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This Week in Your Wallet: Security Freeze, Consumer Confidence & Bathroom Redesign on a Budget

So far this year there have been 579 data breaches.That’s a 27% increase over the same time period last year. If you’ve
been reading the newspapers, you probably suspected the number was rising. Maybe it was a story about how six former Saks Fifth Avenue employees used credit cards stolen from 22 Saks customers to buy $400,000 worth of loot – including designer shoes and handbags – that caught your eye. Or perhaps it was one of the many pieces about how hackers swiped names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses for 76 million Chase bank accounts.

Either way, you can pretty much count on the fact that the next data breach is just around the corner. So consider this a friendly reminder that we’re living in a world where increased vigilance around your personal information is something you now have to do to protect yourself – just like you buy home or auto insurance, just like you wrote a will (you did write a will, didn’t you?).

What this means is checking your credit reports at least every four months, which you can do for free courtesy of annualcreditreport.com (the site grants you one free report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year). It means actually reading your statements to make sure all of the transactions really do belong to you. It means changing your passwords at least for accounts with your financial institutions (they should be at least eight characters, upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols that come together to form a word that doesn’t exist in the dictionary). And it means sharing via your social networks more selectively. A happy birthday message to your mom that happens to mention her first and last name (particularly if she never changed it) gives a savvy id thief even more ammo to gain access to your credit card or other accounts that use these particular details as answers to your security questions.

And if you want to do even more? You can sign up for an ID prevention service like LifeLock (I’ve told you in the past, I’m working with them to educate consumers on what they need to do to protect themselves). Or – as TIME suggests this week – you can put a freeze on your credit with each of the three major credit bureaus.

As Kara Brandeisky writes: “Here’s how it works. Whenever anyone applies for credit, the would-be lender pulls their credit report from one of the three bureaus, Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. If you institute a security freeze at each of the three credit bureaus, nobody will be able to access your credit report, so identity thieves won’t be able to open any new accounts in your name — period.”

It’s not free. Typically, according to Time, it’s $5 to $10 per credit agency. And you have to pay to unfreeze if you’re applying for credit yourself.  But it is a preventative measure many people disregard.

And now for the other news of the week…

At least we’re feeling better about this

While incidents like the above make us question our financial security, we are feeling more confident about our personal finances (which is what I like to hear). According to a new survey from Absolute Strategy Research, American households are feeling much better about their personal finances, job security (83% of workers said they’re either very or fairly secure in their current jobs) and overall economic prospects. In fact, these sentiments are the strongest they’ve been since mid-2009 when ASR started recording data. And for the survey’s first time, more consumers said they’re better off than they were a year ago. What’s more is that 35% of consumers think that they will be even better off financially in a year, compared with the 12% who anticipate their financial situations worsening. As a The Wall Street Journal reporter writes, the most promising takeaway from the study is consumers’ optimism about the future.

Could your powder room use a touch up?

I’m in the process of renovating a bathroom (ripping out a tub, adding a shower) which is why this piece on refreshing bathrooms on a budget caught my eye. Since bathrooms are generally smaller spaces, little changes can make big impacts. For example, frame your mirror to give your bathroom a more custom look. A mirror not only creates a larger sense of space, but its reflection (of light) also makes your bathroom appear to be brighter. To make a cheap (yet attractive) frame, use primed molding trim from your hardware store. You’ll be able to cut it to your mirror’s dimensions – expect to pay roughly $20 for 8 feet’s worth.

Another easy trick is to replace your bathroom’s hardware (i.e. bathroom fixtures like hooks, handles, faucets and soap dispenser). For these you want consistency – try to have the metals match in color and finish. This fix might be pricier than your mirror frame: expect to pay around $100-200 for new sink or shower faucets.

Spreadsheets over bed sheets

We know that money is one of the most uncomfortable subjects for people to talk about. Research from Northwestern Mutual Life confirms that Americans would rather talk about sex than money – and different research from Wells Fargo says investors themselves ranked personal finance as a touchier subject than both politics and religion. Then we have the research from T. Rowe Price showing about 75 percent of parents admitting to avoiding money talks with their children. I think you get the picture.

The problem is that not talking about money with your spouse or loved ones can lead to even more distressing financial situations down the road. So get talking! When it comes to the kids, you don’t have to have a formal sit-down at the kitchen table — make it more casual and interactive instead, like mini lessons at the grocery store (i.e. have them price compare products and go over “wants” versus “needs”). For more talking tips, head here.

Have a great week,


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