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Free Money Course for Teens

What teenager couldn't use a better understanding of personal finance?

Starting June 29, a five-week course called Money & Me will teach teens about financial responsibility. The free course will cover such basics as budgeting, credit advantages and pitfalls, responsible checking account habits, how to save for a big purchase and investing for the future.

The class will meet from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on June 29, June 30 and July 1,8 and 9. Meetings will be held at St. Anthony's Church, 160 Court Street in Buffalo.

Graduates of the course who attend all sessions will receive a $10 savings account deposit and a $10 iTunes gift card. They will also receive a letter of reference that can be used for college and employment applications.

For more information, call 847-6960. The course is open to teenagers age 14 to 18.

The class is a product of the New York Credit Union Foundation and is sponsored by the Buffalo Metropolitan Federal Credit Union.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Crisis PR in the Internet age

Director Kevin Smith has brought a firestorm down on Southwest Airlines after being ejected from a flight for being too fat, demonstrating the power consumers wield with social media.

Southwest got some practice implementing crisis control in the Internet age after Kevin Smith sent out a flurry of Twitter messages to his legion of followers. Fans were furious, the media picked up on the story and the rest was history.

Southwest Airlines has apologized in blogs and defended itself in the face of furious Tweets. The fracas brought so much attention, it crashed their feedback page.

So many public relations people diligently make a daily practice of blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking, mostly to an audience of no one. Only when things fall apart is the importance of having those established networks made clear.

But the true test is whether Southwest's spin control was able to smooth the feathers it ruffled. Are you satisfied by Southwest's reaction? Do you think Smith was making a big deal over nothing? Do you think Smith got the reaction he did only because he's famous, or do you think an average consumer could have made the same impact?

Still, Smith doesn't think Southwest handled things very well. But in a situation like this, who gets the last word?

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Make your own pre-packaged mixes to save time and money

In today's Discount Diva column, MoneySmart reader Bronwen Battaglia shared an idea for saving time and money when it comes to feeding her three hungry sons.

Instead of buying pre-packaged mixes, such as Bisquick and Swiss Miss, Battaglia takes time to measure out batches of her own scratch recipes and stores them in labeled containers. When it's time for pancakes or hot cocoa, she merely takes the dry mixes off the shelf and adds the wet ingredients as she would with any store-bought box mix.

Not only does this bit of advanced planning save money and add convenience, it allows Battaglia to control the amount of sugar and preservatives her kids eat, and lets her incorporate more healthful whole-wheat flour.

Here are two of the recipes she has perfected for her family:

Hot Cocoa:


4 cups nonfat dry milk
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon

Blend ingredients in a food processor until it resembles a fine powder. Store in air-tight container.

To prepare: Stir three tablespoons of mix with six ounces of hot water.



2 cups whole wheat flour (or a combination of part wheat, part oatmeal flour)
4 cups unbleached white all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
¼ cup baking powder
1 tablespoons salt

To prepare a big batch (approximately 20 pancakes): In a medium bowl, combine: 2 ½ cups mix, 2 cups milk (or more), 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons oil (vegetable, canola, or mild olive). Gently stir ingredients together. Do not over mix. Let batter stand for at least 5 minutes. It will thicken up. Add more milk if necessary. Ladle 1/2 cup or so of batter on to hot griddle. Flip once bubbles are visible and edges appear dry.


Substitute buttermilk or sour milk* for milk and add 1 tsp Baking Soda to mix.

Mash a banana in bowl before adding other ingredients.

Add a dash of cinnamon or diced pear and grated fresh ginger.

While first side is cooking, drop a few fresh or frozen blueberries on to the pancake.

Add a few tablespoons of ground flax seed to the batter.


---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Reuse and recycle to get more for your money

Here's a cute video from YouTube's Howcast channel featuring a slew of helpful tips.

Ever wondered what to do with old mouse pads? How about all that junk mail? Howcast has answers:



---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Come Home to Dinner


The wind is whistling, the temperature has dropped and we're all looking forward to our favorite fall comfort foods. Wegmans kept that in mind with its Come Home to Dinner Fall Meal Ideas, picking a perfect focus for the season--the slow cooker.

Its always helpful Web site offers all kinds of great tips on how to make inexpensive, delicious meals in the energy-sipping, lifesaving, cheapskate's-best-friend appliance, which take just a little bit of prep time and cook beautifully while you're at work.


Each menu selection (which includes such greats as Slow-Cooked Italian Sausage Agrodolce for under $2 per serving) even comes with a wine pairing!

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Give your furniture the old switcheroo


Want a home makeover, but don't have the cash?

Who needs new furniture when you can artfully rearrange the stuff you've got? Moving things around makes a room feel fresh and can give your spirits a lift. The best part is that it doesn't cost a dime.

Among several interior design software tools available on the Better Homes and Gardens Web site is Arrange-A-Room, an awesome, free program that helps you try out room configurations without having to lug heavy furniture around the room.

All you do is pick your room shape and size, add furniture and colors and voila! You've got a pretty good idea of what you're dealing with. The site also have lots of great tools to help you try out paint colors, new kitchen cabinetry and other improvements before making a purchase.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Beware Bogus Stimulus Plan Payments

Note: Today's post is from guest blogger Linsey B. Knerl, a savings-savvy mom from personal finance Web site

The online ads are everywhere, and they promise big bucks to almost everyone as a result of President Obama’s newest stimulus plan provisions.  But how can your participation in an online program entitle you to $1,000 or more in stimulus money?

As part of a newest fight against consumer fraud, the FTC is warning consumers to keep away from pie-in-the-sky guarantees of big money from the government.  Online ads, displayed on popular websites and delivered through spam email, often depict President Obama’s photograph or the false recommendation of major news websites.  When consumers click on the ads for a share of the loot, they are asked for personal financial information (including credit card and checking account numbers), as well as an up-front processing fee.

While the government is busy working with online sites to curb the advertising of these scammy solicitors, there is still only one way to be sure you don’t get taken for a ride:  Avoid these phony programs altogether.

If you feel that you’ve already been victim of a possible stimulus scam, the best thing you can do is watch your credit card and bank account activity closely.  You can also contact your local attorney general’s office or the FTC, via their Complaint Assistance website or at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

For additional information, see the FTC’s recent press release regarding stimulus scams and their increasing popularity in the past few weeks.

---Linsey B. Knerl


Roofer Horror Stories?

Today's MoneySmart cover story  helps consumers navigate the perils of hiring a roofing contractor for home repairs and renovations. The Better Business Bureau, which tracked nearly 35,000 inquiries about roofing last year, puts roofers in the agency's top 20 most complained about businesses. 


Have you had a bad experience? How was it resolved? Was there anything you could have done to avoid the situation? What tips can you share to keep your neighbors from being taken?

According to Peggy Penders, the latest scam consists of door-to-door solicitors offering to check or clean gutters. The solicitors inevitably spot some sort of roofing problem while they're up there and offer to fix it for a discounted fee. Have you encountered one of these scammers in your neighborhood?

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann


*UPDATE: The New York State Attorney General's office suggest you check out its site, before hiring a roofer.  

Financial Resolutions?

Happy New Year!

We want to hear your New Year's MoneySmart resolutions! Let 'em rip!

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

How to win big at CVS

When the economy gets tough, the tough play "the CVS game." My wife's coworker, Matt, has been pioneering this game. Use the right combination of sales, coupons and Extra Care Bucks to score great deals on everyday household items. You'll pay little or nothing, and sometimes CVS will even pay you, he says. But it takes practice.

For example, he recently picked up four packs of rechargeable Duracell batteries. CVS is having a sale: spend $20 dollars on batteries and get $15 back, with a limit of three.

$65 − $10 off $50 (extra care coupon) = $55
$55 − $45 (extra care bucks you get back) = $10.

Here is a link that explains his general winning pattern with a sample order at the end:

-Joseph Popiolkowski

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