What’s the Story Behind Those Oscar Swag Bags?

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Winning an Oscar seems like it’s pretty dang awesome. Just ask the producers of La La Land after their win for Best Picture!—or the producers of Moonlight after their win for Best Picture!

Here’s the thing though, even folks who lose at the Oscars get a pretty fantastic consolation prize: a gift bag. And this isn’t the kind of normal gift bag that normal folks like us are used to.

This gift bag is lit.

Unlike in previous years, this year’s “Everyone’s A Winner” swag bag doesn’t come with an official price tag, but total value of the items included is definitely well over $100,000.

The bag includes a luxury 6-day Hawaiian vacation, personal in-house sommelier services, advanced dual-layer pillows from Casper (@Casper), personal training sessions, a Haze (@HazeVape) Dual V3 Vaporizer, and an Oomi (@OomiHome) Smart Home system.

The gift bags are given to all the nominees in the four acting categories as well as all the nominees for Best Director. As consolation prizes go, it’s pretty much the tops.


A quick history of swag

The Oscars started handing out gift baskets to their acting nominees in the 1970s. But the gifts were small and not particularly show-stopping. That changed in 2001 when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) starting handing out “swag bags” that were truly worthy of the name. The gifts were no longer quite so small. Or at least, the price tags weren’t. In 2002, the gift bag had a total value of $20,000.1

And then, in 2006, the IRS came a-knocking.

You see, the items in these swag bags are taxable as income. While the IRS wasn’t going to go sniffing around a bunch of small-time gift baskets, these high-priced ones were too big to be ignored.

So they stepped in and brought down the hammer. Anyone who had received a gift bag before 2006 was exempted, but those who got one in 2006 received a pretty hefty tax bill.

That was the last year the AMPAS handed out gift bags, leaving the door open for an outside company to take their place—and the accompanying spotlight

Enter Distinctive Assets.

Masters of the swag-iverse

Launched by founder Lash Fary in 1999, Distinctive Assets (@DAssets) is a Los Angeles-based niche marketing company. When the AMPAS stopped offering gift baskets, Distinctive Assets stepped in to fill the void.

The company had already been awarding swag bags to nominees in select categories for years, but once the AMPAS stopped offering their own bags, the bags offered by Distinctive Assets became the bags associated with the ceremony.

“We launched the concept backstage at GRAMMYs and American Music Awards 18 years ago,” said Fary. “The win/win concept was immediately popular with talent, show producers, media and brands. We went on to work with nearly every major award show and created a platform for celebrity/brand marketing that now transcends awards shows.”

And over the years, those bags have really become something to behold. By 2016, the items and gifts offered in the bag topped $200,000.

In addition to the Oscars, Distinctive Assets also does yearly swag bags honoring the Grammy’s. The official name for the bag they handed out to Oscar nominees this year was “The 15th Annual “Everyone Wins” Nominee Gift Bags Celebrating Hollywood’s Biggest Night.”

You’ll notice a word missing from there and it’s “Oscars.” That’s because the AMPAS sued Distinctive Assets following the 2016 ceremony, claiming trademark infringement.

The suit was settled amicably between the two parties in April of last year. In a press release announcing the settlement, Distinctive Assets stated that they would “not use the Academy’s trademarks in the names, tag lines, descriptions or hashtags associated with its gift bags but will continue to accurately state that its gift bags are given to Oscar nominees.”

“My company’s so-called ‘swag bag’ is no more officially sanctioned by the Academy than the gowns and jewels given to nominees to wear on the Oscar red carpet,” said Fary in the press release. “It is simply one of dozens of promotions, parties and gift suites that happen throughout Los Angeles to celebrate Hollywood’s biggest night.”

So all’s well that ends well. Right? But what about the products that get featured? How does it work out for the companies that make them?

Turns out that it works out pretty great for them too, but maybe not for the reasons you expect.

A great opportunity – if you work for it

Yuri Cataldo (@YCataldo) is a marketing and branding expert whose bottled water company, IndieH2O (@Indigoh2O), has been featured in many different swag bags for the MTV VMA’s, The Emmy’s, The Golden Globes, and The Oscars.

“The biggest benefit to being in gift bags is the marketing opportunity,” said Cataldo.  “The best way to get free press is to have a reason why the media should write about your company and the prestige of award shows is an easy way to get a story.”

However, Cataldo is not so big on the idea that you should get involved with a swag bag purely to ride off the celebrity endorsements itself. “Almost none of the celebrities will pay for your product or take a photo after so make sure your main goal isn’t getting lots of sales from celebrities.”

Cataldo advises business owners that, “Once you chose to go into an award show bag plan out your marketing strategy as soon as possible and start contacting the press because once the award show is over they won’t care.”

He also warns that some gift basket opportunities out there might not be legit, telling business owners to “Do your research and know why you want to have your product in an award show event.  There are no official gift bags from these events and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to scam you.”

Love live the swag

So that’s the story behind those crazy awesome gifts baskets! They’re a pretty fantastic perk for nominees in the acting and directing categories – and nowadays even the tax obligations can be pretty light depending on which products the nominees actually use.

“Only the fair market value of actual goods and services received are taxable,” said Fary. “In the case of gift certificates and other “gift offers” there is no value to the celebrity unless they actually redeem a gift certificate.”

He added that “96% of the gift bag’s value falls in the category of gift certificates or “gift offers” so the actual bottom line taxable consequence is very small and for most people inconsequential.”

Plus, the bags aren’t just entirely filled with gadgets, vacations and expensive food and wine. According to Fary, “the most redeemed item in the history of our “Everyone Wins” gift bags for top nominees has been the option from Halo Purely For Pets to have 10,000 meals donated to an animal shelter of the nominees’ choice.”

Hopefully all those fine folks from La La Land will be able to find something in this year’s basket to make them feel better…

Oh wait. We forgot. These baskets are only handed out to the nominees for acting and directing. Those producers were nominated for Best Picture … which means they won’t be getting one.

Dang. This is really not their week.


About the Contributors:

Yuri Cataldo, is a Yale-trained set/costume designer with over 100 credits in Film, Theatre, and Opera. In 2011 he founded IndigoH2O, the only multiple award winning bottled alkaline water and has been featured at the Oscars, Golden Globes, the Emmy’s, the MTV VMA’s, and in 60+ magazines and articles in the last two years. Yuri is the CEO at the ART TECH MEDIA GROUP where he works with artists and businesses to turn ideas into products and gets a ton of press in the process. His website is YuriCataldo.com

Lash Fary, is founder and president of Distinctive Assets, a Los Angeles-based entertainment marketing and gifting company.  For over fifteen years, Lash has worked with a veritable Who’s Who of Hollywood to introduce products/services to the entertainment industry and to develop celebrity-oriented promotions. Lash’s unique industry positioning and multi-faceted persona have created numerous high-profile opportunities and titles including author, host, entrepreneur, inventor, sultan of swag and gift guru.

References:

1
Framke, Caroline and Pai, Tanya. “The weird, contentious tradition of Oscars gift bags, explained” Vox.com. Accessed on March 1, 2017 from http://www.vox.com/culture/2017/2/22/14688240/oscars-gift-bags-distinctive-assets.

How Much Money is Spent During Mardi Gras?mardi-gras-1024x262

We’re all familiar with the images of Mardi Gras in New Orleans: the eye-popping floats, the beads, the parade of krewes dancing up and down the street. But Mardi Gras, along with the entire Carnival season, isn’t just a big party—it’s also a vital part of the New Orleans economy.
Carnival is a world-famous festival, drawing people all over the country and the world. And when those people arrive, they spend money. They stay in hotels, eat out at restaurants, visit stores and street vendors, you name it. Carnival season represents a huge chunk of income for many New Orleans businesses.
But before we get into that, let’s cover some basics…

What are Mardi Gras and Carnival?

So, the key point to hammer home here is that Mardi Gras and Carnival are not the same thing.

Carnival has its origins in the Catholic Church. It’s the season of feasting that comes before the season of fasting, aka Lent. The first day of the Carnival is January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany.  The last day of Carnival is Fat Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins, also known as Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras is the final day of Carnival, so it always falls on Fat Tuesday. The celebration of Mardi Gras came to New Orleans through the French, who originally colonized it, and it has been a tradition in the city since its founding in 1718 by French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville.

While there is increased tourism throughout the Carnival season, the major push comes during Mardi Gras and the weekend before it.

When is Mardi Gras?

It depends. The exact dates of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday change from year to year. This is because they are dependent on which date Easter Sunday falls on—which also changes from year to year.

As such, Carnival can be longer some years and shorter other years. For instance, Carnival in 2017 is 53 days long, but Carnival in 2016 was only 33 days long, because Ash Wednesday landed on February 10th, much earlier than normal.

This year, Mardi Gras is on February 28th.

Economic impact

Let’s just say that it’s pretty major.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Tulane economics professor Toni Weiss, the 2014 Carnival season had a direct economic impact of $164 million. Not only that, but her study also found that the ­year-round impact—both direct and indirect–of the Mardi Gras brand was $465 million!1

According to Vicki Bristol, Sr. Communications and Marketing Manager for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (@NewOrleansCVB), “The entire city experiences a boon during Mardi Gras, but the industry most impacted is hospitality and tourism. More than a million people participate in Mardi Gras, many of which choose to stay in the city’s hotels and eat out at restaurants.”

Weiss found that for Mardi Gras alone, visitors spent $70 million at local hotels, and that those folks also spent around $61 million total in food, drink, transportation, etc.

“Surprisingly, another industry that sees an uptick in sales is bakeries,” says Bristol. “More than 500,000 king cakes are sold each year in New Orleans between January 6 and Fat Tuesday, and another 50,000 are shipped out-of-state via overnight courier. Haydel’s Bakery alone makes more than 75,000 king cakes annually.”

(King cakes are a New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition. They’re a braided ring of Danish dough that is baked and then covered in sugary toppings—often in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.)

The study that Weiss released in 2015 study updated previous versions that she and her team had conducted – all of them done in the years since Hurricane Katrina. Each new study showed more money spent on Mardi Gras and Carnival then the year before. Who knows how much money will be spent this year?!

“We encourage visitors to shop and eat local,” says Bristol. “Most everyone at the parades will be wearing purple, green and gold (the official colors of Mardi Gras), and there is no shortage of shops offering their spin on Mardi Gras style from Fleurty Girl and Dirty Coast t-shirt shops to fine retail like Perlis.”

If you’re trying to save money right now, then a trip to Mardi Gras might not be the best idea. Better to celebrate Carnival in the (inexpensive) comfort of your own home. Better to focus on paying down your debt and saving up for a trip to Mardi Gras 2018—or 2019. It’ll definitely be worth the wait!


About the Contributors:

Vicki Bristol, is the Senior Communications and Marketing Manager at the New Orleans CVB, where she oversees domestic media relations and manages the CVB relationships with its PR and social media agencies of record. She is a life-long resident of the Greater New Orleans Area, and can’t imagine living in a place with more culture, cuisine and excuses to celebrate than her city.


[i] Gibson Schecter, Jennifer. “The Dollars in Doubloons.” Biz New Orleans. Accessed February 23, 2017 from http://www.bizneworleans.com/Biz-The-Magazine/February-2016/The-Dollars-in-Doubloons/

Ready, Set, Deduct! How to Prepare for Tax Season 2017.

Ready, Set, Deduct! How to Prepare for Tax Season 2017.

Wait, tax season? Aren’t taxes due on April 15th? Do I really have to start thinking about this now—or can it wait till, like, April 15th?

No. It really can’t.


If you’re self-filing your taxes, it can be easy to let it wait till the last moment. After all, there are so many things that seem more pressing: taking your kid to basketball practice, plugging that leak in the basement, doing literally anything other than your taxes. We get it. You’re super busy, life is hectic, and taxes are just going to have to wait.

Except that they shouldn’t. Taxes are an important legal requirement and—oh yeah—you can end up with a nice refund check when it’s over. So let’s take a deep breath and get started together. You’ll be glad you did!

Your Tax Forms

First thing’s first: Getting your paperwork together. But which documents are important and why?

“Generally, taxpayers should collect their W-2 and 1099 Forms,” says Brian Thompson, a Chicago CPA and attorney whose practice includes tax prep and tax advice.

A W-2 form is a document that all employers are required to send to their employees. It lists how much money the employee made that year and how much the employer withheld from their taxes. Hopefully, your employer withheld more than you actually owe, because that means you’ll be entitled to a tax refund. Cha-ching!

But what if you’re an independent contractor or freelancer and your employer (or more likely employers) doesn’t withhold taxes from your paycheck? Well, then you’ll be receiving a 1099 from every business that you worked for. The 1099 will detail how much that employer paid you. It will be up to you to determine how much tax you owe on that income.

For homeowners, Thompson says that they “should collect Form 1098 Mortgage Interest Statement and real property tax payment receipts if they want to itemize their deductions rather than claim the standard deduction or simply want to analyze both scenarios.”

Interest that you pay on a home mortgage is tax-deductible, so you should request a 1098 from the company that is servicing your loan. The document tells you how much you paid in interest on your loan over the previous year. We’ll get into how deductions work later on.

Your Financial Records

Once you’ve received all the proper forms from your employers, clients, and lenders, it’ll be time to assemble all of your own financial records. Harinne Freeman (@harrine), the CEO and owner of H.E. Freeman Enterprises, a financial services company has some great tips for what kinds of documents you should gather and how you should keep them organized:

  • Gather all receipts, daily, monthly, quarterly and yearly statements, medical bills, student loans, credit card statements, prescriptions, financial statements, etc. and place them in one easy-to-find location. You can also scan the documents and store the documents on your computer.
  • Categorize all receipts such as medical, loans, financial statements, purchases, business expenses, income, etc.
  • Use an automated tool to track your spending and deductions or use a piece of paper, or software such as Word, Excel or Access to enter your data.
  • Use a software package like Quicken or Quick Books to record all of your deductions. Use basic column headings: Item, Date Purchased or Sold, Cost, Quantity, Total Cost.
  • Identify all items that can be used as itemized deductions and put them in one folder, or create a spreadsheet, or use an accounting software and save the data on your computer. Determine if the standard deduction for your tax bracket is greater than your itemized deductions. If not, calculate your itemized deductions.

What is a tax deduction?

While it’s important that everyone pay their taxes in full, you also don’t want to overpay. That’s where those sweet, sweet deductions come in.

Deductions let you subtract certain expenses from your taxable income. The less income you have to be taxed, the less tax you’re going to owe. And the less tax you owe, the more likely you are to get a bigger tax return.

Let’s say you have to drive fifty miles one day for your job. Normally, you would have to take a company car, but today you make the trip in your own vehicle. The money that you spent on gas for that trip is something that you could deduct from your taxable income. After all, you made that trip for work, not for personal reasons. Why should you have to pay for it?

(However, if your job reimbursed you for the gas you spent on the trip, you wouldn’t be able to deduct the cost on your taxes.)

Standard vs Itemized Deductions

Finally!

There are basically two routes that you can go in order to maximize your income tax deductions. If you want to keep your tax deductions simple, you can claim the standard deduction on your taxes. It doesn’t require sorting through your receipts, and you can claim it even if you don’t have any expenses to deduct!

The standard deduction amounts are:

  • For single people or for married couples who are filing separately—$6,300
  • For married couples who are filing jointly or for qualifying widows and widowers—$12,600
  • For the head of a household—$9,300

You can also choose to itemize your deductions—meaning that you will list out all the expenses that you would like to deduct from your total taxable income.

It’s a lot more time intensive than the standard deduction, but it is quite possible that your expenses add up to more than you could claim through the standard deduction. If that’s the case, then itemizing your expenses will mean saving more money which is never a bad thing.

However, choosing to itemize your deductions means that keeping track of your receipts and expenses is going to be critical! So it’s important to get and stay organized throughout the year.

What Can You Deduct?

Not all of your expenses can be deducted from your taxable income. That hotel room you stayed in while out of town on business? That’s tax deductible. The Netflix subscription that helps you “unwind” after a long day at the office? Not so much.

Harrine Freeman provided us with a partial list of what kinds of expenses can be deducted on your taxes:

  • Volunteer Work. If you volunteer, your time and services to help a charity you can deduct on your taxes, costs for hosting a party or fundraiser for an organization, supplies purchases that are required to perform volunteer work, cost of a uniform, telephone expenses, and travel expenses such as parking, tools, gas, miles traveled, etc.
  • Pro Bono Work. If you donate time and services for an event but ask for payment to cover traveling expenses—the time and services are considered donated and can be deducted. However, the services must benefit the public.
  • Job-Related Expenses. You can deduct “ordinary” and “necessary” expenses associated with—or necessary for—your job, especially for a trade. Ordinary expenses are common expenses for your trade or profession. Necessary expenses are those that are helpful for you to perform your job and apply to full-time or self-employed employees.
  • Business Meetings. If you attend conferences or business meetings for your job, you can deduct travel expenses including the cost to drive to the event if you are not reimbursed by your job.
  • Car Mileage. If you use your car for your job or business and use it for that reason only, you can deduct the entire operation costs. If your car is used for your job and business, you can only deduct the cost for business use.
  • Uniforms, job supplies, job related training and job search costs.
  • Higher education expenses.
  • Tax preparation fees.
  • Mortgage refinance fees, mortgage interest, points and real property taxes.
  • Foreclosure tax relief.

Does that sound like a lot? Well you’re right. It is a lot. And like we said, that’s only a partial list.

Don’t Forget These Lesser Known Deductions

The US tax code is complicated. Very complicated. There are lots of deductions you can claim that you might never would have even guessed were eligible.

Brian Thompson says that “business owners should be aware of the section 179 expense deduction which allows taxpayers to elect to recover all or part of the cost of certain qualifying property, up to a limit, by deducting it in the year you place the property in service.” Basically, if you buy something for your business (and used it) in 2016, then you can deduct the cost of that item from your taxes.

Thompson says that “generally, the section 179 deduction is limited to $500,000 with some exceptions. Taxpayers can elect the section 179 deduction instead of recovering the cost by taking depreciation deductions over a period of years.”

According to Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com (@MyCorporation), “One standard deduction that anyone working out of their home should know about when filing their taxes this year is the home office deduction. To qualify, you need to use that specific part of your home as a principal place of business exclusively and regularly.”

She says that “there are two options available in determining the home deduction percentage: Regular Method which determines actual home office expenses including mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, and repairs on Form 8829. And Simplified Option for Home Office Deduction that allows for a standard deduction of five dollars per square foot of home used for business, up to 300 square feet.”

“Here’s a personal tax deduction people miss out on all the time: casualty, disaster and theft losses,” says Jacob Dayan, partner and co-founder of Community Tax (@communitytaxllc).

Dayan says that if “Your home, household items or car are damaged in an earthquake, destroyed in a flood or stolen, you can deduct the value of the loss that isn’t covered by your homeowner’s or auto insurance. So if you were affected by a catastrophic event in 2016, start documenting your cost basis and complete IRS form 4684 to claim this deduction.”

Avoid these common mistakes

“Self-filing taxpayers make all kinds of mistakes,” says Thompson, “from failure to deduct all ordinary and necessary business expenses on Form 1040, Schedule C to failure to attach W-2 forms to tax returns that are filed on paper.”

A common mistake that Sweeney sees is “waiting to request an extension. If you know that you need one, I highly recommend requesting for it as soon as possible and reading up on any changes in these requests for 2017.”

For people who have donated to charity, Freeman emphasizes that they need to “make sure they get a receipt. If the donation value or cash value is over $250, you need to have a receipt or letter from the charitable organization to prove you made the donation.”

Some other common mistakes that Freeman has seen include:

  • Not signing and dating the tax forms
  • Not completing the tax forms
  • Not entering (or entering an incorrect routing number and account number) for direct deposit
  • Not itemizing medical expenses (so long as they exceed 10% of your income)
  • Entering an incorrect social security number
  • Entering incorrect calculations
  • Not attaching a copy of your W-2 to the tax forms
  • Not attaching all the appropriate schedules to the tax forms
  • Mailing tax forms to an incorrect mailing address
  • Not entering accurate data on the correct lines
  • Entering the wrong filing status
  • Not entering additional income

Most of those mistakes are really just common errors, but they can add up to big headache. Luckily, starting your taxes now instead of on April 14th will give many more chances to double check! And you can learn more about filing your taxes in the eBook Tax Season 101: An OppLoans Explainer.

Contributor Jacob Dayan - OppLoans

HarrineFreeman2

Contributor Deborah Sweeney - OppLoans

Brian Thompson

About the Contributors: 

Jacob Dayan is partner and co-founder of Chicago-based Community Tax, a national provider of tax resolution, tax preparation, bookkeeping and accounting services. He previously worked on Wall Street as an options analyst and as a foreign exchange trader. Jacob holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Harrine Freeman is a financial expert, speaker, counselor, writer, CEO and owner of H.E. Freeman Enterprises, a financial services company that provides personal finance consulting services such as credit repair, debt reduction, budgeting, saving, planning for retirement and financial literacy education. Harrine is also the best-selling author of “How to Get out of Debt: Get An “A” Credit Rating for Free.” She has made over 150 media appearances as a featured financial expert.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.

Chicago business lawyer and CPA Brian J. Thompson has been an Illinois CPA since 1992 and an attorney since 2000. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. You can learn more about his practice at BrianThompsonLaw.com.

9 Cheap Ways to Lower Your Winter Energy Bill

8 Cheap Ways to Lower Your Winter Energy Bill


Now that the holidays are over, you’re probably settling in for the winter. But if you haven’t taken the time to properly winterize your home, then all those hours spent snuggling up on the couch could be driving your energy bill through the roof.
Winterizing your home might sound like an expensive proposition—and it certainly can be. But there are also plenty of ways to cut down on your energy costs without spending a ton of money up front.

1. Conduct Your Own Home Energy Audit

“If you’re winterizing on a budget, you should start by doing your own home energy assessment,” says Sarah Brown, a home safety expert with SafeWise.com (@SafeWise). “You need to find your greatest sources of wasted energy before investing in any winterization projects.”

She says that “finding out if your greatest energy losses come from insulation, lighting, heating and cooling or electronics will help you make a wiser investment.”

2. Lower Your Thermostat

Jim Chilsen, spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board (@cubillinois), says that “you can save up to three percent on your energy bills for every degree you lower your thermostat.”

Jim recommends that you “try setting the thermostat no higher than 68 degrees when you’re at home, and turn it down to 62 degrees or lower at bedtime. Just be careful: Drastically dropping the temperature isn’t good for your health, and anything below 55 degrees can freeze your pipes.”

Oh hey. That reminds us…

3. Insulate Your Pipes

If you’re trying to save money, the absolute last thing you want is for your pipes to freeze and burst. That could end up costing you thousands to repair. And taking proper care of your pipes might mean more than just keeping your thermostat at 55 degrees.

According to Peter Duncanson, director of systems development at ServiceMaster Restore, you can “avoid frozen pipes in unheated areas of your home, like basements and attics, by wrapping uninsulated pipes with foam or self-adhesive insulating tape. Any pipes closer to the exterior walls that are exposed, and any water pipes outside should be covered. A six-inch section of pipe insulation foam can cost as little as three dollars—thousands of dollars less than dealing with a burst pipe.”

Other methods to prevent pipe freeze that Duncanson suggests are to “allow kitchen and bath faucets to run slowly to avoid freezing and to open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors so warmer air can circulate around pipes.”

(You can also find ServiceMaster Restore on Facebook.)

4. Winterize Your Windows

Here’s a tip. If you can stand by your window and literally feel the cold breeze coming in from the outside, then your windows definitely need to be winterized. All that expensive warm air is leaking right out of your home, forcing your furnace to work over-time to catch up.

“You can buy a window insulation kit for $15 to $25 online or at your local hardware store. It should come with double-sided tape and plastic film for covering the inside of your windows,” says Jim Chilsen.

But buying the kit is only the first step. Luckily, Chilsen also has step-by-step instructions for how to use it.

  • Clean the window frame with a damp cloth or rubbing alcohol.
  • Apply one layer of double-sided tape to the window frame and remove the back cover.
  • Unfold the plastic film that comes with the insulation kit. Adhere the plastic film to the tape starting at the top, move to the bottom, and then finish at the left and right sides.
  • Grab a hair dryer. Use it to shrink the film to provide a better seal around the window and to work out wrinkles. The heat will seal the plastic and window together. Most insulation kits have multiple sheets of plastic, so you should be able to repeat the process for other windows.
  • Optional: For extra insulation, place bubble wrap over the window, as a first layer, and then put the plastic sheet over that. Use packing tape to connect different pieces of bubble wrap.

5. Lower the Temperature for Your Water Heater

The little details can make a big difference. Take your water heater for instance…

Sarah Brown from SafeWise says, “Set your water heater to 120 degrees. Most manufacturers leave water heaters at 140 degrees. By turning it down your water heater won’t have to work as hard to heat up the cold water which will save you money.”

6. Take Care of Your Furnace

“If there is only one thing you will be doing to prepare a house for the winter, it should be to pay attention to the heating system,” says Jason Roberts (@jasonroberts328) of My Handyman Services.

If you don’t want to spend the money on a professional furnace inspection, Roberts has some pointers:

  • Check and replace the heating filters. Specialists claim it’s best to replace the filters every two to three months. These are not that expensive especially compared to the issues they may cause us if we leave them without proper maintenance. 
  • Spend some time cleaning the vents. Dust and dirt build up over time and this will make your system work inefficiently. 
  • Inspect the ductwork. Look for dirt or streaking that may be a sign of air leaks. These need to be sealed by a professional. 

7. Insulate Your Doors

“The exterior doors in your home may have air leaks,” says Jeffrey Weldler, an Interior Decorating Expert at Vänt Wall Panels (@VantPanels).

“This means your furnace will run long, your HVAC system will be less efficient, and you will have to pay more for your heating bill. Even though this is more commonly found in older homes, it can occur in newer homes as well.”

His solution is to “pick up strip insulation to apply to the bottom of the door, and also push a rug against the door’s bottom to prevent the air from getting in.”

8. Check the Insulation in Your Attic

Hot air rises, right? So it’s probably not surprising that a poorly insulated attic can lead to massive heating loss. Luckily, Jim Chilsen has some solid advice.

“Look across your attic floor,” he says. “If the insulation is even with or below the attic floor joists, it’s time to add more.”

9. Use a Ceiling Fan to Increase Warm Air Flow

Chilsen also points out that you can “circulate the heat in your home with the help of a ceiling fan. In the winter, run the fan clockwise (from your position, looking up at it) to pull warm air down from the ceiling.”

Keeping cozy this winter doesn’t have to cost you a bundle. Follow these tips and stay warm longer for less money. Happy hibernation!

Contributor Sarah Brown - OppLoans

Contributor Jim Chilsen - OppLoans

Contributo Peter Duncanson - OppLoans

Contributor Jason Roberts - OppLoans

Jeffrey Weldler

About the Contributors: 

Sarah Brown is a home and community safety expert for SafeWise.  She loves making the most of her free time by spending it outdoors and with family and friends.

Jim Chilsen is the spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board (@cubillinois), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that has been representing the interests of residential utility customers across Illinois since 1984.

Peter Duncanson is the Director of Systems Development for ServiceMaster Restore and Chairman of the Board of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Peter holds many certifications and his expert knowledge on all things home-related helps readers take simple, yet highly effective steps to safeguard their home and their family.

Jason Roberts is a senior marketing specialist part of My Handyman Services team—a London based home improvement company. He has a degree in marketing from City, University of London.

Jeffrey Weldler is the Marketing Director and Home Design Expert at Vänt Wall Panels. Vänt Wall Panels are the most innovative and user-friendly wall décor system ever created. Vänt is inspiring living at its finest. They’re perfect for every room in the house, from the kitchen and bedroom to the living room and office. Learn more about Vänt by visiting Vänt Wall Panels.

25 Little-Known Presidential Money Facts

25 Fun Facts About Presidents, Money, and Presidents Who Were Bad with Money


Have you heard the one about the ex-president who was so broke upon leaving office that he had to move in with his mother-in-law? If you had to take a guess, which president do you think got a speeding ticket while in office? Did you know that Thomas Jefferson’s poor financial decisions are the reason we have the Library of Congress?
The president is the country’s CEO. So, historically, how have they been with their own businesses and personal finances? The answers are… mixed. We spoke to Financial Expert Harrine Freeman (@harrine) to get these little-known presidential money facts!

George Washington

  1. When George Washington was elected as the first president of the United States, he refused to accept the office’s $25,000 salary. He was later convinced to take the paychecks in order to set a good precedent for future office-holders. It is now against the law for a US president not to take a salary
  2. That $25,000 salary was two percent of the U.S. budget. If a modern president’s salary was two percent of the budget, it would be around $80 billion.
  3. When Washington married Martha, she was by far the wealthier of the pair. Her money came from her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, who was almost twenty years older than her and died after only seven years of marriage.
  4. It’s against the law for a living president’s likeness to be printed on U.S. currency. This dates back to George Washington’s refusal to have his portrait printed on the U.S. dollar. In 1866, this tradition was made law by an act of Congress.
  5. Even though George Washington was one of the wealthiest people in the whole country, the nature of farming meant that he had very little free cash on hand. That’s why Washington had to borrow $600 from a neighbor in order to attend his own inauguration.

Thomas Jefferson

  1. Thomas Jefferson was in debt for pretty much his entire life. In 1815, he was forced to sell his library to the government in order to pay his creditors. Those books formed the basis for the Library of Congress.

James Monroe

  1. President James Monroe was buried in New York City because there was no money to send his remains back to his home state of Virginia.

Abraham Lincoln

  1. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be featured on a U.S. coin. It was (you guessed it) the penny! Minted in 1909, “Lincoln Pennies” were only meant to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. However, the coins proved so popular that they just never stopped minting them!
  2. As a young man, Lincoln owned a grocery store with a business partner, William F. Berry. After Berry died, Lincoln was left with so much debt that the future president referred to it as “The National Debt.”

Ulysses S. Grant

  1. Early in his presidency, Ulysses S. Grant was pulled over by the police in Washington D.C. and given a $5 speeding ticket for driving his horse and buggy too fast.
  2. After he left the presidency, Ulysses S. Grant lost almost all his money when he invested it in a business that turned out to be a swindle. Grant was forced to sell his old Civil War mementos for money. However, in light of his situation, Grant also had a $150,000 debt forgiven by William H. Vanderbilt.
  3. Eventually, Grant wrote and sold his memoirs in order to pay off his outstanding debts.

William McKinley

  1. While he was governor of Ohio, McKinley co-signed a loan to support a friend’s business venture. The business failed, and McKinley was forced to declare bankruptcy. Three years later he was elected president.

William Howard Taft

  1. When adjusted for inflation. Taft was the highest paid president in history. His $75,000 salary in 1909 would be the equivalent of almost 1.9 million in today’s dollars.

Warren G. Harding

  1. President Warren G. Harding loved to play poker. He loved it so much, in fact, that he once lost an entire set of priceless White House china in a game.

Herbert Hoover

  1. President Herbert Hoover’s first job ever was picking bugs off of potato plants. He was paid one dollar per hundred bugs. Hoover would later study geology at Stanford University and go on to make a fortune in the mining business.
  2. Hoover was worth $75 million (over a billion dollars today) and donated his presidential salary to charity.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

  1. Do you know why President Franklin D. Roosevelt is on the dime? Congress voted in 1945 to place his profile on the ten-cent coin to commemorate the March of Dimes, a charity that FDR founded to combat childhood polio.

Harry S Truman

  1. Harry Truman declared bankruptcy in 1922 when his hat shop failed. It took him 12 years to get out of debt.
  2. Truman was so poor when he left the White House that he was forced to move into his mother-in-law’s home. His only source of income was his Army pension which paid $112 per month. In 1958, Congress passed the Former Presidents Act, which gave him a yearly pension.
  3. In 1968, Truman and his wife, Bess, received the first two Medicare cards.

George W. Bush

  1. In 1989, Bush paid $600,000 to become a co-owner of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers. Just before being elected president, he sold his stake in the team for $14.9 million.

General Trivia

  1. Mount Rushmore cost $990,000 to build, which is around $15 million dollars in today’s dollars. Considering the fact that it took 14 years for 400 men to literally carve four giant faces into the side of a mountain, $15 million actually doesn’t seem like too much.
  2. Modern-day presidents receive an annual salary of $400,000, a $50,000 expense account, and a $100,000 nontaxable travel account. They also get $19,000 for entertainment. Ex-presidents usually earn $125,000 per speech.
  3. Did you know that Presidents William McKinley, Grover Cleveland, and James Madison all have their faces on US currency? It’s true! McKinley’s face is on the $500 bill, Cleveland’s is on the $1,000 bill, and Madison’s is on the $5,000 bill. Those bills are no longer being printed, but they are all still accepted as legal U.S. tender.
The next time you’re worried about your finances, just remember good ol’ Harry Truman needing a literal Act of Congress to get his financial ship afloat!
HarrineFreeman2

About The Contributor: 

Harrine Freeman is a financial expert, speaker, counselor, writer, CEO and owner of H.E. Freeman Enterprises, a financial services company that provides personal finance consulting services such as credit repair, debt reduction, budgeting, saving, planning for retirement and financial literacy education. Harrine is also the best-selling author of “How to Get out of Debt: Get An “A” Credit Rating for Free.” She has made over 150 media appearances as a featured financial expert.

The Blockbuster Costs of Real Star Wars Death Stars, Spaceships and More!

The Blockbuster Costs of Real Star Wars Death Stars, Spaceships and More!

We all know Star Wars earns at the box office, but what would some of those epic space toys cost in real life? OppLoans has scoured the galaxy for the bottom line on all your favorite Star Wars set pieces.


As we eagerly await this week’s release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we’ve been thinking about how the way you watch a movie—or entire movie franchise—can drastically change as you get older.

As a kid, watching Star Wars was all about spaceships, grand adventures and using laser swords to battle an evil, asthmatic cyborg. But as an adult, you start noticing things in the films that may have breezed right past you before.

For instance, you might wonder how anyone in these movies is able to afford the spaceships they’re constantly jetting around in. They make a lot of jokes about the Millennium Falcon being a piece of junk, which probably means that it costs a small fortune to maintain. No wonder Han Solo took the reward money at the end of A New Hope. That man’s got bills!

And what about the Death Star, hmm? A space station that’s the size of a freaking moon? Emperor Palpatine had to become a shadowy dictator, because there is no way that project was making it through a Galactic Senate Budget Committee. So we wondered, if we were to try and build the Death Star today, how much would it actually cost?

Lucky for us, we have this little thing called “the internet,” where no question is too weird to go unanswered. We did some snooping and found estimated costs for The Death Star, a Star Destroyer, an AT-AT, and even, yes, The Millennium Falcon. Enjoy!

Tataouine - Costs of Real Star Wars Death Stars, Spaceships and More!

Death Star – $852,000,000,000,000,000

(via Centives)

Yup. That’s right. 15 zeroes. It might come as a surprise, but building a space station the size of a moon plus a giant laser capable of blowing up a planet is an expensive endeavor. So expensive, in fact, that it would cost 852 quadrillion dollars, or over 7,000 times the yearly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the entire world!

These calculations were made by the good folks at Centives, an economics blog started by students at Lehigh University, and their original post has some really fantastic insights. For instance, they calculate that the amount of iron found in the earth’s molten core would be enough to build 2 million Death Stars.

However, the post also points out the fact that, based on the current rate of worldwide steel production, building a single Death Star would take over 800 thousand years. So if you’re planning on building one, pack some snacks. It’s going to be a long wait.

Read the original post here.

Star Destroyer – $636,000,000,000

(via Quora)

Aircraft carriers provide a really handy reference point when calculating the cost of a giant spaceship and/or Death Star. After all, aircraft carriers are already massive floating fortresses, so the basic amount of materials used to build one can be easily scaled up to match the size of a much larger vessel.

And wow is the Start Destroyer a much, much larger vessel. According to Quora contributor Kynan Eng (@kynan_eng), it would be approximately 44.4 the times of a Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier. Since those aircraft carriers cost around 10.44 billion each, a Star Destroyer would cost an estimated $464 billion.[1]

And that’s the cost for Star Destroyers that can’t really do anything: no turbolasers, no engines, not even any electricity. It’s those extra costs that bump the total cost up to $636 billion.

One thing those estimate don’t account for is the cost of actually getting the Star Destroyer into space. Warning: It ain’t cheap. Eng estimates that, using current technology for space travel, moving the Star Destroyer parts off-world would cost about 44.4 trillion. So yeah, start saving those pennies.

Read the original post here.

Millennium Falcon – $4,021,116,973

(via ModelSpaceUSA)

This estimate comes courtesy of a spectacular infographic from Model-Space.com, a website for model-building enthusiasts.

And that’s all we’re going to say. Because we think you should check out the full infographic. Trust us. You’ll be happy you did.

To see the infographic, click here.

AT-AT – 196,000,000

(via Quora)

This estimate comes to us again from Kynan Eng. And while the price tag is still pretty astronomical, Eng also starts his post with some good news:

“…the AT-AT is one of the few Star Wars vehicles that can be built using today’s technologies, creating jobs for working families today. It would also be completely useless from a military viewpoint, but that doesn’t matter because it is way cool and impressive.”

We couldn’t agree more. Using AT-AT dimensions from Wookieepedia  (if you’re not familiar with that site, it’s exactly what you think it is) and comparing them to the cost of various heavy-duty vehicles, Eng estimates a total cost of $196 million for the AT-AT.

This is actually achievable, people. Someone start a GoFundMe!

Read the original post here.

So, there you have it, running a Galactic dictatorship—or rebelling against one—isn’t cheap. When you’re in the theater this weekend checking out the latest addition to the Star Wars saga, maybe you’ll have a new appreciation for the Empire. Sure, they’re undeniably the worst, but somewhere deep in their ranks they’ve got an amazing finance department. Give those goons a raise!


References:

  1. “List of Countries by Projected GDP.” Statistics Times. Retrieved December 14, 2016 from http://statisticstimes.com/economy/countries-by-projected-gdp.php

Finance Friday: A good week for personal finance news? That’s debatable.

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For personal finance junkies, this week was a big one. From the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Monthly Complaint Report, to the continuing controversy at Wells Fargo, to—oh yeah—a little talk here and there about our presidential candidates’ finances, the one thing you can say about this week is that it was never, ever boring …

Here are our top personal finance stories from this week:

Kansas City Star: Thinking of taking out a payday loan? Well, this payday lender have been ordered to pay back $1.266 billion due to their deceptive and misleading business practices. Why don’t you try a personal installment loan from OppLoans instead?

Motley Fool: Here’s a great piece that debunks 11 common (and harmful) myths about credit scores.

CFPB: The most recent addition of the Monthly Complaint Report is out with a spotlight on complaints over money transfers.

Bloomberg: The bad news for Wells Fargo continues. This week they were sanctioned by the US Justice Department for improperly repossessing cars. Oh, and those cars belonged to members of the US military. Ouch.

LowCards.com: Ready for another? If you were one of the 500,000 who had a fraudulent Wells Fargo account created in your name, closing that account could actually hurt your credit score.

Yahoo Finance: Of all the reasons to carry around a tiny photo of actor Terry Crews in your wallet, “to help save money” might just be the best.

The Baltimore Sun: The bankrupt retailer USA Discounters is going to forgive $95.9 million in consumer debt due to abusive and unfair business practices.

New York Times: When you have a family, driving might be more affordable than flying, but there are still extra ways for you to save.

ICYMI this week on the OppLoans blog:

OppLoans Word of the Week: Term

Getting a Loan with Bad Credit? It’s Possible. Here’s How.

3 Ways an Installment Loan Can Help Your Credit Score

The OppLoans Guide to Consolidating Student Loan Debt

Have a greet weekend

If you have bad credit but need a loan, you should avoid predatory payday and title lenders. With a safe, reasonable personal installment loan from OppLoans, you can get your money quickly (as early as the next business day) with terms that you can afford to repay. Making your payments on time could even help your credit score! To learn more, or to apply for the a loan today, check out our homepage: www.OppLoans.com.

Finance Friday: The Push for Financial Literacy!

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Well, it was quite a week for personal finance news! The Wells Fargo scandal continues, mortgage rates slip to a three-month low, and several organizations join us in the fight for financial literacy. We paid close attention to the stories that affect you and your wallet, and compiled the top 10 for easy reading! We also offer OppU so you can better understand your money through a series of short courses.

These are all the personal finance, financial literacy, and budgeting/saving articles that deserve your attention this week. Learn some new savings tips, or just stay up to date on current finance news. Happy (Finance) Friday everybody!

Here are our top 10 personal finance articles from this week:

The Washington Post: Critics say Wells Fargo CEO should forfeit more than $41 million after sales scandal.

Bloomberg: How would a Trump or Clinton presidency affect your finances? Bloomberg offers a helpful Personal-Finance Guide to the debates and the election.

MarketWatch: How much will you spend on Halloween this year? Experts say Halloween spending may reach an all-time high!

Bankrate: It might be time to refinance! Mortgage rates slip to a three-month low.

Forbes: Don’t underestimate how important it is to save! This Nigerian fintech startup helps you save for life’s big moments.

Military Times: Set your kids up for financial success with these five financial literacy finds for parents!

Nasdaq: Learn to avoid destructive behaviors in your personal finance journey!

The Daily Free Press: Keep your eye on LearnLux, a Boston-based startup making financial literacy possible among millennials.

Consumer Affairs: Get the low-down on how to start saving from Consumer Affairs reporter Mark Huffman.

The Motley Fool: Do your finances need a makeover? Here are 15 things you should stop wasting money on.

ICYMI this week on the OppLoans Blog:

Considering a Fast Cash Loan? Here are 4 Steps to Get it Right!

Eat. Save. Love: How to Eat Cheaper in 4 Simple Steps

OppLoans Word of the Week: Credit Score

Have a great weekend everybody!

If you have emergency expenses and need cash in a hurry, don’t turn to a predatory paydayandtitle lender. Apply for a safe, reliable personal installment loan from OppLoans instead. To learn more, or to apply for a loan today, check out our homepage: OppLoans.com.

Finance Fridays: Another Rough Week for Payday Loans

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Payday loans continued to make headlines for all the wrong reasons this week. Between more cities and states enacting tougher regulations against payday loans, criminal banking practices coming to light, and socially responsible lending innovators winning major awards (what?) this was a busy week. At OppLoans, we track these stories closely because nothing is more important to us than helping borrowers avoid these predatory lenders and their bad products. So, for payday loan and personal finance newshounds like us, this was another big week of headlines.

Check out all the lending, saving, and budgeting stories that hit our radar this week. We’ve put one favorite at the top (shout out to socially responsible lending!) followed by more helpful money tips and articles for you to enjoy. Happy (Finance) Friday!

Here are our top 10 personal finance stories from this week:

MacArthur Foundation: the 2016 “Genius Grants” were just announced and one of them caught our eye. José A. Quiñonez founded the Mission Asset Fund in San Francisco to facilitate lending circles in unbanked communities, helping folks establish a credit history from scratch. That’s … oh, what’s the word … genius!

New York Times: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is not happy with Wells Fargo.

Cosmopolitan: Weddings are very expensive, so here’s 19 ways to save money while still celebrating your special day.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Springfield, MO city council just passed a resolution supporting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) proposed rules for payday lenders.

Telegraph-Forum: This article examines the effects of the CFPB’s proposed rules on payday lenders in Ohio.

Credit.com: How does having student loan debt affect your ability to get a home mortgage?

NerdWallet: Have bad credit? Let a financial expert explain how you can recover.

Forbes: Retirement is going to arrive sooner than you think. Here’s three ways you can save money to support you in your golden years.

Yahoo! News: The Holidays are coming. Do you have money for gifts? If the answer is no, check out some ways you can save money this fall.

Huffington Post: Entrepreneurs are famous for being thrifty, but here are some methods to make sure that you are cutting your costs effectively.

ICYMI this week on the OppLoans Blog:

OppLoans Word of the Week: Cash Advance

LendingTree Names OppLoans #1 Customer-Rated Personal Lender

Cut the Cord: Save Money with Cable TV Alternatives

Longer Terms or Lower Payments: Which Debt Consolidation Strategy is Right for You?

Have a great weekend everybody!

When you need cash in a hurry, it can be tempting to turn to a predatory payday or title lender. Don’t do it. Apply for a safe, reliable personal installment loan from OppLoans instead. We have longer terms, lower rates, and better customer service. To learn more, or to apply for a loan today, check out our homepage: OppLoans.com.

LendingTree Names OppLoans #1 Customer-Rated Personal Lender

LendingTree Names OppLoans #1 Customer-Rated Personal Lender

LendingTree, one of the leading online loan marketplaces, has named OppLoans the number one customer-rated lender for the second quarter of 2016! The results were calculated from actual LendingTree customer reviews, which makes this award especially important to us. We’re always happy with any positive feedback, but hearing it directly from our customers is what we’re all about!

At OppLoans, we think everyone deserves better than a payday loan. That’s why we offer personal installment loans that are safer and more affordable than predatory payday or title loans. But giving customers a better loan isn’t just about offering lower rates, more manageable payments, and higher principals; it’s also about providing a better lending experience overall. We want to say thank you to LendingTree and all our customers for letting us know it’s working!

If you’re interested in a better, safer, more personal loan, apply today at OppLoans.com. With better personal loans and world-class customer service, it’s no wonder our customers rate us an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars on LendingTree. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to bulk purchase some giant foam fingers. Thanks to all our customers who made this happen!