6 Ways to Prepare Your Home For a Long Vacation

Ed note: Recently, I landed at my vacation destination only to be greeted by an email informing me that a package I ordered had just arrived at my house. Whoops. A scramble ensued to get a neighbor to pick it up and store it out of sight. Before you make the same kind of mistake, read these tips from Tahnya Kristina.

LongVacation-bannerSummer is upon us. The weather is nice, the sun is shining and the 4th of July is just around the corner. If you’re getting ready to kick summer into high gear you may be planning a summer vacation. But who’s taking care of your home while you’re away?

While you’re sitting by a campfire or swimming in the ocean, your house needs to be maintained and kept secure. You don’t want anyone to know you’re away, as it could lead to theft and property damage.

Before you hop on a flight or jump in a car for your summer vacation, ask yourself these six questions. Being prepared will help maintain your home and save you money.

Who will get the mail?

One of the first signs of a vacant home is an overflowing mailbox. Don’t let your mail pile up while you’re away. Ask the post office to hold your mail temporarily – you can pick it up when you get back or have them deliver. Setting up this service takes just a few minutes.

Do you need to keep the lights on?

The answer is no. You don’t want your house to be dark for several weeks but keeping lights on while you’re away can be costly. Put your lights on a timer or use motion-censor lights outside. This way the lights come on when needed and don’t run up the electric bill. Connected home systems such as Insteon allow you to control your lights from your Apple devices through their app.

Did you unplug electronics?

It’s not enough to turn off your electronics. Even off, they pull an electric current, which costs money. Unplug electronics, such as TVs and computers to save money and prevent a potential fire in case of a malfunction.

Who will water the plants?

Don’t worry about your plants while you’re away. You can purchase tools that release water into your pots over several days. It helps keep plants nourished and hydrated if you can’t be home to water them.

Does the grass need to be cut?

Cut your grass the day before you leave to avoid coming home to an unattractive lawn. You can also pay a lawn service in advance and set your sprinklers on a timer to help maintain the lawn during hot summer months.

Does your house need air conditioning?

Turn off your thermostats before leaving and delete the timer to avoid paying for unused air conditioning. Companies such as Honeywell and Nest have  systems that allow you to control the temperature of your home from anywhere via their mobile app.

Now that’s a convenient way to maintain your home while on vacation.

7 Easy and Inexpensive Hobbies You Aren’t too Old For

Ed note: Feel like you have no free time? List your hobbies as “sleeping” or “watching TV”? I completely relate. Kelly Whalen has some great ideas for adding activities to your life that are enriching, don’t require a huge time commitment and are affordable.

We often think of hobbies as a childish thing or equate it with people who have more leisure time, like our retired grandparents. But no matter what stage of life you’re in, you’re never busy for hobbies. Carving out time to enjoy hobbies can be an amazing way to connect with others, take care of yourself and have fun. While your kids may be obsessed with collecting and trading Pokémon cards (yes, it’s still a thing), and your parents may spend hours each day in their vegetable garden, you may not know what to do. So we put together a list of fun and popular hobbies that won’t cost a lot.

1. Coloring

AdultHobbyThat’s right—coloring! Coloring is making a huge comeback for adults because it allows us to get creative, and, when done purposefully, it can be extremely calming and almost meditative. It’s a great way to relax and release some of the stress we carry around from busy lives and inexpensive supplies can be found anywhere. Don’t worry, you can color outside the lines if you want.

Read all about coloring for adults and get a free mandala to color at Wendy Piersall’s site

2. Cooking

Inexpensive cooking classes are often offered by your local government (township center, county extension, etc.) and can be a fun way to try a new cuisine or cooking technique. You can also look for free or cheap classes at cooking stores and some restaurants.

Search ‘cooking class’ and your location to find options in your area.

3. Book Club

This is one most folks are familiar with, and you may already participate in a book club. Instead of reading popular fiction, you may find or put together a book club based on shared interests such a reading the classics, crime fiction, autobiographies or science fiction.

Talk to the clerks at your local independent bookstore or gather up some friends for an evening of snacks, drinks and chatting about your favorite type of books.

4. Go into the woods

Even if you’re not much of an outdoors person, you can find a lot of clever things to do outside. Hiking and running are popular, but you could also organize or find a local bird watching group, amateur photography club or take up geocaching.

Try out geocaching for free using this site and their free app.

5. Find the free or cheap

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to save money, so why not make a list of all the free and cheap places to visit in your town or city? Most places have museums, historical sites, parks and other attractions that offer low or no cost admission. Some may accept donations in lieu of an entrance fee. A few of our favorites include: our local national park, Revolutionary War battlefields, parks that include some history (one near us has part of an old boardwalk and springs that were popular at the turn of the century) and even local college campuses.

A quick search of attraction and, parks near you or your local government’s site can lead to the start of a great list of free or affordable places to visit.

6. Play games

Board games have had a resurgence in recent years. With complex strategy games, card games and more, you’re sure to find something that appeals to you. Look for a local game shop or check out a tabletop game podcast to get an idea of what you might like.

Check out this list of Tabletop podcasts and do a search for your local game store.

7. Volunteer

What if you can’t think of anything to do as a hobby? You could turn your passion for pets into helping at an animal shelter. Or use your accounting degree to help a local nonprofit balance the books.

Sites like Volunteer Match and AllForGood can help you get started.

Whatever you choose, there are tons of options out there, so try something new this summer. Chances are it will lead you to feel more fulfilled and happy.

Top 7 Things Same-Sex Couples Need to Know About Marriage and Taxes

Today, the Supreme Court decided same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry. That means regardless of what individual states may have decided in the past (we decoded the confusing discrepancies here), all same-sex couples can now get married and have those unions legally recognized. Additionally, those already married and living in states that currently do not allow for same-sex marriage should now have their marriage recognized.

Besides the political, cultural and personal ramifications, getting a marriage certificate brings big changes at tax time, too. Here are the top tax items newly-married, or newly-recognized, gay couples need to know.

1. You cannot file as single.

Now you are recognized as a married couple, the single filing status is off the table for both federal and most state returns. Your choices are married filing jointly, married filing separately or, in limited cases, head of household. Filing as a married couple will get you two exemptions (instead of one when filing as single) and a higher standard deduction.

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2. You might fall victim to the “marriage penalty.”

Choose between married filing jointly and married filing separately with care. While married filing jointly is typically the most advantageous it may not be the case for you. This is particularly true if you are both high-earners. You may actually see a negative impact on your tax return when you switch from filing as single to married filing jointly.

3. You need to change your withholdings.

Because of the additional exemption and higher standard deduction you are allowed to claim on a joint tax return, it may be wise to change your state withholding with your employer if you previously had to use a single filing status to reflect these changes.

4. You need to update your information.

Because your return is filed under your Social Security number (SSN), it is important to ensure that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been notified of any name changes that take place. The SSA must process the change in the system and relay that information to the IRS before filing your return. You should wait to file your return until after the name change process has been completed to avoid any complications that could arise if the name on the return does not match the SSN on file with the SSA.

5. Your advance premium tax credit may be affected.

If either you or your new spouse has health insurance through a federal or state Marketplace, you should report your marriage if you have not already done so (as well as any associated changes, such as a move to a different state, change in income, or change in family size) to the Marketplace.  This will allow the Marketplace to adjust your advance credit payments if necessary.

6. First comes love, then comes marriage, then (sometimes) comes divorce.

Like heterosexual couples, divorce happens for same-sex couples. And there are serious impacts to your tax return when you separate or divorce. Make sure you get help from a tax professional.

7. You need to revisit past returns.

If you were married in a state that allowed same-sex marriages but lived in a state that did not you may have the opportunity to amend your previous state returns. For example, if you were married in New York in 2013 but lived in Missouri in 2013 and 2014, you may be able to amend your 2013 and 2014 state filings to reflect a married tax status. The ability to amend prior returns, and the manner in which such an amendment would be made, will likely depend on further guidance from each state. When the Supreme Court invalidated the federal prohibition against same-sex marriage in 2013, couples married in locations that allowed same-sex marriage were allowed to amend previous federal returns that used the single status and were filed during their marriage.

As always, H&R Block offices are open year-round. Make an appointment with one of our tax professionals to get help.

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