Hosting A Super ‘Big Game’ Party On A Budget

Big brands are paying upwards of $5 million for 30-second Super Bowl ad slots, and the city of San Francisco is forking over $4.8 million to host weeklong festivities leading up to the big game. But when the two top NFL teams compete on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California, for Super Bowl 50, thankfully you’ll be shelling out considerably less than that to hold your Big Game party.

Super Bowl parties are among the most inexpensive to host. Besides the traditional chicken wings, tortilla chips and guacamole, and beer–the most important must-haves are adequate seating and a big-screen TV to watch the game.

The most widely watched sporting event of the year last year drew an estimated 184 million viewers to see winning team the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks. According to the National Retail Federation’s  Super Bowl Spending Survey, viewers spent an average of $77.88, up from $68.27 the previous year. That covered everything from game day food and new televisions to athletic wear and decorations. Food and beverages accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total of $14.3 billion in spending.

Hosting or attending a Super Bowl party in someone’s home was the most popular option. Only 5 percent of viewers opted to watch the game in a restaurant or bar, where loud noise can detract from the game-watching experience.

So if you’re planning to host a Super Bowl party for family and friends, how can you avoid going over your budget? Below are some ideas for throwing an inexpensive event that will still be fun and entertaining. 

Keep It Casual 

Set expectations with guests that your event will be low key and casual. After all, it’s the game (and the commercials) that will be the star of your event. Nearly half of viewers in the NRF survey say that the game itself is the most important part of the day, followed by nearly one-third saying that the most important parts for them are the commercials and hanging out with friends and family.

Stress in your invitation that you’re just hosting a casual get-together to watch the game. No fancy invitations are required: a simple email or e-vite with time, place, directions, and other details will do. And make sure you ask guests to RSVP so you’ll have an idea of how many people plan on attending. That way you’ll know how much food to buy–and won’t overspend for guests who won’t attending. 

Make It a Potluck 

People love sharing, and this goes double when it comes to sharing favorite dishes with family and friends. Asking each guest to bring a dish will not only create an interesting array of food and beverage offerings, it will significantly reduce your expenses.

You might say in your invitation that you’ll provide one hot main dish (such as chili or soup) and snacks (such as cheese and crackers or raw veggies and dip) so you’ll have something to serve in the very unlikely event a majority of your guests show up empty-handed. But in all probability, once you ask guests to bring something, you’ll be inundated with food and beverages.

And don’t worry about asking people to sign up to bring a specific type of dish (such as a beverage, snack, entree, or dessert). For some mysterious reason, potlucks always seem to turn out. You may be buried under an avalanche of chips, guacamole, salsa, and beer for a while–but that’s a good problem to have since you can always eat the leftovers or give leftovers to guests.

If one of your guests has a special recipe (such as spicy chicken wings or a football-shaped cake) that you think could be the star of your party, you might reach out privately and ask them to bring it. Once the teams are decided, you can ask people to use the colors of their favorite team in the food they bring (or their serving dishes) to up the fun factor.

In light of people’s food preferences (vegetarian, vegan, low-carb, low-fat) and food allergies (gluten, lactose, nuts), it’s also a good idea to ask guests to label the dishes they bring accordingly. A small card indicating the dish is vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free, or containing nuts can go a long way to making sure your guests enjoy themselves and don’t ingest anything that won’t agree with them. 

Buy in Bulk 

Whatever food and beverage items you plan to supply for the party, watch for sales and try to buy in bulk. Your local retailers are gearing up for the Super Bowl and will have an abundant supply (and probable sales) on Super Bowl staples such as avocadoes, tomatoes, salsa, chips, carrots, celery, chicken, and beer.

Watch for the circulars that show up in your mailbox, and take a trip to the local supermarket to see what they have on sale. Now might be a good time to visit a big-box outlet such as Costco and take advantage of savings by buying in bulk. You can always use the party leftovers to feed your family in weeks to come. 

Seating Options 

You’ll want to make sure you have adequate seating for guests, but you don’t need to go overboard and rent chairs. Clear extra pillows and cushions that might reduce the seating capacity of your TV-adjacent sofa and chairs, and place them on the floor to create comfortable nearby viewing areas.

If your seating options are skimpy, don’t worry. Many people like to stand up to watch the game, freeing themselves for circulating or enthusiastic cheering when their team scores. And if you must bring in extra seating, ask a friend or family member if they can bring over a few folding chairs. 


It fun to spruce up your home with banners, balloons in team colors, or football-shaped trinkets. Definitely feel free to unleash your inner decorator for your Game Day bash. But your friends are really there for the game, and in all likelihood, they won’t remember your decor. It will be the fun they had, the nail-biting moments of the game, the moments of triumph and defeat as they watch their favorite team struggle for dominance. And thankfully, moments like that cost nothing.

If you must decorate, dig out decorations you have on hand or visit the dollar-store so you won’t break your budget. And is with everything, less is more. A strategically placed banner or a few balloons will go a long way to add a spirit of festivity to your gathering.

Phony Weight-Loss Products

More than two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, and scammers hope to profit from the desperation many of us feel to lose weight. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that a company known as “Sale Slash” has been peddling fraudulent weight loss products, using hacked email addresses to convince readers the products were endorsed by friends or family members.  Those emails often support bogus claims of incredible weight loss results with fraudulent versions of respected news websites and fabricated celebrity endorsements, adding another layer of apparent credibility to their claims.

Weight loss scams old and new 
Weight loss scams are nothing new. In fact, the FTC has been prosecuting false diet claims since 1927.  Further, the word “diet” comes from the ancient Greek word “diatia,” meaning Plato might have been dealing with diet scams while he wrote “The Republic.” In the twenty-first century, the Internet has greatly accelerated the speed and impact of scammer successes by gaining access to wide audiences and making it easy for them to reap large profits. 
The variations are many and the tactics are just as varied. Since 2005, the FTC has brought 82 cases against scammers for using false or unsubstantiated claims about weight-loss products.  Surely there are many others that have gone under the radar and/or are lacking evidence for prosecution. That’s why awareness is a valuable tool for guarding yourself. Diet experts and government agencies offer some warning signs to watch for to help consumers avoid these types of scams:
  • The product claims you will lose more than one pound per week.  Diet experts believe about one pound per week is the ideal rate for healthy weight loss.  Any product that claims it can shed weight faster is probably too good to be true.
  • The product advertises you can lose weight without diet or exercise.  It’s not fun to hear, but if you really want to lose weight, diet and exercise are the only proven and healthy paths
  • Be alert if it claims you can lose weight from a specific part of your body, that a single factor is preventing your weight loss, and/or any advertisement using the words “miracle,” “trick,” “scientific breakthrough,” or “secret formula.”
  • The images on the site are obvious stock photos or appear altered.  If you aren’t sure if the images are authentic, use Google images to perform a reverse-image search.  Google can show you all the places using a specific picture. The method for doing this varies based upon your Web browser. Just search “Reverse Image Search Google” to quickly find the instructions that will work best for you.

Google the name of the product and add the word “scam” to the search query. Simply searching for “weight loss scam” returned the following products in just a few seconds:  HCG Diet Direct, Sensa Products, LeanSpa, L’Occitane, Lobster powders & creams, caffeine underwear, double shot pills, Healthe Trim, and many others. 

Who can you trust? 
Medical research progresses every day and even well-intentioned diet experts can find it difficult to determine if any specific product works.  TV’s Dr. Oz recently testified in front of the U.S. Senate about the difficulties he has experienced in keeping up with dietary science. He even has encouraged viewers to interpret his advice as if he were a celebrity rather than a doctor. Whether Dr. Oz encourages misinformation or is the victim of forces outside his control, the green coffee bean supplements scammers have been peddling skyrocketed in popularity after appearing on Dr. Oz’s TV show while the guest promoting them settled with the FTC for $9 million.
If you can’t trust famous doctors, you might then turn to friends for diet advice. That’s why many recent email scams have used Americans’ faith in their loved ones against them by hijacking email addresses to make it look like the scammers’ pitch was coming from a close friend or family member.  In addition, these emails send readers to false versions of respected news websites, giving their false claims an air of objectivity, because even people who might not trust Uncle Fred’s diet tips might accept claims made by famous journalists.  Here are some additional tips for combating those deceptive practices:

  • Always confirm that someone you really know sent you the email before you pay any money or volunteer any personal information.
  • Even if a site shows the logo of a major network, that doesn’t mean it’s legitimate.  Check out the other headlines the page links to.  Take a look at the ads on the page.  Are all the ads directing you to weight loss products or other similar businesses?
  • If a “reporter” tells you about their first-hand experience with the product, be skeptical.  If the claims seem incredible, be even more doubtful. Reporters don’t usually try medical products for a story and they are even less likely to do so for a long period of time.
  • If a major news network were to subject a reporter to experimental medical treatments, they would most likely put the segment on television and do a lot of pre-story promotion.  Weight loss offers a very dramatic visual, after all.  If you don’t see the reporter describing the product on video, or if the video doesn’t look like an expensive, major-network production, it is probably fake.  Scammers will take images and names from authentic news sources and use them without regard to legality, so confirm you are actually seeing the reporter talking about the product on that’s on the video.
  • If you’re still unsure about a product or offer, question everything.  What name did the reporter use in the video?  Search for it online to make sure he or she works for that network.  Look up the product and see if it’s for sale at a legitimate store.  Call the friend who sent you the email. Ask your doctor.    

If you are attempting to shed pounds for whatever reason, remember there are many healthy ways to do so. Some are relatively inexpensive while others can put a heavy strain on your wallet. Armed with awareness of the tricks and tactics will help you be alert and less susceptible to falling for the latest magic pill a scammer claims will get you to your ideal weight without the work.

Finance In The Classroom: Tools For Talking To Kids About Money

Getting kids interested and involved in finance can be a real challenge. There’s a gap between what they may want to know and what they have the experience to understand. Finding age-appropriate reading materials, activities, and discussion topics to keep them engaged is a complex problem. Whether you’re a teacher, a church leader, a baby-sitter, aunt, uncle or a parent, being able to engage kids in these conversations is an important skill.
Fortunately, the Utah Department of Education has created a set of resources for all of these groups. The website, Finance in the Classroom, can be found at It’s a solid collection of resources for kids of all ages.
For younger children, the site features a wide range of fun flash games that help them get used to counting money, saving and budgeting. Most of them will respond well to mobile devices and touch screens, meaning that kids can learn valuable lessons on their devices instead of playing mindless games that teach very little in the process. Some games are slightly more advanced and tackle topics like credit card management, investing and even macro-economic policy making! The interactivity is a great way to keep kids entertained and serves as a starting point for financial conversations.
Older children may be interested in the various calculators on the site. These include applets that help kids see how much college might cost, how much they should save, and how inflation might affect them in the future. There are also a list of book recommendations for further reading and education.
The site also features some tools for adults, like mortgage calculators and credit checklists. There are also quizzes and other tools designed to test adult financial literacy. More than that, though, the site offers discussion-starters and in-home activities designed for parents and children to undertake together. The activities are broken down by grade level and organized around themes like “scarcity” and “supply and demand.” Most of the activities don’t need much in the way of supplies or planning and can help solve the rainy Saturday afternoon problem of what to do.
This site is not without its flaws, though. The amount of information can be overwhelming and it doesn’t appear to get regular updates. Some of the information is specific to Utah laws, like specific college savings programs. Still, as a collection of free tools and games, Finance in the Classroom is a great place to start.  

For teens and young adults, Destinations Credit Union offers “On Your Way” – a social network for those interested in learning how to manage their money.  There are interesting blog posts, contests and videos to help this group better cope with new financial responsibilities.

Job Seekers Beware: ‘Re-packing’ Jobs Could Lead To Jail Time!

We keep hearing the economy is improving, but that news rings hollow for many Americans. Long-term unemployment is still a reality for 2.8 million people. They’re isolated and increasingly desperate, making them a perfect target for cyber-criminals.

The Better Business Bureau is reporting a new breed of cyber-crime that turns innocent people into accessories in the distribution of stolen merchandise. The scam starts like a lot of others, with a job offer from an anonymous company. The work sounds ideal. It’s work-from-home, set your own hours, and work as much or as little as you like. Best of all, it’s easy. You receive shipments at your house, then repack them and ship them to another address.

If you sign up, you’ll receive packages containing products and instructions about shipping them to other addresses, sometimes overseas. Your employer will want you to cover shipping, but promises to reimburse you for costs on top of your salary. At the end of the month, you get a check from your employer.

The first bad news comes when you attempt to cash that paycheck and it turns out to be fake. All the work you’ve done, plus the shipping costs you paid out of pocket, are gone. It’d be bad enough if it ended there.

Worse yet, you might end up facing criminal charges. At the very least, you’ll be an accessory to the theft of the goods you handled. If you helped to redistribute those goods, you handled stolen property. Even if you didn’t know the goods are stolen, if you didn’t ask questions where a reasonable person would have, you’re guilty.

To make matters worse, if you shipped those items internationally, you likely had to lie on customs documents. That’s a federal offense. The scammers just tricked you into taking all of the legal risk while they keep the money.

Similar scams are common in money laundering. A scammer will contact you or leave a post on a job board asking for financial service assistance. They’ll send a check and ask you to deposit it, then wire them back some of the money. You can keep a portion of it as your payment. The check was written against stolen funds and the issuing institution refuses to pay it. You’re out whatever you wired the scammer and could face charges as an accessory to fraud.

These scams are an unfortunate part of the job search process. They prey on the uncertainty and desperation that characterizes long-term unemployment. The widely anonymous nature of the Internet provides a perfect cover for schemers. If you want to keep yourself safe, follow these tips: 

1.) Be proactive in your job search 

It’s possible that your dream job may fall in your lap, though it’s far more likely that you’ll have to work really hard to get it. If you post your resume on a job site and walk away, it’s possible that the only people who are going to contact you are scammers. If you work with a recruiter or employment agency, you’ll form a contact that can help you land the job you want.

Working with an agency will also help you weed out the scams. You’ll have someone you know and trust to sort the real opportunities from the bogus ones. They’ll help put your resume in places where it needs to be instead of in the wrong hands. 

2.) Check the links 

Many of these scams work by “spoofing” a legitimate job posting. You’ll see an email saying that X company has reviewed your resume and thinks you would be a good fit for this position. The email will contain a link to something designed to look like a legitimate job posting on a big job board like Monster or Indeed.

Checking to see where links are really going is a hassle, but a quick mouse-over the link will show you the URL. If you don’t recognize the domain (the first part after the http:// and before the .com or .org), don’t click the link. Report the email as the scam attempt it is. 

3.) Watch for keywords 

“Repackaging” or “reboxing” are common keywords in these scams. For money-laundering, scammers often refer to the work they are proposing as “payment processing” or “wire transfer assistance.” It’s worth taking a moment to think about what you’d be doing. No legitimate business would need a personal checking account to move money around. If they’re a business that can pay for your services, they have a checking account. Similarly, they have an address and postal services.

If an employer is seeking your personal information before they’ve hired you, they’re not a potential employer. They’re crooks trying to steal your identity. It’s as simple as that. 


Looking For A Job? Scammers May Be Looking For YOU

Job searching is already a frustrating process. Between the stress of unemployment and the sting of rejections, job hunting for any length of time can make you desperate. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what identity thieves are counting on.

Many con artists are relying on a sophisticated new scam by trolling for job seekers on job boards like Monster or Indeed. They reach out to job seekers by pretending to represent a major company that has a supposed interest in the job seeker’s credentials and/or experience. They claim they need a few more pieces of information to conduct a background check before hiring. They’ll ask for personal information, such as a Social Security number. Then, they’ll take you for everything you’ve got.

Or, they set up fake job postings on sites like Craigslist or LinkedIn and wait for job seekers to contact them. This practice provides them with a steady stream of desperate and vulnerable applicants. It also saves them the trouble of tracking down e-mail addresses, and makes the contact seem more legitimate.

These schemes work, like most other identity theft scams, by preying on people’s hopes. You need this job offer to be true, so you are willing to rush into the “opportunity” without waiting, thinking, or researching. It only takes one slip to wipe out your savings and ruin your credit, which can also undermine your future job search efforts.

You can’t give up your job search, and you wouldn’t want to refuse a reasonable request from a legitimate employer. So what can you do to keep yourself safe from identity thieves when looking for work? Follow these pieces of advice, which you can remember using the acronym KISS:

1.) Know the hiring process. For most businesses, the hiring process includes job posting, interview, background check, job offer. Background checks cost money to run. No business is going to start running background checks on every potential applicant, and most will only do so as a component of a job offer. Before they’ve hired you, that’s all they’d do with a Social Security number. Also, the company would need your signature to run a background check or fill out immigration paperwork. A legitimate business won’t ask for your Social Security number out of the blue.

2.) Identify the poster. If a job offer comes from a major company, odds are good that it’s not just on the job boards. It’s also on their web page. Copy the text of the job description and paste it into a search engine. You should get results from several job boards as well as the company’s website. You can use tools like who is to determine the ad’s country of origin. This can help find hidden red flags. If the posting claims to be from a company that’s located in the U.S., its domain registration should reflect that. If it’s a company that’s been in operation for years, its website registration shouldn’t be from the last few weeks or months.

3.) Sanitize your online presence. Tools like Facebook and LinkedIn can help you in the job search process, but they can also help identity thieves. Remove unnecessary personal information like your hometown or your birthday from your social media profiles. This information can help identity thieves bluff their way past human security. As an added benefit, putting your date of birth on your resume may be a turnoff for employers. Age discrimination in employment is illegal, and employers can land in hot water if they ask you any questions that hint at trying to determine your age.

4.) Stay vigilant. Look for all the typical scam warning signs: unbelievable salaries, vague descriptions, misspellings, grammar errors, and unprofessional e-mail service providers. Someone offering you a job isn’t that much different from someone offering you a large sum of money. You should be skeptical of everyone you don’t know who contacts you wanting personal information. Take the time to do your due diligence in every instance. Don’t let the pressures of the job search crumble your common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The ACA deadline: What to do now that it’s passed

March 31 was the last day to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, and 7 million Americans enrolled in the health care exchange before the deadline. However, if you’re one of the many who missed your window to sign up, and you don’t have health insurance this year, it looks like you’re going to have to pay a penalty next year come tax time.
But just because it’s too late to sign up in “open enrollment” for 2014 doesn’t mean you’re stuck paying the penalty. There are still some solutions to your health insurance needs. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can get covered post-deadline.

Qualifying life events
The ACA allows for “special enrollment” periods for people whose life circumstances change. These changes are “qualifying life events.” Examples of these are having a child, marriage, divorce, moving out of state, or losing significant income. After one of these events occurs, you get 60 days to apply for coverage on the exchange. Although there are better options than quitting your job or getting divorced to get health care, if you’re expecting one of these events, you could sign up for health care within 60 days of that event.

Applying for an extension
Like most government programs, the ACA includes a sort of human release valve. You can apply for an extension to open enrollment on the marketplace enrollment website. To qualify for an extension, you’ll need to show good reason why you need one. One of the most common reasons for applying for an extension is technical difficulties. If you struggled with the website, you can note that on your application. Describe the attempts you made to enroll and the technical hurdles you encountered.
Remember, lying or intentionally submitting false information in an attestation is a crime. Not only could it put you in legal trouble, it could also be a reason to void your insurance coverage. While there’s no harm in asking for an extension, you should be truthful about your reasons for the request.

Getting private insurance
Though the exchange deadline has past, you can still get insurance through a private company. Companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield are still open for business and they would be happy to sell you a plan. Calling the insurance company and signing up for a plan the old fashioned way is still an option. You won’t get the benefit of seeing all the available plans next to each other, but you can still get health insurance.
The ACA mandates simplified insurance pricing, so you can still get access to all the same benefits at the same price. If you had thought that private insurance was too expensive, it might be time to take another look.

Paying the fine (or not)
The penalty for non-compliance is small. If you don’t have health insurance, you can expect to pay either $95 or 1% of your income. The federal filing threshold for income was $10,000 last year and ought to be about the same next year. If you don’t make more than that, you don’t have to pay the fine. There is also a list of exemptions. If you belong to a recognized religious organization with objections to health insurance, you’re exempt. Also, if the least expensive plan costs more than 8% of your household income, you won’t be penalized.
The penalty is also pro-rated for the number of months you’re uninsured. If you don’t have insurance now, you can reduce the amount you’re fined by starting insurance next month. The March 31 deadline isn’t an all-or-nothing. You can get coverage for most of this year, and then plan to sign up on the exchange next year.
Even if the penalties are low and infrequently applied this year, expect them to become harsher in future years. In 2015, for example, the penalty will be $325 or 2% of your taxable income, and it will probably go up from there. There will be another open enrollment period starting in November, so start planning to get covered then.


10 Myths About Credit Unions

How much do you know about credit unions? Test yourself on these 10 myths-how many did you believe until today?

Myth #1: You must meet strict eligibility requirements.

Fact: While credit unions do require that members meet certain requirements to satisfy a common bond, many of these are broad and few of them truly limit membership.

Myth #2: Getting to the ATM is difficult because my branch isn’t nearby.

Fact: With up to 65,000 ATMsavailable through various networks, availability is not an issue.

Myth #3: Changing my banking from a traditional bank to a credit union will be a hassle.

Fact: Credit unions offer the same services as banks, including automatic bill payments and direct deposit. Most services will transition easily and go uninterrupted.  A”Switch Kit” can make the transition easy.

Myth #4: With all the fancy advertising, banks must have more money than credit unions.

Fact: While this may be true, it’s because credit unions are not-for-profit organizations. Rather than spend money on advertising and marketing, credit unions rely on the community for marketing. The money saved is rolled back into services for members or distributed back to members as dividends.

Myth #5: Credit unions don’t offer reward programs.

Fact: Many credit unions do offer reward programs on credit and debit cards. For those that don’t, take a look at the fees that are associated with the various accounts. At a credit union, you’ll save on fees. Do your bank rewards outweigh the fees you’re paying on each account?

Myth #6: Credit unions aren’t very tech-savvy.

Fact: Credit unions don’t promote mobile options as aggressively as banks, but that doesn’t mean they don’t offer them. According to a study by CFI Group, bank customers rated their satisfaction at 86 out of 100 in online and mobile banking versus 90 out of 100 among credit union members.

Myth #7: Credit unions are just like banks.

Fact: Credit unions are not just like banks. Members own a piece of the organization and own a vote in determining how the credit union is managed. Credit unions also return all earnings back to members with their low fees and great dividend rates.

Myth #8: Credit unions have an unfair advantage over banks because they don’t pay taxes.

Fact: Actually, credit unions DO pay taxes. As a not-for-profit, member-owned financial cooperative, there are some taxes that credit unions don’t pay. Those “unfair advantages,” of course, are passed on to members.

Myth #9: Credit unions are not regulated.

Fact: Credit unions are held to the same laws and regulations as banks. In fact, credit unions face more restrictions on the investments and loans they make.  Destinations Credit Union is regulated by both the State of Maryland and the National Credit Union Administration.

Myth #10: Credit unions are good places to save money, but that’s about it.

Fact: Credit unions offer consumer loans, debit and credit card services, online banking and bill pay, checking accounts, retirement investments, mortgages, car loans, and more. They are a great place to take care of all your banking needs.

Destinations Credit Union