December 21, 2011 5:56 pm
Opening gifts is a ton of fun. Opening the resulting bills is not. Yet, every holiday season millions of consumers use their credit cards to buy gifts when they don't have the cash.
During the next couple of weeks, those bills will start rolling in and a strong case of post-holiday remorse will begin to set in.
When faced with the post-holiday blues, debt can seem insurmountable. To help get a handle on the situation, heed the following advice:
• Realize that there are only two legal ways out of debt - cutting expenses or increasing your income. Decide which works for you and truly commit to it.
• Create a damage sheet. List the names of your creditors, amount owed each and current interest rates, then total it all up. Update that sheet monthly and tape it wherever you will see it regularly.
• Create a budget and a repayment plan. Track your expenses for one month so that you can be sure every expense is included.
• Periodic expenses can break a budget so allocate an hour each Sunday to address your finances. Staying on top of your expenses will help you stay in budget.
• Shelve your credit cards. Take them out of your wallet and leave them at home. In fact, store them with your damage sheet to remind you of your balances. If you have to use credit, don't charge anything you can't pay off within 90 days.
• Pay off the credit cards with the highest interest rates first.
• Establish a 2010 holiday savings account so that next holiday season, relying on credit won't be necessary. Factor it in as an expense.
• Take a good hard look at your spending habits. Credit is not an extension of your income!
• If you can't make a dent in your post-holiday debt, consider credit counseling from a reputable.
Treat this year's holiday charges as a learning experience and resolve to do better next year so that in January 2013, you can focus on starting the New Year debt-free.
Source: Money Management International
December 21, 2011 5:56 pm
According to State Farm Insurance, an average of a quarter-million families have their homes ruined and their lives disrupted each winter due to the freezing and bursting of pipes. Taking some simple precautions can save you the expense as well as the time of repairing burst pipes. The best way to prevent frozen pipes is to winterize your plumbing system.
To help keep frozen pipes from being a drain on your wallet, here is a series of tips for preventing or dealing with a frozen-pipe scenario.
To prevent your pipes from freezing:
• Cover faucets and exposed pipes with insulation, or wrap them with thick towels.
• Open cabinet doors. This allows heat to circulate and keeps interior pipes warm.
• Keep faucets running. A small trickle of water/constant drip is recommended.
• Secure basement doors, windows and crawl-space openings.
• Remove garden hoses from outdoor faucets.
• Open outside hose taps so water can drain.
• Apply electrically-powered heat tape. (Follow manufacturer's instructions or call a plumber.)
Homeowners should also locate the main water shut-off valve, and learn how to use it. This can come in handy if pipes freeze and burst.
To safely thaw frozen pipes:
• Turn off the water at the shut-off valve.
• Open the nearest faucet. This allows water to drain out as the ice melts.
• Heat the exterior of the pipe with a hair dryer. Apply heat slowly and don't keep heat in one spot.
• Do not attempt to thaw exposed frozen pipes with an open flame, such as an acetylene torch.
If immediate assistance or repairs are needed, it is recommended that you call a qualified plumber. By following these prevention tips, hopefully your pipes will remain unfrozen and usable throughout the entire winter season.
Source: Mr. Rooter Plumbing
December 21, 2011 5:56 pm
There are many ways to make the New Year greener and healthier. Just making a few small changes can have a great impact on the planet and personal health. There are many easy changes to implement into daily life to make the world a greener place.
Composting: Building a compost pile as a homeowner is an easy way to add many beneficial ingredients to the soil while reducing garbage volume at the same time. It can also benefit the community by reducing the nearly 25% of compostable landfill waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Recycle paper and electronics: Recycling is beneficial in many ways and can be a convenient and an environmentally conscious step in the coming year. Anything from paper and plastics to metals and electronics can be recycled. This can save on the consumption of resources, the amount of landfill space being used and energy use. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators, causing dangerous heavy metals and toxins to build up with serious environmental risks.
Go plastic free: Get rid of plastic once and for all this year by switching to reusable whenever possible. One way to save money and protect our environment from the harmful effects of plastics and the chemicals used and the emissions given off in producing them is to use reusable stainless steel water bottles and always carry cloth grocery bags anytime you are shopping.
Plant a garden: With the smallest amount of outdoor space, a garden can produce a wide variety of nutritious foods. Gardening can bring you back to nature while providing you and your family fresh wholesome foods with many benefits. If you don’t have room, consider a container garden or small herb garden to enhance your culinary experience.
Laundry: Whenever doing laundry, make sure it is a full load and wash clothes in cold water using a safe non-toxic laundry soap and hang clothes to dry for a clean, fresh and environmentally friendly way to do your laundry in 2012.
Support local farmers and eat in season: Most grocery store food has been picked in the fields, sent to distribution centers and shipped thousands of miles before ever hitting your grocery store shelf. In contrast, when you purchase from local farmers, you are not only putting a face with your food, but your food has been picked within a day or two of purchasing, making it ripe and delicious. Buying fresh local food has many advantages, including reduced vehicle pollution and packaging needed, while encouraging fresh and often-times organic and pesticide-free produce for better nutrition.
Unplug appliances and electronics: When it is time for an upgrade, consider purchasing new energy efficient models with an Energy Star label that guarantees that the product is energy efficient. This label is sponsored by the Department of Energy and the EPA and can offer substantial savings. If you are not in the position to purchase a new appliance, unplug the one you have if and when it is not needed or in use.
Turn it off: Turn the water off while brushing teeth and the lights off every time you leave the room. Consider purchasing low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and energy efficient CFL or LED light bulbs.
Use eco-friendly cleaning products: With just a few common household items, you can make your own cleaning products when you need them. Making your own cleaning products with ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon and tea tree oil can save you money, time and the packaging required for the store-bought brands. Homemade cleaners are also safer and healthier when using non-toxic ingredients.
Never purchase paper towels or napkins again: Instead, use old washcloths cut into smaller squares, old socks for dusting, old t-shirts cut up for cleaning and reusable cloth napkins and hand-towels while out and about.
Borrow or buy used: Borrow your books, music and movies from your local library to save money while cutting down on the paper and ink needed to manufacture new. Set up online accounts with Ebay, freecycle.org or shop thrift stores and garage sales when looking for anything from clothing to furniture.
December 21, 2011 5:56 pm
A recent survey revealed that while the number of mobile shoppers is increasing dramatically, they are using their mobile devices to research products more than they use it to make purchases. Shoppers are comfortable making purchases from their home computers, but are more hesitant using their tablets and mobile phones to buy online. The survey found that 58 percent of shoppers have made purchases via their mobile phone as compared to 94 percent who have made purchases via laptops and 75 percent via tablets. For those who shop with their phone, 79 percent use it to research products, 73 percent to browse stores, and 77 percent to compare prices. Of the 58 percent of shoppers who make purchases via their mobile devices, 69 percent use both the mobile browser and apps to buy products (18 percent only use apps; 13 percent only use a mobile browser).
What consumers are purchasing also differs from their buying behavior on laptops. Laptop shoppers’ most popular items to buy online are consumer products like clothing and electronics, but shoppers buy more digital products like music and apps on their mobile devices. On mobile phones, 70 percent of shoppers purchased digital goods, 60 percent purchased consumer products, 46 percent purchased services, and 38 percent purchased consumable goods. The majority of shoppers (76 percent) say ease of use is the reason they would buy one category of products over another and 34 percent cite price point as the reason why they would buy in one category over another.
While the use of mobile devices is increasing, the survey results strongly indicate that mobile devices are currently much better for window shopping than for buying - especially when it comes to consumer products. Mobile shoppers are still more comfortable purchasing using their laptops, although tablets are widely used for research and shopping. This demonstrates that consumers are open to new technology, but until mobile shopping is as easy as shopping on larger devices and security concerns are addressed, they will be more reluctant to fully embrace mobile buying.
December 21, 2011 5:56 pm
Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s (the “Enterprises”) foreclosure prevention activity increased in the third quarter of 2011 and totaled nearly 2 million foreclosure prevention actions since the beginning of conservatorship in 2008. During this period, the Enterprises completed one million loan modifications, helping borrowers stay in their homes.
According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s third quarter 2011 Foreclosure Prevention & Refinance Report, the increase in completed foreclosure prevention activity in the third quarter was driven primarily by loan modifications and repayment plans. Two-thirds of all borrowers who received loan modifications in the third quarter had their monthly payments reduced by over 20 percent. Additionally, the Enterprises' cumulative refinancings through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) increased 11 percent during the third quarter to nearly 928,600 loans.
Also in the report:
-The Enterprises have completed nearly 2 million foreclosure prevention actions since the start of conservatorship. Nearly 1.7 million of these actions have allowed borrowers to retain homeownership, with more than one million being permanent loan modifications.
-Loans modified since the start of HAMP are performing substantially better compared with loans modified in earlier periods.
-Serious delinquency rates continued to decline. However, the percentage of loans that have missed one payment increased during the third quarter.
-REO inventory declined for the fourth consecutive quarter as property dispositions continued to outpace acquisitions in the third quarter.
To view the third quarter 2011 Foreclosure Prevention & Refinance Report, visit: http://www.fhfa.gov/webfiles/22826/3q11FPRF.pdf. For more information, visit www.fhfa.gov.
December 20, 2011 5:56 pm
Kitchens are where family and friends come to cook, eat and socialize. With 2012 just around the corner, kitchen design trends for the new year are an industry-wide hot topic, as experts predict where kitchen design is headed and which materials will be in vogue.
Home design experts predict that 2012 is going to be an exciting year for kitchen design because homeowners want more creativity in their homes and are becoming more thoughtful in their decision-making.
To begin a kitchen overhaul, homeowners shouldn’t be afraid to dispose of anything from the last two decades, especially Old World kitchen styles with heavy molding. Instead, homeowners should embrace new materials, like countertops made out of quartz, glass and wood, which can vary in style, shape and color. As we move into 2012, the overall trend is to keep it simple, energy-efficient, and comfort-oriented. De-clutter, go natural, lighten up and make it work for you and your household.
"Green design" will also become a standard request this year. Designers recommend homeowners choose to use energy-efficient items like compact fluorescent bulbs because they use two-thirds less energy. For those who do decide to “go green,” work with a professional lighting designer who can help introduce modern technology fixtures and more energy saving items.
For more information about home design, kitchen renovations and upgrades, follow @FaceYourKitchen on Twitter.
December 20, 2011 5:56 pm
While retailers are busy trying to stimulate enough holiday sales to put them into the black financially, consumers are dreaming of a black Christmas, one that keeps them in the black on their personal ledger sheet.
Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending tempted millions of shoppers to part with some cash, or at least pull out the plastic, many have now not only returned to financial reality, but have also returned their purchases.
According to a November poll hosted on the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) website, 40 percent of shoppers intend to spend zero on holiday purchases, while 51 percent plan on cutting back on what they spent last year.
Here are some last-minute tips to help avoid buyer’s remorse, whether that guilt comes a few days after shopping, resulting in returning the purchases, or in January when the bills start arriving.
• Don’t make impulse purchases. Resist the temptation to buy anything just to be able to mark it off your list. A thoughtless gift isn’t worth the paper it’s wrapped in.
• Make your shopping trips short by having a shopping strategy. Know what you want, where you’re going to get it, and how much you’re going to spend. Your goal is to get in and get out of the stores, thus limiting the temptation to spend.
• While shopping, take frequent breaks and track your spending. Staying on budget equals staying in the black.
• Resist paying steep rush shipping charges. It’s better to find an alternative gift than to spend as much in shipping as you did on the gift.
• If you can’t find the right gift, know that a gift card always fits. Further, the recipient can use it during the steep after-Christmas sales and maximize the value.
Also, play it safe and inquire about the return policy before you buy. If the store offers a gift receipt, be sure to include it with the package, thus making a return much simpler.
If your holiday spending has you seeing red, visit www.DebtAdvice.org for more information.
December 20, 2011 5:56 pm
The number of improving housing markets continued to expand for a fourth consecutive month in December, rising from 30 to 41 on the latest National Association of Home Builders/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI), released recently. The December list featured 20 new additions, including several major markets such as Washington, D.C.; San Jose, Calif.; and Toledo, Ohio. Meanwhile, nine smaller markets dropped off the list, primarily due to softer house prices.
The index identifies metropolitan areas that have shown improvement from their respective troughs in housing permits, employment and house prices for at least six consecutive months.
New entrants to the list in December include the following:
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Grand Forks, N.D.
San Jose, Calif.
"The increases we continue to see in the number and geographic diversity of improving metros are quite encouraging, and evidence of the fact that all housing markets are dependent on uniquely local factors," said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev. He noted that as of December, a total of 21 states and the District of Columbia are represented on the improving markets list—up from14 states represented in November.
"The December IMI results are very much in keeping with the latest government housing data and our own builder surveys, which have shown modest signs of improvement in certain individual markets where employment is gaining and distressed properties are not as numerous," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "These gradual improvements are now becoming evident not just in small, energy-producing metros that have previously dominated the IMI, but also in several larger markets and areas with more diverse economies."
The nine markets that dropped off the IMI in December include Alexandria, La.; Fairbanks, Alaska; Hinesville, Ga.; Houma, La.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Lima, Ohio; Pine Bluff, Ark.; Sumter, S.C. and Waco, Texas. All but two of these metros fell from the list due to softening house prices. The exceptions to the rule were Jonesboro and Waco, where declines were registered in employment and single-family housing permits, respectively.
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. The three indicators that are analyzed are 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. NAHB uses the latest available data from these sources to generate a list of improving markets. 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.
For more information, visit www.nahb.org/imi.
December 19, 2011 5:54 pm
The time to make New Year’s resolutions is fast approaching, and upping the fitness ante can be one of the hardest to keep. After months of being relatively sedentary, jumping into an ambitious workout program often results in muscle pains and strains that can squelch enthusiasm and quickly derail fitness goals.
Here are some tips for meeting fitness goals and keeping health and fitness a top priority throughout the year:
-Walk or bike to work, or get off a stop or two early on a bus/subway trip to help jump start your metabolism and engage in a bit of functional fitness.
-Take the steps instead of the elevator. Walking up and down the stairs burns many more calories than hitting the “up” button. Of course, this applies only if there are no specific limitations placed on your joints by your MD.
-Rather than linger over brunch, lunch, or dinner, invite a friend to take a walk on the weekends instead.
-Bring your food to the office to ensure portion control and to know exactly what ingredients you are eating.
-Employ the buddy system for your workouts. You are far more likely to work out if you know someone else is relying on you.
-Cut calories without sacrificing taste by substituting sugar with healthier sweeteners when you are cooking or in coffee and tea, such as honey, maple syrup, agave, or stevia.
-Set realistic goals that will let you become your own cheerleader and continue all year long.
Remember that it is perfectly natural to allow yourself a "cheat" day and indulge in the less-than-healthy foods you crave. The key is to use that day as a reward for a well-balanced nutritional investment you abide by the rest of the week.
Source: Topical BioMedics, Inc.
December 19, 2011 5:54 pm
Choosing the perfect album to give or listen to during the holidays can be more difficult than one may initially assume. If playing this album during a Christmas party, it must have the right pace and vibe to keep the party upbeat and exciting. If giving the album as a gift, it must reflect the values and musical taste of its recipient.
Oftentimes, people fail to understand how much thought should go into choosing the right soundtrack for a party, or the right musical gift for a friend. There are some very important considerations to be made when choosing an album for a holiday get-together or when picking up a gift for someone else. Good hosts and hostesses will be wise to consider the values, in addition to the musical taste, of their guests.
Here is a list of tips to help individuals choose the perfect music this holiday season.
1. Consider the nature of a party when choosing the music. Is the party a dinner party? One that will encourage dancing? The music that is played should reflect the vibe that the party is going after.
2. Think about the theme of the party. Is it a Christmas party, general holiday party, or other kind of celebration? Make sure that the songs played reflect the kind of party that is taking place, such as Christmas music at a Christmas party and general, winter-themed music at a party meant to celebrate the season.
3. Take into account the musical tastes of party guests. The demographic is important, as guests may prefer one genre of holiday music, such as pop or R&B, over another.
4. Choose a musical gift that will represent the values of the friend or family member. If the gift is intended for someone who is Jewish, a Christmas album may not be the wisest choice.
5. Consider the musical tastes of the person receiving the gift. If they have a favorite musician or genre of music it is best to stick with their preference.
Source: Kristen Knowlens, Hovenford Records