Gunning Daily News

Simple Tips to Declutter Your Digital Life

January 29, 2013 6:30 pm

(BPT) - Owning multiple gadgets is no longer the domain of tech geeks - it's the new normal for just about everyone. Between multiple computers, phones, tablets, readers and music players, and the files that fill them up, people have a lot on their digital hands. Because that can be both costly and cumbersome, people are on the lookout for new ways to save money and sync up across platforms.

Luckily, 2013 looks as though it'll be a year full of innovations for gadget jugglers - and particularly music fans. And after the gift-giving rush of the holidays, people will be looking for new ways to make their devices interact, so that they can streamline their digital lives.

One of the best places to get started is with your music collection. For most people, it's not uncommon to have hundreds or thousands of music files. While that variety is enjoyable, those high numbers have some underlying consequences. First, the sheer cost of paying for those songs and albums, and second, the amount of space they take up. And if your music isn't shareable across platforms, there's a serious frustration factor.

How can you declutter your life in the new year? A digital music subscription is one of the best places to get started, offering a variety of benefits:
1. Cost cutting. Digital music subscriptions offer millions of licensed songs and albums, typically for around $10 per month. Weighing that price against what you'd pay for individual tracks, the savings can add up quickly. For example, a premium subscription to Sony Entertainment Network's Music Unlimited service gives users access to more than 18 million songs from all of the major labels and many independents and costs under $120 for the whole year.
2. Access anywhere. Digital subscriptions make it easy to access music across devices like personal computers, iPhone and Android smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, gaming consoles and more. So there's no need to buy yet another gadget to have all the music you want at your fingertips, wherever you are. There is even offline playback for Android devices so you do not need to be connected to the internet to enjoy your favorite music. You can also skip the time commitment of syncing and downloading - your catalog automatically syncs with every compatible device you connect to your account.
3. Keep it secure. If you've ever gotten a "no files found" message or lost a device, you know the panic that the thought of losing your music collection will induce. A digital subscription keeps your library safe in the cloud, so that you don't need to fear losing it all - and having to replace it.
4. Find new music. A defining part of being a music lover is always looking for great new music. An added benefit of a digital subscription is that it allows you to explore bands you haven't heard of before; some services also provide features to help you navigate the choices available based on your preferences. Aside from delivering all of the latest album releases, Sony's Music Unlimited service hosts dozens and dozens of pre-programmed channels and additional channels created by user preference through My Channels.

Financial Tip of the Week: Getting Ahead with a Smaller Paycheck

January 29, 2013 6:30 pm

Many Americans are seeing their paychecks is a little lighter this year, due to a payroll tax increase that is forcing millions of people to make tough budget cuts.

The tax has risen back up to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent, costing someone making $50,000 annually about $1,000 per year and a household with two high-paid workers up to $4,500.

But regardless of how many zeros it contains, there are steps you can take to help make ends meet by being smart with the money you have.

The following tips, provided by BMO Harris Bank, can make your pay check stretch farther:

  • Budget for essentials first. There are certain expenses in life that are non-negotiable, such as a place to live, food to eat and transportation to and from work. These are costs you should budget for first. The easiest way to create a budget is by adding up all of your fixed and essential costs for one month and subtracting this amount from your monthly take home pay. The amount that's left is what you have available for optional expenses, such as going out with friends, buying clothing and purchasing concert tickets.
  • Get what you want for less. You like eating out -- but you also have to pay your rent. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that allow you to do both. These days, you can get almost anything at a discount. Whether its gas, groceries, dining out, movie tickets, haircuts or even an exotic vacation, it's likely there are online coupons or mobile apps to help you find what you want at a lower cost.
  • And don't forget about things that don't cost anything at all. If you can't afford to meet your friends for happy hour, suggest meeting at free events instead. You'll still get to socialize and it will likely be a new experience for you and your friends.
  • Only buy what you really love. Ask yourself if you truly can't live without an item before laying down the cash for it. If the item is currently outside your budget, for example, an expensive watch, you can either begin saving for it little by little or find a way to get it for less. For example, you may be able to find what you're looking for online at a fraction of the retail price.
Source: BMO Harris Bank

Word of the Day

January 29, 2013 6:30 pm

Exclusive agency listing. Listing where the owner reserves the right to sell his property himself, but also agrees to list with no other broker during the listing period besides the appointed real estate broker.

Q: Are There Standard Ways to Determine How Much a Home Is Worth?

January 29, 2013 6:30 pm

A: Yes. A comparative market analysis and an appraisal are the two most common and reliable ways to determine a home's value.

Your real estate agent can provide a comparative market analysis, an informal estimate of value based on the recent selling price of similar neighborhood properties. Reviewing comparable homes that have sold within the past year along with the listing, or asking, price on current homes for sale should prevent you from overpricing your home or underestimating its value.

A certified appraiser can provide an appraisal of a home. After visiting the home to check such things as the number of rooms, improvements, size and square footage, construction quality, and the condition of the neighborhood, the appraiser then reviews recent comparable sales to determine the estimated value of the home.

You also can check recent sales in public records, through private firms, and on the Internet to help you determine a home’s potential worth.

Basements & Roofs – Planning a Rocking Rec Room

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

We have been talking about basements a lot recently. Not only am I interested in taking a look down those stairs and shining a light on some of the most common winter basement issues, I want to provide tips on turning that dark hole into wholly usable space.

Enter Randy Glazer of Atlanta's Glazer Remodeling & Construction (glazerconstruction.com). He says basement build outs and rec room remodeling can help transform your basement from a place for storage into a place for fun.

According to Glazer, whether you have a pool table, ping-pong set-up, pinball machine or air hockey game, you want to ensure that your guests have ample space to enjoy them. That means removing non-load bearing walls will open up your basement space to give you more options for placement.

Also, be sure that lighting you choose doesn’t hang too low over the tables. Speaking of lighting, Glazer recommends using as much natural light from windows and basement doors as possible.

And if your basement doesn’t open outside, use track lighting, wall lamps and under shelving lighting to save space.

Ceilings are a great place to add an element of design to a finished basement, too. Leave the ductwork exposed for an industrial look, select a reflective ceiling to make the basement look bigger or install hanging shelves for storage.

A custom built bar is an excellent entertainment addition to a basement and can serve many purposes. Have it flow into the media room for seamless design, and install floor to ceiling cabinets or shelving for additional storage.

In our next segment, we'll hit rewind and talk about retiring or repurposing your rec room or other finished basement space - stay tuned!

7 Financial Moves to Make Now

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

So you’ve started the New Year with resolutions to lose weight, get organized, and get your financial house in order. Time Magazine’s business and money mavens can’t help you much with the first two – but they do recommend seven financial moves you can make right now to improve your overall financial picture in 2013:

  • Refi your mortgage into a 15-year loan – At today’s low rates (about 3.36%), refinancing your 30-year mortgage of $250,000 into a 15-year loan will cost you less than $300 per month more and save you $220,000 over the life of the loan. Plus, you’ll pay off the loan in half the time. (Shop for a no- or low-cost refi.)
  • Open an online bank account – Online banks like ING Direct and Ally offer paper checks and/or online bill paying as well as higher interest rates than most brick and mortar banks.
  • Save early and often – Regularly putting away a percentage of every paycheck will add up faster than you imagine. If you think you can’t afford to save, start with one or two percent and work your way up as you realize it’s easier than you thought.
  • Buy top consumer brand stocks – Well-known brands tend to do well in any economy. Brands like Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson and Johnson have paid dividends every year for the last 25 years.
  • Transfer credit card balances – Some banks are offering 0% promotional rates for 12- and 15-month periods. If you are carrying a balance and paying more than that, it’s a no-brainer to shop for one of these money-saving offers.
  • Buy residential real estate – Home prices are rising, but interest rates are at historic lows. If you can, buy now to cash in later before you are priced out of the market.
  • Renovate wisely – If you are planning home improvements, invest in those that will likely raise your home’s value most when you decide to sell. Choose projects like adding a bath, installing double-pane windows, or updating the kitchen.

7 Steps to Simplify House Hunting

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

House hunting is a complicated process. From finding the right home, to locking down a mortgage rate you can afford, it is a process that requires an attention to detail and a well-thought-out plan. Below are seven steps to take as you begin house hunting to ensure you stay focused and on budget.

1. Establish your goal. Searching for your dream house? Upgrading your current digs or looking to downsize? Whatever the goal is behind your impending home purchase, be sure you understand it clearly before beginning your house hunt. This will eliminate wasted time spent viewing homes that don’t meet your top priority.
2. Create a wish list. Once your primary objective is in place, it’s time to list all of the additional features and amenities you expect from the property you eventually buy. Do you want a swimming pool in the backyard, a balcony off of your master bedroom or crown molding throughout? Brainstorming must-haves and also-nice-to-haves helps to further narrow down your search field.
3. Hire a real estate agent. No one understands the intricacies of a local housing market like a real estate agent with years of experience helping others buy and sell property within it. Save yourself time and headache and hire a highly rated agent to see you through the process.
4. Get pre-approved. Knowing exactly how much you can afford to spend ahead of time helps the house hunting process goes much smoother, not to mention, eliminates the disappointment of learning you don’t have enough saved for the home you’ve had your eye on all this time. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage will set your budget straight off.
5. Ask questions and take notes. This is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make, so don’t hold back if you have questions or concerns. Ensure you have no lingering questions about the property, mortgage financing terms or anything else that could lead to regret down the line. And don’t forget to write down important notes as you view house after house — things that seem important in the moment are easily forgotten after five open houses.
6. Do some recon work. Spend time hanging around the house you have your eye on, and during different times of the day. Does it get noisy? Is the traffic a nightmare? What are the neighbors up to? The worst thing would be to lock into your mortgage, only to find that while you love your house, you hate the neighborhood around it.
7. Look out for hidden expenses. Finally, it’s important to investigate more than just the house itself to find out if there are potential money traps within. For example, find out when the home’s appliances, water heater, roof, etc. were last replaced so that you aren’t surprised with a big expense shortly after moving in.
Source: GoBankingRates.com

Q: How Do You Determine How Much a Home Is Worth?

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

A: The short answer: A home is ultimately worth what is paid for it. Everything else is really an estimate of value. Take, for example, a hot seller’s market when demand for housing is high but the inventory of available homes for sale is low. During this time, homes can sell above and beyond the asking price as buyers bid up the price. The fair market value, or worth, is established when “a meeting of the minds” between you and the buyer takes place.

Word of the Day

January 28, 2013 5:52 pm

Escrow account. Special bank account into which escrow monies are deposited and from which they are disbursed. Lawyers and real estate brokers maintain escrow accounts to hold money in trust for others.

Building a Basement Garden

January 25, 2013 5:42 pm

This January, I am not only taking a look down those stairs and shining a light on some of the most common winter basement issues, but providing tips on turning that dark hole into wholly usable space.

This brings us to recent advice from thesimpledollar.com, on the ROI (return on investment) if you're thinking of converting part of your basement into an indoor veggie garden. The Simple Dollar recently did the math on maintaining a basement garden to grow your own fresh food.

The costs today may be slightly higher or lower, but it's a good guideline to judge whether you want to consider taking your summer gardening hobby indoors full-time, and bear the fruit (or veggies) of that decision.

First, a single industrial grow light retailing for about $300 would be required to convert a clear 80 square foot basement area into a greenhouse space. A grow light that size uses 1,000 watts of energy - so running it 12 hours a day for 3 months equates to 1,080 hours of use.

That will cost you between $120 and $150 per season.

Seeds could be as cheap as $3 per growing session, assuming that you’re not using heirlooms, in which case there would be a one-time cost of $4 or $5, according to thesimpledollar.com. All told the space, energy and supplies are estimated to run $1,640, or $164 per season for the first 10 years.

To give some perspective, that means each season if you just grow one item - say 800 pounds of tomatoes - this would yield a cost per pound of about 20 cents, compared to the retail cost of about $3 a pound.

Now comes the clincher - time. It could take as much as 100 hours per season to maintain this type of garden, or more based on the diversity of your plantings.

And if you don't have an outlet for your harvests, you may incur more time and costs for canning supplies or other types of processing. Maybe a rec. room would be more fun - we'll pick up on that in our next segment on basements.