Holiday Tip and Gift Guidelines

As we recover from Thanksgiving, we turn to Black Friday and then Cyber Monday, so the holiday season is in full swing.

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Part of your gift giving may be tipping those around you upon whom you depend. While gift giving etiquette may be obvious in some instances, it can get less clear when considering gifts for people outside of your friends and family. So, to help you navigate the season, we have put together a guide of suggested amounts for gifts and tips, as well as final comment on notes and cards in lieu of cash.

We all have people in our lives that help us keep our families, homes and businesses on track and get through each day as we move forward throughout the year. In many cases, the services they provide ensure we can go to work, have clean homes and stay fit, including caregivers, delivery, home maintenance, and personal care services:

Caregivers (for kids, parents and pets, too!)

Caregivers for your children, parents and pets can be lifesavers. They provide care, education, exercise, and attention to those you care about most. This is the time of year to let them know how thankful you are for all that they do. The amount of service they provide and the arrangement you have with them can dictate the appropriate gift level:

  1. Nanny/au pair – a week’s salary and a small gift;
  2. Daycare teachers – a $25-$70 gift;
  3. Home healthcare worker – a week to a month’s salary;
  4. Teacher – a small gift and a handmade card from your child;
  5. Dog walker – depending on your walker’s schedule, you may want to gift a day’s pay or a full week’s pay; and
  6. Dog groomer – half the cost to the full amount for the service.

If you contract any of these services through an agency, you may want to contact the agency to find out if they have a gift-giving policy in effect. If the agency prohibits gifts, consider alternatives like making a donation to the agency or sending in homemade cookies to the office.

“Neither snow nor rain…”

Despite the weather, terrain or traffic, your mail carrier delivers your mail every day and your online purchases arrive on time and in good condition. Let those who make those deliveries know you’re grateful. In deciding what and how much to give, consider the particular company’s gift giving restrictions:

  1. Mail carriers – are not prohibited from receiving cash gifts and gifts more than $20;
  2. FedEx – employees may accept gifts under $75, though no cash or gift cards;
  3. UPS – workers are allowed to accept tips, but UPS discourages the practice; and
  4. Newspaper delivery – $10-$30 is standard.

Home Maintenance:

Whether you live in a single-family home or a large apartment building, it’s likely there is someone who services your home or property in some way.

  1. Trash and recycling collectors – $10-$30, which you may want to mail directly to the collection company if you’re not home to hand deliver it;
  2. Doorman – $25-$100;
  3. Regular cleaning person – the cost of one visit;
  4. Landscapers/gardeners – $20-$50 per person or if you have just one person doing the work, the cost of one visit;
  5. Parking garage attendant – $10-$50; and
  6. Building’s handyman, superintendent and custodian – $20-$100.

If you have someone who always goes the extra mile, such as a handyman who’s prompt and efficient or a doorman who is quick to carry heavy packages for you, then a larger tip may be warranted.

Personal Services:

It’s hard work keeping you fit, perfectly coiffed and beautiful, but recognizing the efforts of those who do is easy and may also buy you scheduling flexibility when you really need it. In deciding whether to tip and how much, consider this:

  1. Hairdresser/manicurist – if you’re a frequent visitor, tip the cost of one visit. If you’re a less frequent customer, then $20. However, if you tip generously through the year, you do not need to give an extra tip at the end of the year;
  2. Personal trainer – up to the cost of one cost;
  3. Massage therapist – also cost of one visit; and
  4. Golf or Tennis instructor – a thoughtful gift.

If you’re unable to tip or give a gift, a thoughtful thank you note will acknowledge the good work these people do for you throughout the year. Another effective gesture of gratitude is to send a thank you note to the supervisors of the people who provide you with great service throughout the year, letting them know how impressed you are with the service you receive. Good feedback is appreciated by both the supervisor and the people who are helping you out.
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Side Hussle Series – Declutter & Make Money

We all have things lying around our homes that we have no use for anymore. Instead of holding on to them, sell them to someone who wants them and who will pay you for them. Look around, if you have unwanted electronics, clothes, furniture, books or CDs and DVDs, there’s a market.

Used Electronics – Those old phones, computers and tablets sitting around your home could make you some quick cash. Companies such as www.Gazelle.com, www.BuyMyTronics.com, www.NextWorth.com and www.uSell.com want your used electronics and will pay you for them. The items don’t even need to work! The process is largely the same for all four companies. Simply go to their websites, get a quote for your unwanted electronics, ship the items and get paid. These companies all provide free shipping and some are associated with national retailers so you can get paid right away.

Clothes, Shoes & Handbags – If you’re like me, you have items in your closet that you haven’t worn in years and chances are, you will never wear them! Consignment shops are a great option for helping you free up some closet space while making a little extra dough. A quick Google search will bring up consignment shops in your area. If you don’t have one nearby, try www.thredup.com. Thredup will mail you a bag for your unwanted items, with a shipping label so you can send your goods to them at no cost to you. They review your items and pay you up to 80% of the resale value of your clothes. Items that they don’t accept are either donated to a charity, recycled or mailed back to you.

If you have luxury clothing, jewelry or bags, you can try selling them through www.therealreal.com. They pay up to 70% of the item’s sale price. Like Thredup, The RealReal will send you a bag to mail in your luxury items. Alternatively, you may schedule a “White Glove Pick-up” with your Luxury Manager.

Furniture & Home Accessories – Like selling used clothing, consignment shops may be a good solution for selling your unwanted furniture and home accessories. These shops generally charge 50% of the sale price, but there are some advantages to selling this way. Namely that the consignment shops do the marketing for you and secondly, you don’t have to worry about strangers coming to your home. If you want to cut out the middleman, try www.Craigslist.com. Craigslist allows you to list items for free and buyers come to you. 100% of the sales proceeds are yours.

CDs and DVDs – Many independent music stores sell used CDs and DVDs. Search online for local shops in your area. Depending on the number of CDs and DVDs you are wanting to sell, they can often sort through your goods and let you know how much they can offer while you wait.

Books – There are plenty of online companies that are willing to buy back your unwanted books and text books. www.BookScouter.com will simplify the work for your by scanning 40 other websites and let you know which one will offer you the best price. For text books, www.amazon.com offers the most competitive buyback prices according to www.ExtraBucks.com.

With a little effort and some “letting go” you can free up some extra space and make a few extra bucks!

Ignore Most Financial Planning Rules

General rules of thumb for financial planning rarely work. Here are some with my critiques:

“Stocks minus your age should equal 100” – Bad rule – your investment allocation depends on your risk tolerance, the rate of return required to achieve your goals, when you add to investments from annual savings or stock option exercises and when you remove investments to fund lifestyle needs.

“Life insurance must equal six times compensation” – Bad rule – your spouse or partner would use all of your resources, including insurance, to fund lifestyle needs after you die. If you review this and determine a short-fall, that is the amount to be funded by insurance. It could be more or less than the six-fold multiple but ensures that your survivors have adequate resources to be protected.

“Save 10% of income annually” – Decent rule – however, some may need to save even more and others may have no savings need. As with life insurance, the question is whether the return from assets plus annual savings over your life expectancy will fund your lifestyle.  

“You only need 70% of income in retirement” – Bad rule – in fact, many people spend more in the first years of retirement as they travel more while spending far less in their 70’s and 80’s as their needs become fewer. This can be further complicated by estate planning goals of gifting to children or charities.

“Hold six months after-tax income for a rainy day” – Decent rule – however, this depends on liquidity, borrowing ability (e.g., home equity line) and cash flow. If annual income permits substantial savings, such that you could pay for a new roof without affecting lifestyle, your “rainy day” reserve can be much less.

“Monthly payments on debt should not exceed 20% of income” – Decent rule – in fact, the rule is somewhat irrelevant in that most lenders apply rules to limit mortgage payments plus home insurance and property taxes to a percentage of income. As with the savings rule, your level of debt may be more or less depending on assets available, risk tolerance and lifestyle costs.

“Do not refinance until rates drop 2%”– Bad rule – the test is simple: how soon will the cost of refinancing be recouped by lower payments? With no points/no closing cost loans, this can a year or less. Buying down a rate by paying points will make sense if the pay-off is in 12 to 24 months and if you plan to stay in the residence for seven years or more.

“Delete collision coverage on a car more than 7 years old” – Decent rule – as with the “rainy day” reserve, this depends on cash flow and other resources. It also depends on whether the car is your “antique.”

“Do not spend more than 7% of income on long-term care insurance”– Uncertain rule – some people may have sufficient assets to self-insure. Some people will not risk nursing care due to bad family health history; they will want to pay for full insurance.  

Are you going to break the rules?

While breaking rules may or may not work for you, creating and sticking to a financial plan will!

Cash Management and Financial Planning – use your credit card for more than just purchasing

(This is a summary of a recent post by Kiplinger’s)

You may have selected a card for points or for cash back. However, there are many other benefits to keep in mind, from on-line purchase protection to vacation and travel insurance.

Prices
: many gold and platinum cards, and now the Citi premium card, will give you up $250 back if you find an item you purchased for a lower price within 60 days.
Warranties: several cards extend the manufacturer warranty for up to a year, ending the need to pay for an extended warranty that a sales clerk tries to get you to buy at check out or a company e-mails urging you to purchase after you buy on line. AMEX, Visa Signature, gold, and platinum MasterCards do this when used for purchases. Some add a 90-day protection for loss or breakage of a laptop or digital camera. Citi Premier and some replace the item.

Theft – Coverage on the road: If your laptop is stolen from your hotel room, MasterCard will reimburse you if you used a gold or platinum card to pay for the room. Likewise, if your luggage does not arrive when you do, MasterCard will reimburse you for the cost of replacing essential items. In addition, MasterCard will cover the cost to repair or replace damaged luggage. Use your Visa Signature card to buy your airline ticket and you can be reimbursed up to $3,000 for lost or stolen luggage.

Avoid checked-baggage fees. You can redeem points for an airline ticket with your U.S. Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature card and receive a $25 credit toward the checked-bag fee. Gold Delta SkyMiles cards from American Express cover the cost of checked bags (up to $50 per person round-trip) for up to nine people on the same reservation. American Express’s platinum card offers a $200 annual credit for flight-change and baggage fees.

Free admissions: Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders receive free admission to 150 museums in 85 cities on the first weekend of the month. Participating institutions include New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chicago’s Art Institute, Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, in Oklahoma City.

Concierge services. The 24-hour service (available to Visa Signature and MasterCard World Elite cardholders) can help with restaurant reservations, party planning, travel arrangements and getting tickets to sold-out events. Visa cardholders can see what is available by visiting Visa’s Web site or by becoming a fan of Visa on Facebook.

Getting back home: Chase customers can call Global Lifeline (the number is on the back of their card) and get help with hotel and airline reservations and medical assistance. For example, Chase helped a cardholder stranded in the Dominican Republic get a flight back to New England this past winter after a massive snowstorm forced flight cancellations.

We added checking these benefits to the Finance Health Day page .

Let me know if you have questions or comments.

Summer of 2011 to do list: investing, estate plan, refinance, taxes and planning matters

For this summer, we have suggested financial matters for you to review:

1. Asset allocation and investments – taking all IRAs, 401(k)s and taxable accounts as a single portfolio, reviewing the allocation and checking to see if it is time to rebalance;
2. Interest rates, investing and inflation – rates are likely to stay low, inflation is likely to stay low as well (there is no wage component, in fact wages may be deflationary now, there is only commodity inflation), so that leaves looking at any investment that equals or beats the 10 year Treasury bond at a 3% yield: good municipal bonds, dividend paying stocks, or packaged stocks like Berkshire Hathaway or the Permanent Portfolio mutual fund;
3. Refinancing – rates are back down some, so that you can bring a 30 year loan down to a 4.5% 25 year loan, or 4.25% 20 year, or 3.75% 15 year fixed;
4. Home Equity Line of Credit – rates are still under 3% and no closing costs, so be sure to set one up so you have a fall back source of funds to cover the unexpected
5. Estate plan – reviewing your wills and trusts, and any letters to fiduciaries, to be certain that you account for such matters as the portable credit, which requires an election at the first death;
6. Tax planning – reviewing your information for 2011 against 2010 and checking your options to be you minimize your 2011 and 2012 taxes (e.g., max out 401(k), 402(b), ESPP plans, convert to Roth IRAs in low income years, etc.); and
7. In fact, you could do a Finance Health Day (you own financial planning focus) – please check out Finance health day….

Let me know if you have questions or comments, or if anyone you know wants to ask about any of this material. Also check out Time Saving Tips…

Coming soon…. credit card benefits with real value