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Freelance Editor Ocala Gainesville Orlando Freelance Articles Creator Freelance Developer Writer Editor Proofreader Copyeditor Articles Writer Freelance Writer Writing Test Preparation Manuals Managing Your Money in Difficult Times

Spend less-save more? Yes, it can be done.

Have you and your friends mentioned that if the average person managed their money the way the Federal government manages its revenue, we would all be bankrupt? Instead, we have a $700 billion dollar "rescue plan," a $10 trillion national debt, and a global recession.

What does that mean for the average hard-working middle-class family? It means it's a time to watch your back. It's time to look at your budget and make sure it doesn't look like a miniature version of the Fed's.

First Aid for Your Budget
Budgets are made up of fixed expenses and flexible expenses. Fixed expenses are pretty much the same every month, like your mortgage or rent payment; home insurance and property taxes; car payment and insurance; cable, phone and Internet; and day care or school tuition. It's good to know what you're spending on fixed items so you'll know what you have left for flexible expenses and savings.

Reducing flexibles is like a tourniquet for your ailing budget. You may recall how the pundits and politicians kept saying the bailout "stopped the bleeding" for the stock market. Once you stem some of your own outgoing cash flow, you can begin to reduce your debt and develop a savings plan.

Fuel Costs
The most obvious way to save on gasoline is to take public transportation if possible. If you can't walk to a train, subway or bus, drive only as far as you have to. Use a "park and ride" lot, or carpool. You may want to look into one of the new Internet services that matches people for carpooling. The more the merrier. Five people in the carpool means you drive one day a week. If you spend $10 for gas that day and save $40 for the days you don't drive, you've saved $160 for the month.

The same goes for errands, grocery shopping, gym visits, and school drop-offs and pick-ups. Share the driving. Plan errands so you don't backtrack, and make a list of your route and of what you need to do and buy. Some more fuel-saving tips: Keep your tires properly inflated, don't exceed the speed limit, coast to stop signs and red lights, and get your oil changed regularly. Saving just ten miles a day adds up to 300 a month-about one less tank of gas.

Energy Costs
Wearing extra clothes is cheaper than turning up the thermostat. Wearing fewer clothes is cheaper than air conditioning. Any physical barriers you can create against the weather will help your heating and air conditioning bills. Think weather stripping, insulation, an extra blanket at night. Put the kids in sleeping bags-they love them, and they'll be cozy and warm. Remember what your mother nagged you about. Turn off the light when you leave the room. Don't stand there with the refrigerator door (or the front door) open. If you're not watching the TV, turn it off. Even if you leave your computer on all the time, at least turn off the monitor and the printer. Take shorter, cooler showers, and gradually get accustomed to a cooler house in winter and a warmer one in summer. Turn down the temperature on your water heater if it's over 120 degrees. Change or replace your furnace filter regularly.

Food
Last year about this time the hot topic was American obesity. We learned that fast food is practically a crime against humanity. The best way to save money on food and eat more healthfully is a solution that may take some getting used to: cook. An average fast-food meal for a family of four costs $30. At the supermarket, the same $30 could buy you a nice plump chicken, five pounds of potatoes, three pounds of apples, a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and enough vegetables for a couple of family-sized salads. You'll have a healthy dinner, plus leftovers for sandwiches or dinner the next day. The main thing to do is stop eating out as often, start cooking more, and make use of leftovers.

But don't go nuts at the supermarket. Impulse buying accounts for a significant amount of spending there. To avoid it, plan your meals, and shop only once a week. Take a list and shop the perimeter of the store first. Then go back to the aisles to get only what is left on your list. Don't be a snob about store brands. Most are made by major food companies anyway. Use coupons only for things you would buy anyway. You can save $50 or more a week just by following these strategies.

If you make a daily latté stop, stop. Depending on where you live, you can save up to $100 a month. Remember thermoses? Fill one with coffee before you leave home, and invest that $100 in a savings account instead of foamy milk. The same rule applies to other daily habits. Instead of stopping every day after work for a couple of drinks with coworkers, cut it to one day, or at least to one drink.

Credit Card Debt
The average American household owes $8700 in credit card debt. At 18% interest, if you never charged another thing and only made the minimum payment of $261, it would take you 263 months to get rid of the debt, and you would have paid $8500 in interest. If you are paying only the minimum on your cards and getting nowhere fast, think about this. If you upped that payment by just $37 a month (to $300), your debt would be gone in 39 months and you'd pay $2800 interest. The more you send above the minimum, the better off you'll be. The same applies to car loans and mortgages. Send a little extra on the principal, and your balance will decline quicker.

Your Future
If you invest in a 401K through your company, you are probably feeling nervous and confused about now. Maybe you're thinking about cashing it in and stashing the proceeds under the mattress. Don't. You'll have to pay a penalty for withdrawing the money, along with taxes on the proceeds. Be patient. The same economists who warned that the market was going to implode are predicting that it will gradually recover. Many employers give you the option of choosing where your 401K money is invested. If, like many of us, you've just kind of let it ride and trusted your employer to make wise decisions, you need to acquire a basic knowledge of how investments work and pay more attention to yours. As recent times have shown, you shouldn't trust someone else to take care of your money - or your future.



Freelance Editor Ocala Gainesville Orlando Freelance Articles Creator Freelance Developer Writer Editor Proofreader Copyeditor Articles Writer Freelance Writer Writing Test Preparation Manuals Cold Front

This morning my husband and I took a long walk around the lake. We were the only ones in the park, which is probably why we didn't get into trouble for bringing Annie the dog to a county park where there are almost never any people, but where no dogs are allowed anyway. It was 50 degrees, which is numbingly cold according to my self-described Florida-cracker husband, and absolutely perfect according to the wildly-cavorting Annie, spent the summer lying around like a depressed sloth. The calendar claims it's fall, and in most locales in the nation, that means making sure you can find your warm hat and mittens and boots. So I'm thinking, OK, what can I say about a winter that doesn't seem like winter?

Well, there are several redeeming qualities about winter in north-central Florida.

Hurricane season has finally ended, and people are breathing audible sighs of relief about that. When we moved up from south Florida four years ago we said with utter certainty, "Well, we won't have to worry about hurricanes up in Ocala." Ha. Never try to fool Mother Nature. Another good thing that has ended is the swarms of mosquitoes and gnats. They are either gone completely, or they are moving too slowly to catch up with us. Whichever it is, our bites can finally heal and no more will replace them for a while.

Still another plus is that you can go outside and work or walk around and breathe the air all the way into the depths of your lungs because it is no longer like breathing steam. You don't have to worry about keeping on the move to avoid growing mildew.

One of these days we'll be able to build a fire in our fireplace and burn some of the now-seasoned firewood which the hurricanes provided a few summers back. I have to laugh at that. People say we've got enough wood stacked up to last us for five years. In northern Michigan, the half-cord pile we've got here would last maybe a month if we used it sparingly to keep the house at around 65 degrees. Cruising around in the fall, you could judge a family's wealth by the size of their woodpile. Not that they had bought the wood or that they could sell it for much. They had been sweating all summer, cutting every weekend. Families with ten cords of red oak stacked outside their houses might as well have had a pile of gold. It would keep them from the only fear I ever really had when I lived there-freezing to death-which is no small fear.

Winter in north central Florida. I've stopped feeling hopeful when the weatherman says there's a cold front coming. I know what he's going to say-it's going down to 50. Even though I laugh, it makes me remember that although there are many things I miss about snow, I really don't ever want to be that cold for that long again.


I wrote these two very different articles about stars for the Ohio Graduation Test Manual, published by Amsco, 2003. Students were asked to compare two approaches to stargazing.



Freelance Editor Ocala Gainesville Orlando Freelance Articles Creator Freelance Developer Writer Editor Proofreader Copyeditor Articles Writer Freelance Writer Writing Test Preparation Manuals Stars Above, Stars Below

From the time the earliest human beings lived on earth, they gazed at the starry skies in wonder. As they sat by their warm fires in the evening, they looked above and created stories.

In the winter skies, you can easily spot the constellation "Orion the Hunter," with his dog Sirius at his feet. Myths about Orion go back as far as 2000 BC. In the Greek myth, Orion revealed his plan to rid the earth of all wild animals, and so was banished to the heavens. Another Greek myth involves Pegasus, the Winged Horse, who was said to fly out of the head of Medusa when she was slain by Perseus. Later, Zeus used Pegasus to carry his thunderbolts.

Many Native Americans tell stories about the stars, too. These sacred stories are passed from one generation to the next. Chippewa and Ojibwa tribes who live in the Great Lakes region tell the story of Fisher and Wolverine, and how they created spring and summer by climbing up and making a hole in the sky big enough for warm weather to come through for half the year. Fisher remains in the sky as the constellation that many people call the Big Dipper.

Stars have a daily place in our lives, too. When you were small, you probably sang the songs "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "When You Wish Upon a Star." Some other famous star songs are "Stella By Starlight," "Stardust," "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes," and "Catch a Falling Star and Put It In Your Pocket."

Of course, you're never too old to make a wish on a falling star, and if something really good happens to you, you might "thank your lucky stars." Teachers, parents, and coaches encourage you to "reach for the stars" when you think about your future. On the other hand, if you're trying to excel at football, you might get hit so hard that you "see stars."

Stars play a big part in romance, too. If you fall madly in love, people might call you "starry-eyed." "Stardust" is that romantic, uncritical phase of new romance when you're convinced the other person is just about perfect. You can only hope that your romance will work out, unlike that of Romeo and Juliet, the famous "star-crossed lovers."

Stars are important symbols in government. The 50 stars of the Stars and Stripes are one example. Lots of states have flags that feature stars, too. Alaska's flag shows the Big Dipper and the North Star on a solid blue background. The flag of Texas, known as "the lone star state," has just one star. Ohio's flag has 17 stars. The 13 stars grouped around the circle in the middle represent the 13 original states of the union. The four stars added to the peak of the triangle symbolize that Ohio was the 17th state admitted to the union. Then of course there's our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Entertainment has its stars, too. There are movie stars, rock stars, sports stars, and just plain super stars. There's "Star Trek," "Star Search," and "Star Wars." The Dallas Stars is a hockey team, the Alabama Stars is a minor league baseball team, and baseball fans look forward to the major-league event that takes place halfway through the season, the All-Star Game.

Stars can even be found underwater and underground. There are starfish in the ocean, and a  funny tropical fish called the stargazer because its eyes are on top of its head. A tiny rodent called the star-nosed mole is another odd-looking creature.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about stars is this: Did you ever stop to think, as you made a wish on a falling star, that hundreds of other people in other cities and towns and states saw the same star fall -- and made their own wishes? Maybe stars can't really make wishes come true, but nearly everyone agrees that few things are more beautiful than a night sky filled with nature's sparkling diamonds.


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Stars live in galaxies, along with clouds of gas and interstellar dust. Stars are born in these clouds, which are called nebulae. When a star begins to form, hydrogen gas contained in a nebula is pulled together by gravity. The mass of gas begins to spin faster and faster, and the gas gets very hot. When the temperature reaches 15,000,000 degrees on the Celsius scale, a process called nuclear fusion begins to occur in the core of the nebula. Nuclear fusion gives off heat, and the heat causes the gas to glow. At this point in its life, the star is called a protostar.

The protostar continues to enlarge as it accumulates matter available in the nebula. When the accumulation of new matter stops, the star is called a main sequence star. In this phase of the star's life, gravity pushes against the ball of gas, keeping it together but also trying to make it collapse. The pressure of the hot gas inside the star, produced by nuclear activity, counteracts the force of gravity. As long as the balance holds--and it may be millions or billions of years--the star remains stable, a giant sphere of glowing gas.

In medium stars like our Sun, the nuclear activity in the core of the star continues. As it does, it converts hydrogen to helium. This conversion begins to cause instability in the star's core, and the outer shell of the star eventually begins to expand. The star is bigger, but it is also cooler, so it glows red rather than white. At this point in its life, the star is called a red giant.

When most of the nuclear fuel inside the star is finally used up, the gravity that has been pushing against it all this time wins out. The star collapses. It is now much smaller, but very dense, and it shines with a white-hot light. At this point, the star is called a white dwarf. Once the energy inside a white dwarf is gone, the star dies. It is now called a black dwarf.

If a star is a very massive one--say ten times the size of our sun--its demise can result in a supernova, a powerful explosion that lights up the sky for weeks and can reach temperatures of 1,000,000,000 degrees Celsius. The core of such a massive star becomes a neutron star, spinning rapidly and emitting radio waves. If the star emits pulsing radio waves, it is called a pulsar. These stars are still very large, but there is no nuclear fusion to push back against gravity. Eventually the core is swallowed by its own gravity, creating what is known as a black hole. Black holes swallow matter that gets too close to them.

It's important to remember that the life cycles of the stars described above take millions or billions of years to complete. In other words, there is no need to worry about our Sun--the closest star to planet earth--burning out any time soon.


Help Yourself by Helping Others

This article was also written for the Ohio Graduation Test Manual, but at the 10th-grade level. The student's task was to decide whether he or she agreed with the author's concept of teen volunteeerism, and to write a short essay explaining why or why not.

Ocala Gainesville Orlando Florida Freelance Writer Ocala Gainesville Orlando Freelance Editor Ocala Gainesville Orlando Freelance Articles Creator Freelance Developer Writer Editor Proofreader Copyeditor Articles Writer Freelance Writer Writing Test Preparation Manuals Teen volunteerism is on the rise in the United States as well as in other countries around the globe. According to Tom Culbertson, President and CEO of Youth Services America, US teenagers spent 2.4 billion hours of their time volunteering in 1999. Many schools now ask students to volunteer time in their communities as a requirement for graduation, and school clubs sponsor community service projects as well.

So why should you spend your time volunteering to help others when you'd rather be home playing video games or out shopping with your friends at the mall? There are many answers to this question.

First, of course, is the satisfaction of knowing that you have had a positive impact on your community. Teen volunteers restore run-down parks, transform abandoned lots into playgrounds and ball fields, and beautify their communities by planting flowers and painting murals on buildings. They participate in popular national and global programs like Habitat for Humanity and the National Wildlife Federation's Earth Tomorrow.

If you'd rather work on a one-to-one personal basis, you might volunteer to tutor a child who is having trouble with your favorite subject. People in nursing homes brighten up at the sight of young faces and are delighted to have someone read to them, write a letter for them, or simply spend time chatting.

Do you love animals? Then perhaps you'd like to volunteer at your local animal shelter. Dogs need exercise and play, cats need to be brushed and petted, and these activities help every shelter animal to become more adoptable because they react in a friendly and positive way to prospective adoptive families. Are you interested in more exotic animals? Then try volunteering at a zoo or wildlife rehabilitation center. If you're crazy about horses, check to see if your community has a Therapeutic Riding Association, where volunteers assist physically challenged children and adults in horseback riding activities.

Maybe you'd like to see another part of the world. A group of Las Vegas teens did just that in June, 2002, when they traveled to the jungles of Brazil to build classrooms for a children's shelter. Cincinnati teen Adhrucia Apana worked for a week in an orphanage in India, and after returning to the United States, she started an organization called Child by Child. It encourages kids to help raise funds for needy children.

There are plenty of travel opportunities within the United States as well. A number of conservation and environmental organizations sponsor "volunteer vacations" for outdoor enthusiasts who don't mind working for their food and lodging. Your contribution might be to help construct a new trail or repair an old one, help build cabins and tent sites, or cut firewood. You could find yourself anywhere from Acadia National Park in Maine to a national wildlife refuge in Montana. Your reward? A cozy cabin or tent, food cooked over a campfire, fantastic opportunities for recreation, and a lot of new friends from all over the country.

Are you still wondering "How can helping others help me?"

Volunteering can help you explore careers and give you some ideas about what you might like to do in the future. Did you love landscaping the local park? Maybe horticulture is the field for you. Did you find you love working with children? Then maybe you'd like to be a teacher. Volunteering at the hospital might make it clear to you that you'd really like to work in the health care field. Working in a national park might open up the possibility of becoming a wildlife biologist.

Here's another way volunteering can help you: As you develop new skills and talents, you are also acquiring references for job applications and resumes. If you helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity, you might be able to obtain summer work in construction. Your work with children translates to a job as a camp counselor or daycare worker. You might be hired in a veterinarian's office because of your work with animals at a shelter. If you think of volunteering as an unpaid job, you can easily see that it helps you to develop a sense of responsibility. By proving that you're reliable in a volunteer capacity, you let employers know they can count on you to be a dependable--and paid--employee.

If you're college-bound, your volunteer activities and accomplishments are a definite plus on your college and scholarship applications. Exemplary volunteers often win awards, and listing these on your applications can help you shine even more brightly in the eyes of admissions officers and scholarship committees.

The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards are given each year to teens whose volunteer efforts go "above and beyond." Emily Douglas of Powell, Ohio, won a Prudential award because she founded an organization that gathered and sent clothing, books, and toys to children in Appalachia. David Levitt, of Seminole, Florida, also won the award. He convinced his school district to donate unused food from 92 schools to a service that provides food to the hungry and homeless. Obviously, winning one of these awards would make you feel pretty proud of yourself.

Even if you can spare only a little of your time for community service, you can make a difference. You don't have to win an award to feel good about yourself. It can be a real self-esteem booster to know that people are sure they can count on you and that they truly appreciate what you're doing.

An old Greek proverb states, "A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under which they will never sit." Of course, the Greeks weren't really talking about trees. They were talking about giving a part of yourself to make your community, nation, or world a better place.

Knowing you have done that is the real reward of volunteering.

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