Gunning Daily News

Year's Worth of Money & Energy-Saving Tips

March 22, 2013 4:24 pm

In the continuing pursuit to help homeowners save money while helping to make the world a little greener, I tapped The Alliance to Save Energy, which recently posted a dozen ways you can make your home more energy efficient in 2013 (ase.org).

Among those ASE saving ideas are:

New Year, New Light Bulbs - Replace old, inefficient incandescent light bulbs in your home with energy-efficient lighting like new CFLs, halogen incandescents or LEDs – to save between $50 and $100 a year in energy costs.

Spring is Coming
- With spring just around the corner on March 20, get ready to open up your home to new, efficient windows. Replacing single-pane windows with ENERGY STAR-qualified windows can save you up to $1000 annually.

Don't be a Fool for Energy Vampires - This April Fools, outsmart the energy vampires in your home by unplugging what you're not using. Use a smart power strip for automatic savings.

Think Global - In honor of EE Global 2013, share one of the other tips with an international friend, family member, or associate to help save energy worldwide.

Cool Off - Make sure your AC equipment is in top running order, since cooling puts the greatest stress on your summer energy bills.

Keep the Heat Out - Plug energy leaks with weather stripping and caulking, and be sure your house is properly insulated to save up to 20 percent on energy bills.

Back to School Savings - If you and your kids are out at school and work, install a programmable thermostat – or even a smart thermostat – to raise your home's temperature while it's empty. This can reduce energy bills by up to 10 percent.

Temperatures Drop, and so do Bills - Keep the temperature of your water heater at 120 degrees, and insulate the hot water storage tank to save money on heating costs.

End the Year on a LOW Note - You made so many energy-saving changes this year, give yourself the gift of a home energy assessment to see how much more energy you can save next year!

Word of the Day

March 22, 2013 4:24 pm

Title search. A professional examination of public records to determine the chain of ownership of a particular piece of property and to note any liens, encumbrances, easements, restrictions, or other factors that might affect the title.

Q: Is a Home Equity Line of Credit Similar to a Second Mortgage?

March 22, 2013 4:24 pm

A: A home equity loan, like a second mortgage, lets you tap up to about 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus your current mortgage balance. But because it is set up as a line of credit, you will not be charged interest until you actually make a withdrawal against the loan, although you will be responsible for paying closing costs.

The withdrawals can be made gradually as you begin to pay contractors and suppliers for handling your remodeling project.

The interest rates on these loans are usually variable. Of particular importance: make sure you understand the terms of the loan. If, for example, your loan requires that you pay interest only for the life of the loan, you will have to pay back the full amount borrowed at the end of the loan period or risk losing your home.

Taking the Intimidation Out of Saving for Retirement

March 22, 2013 12:20 pm

(BPT) - Saving for retirement is a scary prospect for many Americans. In fact, just 14 percent feel confident they will have enough money to live on when they retire, according to the 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. And 60 percent say they have less than $25,000 saved for retirement, the survey reveals.

Retirement planning and saving doesn't have to be frightening or fruitless. Knowledge is power, and when it comes to preparing financially for retirement, the more you know, the more likely you are to succeed - and feel secure about your future in your golden years.

How much is enough?

Uncertainty over how much they need to save is a big concern among workers. Thirty-four percent of Americans have no retirement savings at all, according to a poll by Harris Interactive. How much you need to save now in order to have a good life when you retire depends on many factors, including your current income and age, the age at which you plan to retire and the expenses you anticipate you'll face during retirement.

Fortunately, retirement calculators can help you get a better picture of how much you need to save. You'll find plenty of calculators and information about saving for retirement from resources like freecreditscore.com. The calculators can give you an idea of how much income you'll need from investments to live on during retirement, and how much of your current income you need to save between now and retirement.

Crunching credit numbers

Another important consideration is how you will interact with credit when you retire. It's important to manage credit wisely during retirement, just as it is throughout your adult life.

Studies show that many Americans don't regularly monitor their credit, which can be a costly mistake. In fact, 65 percent of Americans have not ordered a copy of their credit report within the past year, and 31 percent don't know their credit score, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling's Financial Literacy Survey.

Your credit report and score are important during retirement for a number of reasons. First, your score directly affects the cost of many important financial needs, such as auto insurance and interest rates. Also, while you should strive to minimize debt during retirement, it may not be practical - or even desirable - to completely eliminate credit use in your golden years. Finally, not keeping an eye on your credit report and score may mean you fail to quickly catch instances of fraud or identity theft. Senior citizens are often a favorite target for identity thieves and scammers.

Understanding your credit - leading up to retirement and during - should be a key part of your retirement planning. Websites like freecreditscore.com can help by offering enrolled members monthly statements, credit reports, credit score alerts, identity protection alerts and fraud resolution support.

Understanding your Social Security benefits

Too often, people planning for retirement either rely too much on Social Security or overlook it altogether. Neither route is best. It makes sense to incorporate Social Security as part of your overall retirement saving plan, as long as you understand what to expect from the program.

The Social Security Administration provides every taxpayer with statements about how much they can expect to receive when they retire. Your SSA statement is now available online. Simply log on to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount for an estimate of the amount of Social Security benefits you could receive upon retiring. Knowing how much you can expect from Social Security can help you plan your retirement savings strategies.

Saving for retirement doesn't have to be intimidating. It's never too late - or too early - to take control of your retirement savings goals.

Yes, You Can Lower Your Food Budget

March 22, 2013 12:20 pm

Economists say most American families spend about 12 percent of their monthly income on groceries – but, unless you adjust your buying habits, the spend may increase as prices go up and children grow into hungry teens.


According to supermarket shopping analyst Mindy Hannigan, putting a few, planned shopping patterns into place can help you ease your food budget downward.

  • Start with the deals – Check supermarket mailers and online sites for weekly specials. Plan the family’s meals around the foods on sale each week.
  • Shop with a menu – Once you determine what’s on sale, shop with a written menu – and try to build two meals around a single purchase, such as a roasted pork loin one evening and BBQ beef sandwiches made from leftovers the next.
  • Set a budget – Keep track of your grocery spending for at least six weeks. Add it up and divide by six to find your weekly average. Try not to exceed that average without a darned good reason – such as additional houseguests to feed or a large, family holiday feast.
  • Shave the average – Once you know your usual spend, challenge yourself to lower it by 10 percent. Use coupons if you don’t already. Try store brands instead of labels you know. Search for new recipes, like casseroles and main dish salads, which can help you stretch one can of tuna or a couple of chicken breasts into a satisfying family dinner.
  • Shop alone – Shopping with kids almost always results in extras tossed into the basket.
  • Stick to a routine – Follow the same traffic pattern in the store you shop most often. Since you know where things are, doing so will help you to grab just the items on your list instead of reaching for items you may notice for the first time.

Spring Pest Season Is Upon Us

March 22, 2013 12:20 pm

Spring has sprung! As we begin cleaning, it’s important to keep a look out for pets, as ants, roaches, spiders and other pests that overwinter will likely start to become more active in the next few weeks.

"Now that spring has officially begun, and once temperatures are consistently above 70 degrees, pests will begin making their way out in full force," says Matt Peterson, Orkin's Southeast Division technical services manager. "Insects stay in a hibernation-like state during the winter since cold temperatures slow down their metabolism and reproduction cycles, but as the weather begins to warm, their systems start moving again."

Ants
Many homeowners consider ants to be one of the most serious pests. There are more than 10,000 species worldwide, and about 50 of those in the United States. Ants can infest homes by coming in through the tiniest of cracks, and controlling them is difficult because they leave an invisible pheromone trail for others to follow once they find a food source. There are three main categories of ants: nuisance, health (such as fire ants) and structural (such as carpenter ants).

"Another common sign in the spring is a group of ants with wings which can be confused with termite swarms," said Peterson. "It's a common misconception because of their similar appearance. Correctly identifying an ant infestation determines the best treatment method."

Roaches

In addition to entering a home through cracks and crevices, vents and pipes, other items like grocery bags, boxes and purses can transport cockroaches and their eggs. Because cockroaches are nocturnal, if you see one during the day, that means they were likely forced out by overcrowding—a possible sign of a severe infestation.

Cockroaches are filthy pests. They pick up germs on their legs and bodies and can spread disease, contaminate food and cause allergies and asthma. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roaches can also carry organisms that cause diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, typhoid fever and viral diseases.

"Roaches burrow in mulch or bark for the winter," said Peterson. "But since the ground temperature has been getting warmer, you may start to see more and more of them as the temperatures begin to increase."

Spiders
According to a recent Omnibus survey, the biggest concerns with spiders are that "they could bite, sting or attack me" (50 percent) and "they're creepy" (44 percent). However, there are only two species of spiders in the U.S. that are harmful to humans – the brown recluse and the black widow. Most other spiders are just nuisance pests and like to feed on other insects, so if you see spiders around the inside of your home, that could be a sign of a larger pest problem.

"Sanitation is really the most important factor when it comes to helping to prevent spiders," said Peterson. "Some spiders like moisture and others like dry, warm areas."

Peterson recommends the following tips to help prevent ants, roaches and spiders from being attracted to your home:

  • Remove all unnecessary food and water sources.
  • Seal cracks and crevices around doors and windows.
  • Clean up spilled food and drinks immediately.
  • Keep gutters clear, and direct water from downspouts away from your home.
  • Thin vegetation and do not pile mulch or allow soil to accumulate against your home's siding. This could provide access for ants and roaches to enter your home.
Source: www.orkin.com.

Word of the Day

March 22, 2013 12:20 pm

Lien. A debt on a property which encumbers it until the obligation is paid; a mortgage, back taxes, or other claim.

Q: What Is a Variance?

March 22, 2013 12:20 pm

A: It is a request made to your local jurisdiction to deviate from current zoning requirements. If granted, a variance will allow you to use your land in a way that is normally not permitted by the zoning ordinance.

However, do not view a variance as something that changes the zoning law because it does not. Rather it waives a certain requirement of the zoning ordinance. For example, it may allow the owner of an odd-shaped lot to reduce slightly the setback requirements in order to accommodate a building, or permit the building of a gazebo in the back yard.

Three Stress-Free Tricks to Refresh Your Home from Floor to Ceiling

March 21, 2013 6:08 pm

(BPT) - Spring is the time of year for renewal. So, it's no surprise that springtime finds most people planning to rejuvenate their spaces. Four out of five Americans have a room in the home in need or redecorating, according to a 2013 study by Homegoods. Unfortunately, all too often the decorating process is a source of stress and anxiety for homeowners. How will you ever afford new furniture in your living room? How can you be on-trend without dating your home?

Follow these three tips to give your home a stress-free, springtime makeover:

Reclaiming your home's foundation


Chances are your floors took a beating during the winter. Spring is the ideal time to install new flooring and revamp one of your home's most important components. As the foundation of your home, your flooring needs to complement your personal taste, while living up to your lifestyle in terms of traffic, household members and pets, exposure to moisture and maintenance required. With the countless color and design options, the wide range of flooring materials and your own budgetary considerations, you may find selecting flooring to be particularly stressful.

Tapping into the customer-focused trends of high-end and online retailers, Tarkett empowers customers as they shop for flooring. The system lessens the unknowns, simplifies the choices and introduces an interactive, multi-faceted shopping experience. The system begins with sorting multiple flooring options into six inspirational color families: Champagne Celebrations, Cool Conversations, Earthy Connections, Evening Receptions, Fireside Chats and Warm Gatherings - each offering its own feel and color space to help you find the perfect floor to coordinate with your existing furnishings and adjoining floors. Visit www.tarkettna.com/Inspiration/iSelectStory to walk through the iSelect process and find the perfect, customized floor for your taste, lifestyle, budget and even health.

Sweat the small stuff

Instead of worrying about the new armoire you can't afford, focus your energy on the finishing touches which can revitalize a space quickly and inexpensively. Paying attention to the details is a cost-effective and fun way to express yourself in spaces throughout your home, while also making each space feel complete.

Mirrors have a magical effect on a room by making a space feel larger, reflecting light throughout and adding a touch of panache. You can find a wide variety of hanging mirrors to fit your taste at discount retailers or you can purchase a mirror at an estate sale or secondhand store and "upcycle" it with a textured coat of Krylon Dual Hammered Finish spray paint in Silver or Dark Bronze.

The sky's the limit

If you really want to embrace the warm weather and revitalize a room, it may be time to look up. One of the most popular design trends of 2013 is painting your ceiling. This blank and all-too-often-overlooked canvas has tremendous potential to transform a bedroom, living room or dining room. It can be as simple as repainting a white ceiling a very pale blue or gray to create the illusion that there is no ceiling. Or if you're feeling bolder, you can make your ceiling a major accent element that gives a dull room a bright or daring splash of color.

Spring decorating should be an enriching experience, rather than a stressful one. Whether it's budget, time or simply choosing among the vast number of options available, the usual redecorating stress triggers can be eliminated by focusing on simpler, cost-effective and empowering decor solutions.

5 Credit Card Rip-Offs to Watch Out For

March 21, 2013 6:08 pm

Unless you are in the habit of checking every transaction on your monthly credit card bill, you may fall prey to the extra or unauthorized charges that find their way to the statements of one out of every four credit card users each year.

These ‘grey fees’ appearing on your bill may not actually be fraudulent, according to the consumer watchdogs at BillGuard. More likely, they are legal if unwanted charges that were hidden in the fine print of another transaction.

Financial expert Farnoosh Torabi urges consumers to examine credit card bills closely. Be on the lookout for – and question the responsible merchants – about grey area charges that may have been incurred in five common ways:

  1. Free-to-paid goods or services – Often incurred while shopping online, these are fees for turning free trials into ongoing paid purchases. For example, you sign up online for a free trial of cosmetics or vitamins. It seems like a good deal, but the fine print in the offer may include ongoing charges and/or future deliveries. Unless you cancel the ongoing service, you may continue to be billed.
  2. Unwanted offers – Say you purchase a pair of running shoes online. Unless you read the fine print, and perhaps uncheck a box, you may also inadvertently sign on for a subscription to a runner’s magazine or some other unwanted ancillary product.
  3. Negative opt-out marketing – You order something online and when it arrives, another product is included in the package. Don’t assume it is a free gift. Read the fine print on the invoice, because in accepting it, you may be agreeing to receive additional products monthly, for which you will be billed.
  4. Automatic renewals – Just because you’ve cancelled a service or subscription, such as a gym membership or even a credit card, doesn’t mean it has been instantly cancelled. Check your statements for annual or other fees that may have been charged before the cancellation took effect.
  5. Cost creep – It may amount to only pennies or dollars monthly on the cost of what you pay for product insurance or cable or other services. But watch your bills and be alert for unexplained cost creep-ups that keep occurring without explanation.