October 13, 2011 9:00 pm
Halloween is now the second most expensive holiday and with the weight of the U.S. economy becoming more and more taxing, families are taking notice of their unnecessary spending, especially when it comes to Halloween.
According to National Retail Federation’s 2011 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, Americans will spend $72.31 on costumes, candy and decorations. This amount is up from last year’s $66.28 and from 2009 when people spent $56.31. Total spending for the holiday is expected to reach $6.86 billion, the largest amount since the survey’s nine year existence.
Here are a few tips on how you can cut costs and stay within budget:
• Use this opportunity to be creative and make Halloween costumes. Use the Internet to find websites or videos to show you how to make popular costumes and decorations out of everyday household items.
• Buying unisex costumes leaves more options to reuse the Halloween costumes.
• Hold a costume swap with friends. This will cut out the price of new costumes, ultimately cutting down Halloween spending.
• Repurpose old Halloween costumes. Take pieces of old costumes to create new ones. For example, a black cape from a batman costume can always double as a cape for a vampire costume.
• Start up a pumpkin bank or collection. Throw loose change into a pumpkin bank daily over the course of the year. Use the money to pay for Halloween expenses.
• Shop sales at the end of the season. It’s never too early to start planning for next year. Many stores have sales for up to 90% off of items after the holiday is over. Use this opportunity to collect a few items to use for the following year.
October 13, 2011 9:00 pm
As the weather turns, the chances of a car accident due to inclement weather start to increase drastically. As such, it's important for consumers to protect themselves from the insurance rate consequences of an at-fault accident.
Accident forgiveness, the latest trend in automobile insurance, certainly draws drivers in. Good drivers who are involved in their first accident can be very frustrated by the increase in rates that results. After paying insurance premiums for so long, seeing an increase for one accident leaves drivers feeling cheated. Insurance companies introduced accident forgiveness to combat this – but does it fully protect from rate increases?
How Accident Forgiveness Works
Accident forgiveness is a very simple concept. Normally when a driver is involved in an accident and is determined to have been at fault, they are responsible and therefore have an increase in rates. This is because having had one accident, they are considered a higher risk for the insurance company and also to make up some of what the insurance company has had to pay out on the claim.
With accident forgiveness, a driver can have one at-fault accident, their first, and not see a rate increase as a result and keep their lower rate. This is the insurance company’s way of acknowledging that even good drivers can make the occasional mistake. It also acknowledges that previously paid premiums can count towards covering the claim payment. Offering accident forgiveness makes the insured feel valued and less likely to jump ship for another company, so it benefits the company as well. But there are some details about the feature that every driver should know.
Accident Forgiveness Has Limitations
If a driver chooses to shop their rate and move to a new insurance company, forgiveness for an accident will not come along. Thus the new insurance company can and likely will charge for the accident on the new policy. This fact is what keeps the current insurance company confident that they will keep customers. Of course, there is nothing wrong with staying with the insurance company that is not charging for an accident, but should a driver want or need to change for other reasons, this might come as a surprise.
It is commonly believed that the accident will not result in an increase no matter what the situation, but this is not true. Every insurance company has limits on how they choose to apply the feature and in what situation it applies and does not apply. It is important to read all the fine print and get all the details before buying a policy to obtain accident forgiveness.
In some cases a driver must be with the same company for a certain amount of time before the accident forgiveness goes into effect. There may also be limitations on how long the driver must maintain a good driving record before accident forgiveness will apply. Every insurance company makes their own rules in relation to accident forgiveness and it is up to the consumer to find out what they are.
October 12, 2011 9:00 pm
One in five has been a victim of cyberbullying or participated in cyberbullying, according to a survey of 4,400 children conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization tracking the trend of internet bullying. From text messaging to emailing, there are many different forms of cyberbullying, and many of them are more common than you'd think. According to The National Crime Prevention Council, cyberbullying “happens when teens use the internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”
Cyberbullying can have detrimental effects on its victims. In schoolyard bullying, victims know that their home is a safe haven where they can seek relief. With cyberbullying, however, there is seemingly no escape, as the attacks are digital and coming from sometimes anonymous sources.
If you want to protect your children from cyberbullying, here are a few things you can do to prevent it:
Keep open lines of communication. Ask your kids if they've ever received a harassing email, if they've ever been bullied at school, or what they do if they see someone being bullied. You'd be surprised at how much you can learn simply by asking.
Check their Facebook and email accounts. As long as your child is a minor and your intentions are good, don't be afraid to check email or Facebook accounts to see some of the communication that takes place there. Find out who they are talking to, what people are saying to them and also what they are saying to others.
It's up to parents to put a stop to bullying. If you find out your child is being bullied, contact the parents of the bully. If necessary, threaten to involve the police if future incidents occur. It's never to early to put a stop to unwanted behavior.
Teach your child to stand up to bullies and to do the right thing. They may be able to prevent the bully from attacking them or somebody else.
Bullying has become a large problem in American society for youngsters. By keeping a mindful eye on your child and his or her interactions, you can prevent them from ever becoming a victim or aggressor.
Source: Southwestern Parents
October 12, 2011 9:00 pm
With the weather finally starting to cool, Fall is the perfect time of year to prepare your garden for Spring. A little work now will keep your raised garden beds springing up green all year long.
Clean out all dead plant debris like leaves, vines, stalks and roots.
Fill holes from harvested plants with compost and mix it in. Typically, one trowel full of compost for each square foot is a good guideline.
After adding compost, replant the space. One advantage of raised garden beds is that soil stays warmer in the Fall and warms earlier in the Spring than a traditional garden, which extends the growing season and can help plants mature faster. Depending on your climate zone, a 4'x4' stackable raised garden bed can actually yield crops year-round when used correctly.
Vegetables - Root crops like parsnips, turnips, carrots and red beets can be planted now. Cover with straw when frost threatens or snow falls to extend harvest all Winter. Cool weather crops like spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes and peas can also be planted in the Fall.
Flowers - Flowers improve the overall beauty of a garden and improve pollination. Plant flower bulbs including tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, daylilies and crocus for vibrant color next spring. Bury large bulbs four to eight inches deep and small bulbs two to four inches deep.
To further extend the growing season, consider covering raised beds with clear plastic to capture heat like a greenhouse to protect crops from frost. Attach an enclosure with an easy zipper access to care for the plants. For best results, leave covers off until absolutely needed.
For more information, visit www.lifetime.com.
October 12, 2011 9:00 pm
Whether you are a first-time buyer or a seasoned veteran who has been out of the game for awhile, buyers should always be aware of and note certain home buying myths that abound. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of buying new property, but by being educated and realistic, buyers can avoid a few common-yet-untrue beliefs as they venture toward closing a deal.
The Myth of "The Perfect Home"
Along with all that excitement comes the dreams of your ideal home. If the vision you've set for yourself is too close to perfection, you may not find what you're looking for. Every house is bound to have something wrong with it. If a home is nearly perfect, don't nitpick over smaller needs and priorities. Lock it down before it gets snagged.
The Myth of "The Speaking House"
It's human nature to get a certain "feel" to a house when first walking through it. As they always say, first impressions go a long way and the same rings true with real estate. Buyers, however, should try to fight initial gut feelings. More than likely the home was staged for buyers to feel an emotional tie to the décor. Look past the paint and décor to figure out if a home is right for you.
The Myth of "The Old Furnace"
An old furnace can sometimes be difficult to maintain or replace, but don't let it be a deal breaker for an otherwise suitable home. The same goes for other issues such as a roof in need of repair, old wiring, etc. If everything else is in order without needed repairs, the home in question can still be a great choice for your investment.
The Myth of "The House to Grow In"
First-time buyers always get the advice that they should buy up so that they can grow into a house - for instance, should a couple be planning for children. Look at your current needs, not what you'd like to have down the road. If you end up needing more space for a larger family down the line, you can always sell and move up later.
The Myth of "The Negotiation Winner"
Don't feel like you have to win the negotiation. The winner is not the person to have the last word, but rather, everyone when the deal is truly a fair one. Don't sweat the small stuff, and remember that it is a business transaction - leave those emotions and egos at the door.
The Myth of "The Best Deal"
Don't fall into the frame of mind that thinks foreclosures are always the best deals. Though they can sometimes save in large amounts, oftentimes there's a lot of work and repair to be done. Foreclosed homes are occasionally not left in the best condition. Sometimes the easiest transaction is buying from a seller and negotiating until an agreement can be reached.
When buying a home, it's important to separate hearsay from your actual needs, wants and beliefs. Try to view every property with a clear mind and minimal expectations. Avoid these real estate myths to reach your own conclusion based on your needs, and most importantly, never say never.
October 11, 2011 8:57 pm
By Keith Loria
It’s easy to fall in love with a house, but buyers need to think about more than just the home itself before deciding to live there. While the home may have the perfect number of rooms, a large play area for the kids and that master bathroom you have always dreamed about, you also need to consider the neighborhood in which the home is located.
That’s why before buying any home, a buyer should explore the surrounding neighborhood and area to make sure it has everything they want and need.
For buyers with children or those thinking of starting a family, the first thing you will want to look at is the local school system. You’ll also want to research the closest parks and community centers and consider how busy the streets in the neighborhood get. Even if you are single, living in a top school district will raise your property value.
Another consideration is your daily commute to work. You’ll want to understand the traffic patterns to and from your job and figure out if you’re going to be sitting in traffic for several hours a day. Researching the local mass transit system is also important, as you may want a neighborhood that gives you the option to not have to drive to work.
Profiling the perfect neighborhood also involves scoping out the neighbors themselves. Are there a lot of kids on the block? Are there neighborhood events? Do you see a lot of fences and “Keep Out” signs? It’s never a bad idea to take a walk through the neighborhood and say hello to some of the people you see and ask about the neighborhood before putting in an offer.
Don’t forget to map out stores and restaurants in the area as well. You may be used to a five-minute drive to the local grocery store, only to find out that the home you are interested in is 25 minutes away from the nearest place to buy milk. And if you like to walk to stores and shops, make sure to tell your agent that you want a place where this is possible.
You also want to find out if your potential new home is part of a neighborhood association and if your community has lawn or construction restrictions and if there’s a yearly fee involved. The last thing you want is to find out that you can’t put those holiday decorations up because of a strict town ordinance.
Also consider warning signs that the neighborhood could be in trouble. If you see abandoned buildings, vandalism or a lot of “For Sale” signs, it could be a sign that the community is heading in the wrong direction.
A perfect home isn’t always in the perfect neighborhood and you’ll want to make sure that both meet your expectations.
October 11, 2011 8:57 pm
When considering a kitchen remodel, many homeowners are choosing to use eco-friendly products and contractors for a variety of reasons. Some have concern for the environment or their overall health while others have allergies or are chemically sensitive. Almost everyone remodeling their kitchen today is interested in lowering their energy consumption and their electric and water bills. Here are six ways homeowners can make their kitchens greener when remodeling.
1. Choose energy-efficient appliances. When purchasing a new refrigerator, dishwasher or other appliance, choose ones that are certified energy efficient. Use the water and energy-saving settings as often as possible. Plus, some states offer rebates for homeowners who use energy-efficient models.
2. Install energy-efficient lighting. When working on the kitchen remodel design in their new space, homeowners can increase their natural light to cut down on the need for electricity. Choose fixtures that are compatible with compact fluorescents (CFLs), which save 75% of the electricity that incandescent bulbs use. These are slightly higher in initial price but last eight times as long and will significantly cut down on energy bills.
3. Purchase green kitchen cupboards and cabinets. There are more eco-friendly kitchen cupboards and cabinets available today than ever before. These are constructed of rapidly renewable resources or recycled materials. Homeowners who are thinking about remodeling their kitchen should ask their contractor about wheatboard, bamboo and other green cabinet products. Additionally, they should inquire about water-based adhesives and finishes.
4. Choose green products when remodeling your kitchen. For flooring, cork is highly durable, comfortable and an excellent insulator of sound and heat. Cork is also hypoallergenic and environmentally friendly. Concrete is excellent for flooring, countertops and other areas because it does not have harmful fumes, glues or laminates. For countertops and backsplashes, homeowners can choose from a variety of durable and attractive eco-friendly options, such as vertrazzo and recycled glass tiles.
5. Remodel with hypoallergenic materials. These materials are not toxic, like some building materials, and will not lead to harmful indoor air quality. Homeowners should look for low-toxicity finishes and surfaces, and water-based adhesives and finishes without synthetic formaldehyde resins. Paints should have low-VOC or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds).
6. Choose green kitchen remodeling contractors. When a homeowner is getting quotes from contractors, they should inquire about their products and building methods to ensure they are eco-friendly. Increasingly, contractors are becoming more conscious of their materials and methods and will be able to meet a homeowner's needs.
For more information, visit www.kitchenremodeling.net.
October 11, 2011 8:57 pm
Carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns is an age-old Halloween tradition. However, it can turn into a plumbing nightmare if the pulp and seeds go down the garbage disposal. With the usual increase in clogged kitchen sink drains and jammed garbage disposals plumbers see this time of year, homeowners should show caution when partaking in this festive tradition with their families.
What many don't realize is that the pumpkin's stringy, slimy substances can harden and stick to many of the pipes in your kitchen sink. The trick to keeping pumpkin pulp and seeds from causing plumbing problems is being cautious when removing and disposing of the pumpkin's remains:
• Carve pumpkins on a newspaper away from the kitchen sink.
• Do not put pulp and seeds into the garbage disposal or toilet.
• Instead, throw all pumpkin-related material and newspaper in the garbage.
• For those who recycle, put the remnants in a compost pile.
And the treat for following this recommendation – pumpkin carvers can use the pulp and seeds for Halloween desserts, breads and muffins. Search the Internet for recipes that use both the pulp and seeds.
October 10, 2011 8:57 pm
Some people judge older food by smelling or looking at it, but what many don’t know is that some types of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness don’t affect the smell, taste or appearance of the food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It might seem like a no-brainer, but there really is no way of telling how good leftovers are if you don’t throw them out within three or four days. Organizing your refrigerator can help.
After coming home from the grocery store, many perishables can start to turn in as little as one hour, so it’s important to unpack your food items and place them appropriately in your home. Even different sections in your fridge can make a difference. The back of the fridge is the coldest area and is the perfect spot for milk, eggs or other dairy products. Milk should be thrown out one week after the sell-by date, while eggs last much longer, three to five weeks.
Raw meat, fish or poultry should be placed on plates and put towards the back of the fridge, but make sure to put these on lower shelves. This will prevent them from dripping or contaminating other foods. As always, if you aren’t using them for a few days, it’s always best to freeze.
Never pack your fridge too full. Spread out your items in the fridge to make sure there’s enough room for air to circulate throughout. For the freezer section, don’t stack foods until they are completely frozen through.
For cold cuts, cheeses and fresh fruits and veggies, Tupperware or other plastic containers with lids on them always extend shelf life. In addition, check your fridge temperature and make sure it’s set between 37 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit; the freezer should be set at 0 degrees.
By taking these simple steps, you can ensure that your food stays fresh longer and that everything you serve to your family is bacteria-free and healthy.
Source: Consumer Reports
October 10, 2011 8:57 pm
By Barbara Pronin
Setting a competitive sale price, most REALTORS® agree, is arguably the best way to speed up the sale of your home in today’s market. In addition to pricing your home right, you need to do everything you can to make your home stand out from the competition.
To do that, try to change your mindset and look at the property from the point of view of the buyer:
Start at the curb – What does the buyer see first? Keep the walkway neat, trim plants and hedges, replace worn front door or screen doors.
Focus on the entry – Potential buyers entering the home should see as spacious an interior as possible. Remove clutter, even small pieces of furniture that ‘close off’ further entry instead of inviting it.
Remove the personal factor – Shelves full of bowling trophies or your personal collections can be distracting to a buyer who is trying to ‘see himself’ in the living space.
Make small repairs – Replace that cracked light switch cover. Repair or replace a broken tile or a chip in the bathroom sink. Even taping back wires from audio or computer systems can increase a room’s appeal.
Make small updates – Brighter light fixtures, new cabinet door handles in the kitchen, or updating to modern bathroom accessories can go a long way toward giving your home a fresh, new look.
Scrub, scrub, scrub – New kitchen appliances, especially stoves, are a plus, but if you can’t replace the appliance, make sure oven racks, broiler pans and burner surfaces are scrupulously clean and shiny.
Add some "bling" – Brighter lighting, a shiny mirror in the hallway, fresh new towels, or a crystal vase of fresh flowers on the dining room table are small and inexpensive touches that can attract and please potential buyers.
If you need a reality check, take a walk through an open house or two in your neighborhood and compare your home to the competition. Then, adjust your price and/or make the small changes that make your home the best buy on the block.