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UCPA’s 29th Annual Rubber Duckie Race

DSC_0586.JPGOn Saturday, March 26th, our employees headed over to the McCully Shopping Center, like we do every year, to help with the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawaii’s Annual Rubber Duckie Race.  This year would mark the 29th race.  We set up a booth in the shopping center parking lot from 9am to noon with our famous Spin-the-Wheel game and fun prizes.

Other pre-race festivities included the Duckie store, where you could purchase all sorts of rubber duckies and duckie paraphernalia, a tent for last minute rubber duckie adoptions, hula performances by different youth groups, and even an appearance by Ben and Maila! As the pre-race festivities took place in the shopping center parking lot, the rest of us took to the streets to wave signs and ask for donations for UCPA.  The aloha spirit was alive and well as many people stopped to donate, adopt a duck, and show support for a great cause.

At approximately 1:01pm, about 20,000 duckies were released into the Ala Wai Canal, and 51 lucky people won great prizes, varying from flat screen TVs, rounds of golf, Wet ‘N Wild passes, and even an iPad Mini.

Congratulations to all the winners, and a big mahalo to everyone who came out to volunteer, donate, and show support to the UCPA of Hawaii.

Click here to check out more photos from the 29th Annual Rubber Duckie Race.

Dream Adventures

I recently came across an article about Expedia’s latest campaign with St.  Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and it is awesome!

The campaign is called “St. Jude Dream Adventures” and took over a year to put together.  Expedia worked with St. Jude’s to find children in the hospital who had dreams of traveling, but due to their illness, would not be able to.  Four children were picked and paired with an Expedia employee.

Expedia then had a temporary installation set up in a room in the hospital that allowed the children to experience their very own “dream adventure” in a 360º view, as if they were really there!  The Expedia employees were sent out to those dream places with a special camera that streamed live to the room so that the children could talk directly with the Expedia employee and ask questions.

From running with wild horses in the Argentinian Plain, digging for fossils in the desert, to even scuba diving in the pristine waters of Mexico, Expedia is doing a wonderful job bringing the outside world to the children of St. Jude’s.

Check out the full article here, complete with videos featuring each child, or visit Expedia’s YouTube channel for a complete list of their videos and other campaigns.

 

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”.

intothenight

“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:

intothenight001

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