Gunning Daily News

7 Top Ways to Gift a Graduating Teen

May 28, 2013 5:20 pm

If there’s a high school graduate on your gift list this spring, it’s good to remember that cash is king to most teenagers, who undoubtedly have big plans to start a job or college soon and/or to enjoy a last fun-only summer.

But if giving cash to your favorite teen does not seem personal enough, there are plenty of fun and unusual ways to make the gift memorable. From Omaha mom Jane Crawford, an aunt to eight Nebraska teens, here are seven ideas she has used with great success over the years:

  • Put it in a wallet – Choose a good leather wallet that will last for years. Put the cash in the wallet and wrap the wallet as a gift.
  • Clip it – For a boy, clip the money in a quality money clip that has been engraved with his initials.
  • Box it – for a girl, choose a small jewelry or keepsake box and insert the cash before you wrap the box.
  • Book it – Put the money in a card and place the envelope, like a bookmark, in the book of your choice – perhaps a book on investing.
  • Bank it – Choose a fat pink piggy bank or any bank that appeals to you. Before you wrap it, stuff it with dollar bills. Include some change to make it jingle.
  • Turn it into gift cards – Disperse the cash into gift cards to the teen’s favorite stores. Include a note encouraging happy shopping – with or without your company.
  • Turn it into college cash – If you know what school your teen will be attending in the fall, get online and turn your gift into a spending account he or she can use for meals, books and more on campus.

Summer of Savings: Tips for a Financially Sane Summer

May 28, 2013 5:20 pm

Parents, the green season is upon us. Summer. And the “green” doesn’t just stand for the leafy trees kids climb and the lawns through which they chase fireflies. It stands for cold hard cash. Kids cost money all year long, of course, but summer brings with it a slew of extra expenses: summer childcare programs…summer camps…extravagant family vacations.

According to financial counselor and bestselling author Eric Tyson, if parents aren’t careful, they can easily find themselves living a summer lifestyle they really can’t afford.

“Many people assume, ‘Oh, it’s summertime—of course we have to take a fabulous family vacation,” says Tyson, author of Personal Finance For Dummies®.

Tyson says overspending on summer activities and “stuff” doesn’t do kids any favors. In fact, your conspicuous consumption may be teaching them poor money management habits, which sets them up for problems in their own financial lives down the road.

“Make this the summer that you rein in your spending and start teaching kids by example how to make smart financial decisions,” urges Tyson. “You may be surprised to find that, far from feeling that you’re sacrificing, this is the most fun, fulfilling summer you’ve ever had.”

No matter where your wanderlust leads you and your family, you can cut costs. Here are a few tips:

Plan, plan, plan. Do plenty of research before you ever leave home so you’ll know the best and most budget-friendly activities and destinations in advance. “It’s when we fail to plan ahead that we fall prey to overpriced tourist traps,” notes Tyson.

Don’t go overboard on the hotel. There’s really no reason to spend big bucks on a room you’ll do little more than sleep in.

BYOF: Bring your own food. If you’re taking the family to a theme park, bring along a backpack of snacks. (If you don’t, be prepared for some serious sticker shock!) And choose a hotel room with a kitchen (or vacation home) so you can prepare a few meals in.

Don’t buy a bunch of T-shirts and trinkets. It’s usually better to spend the money on photos than “keepsakes” (i.e., clutter you don’t need).

If your child brings along a friend, make sure he pays his own way. “Don’t assume that because Billy is inviting his friend Josh, you have to pay for Josh’s meals, amusement park tickets, and so forth,” says Tyson. “If you aren’t comfortable having a frank discussion with Josh’s parents ahead of time about who pays for what, don’t invite him.”

Strapped for cash? Dream up creative vacation alternatives. For instance, you can “vacation at home” by spending a week exploring fun, kid-friendly destinations—zoos, museums, gemstone mines—within easy driving distance of your home. Or spend a few nights camping in a local wilderness spot. (Assuming you already have the tents, sleeping bags, and other gear, that is; otherwise you’ll spend a fortune on your “roughing it” adventure!) Or visit relatives you rarely see who have an unfamiliar lifestyle—if you’re a “city mouse” family, spend a few days on the farm with Great Aunt Bertha.

“The point is, you can find endless fun and educational activities that don’t require a major outlay of money,” says Tyson. “Use your imagination.”

Skip the expensive summer camp. It’s easy to see why summer camps are popular: kids get to spend weeks on end swimming and playing sports. Unfortunately, these adventures can cost thousands of dollars, and especially if you have more than one child, can be costly. If summer camp is a “must” for your kids, seek out the more affordable ones run by non-profit organizations or churches, says Tyson. But don’t assume your kids have to go to summer camp at all.

“If you think about it, this is the time of year families should be together,” he says. “The kids are out of school; they don’t have homework to take up their time; the weather is nice—wouldn’t it be better to spend that time doing fun things as a family?”

Don’t rule out “summer jobs” for your kids. If you’re worried that, in the absence of summer camp, your kids will spend their summer lounging in front of the TV and computer and playing video games, put them to work. No, seriously, says Tyson. In addition to their regular chores, give your kids summer projects to complete, such as painting their rooms (under your supervision, of course) or designing, planting, and maintaining a flower garden in the yard. Or volunteer them to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog or (if they’re old enough) cut her lawn.

“Working is good for kids,” notes Tyson. “You can pay them a modest allowance for their labor, which helps them learn financial responsibility.”

Encourage your kids to give this summer, not receive. Spending lots of money on kids, whether in the form of vacations, summer camps, or brand new bikes, can breed materialism and a sense of entitlement. You can counteract these forces by insisting that your children spend some time giving back this summer. This will also help foster compassion for others in your children.

“There are many nonprofit organizations for which kids and entire families can volunteer,” says Tyson. “Of course, it doesn’t have to be that structured. You can make a decision to, say, visit nursing home residents once a week. Adopting a ‘cause’ as a family helps kids gain a healthier perspective to see that others are less fortunate, and frankly, it serves as a good reminder for parents as well.”



Q: How Does a Lease Option Work?

May 28, 2013 5:20 pm

A: A landlord agrees to give a renter an exclusive option to purchase the property.  The option price is usually determined at the outset, but not always, and the agreement states when the purchase should take place – whether, say, six months, or a year or two down the road.    

A portion of the rent is used to make the future down payment.  Most lenders will accept the down payment if the rental payments exceed the market rent and a valid lease-purchase agreement is in effect.

Before you opt to do a lease option, find out as much as possible about how they work.  Talk to real estate agents, read published materials, and, in the end, have an attorney review any paperwork before you and the tenant sign on the dotted line.


Word of the Day

May 28, 2013 5:20 pm

License.  A privilege or right granted to a person by a state to operate as a real estate broker or salesperson.

Summer Pest Prevention Tips

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

Throughout the U.S., ants are a major concern for Americans. Ants can enter homes through the tiniest cracks and look for sweet, greasy or protein-based foods. They leave an invisible pheromone trail for other ants to follow once they find a food source. Ants are not only a nuisance: carpenter ants can be a threat to homes and structures, pharaoh ants can transmit diseases and fire ants can be harmful if a person is allergic to their painful stings.

"Fire ants are very active and aggressive and can sting animals and humans repeatedly when threatened or searching for prey," says Orkin entomologist and technical services director Ron Harrison. "They attach themselves to their victim with their mandibles and inject venom through their stingers. People in the Southeast are most likely to encounter fire ants, although they have been seen as far north as Maryland and as far west as California."

To help protect yourself from fire ants, which prefer hot, sunny locations, survey large open areas like athletic fields and try to stay in the shade and cooler areas. You can prevent other ants from coming into your home by remembering the following tips:

  • Clean up spilled food and drinks immediately, and keep food stored tightly, especially during outdoor picnics.
  • Rinse out cans before putting them into recycling bins.
  • Seal cracks around doors and windows.
  • Keep gutters and downspouts clean and keep plants away from the home's foundation.

According to Orkin's survey, the biggest concerns with mosquitoes are that they could bite, sting or attack (58 percent) and could give you a disease (52 percent). The majority (82 percent) of respondents are aware that mosquitoes can cause West Nile Virus and more than half (60 percent) are aware that they can cause malaria. People are most afraid of getting West Nile Virus (54 percent). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last year had the highest number of West Nile Virus disease cases reported since 2003. The CDC also said 80 percent of the 5,387 total cases last year were reported from 13 states, and one-third of all cases were reported from Texas.

"A variety of environmental conditions can impact mosquito species and the diseases associated with them," says Harrison. "So scientists are not exactly sure why Texas saw the highest number of cases. It just goes to show mosquito 'hot spots' can pop up, so be vigilant and cautious."

To prevent you and your family from being a meal for mosquitoes, Harrison suggests the following:

  • Make sure to take the time before heading outside to apply an EPA-approved insect repellent.
  • Prime mosquito-biting time is at dawn and dusk, so, if possible, wear long sleeves and pants if you're outside during those times.
  • Empty any standing water from bird baths and thin vegetation from around the home.
  • Make sure screens on windows and doors fit tightly and have no holes to prevent mosquitoes from coming indoors.

Two additional potentially dangerous summer pests are bees and wasps. Wasps can sting multiple times, while bees can only sting once before dying. Bees and wasps share two of the same characteristics: they can exist where humans live and can be dangerous if disturbed.

"Because 5 percent of the population has severe reactions to stings and 1 to 2 percent is highly allergic, it is not advised you try to get rid of bees or wasps on your own," warns Harrison. "These are pests you do not want to mess with because it takes a trained professional to determine what type of bee or wasp nest it is. For instance, Africanized honey bees, also known as killer bees, can swarm and repeatedly sting the person or animal that threatened their nest."

The following steps can help prevent bees and wasps from pestering you while enjoying time outdoors:

  • Frequently monitor around your home for nests.
  • If bees or wasps are flying around you, act calmly.
  • Keep food containers tightly wrapped or secured while outdoors, and don't leave food out in the open.
  • Empty garbage cans often.

If you find a bee hive around your home, contact a local apiary for more information on removing it. Because bees are important pollinators, Orkin encourages consumers to have hives relocated when possible.

Bed bugs have become such a problem in the U.S. that, according to Orkin's survey, nearly 40 percent of people say they inspect their room for bed bugs. Although not necessarily a "summer pest," bed bugs are still a concern during this season, since that is when Americans tend to vacation and are more likely to unknowingly bring them home in luggage.

"Education and prevention are key," says Harrison. "Inspect your bedroom regularly, and be cautious when traveling—whether it is business or pleasure, or to visit family, friends or vacation. We need to be vigilant wherever we are and take the proper precautions so that one bed bug does not turn into a major infestation."


Tips for Recovering Storm-Damaged Cars

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

The process of recovering and rebuilding from severe weather can be daunting, but when it comes to damaged or destroyed cars, it’s best to begin as soon as possible.  

You can get an idea of whether you have coverage for storm-related damages by getting out your policy and seeing if comprehensive (also sometimes referred to as "other than collision") coverage is included.

This coverage type is not required by law and is the only one that will compensate drivers for vehicle damages caused by weather-related events like tornadoes and hail.

Drivers without this type of protection can prepare for the next storm by checking to see how much it would cost to add it to their policy by using an online quote-comparison tool.

Know your deductible

If you do have this coverage type, one thing you should be aware of is your deductible.

When you bought your policy, you and your agent or insurer agreed on a set dollar amount that you would have to pay before your comprehensive coverage actually kicks in. So if you have a $500 deductible and the damage to your car will cost $1,500 to repair, you'll likely have to pay your insurer $500 before they cover the remaining $1,000.

Filing your claim

To start your claim, call your agent or your insurance company's claims hotline with your policy information in hand. The number for the claims hotline may be on the proof of insurance card you keep in your glove box. If not, you can likely find it on the company website.

If you feel that temporary vehicle repairs are necessary to prevent further damage, ask the contact at your insurance company about the best way to go about doing that. The best route may end up being paying for the temporary repairs, saving the receipt and then seeking reimbursement from your insurer.

Also, make sure to take photos of the damage.


Q: How Can I Finance Work Needed on a Fixer-upper?

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

A: According to the Millennial Housing Commission, few lenders are willing to administer home improvement loans. Most prefer to make home equity loans or unsecured consumer loans because they are easier to manage.  Home improvement loans usually require inspections and irregular draws on the loan amount as work is completed, which requires regional or national lenders to find local partners to provide oversight.

Financing repairs and improvements with home equity is okay for most homeowners, but it is difficult for many first-time buyers.  They have lower-incomes, smaller savings, and have made lower down payments on their homes than first-time buyers a decade ago.  So they have little equity to borrow against.  Unfortunately, it is often lower cost older homes purchased by first-time buyers that need the most work.

Unless you have a cash reserve, you will have to shop around for the best borrowing terms. In addition to the options listed above, you can ask relatives for a loan.  Borrow against your whole life insurance policy. Refinance your existing mortgage and take out cash.  Get a second mortgage.  Contact the government about home improvement programs.  And – as a last resort – borrow from a finance agency, which generally charge high rates.

Word of the Day

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

Semi-detached.  One structure containing two dwelling units separated vertically by a common wall.

4 Self-Publishing Tips for Authors

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

The number of self-published books has exploded, growing 287 percent since 2006, according to research by Bowker, the official ISBN agency for the United States.

“In 2012, more than 235,000 print and e-books were self-published in the United States, up from 148,424 in 2011,” says award-winning marketing strategist Catherine Foster, executive publisher/CEO of BlueSky Publishing Partner.

“This is an exciting time to be an author because the playing field is finally leveled – you can get your book published! You don’t have to beg an agent to take you on and you don’t have to deal with those heartbreaking rejection letters. There’s no longer a stigma associated with self-publishing -- in fact, many of my authors say it’s the very best option.”

CreateSpace was the No. 1 print self-publisher in 2011 with 39 percent of the market, and Smashwords was No. 1 for e-books, with 47 percent, according to Bowker’s most recent information.

However, while most readers no longer pay attention to where a book was published, authors should know they do pay attention to what it looks like, Foster says.

“The most important overlooked element is not the front cover but the back cover,” she says. “That’s where potential readers will spend the most time deciding if they want to buy your book.”

Browsers spend 10 to 15 seconds reading the back cover. If you want to keep their interest, Foster says follow these four basic rules of book marketing.”

• Know your audience: You have to consider their point of view when you decide what to say on the back cover, and you need to know who they are in order to figure that out. This is your 10-second commercial, so be sure you give your audience what they’re looking for!

• Keep it simple: Many authors try to cram too much information on the back cover in the hopes that something will pique the reader’s interest. But too much information overwhelms browsers and their brain becomes sluggish. Rather than read everything, they read nothing and walk away. Treat the text on your back cover like poetry and keep the message condensed and poignant.

• Choose the right fonts: Certain font styles appeal to different audience demographics. Whether your audience is mostly teens or college students, middle-aged adults or seniors, they’ll respond differently to the looks of different type faces. Choosing small red fonts on your cover is the worst thing you can do if your market is the reader older than 55 because red is one of the hardest colors to read when aging affects vision. Also, your fonts shouldn’t blend in with the colors on your back cover, or the words lose value to the reader.

• Typos will kill your book sale: If your back cover has a typo, even a small one such as a redundant word or two words with no space between them, it will doom your book. Authors are indeed “judged like a book by its cover” and readers will assume that your book wasn’t edited and that it will be full of errors. One of the most frustrating things for readers is finding typos in a book. It dilutes the meaning of the content, distracts them from reading, and most importantly, makes the author look amateurish. Even if the only typo in your book is the one on your back cover, readers will make critical assumptions based on that one fatal flaw.  

Foster recommends having your book professionally edited, cover to cover. If you can’t afford to do that, at least find a friend or family member with strong reading and writing skills to read it for you.

“No matter how good of an editor you are, you’re likely to read right over your own mistakes,” Foster says. “There’s a reason surgeons don’t operate on themselves; the same is true for authors editing themselves.

For more information, visit

Looking for a Greener Way to Clean your Pool?

May 25, 2013 10:54 am

(BPT) - There's no better way to enjoy the summer than by lounging by the pool. Unfortunately, this backyard family oasis requires regular maintenance throughout the summer that can include expensive and sometimes unhealthy chemicals. Have you ever wished there was an easier way you could clean your pool, that was also more eco-friendly?

Just as there are now "greener" choices for many consumer products, there are now some great alternatives for keeping your pool clean that are easier and actually help minimize chemicals and additives. Technology has come a long way, and consumers can now choose from a variety of affordable and more environmentally friendly ways to maintain their backyard pool.

But how do you choose the right one? Here are some of the best pool-cleaning options available today, along with their pluses and minuses:

Manual pole cleaning: For years this was the standard. Lots of sweat, a hose attached to the skimmer basket on one end, a long vacuum pole on the other and a lot of slow pushing as you try not to disturb the debris before you suck it up into the skimmer and filtration system. This method is cheap and "somewhat green" but involves a lot of effort, and it is not highly effective at reducing your chemical usage.

Suction side pool cleaning: The suction side method is similar to the mechanics of manual pole cleaning except that the cleaner is self-propelled in a random pattern by a suction hose attached to the skimmer system. A completely clean pool is not always achieved due to the random nature of the system.

The pluses: low cost and satisfactory results.
The minuses: the method lacks optimal pool floor and wall scrubbing and does minimal water mixing, leaving stagnant water areas that actually demand more chemicals to stay clean. Suction side cleaners also use more energy as they require your pool's filter pump to run during their cleaning cycle.

Pressure side pool cleaning: These units require an independent booster pump and water jet outlet found on some in-ground pools. Note: This is the only option not available for above-ground pools. Pressure cleaners are propelled by water and are often confused with robotic cleaners, but the differences are important. Pressure cleaners do a good job of cleaning but are costly to buy and run.
The pluses: cleaning capabilities and better water-mixing capabilities than suction side cleaners.
The minuses: pressure cleaners are costly to buy and operate and they use the most energy due to the added booster pump.

Robotic pool cleaning: Advances in robotic pool cleaners are transforming the pool-cleaning industry. Robotic technology has advanced, bringing the price in reach of almost all pool owners. Robotic units can scrub and vacuum pool floors, walls and the waterline and remove more and finer debris (down to two microns in size) to help keep your pool cleaner. Robotic units cost only about 5 cents per hour to run and they provide superior water mixing (up to 85 GPM), substantially reducing the amount of chemicals needed.
The pluses: Just plug the bot into the power supply, place the cleaner in the water and press a button.
The minuses: There are almost too many robotic cleaners to choose from and they are not all alike. One of the most innovative is Aquabot, made by the company that introduced the first robotic cleaner in 1982.

Keeping your pool sparkling clean doesn't have to mean long afternoons of work or extra unnecessary chemicals. Now that there are safer and easier cleaning methods, you'll be able to maintain and enjoy your backyard retreat, and take care of the environment at the same time.