Gunning Daily News

25 Ways to Save on Monthly Bills

September 9, 2011 12:09 pm

There are many ways people can save money today, and some just require a slight change in day-to-day habits. Turning off a light when you leave a room; turning off the water when you brush your teeth. Here is a list of 25 ideas for saving money:

1. Turn off all lights when you leave a room. Train and reward your children to do the same—they are the worst about leaving lights on
2. Cancel gym memberships and others you are not using
3. Drink the free coffee at work or make coffee at home. Skip Starbucks. If you buy a $4 coffee 5 days per week, that’s $80 per month just in coffee!
4. Towel dry your hair instead of using a blow dryer
5. Stop smoking
6. Buy a less expensive home—this alone will reduce your monthly spending by hundreds (or thousands) of dollars
7. Buy less expensive cars
8. Do everything you can to increase your credit score. You will save tens of thousands of dollars in interest from any loans you have simply by having a better credit score.
9. Call your credit card companies and ask for a lower interest rate
10. Call every company you have monthly bills with and ask exactly what you are paying for each month. You will be surprised how many hidden fees are mysteriously added to your bills. You will never know this unless you ask.
11. Use energy saving light bulbs
12. Minimize your consumption of alcohol
13. Pack your lunch for work every day—avoid eating in restaurants
14. Get a job with a short commute
15. Did you know that if you pay any interest-bearing loans in 2 payments each month instead of one big payment, you knock thousands of dollars of interest off your total bill. So instead of paying a $1,200 mortgage payment all on the 1st of the month, set it up with your bank to pay $600 on the 1st and $600 on the 15th of each month. It’s easier to manage AND you save a ton of money!
16. Use fans instead of air conditioning (unless you live in 107 summer heat in Texas—you are excused!)
17. Hang dry your laundry
18. Hand wash your dirty dishes
19. Don’t leave the water running while brushing your teeth
20. Don’t leave the water running while scrubbing/shaving in the shower
21. Catch rain water you can use to water plants
22. Walk or ride a bike instead of using your car
23. Reduce your cable bill. Do you really need 200 channels and 3 DVR boxes?
24. Buy anything and everything you can from second-hand stores or yard sales. You will save thousands of dollars per year shopping smarter.
25. Use natural sunlight instead of electricity

Two things to NEVER cancel or reduce financially:

1. Always invest in high-quality foods for you and your family. Buying cheap foods will cost you a fortune (now and later) in medical bills, emotional and mental well-being.
2. Never cancel or reduce anything that will pay you or protect you later: 401K, retirement plans, insurance policies (health, life, disability, auto, etc.)

For more information, visit www.swparents.com.

The Top 10 Mistakes Sellers Make

September 9, 2011 12:09 pm

It’s a tough time for selling a home, admits real estate entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran, a savvy business woman and a regular investor on television’s Shark Tank.

“But,” says Corcoran, sellers can improve their chances in today’s competitive market by following some basic but often ignored advice.

Here are Corcoran’s top ten tips for getting your home sold faster:
1. Don’t underestimate clean-up – Nothing turns off a potential buyer faster than an unkempt home. Be sure your home is seen at its neat and sparkling best.
2. Little things matter – Don’t ignore that leaky faucet or squeaky back door. They’re easy to fix and improve your chances of impressing finicky buyers.
3. Clear the canvas – Buyers need to visualize how they would make the space their own. Keep it neutral by clearing out family photos, personal collections, and items that clutter up a room.
4. Let the light in – Clean the windows, up the wattage of the light bulbs, and open the blinds or curtains and turn on the lights before every showing.
5. Don’t hang around – It’s tempting to trail behind them as buyers and agents tour your home. But doing so makes people uncomfortable. If you must stay home, wait on the porch or back yard and volunteer information only when asked.
6. Board the pets – Pets are a no-no at open houses. Even pet lovers are turned off by a smelly litter box or a puppy dogging their heels. Board pets or leave them with a neighbor—or take them with you before an open house.
7. Make showings available – Many of today’s buyers are busy young professionals. Increase chances for a sale by allowing showings at a buyer’s convenience even if after regular business hours.
8. Cool the open houses – They are a great way to being buyers when you list your home—but they lose appeal and suggest desperation if you schedule them too often.
9. Consider the first offer – Unless it is absolutely unacceptable, don’t be too quick to turn down the first offer. It may be the best one you will get—especially if the home lingers for many months on the market.
10. Negotiate wisely – Don’t take a low bid as an insult. Treat every bid as interest from a potential buyer, and make a counter offer.

Question of the Day

September 9, 2011 12:09 pm

Q: What else should I take into account when buying a new home?

A: You can find out more about an existing property and neighborhood before you buy than you can a new home in a newly developed community.

When the home is on the outskirts of town, ask the developer about future access to public transit, entertainment venues, shopping centers, churches, and schools. Also review local zoning ordinances. A remote area can quickly turn into a fast food haven.

You want to ensure the neighborhood will not spiral out of control and lose its residential appeal.
Other things to consider:
• Ask homeowners already living in a development about the builder. If none currently live there, find out where the builder has previously built and speak to those owners to find out if the builder followed through on promises and needed repairs.
• Ability to make changes. Most homes in a development resemble each other. But the developer may impose restrictions on house color, landscaping, renovations, and other items that a homeowner may want to alter.
• Do not buy into the highfalutin images created by marketing experts. Form your own opinions about a property and only buy where you feel comfortable. After all, you are the one who will be living there.

Word of the Day

September 9, 2011 12:09 pm

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

IBM Survey: Traffic Down But Commuter Pain Way Up

September 9, 2011 12:09 pm

A new IBM (NYSE: IBM) survey of the daily commute in a cross-section of some of the most economically important international cities reveals a startling dichotomy: while the commute has become a lot more bearable over the past year, drivers' complaints are going through the roof.

The annual global Commuter Pain survey, which IBM released earlier this week, reveals that in a number of cities more people are taking public transportation rather than driving, when compared with last year's survey. In many cities, there were big jumps in the percentage of respondents who said that roadway traffic has improved either "somewhat" or "substantially" in the past three years.

But that's only part of the story. In many cities, the survey recorded significant increases, when compared with last year, in the number of respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their levels of personal stress and anger and negatively affected their performance at work or school.

According to Naveen Lamba, IBM's global intelligent transportation expert, "A person's emotional response to the daily commute is colored by many factors – pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other, unrelated, issues. This year's Global Commuter Pain survey indicates that drivers in cities around the world are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010."

IBM compiled the results of the survey into its Commuter Pain Index that ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in each city, with the highest number being the most onerous. The Index reveals a tremendous disparity in the pain of the daily commute from city to city. Montreal had the least painful commute of the cities studied, followed by London and Chicago.

The survey results reflect an increased willingness to use public transportation and technology to improve the commute. Overall, 41 percent believe improved public transit would help reduce traffic congestion. Consider that even though globally only 35 percent of people changed the way that they get to work or school in the last year, 45 percent of those who have are opting for public transit.

Survey Snapshot:

• Fourteen of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that traffic had improved either "somewhat" or "substantially" over the past three years, with many of the cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (24% in 2011 vs. 12% in 2010), Toronto (23% in 2011 vs. 8% in 2010), Milan (27% in 2011 vs. 7% in 2010), Stockholm (42% in 2011 vs. 18% in 2010), Moscow (31% in 2011 vs. 16%), and Johannesburg (29% in 2011 vs. 13% in 2010)

• Despite improving traffic conditions, 12 of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their stress levels, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (45% in 2011 vs. 13% in 2010), Los Angeles (44% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Toronto (40% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), London (33% in 2011 vs. 19% in 2010), Milan (61% in 2011 vs. 38% in 2010), and Johannesburg (52% in 2011 vs. 30% in 2010).
• Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reporter year-over-year increases in respondents who said that roadway traffic has made them angry, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (35% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), Los Angeles, (29% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), and Toronto (29% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010).

• Eleven of the 15 cities surveyed in both 2010 and 2011 reported year-over-year increases in respondents who said that traffic has negatively affected their performance at work or school, with several cities posting substantial increases. For example, New York (28% in 2011 vs. 8% in 2010), Toronto (29% in 2011 vs. 17% in 2010), Madrid (30% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Paris (35% in 2011 vs. 26% in 2010), Milan (40% in 2011 vs. 21% in 2010), Stockholm (25% in 2011 vs. 14% in 2010), and Moscow (34% in 2011 vs. 25% in 2010).

Free Financial Planning Available in Over 30 U.S. Cities

September 9, 2011 12:09 pm

With growing uncertainty about the U.S. economy driving increased financial anxiety among Americans, the importance of preparing for the future financially has never been more critical.

Recognizing the growing need for accessible and competent financial advice, Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Financial Planning Association, Foundation for Financial Planning and the U.S. Conference of Mayors are collaborating to offer free Financial Planning Days (www.FinancialPlanningDays.org) in over 30 cities across the United States on Saturdays throughout October.

The second annual Financial Planning Days is a unique endeavor by local governments and hundreds of financial planners nationwide to provide free financial advice and education to the public through one-on-one advising sessions and workshops. Experts from the Financial Planning Association and highly qualified CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals will volunteer their time to offer "no-strings-attached" advice; planners will not distribute business cards or sell financial products or services.

In one-on-one consultations, financial planners will answer questions on topics ranging from budgeting, managing credit, getting out of debt, income taxes, homeownership, dealing with mortgage foreclosures, planning and paying for college, estate planning and insurance, and many other topics. Free classroom-style workshop presentations covering key personal finance topics will also be available.

Events are planned in the following metro areas:

Atlanta, GA Las Vegas, NV Reno, NV
Baltimore, MD Los Angeles, CA Sacramento, CA
Chicago, IL Louisville, KY San Antonio, TX
Columbus, OH Mesa, AZ San Diego, CA
Denver, CO Miami, FL San Francisco, CA
Elizabeth, NJ Minneapolis, MN San Jose, CA
Eugene, OR Newark, NJ Seattle, WA
Green Bay, WI Oakland, CA Virginia Beach, VA
Houston, TX Omaha, NE Washington, DC
Indianapolis, IN Philadelphia, PA
Irvine, CA Portland, OR

Free registration is available at www.FinancialPlanningDays.org or by calling toll- free at 1- 877-861-7826. Walk-ins are also welcome. Dates and locations are subject to change.

Soggy Spring and Scorching Summer Add to Fall Home Maintenance Needs

September 9, 2011 12:09 pm

Thirty-three of the 48 continental states experienced above-average rainfall last spring (not to mention more rainfall in the past few weeks for much of the South and North.) An extremely warm summer followed "hot on the heels" of all that rain. The result? Many outdoor spring cleaning projects did not get marked off the homeowner's to-do list. Fall offers one more chance to get outdoor spaces and gear clean and protected before winter's arrival puts the deep freeze on outdoor projects. Consider the following Fall projects from thompsonwaterseal.com:
Start at the Top. For a small space, clogged gutters can cause big damage, because water doesn't drain properly. Instead, it can damage everything from the foundation, wood and landscaping to the roof—and it can even find its way indoors to cause damage there. Check out tools that allow you to bypass the ladder and clean the gutters from the ground.
Wet Paint. Jeff Wilson, host of multiple programs on the diy network and HGTV, says, "I worked for a painter who said a paint job would last twice as long if you cleaned the siding every two years. Removing dirt and killing the mold, mildew, and algae on a surface helps to eliminate some of the paint's enemies." Take the opportunity to check for bare patches of wood where the paint has blistered and peeled. Since exterior coatings like paint and stains shouldn't be applied when temperatures are over 90 degrees, fall is a good time for touchups.
Don't Pay The Price For Snow and Ice. Wood decks and fences, as well as concrete walkways and patios, can all be damaged over the winter by water absorption and repeated freeze/thaw cycles (or wet/dry cycles), which cause cracking. (De-icing salts can also damage concrete surfaces.) Clean them, then apply a waterproofing coating to stop water absorption over the winter. (These types of products do recommend minimum temperature guidelines for application, so check the label on the product you are using.)
Bring It On Inside: It's also a good idea to clean any outdoor furniture, cushions or hammocks that you're going to store and bring in fragile garden decor or pots. Put your lawnmower to sleep for the winter by sharpening the blade, changing the oil, and adding a bit of fuel stabilizer to the fuel tank. Do the same for trimmers, tillers, etc. All other gardening tools should be cleaned, sharpened if necessary, and lightly oiled before putting them away, too (after you plant your bulbs!).
Drain Hoses. Any water left in them may freeze, expand, and burst the hose, so this is a critical step. While many newer homes will have frost-free spigots outside, older homes won't, so shut them off from the inside if possible or cover them with an insulated cover if it regularly falls below freezing (about $2 each).
Clean-Up On Good Deals: Reward yourself and get ready to greet spring, 2012 in style. Late summer is the time retailers offer great clearance discounts on all types of outdoor furniture, cushions and accessories. Check online as well as traditional "brick and mortar" stores.

Techniques for Long Lasting Deck Surfaces

September 8, 2011 6:39 pm

Stained and painted decks are subject to rough treatment from natural causes. Rain and sun alternately expand and contract the deck material, playing havoc with any coating that has been applied. During winter, snow and ice create a state of continuous moisture. Decks that sit on or very close to soil can experience a wicking effect, whereby moisture in the soil us drawn up right through the wood as sunshine beats on the deck surface.

In fact, according to Dave Chillemi of CertaPro Painters ® in Westchester, NY, it's very unusual for horizontal deck surfaces to hold their good looks for more than two years before needing careful attention.

In preparation for applying exterior paint or stain to your deck, CertaPro suggests the following actions take place:

Mechanical stripping - Using a 3-head sanding machine often results in the best surface for applying coatings that will last. Before using the sander to strip the surface down to bare wood, it's important to countersink screws and nails on the surface to be sanded. This prevents the sanding machine from breaking the screws and nails or being broken by them. Once the surface is clear, clean and smooth, the new coating can be applied.

Pressure washing - Surfaces that are free from chipping or peeling paint may need little more than a good pressure washing with an appropriate cleaner to remove dirt and mildew prior to applying a new coating.

Chemical stripping - Environmentally safe chemical stripping is a good option if there is a significant amount of old coating to remove. Paint removal systems offer better control and are more dependable than other chemical strippers.

Many homeowners become weary of their stain or paint's lifespan and are tempted to apply several coats of stain or painting colors to make the renewed surface really last.

"Don't do it," advises Chillemi. "Usually a single coat is best, and never go above two." On decks, product build-up leads directly to product failure—in the form of cracking and peeling. "And in a relatively short period of time," adds Chillemi.

For choosing your stain or exterior paint, current trends favor a more natural "variable" finished look rather than an expanse of uninterrupted solid color, but there are enough style options to please every design taste.

For more information visit www.certapro.com.

Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

September 8, 2011 6:39 pm

Fall offers homeowners a perfect chance to wrap up home maintenance projects. And in some areas, like Chicago, the pleasant weather creates an ideal setting for working outdoors in advance of a brutal winter. Angie's List asked highly rated home improvement companies to provide their most recommended fall home maintenance projects.

Rake up the leaves: Fallen leaves can deprive the lawn of crucial sunlight during the fall months. If leaves accumulate and become wet, they can lead to mold growth and create an unpleasant odor. Another option is to finely mulch the leaves with a lawnmower.

Clean out gutters: Gutters blocked by dead leaves and other debris can overflow, which may lead to serious damage to a home's roof, walls or foundation. For the best results, scoop out all debris and spray the gutters clean with a hose.

Check and replace air filters: Fall is the perfect time to check and replace HVAC filters. It improves air quality and promotes better air circulation. Plus, it's an inexpensive and easy task.

Clean carpets: All sorts of dirt and grime get tracked into carpet during the summer. Experts recommend at least one annual cleaning by a professional company to prolong a carpet's useful life.

Store outdoor furniture: Items like patio furniture and grills can deteriorate or rust if left outside over winter. Experts recommend storing items in a garage or shed, or covering them tightly with a waterproof tarp.

For more information, visit www.angieslist.com.

Tips for Smarter Driving

September 8, 2011 6:39 pm

High gas prices and an uncertain economy are putting vehicle fuel efficiency at the top of many drivers' priority lists. A 2011 survey by Consumer Reports found that 62 percent of those surveyed are planning on making their next car much more fuel efficient. But what if a new vehicle isn't in your budget? Take heart —there are steps you can take now that can help increase fuel efficiency in what you're driving today.

John and Helen Taylor, known as the world's most fuel efficient couple, hold 89 world records and travel the world stretching the boundaries of fuel efficiency, are here to help others do the same. The Taylors say that by simply following the MAP to Smarter Driving, drivers can become more fuel efficient and do it on a budget. The MAP includes:

Maintenance

Perform smart maintenance before you drive, including:

• Make sure tires are not over- or under-inflated. Proper air pressure cuts down on fuel used while driving. Keeping tires at the correct pressure can improve your gasoline mileage by more than 3 percent.
• Keep your engine well tuned and repair problems immediately. If your car has failed an emissions test or is noticeably out of tune, repairing the problem could improve your gasoline mileage by 4 percent, on average.

Actions

Practice smart actions and behaviors while you're behind the wheel:

• Avoid the highs and find the lows. Speeding, rapid acceleration and braking can lower gasoline mileage by five percent at lower speeds and by 33 percent at highway speeds. You should assume that each five mph driven over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.29 per gallon for gas (savings based on an assumed fuel price of $3.65 per gallon).
• Also, avoid idling. Idling gets zero miles per gallon.
Products
Purchase smart products at the right price without sacrificing quality:
• Choose a high-quality gasoline. Lower-quality gasolines can leave harmful carbon deposits or "gunk," which can build up on intake valves and fuel injectors. This negatively impacts engine performance, vehicle responsiveness and reduction of fuel flow -- all potentially leading to reduced fuel economy.
• Use a loyalty or rewards payment card to save. The Taylors suggest stretching your budget. Shell has teamed up with leading grocers in more than 110 markets across the U.S. where you can earn rewards for using your existing supermarket loyalty card and then redeem the points at participating Shell stations. Another option is to use a Shell payment card that saves you money at more than 14,000 Shell stations across the U.S.
Fuel Efficiency Myths
• Gadgets can improve gas mileage. Be wary of any devices that say they can get you better mileage. The EPA has found that very few provide any fuel economy benefits -- and some may even damage the engine or increase exhaust emissions. For a list of tested products, visit www.epa.gov.
• Replacing the engine air filter improves fuel efficiency. For older cars with carburetors, this can be true. But today's fuel-injected engines have the fuel-air mixture adjusted by computers. Changing a dirty air filter might improve engine performance, but it won't affect fuel economy.
• It's more fuel-efficient to turn on the AC and close the windows. Rolling down your windows can cause an increase in your fuel consumption if you attempt to drive the same speed because of the drag from the wind. Yet, it is important to note that air conditioning can also put added strain on the engine by using fuel to operate. So, whenever possible use the fan instead.

For more information, visit www.Shell.us/smarterdriving or www.fueleconomy.gov.