January 2014
Prevent Winter Sports Head Injuries

Avoid Winter Sports Head Injuries

Put a helmet on top of your safety list.

Wintertime sports and activities provide a fun way to stay fit in the chilly outdoors.

But they can also lead to serious injuries, including concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Mild TBIs may involve a brief change in mental status or consciousness, while severe TBIs can lead to extended unconsciousness or amnesia.

Some traumatic brain injuries can lead to permanent disability or even death.

While there’s no individual technique or safety equipment guaranteed to prevent head injuries, here are a few safety tips:

  • Wear a helmet – According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission study, helmet use by skiers and snowboarders could prevent or reduce the severity of 44 percent of head injuries to adults, and 53 percent of head injuries to children under the age of 15.
  • Use the right gear properly – Select the proper equipment, and make sure bindings, boots and other gear are adjusted to fit correctly.
  • Know your limits – Get the proper training, control your speed at all times, and don’t ski or snowboard beyond your ability.
  • Use the buddy system – Never ski or snowboard alone. Make sure someone is there to help you if you get hurt.
  • Know the hazards – Be familiar with the location of fences, trees, rocks and open water, and stay on marked trails appropriate for your skill level. Avoid potential avalanche areas.

Also, familiarize yourself with these suggestions from the Brain Trauma Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for evaluating and responding to immediate head injuries.

Enjoy the outdoors, and stay safe!

Exercise Caution with Auxiliary Heaters
auxiliary heating device

Exercise Caution with Auxiliary Heaters

Used improperly, they can cause fires, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning.

On these cold winter days you may be using auxiliary heaters in your home to ward off the season’s chill. While they’re a great way to help stay comfortable, be careful. Auxiliary heaters, if used improperly, can cause burns and fires, and produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, home heating and cooling equipment, including portable space heaters, is a top cause of fire deaths. Be safe when using any auxiliary heating device and follow these safety guidelines.

  • Have a three-foot “kid- and pet-free” zone around the heater, and keep combustibles out of this region.
  • Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms in your home.
  • Have fuel-burning heaters cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.

Electric space heaters

  • Turn heaters off when you go to bed or leave the room.
  • Only use heaters that shut off automatically if tipped over.
  • Place space heaters on a solid, flat non-combustible surface.
  • Don’t use extension cords.
  • Replace cracked or damaged plugs or power cords.

Fuel-burning heaters

  • Only use the fuel specified by the manufacturer.
  • Only use heaters with an emergency shut off.
  • Do not put heaters on rugs or carpets.
  • Only use heaters designed for indoor use.
  • Always follow the manufacturer's directions for proper use.
  • Only use heaters with oxygen sensors.

Wood-burning stoves

  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood to avoid dangerous creosote buildup.
  • Never use flammable liquids such as gasoline to start a fire.
  • Place a thick mesh screen in front of the flames to prevent embers from getting out.
  • Dispose of ashes in a tightly covered metal container. Place the container at least 10 feet from your home.
  • Clean and inspect chimneys and vents annually.

When using any source of auxiliary heat, exercise caution and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines. With care and safety, you’ll get years of extra warmth from your heater.

Start the New Year with a New Budget
Man and women looking at a computer and calculartor

Start the New Year with a New Budget

Make this the year you get your finances under control.

Ever feel like you don’t have complete control of your finances? You’re not alone.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, only 32 percent of Americans have a household budget that tracks income and expenses. While some people think “budget” is a dirty word, it’s a great way to track spending, get out of debt and save for future goals.

Follow the money

Budgets don’t have to be elaborate – just accurate. You can take advantage of electronic programs such as Excel or Quicken®, or simply use a paper and pen. The key is to find what works for you, stick to it and be accurate.

  • Record all income including salary, alimony, investments, etc. Don’t plan on tax refunds or year-end bonuses since they aren’t guaranteed.
  • List fixed monthly expenses such as loan payments and minimum credit card installments. For expenses that aren’t monthly, such as auto or home insurance, take the annual premium and divide by 12 for a monthly amount.
  • Record all variable expenses– anything you get a monthly bill for where the amount can change (utilities, for example).
  • Now comes the hard part. Write down everything else you spend money on – lunch, groceries, gas, bus fares, coffee at work, etc.
  • If you’ve identified goals such as a vacation, paying off loans early or retirement, include them as budgeted items. After all, reaching your financial goals is the whole point of budgeting.

At the end of the month, add everything up. If you’ve got more income than expenses, great! You can apply the extra to your saving goals. If expenses exceed income, your listing will show areas where you can probably reduce spending. (Example: Maybe you can bring a lunch to work instead of going out.)

As you reach one goal, you’ll have extra money that can be applied to achieving other goals faster. For example, if you’ve paid off a credit card, you can apply the money you were spending to retirement savings.

Reaching your financial goals is all about identifying opportunities and resources already at your fingertips. With careful planning – and a commitment to your plans – your financial goals can be well within your reach.

A Warm Spirit of Giving
Little girl in winter coat

A Warm Spirit of Giving

Teen realizes her dream one winter coat at a time.

Longview, Wash., is a cold, wet place to call home in the winter. So one December morning in 2008, when 8-year-old Skyler Lee saw a TV news report about children who did not have warm coats, she asked her mother if they could do something to help. Mom and daughter promptly drove to a store and bought two coats that they gave to the Salvation Army.

At first, even Skyler thought that was the end of the story. But it was just beginning. “I didn’t know there was such a big need,” she says. “I thought it was a good thing to do, donating a couple of coats. And it just went from there.”

With the encouragement of a Salvation Army volunteer, Skyler held a community coat drive. Within two months, she collected about 125 donations, and in five years her nonprofit organization "Warm Coats, Warm Hearts" has given away about 5,000 coats.

How Skyler Lee made her dream come true

Lesson #1: She had open eyes and an open mind. Skyler’s dream became clear to her only after she made her first donation.

Lesson #2: She thought smartly and progressed slowly. Skyler stays enthusiastic and takes small steps toward making her dream a reality.

Lesson #3: She works hard every day. Summers are just as busy as winters for Skyler; there’s no “off season” for dreamers.

All along, Alissa Lee has supported her daughter’s dream. “The learning process she is getting from this is so amazing,” Alissa says. “It opens her eyes to the reality in this world. People do need help, and people who can help should.”

Skyler has also become a rather reluctant celebrity. A self-described “really quiet person,” she gets stopped by strangers who thank her, and she has received several awards for her efforts. Not that the attention distracts Skyler from her mission; she continues to scour garage sales, hold coat drives and accept donations all year long.

And where does she store all those coats before giving them away? “In our garage,” Skyler replies.

“Yes, in the garage,” Alissa adds with a laugh, “where I used to park my truck.”

To learn more about Skyler and her dream of collecting warm clothing for those in need, visit “Warm Coats, Warm Hearts” on Facebook.

Think You Might Be a Victim of Credit Card Hacking?

Think You Might Be a Victim of Credit Card Hacking?

Here are five steps you might want to take.

Stolen credit and debit card information has been all over the news during the recent holiday season.

Identity Theft 911, American Family’s identity theft resolution provider, has seen an increase in call volume from customers concerned they may be one of the millions of consumers affected by the recent credit card data breach at Target.

Think you might be a victim? Here are five steps Identity Theft 911 recommends:

  1. Check your accounts immediately. Use a secure WiFi connection to access online accounts and review credit card and bank account statements. Take action if you see unfamiliar charges. Call your credit card issuer or bank.

  2. Consider replacing the card(s) used at Target. The bad guys can recreate physical cards with the stolen information and use them at any time. Even if they haven’t used your card, the data on the card has been compromised. Waiting to replace it may cost more money and cause more trouble later.

  3. Update providers with new card information. When you replace your card, remember to update that information with service providers to avoid service disruptions. Otherwise, charges won’t go through and you’ll experience more headaches.

  4. Take extra precautions. If you don’t immediately replace your cards, go online to review every transaction daily.

  5. Check your credit. Review your credit reports from the three reporting agencies—TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Visit, the government-mandated source for free credit reports. Investigate suspicious activity and stay on top of it until the matter is resolved.

Looking for extra protection? Identity Fraud Expense Coverage from American Family Insurance is available for homeowners, renters, condo owners, manufactured home owners and farm/ranch customers.

This endorsement covers expenses associated with re-establishing damaged credit, such as legal fees, loan reapplication fees, telephone and certified mail charges, notary expenses and lost wages for any time taken off work to correct the fraud. Identity Theft 911 will help you through the entire process.

With this endorsement, you also have unlimited access to a dedicated fraud specialist who can help you resolve identity theft issues, take proactive steps to protect your identity, and replace lost, stolen or destroyed documents or identification.

To learn more, contact your American Family Insurance agent today.