November 9, 2011 5:28 pm
With the colder weather settling in, it’s time to take some time to get your pets settled in for the winter. Even if your cat or dog is normally an outside pet, winters can be especially tough.
“Just like people, pets can get hypothermia,” warns Nancy Peterson of The Humane Society of the United States. “We recommend keeping your cat indoors all the time.”
In addition, most dogs are safer indoors, except when taken out for exercise. Regardless of the season, shorthaired, very young, or old dogs and all cats should never be left outside without supervision. Short-coated dogs may feel more comfortable wearing a sweater during walks.
If you choose to leave your dog outdoors, even during part of the day, make sure that there is a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw; any bedding should be moisture resistant. The house should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. Provide plenty of food and make sure water is unfrozen and in a plastic dish.
There are dangers other than cold, as well. For instance, warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood or wheel well. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine. The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet, and automobile antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol; if swallowed in small amounts, it will not hurt pets, wildlife, or your family.
Colder temperatures are on their way! Make sure your family and its pets are prepared.
November 9, 2011 5:28 pm
By Barbara Pronin
In these tough economic times, most of us have already found ways to save a little money – from eating out less often to shopping at discount stores to driving no more than necessary. Here are ten surefire ways to improve your bottom line over the long haul:
Slash the incidentals – Read your credit card statement carefully, being on the lookout for ongoing monthly fees you can eliminate – like club memberships, subscriptions and that daily stop for high-priced coffee.
Pay yourself first – Start saving as though it were a monthly bill, dumping five or 10% of each paycheck into savings before you start writing out your checks.
Make the payment wisely – Put that money into an interest-bearing online savings account or mutual fund – and make the payment automatic.
Pay ahead on your mortgage – It may be tough, but adding even an extra $25 to your monthly mortgage payment can make a surprising difference in paying off the mortgage early and saving thousands of dollars over the period of the loan.
Shed credit card debt – Use credit cards as sparingly as possible and pay off any balances monthly. If you are already in debt, ask the card issuer for a lower rate or transfer the balance to a lower interest card.
Say goodbye to late fees – If it seems your credit card bill is always due before you get your paycheck, call the card company and ask to have your due date changed.
Get the better of your “addictions” – Whether it is designer coffee every morning or cigarettes with their walloping “sin tax,” do your best to wean yourself and you’ll save more in the bargain.
Analyze workday expenses – Brown bag it instead of eating lunch in restaurants. If possible, commute by carpool or public transportation. Avoid extra fees for same-day dry cleaning service. Where else can you save?
Review your estate plan – If you don’t already have one, get a will or living trust – and review it every year. These are vital regardless of marital or family status and could help save measurably when the time comes.
Sources: MSNBC, Bankrate.com, the New York Times Home Finance Center, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine
November 9, 2011 5:28 pm
The cold seasons are here and households everywhere are igniting their fireplaces and turning on their space heaters to evade chilly weather. And with the cold weather comes many timely reminders of the overlooked dangers of fireplaces.
The United States Fire Administration reports that, on average, 54,000 home-heating-related fires occur every year around the country. The tragedy of these events stems from the acknowledgement that these fires were likely avoidable with proper maintenance. It's imperative to take care of your fireplace before heavy use occurs. Prepare yourself with the following suggestions:
Get your fireplace checked by a professional. For a wood-burning fireplace, with a flue and chimney, the biggest problem is creosote buildup. Shine a light up your chimney and look for fuzzy or shiny black stuff. Creosote looks fuzzy initially, like black mold. After a while, it looks shiny. If you see shiny black stuff in your chimney – that's highly flammable, and you need to clean that professionally before using your fireplace.
Sometimes birds and squirrels will make a home in your fireplace. Their nests are flammable, but a nest is something that you can probably clean out on your own. You can also slow creosote buildup by using the right wood. Burning soft or fresh woods gives off more moisture than burning seasoned hardwoods like maple. Moisture creates creosote.
For electric fireplaces and space heaters, maintenance is less complex but is equally important. Electric fireplaces are easier to take care of, but you're still dealing with a heat source, so ensure that you set up your portable heater three feet away from any flammable objects. Turn off your space heater every few hours so it's not always running. And make sure that the outlets you plug your unit into are working properly.
November 8, 2011 5:28 pm
Once considered a luxury, decorating services are more of a necessity for today's busy homeowners who simply can't afford to make costly mistakes, or run all around town trying to pull it together. The best professional to decorate your home will most likely come from a combination of compatible personalities and tastes. Remember that you will be working together for several weeks, if not months. During your initial consultation, ask to review the portfolio of the designer or decorator to ensure that he or she is capable of working in diverse styles, and that your personalities are fairly compatible.
Working with a professional should be an enjoyable experience. Since interior decorating projects are highly personal and collaborative, the final results are always much more successful when the lines of communication are open and ideas are freely discussed. Be candid with your designer regarding such important elements as priorities, timing, budgets and tastes. If a style, color or home furnishing suggestion is one that you do not care for, feel free to say so early on, and provide a new direction for your team.
Be a keen observer. Consciously make note of what catches your interest as you peruse decorating magazines and the internet for interesting rooms and makeovers. Start a file of colors, patterns and designs that appeal to you. You may notice a chandelier, mirror, color combination or window treatment that you like. Once you clip and track these for a brief period, you will be better able to draw a conclusion as to your personal style and convey that to your new decorating professional. It’s really all about communication, once you’ve decided with whom to work.
Take an honest inventory of your existing décor to determine which pieces you want to keep. Assess your furnishings the way you periodically review your wardrobe. Plan to keep the pieces you truly love and put all others on the ‘to-be-replaced-eventually’ list.
Based upon your initial consultation, your designer should present you with fabric samples, sketches and pictures for your evaluation. Since professionals have access to a world of options unavailable in retail stores, be reasonable about asking to see more and more of everything available. Remember that the first two or three designs you are shown will be, in the decorator's opinion, the best looks for your home and your taste. One of the most important services a professional provides is sparing you the confusion of the unlimited choices available. Trust your designer's advice and stay focused on the overall design goal.
Give your decorator some latitude to decide for you the small details such as trims, pillows, accessories, etc. Your project will move forward more smoothly if he or she doesn't have to get your approval on every button and candle.
The last piece of advice is to give change a chance. The most dramatic changes usually come from introducing a strong new color or a different pattern. Don't panic. Trust your designer with color coordination. He or she will suggest the best paint colors for your home only after palette and fabrics have been determined to ensure you get the quality paint job your home deserves.
Just remember that all change requires a period of adjustment. After sprucing up your home with a new look, you'll be glad you finally took the plunge.
For more information, visit www.HowToBecomeAnInteriorDesigner.com.
November 8, 2011 5:28 pm
Pending home sales declined in September, although activity remains above a year ago, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, fell 4.6 percent to 84.5 in September from 88.6 in August, but is 6.4 percent higher than September 2010 when it stood at 79.4. The data reflects contracts but not closings.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the housing market is being excessively constrained. "A combination of weak consumer confidence and continuing tight lending criteria held back home buyers, even though the private sector added nearly 2 million net new jobs in the past 12 months," he says.
The PHSI in the Northeast declined 4.7 percent to 60.6 in September but is 4.0 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest, the index dropped 6.2 percent to 71.5 in September but remains 12.3 percent higher than September 2010. Pending home sales in the South fell 5.5 percent in September to an index of 91.6 but are 5.0 percent above a year ago. In the West, the index declined 2.1 percent to 105.8 in September but is 5.6 percent higher than September 2010.
"America's monetary policy is contradictory and confusing, where some consumers with the best financial capacity and top-notch credit scores pay higher mortgage interest rates," Yun says. "The Federal Reserve evidently has been attempting to lower mortgage rates, yet more consumers are faced with taking out jumbo loans that carry higher interest rates."
Yun emphasizes the need to reinstate higher loan limits in 42 states. "Just leaving excessive cash to sit in banks and not work into the economy is a drag on the overall recovery," he says. "We need a comprehensive approach to address housing issues—not additional impediments."
Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org.
November 8, 2011 5:28 pm
In a new survey about preparing financially for retirement, seven out of ten (71%) of over 1,000 adults aged 25 and older said they were personally in control of their finances and make financial decisions themselves. Half of those who are not yet retired (48%) believe they will not have enough money to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, and half of those already retired (53%) are concerned about their current financial situation.
When we asked respondents if they wish they had a pension, half said yes, even among those aged 25-34. This was surprising considering how far removed this younger generation is from the days of defined benefit/pension plans. Whether they hit the job market 10 years ago or two years ago, younger Americans have experienced market bubbles bursting first-hand, which has seriously eroded their confidence in the equity markets.
"It's a smart and rational response to want something safe and secure now. The ramifications of this market dynamic on the investment choices Americans will make over the next 30 to 40 years is only now coming into focus. And, make no mistake, even the younger generation is very realistic about their prospects for retirement, especially when you find that only four percent of them believe that Social Security will provide enough income to live in retirement," says Peter Saracena, senior vice president of Ipsos, a research corporation.
As part of the research, Ipsos asked about the potential for a fixed-rate annuity inside of 401(k)s that could be contributed to over time, that was portable from one plan to another if you left your job, that would provide a guaranteed lifetime income, and that would pay a lump sum to beneficiaries upon death if the account balance exceeded the amount already paid out. Overall, three-quarters (74%) said they would like having this option available, with 83% of those 25-34 feeling the same way. More than half of all respondents (55%) felt that having this 401(k) annuity option would be like contributing to a pension.
Among those that do not currently have a 401(k), four out of ten (38%) said they would be more likely to participate if this annuity option was available. Eight in ten (77%) of those likely to participate in a 401(k), if available, said that they would allocate a portion of their regular contribution to the annuity product, and 81% said they would be likely to ask their employer to allocate the match to the annuity. More than half (54%) said they would have a more favorable opinion of their employer if the company offered the option to contribute the match to the annuity.
Given that half of those with 401(k)s have balances of less than $5,000, it should come as no surprise that seven out of ten adults not yet retired (69%) say they have a lot more to do financially before they are ready to retire. Unfortunately, while there is no silver bullet to fulfill the retirement needs of Americans, and four out of ten (38%) currently believe that they will outlive their retirement savings, creating an understandable and easily navigated pathway toward a guaranteed retirement lifetime income stream seems not only appropriate, but an absolute necessity.
November 8, 2011 5:28 pm
By Zoe Eisenberg
Even though Halloween has come and gone, carving a pumpkin can still be a fun Fall activity you enjoy with your family. It also doesn’t have to be as daunting—or messy—as one may assume. After you pick your pumpkin at the local patch or store, follow these easy steps to turn your squash into a festive jack-o-lantern with minimal effort.
1. Cut a Hole in the Pumpkin
First, use a keyhole saw or sharp knife to cut a wide circle around the stem of your pumpkin. The hole should be large enough that you have ample room to clean out the inside of the pumpkin—more on that in our next step. Carefully remove the top, clean the bottom of flesh and seeds, and set aside.
2. Scoop out the Inside
Scoop out flesh, pulp and seeds of your pumpkin with a large spoon, plastic scraper or your hands. Be sure the inside is clear of all stringy sinews, as they can be flammable once dry. Set aside seeds, which are fun to bake and delicious to eat.
3. Make Your Design
Draw your design—or trace one from a template—onto the side of your pumpkin using a thick pen or marker. Make sure all lines are clear, thick and simple enough for you to carve.
4. Carve the Features
Carve along your lines with a small saw, blade or sharp knife.
5. Light Your Pumpkin
Now it’s time to put the lantern in your jack-o-lantern. Place a candle with high glass walls in your pumpkin, or—for a safer solution—wrap a string of lights around a jar and place inside.
With Thanksgiving on the horizon, experiment with different November-themed designs. When paired with the naturally fallen leaves and a bale of hay, a carved pumpkin can add plenty of flair to your next holiday.
November 8, 2011 5:28 pm
Trees are often overlooked during the summer when it comes to watering. Yet, when trees go dormant for autumn and winter – meaning active root growth comes to a standstill – and deciduous trees lose their leaves, they make up for deficits and absorb as much water and nutrients as they can hold. Enter fall's first rains, windstorms and freezes, and homeowners are guaranteed a dose of trouble.
Homeowners are advised to follow seven guidelines this fall to avoid tree problems year round.
Trees with deep root systems typically do not need extra water, while trees with shallow roots do. Your tree is thirsty if it is brown in places, or if some of its branches are dead or brittle. If needed, place mulch at the base of the tree to help the soil retain water.
#2 Plant for all seasons, and for your region
It is best to plant trees that thrive in your home city's weather. Young trees planted in locations subject to harsh weather should be staked until their root balls have grown strong enough to support them. Protect against nibbling animals by placing a small fence around the base. And be sure to check with local jurisdictions on permits needed or other restrictions.
#3 Remove troublemakers
If a tree is located next to a foundation, path or fence, or along an irrigation, sewer or utility line, fall is a good time to move it, or even remove it.
To remove a tree quickly, and effortlessly, a chainsaw can be used to cut the tree down piece by piece (consult an arborist for larger projects or when tree falling has the potential to harm property or people). For safety and efficiency, keep the chainsaw chain sharp.
Fall is the time to prune most trees. With an expert's help or on your own, prune to open up the tree's crown and remove excess limbs and dead or weakened wood. Use your chainsaw to complete the job quicker.
#5 Remove fallen leaves
Remove fallen leaves to be certain that the base of your tree can "breathe," and to remove a haven for tree-damaging insects. This also assures that any plants below the tree get adequate water and light.
If an insect is attacking a tree, fall is the best time to apply dormant spray on fruiting trees.
Most trees don't require fertilizer although fruiting and flowering trees may benefit from it. Late fall is a good time to fertilize because winter rains will prevent chemical burn. Fertilize after the first frost to prevent new, tender growth from damage.
Requiring very little maintenance in the fall, trees provide strong focal points to landscapes. Deciduous trees present various colors and appearances throughout the year, and evergreens breathe life and color year-round. Take care of your trees and you will enjoy them for years to come.
November 8, 2011 5:28 pm
David H. Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) issued the following statement in response to the recent announcement of changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP).
"The mortgage industry welcomes these changes designed to help more underwater borrowers who are current on their mortgages refinance at today's historically low interest rates. Not only will these changes allow more borrowers to qualify, but they will streamline the process and reduce the cost to borrowers and should lessen risk for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"Lenders are particularly gratified that the refinements will provide relief from some representations and warranties that lenders face when originating new loans. These changes alone should encourage lenders to more actively participate in HARP.
"Borrowers need to be aware that these changes will not be implemented overnight. Lenders likely won't receive specific guidance and operational details from the regulators for a couple of weeks, after which it will take a bit of additional time for lenders to implement them. Therefore we ask borrowers for patience as the changes are put into practice.
"While ultimately helpful, these changes are not going to be a silver bullet to solve all the issues facing our housing market and borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. But they will offer lenders another tool to help borrowers and hopefully help bring some stability to housing markets, particularly those most impacted by home value declines."
For more information, visit www.mortgagebankers.org.
November 7, 2011 5:28 pm
A recent survey conducted by the NAHB Research Center found that individuals who are renting perceive homeownership as a preference. In fact, 68% of individuals currently paying rent for their residences said they would prefer to own their own houses. Although previous releases issued about this study have discussed the feeling among consumers about the cost of owning a home, this information demonstrates that regardless of concerns, the general perception among those surveyed is that they prefer to own a home. The complete study reported opinions from consumers and builders on various topics related to home building.
Approximately one-third of households in the United States live in rental housing. The majority of renters displayed a perception of being concerned with their costs – 60% said they were concerned about the cost to rent, while 52% said they were concerned about the cost of electric and gas bills.
According to the survey, another factor when it comes to homeownership is the perceived safety. Of all renter respondents, 44% said they had not taken any action to increase the safety of their households in the past 6-12 months. Other respondents said they undertook minor safety precaution projects such as installing a lock on a door (32%) and putting in a smoke alarm (31%).
Besides owning their own houses, other desired changes that renters indicated they would like included having a backyard (39%), the ability to decorate (38%), upgrading appliances (36%) and increasing home eco-efficiency (31%).
Homeownership can also improve health, physical safety and security, and can help educational and job prospects increase. Homeownership is also an important means of wealth accumulation, and it can improve and stabilize neighborhoods and communities.
For more information, visit www.whirlpoolcorp.com/responsibility/building_communities/habitat_for_humanity.aspx.