Gunning Daily News

9 Tips for Making Sure You Are Better Off Four Years from Now

November 5, 2012 5:04 pm

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you know that the presidential election is today. The constant media coverage and ubiquitous political ads simply won’t let you forget (no matter how much you’d like to!). And amid the candidates’ posturing, daily interviews, debates, and gaffes, one important question keeps popping up: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

Though the recession and the hardships that followed mean many Americans can’t answer that question with a simple “yes” or “no,” personal finance guru Eric Tyson suggests it might be more to your benefit to ask yourself a slightly different question: What can you do now to ensure you are better off in four years, no matter who gets elected?

“Does it matter who gets elected president?” asks Tyson, author of Personal Finance For Dummies®, 7th Edition. “Absolutely. But regardless of who is elected and no matter what your current economic situation may be, what’s most important for you and your family is knowing how to make sound financial decisions for now and the future.”

To improve your financial outlook during the next four years, read on for a few of Tyson’s tried and true personal finance tips:

Create a foolproof financial plan. What occurred over the previous four years that you wish you would have been better prepared for? It could be that you or your spouse lost a job (revealing the need for life insurance or a health plan that’s not tied to a job). Or it brought home the need to have an emergency fund. Or perhaps it woke you and your spouse up to the fact that you weren’t going to be able to retire when you previously planned.

“Step one is finding these holes in your financial plan,” says Tyson. “Step Ttwo is making the necessary changes to bridge these gaps in your long-term financial outlook. You may need to make cuts in one aspect of your spending in order to put more money toward an emergency fund. You may want to look into different healthcare plans, such as a health savings account. Or it might be time to take a serious look at your retirement savings strategy: Could you be doing more to prepare?

“If you make the right changes, you may look back at the recession as a good thing because it pushed you to make better choices regarding your financial future,” he adds.

Get real about your long-term financial goals. Of course, creating a foolproof financial plan means setting realistic long-term goals. For instance, Tyson says it’s unrealistic for most parents to fully fund their children’s college educations. This is especially true considering the escalating cost of higher education. It’s best for the average family to focus on funding Mom and Dad’s retirement account and to realize that kids will have to rely on scholarships, financial aid, and loans.

“Explain this reality to your kids early on and let them know they need to set themselves up for success by doing all those things that colleges find appealing—getting good grades, participating in extracurricular activities, and so on,” he advises. “It’s actually a great opportunity to teach your kids what good financial management looks like. It’s not just saving money here and there. It’s about making good decisions in all aspects of your life.”

Invest wisely. Stock market fluctuations have a lot of people worried about investing. Is it safe? Tyson has said it over and over again for years: 401(k)s and IRAs based on respected mutual funds are best.
“Don’t chase trendy investments,” says Tyson. “In my years as a financial adviser and a columnist answering many readers’ questions, I’ve seen the same, avoidable mistakes being made over and over.

Often these investing mistakes occurred for one simple reason: a lack of investment understanding. People didn’t know what their investing options were and why particular options were inferior or superior to others.

“Everyone can take advantage of an excellent investment vehicle: mutual funds—the best of which offer you diversification, which reduces your risk, and low-cost access to highly diversified portfolios and professional money managers, who can boost your returns with less risk,” he says.

Avoid extreme changes that won’t last. Be real about it: You’re probably not going to spend several hours a day couponing. Nor are you likely to live with no TV at all.

“What you might do is find a less expensive grocery store where you consistently shop, or trim your cable bill by cutting extraneous movie channels you rarely watch,” suggests Tyson. “The idea is to make changes that don’t disrupt your whole life or zap it of all happiness.”

Cut monthly expenses. No one wants to spend their valuable free time checking on lower auto insurance rates or better cell phone plans. But when you consider the potential payoff, you’ll be more willing to invest a couple of hours in doing Internet research and making phone calls.

Step away from your credit card. True of everything from consumer goods to vacations to cars: If you can’t pay cash, you can’t afford it.

“Resist the lure of 0-percent-down financing and credit cards that make too-good-to-be-true offers to get you to sign up,” advises Tyson. “Credit cards offer temptation for overspending and carrying debt from month to month. If you absolutely must use credit, replace your credit card with a charge card. A charge card, like the American Express Card, requires you to pay your balance in full each billing period.”

Get informed about changes in healthcare costs. Healthcare costs continue to increase to astronomical levels, and it’s only going to get worse. Even if you get your health insurance through your company, there’s a good chance you are (or soon will be) paying a higher percentage of the monthly premium than ever before. (And of course, those premiums are rising.) If possible, says Tyson, ask your employer and/or shop around for better/less expensive options such as HSAs, FSAs, and so forth.

HSAs, for instance, are very helpful when tax time comes around. These accounts allow you to save on a tax-free basis toward current or future unreimbursed medical expenses. If you get sick and haven’t met your deductible, the funds in your HSA can be used to pay it off. Once your deductible is paid, your insurance plan will kick in and cover any subsequent medical costs under your policy, but your HSA can still be used to pay for your co-pays and any non-covered healthcare expenses. Single people can contribute $3,100 to an HSA, and families can contribute $6,250. That means depending on your status you can reduce your taxable income by $3,100 or $6,250 in a given year.

“And controlling healthcare costs is not all about health insurance,” says Tyson. “There’s a lot to be said for doing everything possible to stay healthy: eating right, exercising, and kicking bad habits like smoking. Of course, we can’t control everything, but we can treat our health like it’s the most important asset we have—because it is.”

Hang up on high tech costs. Between watching TV, Facebooking, endless texting, and so forth, we’ve gotten brainwashed into thinking a) we have to be constantly entertained, and b) we need the latest and greatest electronic gadgets. Unfortunately, these twenty-first century revelations aren’t good for your bank account or family togetherness.

“Err on the side of keeping your life simple,” he advises. “Trade in your family’s smartphones, and the costly plans that come with them, for regular phones. And then put in place a no-phones-at-the-dinner-table rule. Go for basic cable instead of one of the more expensive plans and start having a weekly family game night away from the TV. Making these and similar changes costs less, reduces stress, and allows more time for the things that really do matter in life.”

Don’t allow food spending to eat up too much of your budget.
Eating at restaurants all the time adds up fast. Plus, those meals tend to be bad for you (especially fat-laden fast food meals). Plan a little better and you won’t find yourself going through the drive-through out of desperation. On the other hand, if you are cooking most of your meals, don’t use that fact to justify overspending on groceries. “Eating in” is not carte blanche to go crazy at the supermarket.

“Try to keep a healthy inventory of groceries at home,” suggests Tyson. “This will minimize trips to the store and the need to impulsively dine out because your cupboard is bare. Try to do most of your shopping through discount warehouse-type stores, which offer low prices for buying in bulk, or grocery stores that offer bulk purchases. And if you’re trying to eat fresher, healthier, and organic foods more often, buy more of what is currently less expensive, stock up on sale items that aren’t perishable, and buy more at stores like Trader Joe’s that have competitive pricing.”

To view more of Tyson’s tips, visit him at www.erictyson.com.

Post Storm: Dealing with Flood-Damaged Vehicles

November 2, 2012 5:36 pm

After a storm settles, it may be tempting to shake off cabin fever by hopping in your car and getting on the move. However, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) is urging vehicle owners to take caution before trying to start or move a rain soaked or flooded vehicle following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.

"The amount of damage depends on how long a vehicle has been submerged and how deep," says NADA Chairman Bill Underriner. "A good rule of thumb is to take caution if a vehicle's carpets have been wet for an extended period."

NADA recommends that affected motorists contact their auto insurer before attempting to move a water-damaged vehicle.

"Do not try to start a vehicle that has been severely damaged by water," Underriner warns. "Starting a vehicle even in a damp condition could cause harm to the driver and the vehicle's onboard computers and wiring. A short in the electrical system can cause a shock, or worse, a fire."

Severe damage will result when water enters an engine through the air intake. Internal systems were not designed to be submerged. Vehicle parts can start to rust in a matter of hours when underwater and transmission fluid and engine oil will be compromised if contaminated.

Water in fuel is another big problem that many car owners overlook as the damage can take months to appear, Underriner added. Water can seep in through the overflow valve or an improperly sealed gas cap. Rust in the gas tank and water running through the fuel system will do significant damage over time.

"Have any water-damaged vehicle thoroughly inspected by a certified service technician before driving it," Underriner urges.

Once the clean-up, reconditioning and rebuilding begins, NADA is concerned that water-damaged vehicles may return to the marketplace. Nefarious individuals may buy these vehicles, thoroughly clean them and attempt to resell them.

While there is no sure way to know if a vehicle has been damaged by flooding, NADA offers 10 inspection tips that may be used to detect water damage. A prospective buyer can spot a flooded vehicle by following these simple steps:

Check the vehicle's title history by VIN through commercially available vehicle history reports like Carfax (www.carfax.com), Experian's Auto Check (www.autocheck.com), or through the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VinCheck (https://www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck). The report may state whether a vehicle has sustained flood damage.

Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.

Check for recently shampooed carpet.

Look under the floorboard carpet for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks.

Inspect for rusting on the inside of the car and under interior carpeting and visually inspect all interior upholstery and door panels for any evidence of fading.

Check under the dashboard for dried mud and residue, and note any evidence of mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.

Check for rust on screws in the console or other areas where the water would normally not reach unless submerged.

Look for mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.

Complete a detailed inspection of the electrical wiring system looking for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.

Inspect the undercarriage of other components for evidence of rust and flaking metal that would not normally be associated with late model vehicles.
While these inspection suggestions will not detect flood damage in every case, they do provide some information to protect the consumer from purchasing a vehicle damaged by water or flood.

"When in doubt, have the vehicle checked out," Underriner urges. "Your safety and your family's safety are far too important to risk."

Source: www.nada.org

Raising Financially Intelligent Children

November 2, 2012 5:36 pm

All parents want to support their children’s learning process. From algebra to a musical instrument, parents can help their children improve their education through support and encouragement. But what about financial intelligence?

According to a recent BMO Harris Bank national survey conducted by Ipsos America, Inc., a leading market research company, nine out of ten (89 percent) U.S. parents think that they are an important resource for their children to learn basic money management. Unfortunately, less than four of ten (36 percent) parents talk to their kids about money management on a regular weekly basis.
Now that children have settled into another school year, it it is an opportune time for parents to start teaching their kids about the basics of investing and saving for the future.

"Learning doesn't stop when the school bell rings at the end of the day," says BMO Harris Bank Regional President, Julie Curran. "It's never too early to introduce kids to the world of finance and that can start in the home. Even very young children can learn basic money skills, while older children can be taught about the stock market and the importance of setting financial goals."

BMO Harris Bank offers tips for parents on how to teach their children about saving and investing at any age:

The Early Years: The Value of Saving (suggested ages: 5 to 9)
As soon as children start to collect a few coins and understand the value of money, open a savings account for them:

Explain to them why saving/investing money is important in life.

Introduce them to the concept of having a bank account and how money in a bank account earns interest.

Focus on a specific goal (such as buying a video game or a bike) this can make it easier for kids to set aside the money. Suggest children save at least part of the cash they receive for birthdays, holidays or jobs for something they really want.

By setting a goal and purchasing items themselves they will develop a better appreciation for the value of saving.


Taking Action: Learn the Marketplace (suggested ages: 10 to 12)

Once the basics are in place, it is time to start learning about investing:


Educate children on the concept of risk and the importance of having a balanced investment portfolio – use language they understand and keep to key, simple concepts.

Explain that purchasing a stock means they own a small piece of a company and the value of the stock can go up or down.

Show them how to read stock prices in the newspaper's financial pages or online. As homework, have them track the stock prices of a handful of familiar companies, such as Disney® or McDonald's, to make the exercise more interesting and personal.

Decide together how frequently they will check the stock prices (once a day, once a week) and then show them how to keep a log of the price changes to see how well their selections have performed.

If you have an online investing account, walk them through your portfolio and explain to them the rationale for your portfolio's composition and any trades/changes you make.


Getting Real: Becoming an Investor (suggested ages: 13 to 19)

Once the groundwork has been set, have kids invest a small sum of money in a few stocks they were previously tracking and perhaps offer to match any gains the child makes in their stock picks.

Consider setting up a custodial account and having the child contribute part of his or her savings.

Teach kids about the different savings and investing instruments available to them, such as 504 Plans and money market accounts, to build up a contingency fund, pay for college, or save for a larger purchase such as a post-graduation trip or car.

Explain that the younger an investor starts to put aside and save his/her money, the more time his/her money has to grow.

"An important lesson is that we can make learning about finances fun for kids," says Curran. "With some instruction and hands-on experience, you may have the makings of the next world-renowned economist living under your roof!"

Source: www.bmoharris.com/parents

Natural Disaster Pest Control

November 2, 2012 5:36 pm

Residents cleaning up in the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy need to keep in mind this is the time of year when rodents seek shelter for the winter months. Orkin, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rollins Inc., warns that rodents can be displaced from their normal habitat because of wind, heavy rain and flooding after severe weather strikes.

"The storm, coupled with the cooler weather, can drive rodents inside to overwinter and breed," says Dave Bridge, Atlantic division technical services director at Orkin. "Their gestation period is about a month, so before you know it, one mouse that finds its way into a home now can turn into a major problem for homeowners in the winter."

A pregnant female mouse can produce an average of eight pups in a litter, and a rat, seven pups on average, with a typical four to five litters per year. However, they aren't just a nuisance—rodents can also pose health threats.

"With the recent increase in the number of vector-borne diseases caused by Hantavirus and Bubonic plague, it is extremely important to be proactive in protecting your home against rodents," says Bridge. "Both diseases tend to occur more frequently in rural parts of the West, which is where rodent activity is higher this year, but those diseases cannot be ruled out here in the East."

Hantavirus is carried in a rodent's urine and feces, and people can breathe in the affected particles in the air. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the plague is most often transmitted by fleas when an infected rodent dies from the plague and the fleas from that transmit bacteria once biting people or pets.

As you clean up from Hurricane Sandy, Orkin recommends the five following tips to help prevent rodents from making their home inside your house:

  1. Make sure all holes, gaps and cracks around doors and windows larger than ¼ of an inch are sealed, as mice can fit through an opening the size of a dime.
  2. Replace door sweeps, and make sure doors and windows close tightly.
  3. Clean out gutters, and install gutter guards to prevent leaves and debris from accumulating.
  4. Store firewood as far from the home as possible.
  5. Trim branches, plants and bushes that hang over the home.

Source: http://orkin.com.

How-To: Stay Safe in Sandy's Aftermath

November 1, 2012 6:34 pm

Regional Spotlight—Hurricane Sandy has moved out of Pennsylvania, but some residents will be dealing with its effects for days, weeks or even longer. The Pennsylvania Department of Health is providing tips to help keep everyone safe and healthy while recovering from this historic storm.

"It has been very difficult for all of us to experience or witness the devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to parts of Pennsylvania and surrounding areas," says Acting Secretary Michael Wolf. "While preparing for Sandy was vital, it's equally important to take steps now to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy after the storm."

Wolf added that Pennsylvania has a wealth of resources available to help everyone in need, but that there are also many common sense approaches Pennsylvanians can take to help ensure their continued safety. He provided the following information and tips:

Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

If your power is out, you may try to power your home by using generators or camp stoves, which can release carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is released from many types of equipment, builds up in closed spaces, and is poisonous to breathe. Leave your home immediately and call 9-1-1 if your carbon monoxide detector sounds. Get medical help right away if you are dizzy, light headed or nauseous.

Keep as warm as possible when your power is out:

Hypothermia is a serious condition that happens when your body temperature is too low. This usually happens in very cold weather, but can also happen when exposed to temperatures of 40 degrees or higher. Those most at risk include older Pennsylvanians and babies sleeping in cold rooms. If your power is out for a long time, stay with a relative or friend, or go to an emergency shelter.

Prevent electrical injuries:


Hurricane Sandy left dangerous power lines on the ground when it moved through Pennsylvania. Never touch a fallen power line or drive through standing water if power lines are in the water. Electrical wires on the ground may be "live" and could hurt or kill you. Avoid contact with overhead power lines while cleaning up after the storm and call the power company to report any fallen power lines.

Make sure food and water are safe:


Food - When in doubt, throw it out! If electricity in your home has been off for long periods of time, throw away foods that can spoil (like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, leftovers, etc.)

Water - If your tap water is unsafe to drink, local authorities may issue "boil water advisories". Follow boil water advisories exactly to make sure tap water is safe before you drink or use it. If you cannot boil the water, use bottled water instead.

Prevent unhealthy mold growth after flooding:

Clean up and dry out flooded buildings within 24 to 48 hours if possible. To prevent mold growth, clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water. Everything that floodwater has touched should be disinfected with a solution of one cup of bleach in one gallon of water.

Sources: www.health.state.pa.us ,www.pa.gov

7 Things You Should Try to Get for Free

October 29, 2012 1:50 pm

There are two ways to get richer, financial analysts tell us: earn more money or spend less. The first part isn’t always possible, but spending less is relatively easy – especially when it’s possible to get for free some of the goods and services we have become accustomed to paying for.

Money Talk consumer advocate Stacy Johnson offers seven good ideas for doing just that:

Free rides – If you have a good driving record, and can travel on a fairly flexible schedule, websites like autodriveaway.com can use your help moving cars from one state to another. There’s no pay, but you won’t pay for transportation to get you where you want to go.

Free lodging – Why pay for a hotel when websites like CouchSurfing.org can help you find a free bed with sponsoring families worldwide? Adventurous seniors can exchange home stays or hosting gigs with peers all over the world via sites such as seniorhomeexchange.com.

Free food for kids -
MyKidsEatFree.com offers a roadmap of where you can save on kids’ meals – just type in a state and city. You’ll pay but your kids will not at more than 5,000 restaurants across the country.

Free audio books –
You can download free audio books from the nonprofit LibriVox.org, which has volunteers recording classics in the public domain – including many classics. You can also volunteer to help by reading. LibriVox will provide you with free recording software.

Free samples - Go to Volition.com, TheFreeSite.com and freechannel.net. for free samples of soap, shampoo, and a hundred other products. You might even find things like free circus tickets or free advance movie screenings.

Free checking – If you are still paying a monthly fee to your bank for checking privileges, it may be time to look for a credit union, or a local or online bank that offers free checking. There are plenty of them out there.
Free ATM access – Don’t pay a “convenience fee” for using an ATM that’s not in your bank’s network. Use an app like ATM Hunter to find a branch ATM. If you can’t find one near you for a free cash withdrawal, plenty of stores will give you cash back with no fee when you make a purchase.

Smart Use for Fall Pesticides

October 29, 2012 1:50 pm

During the fall, I know that homeowners and green industry professionals alike take steps to prepare landscapes for the winter. Leaves are swept away for composting or disposal, perennials and shrubs are pruned, hedges are trimmed, and pesticides are applied in anticipation of next year’s growing season.

For professional arborists and landscapers, fall and early winter are an effective time to use pesticides, a broad term that includes products that kill insect pests and also kill weeds.

Just remember to use a light touch, if you even have to use pesticides at all. Many homeowners may be surprised to learn that raking diseased tree leaves can replace fall pesticide applications in some cases.

Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA.org) says homeowners may be able to solve landscape problems without pesticides by choosing non-chemical alternatives, such as sanitation procedures and selecting shrubs and ornamental trees that are less susceptible to diseases and insects.

For homeowners who do decide to use pesticides, the TCIA offers these suggestions:

  • Identify the pest first. There is no use in applying a pesticide that won’t address your pest problem.
  • Don’t be tempted to use agricultural chemicals. They aren’t designed for use by homeowners. A small miscalculation in the mixing of a small batch could result in drastic overdosing.
  • Buy the least toxic application. Most chemicals available to homeowners use the signal words “caution,” “warning” or “danger” on their labels. Try to avoid those with the “warning” and “danger” labels, as they are more hazardous.
  • Never mix herbicides with other kinds of pesticides, and never use the same equipment to spray herbicides and other pesticides. You could unintentionally kill the plants you are trying to protect.
  • Don’t mix or store pesticides in food containers, and don’t measure pesticides with the measuring cups and spoons you use in the kitchen. Always store pesticides in the original container, with the label intact.
  • The best choice may be to consult a professional who can diagnose pest problems and recommend chemical or non-chemical alternatives, Andersen advises. A beautiful lawn, shrub or tree isn’t worth the trade-off if pesticides are not being used properly.

In our next segment, we’ll take a look at herbicides.

Bathroom Design: It's All in the Details

October 29, 2012 1:50 pm

(BPT) - It's most likely one of the top reasons you've been putting off that bathroom makeover or remodel - you're not sure where to begin. What should the decor be like? Do you want a pedestal sink or a furniture-style vanity? Will you incorporate any water-saving faucets or fixtures? And, with all the decisions to make, will it all look good together and still perform well?

These questions, and many others, should be at the top of your list when you start mapping out your next bathroom project. Luckily, many manufacturers have made it easier in recent years for you to answer those questions in a painless, affordable way.

“We've created several complementing suites of fixtures and faucets,” says Kevin McJoynt from Danze, Inc. “The elements of each collection were literally made for each other, which makes your job easier.”

So what should you look for when you're planning your next bath or powder room project? Here are a few things to consider when choosing the key pieces:

Sink and vanity -
Choices are abundant when it comes to the sink area of a bathroom. For those smaller footprint powder rooms, or where storage isn't as critical, consider a pedestal sink. If a pedestal doesn't match your taste or needs, furniture-style vanities can have a significant impact on a room's decor and add extra storage.

Faucet - This can be one of the most noticeable accessories in the room and one that homeowners and guests interact with the most. Make sure you choose a style and finish that is consistent with the overall decor. A soft brushed nickel or warm oil-rubbed bronze finish can add a distinct detail to the feeling of the room. If environmentally friendly options are important to you, explore WaterSense-certified faucets that can reduce water usage by 30 percent, without affecting performance.

Toilet - This is one of the best places to go “green” in your bathroom. High-efficiency toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf), saving two or more gallons of water during each use compared to many toilets installed in the 1980s and prior. This saves 20 percent compared to more recent 1.6 gpf designs that are standard today. And, just because it's a very utilitarian element of a bathroom, don't skimp on design for this piece. Shape, height, styling and color greatly impact how the toilet can enhance the room's decor.

Shower system - Years ago homeowners had a handful of choices for showerheads. Today, there are hundreds of styles, functions, finishes and components that can comprise a home's shower system. This is a recently discovered area of the bathroom that can really show off your personality and can help you create a unique retreat.

Tastes range from building a “shower spa” with wall- and ceiling-mounted showerheads, to conservation-minded shower stalls equipped with WaterSense-certified showerheads.

Bath accessories
- Careful selection of bath accessories is key to creating a finished look to your project. Once again, homeowners have a huge choice. Whether it's the ornate styling of an old-world towel ring, or the sleek lines of a contemporary towel bar, make sure to select accessories that match your room's faucet, sink and other elements (all the way down to the robe hook).

Source: www.danze.com.

6 Tips for Taking the Best Family Portraits

October 29, 2012 11:20 am

(BPT) - As the holidays approach, many families are planning annual portraits for personalized cards and gifts to loved ones. But this can be a complex planning ordeal for even the most organized person. In addition to coordinating schedules and what everyone should wear, it's just as important to focus on the best photography tips, tools and techniques to make the most of your family portrait.

“Everyone who has ever taken or posed for a family photo knows it's a rewarding yet challenging endeavor,” says Tim Meyer, owner of Meyer Photography and program chair of the portrait division of photography at Brooks Institute, a leading provider of higher education for film, visual journalism, graphic design and photography. “The good news is that with proper planning and digital photography advances families can get higher-quality photos than ever before, whether you're hiring a professional photographer or doing it yourself.”

While it can still be difficult to capture the entire family with smiles on their faces, Meyer offers six tips for taking the perfect family portrait this holiday:


1. Invest in quality camera equipment. Digital photography has brought the world of photography to the masses, and high-quality digital cameras can be purchased new or used at reasonable prices. For family portraits, make sure the camera has a timer so you can be a part of the picture. You should also consider buying a tripod to steady your camera and make your photo shoot easier.


2. Scope out the best locations and background for the shoot. Think outside the family fireplace to create interesting indoor backdrops for family photos - but avoid mirrors and windows that can create issues by reflecting light. If choosing an outdoor location, make sure it is free from distraction. Like indoor shots, intricate patterns or background commotion can distract from the subject of the photo - in this case, your family.


3. Consider the best time for taking photos with your family. Natural lighting is great for family photos, particularly the golden hour - the first and last hour of sunlight during each day. If this isn't convenient for your family, choose a time when any children involved in the picture are well rested and more apt to patiently pose for photos. If you're shooting indoors, ensure there's adequate lighting, whether natural or from other sources.


4. Take lots of shots, but remember that the best expressions with children are often the first ones. Group photos are challenging, considering the number of people who must smile and look their best at the same time. Chances are you'll have several photos with eye-blinking subjects and wiggly children. To increase your odds of getting the best family portrait, take as many photos as possible and vary the composition to get different angles and arrangements.


5. Plan ahead if including a furry friend in your family portraits. Many people view their pets as members of the family, so it's only fitting that you might want to include your beloved pet in a family portrait. If so, choose a time when the pet is naturally calmer, perhaps after a walk or at nap time. Also, bring treats to hold the pet's attention and reward the pet for a job well done.


6. Leave it to the professionals. If the challenge of taking your own family photographs becomes overwhelming, connect with a professional photographer who can provide additional tips or work within your budget to help you get professional family photos in time for the holidays. Today's professionals offer a greater variety of styles and ways of sharing your images than ever before.

Get Your Furnace Winter Ready

October 29, 2012 11:20 am

While you may not give thought to your home-heating devices until the first frost pulls ill, it’s actually best to inspect them before they are needed, according to Jimmie Cho, vice president of services for SoCalGas.


"Now is the time to perform maintenance on your home-heating appliances to check that they can be operated safely and efficiently," says Jimmie Cho.

Why should you check your furnace now? Failure to perform annual maintenance on gas appliances may result in exposure to carbon monoxide, which can cause nausea, drowsiness, flu-like symptoms, and even death.

Since home heating typically accounts for more than half of the monthly winter gas bill, the best way to keep bills lower is to get gas appliances serviced, Cho says.

Cho offers these tips for a safe, warm, and energy-efficient winter:

  • Have natural gas furnaces checked at least once a year by a licensed heating contractor.
  • Vacuum and clean regularly in and around the furnace, particularly around the burner compartment to prevent a build-up of dust and lint.
  • Never store items in, on or around the appliance that can obstruct airflow.
  • Most forced-air units have a filter that cleans the air before heating and circulating it throughout the home. Check furnace filters every month during the heating season and clean or replace the filter when necessary.
  • When installing a new or cleaned furnace filter, be sure to re-install the front panel door of the furnace properly so it fits snugly; never operate the furnace without the front-panel door properly in place because doing so may create the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Check the appearance of the flame. If the flame is yellow, large and unsteady, the furnace needs to be inspected immediately by a licensed heating contractor or SoCalGas to have the condition corrected.
  • Using an unvented gas heater in your home is dangerous and a violation of the California Health and Safety Code.
  • Never use your oven, range or outdoor barbecue to heat your home because these appliances are not designed for this purpose.

Source: http://www.socalgas.com