Gunning Daily News

Q: What Is the First Step to Buying a Home?

February 8, 2013 1:42 pm

A: Make sure you are ready – psychologically and financially. Ask yourself the following questions: Do I have steady income? Is my debt lower than my total income? Do I have enough money to pay for the down payment and closing costs? Am I working hard enough to improve bad credit?

A house needs constant care and attention. Also ask yourself if your budget will allow for unexpected repairs and upkeep. Once you can honestly answer “yes” to these questions, you are several steps ahead of the game and that much closer to becoming a homeowner.

Word of the Day

February 8, 2013 1:42 pm

Freddie Mac. Common name for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, which buys and sells loans in the secondary mortgage market.

Expecting? Money Advice for New Parents

February 8, 2013 1:42 pm

(BPT) - Have you ever heard the saying that "babies don't come with owner's manuals"? It's true that no matter how many books you read, classes you take, or experienced parents you talk to, you can never be completely prepared for the challenges and joys of parenthood. You can, however, prepare yourself for the costs of a new baby - by looking after your finances before your bundle arrives.

New parents don't always prepare for the expenses associated with having a baby. One survey by Redbook Magazine and VISA found that less than 50 percent of expectant parents create a new budget that includes baby expenses. And while 76 percent of parents-to-be felt financially prepared for a baby, after the tyke arrived, 41 percent of new parents said they weren't as prepared as they had thought.

Taking steps like clipping coupons and buying secondhand clothes can help new parents save cash, but other important financial considerations - such as protecting their credit scores - require advanced planning. Here are some tips to help expectant and new parents to look after their finances:

Before the baby arrives

* Review your health insurance and what it covers. The full costs of pre-natal care, maternal care and delivery are not always covered by all insurance plans. As soon as you know you are pregnant - or when you make the decision to conceive - contact your insurer and ask for a detailed explanation of benefits. The Redbook survey found that unexpected hospital costs - things that couples thought their insurance would cover - cost one in four new parents more than $2,000 from their own pockets. Knowing what's covered, and what's not, can help you determine how much cash to set aside for hospital expenses.

* Review your credit.
One way or another, you will be spending money - a lot of it - when the new baby arrives. Whether you need to tap credit to buy nursery furniture or need a good credit score so you can get a better auto policy that costs less, it's important to understand this aspect of your financial well-being. Enrolling in a product such as freecreditscore.com can help you understand your credit score and status, which can help you make informed decisions about how you will use credit during this potentially financially challenging time.

* Create a spending plan. Your overall spending plan should not only include a budget for day-to-day costs like diapers, but a long-term plan for larger expenses such as nursery furniture, day care, and college savings. It's important to estimate not only how much you'll spend but when you'll spend it, too. For example, your short-term budget may include the cost of a crib - an item you will need immediately - but you may be able to postpone other furniture purchases like a dresser or changing table.

When you're new parents
* Buy wisely and frugally. From clipping coupons to buying off-brand names or purchasing from second-hand stores, it's possible to equip your baby with everything he or she needs at a fraction of the cost of buying brand new, brand-name retail products. It's normal to feel pressured to buy new, top-of-the-line luxury items for your baby, but used items and off-brand products can be just as good. Check out online ratings for a used item's durability before you buy it, and see what other consumers have to say about cheaper brands of diapers, baby wipes and clothing.

* Continue to keep an eye on your credit; it's a key element of your financial health. Good credit directly affects your ability to buy that bigger house you need as Junior starts to grow, get an auto loan for a minivan, or secure a new job in some cases. The Internet can help. For example, freecreditscore.com offers a Score Planner that lets members and nonmembers see for free how their financial behaviors can affect their credit scores.

While nothing can really prepare you for the agony of sleepless nights with a newborn or the joys of seeing your baby take his or her first steps, it is possible to prepare for the financial responsibilities associated with becoming a parent.

Top 25 Most Romantic Dining Cities in the U.S.

February 8, 2013 1:42 pm

A candle-lit table for two is the epitome of a romantic evening. While we may typically think of our largest cities as magnets for romance seekers, romance thrives in cities and communities of all sizes. A recent OpenTable study produced a list of the most romantic cities in the U.S., calculated using three variables: the percentage of restaurants rated "romantic" according to OpenTable diner reviews; the percentage of tables seated for two; and the percentage of people who dined out for Valentine's Day last year.

"Just as every diner has a different idea of what makes a meal romantic, each of these cities has a diverse dining culture," says Caroline Potter , Chief Dining Officer of OpenTable. "The commonality lies in the proportion of diners seeking a romantic dining experience - and the number of area restaurants providing just that. If you're looking for love, you just might find it in any of these locales."

The following cities, listed in order, comprise the Top 25 Most Romantic Cities in the U.S. The complete list may also be viewed at http://www.opentable.com/RomanticCities.

Top 25 Most Romantic Dining Cities in the U.S.

1. San Antonio, Texas
2. Austin, Texas
3. Providence, Rhode Island
4. La Jolla, California
5. Columbus, Ohio
6. Salt Lake City, Utah
7. Nashville, Tennessee
8. Louisville, Kentucky
9. St. Louis, Missouri
10. Houston, Texas
11. Dallas, Texas
12. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
13. Richmond, Virginia
14. Raleigh, North Carolina
15. Tampa, Florida
16. San Diego, California
17. Baltimore, Maryland
18. Honolulu, Hawaii
19. Indianapolis, Indiana
20. Brooklyn, New York
21. Pasadena, California
22. Las Vegas, Nevada
23. Phoenix, Arizona
24. Santa Monica, California
25. Portland, Oregon

Source: http://blog.opentable.com.

No More Sick Days: Beat that Stomach Bug

February 8, 2013 1:42 pm

As seasonal flu trends begin to decrease, cases of a fast-spreading stomach bug known as 'Norovirus' continue to spread across the country, creating serious complications for patients, and continued demand on health care organizations.

Norovirus is a contagious virus that can infect anyone, and can be spread by an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. The virus causes an inflammation of the stomach and intestines, leading to severe stomach pains, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Unlike seasonal influenza, there is no vaccine to prevent the spread of the Norovirus.

"Following this year's strong influenza season, the Norovirus has the potential to create greater complications in infants and the elderly, leading to severe dehydration," says Bill Lewis , M.D, Senior Vice President of Medical Operations at Concentra. "The easiest way to reduce the risk of catching and spreading the virus is through thorough and frequent hand washing, and routine cleaning."

However there are some simple precautions each person can take to reduce the transmission of the virus, and stay healthy and safe:
Wash your hands often – Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and before eating, preparing, or handling food.
Rinse fruits and vegetables before eating – Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them.
Cook foods thoroughly – Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them. Noroviruses are highly resistant, and can survive quick steaming processes and temperatures as high as 140 degrees F.
Clean surfaces and wash laundry – Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces with a chlorine bleach solution or other disinfectant. Machine wash contaminated clothes or linens in warm or hot water.
Don't prepare food for others when sick – Do not prepare food or attend to the health needs of others while you are sick, and for at least two to three days after you recover.
Noroviruses are the most common cause of foodborne-disease outbreaks in the United States, and contributes to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year. Many may know it as the "stomach flu" or "food poisoning," but it is not related to the influenza virus and there is no vaccine to protect against the spread of the virus.

Concentra Urgent Care offers accessible and affordable health care services through its 330 national medical center locations, treating a wide range of illnesses and injuries, at times when many physicians' offices are closed. As a leader in consumer health care, Concentra is improving the standard of health by sharing vital health information, and providing patients with a welcoming, respectful, and skillful health care experience.

Source: www.Concentra.com.

Word of the Day

February 7, 2013 5:04 pm

Foreclosure. Legal action instigated by a lender to end all ownership rights when mortgage payments have not been kept up.

Q: Why Is Location of a Home So Important?

February 7, 2013 5:04 pm

A: Location remains the single most important factor when choosing a home. It can make or break the value and desirability of a home.

Because everyone’s preferences vary, your lifestyle will determine the best place for you to live. Some people prefer the suburbs while others thrive on downtown living. If you favor city living, find out what part of the city suits you best – a fast-paced neighborhood or one slightly more subdued. Talk with the neighbors and keenly observe such things as traffic patterns, lifestyles, and even sounds and smells.
When choosing a town, take property taxes, schools, accessibility to work, services, recreation, and the character of the community into consideration.

Winter Weather Provides Its Own Landscaping, Naturally

February 7, 2013 5:04 pm

In my latest visit with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA.org), I learned that winter can be a good friend to your trees and shrubs, as well helping you next spring by pruning decorative and barrier shrubs and trees naturally.

According to the TCIA, snow causes four kinds of damage to trees and woody shrubs: bending; breaking; splitting; and falling or uprooting. Whether woody plants will be damaged in one of these ways depends upon several factors.

Coniferous evergreens, for instance, can bear more snow weight than broadleaf evergreens. A tree's form can also be a factor in how well it will withstand heavy snow.

Pine (low altitude), spruce and fir with spread branches are more likely to be damaged by heavy snowfall than trees with steeper angled branches. Arborvitae is a good example of a plant that doesn't handle heavy snow well, because they tend to get tall, with multi-stemmed branches that are low to the ground.

The association's experts recommend against planting them near buildings where snow can fall off the roof all at once in large piles. Small, rounded woody-stemmed plants would be a better choice, but make certain to give them enough root space away from the structure.

The type of snow is an important factor—wetter snow is more damaging because it is heavier.

The time of season can also be a factor—with a wet snow in March there are no leaves on the branches. But that same snow in late spring or early fall, when the tree is filled with leaves, could add unbearable weight.

Snow also moderates root temperatures and provides moisture for spring by insulating the ground, which is beneficial for two reasons. First, snow is a poor heat conductor, so the temperature changes very slowly from the top layer of the snow to the bottom.

This keeps the ground from heating and cooling as air temperatures fluctuate. Keeping the ground temperature more constant is a better environment for healthy roots.

The TCIA suggests if you pile eight inches of snow on the ground, soil temperature seldom falls below 23 degrees.

Keep Your Office Healthy to Prevent a Flu Outbreak

February 7, 2013 5:04 pm

(BPT) - A flu outbreak in your workforce can cause problems in several different areas of your business. The best flu prevention is encouraging and educating workers on how to be proactive at fending off the flu virus. By making sure your employees do the best they can to stay in good health and flu free, you can keep your business running smoothly and efficiently.

Here are some tips on keeping the office healthy and productive from Staples, which has every product a business needs to succeed.

Ways to avoid germs

One of the best methods of flu prevention is to keep the passing of germs to a minimum. A recent survey from Staples found that 80 percent of workers come to work while sick and of those who do stay home, nearly two thirds come back while still contagious. While it is impossible to keep an entirely sterile environment, there are several ways to avoid catching the flu virus:
• Stay away from people who are, or appear to be, sick. Encourage your employees to be alert for those that look like they may be infected with the flu, both at work and in their personal lives.
• Steer clear of crowds and high-traffic areas. The more people there are, the higher the chances are that someone is carrying flu germs. Workers can decrease their odds of catching the flu by timing their errands and shopping at off-peak times whenever possible and doing their best to stay out of particularly germy areas, such as hospitals and schools.
It is also important for those who do end up getting the flu to make sure they stay home to keep from infecting others. You can help your employees do this by encouraging them to stay alert for any signs of the flu and err on the side of caution to keep from potentially spreading germs to the rest of the workforce. Some experts recommend employees with the flu stay home for between five to seven days. Encouraging telecommuting when feasible may reduce employee downtime and prevent further spread of the illness.

How proper hygiene can help keep you healthy

While staying away from crowds and sick people is an important aspect of flu prevention, it is impossible for your employees to be out of contact with everyone. Encouraging proper hygiene, both at work and at home, can help kill any flu germs floating around. There are three easy practices that can go a long way in flu prevention:
• Encourage employees to cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing. This can help stop germs, flu or otherwise, from spreading. You can make this practice even easier for your workers by keeping several boxes of-facial tissues within easy reach of employee areas.
• Make hand-washing a top priority. Washing your hands is one of the single best methods of flu prevention, killing most flu virus germs that you come into contact with. Making this a company-wide practice will help keep your workforce healthy. Posting signs reminding employees to wash their hands before leaving the restroom and providing-hand sanitizer-are great ways to stay proactive.
Other ways to keep the flu at bay

In addition to avoiding and stopping the spread of germs, it is also important for employees to keep themselves as healthy as possible, making it easier for their bodies to fend off the flu virus. Encourage your staff to stay active and get plenty of rest during flu season. Providing healthy snack options and bottled water can also help make sure that your workers are refueling during the work day.
By encouraging your employees to adopt these healthy habits, you can avoid the troubles, such as unexpected understaffing, that can come from a flu outbreak among your workers. Flu prevention is key to keeping everyone healthy and productive year-round.

Source: www.staples.com/solutionscenter.

10 Tips for Springtime Travel

February 7, 2013 5:04 pm

Planning a trip for spring break? Whether you want to pile the family in the car or board a plane with friends, check out the following travel tips from Getaroom.com, a leading online discount hotel stay company.
1. Spring skiing helps you avoid the crowds while still enjoying fresh snow. Try the Spa & Lodge at Breckenridge for as little as $149 a night.
2. Try to avoid the typical spring break week for both college kids and secondary school students. If you have kids and need a trip, then consider a northern destination to have more peace and quiet and available hotel options.
3. Europe is on sale from now until the end of March. Avoid the substantial summer crowds at destinations including London, Barcelona, Paris, and Munich.
4. Spring of course means spring break for college students. Top destinations include: Cancun, New York City, London, Panama Beach, Las Vegas, LA, and Miami. Avoid the beach communities during spring break if you are looking for peace and quiet.
5. Enjoy the famous National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D.C. from March 20th to April 14th and also take in some outstanding museums.
6. Spring weather can be unpredictable, so check the weather ahead of your trip and bring lots of layers to be ready for the cold or heat wave.
7. New York City is beautiful in spring. Enjoy Central Park without a winter coat. Book hotels such as the Americana from $135 a night.
8. Visit New Orleans after the craziness of Mardi Gras in February to enjoy great food and festivals including the Jazz Festival and the free Lafayette Square concerts.
9. Getaroom runs many flash sales for spring travel. These limited-time deals feature savings of up to 60 percent off typical rates if booked by the deadline. Look for the clock icons when searching your destination at Getaroom.com for specific offer details.
10. Miami is a great destination for beachgoers, with warm but not yet hot weather. Book the Chesterfield Hotel in South Beach from less than $100 a night during May.
"Springtime is supposed to be a time of rebirth and discovery, and travelers should embrace their trips with a similar spirit of adventure and fun," says Robert B. Diener , President and Co-Founder of Getaroom.com. "Many top destinations are available at a substantial discount during the spring months, and the warmer and longer days make many outdoor attractions very appealing. Getaroom is a great source of both unpublished hotel rates that aren't found anywhere else and flash sales that are ideal for impulsive travelers who want to spend more money on dining and fun, not their hotel room."

Source: www.getaroom.com.