Plan Well, Retire Well Saving and investing your money Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 To Freeze or Not Freeze My Credit Report? Thu, 14 Sep 2017 07:33:00 +0000 With the recent data breach at Equifax, a credit bureau company, you may be wondering whether you should freeze your credit report. I am one of the people Equifax has identified as "potentially impacted" by the data breach so I've been pondering my actions.

First, what is a credit freeze?

A credit freeze stops the credit bureau from releasing your credit report or any information from it, except in certain exceptions. For example, companies you currently have loans with and collection agencies can still receive your report.

This means that someone who wants to use your identity to borrow money – even if they have your name and Social Securing number, probably won't be able to obtain credit in your name.

What are the advantages of a credit freeze?

  • Makes identity theft, which involves borrowing money, much less likely.
  • Will not lower your credit score.
  • You can still request and see your credit report.

What are the disadvantage?

It may cost you $10 to place the freeze. If you're a victim of identity theft (requires a police report or other documentation) or at least 65 years old, it's free. (These costs may be different in places other than Illinois.)

If you want to borrow money (for example, apply for a new credit card) you have to lift the freeze first. In addition, because credit reports are used by businesses other than lenders, the credit freeze may interfere with other things such as

  • changing insurance policies,
  • renting housing, and
  • signing up for new utilities or phone service.

It will cost you $10 to lift the freeze temporarily or permanently.

It may take up to three business days to lift the freeze.

How do you freeze your credit report?

You must request a freeze at each of the three credit bureaus. Each will charge a fee.

If you're married, you need to freeze both your and your spouse's credit reports to protect your identity.

For detailed information about how to place a credit freeze, go to the Illinois Attorney General's resource, Placing a Freeze on a Credit Report.

What to do?

That's the facts of a credit freeze. Whether or not you want a credit freeze is a personal decision. I'll be writing more about identity theft and how it has affected my family in future posts -- so stay tuned in!

The FTC has issued this statement about the Equifax data breach, and their recommendations, The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do. Take time to read this and consider what you want to do.

2-day training for agencies working with limited resource audiences on financial management Mon, 11 Sep 2017 16:45:00 +0000 Does your agency work with low to moderate income clients on debt management, budgeting, or understanding financial products like payday loans and prepaid debit card? University of Illinois Extension's All My Money: Change for the Better curriculum was created for you!

All My Money: Change for the Better is designed so that social workers, counselors, instructors and others can teach financial literacy topics even if they do not personally have expertise in financial management.

On October 12 & 13, we will be offering a train-the-trainer class at the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Chicago for agencies who would like to use this program with their clientele. Another training will be offered on Dec. 5 & 6 in Champaign, IL.

This 2-day training is hands-on. You will experience all of the core activities of the program, and you will teach portions of it to your peers in the training. You'll be fully prepared to teach any of the lessons at the end of the two days. The training fee includes all of the materials you would receive if you purchased the curriculum separately (Resource Box filled with activity materials, plus PDF files of all lessons, handouts, and other materials on a USB drive), plus you'll get a full-color hard copy of the curriculum in a 3-ring binder. The cost of the training, including all materials, is $230.

For more details or to register:

Ways to save:

  • Bring a 2nd person from your organization or site, share a single copy of the curriculum, and pay just $115 for the 2nd person. Contact the instructor for your training to get the discount code.
  • If you have already purchased the 2016 edition of All My Money: Change for the Better, you pay just $80 for the training. We discount your training by the amount you paid for the curriculum.

Can't make the either of these trainings?

What makes All My Money special?

All My Money: Change for the Better is:

  • A train-the-trainer financial management program designed specifically for persons working with limited-resource audiences.
  • A program that's ready to go, right out of the box.
  • Written at a reading level clients can understand.
  • Hands-on and experiential learning such as discussion, games, case examples, and demonstrations that allows participants to learn from the activities and from each other.
  • Customizable. Use the suggested 60 or 30 minute lesson plans, or choose individual activities and handouts.
  • Complete with a Resource box full of re-usable and reproducible activity materials.

To learn more about All My Money, visit our website at

Feel free to share this information with colleagues or other agencies who may be interested.

Consumer Economics Educator Position Open Wed, 06 Sep 2017 10:33:00 +0000

Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Science (Consumer Economics) – Unit 12

The University of Illinois Extension is seeking an individual to provide educational leadership for program delivery in Unit 12 (Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties). Master's degree related to subject matter emphasis required.To view complete job description and apply, visit Closing date is September 29, 2017. The U of I is an EEO Employer/Vet/Disabled -

Buyer's Remorse: The Consequences of My Quick Decisions Tue, 22 Aug 2017 23:03:00 +0000 Anyone who knows me, knows that I tend to overthink things. I'll research even the smallest decision. Major decisions can take forever. I like to joke that I do my buyer's remorse before I make the purchase: I'll already know what the potential disappointments are, or trade-offs I've made, before I hand over the credit card. No surprises!

On the one hand, I know that this is how I'm comfortable making decisions. If I haven't mulled something over long enough, I'm just not comfortable choosing. On the other hand, I sometimes feel that the time I spent researching an item is inordinately long. Or worse, that it is wasted. I remember when my husband saw a particular computer and told me it's what I should buy. I spent days reading every piece of available information about it and all the comparable models. In the end, I bought the one he suggested. That result begs the question, is my research worth it?

Maybe you can help me answer that question. Look at these three situations. What do you think I should have done in each one? Do you agree with final analysis of each one? And what stories of your own do these bring to mind?

Situation #1

A close relative has had some serious health problems. She was put on a new medication for her heart, and she needed to check her heart rate and her blood pressure at least once a day – more often if she was experiencing symptoms. Right after the doctor's appointment, I ran over to a store where I knew they would have a blood pressure monitor at a decent price and bought it. Later, my husband looked that model up online and told me about the reviews. They were horrible! Almost every single person either said the monitor gave readings that were much higher than the ones at their doctor's office, or – even worse – that the results were erratic.

What do you think I should have done here? What would you have done?

My final analysis: Looking back, I think the issue here is that this is a pretty high stakes decision. If my relative can't accurately track her heart rate and blood pressure, it could have serious consequences. Yes, I wish I'd done my research before I bought it. I need to bite the bullet and just buy one of the highly rated models, whether or not my original purchase can be returned. If it wasn't so urgent & important, I could wait until we could get her doctor's office to check its results. But I don't think that's an option.

Situation #2

And then there's the shrub that I bought. A friend gave me a gift card she hoped I'd use for my garden. I decided to purchase a nice plant, so that I could take a picture of it and send it to her. I went to buy the plant on a day when I didn't have a lot of time. I had kind of an idea of where I was going to put this plant, so I'm trying to quickly read labels and find some that might work. I finally pick one and dash to the checkout line. That was a six or eight weeks ago. The plant is still sitting in its pot waiting to be set out, because it isn't quite right for that spot.

What do you think I should have done here? What would you have done?

My final analysis: I should probably just get over this perfection complex, stick it in the ground, and see if it's happy. And if it makes me happy. I can always move it in a year or two if it doesn't work out. It's not an irreversible decision!

Situation #3

Then there is this major financial decision that another person and I have to make together. We've been talking about this for a quite a while. There isn't really a deadline for the decision, but thinking about it for so long has worn me out. One night, the other person and I had a conversation about the newest info that had surfaced. We came to a decision. I was so ready for it to be done that I didn't listen to the little voice that said, "Sleep on it first." Instead, I fired off an email as soon as we got off the phone. By the next morning, my gut told me that I shouldn't have done that. I ended up writing another email, asking the party to ignore my late-night message and give me more time.

What do you think I should have done here? What would you have done?

My final analysis: Since there's a lot at stake here financially and we don't have to make a decision right now, I'm trying to tame my desire to wrap it up. We took a step back and are getting advice from a couple of different types of professionals. With their help, I hope that the right choice will emerge before too much longer. If not, I may have to accept that there will always be more unknowns here than I'm comfortable with. I'll have to remind myself that, at some point, you have to do the best you can do and move on. And not blame yourself if you didn't make the optimal choices.

Final thoughts - from me and from you

I suppose the fact that I wrote a blog post about these decisions and how I approached them is confirmation of what I said at the beginning: I overthink things!

I'm interested in hearing about your decision-making style and how it's worked for you in different situations. Please take a second to tell me about that in the comment box below.

I Want it My Way: Power of Attorney Can Help Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:55:00 +0000 On a good day, I wonder if my family hears what I say or if all they hear is "blah, blah, blah!" However, when I talk about what I want to happen if I'm in an accident, hospitalized or die, I'm SURE some of my family completely blocks my words. That's why I think it's so important that I write down how I want my health and my property handled if I can't talk for myself.

Luckily, we have legal documents that we can use to communicate our wishes. Writing down what's important to us helps:

  • communicate exactly what we want, and
  • reminds people of our wishes in stressful times.

It means that difficult decisions do not have to be introduced and made when we're stressed. We can think through these decisions before events occur and likely end up with better decisions. It's challenging to make good decisions during emotional times.

Two commonly used legal documents are power of attorney – of property and of health care. A durable power of attorney for property allows you to designate another person to handle and make decisions about your finances including investments, bank accounts, property, and any other money management tasks like paying bills. With a power of attorney for property, you can set boundaries for how specific or broad it is. Choose this individual or agent very carefully. Think about someone you can trust implicitly with your money and is knowledgeable about finances.

When you establish a power of attorney for yourself, then you get to choose who this person is rather than needing a court-appointed attorney, assuming the need arises. You can change or cancel power of attorney powers if you want to in the future.

You can also choose to have a power of attorney for health care. The person who you designate as your power of attorney can make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so. We often think only someone elderly needs this kind of document but accidents can happen to anyone. Young people can be unable to make a decision due to pain medication just as older people can be unable to speak for themselves in this situation.

Another health-related, legal document to be aware of is the Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR)/Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Form. This document is relatively new and expands upon the DNR that you may have heard of before. As stated on the Illinois POLST form, you complete this form given your current state of health, and allows you to state your wishes about CPR, other medical interventions and medically administered food (including feeding tubes) given different situations. You may be asked to sign this document if you need surgery or are admitted to a hospital.

To see examples of health care advance directives go to the Illinois Department of Public Health website.

This discussion is not legal advice. I strongly encourage people to talk to a lawyer. Lawyers ask questions, consider people's complete situation, and can then recommend the most suitable documents to meet needs. Another legal document to ask about is a will. A will states who will receive your property if you die. In addition, you can name who you'd like to be the guardian of your children.

Ninety percent of people say that talking with their loved ones about end-life-care is important. However, only 27% have actually done so, according to The Conversation Project. The Conversation Project has a Conversations Starter Kit that may be helpful to you.

These conversations can be very challenging. Talking about your wishes – and writing them down – can help reduce the likelihood of loved ones feeling burdened or guilty, and reduce family conflict. To help you start your planning, you can download a free Action Plan from University of Illinois Extension.

“Being saving” Wed, 26 Jul 2017 16:58:00 +0000 Have you heard that phrase – "being saving"? If not, you might have thought there was a typo or that I've forgotten the rules of grammar. But actually, it's a phase I grew up with. it might be a "regionalism" – a word or phrase whose use is limited to one part of the country – or an antiquated phrase. When I searched online, I found two books from the early 1900s that used it. One even had an entire chapter on it!

To help you get your head around this, think of how we talk today about "going green." Now, the grammar of "being saving" may make more sense.

I remember my grandmother saying this. Maybe other people used it to describe my grandmother, too. To me, it meant using things with care so they weren't damaged or worn more than necessary, or stretching things to make them last. "Being saving" is the opposite of being wasteful.

When we talk about ways to reduce expenses, we usually focus on how to shop wisely and things we can give up or purchase less often. But this concept from my childhood is another way: using no more than is needed and taking care of possessions so that they last longer. The end result is saving money.

I used to teach an activity about ways to save money that was in the earlier editions of University of Illinois Extension's All My Money curriculum. It had several categories of ways to save money, and you were supposed to come up with ideas of what you might do under each one. The list included doing without, sharing, substituting something else, a few others I can't remember, and using wisely. Using wisely? That could be the same as being saving!

I can picture my grandmother doing small things that were labelled as being saving. When she sewed on her treadle sewing machine, she used scissors to snip the threads close to the fabric instead of leaving a tail of thread. 'I'm being saving," she'd say. What she meant was, she was using as little thread as possible so that it would last longer.

She was a skilled quilt maker, and she was renowned for saving even the tiniest scrap of fabric. Many of her quilts were made with pieces that were "pieced on paper" – a technique where each quilt piece was itself pieced together from multiple smaller pieces of fabric. She was being saving – getting the most use possible from the smallest amount of resources.

The photo above is one of her quilts. But this one used "whole" pieces.

Now, you and I may not sew very much or know how to piece on paper, even if we quilt. (I learned many needle arts from my grandmothers, but piecing on paper was one I could never quite understand.) But there are other ways to "be saving."

Here are a few ways this philosophy has influenced me:


  • In our kitchen, I store leftovers in containers that have lids. I rarely use plastic wrap to cover a dish that's going in the fridge.
  • Before I cook, I change out of my good clothes or – here's another old fashioned idea – wear an apron to protect what I have on. I'm "being saving" with my clothes, taking care of them so that they last longer.
  • I cut vegetables, meat, and bread on a cutting board so I won't dull my knives or damage my countertop.
  • I try to protect the things I own. For example, I put my gardening tools away before I head back indoors so they'll won't rust from dew or rain. And they won't accidentally get run over by the lawnmower.
  • I rarely get in the car to run a single errand or to buy a single item, to reduce the amount of gas I use.
  • We try to use up the fresh produce we buy and eat up our leftovers, so that we don't have to throw away food. My goal is to throw out as little food as possible. (Are you curious about how much food is thrown out by households in the US? Check the results of a 2016 research study by Ohio State University https:\\


Some of my examples of "being saving" may strike you as extreme or having so little benefit as to not be worth the effort. That doesn't mean you can't "be saving" in other ways. The first step is to become aware of where the opportunities are to "be saving." Then weigh the benefits versus any inconvenience or extra effort it requires.

The Student Loan Chronicles: The Average Amount of Debt Wed, 12 Jul 2017 12:01:00 +0000 The Student Loan Chronicles: What is the average amount people owe?

Back in May, I started the Student Loan Chronicles blog series. Last month I covered "What is it?" trying to define what is a student loan, and how does it work. This month we will be exploring how much the average person owes in student loan debt.

Young people today have pressure put on them to start the American dream. Go to college, get a degree, find a job, find a spouse, get married, buy a house, and have kids. Here's a case example. A young millennial has just come out of college with $30,000 in student loan debt. Started their new job making $42,000/year, living in Illinois. Do you know how much the standard repayment for this loan is? $341/month! Plus that $30,000 loan with interest just became $40,877 over the standard repayment period of 10 years. According to the PEW Research Center, as of 2016, 15 percent of 25 to 35-year old millennials were living in their parent's home. 27 percent of those millennials have some form of college education, including a bachelor's degree or more.

Student loans, while they may not be the next financial crisis, they are hindering some young adults from moving out and becoming financially stable on their own. Join me next month as we hear from some young adults about their student loan journey!