Gunning Daily News

Camping Must-Haves for Your Next Adventure

July 24, 2012 5:14 pm

Whether you’re camping with the family or hitting a summer music festival with friends, it’s important to be fully prepared before you hit the woods. While you may remember the essentials (tents, flashlights, bug spray, check!) below are a few camping must-haves that are easy to overlook.

1. Baby wipes. Babies or not, no one should head off on a camping trip without a package (or four) of baby wipes. These easy cleaners are a great way to quickly de-grime when you’re tenting sans shower.

2. Coffee, on ice. In the heat of the summer, you may not be tempted to brew a batch of coffee on your camp stove—if you brought one. So how can you get your java fix? Before heading out on your adventure, brew a few pots of coffee and after they cool, pour them into an empty gallon water jug. Keep this in your cooler and you have a quick, refreshing hassle-free caffeine source.

3. An emergency kit. I’m not talking about a first aid kit (although bring that, too!). I’m referring to my four essential outdoorsy must-haves, which cover all the basics: Trash bags, duct tape, an extra tarp and rope. While it may seem like you’re planning out a crime, this is my “emergency” kit for camping, and you never know when these will come in handy.

Simple Steps to Manage Your Finances

July 24, 2012 5:14 pm

Managing your finances can be complicated. Most people find themselves juggling financial priorities such as paying down debt, starting an emergency savings fund, saving for college or contributing to a retirement account. The first week of August is National Simplify Your Life Week and M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group, suggests these tactics to help you organize, consolidate, and eliminate bad spending habits.

Eliminate Unnecessary Expenses: One of the easiest ways to have fewer bills to worry about and put more money in your savings account is to eliminate unnecessary expenses. For example, consider giving up the premium cable TV channels or your morning stop at the coffee shop. Decide if those unnecessary expenses are actually worth the money.

Consolidate Accounts: For married couples, consolidating financial accounts will make it easier to manage money and plan your financial future. Consolidating accounts will allow you to have a clear picture of your financial situation and give you fewer accounts to track. Aim to have one savings and one checking account.

Automate Payroll Deposits and Bill Paying: Take advantage of all the tools available to automate your finances. Direct deposit your paycheck to eliminate trips to the bank. Set up automatic bill payment. You'll never miss a payment and avoid late fees, plus you'll simplify your life by cutting out check writing and remembering to pay bills. If the thought of automatic bill payment worries you, you can still pay your bills online and manually authorize the payments each month. Most banks offer free online bill payment that includes reminders and shows you when you last paid a bill to streamline recordkeeping.

Plan for Success: Even if you are keeping good track of your finances and bills, creating and following a budget can make it easier to simplify your spending. Use your take home pay to create a budget and determine whether or not you can afford anything extra.

Eliminate Credit Card Debt: List your credit cards and set up a plan to pay them off starting with the ones with the highest interest rate to minimize interest payments. Not only will this give you fewer bills to worry about, but it will give you a sense of satisfaction when you see a zero balance on your monthly bill.
"It takes a series of small but significant steps to simplify your financial life," says Mary Brockhaus, Senior Vice President, M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group. "By taking advantage of automated financial tools, paying down high interest debt and creating a budget and sticking to it, you'll be in a better financial position today and as you plan for the future."

Visit www.mibank.com for more information on how to simplify your spending. You can also visit www.bmoharris.com/helpful-steps for several easy to use financial tools.

Source: http://www.harrisbank.com

Tips to Avoid Storage Unit Woes

July 19, 2012 5:16 pm

I know from personal experience that there are many reasons to rent temporary self-storage space - like emptying overflowing garages and basements, stashing possessions while remodeling or moving or storing business supplies for future use.

My friends at Connecticut Better Business Bureau recommend carefully checking out a self-storage business before handing over your precious belongings. In 2011, BBB received more than 1,000 complaints against storage unit companies.

To help protect yourself and your possessions, we're passing on the BBB's 7 things to consider before selecting a temporary storage facility: 



Cost - Obtain written cost estimates from at least three facilities that include the monthly rental fee, storage preparation, transportation fees and charges for extra options you may choose, such as electricity, pest control and insurance.

Size - What size storage units are available? Is there a maximum weight limit for unit contents? Can you jam-pack the entire unit from floor to ceiling? 



Climate - Consider the general climate and whether your belongings might be subject to mold or water damage. If so, you may want to consider an environmentally-controlled unit. 



Insurance - Make sure your items are insured from theft, fire and other damage. Some homeowners’ policies cover self-storage risks. Check with your insurance agent to see if you are covered.

Safety - You will need a secure, heavy-duty lock to protect your storage unit. Ask if the facility has surveillance cameras on the property and if a system is in place to restrict access by strangers.

Contract - Get everything in writing such as the size and location of the unit, available options, termination regulations, insurance coverage and payment terms.

Access - What are the hours and are there are related charges for accessing your unit?
Is there adequate room for parking and is the distance from your car/truck to the rental unit acceptable? Does the facility offer dollies or hand trucks to help you move your belongings in and out?

Finally, make sure you are up-to-date on your payments and not being charged for unauthorized charges. You don’t want your storage unit to be labeled “abandoned” and your possessions put up for auction.

5 Money-Saving Moves for Smartphone Users

July 19, 2012 5:16 pm

(ARA) - Smartphones are the new norm for mobile. With a virtual world in the palm of users' hands, they can easily access email, social networking sites, news, videos, music, images, files, mapping and more. While the possibilities may seem endless, consumers should consider one limit: their budgets.

The allure of smartphones may be hard to resist, but more than one user has been hit by "bill shock." Consumers experience bill shock when they receive a bill that is significantly higher than what they were expecting. Many monthly service plans include a maximum level of data usage. Once customers surpass that threshold, the overage charges start piling up, and the final tally can be hard to swallow. Taking a few precautions can help keep costs under control:

1. Be selective with your usage. Smartphones are great tools on the go, but some activities are best left to other devices, like your tablet PC, laptop or PC. Frequently streaming music and videos will take a huge bite out of your monthly data allowance so it may be best to save these activities for devices that are not tied to your cellphone plan.

2. Be realistic about your data needs and then select a plan that best meets your data consumption. Consider whether you'll be streaming music or videos, downloading apps or games, sending photos or documents, surfing the Web or checking email. Each of these activities requires bandwidth, some more than others. Just looking at the weather or other news doesn't use much data - the activity that really racks up the dollars is streaming and downloading files.

3. Use Wi-Fi when you can
. Data accessed with a Wi-Fi connection won't count against your cellular service data usage. If you have a wireless router at home, simply switch over to Wi-Fi. If you don't have Wi-Fi access at home, there are plenty of cafes, bookstores and other community gathering places that offer free (or nearly free) Wi-Fi. In fact Wi-Fi is easy to set up, for an easy how-to video visit youtu.be/Wi-9Cedw0vs?t=50s.

4. Consider no-contract cellphone plans.
Major carriers typically offer the "best" prices with a two-year contract. However, you can expect a stiff penalty if you need to break the contract, as well as steep overage charges if you exceed your plan's limits. Instead, choose a company like Consumer Cellular, www.consumercellular.com, a no-contract cellphone carrier that allows customers to change their plans as often as necessary, without penalty, enabling them to capture the best rates for their usage needs.

5. Monitor your usage levels.
If you haven't used a smartphone yet, it may be difficult to determine an accurate estimate of data requirements. Check with your carrier about enabling usage alerts to notify you when you are getting close to your plan's limits. With some service providers, like Consumer Cellular, you're automatically opted-in to the alerts and get notified when you're approaching, are at and have exceeded your limits. The company sends alerts at 75 percent, 100 percent, 125 percent and 150 percent to give customers plenty of time to change or modify their plan to avoid overage fees. There are also free smartphone apps that help you monitor your usage.

Owning a smartphone doesn't need to be a budget-buster. With just a few simple tips, users can keep their bills in check while enjoying the convenience and capabilities of their mobile devices.

Time-Tested Tomato Canning Tips

July 19, 2012 5:16 pm

When it comes to food preservation, tomatoes are tops this time of year. Whether you make plain tomato juice, process whole tomatoes, salsa, catsup, or spaghetti sauce, tomatoes are a staple on the American dinner table.

"I can remember helping (or at least I thought I was helping) my mother when she was canning tomatoes," recalls retired University of Illinois master canning educator Shirley Camp. "It was usually hot with no air conditioning. Recently I asked mom if she liked to can foods -- her response was 'Yes!' She took pleasure in seeing the hundreds of jars of food that were stored in the cool basement." For the best tomatoes, follow these tips and easy recipes.

Tomato Processing Tips
(Excerpts from Mrs. Wages Home Canning Guide and Recipes, ©2012, Precision Foods, Inc.)

Selecting Tomatoes

Carefully select tomatoes. They should be ripe and juicy, but not overripe and with no decayed or soft areas. A single poor tomato can spoil a batch. Discard overripe tomatoes and those with any bad spots. Choose your tomatoes from plants that are healthy and disease free.

Acidification

Regardless of what variety of tomatoes you are using, current recommendations are to acidify all tomato products. To ensure safe acidity in whole, crushed, or juiced tomatoes, add two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes. For pints, use one tablespoon bottled lemon juice or 1/4 teaspoon citric acid.

To be sure you acidify each jar of canned product, measure the lemon juice or citric acid into the empty jars before you fill them.

Preparing Tomatoes
Most canning recipes involving tomatoes require you to blanch, peel, and core tomatoes. To do so, simply prepare a pan of boiling water. Thoroughly wash your tomatoes and remove stems. Dip a few tomatoes at a time in this boiling water for 30 seconds or until skins start to split, and then put them in cold water. Skin tomatoes and cut out cores and any green portions. Follow the recipe instructions for further preparation.

The Hot Pack Method
Tomatoes are easy to can, but the canning instructions should be followed carefully to assure your canned tomatoes are not only safe to eat but also both tasty and at their nutritional peak. The raw pack method for canning tomatoes is no longer recommended.

Note: If you add foods such as okra, zucchini, peppers, onions, or other foods to the tomatoes, you have created a lower acid product that must be processed in a pressure canner unless tested recipes indicate otherwise. Tested recipes come from the USDA, University of Georgia, or other state Extension services. Grandma's testing doesn't count!

Source: www.mrswages.com

Word of the Day

July 19, 2012 5:16 pm

Mortgagor. Party or person that borrows money, giving a lien on the property as security for the loan; the borrower.

Q: What Questions Should I Ask an Agent Interested in Selling My Home?

July 19, 2012 5:16 pm

A: Interview at least three local agents who sell homes in your community. Grill them about the following:
• The worth of your home. The agents should inspect the home and prepare a written comparative market analysis.
• Marketing plans. These are a must. Make sure they include regular newspaper ads, the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) – which gives your home maximum exposure to all local agents – and Internet marketing through the agent’s Web site.
• Length of the listing agreement. A 90-day listing is reasonable for marketing your home. Experts advise against signing a listing for more than 90 days unless it contains an unconditional cancellation clause. If you like, you can always extend the contract later.
• Number of listings. Find out how many listings the agent now has and how many she normally sells. Too many listings – more than a dozen – with a low sales rate, may not be a good sign.
• Get references. Ask for the names and phone numbers of recent home sellers. Call them and ask if they were satisfied with the level of service delivered by the agent.

Above-Ground Swimming Pools: Is There One in Your Future?

July 19, 2012 5:16 pm

An in-ground pool can provide your family with great exercise and hours of fun – and it will likely add value to your home. But if the cost is prohibitive, you may be wondering about installing an above-ground alternative.

“These days, clever use of decks and landscaping can make an above-ground pool look attractive and professional,” said installer Pete Sevich.

Aside from the considerable price difference, Sevich offers the primary pros and cons of installing an above-ground pool:

The Pros


• Space – While there are many sizes available, any type will take up less space than an in-ground pool. There are even inflatable pools that can be blown up when you wish and then deflated and stored. At the same time, even small above-ground pools can be set up permanently if you wish, especially if you have space for a larger model.
• Flexibility – An in-ground pool remains with the home for as long as you live in it – even if you tire of the maintenance or no longer want to use it. An above-ground pool can be disassembled and removed at will – or taken with you if you move.
• Maintenance – Pools above ground require much less maintenance than in-ground models. They need to have the water topped off, will need to be skimmed of debris, and will require regular chlorine or other cleaning treatments. Larger pools may even require a filter. But they will not need the extensive maintenance that in-ground pools require.
• Installation – Above-ground pool installation is a snap compared with in-ground versions. Usually, installation can take a few hours to a few days compared to weeks of intensive construction for in-ground pools.

The Cons
• Aesthetics – Even the most attractively installed above-ground pool may not offer the ambience of an in-ground model. They are more noticeable, since they sit above the ground, and may not blend as easily into the backyard décor.
• Size – Even the largest above ground swimming pools can’t provide the swimming space of in-ground pools. Also, above-ground pools are the same depth throughout, so there is no shallow end for kids or a deeper end for diving.
• Permits – Be sure to check with your city or township to determine whether above-ground pools are allowed in backyards. Find out if a permit is required and whether there are any restrictions.

Money Lessons From the Facebook Founder

July 19, 2012 5:16 pm

Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg made news recently when he refinanced the $5.95 million mortgage on his Palo Alto, Calif., home with a 30-year adjustable-rate loan starting at 1.05 percent. The question I keep hearing folks ask is, “Why does a billionaire like Mark need a mortgage on his home? Why doesn't he just pay it off with cash?

That, my friends, is indeed the million-dollar question. The answer lies in the fact that Mark ascribes to my definition of being debt-free. While most financial gurus believe all debt is bad, I don't. I believe that there's good debt and there's bad debt. Bad debt does not increase your personal net worth nor does it provide any tax benefits. Good debt either increases your personal net worth or provides tax benefits. A mortgage is an example of good debt.

Most define debt- free as having absolutely no debt. I define debt-free as eliminating all forms of bad debt and wisely using good debt to accumulate a pool of funds that's liquid, accessible, earns a real rate of return, in your control and that can serve as collateral. With funds accumulated in this manner, you can now make the decision to pay off the good debt that you have - if you deem that to be a prudent use of your money.

What Mark is doing definitely fits this description. If you had the choice of being debt-free with $12 million in assets and $2 million in good debt or being debt-free with $2 million in assets and no debt, which would you choose? I'd choose the former and apparently so has Mark.

So what other lessons can young Mark Zuckerberg teach us? Here are a few:
• Time Value of Money Lesson: Inflation teaches us that our money is most valuable to us today. That is why taking out an interest-only loan and deferring the payment of principal owed to the bank until sometime later in the future is a prudent money lesson you should pay attention to.

• Leverage Lesson: Leverage is the use of borrowed capital to increase the potential return on investment. The less money you put into the purchase of a home, the higher your return on investment. Using "Other People's Money" (OPM) is a proven method to accumulate wealth.

• Liquidity, Use and Control (LUC Factor) Lesson: Paying cash for a house violates a very core economic and financial principle I teach my clients which is that at all times, CASH is KING. You must do everything you can in the way you manage or invest your money to make sure you maintain liquidity, use and control of your funds. To be financially successful in life, I tell my clients they'll need a lot of "LUC."

• Collateral Capacity Lesson: Having collateral capacity on where your funds are invested allows you to use "Other People's Money" to create even more wealth. This fact alone is why Mark obtained a preferential rate of 1 percent on his mortgage loan.

• The Spread or Arbitrage Profit Lesson: This refers to the amount of money that can be made on the difference between the cost of borrowing versus what can be earned on those borrowed funds. This is one way that banks make a ton of money and a very powerful money lesson for you in regards to your own money.

• Velocity of Money Lesson: This speaks to the ability to get multiple investment uses out of the same dollar. It's the equivalent of having $100,000 in two separate investments and reaping the benefits of what each investment yields.

Apply these principles to help you win the money game!

Amazon.com Best-Selling Author Ike Ikokwu, “The Financial Independence Coach,” is a CPA, CFP and Registered Investment Adviser.

For more information, visit www.winningthemoneygame.net.

Creating an Entryway with Personality

July 19, 2012 5:16 pm

Nothing says “welcome to my home” quite like an impressive entryway. Attention to detail and some added extra touches of hospitality can transform any “ho hum” entry into a warm and inviting approach to the home.

Mark Clement, a professional contractor, recommends homeowners start with the basics. Evaluate the look and condition of the front door. Determine if the current door needs to be replaced or just enhanced with some decorative pediments, crossheads and pilasters.

“A front door should have good energy efficiency features, a snug fit to the frame and an appealing color,” says Clement, host of the home improvement radio show MyFixItUpLife. “If you’re missing any of those elements, then I would invest in a new front entryway.

“My recommendation is a secure fiberglass door that resists denting and scratching, is easy to maintain, energy efficient and quiet. And, don’t forget to select decorative or privacy glass for the doorlites and potentially your sidelites to really add appeal to the home’s entryway.”

“For most entryways I recommend a set of pilasters that stand up next to both sides of your door and attach to the surface siding. Then, add a crosshead and pediment that can ‘sit’ on the top of the entryway. With dozens of decorative pediment designs to choose from, such as a sunburst, rams head or peaked cap, you can add your own personality to the entryway. These low-maintenance synthetic products are all key focal features that make an entranceway more appealing.”

Clement points out that urethane millwork products are long-lasting, since their surfaces are not subject to chipping and peeling as you’d find with many wood trim pieces. The synthetic pieces also resist humidity, warping and rotting, making them ideal for all climate conditions.

“Even the simple and relatively inexpensive addition of a crosshead and keystone over an entry door can transform the look of a home,” says Clement. “For the final steps, consider new exterior lighting fixtures to complement your new door, along with a colorful welcome mat and planters of colorful flowers. Together these all add up to creating a warm, welcoming entryway for you and your guests.”

Sources: www.thermatru.com, www.fypon.com