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New Year Signals Tax Prep

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Bits & Pieces Column

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By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

In January I update my yearly calendar and start thinking about income tax preparation since April 15th seems to sneak up on us. If files are kept in order year-round, there is no need to panic when collecting data becomes necessary. Putting your fingers on the forms, important records, or cancelled checks you need can be a challenge. To help with storing records, visit an office supply store to see what they offer.

Filing

At the start of each year I purchase an accordion-style file folder that is large and durable. Some folders have designated names for each slot, beginning with Auto Insurance, Bank Records, Credit Cards, Dental Bills, Income, Medical, Utilities, etc. You can buy the same file folder that alphabetically has “A to Z” and create your own titles on each letter pocket by using a black marker. After each bill is paid, slip the stub in the folder making sure the check number and date paid appear on the statement. A duplicate computer Excel record can be kept with account numbers and totals using a tax or home- accounting program.  At year’s end you can see how much money has been donated to charity or paid in medical bills with this sheet.

The IRS suggests that income tax records and files be kept for at least seven years in the event you are called for an audit. Just because you have not heard from the IRS in the year after you filed doesn’t mean you won’t hear from them sometime down the road.

If we have no disputes regarding our utility bills, we shred these after three years. Depending on your available space, you may opt to keep them longer.  One more thing regarding your personal identity and keeping it safe — when it is time to destroy or discard your old papers, be it statements, medical records or other financial pieces of information, invest in a high quality shredder. We bought a “cross cut” machine that cuts the paper on a diagonal, making it impossible to piece together any information. Don’t skimp on this piece of equipment. It is your life history and personal identity that is at stake. Never, ever just throw away your old tax papers, pay stubs or bank papers in the trash without shredding them! If you think income tax time is a nightmare, just imagine what identity theft would be like!

January 6, 2016 |

Review Your Credit Card Statement Closely

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

Be on the lookout for errors on your credit card statements.  Billing errors include incorrect credits for payments, charges that you did not make and charges for goods or services that you did not receive or that were not as promised.  Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, you have the right to contest the mistake within 60 days after the bill’s statement is due.

 

There were two instances on my credit charge bill that could have been easily overlooked if I did not closely read my statements each month.  The first one involved an overnight stay at a hotel in Los Angeles. We had arranged for a stopover flight before continuing on to our destination the following evening. Our family rented a car for the day, had several meals at the hotel and made purchases in the gift shop. Our credit card statement arrived a month after the trip, with a long list of charges, including two nights at the hotel. Calling the hotel did not resolve the error and I had to write to our credit card company, make a copy of our plane tickets and enclose these copies to prove we only stayed one night. The charge was removed.

 

The second time an item was recorded incorrectly on my statement was for a restaurant in Nantucket. When that statement came in, TWO lines had the same charge for dinner posted one under the other. The date, code numbers, restaurant name and amount were identical.  Again a letter had to be written to the credit card company.

 

If you look over your credit card bill and it has an error on it, take care of it immediately. What if your credit card is lost or stolen?  Do you know what to do?  Once you discover your card is missing, immediately notify the credit card company.  By doing so, you will not have to pay more than $50 for unauthorized charges. It is also a good idea to make a list of your credit card account numbers and the companies’ toll-free customer-service phone numbers and keep this list in a safe place. Do not leave these numbers in your wallet or purse in case these items are lost or stolen. Keep this list at home and at your workplace.  Also, toll-free customer service numbers can be stored on your cellular device.

 

December 23, 2015 |

Recycled Memories

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Bits & Pieces Column

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By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

 

I can’t deny it; I’m a semi-hoarder. Not in the really scary sense, but just in the fact that I have difficulty parting with items that remind me of the past. I read somewhere that this means people doing this do not want to live in the present and wish they were in the past again.  In my case, it is more that the past holds such fond memories for me and I can enjoy them all over again via these items from long ago.

In previous columns, I have written about activities I engaged in as a child or events that had a certain routine or ambiance surrounding them. Recently, I was reminded of the wonderful days when our children were younger, and the toys they received for Christmas were played with and treasured for years after.  I’ve kept many of these toys and stored them in our attic, although our children are long since grown and have moved away. One daughter has two young children (four and five years old) who, during their next visit, are just the perfect age to enjoy playing with these toys all over again.

They live out-of-state, so visits are not as frequent as we’d wish. It is often easier for us to drive to their house. However, when they do come to New York, they love the “new” toys we have here that they have never seen before. Out come the Fisher Price McDonald’s, the Weebles Haunted House, The Honey Bunch Kids Clubhouse and even a few dozen little Smurf figures. They love to watch us set up the wooden Putt Putt Railroad or the AMX racing car set. Because our three children were fairly gentle with their toys, most are still in the original box with all the pieces still there. These include the original Star Wars Millennium Falcon and characters from the original movie. Of course we can’t forget the TV singing stars Sonny and Cher, or Cher’s dressing room, complete with her stunning wardrobe.

Included in my saved items are about one hundred picture and storybooks that our children enjoyed. For me, reading these books is the best part of our grandchildren’s visit. To have a little person on each side of me, eagerly waiting to hear what happens next in the story, is truly a new memory created with the recycled memories of long ago.

December 16, 2015 |

Treasured Holiday Traditions

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Bits & Pieces Column

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By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

 

Holidays are exciting for both children and grown-ups alike. Traditions are a fundamental part of any holiday season and most families have rituals that are enjoyed in their households.  When we marry, these same rituals might be continued, with new ones added that a spouse enjoyed while growing up. I am a firm believer that parents instill a fondness for the holidays that impact their children more deeply than they imagined at the time.  What seems to be something fun to do when a child is little will be a memory he or she holds dear to the heart decades later.  Parents on a hectic work schedule should take pride in knowing that the time and energy they take to create these family traditions will not go unappreciated — so plan your holidays knowing that your traditions might be continued far into the future.

 

Most holiday celebrations are centered around food. Every family has its favorite recipes that are handed down from generation to generation. Ask Grandma to show you how she makes her special cookies, pie or the homemade stuffing you love so much. Write down every detail as well as the quantity of ingredients she uses, because most likely she follows no recipe. We discovered this on our quest to save some old-time favorites.  Practice with the children, showing them each step along the way, explaining its purpose.  In our family, it has taken years (and we have still have not perfected it) for us to make Grandma’s stuffed cabbage, folding the stuffed leaves into tight little rolls.  We have almost mastered her “spritz” cookies, dipped in chocolate and covered on each end with crushed walnuts. These delectable morsels barely last a day at our house.

 

Some other traditions might be setting up decorations that have been passed down through several generations.  Hand-blown glass ornaments or a nativity set from Europe that was brought to this country fifty years ago are honored not only for their memories, but as a tribute to the rigorous journey they may have taken.  A hand-embroidered tablecloth that took months to complete might be one family’s way of having their holiday include a dear relative who is no longer with them or who cannot come to this year’s celebrations.

 

Treasure your family’s unique traditions and keep them close at heart.

 

December 9, 2015 |

Tim and Scrooge Holiday Show at the Westchester Broadway Theatre

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Bits & Pieces Column

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By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

            When I was a child, part of the holiday tradition for me was watching Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on television with my dad. This could be three or four times during December, and I enjoyed it every time. Now this celebrated holiday story continues live at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, New York.

Tim and Scrooge, composed by Neil Berg with book and lyrics by Nick Meglin (former editor of Mad Magazine), was voted one of the best musicals of the inaugural New York Musical Theatre Festival in New York City. This production of Tim and Scrooge, a musical sequel to Dickens’ famed story, runs from December 3rd through the 27th.

It’s been twelve years since Ebenezer Scrooge experienced his wonderful transformation from a cold miser to the loving benefactor of Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family. In that time, Scrooge has died a changed man and lovingly bequeathed the Scrooge & Marley Counting House to Tim Cratchit. Tim, while away at university, has fallen in love with a beautiful orphan girl named Allison. As Tim approaches his 21st birthday, he discovers he will soon assume management of the Scrooge and Marley Counting House. However, Tim is more interested in being a teacher than a money manager and signs away control of the business to two unscrupulous speculators. This begins a series of events that threaten to tear him away from his family and Allison, unless the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge can help him set things right again. With a lighthearted, traditional, Broadway score, Tim and Scrooge — while set in the Dickensian era — is ultimately a universal story about modern ideals and family relationships.

With the holidays approaching, it’s a perfect time to invite friends or family for a wonderful evening of fabulous entertainment! Gift certificates are also available.  There are matinee/lunch and evening/dinner performances. For reservations, call: (914)-592-2222

Discounts for groups of 20 or more, call: 592-2225
Luxury Boxes, call: 592-8730, for private parties of 6 to 22. Enjoy dining and theatre in an elegant private box. Additional features include an expanded dinner menu, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, private powder room, and luxury box reserved parking. Additional cost. Call for details.  Ticket prices for dinner & show range between $56.00 and $84.00 plus tax, depending on the performances chosen.
Discounts are available for children, students, and senior citizens at selected performances. Check the website for on-going special offers!
More news at: www.BroadwayTheatre.com

December 2, 2015 |

Enchanting Train Show at The New York Botanical Garden

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

Here is a wonderful way to unwind from the stress and hectic pace during the crush of holiday preparations. Take time to enjoy the pleasures of a trip to the New York Botanical Garden to enjoy the Holiday Train Show and its exhibits. The New York Botanical Garden, a museum of plants and gardens, is located in the Bronx, New York. With the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, they are open year-round with fabulous presentations every season. Running from November 21, 2015 through January 18, 2016, the Holiday Train Show is one of the most anticipated family traditions of the season.

The nature-and-train display includes replicas of well-known, beloved New York buildings and historical landmarks, all created from plant parts such as berries, pinecones, leaves and seeds. It is a magical setting for adults and children alike. Guests are welcome to stroll through the magnificent Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, through various garden settings, and then on to the twinkling exhibits and displays. This year, the display is bigger than ever with more tracks and three thousand square feet of expanded exhibition space. This miniature wonderland has rivers, rustic bridges, wooded mountains, waterfalls cascading into creeks, forest tunnels, replicas of historic New York landmarks and a glittering, child-high Manhattan skyline. This year’s installation is the work of designer Paul Busse and his team at Applied Imagination, Ltd.

There are renditions of the American Museum of National History’s Rose Center for Earth and Space (home of the Hayden Planetarium) and four structures listed in New York City’s Historic House Trust. New this year are four dining venues including the Bavarian-themed Frosty’s Schnapps Haus and the Gingerbread Café, food trucks, and a children’s gingerbread playhouse with coloring and cookie-decorating activities. Be sure to visit The Garden Shop for unique and original gifts for those hard-to-shop-for people on your gift-giving list!

The New York Botanical Garden is located at Fordham Road and exit 7 of the Bronx River Parkway. It is easily reached by subway or Metro-North railroad.

Advance timed tickets are strongly recommended and are available at: www.nybg.org

Discounts are available for groups of 15 or more and can be arranged by calling the Botanical Garden’s Group Tours office at: (718) 817–8687

For more information about New York Botanical Garden programs, events and exhibits, call (718) 817–8700 or visit their website at: www.nybg.org

November 25, 2015 |

Just Like Mom Used

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Bits & Pieces Column

Helpful Chitchat

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

 

Years ago as newlyweds, I remember the long list of items we had to buy to stock our kitchen cabinets during those first weeks of marriage. From cleaning supplies, spices and pantry staples, the list was endless, and one of our most costly grocery bills for a one-time visit. For some reason I thought of that trip when recently I walked up and down the aisle of the supermarket. Not based on any marketing research study, I came to the conclusion that we tend to gravitate toward the same products/items that our mothers used.

Just looking into my pantry, I see items that were familiar to me from my own childhood home. Try to recall why you buy some of the items in your kitchen. Did your mother use Ajax or Comet to clean the sink? Mine used Ajax, and that is what I have been buying now for decades. Do you use the pink Brillo pads or the blue S.O.S. pads because your mom did? Of course, there are some products we just can’t find any longer such as Oxydol, a laundry soap, or Spic and Span, a powdery floor cleaning detergent.

Even the smell of the old time products can induce fond memories. My grandmother always used White Rain shampoo, and her hair had a fragrant, distinctive aroma to it that I loved. I bought White Rain for many years, just to remind me of my grandma. The shampoo is still around but the scent has changed, so the memory of that scent is all that’s left.

 

Windows

Today, most of us use a blue liquid product like Windex or similar brands. In my day (back in the 1950s), Glass Wax was the product of choice. Remember Glass Wax — that thick, creamy pink liquid that you applied to your window, let dry and then had to scrub to remove every bit of residue? The company even had a holiday sales pitch where a free stencil was attached to each can. The stencil was held against a window or mirror and you would dab Glass Wax on each stencil with an old rag. When the stencil was removed from the window you had Santa and his reindeer, a snowflake, a Christmas tree or any other holiday design, in pink. Instantly our windows became a winter wonderland! Ah, those were the days!

 

 

 

November 18, 2015 |
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