laptop),” he said. “We’ve had unexpected deaths in the family requiring expensive flights, car repairs that went way beyond what we had budgeted for and an iPhone die an untimely death in a mug of hot tea.”

The one thing that saved his family’s finances each time? An emergency fund.

Matheson said having emergency cash on hand made covering these expenses way less stressful. “It also gave me a sense of financial empowerment and pride knowing that I had planned and executed a strategy to protect my family from financial hardships,” he said.

But despite the many benefits of having an emergency fund, many people don’t. In fact, nearly a quarter of Americans have no emergency savings at all and only 39 percent could cover an emergency of $1,000.

“It’s not a question of if you’ll have an emergency, it’s a question of when.”

– Rachel Cruze

Maybe that includes you. If so, don’t worry ― it’s never too late to build up an emergency savings account. Here’s how much you should aim to save.

What’s the right amount for an emergency fund?

Depending on whom you ask, the “perfect” emergency fund can come in different sizes. But one thing all experts agree on is that you need something set aside for unexpected expenses. “It’s not a question of if you’ll have an emergency, it’s a question of when,” said Rachel Cruze, a New York Times best-selling author and personal finance expert. “It’s important to build an emergency fund so that you’re not tempted to rely on debt when life happens. And trust me, it will happen!”

The generally accepted principle for an emergency fund is three to six months of after-tax living expenses, according to Mike D’Andrea, a financial planner and chartered financial consultant. He also said those funds should be saved in a stable, liquid interest-bearing account. That means you shouldn’t tie up your emergency savings in the stock market or illiquid assets like property; it should be readily available in a savings account that still lets you earn a bit of interest, too.

And although three to six months of expenses is the general standard, that might not be the right amount for everyone. Often, the size of your emergency fund should be based on your particular lifestyle and financial situation.

Here’s a look at how much you should have socked away if you fall into one of these circumstances.

How much to save if…

Digging yourself out of debt can be a vicious cycle. You put every dollar you have available toward paying it off, and just when you’re about to become debt-free, a major expense hits. Now you have to borrow money again to cover the cost.

That’s why you should focus on building a small emergency fund before you think about tackling your debt. “If you have debt, the first thing you need to do is build a $1,000 starter emergency fund,” Cruze said. “Having this emergency fund in place will help to avoid the temptation to go further into debt to cover any surprise expenses.” Once you’re truly debt-free, you can go back to focusing on fully funding your emergency fund.

You’re the sole earner

If you have a partner or family member who contributes to the household income, financial emergencies can be easier to manage. But if you’re the sole breadwinner, “that income is more vulnerable,” D’Andrea said. “Six months would be the ideal minimum liquidity reserve in this situation.”

Your income is inconsistent

If you work seasonally, on commission, a contract or freelance basis, or rely on bonuses for compensation, your income likely fluctuates month to month. It can be harder to predict your income and expenses. In this case, it’s a good idea to have a bit more set aside for emergencies. “Some of those individuals may feel more comfortable with six to 12 months of accessible funds,” D’Andrea said.

You’re self-employed

“The benefits of self-employment are vast and for another letter, but one of the benefits that are typically lacking are, well, benefits,” D’Andrea said. Working for yourself can make it more difficult and expensive to get the same benefits you would under a group plan, such as disability insurance and life insurance. “Also, you are likely to be responsible for other people’s income and may have to forgo paying yourself to pay staff.” For these reasons, D’Andrea recommends setting aside at least six months’ worth of living expenses so you have more flexibility and peace of mind while running your business.

How to get your emergency fund started

Building up an emergency fund from scratch might seem overwhelming at first. But if you focus on taking small steps, your fund will grow over time. After all, the longer you wait, the longer it will take. Here are a few things you can do to get started right away.

1. Follow a zero-based budget. According to Cruze, the easiest way to build up your emergency fund is by having a solid budget. “I recommend doing a zero-based budget, which means that your income minus your expenses equals zero each month,” she said. “Tell every dollar where to go.” By following this method, you’ll quickly see the areas where you’re overspending and could be doing something better with your money, like building an emergency fund. Cruze uses an app called EveryDollar to manage her budget; you can also try others such as Mint, YNAB or Mvelopes.

2. Increase your income. There’s only so much scrimping and saving you can do, but there’s no cap on how much you can increase your income. “Maybe you work a little overtime, pick up a part-time job or start a side-hustle,” Cruze said. “There are probably household items you don’t need that you could sell for some quick cash, too!” Remember that you don’t have to hustle forever. The situation can be temporary as you work to build up your fund.

3. Create a separate account. Cruze said it’s important to separate your emergency fund from your day-to-day checking and savings accounts. “You’ll be tempted to spend it for non-emergencies and take a little bit here and there.” Instead, she recommends setting up a completely different savings or money market account. “That way it’s accessible, but not so accessible that you’re tempted to dip into it when you don’t really need to,” Cruze said.

4. Automate your savings. The physical act of transferring money from your checking account to your emergency savings account can be mentally painful. So painful that you might be tempted to skip a transfer when money is looking tight. But if you automate the process, either by setting up a direct deposit from your paycheck to your savings or an automatic transfer between bank accounts, you won’t have to watch it happen. In fact, you may not even miss the money.



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The Dos and Don’ts Of Holiday Tipping, According To An Etiquette Expert

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’Tis the season for giving. But how much? And to whom?

According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 60 percent of respondents gave holiday tips to one or more service providers last year. The average tip was $45 ― up $5 from the prior year ― and housekeepers received the highest gratuities.

Even so, holiday tips aren’t necessarily expected. And your budget might not allow for a ton of extra spending around Christmas time.

We spoke with Heather Wiese-Alexander, an etiquette expert and founder of luxury stationer bell’INVITO, about who should get a holiday tip and how much you should give.

Holiday Tipping Etiquette

Wiese-Alexander said that when it comes to holiday tips, there are usually a couple of common concerns. One occurs when you have the cash available to be generous this holiday season, but you aren’t sure what tip amount is considered too little versus way too much. The other crops up when your budget is pretty tight and you need to know what the absolute musts are, as well as what you can skip.

“Be realistic about who you tip,” Wiese-Alexander said. “Who makes your life easier on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?” In other words, you don’t necessarily need to give a holiday tip to the stylist who trims your ends every six months. But your child’s nanny? Probably.

Holiday Tips Guide

Wiese-Alexander explained that as a general rule of thumb, an appropriate holiday tip is one week’s pay or one extra session, depending on the service. Gift cards can also be a solid choice, as long as they’re for a place the receiver actually frequents, such as Target or Starbucks. Below is a list of common service providers and the typical range tippers can expect to pay if they so choose:

Your doorman: If you live in a building with a doorman, you should base the tip on the value of your living space, according to Wiese-Alexander. Usually, that’s around $25-$100. “If you’re in a penthouse, go big or go home, so to speak. This person puts up with a lot more than you may realize.”

Maintenance workers: If you want to extend a tip to the maintenance workers in your building, office or home, a cash gift of $25 along with a hand-written note of appreciation goes a long way, said Wiese-Alexander. Someone like the building superintendent should get more: around $100-$200, taking into consideration the price of your home.

Outdoor help: For those who work on your lawn, garden or pool, a tip of $25-$50 is appropriate.

Janitorial service providers: Trash collectors and workplace janitors can receive $10-$20.

Gift wrappers, luggage porters and baggage handlers: Tip $1-$2 per person at minimum, up to $5 per person if you’re feeling generous.

Personal care providers: If you regularly visit a personal trainer, hairstylist, barber, nail technician, massage therapist or other one-on-one specialist, you should tip the value of one extra session.

Dry cleaners: “Here is where a gift card or homemade goods feels more thoughtful,” Wiese-Alexander said. Many are business owners, which are traditionally not tipped, so cash can seem impersonal.

Assistant: If you work with an assistant who’s gone above and beyond their day-to-day duties ― and they’re not already receiving a bonus ― a holiday tip of $50 minimum or up to a week’s pay is much appreciated.

Child care providers: “A personal gratitude moment here means the world to most people caring for your little ones,” Wiese-Alexander said. A tip of $50 to $75 per person is great. An added note of appreciation is even better.

Pet care: “Yes, they are children, too, but they usually don’t carry the same attitude or maintenance (unless they do—you know who you are),” Wiese-Alexander said. A $20 holiday tip is nice, while $50 is lovely.

Mail and package carriers: There are rules around what mail carriers can and can’t accept. Generally, they’re not allowed to accept cash tips or gifts worth more than $20. “Hand-written notes and goodies are perfect here … think warmth: maybe a hat, gloves, scarf or something thoughtful you baked,” Wiese-Alexander said.

Who Should Not Receive A Holiday Tip?

Before you get too generous, know that it’s inappropriate ― sometimes even illegal ― to tip certain people. Salaried professionals such as doctors, therapists, dentists and other medical care providers should not receive any cash. If you really want to show your appreciation, “edible goodies for the medical field are usually welcome. Notes are always appreciated,” Wiese-Alexander said.

The same goes for your your boss or supervisors. You should really avoid gifts of any kind. “Appreciation in the form of a hand-written note is most appropriate,” Wiese-Alexander said. “If you know of a thoughtful small token, feel free to give, but anything more can be perceived as sucking up.”

Tips Are Appreciated, But Not Expected

Admittedly, the difficulty in these types of general guidelines is that it’s hard to adjust for different financial situations. At the end of the day, you should tip relative to where you fall on the lifestyle meter, according to Wiese-Alexander. “It may be tougher on your mind, but it’s much easier on your wallet.”

Giving tips during the holidays isn’t about the money. It’s about showing appreciation for the people who provide you invaluable services throughout the year. Tips are appreciated, of course, but if you don’t want to spend a lot on holiday tips, “the simple gesture of writing a heartfelt note with a couple of genuinely personal references is pure gold,” she said.



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