September 7, 2011 8:57 pm
The biggest nemesis to many a household budget is the seemingly ever-growing grocery bill. While many food-related cost increases are beyond our control, there are many strategies and habits you can develop to help bring your food bill down, in addition to the traditional and somewhat cumbersome coupon-clipping process. Try putting the following into action:
• Plan ahead – Plan meals based on what’s on sale…and what’s currently about to go bad in your fridge. Make it a point to use the ingredients that you already have on hand and that may otherwise go to waste.
• Look around – The highest priced items on store shelves are usually at chest level. Look up or down to find less expensive brands or unadvertised specials.
• Leave the kids home – Those little hands can add many dollars in unneeded items piling up in your food basket. If you must keep the kids in tow, allow them to choose one item only.
• Shop the perimeter – The most value is found on the store’s perimeter – fresh produce, dairy, meats and breads. Avoid the middle aisles if you can. That’s where the priciest items are.
• Don’t shop when hungry or tired – When you’re hungry, everything looks too tempting. And when you’re tired, you just want to get out of the store fast and will make quick decisions.
• Stock up on items when on sale – Something like butter can be stored in the freezer for up to six months. Pack the butter in an airtight container so it doesn’t take on the flavor of whatever else you’re freezing.
• Buy generic/private label products – Private label products have come a long way. Give them a try to find out which you like best.
• Take a quick inventory – Before leaving for the store, take a quick look through the fridge, cabinets and freezer. Chances are, something on your list is already buried in the freezer or hiding on the top shelf of the cabinet.
• Make meals in advance – Prepping a meal in the crock pot or doubling a recipe and freezing half will have an impact on your food budget. Many dollars are wasted at grocery stores and restaurants on last-minute meals.
• Shop wholesale clubs with caution – The big-box warehouse stores can take a big toll on your wallet. What seems like a great deal often ends up going to waste. Only shop there for items you truly use in great abundance.
September 7, 2011 8:57 pm
After the economic fall-out of the past few years, the American Dream is no longer about big cars and big houses, but rather achieving work/life balance. According to Kate Raidt, author of The Million-Dollar Parent: How to Have a Successful Career While Keeping Your Family a Top Priority, true happiness and fulfillment today comes from doing fun, exciting things – not having fun, exciting things.
So, how do we achieve the perfect work/life balance? Here are five important “must-dos” Raidt says are essential to successfully living the “New American Dream:”
1. Live below your means. The only way to have time and energy to do the things most important to you (time with kids, travel, church, service, reading, exercise or just relaxing) is to spend less time at work and more time with life. The higher your monthly expenses are, the more you feel the pressure to be at the office.
2. Your job must be a good “vehicle.” Any job that sucks you dry emotionally or physically is not a good vehicle toward work/life balance because when you leave the office, you are too drained to do the things you really love to do. Raidt says to ask yourself the following questions: “Am I able to leave work behind when I drive home? Do I have a boss who builds me up and doesn’t tear me down? When I come home, am I energized to spend time with my kids?” If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then you have a job that helps nurture a work/life balance.
3. Am I running my career and life, or is someone running it for me? Work with a company who is willing to help you build your own work schedule in order to achieve life balance.
4. Turn off your cell phone before you walk in the front door. Let’s face it—as wonderful as technology is, it has become a major drain on our time and attention. Emails, text messages, Facebook, YouTube, games and apps are killing the New American Dream, says Raidt. More than a few minutes a day with technology will kill quality time with your kids, distract you from exercising and derail any goals you set for yourself.
5. Carve out time (daily) for the things most important to you. If your children are your priority, then carve out quality time for them every day—and do not let anything or anyone get in the way. Schedule everything else (including work) around your priorities.
September 7, 2011 8:57 pm
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently released its first NAHB/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI), a new economic index revealing metropolitan areas that have shown improvement for at least six months in three key economic areas: housing permits, employment and housing prices.
The list of metropolitan areas includes:
• Alexandria, LA
• Anchorage, AK
• Bangor, ME
• Bismarck, ND
• Casper, WY
• Fairbanks, AK
• Fayetteville, NC
• Houma, LA
• Midland, TX
• New Orleans, LA
• Pittsburgh, PA
• Waco, TX
“Despite the challenging conditions in the national economy and housing sector, there are areas throughout the country where we are seeing pockets of improvement,” says Bob Nielsen, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Reno, Nevada. “Housing conditions are local, and do not always reflect the national picture. We created this new index to shine a light on those housing markets across the country that have stabilized and have begun to show signs of recovery.”
“By examining key indicators of home prices, employment and housing permits data, we are using a comprehensive, but conservative method in determining which markets are improving,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Last year at this time, there was not a single market that showed improvement using these criteria, and now we can point to 12 examples of growth.”
“It’s not surprising that many of the states represented are energy rich areas,” adds Crowe. “Those are the regions still experiencing relatively strong employment, supporting housing demand.”
The IMI is designed to track housing markets throughout the country that are showing signs of improving economic health. The index measures three sets of independent monthly data to get a mark on the top improving Metropolitan Statistical Areas: employment growth from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; house price appreciation from Freddie Mac; and single-family housing permit growth from the U.S. Census Bureau. A metro area must see improvement in all three areas for at least six months following their respective troughs before being included on the improving markets list.
September 6, 2011 2:57 pm
Financial reality is especially harsh for 20-somethings nationwide as a mere 23% rate themselves as totally independent, according to a survey by The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. The survey sought insights into the financial mindset of 20-somethings within Generation Y, which is projected to outnumber all population segments by 2017.
Worse yet, only 18% of 20-29 year-olds, whose adult lives began amid the 2008 Great Recession, are confident they will have enough money to live comfortably when they are ready to retire.
The study compares the responses within the age group and reveals their financial concerns are mounting in the early years of adult life. For example, 26% of 22-23 year-olds feel optimistic about their personal financial future and 20% are confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement. Only 14% of their older peers, at ages 28-29, agree on both points.
Here are a few important tips to help Millennials feel more in control of their financial future:
• Don't panic. Time is on your side. You're still young, and it's important that you're thinking about your financial future, but don't beat yourself up for not meeting your own expectations. Try to think positively about your financial goals.
• Avoid debt traps. Not all debt is bad, but seriously consider interest rates to be sure you don't accumulate high-interest debt that can keep you from using that money to save or invest.
• Pay yourself first. Establish a regular savings program. A 401(k) plan through your employer is a great place to start.
• Budget and track spending. It sounds easy, and very basic, but this can be one of the most difficult things to do consistently. Make use of online money management tools, such as PNC Virtual Wallet®, that can help you better manage spending, payments and savings.
September 6, 2011 2:57 pm
Here’s an easy way to improve your health: trust your neighbors. A new study from the University of Missouri shows that increasing trust in neighbors is associated with better self-reported health.
Eileen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology in the MU College of Arts and Science, found that people reported better health when they trusted their neighbors.
“I examined the idea of ‘relative position,’ or where one fits into the income distribution in their local community, as it applies to both trust of neighbors and self-rated health,” explains Bjornstrom. “Because human beings engage in interpersonal comparisons in order to gauge individual characteristics, it has been suggested that a low relative position, or feeling that you are below another person financially, leads to stress and negative emotions such as shame, hostility and distrust, and that health suffers as a consequence. While most people aren’t aware of how trust impacts them, results indicated that trust was a factor in a person’s overall health.”
In the study, Bjornstrom examined the 2001 Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey. Contrary to expectations, she found that respondents with a higher income, relative to their community, were more likely to be distrustful of their neighbors. Simultaneously, while taking into account factors such as level of education, income, and age, people who reported that “their neighbors can be trusted” also reported better health on average.
“I was surprised about the direction in which relative position was linked to distrust. If affluent individuals are less likely to trust their poorer neighbors, it could be beneficial to attempt to overcome some of the distrust that leads to poor health,” Bjornstrom advises. “It is possible that shared community resources that promote interaction, such as sidewalks and parks, could help bridge the neighborhood trust gap, and also promote health and well-being. Residents of all economic statuses might then benefit if community cohesion was increased. Additional research can address those questions.”
Bjornstrom believes that further study needs to occur in different contexts to provide greater insights, such as research on relative position in the workplace or among social networks.
Bjornstrom’s study, “The Neighborhood Context of Relative Position, Trust and Self-Rated Health,” appears in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
September 6, 2011 2:57 pm
With increasingly harsh weather events taking place across the country, more and more homeowners are faced with the need to rebuild. Whether it’s replacing a few roof shingles or something far more serious, follow these tips for repairing your home post-storm and, in the process, creating a more storm-resistant home for the future:
1. Take pictures of your damaged home immediately after the storm and contact your insurance company. Leave your home “as is” until your insurance representative visits and assesses the damage. They’ll tell you when you can start cleaning up and rebuilding.
2. Get contractor references and written job quotes before selecting your contractor. While the temptation to “get back to normal quickly” may be great, do not jump at the first contractor who offers his or her services. Make sure the contractor you hire is licensed in your state and has a staggered payment plan for services so that you don’t complete payment until the project is done.
3. Check your local building codes. Even if your home is just a few years old, codes can change rapidly. The window or roof that was in your home just a few weeks ago may no longer meet current codes when rebuilding. It’s not simply a matter of reconstructing the home you had. The law requires you and your contractor to abide by current codes when rebuilding after a storm. Visit www.statelocalgov.net for more information.
4. Research impact-resistant building products. Take this opportunity to “upgrade” the building products in your home to help secure it from future storms. Investigate building products that offer protection from storms, such as impact-resistant windows and doors that can help withstand hurricane-force winds. Using these enhanced products may even lower your insurance rates in the future.
5. Plan for future storms by requesting your contractor use additional foundation reinforcements. Wall framing-to-floor systems should include anchor bolts or connectors tying the wall framing to the foundation. These connections will help the walls resist wind uplift forces as well as wind shear forces that try to push the walls over.
6. Select exterior products that withstand the elements. For example, urethane moulding, millwork, door and entrance trim all resist salt air, humidity, sea spray, termites, warping and rotting. These products will long outlast wood trim on a home and require minimal upkeep.
7. Choose energy-efficient products that can save on your long-term heating and cooling bills. Look for building products that meet ENERGY STAR® guidelines in your area. Select windows framed in vinyl, which is an excellent insulator and/or windows with dual-pane insulating glass units featuring Argon-filled Low E glass.
8. Build a safe room. Use your rebuilding opportunity to create a “safe room” inside the home that is specially reinforced to withstand severe weather and serve as a safe haven during storms. Consult Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your Home, published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) www.fema.gov.
9. Pay special attention to the roof, windows, doors and garage doors you select. These are the four critical areas of your home that can receive the most damage during severe storms. Once penetrated, these areas can cause wind to enter the home and collapse the structure.
10. Ask questions and save paperwork. Don’t rush through any building decisions. Check out all products carefully and inspect warranties. Save receipts, product information and warranties in a secure location for the future.
Source: Simonton Windows®
August 31, 2011 2:57 pm
Many have heard the saying, "You are what you eat," but knowing what to eat can be confusing. There's so much nutritional information out there that it's easy to get overwhelmed. In fact, when the American Dietetic Association (ADA) surveyed people about why they don't do more to eat a healthy and balanced diet, 41% of respondents said they don't know or understand the guidelines set forth for diet and nutrition.
For those who have been confused or frustrated while trying to sort out nutritional information, take note. The following nutrient basics and dietary tips can help you start eating better today.
Nutrients are necessary for the body to function properly, maintain energy and structure, and manufacture certain compounds necessary for good health, such as hormones and enzymes. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) found that many adults and children fall short of some key nutrients including vitamin D, calcium, potassium and dietary fiber.
Dietary guidelines for Americans encourage people to follow a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet. A nutrient-dense food is one that has a substantial amount of vitamins and minerals relative to calories—it gives you more nutritional bang for each bite. One of the simplest ways to get more nutrients into your diet is to eat soy foods, particularly soy foods in their whole form or made with whole soybeans. Whole soy provides a number of important nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants and calcium, which tend to be shortfall nutrients among the U.S. population.
Making Sense of Soy
All soy comes from soybeans, which are naturally grown beans similar in size to a pea. Soybeans have more protein than any other bean and are the only plant-based protein source that contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a source of high-quality, complete protein. Foods made from whole soy are minimally processed to keep soy's naturally occurring nutrients intact. Soybeans are also a rich source of potassium, which is associated with lower blood pressure.
For more information, visit www.familyfeatures.com.
August 31, 2011 2:57 pm
By Keith Loria
People looking at houses almost always want space, so when you have a home on the market with a little living room or tiny bedroom or even a small kitchen, it could be seen as a negative. Luckily, there are some tricks of the trade that can help maximize the look and feel of small spaces.
“Just because a room is small, doesn’t mean that it can’t be attractive and eye-catching to a prospective buyer,” says Julia Snyder, a home stager in Kentucky. “There are a number of things you can do to ‘create’ space and give the appearance that it is bigger than it really is.”
An important thing to keep in mind is to create a focal point in the room, such as hanging one large painting rather than a group of small ones. If there’s too much going on, clamoring for attention, it can make a room feel busy and crowded.
Choose furniture that will draw the eye. In the dining room, the focal point should be the table, in the bedroom, the bed. Arrange the furniture so that focus is drawn to that area, and keep the décor in the rest of the room to a minimum.
Snyder recommends using natural light in small rooms to its greatest potential, as it often helps a room look bigger than it really is.
“To take advantage of light from the window, consider using complimentary curtains. Blinds are often heavy, but curtains add a frame to your natural picture,” she says. “For non natural light, really have fun with your lamp designs. Consider modern chandelier fixtures, retro shades and sleek and modern recessed lighting.”
Also good in diminutive rooms is the use of bright colors. Cream colors and icy blues are believed to be the best color combinations that can open up a tiny room into a bigger living area. Meanwhile, heavy, dark colors absorb light and can make a small space seem even smaller.
“It is all about illusion,” Snyder says. “Light colors make your room look bigger and brighter. Light and brightly colored walls are more reflective, making a space feel open and airy, which will help.”
Consider adding mirrors or glass to a room to also help with size. Mirrors are popular additions to furniture these days and can really give the impression that a room is larger than it really is.
When it comes to a small kitchen, keep things organized in cabinets and not laying around on the counters. Smaller chairs or stools are also better, as is a round table instead of a square one. Again, focus on natural light and color.
Clutter is especially important to avoid in small rooms, as things will look messy much quicker in tiny spaces.
A small space doesn’t have to be a bad thing. With the right design, furniture and color, you can make a small room leave a big impression.
August 31, 2011 2:57 pm
Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing mortgage rates moving higher from the previous week's record lows as Treasury bond yields moved higher and other housing data showed improvement. However, the five-year ARM did decline to 3.07% thereby setting a new all-time record low.
Data shows that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.22% with an average 0.7 point for the week ending August 25, 2011, up from last week when it averaged 4.15%. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.36%.
Additionally, 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.44% with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.36%. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.86%.
Five year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.07% this week, with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.08%. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.56%.
The numbers show that the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.93% this week with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.86%. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.52%.
"Fixed mortgage rates followed Treasury bond yields higher this week while data reports suggest an improvement in the housing market,” says Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. “The Federal Housing Finance Agency national House Price Index rose for the third straight month in June bolstered by a 3.3% gain in the East North Central Census Division. In addition, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that the serious delinquency rate (90 days or more plus foreclosures) on mortgages outstanding fell for the sixth consecutive quarter at the end of June to 7.85%."
For more information, visit www.FreddieMac.com.
August 31, 2011 2:57 pm
By John Voket
When it comes to fire safety, I make it top priority. It’s always a good time to touch upon important safety features homeowners might consider—whether building from the foundation up, or retrofitting an existing home.
As someone who ‘got the message’ about the advantages of in-home sprinklers almost 20 years ago, and had them installed in key locations throughout the house, it is an important consideration for homeowners.
According to data from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), in 2007, 414,000 residential fires resulted in 2,895 deaths, 14,000 injuries, and caused $7.5 billion in property damage.
Shortly after that report was issued, the Institute for Business and Home Safety (www.disastersafety.org) noted the IBHS Building Code Committee, which is comprised of represen¬tatives from a number of IBHS member insurance companies, unanimously recommended the inclusion of fire sprinkler requirements in residential building codes.
An IBHS investigation on the subject affirms that while the life safety benefits of sprinklers are undisputed, con¬cerns continue to be raised about cost, maintenance and poten¬tial losses to property caused by failures or inadvertent activa¬tion of sprinklers.
It is primarily the cost increase that has motivated some groups, mostly home builders, to actively oppose implementation of the new International Code Coun¬cil (ICC) requirements regarding in home sprinklers. And since this is the lead agency supporting such code changes, it is unclear whether or not we will ever see any requirements mandating this inclusion.
So the decision falls on the homeowner. When weighing the option, perhaps a lesson can be taken from Prince George’s County, Maryland, which enacted an ordinance man¬dating the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems in new one- and two-family structures in 1992.
A study of the impact of the Prince George’s ordinance by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition found from 1992-2007 that there were 13,494 fires involv¬ing single-family homes and town houses resulting in 101 fire-related deaths and 328 injuries in cases where fire sprinklers were not installed. However, no fire deaths and only six injuries occurred in fires involving these same types of residences where fire sprinklers were in place.