Gunning Daily News
August 23, 2011 2:05 pm
An estimated 56 million students will be enrolled in elementary, junior high and high schools across the nation this fall. While retailers eagerly embrace the back-to-school season, many parents cringe as the costs add up for school supplies, sporting equipment, electronics and new clothes.
Today's tough economy makes it challenging to invest in our children's education and future, and purchasing school supplies can be especially expensive. Stretch your family's back-to-school budget with these smart saving tips:
Assess Wants vs. Needs. Before you leave the house, make a list of items you'll need and be realistic about prioritizing needs and wants. Do a complete inventory of what supplies you already have at home. Sure, it's fun to buy all new, but if you just bought a new set of markers or a package of folders last spring, you can probably hold off a few months before restocking.
Remember, too, that prime shopping season is before school starts. Delaying non-essential purchases on items such as clothing until after school is in session (such as during or after the Labor Day holiday, when items are marked down) can net big savings.
Budget, Budget, Budget. Once your prioritized list is complete, determine what you can afford to spend on each category—school supplies, electronics, clothing and other. Use free online budgeting tools to help you stick to that budget. Comparison shop, check out online deals and watch store circulars for sales. Subscribe to receive emails, text or Twitter alerts from your favorite stores for special sales. Some stores even reward shoppers who "check-in" through social sites with more discounts.
In addition, some states also offer a tax-free holiday for back-to-school shopping. Buying in bulk can save money, too. Look for multi-packs of items like scissors, pencils and markers.
Don't forget that the annual back-to-school shopping excursion can be a great money management learning exercise for older kids. Share your budget with them, and help them make selections to keep your checkbook on target.
Check for Student Discounts. By having a student living in your home, you may be eligible for savings and not even know it. Many manufacturers, especially software publishers, offer education eligibility discounts, and some stores offer price breaks for students, too.
For example, check out Academic Superstore (www.academicsuperstore.com), an online store that works with leading brands to sell deeply discounted products. The website's catalog of more than 20,000 education-focused products includes school supplies, full-version software titles and consumer electronics at prices up to 80 percent off retail value. Some items are at such deep discounts that you will be asked to provide proof of academic eligibility—which for some products is as simple as providing an.edu domain email address or school ID.
Surf the Net for Deals
The Internet is a great place to find bargains. And many office supply and retail websites offer free shipping. Use online tools that let you compare prices of multiple websites to find the best deals. Don't forget to search for online coupon codes that can help stretch your dollar.
You can also save money by checking out the many online auction and trade sites. Bid on larger bundles that include several items on your list. You can further save money by trading gently used clothing and supplies with other area families. Look through the online forums of local freecycle and swap sites to find "new to you" items.
With a little pre-planning and discipline, you can manage through the financial stress and focus instead on setting a positive tone to send your kids back into the classroom.
August 23, 2011 2:05 pm
Holidays, graduations or barbeques—no matter what the occasion, the gathering place at any home party is the kitchen. It's where we cook, where guests congregate, and often where refreshments are served. Because of this, the kitchen also is a likely place for clutter, spills and the general chaos that results from party food preparation. Home entertaining expert Jeanne Benedict offers tips for preparing your kitchen for a celebration, including beautifying what she calls the centerpiece of the kitchen—your countertop.
According to Benedict, the kitchen is the room that will make the first—and most lasting—impression on guests. Keeping surfaces glistening is the easiest thing a host can do to make an immediate difference in its look and feel.
"When properly cleaned and protected, there is nothing that surrounds a room in luxury and stands the test of time like natural stone," says Benedict, host of DIY Network's "Weekend Entertaining" and author of four books including "The Sophisticated Cookie" and "Celebrations."
"And, just like leather and wood in your home, specialty products should be used to care for natural stone. You want products that are designed to protect and enhance your granite, marble and slate surfaces by protecting them and keeping them clean and pristine."
Benedict’s Tip: To keep natural stone countertops looking new over time, use a protective sealer. For everyday cleaning, avoid the use of all-purpose cleaners that can degrade the sealer and dull the surface.
Benedict's next prep step is to de-clutter. Because kitchen counters and tables are magnets for stray take-out menus, phone books, crayons and gadgets, she recommends finding them a permanent home when possible—or at least a temporary spot in a toy chest, a home office, the junk drawer or even the recycling bin. Once the clutter is clear, it's time to get your room ready to rock.
Benedict’s Tip: Decorative container options are easy to find—from stylish boxes to desktop organizers. In a pinch, she suggests storing items such as keys or cell phones in an empty cookie jar and slipping papers into cookbooks that may be displayed on the counter.
Finish off the natural look of stone with fresh flowers or a plant to add some life to the atmosphere. "Flowers simply make people smile, which is exactly the mood you want for a party," says Benedict.
Benedict’s Tip: Because you'll be busy making party preparations, call your local florist and have them deliver an arrangement based on the theme of your party. You can cross that chore off your list.
Once the kitchen is tidy and looking terrific, hosts can focus on decorating the rest of the house—from the table to the front door. "Let your creativity and countertop shine through, and you'll have the most fun of all," says Benedict.
August 23, 2011 2:05 pm
All too often, news headlines tell of another teen killed in a car crash. It is estimated that 35 percent of teen casualties are due to vehicular driving accidents, making it the leading cause of death among teenagers in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Through their participation in a high school program called Project Ignition, thousands of young people have stood up to this statistic and worked tirelessly to change the driving behaviors of their peers and broader communities.
If you have a teen driver in your family who you want to help become safer on the road, here are some tips from students in Project Ignition:
Open the lines of communication
• Talk with your teen about distracted driving. Make sure you both understand what things are dangerous distractions.
• Listen to your teen. Ask about what it's like being in the car with other teens, and what distractions there are to handle.
• Encourage your teen to use his or her voice. Role-play with your teen so that he can become comfortable saying things like, "We both want to live, so let me answer your phone or text while you drive."
• Help your teen get involved with programs at school like Project Ignition, so that he or she can be a positive example and make an impact.
• Set family ground rules for texting and calling while driving. Your teen needs to know you have high expectations, and what the consequences will be if the rules aren't followed.
• Know where your teen is going, who he or she will be with, and what time he or she is expected home.
Be a positive example
• Model the behavior you want your teen to exhibit. If the phone rings while you're driving, don't answer it. Encourage your teen to answer your phone or text, allowing you to drive more safely.
• Speak up about distracted driving to your friends and peers in front of your teen driver. Help set an example, spread the word and save lives.
For more information, visit www.sfprojectignition.com.
August 23, 2011 2:05 pm
Escheat. Reversion of property to the state when the owner dies without leaving a will and has no heirs to whom the property may pass.
August 23, 2011 2:05 pm
Q: What is equity?
A: It is the cash value of your property over and above what is owed on it, including mortgages, liens, and judgments.
The amount of equity almost always grows in a home over the years, although national and regional economic slumps or overbuilding might result in a temporary dip in prices.
The good thing is you can borrow against the equity that builds up in your home and use it for any number of reasons, including home improvements and to pay for college costs. It also is a source of income for you once the home is sold.
Equity is also what makes seller financing possible. If you have money to spare, you can always lend some to the buyer and collect interest on it.
August 22, 2011 4:05 pm
In today’s economy, most of us have already figured out a few strategies that will help conserve cash. But taking the long view to building wealth may not be as easy for the average American, even with a regular paycheck.
Following are tips from five experts in the fields of money, debt, real estate and consumer affairs that may help set you on the right road to a more secure future:
• Consistent investment – Says Ric Edelman, CEO of Edelman Financial Services, “The best way to build wealth remains unchanged; invest as much as you can (maybe more than you thought you could) into a diversified set of low-cost mutual funds—and keep doing this for many years, no matter what.”
• Get rid of high-cost debt – From David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies, “Paying off just one high interest credit card—and not using it again—will free up money to pay off other debts and/or move to a wealth-building plan. It may not be easy, and it will take time, but it must become a dedicated goal.”
• Buy a home – Ron Phipps, president of the National Association of REALTORS®, suggests: “Mortgage rates are low, selection is great, and prices are about one third lower than five years ago. Homeownership remains a long-term vehicle to financial independence—and, by the way, you get to live in your investment.”
• Start your own side business – Says Robert Paglianini, president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors, “Whether you can mow lawns, write marketing copy, babysit or paint houses, use your free time and your special skills to build a second income from your own side business.”
• Trick yourself into saving more – “One way,” suggests David Bendix, president of Bendix Financial Group, “is to see your human resources person ASAP and arrange to up your deductions a bit. Chances are you won’t miss the few bucks in your paycheck, and it’s a pretty painless way to save more.”
August 22, 2011 4:05 pm
Many car owners can expertly maneuver through rush hour traffic, but far fewer can expertly navigate their way under the hood. Automotive issues can leave many of us wondering "What's that sound?" and "Do I really need this repair?" or even worse, ignoring a problem altogether.
Drew Torrey and Matt Saunders are the national champions of the 62nd annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition. Their automotive know-how helped them beat 10,000 other high school automotive technology students from across the country to earn the championship title and tens of thousands of dollars in automotive scholarships and tools. These highly qualified students offer the following advice to help car owners properly maintain their vehicles while protecting themselves, their passengers and their wallets.
Do a little light reading. Read your owner's manual and service booklet carefully. The auto manufacturer created this information specifically for your car, and it can answer a lot of questions, including which maintenance services you can do at home and which ones require a trained service technician. Heeding this advice can save you time and money in the long run.
Pump it up (or deflate it). Make sure your car's tires are inflated to the proper pressure (measured in pounds per square inch or PSI). Improperly inflated tires wear out more quickly and can increase the possibility of a dangerous blowout. To find the recommended inflation pressure for your tires, check the tire information decal that is likely located on the driver's doorjamb, or in your owner's manual. Do not, however, rely on the PSI figure molded into the sidewall of the tire. You'll need just one small tool—an air pressure gauge—to check your tire pressure.
Pay attention. Do not ignore your "check engine" light just because you don't know what it means. It can actually alert you to a variety of different problems, from a loose gas cap to a faulty oxygen (02) sensor. If the check engine light comes on, first tighten the gas cap to see if that solves your problem. If that doesn't work, visit your auto technician for further diagnosis, as the problems at-hand could cause increased exhaust emissions and decrease your fuel economy by up to 40 percent (according to the U.S. Department of Energy), potentially costing you more money in the long run than a professional repair would.
Put on the brakes. If your car's brakes squeak while you're driving but stop making noise when you apply pressure to the brake pedal, your brakes may be in need of professional service. Your auto technician will be able to make a definitive diagnosis, but it's possible you could need new front disc brake pads and additional brake system work.
Fill 'er up. If your car's automatic transmission seems to be shifting erratically you could be low on transmission fluid. You can check the level and add fluid using the procedures described in your owner's manual. If it's time to change the fluid, visit your local automotive shop. In either case, pay attention to this condition—ignoring a small problem with your transmission now could mean you'll have to shell out the money for a whole new one later on.
For more information on the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition, visit www.autoskills.com.
August 22, 2011 4:05 pm
Parents are moving in with their adult children. College grads are coming home to Mom and Dad. Siblings are moving in with one another after a home foreclosure. Across America, the need for home design that supports multi-generational living is on the rise.
In 2008, an estimated 49 million Americans, or 16.1 percent of the total U.S. population, lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation, according to the Pew Research Center.
"Factors such as job losses, home foreclosures and a changing attitude toward multi-generational living have all contributed to the rise," says Sarah Reep, director of designer relations and education at KraftMaid Cabinetry. "Now families are finding relatives at both ends of the age spectrum living together under one roof."
To understand how this collision of social, economic and generational influences will impact kitchen design, Masco Cabinetry, home of the KraftMaid, Merillat, QualityCabinets and DeNova brands, commissioned the GenShift 2011 study.
"Living in a multi-generational home can be a great experience, but it can also be very challenging," adds Reep. "It's important to take each generation's ideas and needs into consideration, especially when it comes to home design."
To keep multi-generational households running smoothly, Reep recommends the following tips:
Get creative with lighting. Different tasks and generations require various levels of lighting. A combination of recessed, pendant and under-cabinet lighting provides both aesthetics and functionality. Adding dimmer switches is a way to add even more flexibility.
Add a splash of color. While monochromatic color schemes have been popular in recent years, older generations may prefer contrast between countertops and cabinets in order to maximize visual acuity.
Vary countertop heights. Lowered counters will create a workspace for small children, wheelchair users and those who prefer to sit while preparing meals. Homeowners can also use the varied heights for different tasks, such as lower counters for kneading dough and higher counters for cutting vegetables.
Install the right hardware. Older or smaller hands may have trouble grasping or pulling certain types of kitchen hardware. Consider larger drawer and cabinet handles that are easier to grasp and more ergonomically friendly.
Keep counters clutter-free. The GenShift 2011 study found a common theme when it comes to kitchen cabinetry accessories—more storage in a clean design style. Creative storage solutions like a wall appliance garage and pull-out cabinets create easily accessible storage places for "must-have" items.
For more information on the GenShift 2011 study, visit www.genshiftkitchen.com. For more design tips from Sarah Reep, visit www.kraftmaidbydesign.com.
August 22, 2011 4:05 pm
For busy parents who have spent the summer months juggling work and a house full of kids, back-to-school may seem like their own vacation. But just the opposite may be true. With September around the corner, parents have work to do: school clothes need finding, and backpacks and lunchboxes need filling. Then the not-so-much-fun begins: getting breakfasts ready as early as 6 a.m., lunches packed and ready to go by around 6:30, and dinner on the table when everyone is home from work. It's a tough schedule, but it can be made easier by preparing ingredients—and even whole meals—in advance. Take some tips from some people with really tough schedules.
"The farm families who own Cabot Creamery Cooperative know what a long day is like, and they'll tell you the key to getting through it successfully is by planning ahead. Our family uses this same strategy when it comes to planning meals," says Cabot's Registered Dietitian Regan Jones. "Breakfast would never make it on the table in time for my kids to be on time for school if we weren't prepared in advance."
A good way to start off any early morning meal is by serving something that was prepared the day before. "That way, you don't have to rush out of bed, and if you burn the toast or realize you've already used the last egg in the carton, the kids won't have to go to school hungry," says Regan. "Muffins are always a good option for a quick breakfast, and they are easy to make. You can even bake them on a lazy Sunday, freeze them individually, then warm them in the toaster oven for a few minutes before serving."
When it comes to packing a lunch, simple is best. A traditional sandwich paired with a nutritious snack is the way to go. "Instead of putting prepackaged cookies or cake in your child's lunchbox, satisfy their sweet tooth with something healthy," adds Regan. "Kids love bite-sized foods, so fill a small container with grapes or berries, cubed cheese and nuts. The variety of texture and flavor will keep them interested and away from the empty calorie desserts."
For a delicious dinner after a long day, there are two key things to remember: (1) a single-dish dinner saves time, and (2) prepare your ingredients in advance. "Any chef de cuisine worth their salt keeps their kitchen running flawlessly by being prepared. Why should your kitchen be any different?" notes Regan. "If you're expecting a tough day at work, prepare your ingredients the night before. This includes chopping vegetables, measuring ingredients, and getting your spices and seasonings in order. You can even take the process a step further by choosing a casserole-style single-dish meal. By preparing all the ingredients and placing them in a baking dish, all you have to do when you get home from work is heat the oven and pop in your dish." Toss together a quick side salad, and dinner is served, leaving you plenty of time to brush up on your algebra.
For more family-friendly recipes from Cabot, visit http://www.cabotcheese.coop/recipes.
August 22, 2011 4:05 pm
Equity. Value an owner has in a piece of property less the debt against it. For example, if the market value of a house is $150,000 and the owner has paid off $10,000 of a $75,000 mortgage, the owner has $85,000 equity.