Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
 
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

Tips to Save Money during a Road Trip

July 30, 2013 2:42 am

(BPT)—Whether you're driving across the country on your annual family road trip or taking a weekend to enjoy the open road, there are plenty of ways to save on the cost of fuel. Here are some easy tips that will help you save money at the pump and stretch the fuel in your gas tank.

Prepare your vehicle. Regular service can spot problems that reduce gas mileage, such as a broken thermostat, low transmission fluid or even something as simple as a dirty air filter.

Prepare yourself. Select a route ahead of time and study it to know exactly where you're going, and where you'll make stops. ExxonMobil's Fuel Finder app includes real-time maps, driving directions and station information for nearly 10,000 Exxon and Mobil retail locations across the continental U.S.

Drive sensibly. Aggressive driving - speeding, rapid acceleration and quick braking - wastes gas and can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Use cruise control to stick to the speed limit on long, straight highways. Wind resistance increases exponentially with speed and your car will work a lot harder the faster you go.

Avoid the heat. When possible, try to get on the road early in the morning or later in the evening as cooler temperatures set in. Not only will it help you save on air-conditioning expenses, but air that is cooler is denser and can actually increase power and mileage.

Follow these simple driving tips and you'll see more savings that you can enjoy on your summer vacation. Time to hit the road.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Liven Up Your Home with Color

July 29, 2013 2:40 am

Family Features—The summer months are all about color. From flowers in bloom to vibrant beach towels and colorful dresses, summer brings with it a multitude of hues.

If you feel that your home is in need of an update, adding a little pop of color can help. Start by thinking about the colors you want to add, where color can make the most impact and just how much you need to give your home a fresh look.

Here are a few tips to get you started on your adventure in color:

Explore Color. Begin by visiting your favorite clothing boutique, stopping into a paint store or flipping through home design magazines for inspiration. Choose the looks you are most drawn to or the colors that evoke a feeling of happiness or calmness. These colors reflect your personal style and will make you feel most comfortable in your home.

Start Small. After picking a color palette, don't go out and paint your whole house with it, start small. Just changing your accent pillows, throws, lampshades or accessories can make a big impact when you are introducing a new color. Remember to make sure the color flows well throughout the entire space, especially if your home has an open floor plan with rooms easily visible from one to another.

Accent with Artwork. Another easy way to bring color into your home is by updating artwork and wall decor. Simply moving artwork from one room to another can give your home a refreshed look. Adding some newly purchased pieces can also breathe new life into your home.

Be Brave. If you're ready to go all out with color, it's fine to make a dramatic change. The kitchen is a great place to go big with color and it's usually the gathering place in the home. To bring bold color in the kitchen, and to set the tone for your entire home, update your cabinetry.

"Colorful cabinetry can be a big commitment, but it also can set your kitchen apart in a sea of design sameness," says Sarah Reep, director of designer relations and education at KraftMaid Cabinetry.

It can feel as though your home has been completely made over by adding just a few thoughtful touches with a few hints of color.

Source: www.KraftMaid.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How to Recognize and Understand Hidden Fees in Your 401(k)

July 29, 2013 2:40 am

You wouldn’t authorize a company to dive into your checking account at will to withdraw money for undisclosed “services rendered,” right? But according to financial advisor Philip Rousseaux, that’s exactly what many Americans are unwittingly doing.

“While a new law now requires disclosure of previously hidden fees applied to 401(k) plans, it’s up to you, or your financial advisor, to find and review that information and determine whether the fees are reasonable,” says Rousseaux, founder and president of Everest Wealth Management, Inc.

By some estimates, up to 90 percent of fees attached to retirement plans are hidden. As of July 1, 2012, the new Department of Labor rule requires all hidden fees attached to retirement plans and mutual funds be disclosed to employers and employees.

Rousseaux offers these tips for examining and understanding retirement plan fees:

• Trading fees: Trading fees apply to mutual funds, which generally comprise more than half of a 401(k). These previously undisclosed fees are brokerage commissions that are charged to the plan holder every time a fund is traded. The charge is a percentage of the fund’s value, usually ranging from less than 1 percent to less than 2 percent. In some cases, trading fees can double the cost of the transaction. “If your funds are being frequently traded, you may be spending quite a bit on trading fees – in addition to the other fees associated with managing the fund,” Rousseaux says. “If you can’t determine whether the trading fees are reasonable, you should consult with an independent financial advisor.”

• Revenue sharing: These fees occur when mutual funds and other plan providers pay a third party for administrative services such as record-keeping, which the fund is expected to perform. These may be labeled “sub-transfer,” “agent/sub-TA” or “shareholder servicing” and they’re built into the plan’s expense ratio, so it’s not a double charge. Again, the idea is to review these charges and ensure they seem reasonable.

• 12 b-1 fees: This term – named for the section in the regulation that allows for it – applies to marketing and distribution costs. They’re generally paid as commissions to brokers who service retirement plans and they also may be paid to non-investment professionals such as record keepers or insurance companies. Most mutual funds have share classes that provide for varying revenue amounts from 12b-1 fees. Brokers and record-keepers have an incentive to use funds with 12b-1 fees and to share classes with higher 12b-1 fees because they make more money.

Rousseaux notes that it’s also important to look at the expense ratio for your plan, which should now be stated in dollars under terms of the new Labor Department regulation.

“Generally, the lower the ratio, the bigger the fund will grow,” he says.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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How to Budget for Baby

July 29, 2013 2:40 am

Is the buzz about the royal baby giving you some serious baby fever? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost to raise a child until the age of 18 is $234,900 — a number large enough to make anyone feel as though they would have to be royalty in order to afford a baby.

Luckily, for those considering parenthood for the first time, there are steps you can take beforehand to help ensure you are financially prepared for that bundle of joy. The financial experts at Money Management International (MMI), a nonprofit credit counseling agency, offer the following five tips:

Take control of your debt — now. If you have credit card debt, now is the time to create a solid debt repayment plan. You'll be surprised at the amount of money you can save once those monthly payments are out of the picture. To explore debt repayment options that offer a reasonable payoff time and the potential for lower interest rates, call a nonprofit credit counselor and register for a free debt and budget counseling session.

Explore your health coverage options. Checkups alone for baby can cost more than $100 per visit. You may also want to explore adding long-term disability and life insurance coverage to your existing healthcare plan. Consider reviewing your maternity or paternity leave policies at your workplace.

Know your options. Daycare is one of the largest added expenses that a new baby brings. Considering your childcare options is an important first step. According to a recent study by ChildCare Aware of America, childcare costs for an infant can average more than $300 per week.

Practice living on a "baby budget." If you are planning to live on one salary, start now. This will give you an opportunity to make the necessary lifestyle changes and cutbacks before your bundle of joy arrives, making for a much easier financial transition.

Get tips from the experts — other moms! No one can give you better advice than people who have been through the experience themselves. So ask your friends and family to share their advice or find a local or online support group for parents.

Source: Money Management International

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Smoke and Spice Takes Summer Grilling to New Heights

July 26, 2013 12:18 pm

(Family Features) This summer, think inside the box – the smoke box, that is – and turn your grill into a backyard smoker by adding wood chips to impart flavorful depth to meats, seafood and vegetables. Pairing the right spice with the right wood quickly turns an ordinary cookout into an extraordinarily tasty outdoor feast.

“When you combine different spices and seasonings with various types of wood, you can add distinctive layers of flavor to all kinds of grilled foods,” said Chef Kevan Vetter. “If you’re grilling fish – like salmon, for example – a great way to give the meal a unique, smoky flavor is to use pecan or mesquite wood chips. Then add a complementary seasoning.”

Serve up this spicy, smoky recipe for Five Pepper Salmon, which pairs perfectly with a grilled corn succotash.

Five Pepper Salmon
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 14 minutes
Makes: 6 servings

1 cup pecan or mesquite wood chips
4 teaspoons McCormick Grill Mates Fiery 5 Pepper Seasoning
4 teaspoons firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 pounds of salmon fillets
Olive oil

Soak wood chips in enough water to cover for 1 hour. Drain wood chips. Fill smoker box with wet wood chips. Place smoker box under grill rack on one side of grill. Close lid. Heat grill on high heat about 10 minutes until smoke appears from chips. Reduce heat to medium.

Mix seasoning and sugar in small bowl. Brush salmon lightly with oil. Rub generously with seasoning mixture.

Place salmon on grill. Close lid. Grill salmon 6 to 7 minutes per side or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Source: McCormick

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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5 Innovative Green Renovations

July 26, 2013 12:18 pm

Recycling, composting, collecting gray water—these are all ways you can save money and help the environment without leaving your property. However, if you are planning to sell, a few green renovations can go a long way in terms of appealing to buyers. Below are a few green insider tips on eco-friendly changes you can make to your home.

1. Recycled Roof Tiles
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, asphalt shingles represent up to 10 percent of residential jobsite waste. By using reclaimed clay or stone tiles, or slate, you can do your part to help keep tiling out of landfills, and save some cash while you’re at it.

2. Low-Energy Lighting
Electric lighting burns up to 25 percent of the average home energy budget. Adding low-energy light fixtures can have a large impact on your bills.

3. Lime Mortar
Using a lime mortar in brick or stone homes is a healthier choice than a cement-based mortar. Lime manufacturing produces less carbon dioxide, and it actually re-absorbs carbon dioxide, which lowers its carbon footprint even further.

4. Low Energy Appliances
Adding energy efficient appliances in your bathroom and kitchen packs a big appeal to buyers. A low energy toilet, shower, stove and refrigerator are all great choices.

5. Natural Flooring
Choose flooring from sustainable sources, like bamboo, which is classified as a renewable source. Bamboo supplies can be produced quickly and efficiently, which is why it’s a great flooring choice, and delivers less of an impact than wood, but still has a great look.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Planning for an American Dream Retirement

July 26, 2013 12:18 pm

It’s no wonder baby boomers worry about outliving their retirement savings. One out of four 65-year-olds today can expect to live past 90, and if they’re married, one of every four will live even longer.

With 10,000 boomers turning 65 every day, it’s a big worry for 26 percent of the U.S. population.

“The biggest concern for boomers is living too long, or getting sick, and running out of money,” says Rao K. Garuda, an engineer-turned-independent financial planning advisor specializing in working with seniors, high net-worth business owners, and professionals.

“The average 65-year-old retires today with $500,000 to $1 million in assets, and while that might sound like a lot to a 20-year-old, it isn’t,” Garuda says.

Even if you plan to continue some kind of work post-retirement – as many people do, whether because they must or because they enjoy it – it’s imperative to plan ahead for the day you can’t work, he says.

“Equally important, people deserve the freedom to make choices about how they’ll spend their last 20 or 30 years, especially if they’ve spent 45 years going to work every day. That’s part of the American Dream,” Garuda says. “And you don’t have to earn a fortune to save a fortune!”
Garuda shares four things everyone should know about preparing for retirement:

• Save first, then spend. Most people spend first, and then try to save what’s left, Garuda says. The secret is to make saving first your priority. “The people who save first will always be the people who are employing everyone else,” he says. The more you can save the better, but that will vary at different stages of your life. At the minimum, 10 percent is a good rule of thumb.

• Take advantage of tax-free savings. Taxes are the biggest expense anyone has. Besides federal, state, city and death taxes, there are 59 other different ways your money is taxed, Garuda says. “If you save $1, Uncle Sam will help you by waiting for his cut of that $1. With planning, you can put him on hold for about two generations,” he says. With tax-free compounding, a relatively small amount of money saved can yield huge returns years from now.

• Decide how you’ll manage risk. There is risk in everything, and Garuda warns that those who simply choose to ignore it, do so at their own peril. Others choose to “go broke safely” – they avoid risk to such an extent, they lose money. A good example is people putting all their savings in CDs that pay just 1 percent; since that’s lower than the rate of inflation, they’re losing money. In some cases, people transfer risk to someone else, for instance, when they buy homeowners insurance. Finally, they choose to manage their risk emotionally, psychologically and technically through asset allocation rebalancing and other tools that allow you the amount of risk you’re willing to assume while still providing opportunities for growth.

• Create tax-free income. “My favorite question to ask people is, ‘What have you done to create tax-free income?’” Garuda says. There are many ways to do this – Roth IRAs, life insurance, tax-free bonds, annuities – but most involve working with a knowledgeable financial planner. “An indexed life insurance policy is a great one; it protects your money while offering a lot of benefits. But it’s like a Swiss army knife – there are a lot of ways to use it, and most people don’t know how to use it properly,” Garuda says.

Source: www.aca-incorp.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Despite Changes to Flood Insurance Program, Still Opportunities to Save on Premiums

July 25, 2013 12:04 am

When Congress mandated changes last year to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), before Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast, it meant flood insurance premiums for many homeowners in flood zones would rise. According to Smart Vent Products, Inc., that's because for the first time, rates will reflect such factors as actual flood risk and major improvements to the property, while discounts will be phased out for non-primary residences and cases of repeat claims on the same property, among others. Some may see rates jump by 25 percent starting Oct. 1, 2013.

But even as affected homeowners face a potentially large hit to their wallets, opportunities to save significant money on premiums by meeting various criteria still exist. Under the NFIP reforms, the more you can do to reduce risk, the more you can reduce premiums.

"The best thing homeowners can do is to sit down with a Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM) and discuss your particular situation," says Brian Shaw of Smart Vent. "A CFM can provide you with retrofitting solutions you can take to your agent and see what the reduction in premium will be."

For example, by raising the home above the minimum required elevation standards or dry- or wet-proofing a non-residential building, owners can mitigate potential damage and therefore lower their premiums. Adding flood vents to foundations or installing breakaway walls are other ways to sharply reduce premiums.

In fact, Shaw notes, by coming into compliance with NFIP recommendations, owners can realize savings of up to 83 percent.

In a typical example, one New Orleans homeowner was paying $1,600 annually for flood insurance, post-Katrina. After discussion with his insurance agent, and consulting a Certified Floodplain Manager, he made modifications including installing automatic flood vents, which sent his premium plummeting to approximately $300 per year. His insurance company even sent him $1,300 back from the current year's premium.

FEMA is also in the process of reviewing flood zone designations, and revising them as needed, in some cases removing homes from so-called "V-Zones."

"Several thousand properties in four New Jersey counties were redesignated in June, so you and your insurer should be familiar with the latest flood zone maps before making any costly decisions," Shaw adds.

Source: Smart Vent Products, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Best Summer Home Improvement Projects for Kids

July 25, 2013 12:04 am

Remodeling expert Dan Fritschen wanted a practical, inexpensive way to keep his 12-year-old daughter engaged this summer. So he encouraged her to install a wireless alarm system in their home, a project she was able to complete within a few hours.

Setting up a wireless alarm system was the ideal project for his daughter Chrissy, who completed the job with the help of two other middle school students. They used an easy-to-install security system, watched a YouTube installation video, followed the instructions, added batteries, aligned the sensors, set up the control box, created passwords, and programmed the dialer to call when the alarm is tripped.

"Many kids can benefit from a bit of variety in the typical summer routine," said Fritschen, the creator of RemodelOrMove.com and author of five books on home remodeling. "Installing an alarm system is one example of something they can do that that offers many challenges and learning opportunities and is beneficial to their families."

Fritschen suggests several other simple projects for preteens:

Test your smoke detectors and other devices
Take a walkthrough of your home and point out important safety devices in kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms like smoke detectors, radon detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. Test the devices and, based on your observations, have your child create a report to recommend those items that need to be improved or replaced. Children can learn budgeting lessons and financial discipline by creating a shopping list that compares brands, features and cost estimates. Shop for any new devices together and let the kids handle installation and putting in new batteries under your supervision using the instructions provided.

Replace a lockset or doorknob
If the doorknobs in your home are dated, why not let your son or daughter select, with your approval, and purchase a new one to replace the old? Standard spacing makes installing most interior locksets simple. An older child under an adult's supervision can use an electric screwdriver to do the job more effectively. Updating your door's hardware will not only enhance the appearance of your home, letting your child take the lead on installation will provide valuable do-it-yourself (DIY) experience.

Add solar landscape lighting
Solar patio lights that get their energy from the sun make your home safer, add ambiance and let you enjoy patios, gardens and decks at night. Planning and installing wireless lighting is a great project that children will enjoy. Everyone – including your neighbors – will appreciate the end result. You can make the project a teachable moment by giving kids a budget along with your objectives. Have them design an installation plan just like a real electrical contractor for you to approve.

"These projects have little room for error, and will provide children with knowledge that he or she can build something," said Fritschen. "Although your child may roll his or her eyes when you suggest these 'fun' projects, they are wonderful opportunities for kids to be responsible while creating value for the family."

Source: remodelormove.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Easy-to-Install Window Trim Options

July 25, 2013 12:04 am

On the “what’s in and what’s out” list for homeowners, naked window exteriors are definitely out. Easy-to-install decorative accents like mouldings, window crossheads and shutters are now trending for homeowners across the country.

“With so many options for enhancing window exteriors using lightweight polyurethane products, even the most novice do-it-yourselfer can change a window exterior from boring to beautiful in a short time,” says Niki Decker with Fypon. “If you can use a tape measure, a hammer and a caulk gun, you can transform your window exteriors!”

Options for homeowners to use include:

Crossheads – Decorative crossheads sit on the top of a window and add a regal look. They can be plain or detailed with keystones in the center to draw attention or detail trim along the length of the crosshead to suit traditional home styles. There are also crosshead arches and eyebrow crossheads that provide a softer, curved look when installed above a window.

Pediments – Stylish and eye-catching, pediments also sit above windows. From curved and peaked sunbursts to triangular peaked caps, acorn and rams head styles, pediments are the most dramatic way to draw attention to your window exteriors.

Pilasters – Not all window enhancements sit on top of the window unit. Usually intended to flank the sides of entry doors, pilasters can also be cut down to run vertically up the sides of windows. Pilasters can be smooth and plain, or have a “fluted” recessed design. They generally have plinths at the top and bottom to balance out the window design and add style to the window surround.

Mouldings - Perhaps the easiest way to surround a window is with flat or decorative trim and plinth blocks. This quick project requires no miter cuts because the plinth blocks are put in all four corners of the window exterior and butt up to straight cuts of smooth, paintable trim pieces. Many homeowners use this technique as a “starting point” and then add in other elements such as pediments and shutters to create their own personal window statement.

Shutters – Another popular way to draw attention to the sides of windows is to add a set of decorative shutters. Available in louvered and raised panel styles that are smooth and paintable, shutters provide the perfect way to carry an accent color throughout the exterior of your home. Or, timber shutters in board, plank and louvered styles can be stained to imitate the look of wood on a home without all the maintenance hassles of real wood.

Window Panels – To add depth to the look of a window, flat and raised panels can be added below the window unit and then enclosed entirely with trim. Window panels tend to fill in space between the bottom of the window and the ground, helping the windows gain more presence and focus on a home exterior.

Pot Shelves
– Available in both timber and stone styles, a pot shelf is placed below the bottom window sill. Oftentimes they’re used to balance out an entire window surround with a finished look.

Source: Fypon, LLC

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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