Oct 18, 2016

How Having Kids Changes Your Taxes

Having a child changes everything. Your relationship with your partner, your work schedule, your sleeping patterns—there are few things a new baby doesn’t have an effect on. Many parents are prepared for the sleepless nights, the need to switch to the minivan, and the decrease in social hours with friends, but have you thought about how your new little bundle of joy will affect your taxes? While you often hear how expensive it can be to raise a child, there are also numerous tax breaks and credits to take advantage of. Keep the following facets of the tax system in mind and give your finances the boost they need, from your little one’s birth to their college days.

Use Exemptions to Your Favor

After having a child, you’re allowed to claim them as a dependent on your taxes to receive an extra exemption. This can help reduce your AGI, or adjusted gross income. The government uses your AGI to determine how much you owe, therefore, the lower your income (after exemptions), the lower your tax bill. There are limitations to this, but most can look to save thousands of dollars. Siphon those saved dollars into a college savings account and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in paying for your child’s upcoming educational career.

In the Case of Adoption

Perhaps you’re adopting a child. This process is not an inexpensive one, but the IRS recognizes these costly expenses by offering the opportunity to claim these expenses on your income taxes. Last year, any adoptions completed in 2015 allowed a federal adoption tax credit of up to a $13,400 per child. The amount you receive depends on your income. If you and your spouse make less than $291,919, you’re eligible. However, there are limitations. Because this is a tax credit, it isn’t refundable. That means you must owe the federal government some type of income tax, and you won’t be paid out the extra money left over, if any. The adopted child cannot be a stepchild, and they must be under the age of 18 or unable to take care of themselves to qualify.

Child Tax Credit

This refundable credit is designed to reduce the taxes you’re liable for, and can be awarded in amounts up to $1,000 per child. The amount of the credit awarded depends on income and the number of children living in your home. If you claim singly or as the head of the household, you’re ineligible for this credit if you make above $75,000. If you’re married, filing jointly, you must make less than $110,000 to qualify. If you’re confused about what will best work in your financial favor, speak with a professional who can help you determine your filing status.

When it Comes to College

If your child is already in college, take advantage of the American Opportunity Credit. This credit covers certain expenses associated with the first four years of college. There are regulations about how and who qualifies for this tax credit: your child must be in pursuit of a credential or a degree, and must be enrolled as a half-time student at least for tax year. They must also have no felony drug convictions on their record. For each student, the maximum credit you can procure annually is $2,500.

You should also keep the Lifetime Learning Credit in mind. This can help cover undergraduate costs for a student that does not qualify for the American Opportunity Credit, whether that be because they have a limited course load (are enrolled in school less than half-time status) or they’ve already completed their first four years of college credit. This credit can cover expenses including tuition and enrollment fees, along with books and course materials.
Child Care Credit

If you work full time and you must enroll your child in day care, most of those expenses are deductible on your income taxes. This is a nonrefundable tax credit. In order to qualify for the Child Care Credit, you must show proof of payment to a licensed childcare provider while you’re working or in search of employment. The child must be under 13 years old, and you cannot claim this credit if you’re married, but filing separately. This credit can award more than $3,000 per child per year.

The ins and outs of the tax process become more convoluted after having a child. If you’re unsure about which credits and exemptions you qualify for, don’t be afraid to talk with a professional to discover how you can get on the right financial foot- there are probably more than you think!

Oct 15, 2016

$125 Amazon or PayPal Giveaway

Are you starting to feel a little chill in the air? It's time for apple picking, hayrides, and haunted houses. Don't you just love Fall? This time of year also reminds us that the holidays are right around the corner. It sneaks up on you so quickly and you want to be prepared. I've teamed up with a group of amazing bloggers to bring you a great giveaway that is perfect to help with those holiday purchases. The prize is your choice of $125 Amazon gift card or PayPal cash. I know you want to win! 

Enter here:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
This giveaway starts October 16 at 12:00 AM EST and ends October 30 at 12:00 AM EST. USA, 18+. One winner will be randomly selected from all qualifying entries and contacted via the email they provide. The winner has 48 hours to respond or new winner will be chosen. The winner will be announced on the Rafflecopter after they have responded.

Good luck!

Oct 14, 2016

Become the Ninja When LEGO NINJAGO World Opens Jan. 12, 2017 at LEGOLAND Florida Resort

I wanted to pass along some exciting news to all my readers who are LEGO® NINJAGO® fans. Starting Jan. 12, 2017, kids are invited to enter a magical martial arts kingdom where you become the ninja in your very own LEGO® NINJAGO® [NIN-JAH-GO] adventure when a whole new theme park land opens at LEGOLAND® Florida Resort.

LEGO NINJAGO World will add an immersive area filled with several hands-on, outdoor activities where kids can sharpen their ninja skills before the ultimate showdown on LEGO NINJAGO The Ride, a dazzling new attraction that blends 3D computer animation, “4D” effects and groundbreaking technology never seen outside a LEGOLAND theme park.

Inspired by the popular LEGO building sets and the “LEGO NINJAGO: Masters of Spinjitzu” TV show, LEGO NINJAGO World puts guests at the center of the action in lots of fun ways:

LEGO NINJAGO The Ride — a state-of-the-art “dark ride” where guests score points using ninja hand moves to blast animated fireballs, lightning and more at waves of 3D villains
Zane’s Temple Build — a giant LEGO building experience where kids can contribute to a model of a mountaintop NINJAGO monastery
Kai’s Spinners — master the ancient art of Spinjitzu at these twirling, whirling, single-person platforms
Cole’s Rock Climb — an outdoor climbing wall to test kids’ balance and endurance
Jay’s Lightning Drill — measure your reflexes with these “lightning fast” light-up targets

The lushly landscaped area also will feature daily meet-and-greet opportunities with sibling ninjas Kai and Nya [NEE-AH], and Wu’s Warehouse, a themed retail shop stuffed with LEGO NINJAGO building sets, toys, clothing, souvenirs and more.

LEGO NINJAGO The RideAssisted by Kai and Nya, LEGOLAND Florida Resort General Manager Adrian Jones announced the land’s grand opening date on the eve of the resort’s fifth birthday, continuing the largest period of growth and expansion in its history.

Since opening Oct. 15, 2011, the place #BuiltForKids has added LEGOLAND Water Park (May 2012), LEGO Star Wars™ Miniland Model Display (November 2012), LEGO World of Chima™ (July 2013), DUPLO® Valley (May 2014), LEGOLAND Hotel (May 2015) and Heartlake City (June 2015). In addition, the resort has unveiled several phased restorations of the historic Cypress Gardens, which celebrated its 80th anniversary earlier this year.

Along with LEGO NINJAGO World, construction continues on LEGOLAND Beach Retreat, which will more than double the resort’s on-site accommodations when its whimsically themed bungalows open in mid-2017. Guests currently can make reservations for stays from June 1-Sept. 4, 2017, with rates starting at $182 per night. A grand opening date and associated festivities will be announced at a later date, along with additional amenities.

For more information about visiting LEGOLAND Florida Resort, including savings on advance purchase of admission tickets, multi-tier annual passes, special events, VIP experiences, educational programs, services for guests with disabilities, on-site accommodations and much more, visit www.LEGOLAND.com/florida.

About LEGOLAND Florida Resort
Built for kids 2-12, this multi-day vacation destination located just 45 minutes from Orlando and Tampa includes an interactive, 150-acre theme park with more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, a world-famous botanical garden and the 5-acre LEGOLAND Water Park. LEGOLAND Hotel, located just steps from the theme park entrance, features 152 rooms and suites, each with its own LEGO® theme and some with beautiful views of nearby Lake Eloise. Opening in 2017 is LEGO NINJAGO World, an immersive theme park land with a groundbreaking, interactive ride inspired by the popular LEGO building sets and TV show, and LEGOLAND Beach Retreat, a lakefront resort with 83 themed bungalows offering 166 separate accommodations. LEGOLAND Florida Resort is a part of the Merlin Entertainments Group (LONDON: MERL).

Oct 11, 2016

I Finally Got Over My Biggest Cooking Fear

I have been cooking since I was about 10 years old. I had a natural passion for it and have not been afraid to experiment or try new things. The one thing I was not able to do was cook in a traditional stove top pressure cooker. The anxiety and fear was too much, so I avoided it at all cost. I wrote a post about it a couple years back and I cringe looking at it.

Fast forward to now. I have seen the whole Instant Pot pressure cooker craze circulating around social media, so I took a look and did some research. I added like 8 different ones from different brands to my wishlist. Honestly, I didn't think I would ever buy one. The fear was too real and I had no idea what an electric pressure cooker would do. Would it be noisy? Will it explode? I had a few blog friends buy one during one of those big Amazon one-day sales and they swore it was the greatest thing ever. One day I was looking on Amazon and decided to jump on the bandwagon take the plunge. After hours of comparing and researching, I settled on the Cuisinart brand. It was on sale for under $70 and roughly $20-30 less than the comparable Instant Pot. I added it to my cart and patiently waited for the delivery. When it arrived, pure joy and fear washed over me at the same time. I did not know what to expect.
Click on image for full info
I happened to have a chuck roast in the fridge to cook that day so I figured I would try my new pressure cooker out. I watched a couple YouTube videos so I could get a good idea of what to do. I managed to get the roast cooked and something really surprised me. Although I was scared to death the entire time, it turns out that the cooker doesn't make that evil hissing noise while on high pressure. I couldn't believe it! I managed to cooked a perfectly tender pot roast in half the time it would have taken on the stove top and learned I have nothing to fear. I have been missing out on this fabulous kitchen appliance all of this time! As a matter of fact, I've been cooking curry twice a week and it comes out perfect each time!

I have had my pressure cooker for a few months now and use it 3-5 times per week. It quickly became my absolute favorite appliance in the kitchen. Below are the reasons I love my Cuisinart pressure cooker:
  • You can brown, saute, and simmer. 
  • It can be used as a rice cooker and takes only 3 minutes too cook for white/basmati/Jasmine rice. 
  • It has high and low pressure settings with timer.
  • Keep warm feature is perfect for keeping food hot if you're not eating right away
  • I use it even when not using the pressure option
  • Even, fast cooking 
  • You can make soups, stews, curry, chili and more. 
  • Perfect size, not too big or too small
  • Easy to clean with a non-stick pot. Didn't think I'd care for the non-stick surface, but it's really great.
  • Self-locking lid prevents accidents. This helped with my fear
  • The pressure knob can't pop off while cooking. You have to manually jiggle it and pull to get it off. 
  • The texture of food doesn't change like it would using a slow cooker
  • It is SO EASY to use
  • Pretty stainless steel finish that shockingly stays clean 

If you have been thinking about buying an electric pressure cooker or if you are scared to death of them, I highly recommend the Cuisinart CPC-600 6 Quart 1000 Watt Electric Pressure Cooker (Stainless Steel). I am going to purchase a second one so I can use them both at the same time. I know for a fact that this will be the most used appliance in my kitchen. I need to donate my old dinosaur pot now that I think about it.

This cooker would make a great gift for yourself, a wedding, house warming or for the holidays. Trust me, anyone would be thrilled to unwrap this from under the tree! If you are on the fence, you should try this one out. If you decide to purchase one, please let me know. 

**This post contains affiliate links.

Oct 10, 2016

School Trips Becoming Too Expensive for Parents

School trips are part and parcel of school life. We all remember going on residential visits with school. I know I do. When I was 11, my entire Year 6 class flew to Switzerland for a week and we had a fabulous time learning about glaciers and listening to the cow bells jingle in the early mornings. I am sure my parents probably had to scrimp and scrape to be able to afford the trip, but they managed and I was lucky enough to go.

A Once in a Lifetime Experience

That was an exceptional trip, a once in a lifetime experience, and something I still remember many years later. Back then, trips like this were a rarity and were often subsidised by the school. These days it is becoming increasingly common for schools to organise prohibitively expensive field trips for students. Parents often have to borrow the money to pay for the trip (for more information about the latest loan rates, click the link), but a survey carried out two years ago has found that many parents are saying they cannot afford the cost of school trips.

Examination Course Field Trips

The older your child is, the more likely they are to be asked to go on field trips as part of their examination course. Some subjects, for example geography, expect students to conduct research out in the field. This type of educational trip is a valuable part of the course, but the problem is that many parents cannot afford to pay and are discouraging their child to take the subject, even if they are interested in doing so.

Schools are even asking parents to fund other, non-essential field trips to museums, art galleries and the theatre. Music lessons also fall into this category. To study music, students usually have to play an instrument, which means parents have to pay for lessons, instrument hire, and examinations. The cost of this can be exorbitant.

Expensive Foreign Trips

The cost of educational trips to foreign countries is also on the rise. It is not uncommon for parents to be asked to find £1,000 or more to pay for a trip abroad. For many families, this represents their budget for a family holiday, so if the child is allowed to go, nobody else gets a holiday that year.

For kids with two parents who both earn a good living, paying for school trips and educational extras is not a problem, but if a child comes from a single parent family subsisting on benefits or a low income, the cost is prohibitive. Consequently, it is not surprising that many parents say they can’t afford it and refuse to let their child participate. Expensive field trips are simply not accessible for many parents.

There is very little parents can do if the school asks them to fund an expensive field trip for their child, other than say no. Some schools have a hardship fund, which is designed to subsidise children from poorer families, but if you both work, you probably won’t qualify for assistance.

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