Is It Worthwhile To Still Use Credit Cards with So Many Data Breaches?

Just recently, PF Chang’s acknowledged that 33 of their restaurants had suffered a security breach over the last 8 months and that the credit card numbers as well as possibly the customers’ names and the expiration dates of the cards were compromised.  This news should be shocking or surprising.  Unfortunately, data breaches have become common place.  Just consider the recent security breaches at Target, Michael’s, and Neiman Marcus, to name a few.

If you’re diligent about shredding your personal information so that it can’t get into the wrong hands, you’re still not safe.  Consider all the recent security breaches.  It’s enough to make people start to think about not using credit cards just  to avoid this problem.

But even that is not a complete solution.  Yahoo! Finance just announced that a Russian gang has stolen billions of Internet passwords and millions of e-mail addresses.  “The records include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, ranging from household names to small Internet sites” (Yahoo! Finance).

The problem is so widespread.  If you want to live in the modern world, going without the Internet and credit cards to preserve your identity is very difficult.  Instead, consumers need to become even more diligent in their efforts to protect themselves and their identities.

Data Breaches Consider taking these steps:

1.  Change passwords frequently and make them difficult.

If you’re using “Sunshine” or “password123″ as your password, it’s time to step things up.  Choose passwords that have capital and lower case letters as well as symbols and numbers.  A password like “S&36ptrM$9″ will be much more difficult to crack than the passwords most people use.

Remember to also change your passwords frequently and avoid using the same password for all of your accounts.

2.  Protect your data.

When you shop online, you have the option to have the company save your credit information.  Do not opt to do this to protect yourself and your financial information.  Yes, entering your credit information every time you place an order online is a pain, but it’s much easier than trying to resolve identity theft.

3.  Order your credit report 3x year for free.

Each of us is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the credit bureaus.  Make sure to order yours, but rather than ordering all three at once, stagger them.  Order one from Experian in January, one from Equifax in May, and one from TransUnion in September.  By staggering them, you can keep a close eye on your credit and notice fairly early if there is any unusual activity.

4.  Check your accounts regularly.

Especially if you have automatic payments set up, make sure to still take the time to look at your account to make sure there is no suspicious activity.

5.  Consider freezing your credit.

This is a radical step, but freezing your credit is the best way to protect your identity.  If your credit is frozen, no one can open a new account (including you) unless the credit is thawed using a special code you’re given when you freeze your credit.

Identity theft is an unfortunate consequence of our modern world.  You can’t avoid all technology to protect your financial information.  These strategies will help protect you while letting you use and enjoy modern financial conveniences like credit cards and ordering online.

Add Up Your Household Energy Savings

We’re deep into the hot summer months.  Air conditioners across the country are doing overtime keeping our homes and businesses cool and comfortable and keeping the heat outside.  Unfortunately, it won’t be that much longer before we’re turning on the heat and repelling the cold of winter.  All of that comfortable air, hot or cold, comes with a cost.  Sometimes you’ve got to do what you can to find whatever energy savings you can.

Here in the northlands of North Dakota, we’ve got plenty of options for powering our air conditioners and furnaces.  Predominately, we use natural gas for heat and electricity for the air conditioning, but also have options for dual gas/electricity appliances.  Our house uses electricity for AC and gas for the furnace.  (If you’re trying to compare services, using something like this energy conversion calculator can help figure out which service is really the better deal)

Add up Energy SavingsIf you’re looking for energy savings, comparing services is a great place to start, but there are some other ways that you can help cut the cost of your energy and make it’s impact on your wallet a little lighter.

Adjust the temperature

Adjusting the temperature on the thermostat a few degrees can reduce the amount of time that the air conditioner runs in the summer or the furnace runs in the winter.  Turn the thermostat up a few degrees in the summer and use some small fans to help move the air around to adjust the comfort level.  Do the opposite in the winter.  Turn the thermostat down a few degrees and use blankets and heavier clothing to help adjust your comfort level.

Invest in thermal shades

Even if you have a really efficient home, you’ll still lose thermal mass.  And the biggest culprit for that is your windows.  Investing in thermal shades and blinds can help keep the heat out in the summer and the cold out in the winter.  They’re more expensive, but unless you’re redecorating your house every year, they’ll last years and make up for the added cost in energy savings.

Program your energy savings

Does it matter to you if your house stays nice and cool during the summer while your at work?  Or nice and warm in the winter?  If we’re honest, we really only want our house warm or cold when we’re there.  If the house is empty for 8 hours or more a day, there’s really no reason to waste all that energy while we’re gone.  Buying and installing a programmable thermostat is the best way to be able to adjust the temperature while your away and still assure that your house is comfortable when you return for the day.  Set a schedule to adjust the temperature up or down by 5-10 degrees while your out of the house (or sleeping) and to return to your “comfortable” temperature just before you return home.

Spread the cost out

Once you’ve maximized the full energy savings potential, you still won’t be left without any energy costs.  There’s still going to be a bill showing up each month that will need paying.  If you’ve got one energy supply feeding your air conditioner in the summer and another feeding your furnace in the winter, like I do, chances are your bills will spike during the hottest and coldest months of the year.  Most utilities will have some sort of payment system that will allow for you to pay an even amount each month.  We’ve got both our electricity and gas accounts on such a program.  We pay a relatively flat rate each month to each utility, and avoid paying large bills during the extremes of the seasons.

What other ways do you employ to create energy savings for your household or business?

The 1,700 Mile Move: 5 Lessons I Learned

I come from a family of non-movers. For example, my mom, once she married, became listless and lost her appetite and quite a bit of weight.  The doctor diagnosed her with homesickness.  She had moved less than five miles from her family home to her home with my dad.  (Yes, this is a true story!)

We moved one other time less than a 1/2 mile away, and even that was traumatic for her.

I have ventured farther in my lifetime, going 400 miles away to graduate school, but a 1,700 mile move is something else entirely.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far as we prepare to move from the Midwest to the Desert Southwest:

1700 mile move1.  We had way more “stuff” than I thought.  I knew we had a lot,
but wow, I didn’t know how much.  We’ve sold, thrown away, or donated at least half of our stuff.  Every time we think we’re almost done packing, more “stuff” seems to appear.  I wonder if we’ll ever be done!

2.  Plan for a long-distance move as early as possible.  We started selling our stuff back in early May, and so far, that stuff has brought in over $1,000.  However, even though I started selling items 8 weeks in advance of our move, it still wasn’t early enough.  We’re less than 5 days away from our move, and I am still waiting for our treadmill, file cabinet, and office desk to sell.

I was surprised to see that sometimes listing things to sell on eBay, Facebook, and Craigslist is like planting seeds.  I’ve listed some things, and there was no interest.  But then, say two or three weeks after I listed them, someone discovers the listing and buys the item.  Allowing enough time for things to sell is essential.

3.  Exercise equipment has no resale value.  Many people want to buy exercise equipment, but selling that equipment later is difficult.  Luckily, I bought our treadmill second hand for less than $100 a few years ago.  I don’t think it’s going to sell before we leave.  I think I’ll be taking it out for trash pick up.

4.  Moving 1,700 miles is expensive!  Luckily, my husband’s employer is paying for our move.  Still, even though we’ve seriously pared down our belongings, the move is going to cost over $6,000!  (We’ve paired down so much that the mover estimated two other families’ household goods could fit on the semi-truck with our small load.)

If my husband’s new employer wasn’t paying, I think the smartest financial decision would be to sell everything before we move and buy used once we’re in our new location.

5.  Determining the cost of living in a new location isn’t easy.  Since Tucson, Arizona (where we’re going) has a lower cost of living than Chicago, Illinois (where we’re leaving) and my husband received a substantial raise with his new employer, we thought we’d be in a better position financially.  That’s before we looked at the new company’s health insurance plan and saw how much worse it is than our current plan.  Most of my husband’s raise is going to cover the difference in the cost of insurance.

Have you moved a thousand or more miles away?  If so, what lessons did you learn?