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Paint Night Fun

If you ever feel like trying something different with your friends, why not try a paint night?

Paint nights are the latest trend here as well as on the mainland.   It is basically a 2-hour session hosted by an artist.  The session is spent learning how to paint a particular painting, all while eating, drinking, and mingling with your friends and other attendees.  It’s a very fun, laid back atmosphere – definitely a good way to wind down after a long day at work.

Paint nights are held throughout the week.  Each location has its own painting, so you have a lot to choose from!

I decided to try a paint night with a few of my closest friends through PaintNite.com.  The one we went to was held at Big City Diner in Aiea, and our painting was of a silhouette of a tree in a dusk/dawn background, entitled “Into the Night II”.


“Into the Night II” by Lexie Jelilyan

As we entered the room, we saw that tables were set up, and in front of each chair was a table easel with a blank canvas.  Each person also had their own cup of water with two paintbrushes in it and a paper plate that was used as a palette for the paints.

We all put on aprons and our hostess/artist introduced herself to us.  Her name was Andrea and she is an art teacher at a local high school.  Before doing anything with our canvases, she had us say an oath that we would have fun, love our paintings, and that she wouldn’t find any of our paintings dumped on the side of the road (she was hilarious!).

Andrea made the painting process very easy for us and painted on her own canvas along with the rest of us.  Although our palettes only had the basic red, blue, yellow, black, and white, it was enough to make all the pretty colors in the painting.  She was very thorough with her instructions and even walked around the room to give tips and comments.  After the two hours had passed, everyone in the room had their very own masterpiece.  This is mine, and I’m quite proud of it:


The great thing about these paint nights is that you don’t need to know how to paint.  The artists will teach you everything and provide everything for you.  All you need to bring is your willingness to learn and have fun!  If you are looking for something different to do, this is definitely a must-try.  There is a fee to sign up for the class, but they always have deals and discounts, and it’s totally worth it.  Give it a try and don’t forget to share your beautiful artwork with us!

Best Ways to Use a Tax Refund

taxrefundOver the past few years, the average federal tax refund has come to about $3,000. That’s not exactly chump change. With the filing deadline approaching, it’s not too early to begin thinking about how you’ll use a refund this year. Here are five pointers to keep in mind.

1. Pay down debt

It’s not as much fun as booking a trip to the Caribbean, but cutting down the amount of debt you owe is one of the best money moves you can make. Outstanding loan and credit card balances can hurt your credit score, making it more difficult to get the best rates on new borrowing. If you’re saddled with credit card debt, consider paying off the balance with the highest interest rate first.

2. Save for retirement

Whether it’s a 401(k) plan or an individual retirement account, you’ll do yourself a huge favor by starting to save for retirement or ramping up your savings rate. Although putting away 10% of your pre-tax income is a good starting point, you’ll eventually want to approach 20%. Compound interest and investment returns help the money in these accounts grow, so you’ll thank yourself once you retire.

3. Home improvement

If you’re a homeowner, taking care of repairs around the house can be a great long-term investment. Just remember to be strategic when it comes to deciding what to fix. Replacing a garage door or installing a new steel entry door can be among the least expensive improvements, at less than $2,000 each on average. But they can provide some of the best returns on the dollar in terms of the market value they add to your home, according to Remodeling Magazine.

4. Save for emergencies

Because it’s best to leave money in retirement accounts alone so it can grow over the years, it’s important to build a rainy day fund. This should consist of three to six months of living expenses, and the money should be readily accessible. You might be forced to use these funds when you least expect it, to handle medical emergencies or a broken down car that needs immediate repairs. A tax refund probably won’t cover half a year’s living expenses, so continuing to add to your emergency fund will help you hit your savings goal.

5. Focus on needs

As tempting as it may be to splurge on a new television, you’ll probably end up regretting using your refund for anything that lacks long-term value. That includes vacations, shopping sprees and decadent nights out on the town.

If you consistently receive substantial refunds but never put them to good use, consider asking your employer to adjust what’s withheld from your pay. That way, you’ll avoid giving the government too much money and can use it to cover more pressing needs.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Key Tax-Preparation Tips to Cut Stress

Tax FormAlthough it comes around every spring, tax season tends to inflict the same headaches year after year. To reduce your stress — and maximize your refund — it’ll help to stay organized and be aware of recent changes to the tax code.

For additional motivation to get on track, keep in mind that the average refund has been about $3,000 in recent years. Even if you don’t expect to get that much back, there are plenty of ways to put a refund to good use. But first, you’ll have to file your returns properly, taking advantage of any deductions you might qualify for. Here’s a look at where to get started.

Compiling the necessary information

For starters, you’ll need your W-2 form listing earnings and tax withholdings, which employers typically send out in January or early February. Be sure to have your Social Security number or taxpayer identification number available, as well as those numbers for any dependents you’ll claim. You’ll also need documentation of any income they may have had.

Affordable Care Act penalty

The 2010 Affordable Care Act ushered in one of the most significant tax law changes in recent years. It stipulates that if you didn’t have health insurance in 2014 and didn’t qualify for an exemption, you may face a penalty. In 2015, taxpayers who lack adequate insurance may be penalized at either 2% of a portion of their income or $325 per adult and $167.50 per child, to a maximum of $975 per family — whichever is higher. Those fees are set to increase in upcoming years, which means it’s a good idea to get insured as soon as possible.

Tax deductions reduce taxable income

Deductions reduce the amount of your income that you have to pay taxes on. Sit down and figure out whether the standard deduction or itemized deductions will work best for you. The former is a set amount that reduces your taxable income depending on your filing status; the latter lets you list qualified expenses separately, such as mortgage interest and local property taxes. If your itemized deductions add up to more than your standard deduction amount, go with that.

So what kinds of expenses can you deduct? Contributions to eligible organizations and interest on education loans are among the more well-known deductions you can take. Others, such as medical and home office expenses, aren’t as widely used for various reasons. Make sure to look into which of your expenses you can use to reduce your taxable income, which will probably increase your refund. Bear in mind that income limits and expense thresholds may limit these deductions or eliminate them entirely.

If you qualify to contribute to a traditional individual retirement account, or IRA, you may be able to shield up to $5,500 of income from taxes — plus $1,000 more if you’re 50 or over — by putting it in an IRA. You have until April 15 to make deductible contributions for the previous year. Withdrawals are subject to income tax, however.

Also, if you’re in a same-sex marriage, stay alert for further changes in the rules governing your tax status and other financial issues.

The bottom line

Completing your tax returns won’t be much fun, but it’s the first step in claiming a refund. Once you’ve filed your returns, you should expect to get what you’re due within three weeks — or in less than half that time if you ask for the money to be directly deposited to a savings or checking account. Just remember to compile all the essential paperwork before getting started, keeping an eye out for tax credits and changes to the tax code.

©Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Kristi Yamaguchi’s Golden Moment

Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi

This past Friday, November 20, and Saturday, November 21st, the people of Hawaii got to experience a once in a lifetime event – watching Olympic ice skaters perform at the Blaisdell Arena in an event titled Kristi Yamaguchi’s Golden Moment.

Kristi Yamaguchi and her co-host Brian Boitano introduced a star-studded cast of both figure skaters and local musicians, and in between performances, they shared about Kristi Yamaguchi’s Always Dream Foundation and how it is helping Hawaii’s elementary schools promote early childhood literacy.  Throughout the show, there were musical performances by Na Leo Pilimehana and Manoa DNA, some of their songs accompanied the skaters as they did their routines.

The show featured amazing performances by American skaters Jeremy Abbott and the Olympic Gold pair, Meryl Davis and Charlie White.  Canadian skater Kurt Browning also made an appearance and showed off his immaculate footwork in his high-energy performances.  Russian figure skater Katia Gordeeva also made an appearance, and of course, Kristi and Brian also got their time on the ice.

Top figure skaters from Japan (Shizuka Arakawa, Miki Ando, Yuka Sato, and Takeshi Honda) also performed and wowed the crowd of locals and Japanese tourists.

Kristi Yamaguchi skating with her daughter.
Brian Boitano, Jeremy Abbott, and Kurt Browning


It wouldn’t be a Golden Moment without special routines.  Brian Boitano, Kurt Browning, and Jeremy Abbott entertained the crowd with a comical performance.  Kristi Yamaguchi skated to a number with one of her daughters, also an aspiring figure skater.  Katia Gordeeva also performed with her own daughter, who also skates professionally.  Shizuka Arakawa, who gave birth just last year, did a beautiful performance as Na Leo Pilimehana sang “You Don’t Remember” live.  During the middle of the song, she brought out her daughter and skated around the rink as she carried her.

The final performance was a never-before-seen, once-in-a-lifetime routine with Kristi, Shizuka, Yuka, and Miki all skating together in a beautiful, heartfelt routine as Na Leo Pilimehana sang “I Miss You My Hawaii.”

All in all, it was an amazing show with a great cause.  Even better, all the proceeds earned from the shows will stay in Hawaii to go towards the Title I schools.  This was a great event for Hawaii to have, and hopefully Kristi and her friends will come back for another great show!

Making the Most of Your Holiday Budget

Holiday money in a jarThe holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate with your loved ones. But unless you manage your festivities and gift-giving carefully, it’s easy to fall victim to the temptation to overspend on presents and cheer. The best way to avoid overindulgence is by doing a little planning so you know how much you have to spend.

Here are some tips:

Set a realistic budget
Keep your overall financial picture in mind when you set your holiday budget. Set a dollar limit for how much you want to spend in total, not only on gifts, but also other categories of expenses such as holiday travel, entertainment, food and drink, and even decorations and wrapping paper.

Add up all the categories, and, if the total is too high, you can tweak your numbers or cut back in areas that are less important to you. For example, you might forgo restaurant meals for a certain time to afford those expensive Star Wars toys. By making choices, you won’t find yourself ringing in the New Year with a new pile of credit card debt.

October is generally the month when Christmas Club account holders can begin to take penalty-free withdrawals in preparation for holiday shopping. These dedicated short-term savings accounts are a tradition that became popular during the Great Depression, and they are a great way to sock a little away each month throughout the year. Credit unions like Hawaiian Tel Federal Credit Union offer free Christmas Savings share accounts that pay the same dividends as regular share accounts.

Try a holiday budgeting app
Use your smartphone to manage your holiday shopping list and keep tabs on your budget. Popular free apps like Santa’s Bag for iPhone, and Christmas Gift List for Android are highly rated by app store users. They provide a handy way to create a gift budget for each person on your list and check off presents as you buy them. They also create an archived record that you’ll be able to refer to next year.


Research prices online
Instead of trudging through the mall or driving to many brick-and-mortar stores, save gas money by shopping online for the gifts you plan to buy. Check for discount codes on savings websites like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com. You can often find significant savings on toys, clothing and even holiday food items for parties. For online orders, allow plenty of time for delivery. In previous years, many websites were overburdened with holiday orders, and some deliveries were delayed until after Christmas.

Don’t pay for postage
With the cost of first-class package delivery up over 5% in 2015, sending gifts to friends and family can be more costly than ever. One way around this expense is to take advantage of online shopping websites that offer free shipping. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you’re also eligible for free shipping.

So if your nephew is dying to get that Munchkin board game for Christmas, make your purchase online and send it to him directly, instead of buying it at the local toy store, gift-wrapping it at home and mailing it at the post office.

For smarter spending around the holidays, refer to your budget often as you make your way through your gift list. If you do splurge on one present, find another area where you can cut back to stay on track. Then you’ll be able to enjoy the holidays without worry.

Jeanne Lee, NerdWallet
© Copyright 2015 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved