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Move over PSP--Its time to IM

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WASHINGTON (11/20/07)--Instant messaging (IM) is just one more way teens are communicating today. Nearly half of kids, age 13 to 18, said they use IM, according to an Associated Press-AOL poll (Associated Press Nov. 16). And IM isn’t just something kids use once in a while to send a message or two. One of 10 kids said they spend three hours or more a day instant messaging, and 17% said they send 100 IMs a day. Chances are if you have kids they’re IMing--and they’re not going to stop. Instead of being scared of the technology, Microsoft encourages parents to:
* Learn the technology. Install the same IM program your kids use. Start chatting with friends and family. This way you’ll understand the technology your kids use every day. * Set time limits. Just as you might set time limits for watching TV or playing video games on Play Station Portable (PSP), make a rule about how much time children can spend online and stick to it. Consider purchasing software that tells kids how much time they have left on the computer. * Tell children to communicate only with contacts they recognize. Kids should decline and block messages from people or names they don't know. * Keep the computer in a central location. This can help you monitor what your kids are doing online and whom they communicate with.
For more information and to get a grasp on what all those IMs mean, read “OMG, It's an IM Lingo Guide for Parents” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Survey Energy costs could cut into holiday spending

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WASHINGTON (11/20/07)—Consumers are likely to continue a holiday trend established in recent years of reduced spending on gifts, and this year’s high energy costs are expected to make the seasonal spending increase even weaker than in the past few years, according to the results of the eighth annual survey commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA).
Click to view larger image CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel during this morning's news conference at the National Press Club briefs reporters about findings of the Eighth Annual CUNA/Consumer Federation of America Holiday Spending Survey. (Photo provided by CUNA)
The bottom will not fall out of retail spending but it will be softer," said Bill Hampel, CUNA chief economist, said at a press conference held to discuss the survey findings. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said higher gasoline and energy costs will have a negative impact on this year’s holiday spending. This is up from 32% last year. The price of gifts is also playing a role in consumer attitudes toward spending, with 32% saying they would somewhat or greatly decrease their spending as a result. That number was up from 26% last year. “Your family’s current finances” and “your general household expenses” were cited less frequently, with fewer than 30% citing each of these factors. “It is noteworthy how frequently consumers cited rising energy costs as a reason they plan to cut back their holiday spending, far more frequently than they cited general family finances,” said CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel. “They are clearly quite concerned about the escalating price of gasoline and home heating oil.” The CFA/CUNA survey was conducted November 8-11 among more than 1,000 representative adults Americans by Opinion Research Corporation. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The CFA and CUNA suggest the following holiday spending tips to help consumers avoid falling into a seasonal debt trap:
* Make a budget and list what you will buy and how much you can afford to spend and then stay within that budget: * Comparison shop: You can easily save more than 10% on most items by comparing prices at different stores. Often the savings are even greater; * Pay off your holiday debts quickly and remember you are less likely to overdo is you pay with cash or check than if you use either credit or debit cards; *Start saving now for 2008—open a Christmas Club account: While these accounts do not pay much if any interest, they provide a practical way to save small amounts over time; * Be smart about gift cards: read the fine print on each card. There may be a fee for checking your balance as well as a monthly inactivity, maintenance, administrative, or service fee; and * Pay attention to return policies. Also keep receipts and note time limits, restocking fees, and other factors that may affect your recipient.