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Prevent a Post-Holiday Financial Hangover

The messages to spend, spend, spend are everywhere. Online stores promote sales that last only a few hours, the daily deals from every company I've ever contacted clog my email, and I get several pounds of catalogs every week.

However, there's still time to take control of your spending and prevent post-holiday financial headaches. Here's how:

1. Plan your gift-giving strategy.

Decide how much you want to spend on gifts. Make a list of everyone you plan to buy for, along with any gift ideas. Then, divide up the total dollar amount you have to spend by allocating the amount to spend on each person's gift.

Brainstorm possible gifts ideas for everyone on your list that can be purchased with the dollar amount allocated for that person. To reduce the amount spent consider family gifts (rather than individual gifts), gifts of time or service, or if appropriate, passing on family heirlooms as holiday gifts.

2. Decide how to pay. hand holding a stack of money

Charging holiday gifts means starting 2018 in debt. Instead of using your credit card pay cash if possible.  Unlike swiping a credit card, the “ouch” factor when we open up our wallets and hand over the hard cash keeps our spending in focus.

Some people use the “envelope system” for cash management. Put each person's name on an envelope and the amount allocated for their gift inside. When an envelope is empty, you are done buying for that person.

Alternatively, pay for gifts with a debit card instead of your credit card. This avoids interest charges and big bills in January because the amount spent is automatically deducted from your bank account. Keep track of debit card spending to avoid overdraft charges.

If you buy holiday gifts using your credit card, stick with just one card so it's easier to keep track of spending. Pick the card with the lowest interest rate and a grace period (if available).

3. Pre-shop before you buy.

A good rule of thumb is to compare prices with at least 3 sellers. You may save as much as 30%. Mobile apps and online shopping make this fast and easy. If buying an item you are unfamiliar with, find out the most important features to look for. Know the going price so can recognize a true sale. Just because an item is advertised in red letters doesn't mean it's a good deal, or even that it's on sale.

4. Shop with your list.

Stick with your plan. Only buy gifts for people on your list, and stay within planned spending limits.

Your name is not on the list so don't buy things for yourself when holiday shopping. If you see a great buy on that mini tablet you've been wanting, or a red cashmere sweater that would look terrific on you---leave it in the store and drop a hint to someone who has you on their gift list.

5. Check your receipts.

Double-check your receipt before leaving the store to be sure you were not overcharged. If you see a mistake, get it corrected immediately. 

Check the receipts for online purchases too. I recently bought something from an online store that offered free shipping on amounts over $50. My purchase exceeded $50 so I entered the required code and completed the purchase. However, the receipt showed I was charged for shipping. I called the company's 800 number to get the problem corrected.

6. Enjoy your holiday gift giving and wake-up to a debt-free 2018.

Posted on Monday, December 4, 2017 at 8:05 AM

Holiday Spending: How NOT to Blow Your Budget

Is overspending a holiday tradition? It doesn't have to be.

Start a new tradition this year---stick with your budget and avoid credit card debt.

Here's how:

1. Create a holiday spending plan.
Develop a spending plan (aka budget) that includes all your holiday expenses. Besides gifts, include the costs of wrapping paper, cards and postage, decorations and lights, entertaining, eating out, special clothes (Christmas sweaters anyone?), charitable gifts, and travel.

2. Make a gift list. 
Write down each person's name and how much you plan to spend on each. Add up the total dollar amount for all the gifts. Does it fit in your budget? (See your spending plan). If not, adjust the amount per person or limit the number of people on your list.

hand holding cash3. Pay cash for gifts.
 Take cash when you shop and leave your credit cards at home. Research finds that people spend more when paying by credit card, than by cash. Why? It's easy to overspend when all you have to do is swipe your card. Handing over cash is more “painful” so cash shoppers generally pay more attention to prices and spend less.
Plan to do some or all of your shopping online where paying cash is not an option? Keep reading.

4. Use the “envelope system” to manage your cash.
Get enough cash to pay for all the gifts on your list. Sit down at home with the cash, your gift list, and a stack of blank envelopes. Write each person's name on the front of an envelope, and put the budgeted amount of cash inside.
When you go shopping, pay for gifts with cash from the appropriate envelope. If there's not enough money for the gift you selected, find another gift that fits your budget. When an envelope is empty, you are done shopping for that person.

5. Pay with a credit card and use a “modified” envelope system.
Are you planning to shop with your mobile device or online? Modify the envelope system so it works for you. Label an envelope for your “checking account”. Each time you charge a gift, put cash to cover the payment in your checking account envelope. When you are finished shopping, the envelope will have the money needed to pay the credit card bill that arrives after the holidays.

No debt, no fees, and no interest---that sounds like a happy start to the New Year! Is overspending a holiday tradition? It doesn't have to be.

Posted on Monday, November 27, 2017 at 1:14 PM

Your Precooked Holiday Dinner---Serve it Safely!

Are you taking it easy this holiday by purchasing a complete pre-cooked Thanksgiving dinner? 

Don't invite foodborne bacteria as dinner guests.  Follow these steps when you bring dinner home:

If it's hot from the oven: Keep food in the oven at 140° and eat within 2 hours.

If you're eating later in the day: Food shouldn't be kept hot for longer than 2 hours. As soon as you bring it home...

• Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavity, put it in a shallow container in the refrigerator. (No need to cool it first.)
• Cut up a whole turkey into smaller pieces, including slicing the breast meat and put it in the refrigerator. It's OK to leave the legs and wings whole.
• Refrigerate potatoes, gravy, and vegetables in shallow containers (so they quickly reach a safe temperature of 40° or below).
• Keep cold food cold by putting it in the refrigerator.

When its time to eat:

  • Reheat the turkey, dressing and side dishes until hot and steaming, or (the best way) until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 °F as measured by a food thermometer.
  • Bring gravy to a rolling boil.
  • If using a microwave oven, cover the food and rotate the dish so it heats evenly.

After dinner:"Chill" before you chill out.

  • Put all perishable foods in the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Cut up leftover turkey into small pieces before refrigerating.
  • Place the leftover turkey, stuffing, and side dishes into shallow containers and refrigerate at 40 °F or below.
  • Don't forget to refrigerate the desserts, particularly any prepared with eggs or dairy products such as pumpkin pie.
  • Freeze any leftovers you won't be able to eat within 3-4 days.
  • Throw away any perishable food left out for more than 2 hours---including raw or cooked vegetables, and cut fruit. (Getting food borne illness (aka food poisoning) is no holiday!)

After 3-4 days
Throw out any uneaten leftovers.


Other food safety questions?
Call the “USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline” 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) which is open on Thanksgiving Day from 8:00 a. m. to 2:00 p. m. Eastern Time and regularly Monday- Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET.


Get answers 24/7 from “Ask Karen”, the FSIS automated response system:
Mobile phones:

5 Tips for Holiday Food Donations

For many of us, Thanksgiving kicks off the giving season. If contributing to a local food drive is on your "to do" list, follow these suggestions to give a gift of health to those in need:

1. Ask what is needed before you give.
Sometimes what we want to give—holiday foods, homemade jam, or cake mixes---may not be what is needed. Check the website of your local food bank or call to see what foods they currently need. Generally, the most needed items are:
• Peanut butter
• Canned meats such as tuna or chicken
• Cereal
• Canned and dried fruit
• Canned vegetables
• Macaroni and cheese
• Canned soup.

2. Choose a more nutritious form of the food you want to give.

For example, select:
• Fruit canned in its own juice rather than syrup
• Vegetables canned without added salt
• Cereals that are high in fiber and don't have much added sugar
• Whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and quinoa
• Low sodium soups and low-sodium versions of other products such as pasta sauce
• Lean protein, such as beans and canned tuna.

3. Check the use-by or expiration date on canned or packaged food items.
If donating food items from your own pantry, check the freshness date. Most food banks will not give out food that is past the use-by or expiration date printed on the container. (Use-by and expiration dates refer to the quality of the food, not the safety.)

4. Avoid foods in glass containers or damaged packaging.

Some food banks don't accept food in glass containers---even baby food or infant formula---because they chip and break easily. Inspect the packaging of an item. Avoid dented or bulging cans. Food banks won't accept damaged or open paper or plastic containers. Only donate commercially prepared foods. Food banks cannot take home preserved foods.

5. Give with the food bank clientele in mind.
Are the clientele homeless? If so, they probably don't have access to storage or refrigeration. Dr. Lucia Kaiser, Nutrition Specialist at the University of California Cooperative Extension, suggests giving easy-to-prepare and ready-to-eat foods such as:
• Pop-top cans of stew, chili, and soup
• Shelf-stable milk and cheese
• 100% fruit juices in single serving boxes
• Convenience foods like granola bars, packaged crackers (low fat), beef jerky, and single-serving packages of nuts.
Programs for children may want single serving sizes of foods, such as;
¥ 100% fruit rolls
¥ Raisins
¥ Graham crackers
¥ Unsweetened applesauce
¥ Fruit cups
¥ Low-sugar cereal bowls
¥ Pretzels

Ideas to Help You Plan a Healthy Food Drive

Request donations by meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner), by food group (fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, etc.), or by recipes. Another option is a SuperFood Drive where participants donate items on a list of nutrient-dense foods that you provide. Or, help potential donors by giving them Dorothy Smith's food bank gift list.

Here's to healthy living and giving during the holiday season!

Posted on Thursday, November 9, 2017 at 9:41 AM

It’s time for DPR license and certificate holders to renew—get units via online courses from UC IPM

November has arrived, and before you know it we'll be ringing in 2018! For those who hold a license or certificate from the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), and have a last name starting with the letter M through Z, this is your year to renew.

DPR is urging license and certificate holders to mail in applications now to avoid late fees and to allow enough time for processing so that you can receive your new license or certificate by the beginning of the new year. Renewing early gives DPR time to notify you if you are short any continuing education (CE) hours and allows you time to complete any additional CE courses without having to retest.

If you need more hours to complete your renewal application and don't have time to attend an in-person meeting, then check out the online courses available from the UC Statewide IPM Program (UC IPM).

The following UC IPM and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources online courses have been approved by DPR and are available whenever and wherever you want to take them.

Laws and Regulations

  • Proper Pesticide Use to Avoid Illegal Residues (2 hours) $40.00 charge
  • Providing Integrated Pest Management Services in Schools and Child Care Settings (1 hour Laws and Regulations and 1 hour Other)


  • Citrus IPM: California Red Scale (1 hour)
  • Citrus IPM: Citricola Scale (1 hour)
  • Citrus IPM: Citrus Peelminer (1 hour)
  • Citrus IPM: Citrus Red Mite (1 hour)
  • Citrus IPM: Cottony Cushion Scale (1 hour)
  • Citrus IPM: Forktailed Bush Katydid (1 hour)
  • Pesticide Application Equipment and Calibration (1.5 hours)
  • Pesticide Resistance (2 hours)
  • Tuta absoluta: A Threat to California Tomatoes (1 hour)
  • Urban Pesticide Runoff and Mitigation: IPM – Pesticide Properties (1 hour)
  • Urban Pesticide Runoff and Mitigation: Impact of Pesticides - Urban Pesticide Runoff (1 hour)
  • Urban Pesticide Runoff and Mitigation: Water Quality and Mitigation: Bifenthrin and Fipronil (1 hour)
  • Urban Pesticide Runoff and Mitigation: Herbicides and Water Quality (1 hour)

For those of you with last names A through L (or those of you who want to get a jump on your CE hours), look for new online courses from UC IPM coming in early 2018.

View the list of all DPR-approved online or in-person courses. For more information on the license and certification program and renewal information, visit the DPR website.

For more information about pest management and other training opportunities, see the UC IPM website.

Title screen for Proper Pesticide Use online course



Posted on Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 12:29 PM

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