Ann M. Ciesielka
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The Path to Purchase: Shoppers Rely on Tech More Than Ever

July 15, 2015 2:15 am

Shoppers today harness connected technologies more than ever to simplify their shopping experience, with nearly three-quarters relying on information from a smartphone to make a purchase, according to a recent survey by Blackhawk Engagement Solutions (BHEngagement.com). This habit and others illustrate the profound effect technology will continue to have on consumer spending.

After the smartphone, shoppers obtain product or retailer information through a laptop, desktop computer or tablet. Over half of consumers shop while watching television at home, and over 35 percent shop while at work. They survey pointed to peak shopping hours between 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

Other survey findings include a trend called “showrooming,” in which a shopper purchases a competitor’s product while standing in the store after comparing prices on sites like Amazon. The majority of consumers will buy at a physical store that matches online prices with price-match rebates. Nearly 90 percent of shoppers would consider buying online and picking up in store to save just five percent on a purchase.

Mobile wallets are also gaining popularity. According to the survey, more than half of shoppers are likely to use a mobile wallet over a traditional wallet if it is universally accepted. One-fifth would stop carrying a traditional wallet altogether.

Source: BHEngagement.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Save Money with 5 Energy-Efficient Improvements

July 15, 2015 2:15 am

Utility costs, especially HVAC expenses, can eat up your household budget if your home falls short on energy efficiency. A top-to-bottom energy audit may not be feasible, but there are areas of your home you can make more energy-efficient with relatively little time and money. The experts at HomeAdvisor.com recommend:

Sealing Air Leaks
: Whether heating or cooling your home, escaped air is literally dollars out the window. To keep HVAC bills low, check for leaks around all entry points to the home, including windows, doors and in your attic or basement, where holes may have formed in the insulation. Simple weatherstripping will suffice to seal up windows or doors, but if your insulation is leaking air, hire a professional to remedy the problem.

Cleaning Air Vents
: A dirty HVAC system consumes more energy, leading to higher monthly bills. It can also release dusty air into your home. For anywhere between $250 and $450, a professional can clean all vents and ducts to ensure your system is operating efficiently.

Changing Air Filters
: While having your system cleaned, be sure to swap out air filters, too. A filter with enough build-up can block air from entering your home, costing you more money each month. This is an easy DIY project that can be done in a half-hour or less.

Upgrading the Thermostat: Programmable thermostats effectively regulate the temperature in your home, automatically or manually. Upgrading to one can save at least 10 percent in monthly energy costs. The best part? They’re a cinch to set up.

Installing Ceiling Fans: It sounds counterproductive, but a ceiling fan typically costs far less than air conditioning and can be installed for a mere $150. The investment will pay back dividends in lower utility bills in no time at all, and is a great way to cool your home in warm, but not hot, months.

Source: RISMedia’s Housecall

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Listing Your Home on Airbnb? Don't Forget Insurance

July 15, 2015 2:15 am

Home-sharing, or peer-to-peer renting, has soared in popularity thanks to sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and Roomorama that give renters the opportunity to room with a host in a privately-owned property, paying similarly to a hotel stay. The property is not a licensed hospitality provider, so insurance concerns are common for hosts.

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), standard homeowners and renters insurance policies generally do not cover home-sharing-related claims. Hosts must consider what their course of action will be if a guest is injured on or vandalizes the property. If you rent your home frequently, your insurer may deny coverage because your policy does not cover home-based businesses. If you rent your home only occasionally, your insurer may be able to provide an endorsement to protect you, but it is not guaranteed.

Because these and other factors must be considered, it’s important to discuss home-sharing with your insurer prior to renting. The NAIC recommends purchasing a landlord policy for liability protection and to cover possessions, any legal fees and lost rental income due to damage. You might also require renters to provide proof of their own homeowners, renters, or personal liability insurance for added protection.

At present, Airbnb offers host insurance coverage up to $1 million if a guest is injured on or damages the property.

Source: NAIC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Get in Gear with a Summertime Tune-Up

July 14, 2015 2:09 am

According to AutoTrader.com, more than half of drivers perform work on their car themselves instead of brining the car to a dealership or shop. While do-it-yourself maintenance can save hundreds of dollars in professional mechanic services, it’s important not to leave out any items on your tune-up checklist, especially in summertime.

The steps are simple – just remember the acronym SUMMER:

Scrub the Battery – Car battery drain is a common problem. Help keep your battery healthy and clean by sprinkling baking soda onto battery terminals and lightly spraying with water. Let the baking soda mixture sit for an hour before wiping it off with a wet sponge. Many auto parts stores also have cleaner specifically for car batteries. You can also ask them about a corrosion preventing kit, which sells for about $10.

Use a Sunshade
– Summer heat can cause cosmetic damage to your car's paint and interior, especially if you repeatedly park in direct sunlight. Be sure to preserve your vehicle's paint job with a UV-protectant wax, always try to park in a shady spot, and consider purchasing an inexpensive sunshade to help protect the car's interior.

Maintain Proper Fluid Levels – Coolant, or antifreeze, is the number one fluid you should check in your car during the summer months, as it helps protect your cooling system from corrosion and overheating. Add more if your level is below the minimum line – but do not open the coolant tank lid while your engine is hot.

Make Sure Tire Pressure Is Correct – Properly inflated tires are safer, last longer and can even improve fuel economy. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that proper tire pressure can improve gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent, saving you money at the pump. Be sure to check your spare tire, too.

Expect an Emergency
– Pack an emergency kit in your car with the essentials, such jumper cables, a flashlight, paper towels, roadside flares, a first-aid kit, bottled water, and even snacks like granola bars.

Replace Your Wiper Blades – While it may seem obvious, summer storms can often roll in unexpectedly. Replace the blades every six months, or as soon as you notice decreased visibility or unusual squeaky noises.

Source: Autotrader.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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4 Ways to Erase the Most Common Household Messes

July 14, 2015 2:09 am

(BPT) – No matter how neat you keep your home, odors and stains will occur. These can be especially challenging to remove in areas prone to spills and smells. According to the KILZ paint and primer experts, here’s how you can freshen up even the most stubborn spots in your household.

1. Eliminate Refrigerator Odors - Refrigerators are subject to a variety of spills and odors. To clean your fridge, begin by emptying its contents and throwing out, recycling or composting any food that is expired or beginning to smell.

Next, pull out any removable drawers or shelving and place them in the sink. Using a damp, soft cloth or non-abrasive sponge, wipe down these pieces, the interior of your fridge and the door with a multi-purpose cleaner. Or, mix two tablespoons of baking soda with one quart of hot water for a natural soap alternative. Don't forget the seams of the shelves and rubber door seal.

If your fridge requires an extra-deep cleaning, unplug it while you work to avoid wasting energy. Before putting all of your food back into the fridge, wipe down the exterior of each jar or container with a damp cloth.

2. Conceal Wall Stains with Primer - Have your kids made artwork of your walls, or has a leaky roof caused a water-damaged mess? Tough wall stains like these can be hard to get rid of, but are easily sealed by applying a high-quality, stain-blocking primer.

Before covering the problem area with primer, clean the wall thoroughly with a grease-cutting solution and lightly sand the area to be painted.

3. Remove Dirty Grout Lines - Tile surfaces are prone to dirt and debris, especially in bathrooms or high-traffic areas. To keep tile looking fresh and new, grab an old toothbrush or electric toothbrush for a deeper scrub. Before you start, wash the surface with water then mix two parts baking soda with one part water. Scrub the resulting paste into the cracks and crevices, then douse with water again. If the grout lines are stained, spray a mixture of equal parts vinegar and warm water onto the area and brush. After a final rinse, the grime will be gone.

4. Fight Off Washing Machine Mold
- If you own a front-loading washing machine, you've probably noticed the unpleasant smell that can linger after completing a load of laundry. Despite being more energy-efficient, these machines have a tendency to hold odors and harbor mold. To clean and prevent grimy buildup, try this: instead of detergent, cycle two cups of vinegar and a quarter-cup of baking soda on a hot setting. When it's done, use a clean sponge to scrub down the inside. Finally, rinse with a plain-water cycle, and you'll see (and smell) the results

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Don't Delay Buying a Home – It Can Cost You

July 14, 2015 2:09 am

If you are on the fence about buying a home, consider this: waiting to buy could cost thousands in accumulated wealth. According to a recent realtor.com® report, the financial penalties of delaying or forgoing on a home purchase have become very steep – the average buyer is estimated to gain $217,726 (in today’s dollars) in wealth over a 30-year period.

Although some markets are more buyer-friendly than others, national data shows homeowners see significant financial benefits as compared to lifetime renters. In nearly 90 percent of metro areas, buying a home produces a financial benefit of at least $100,000 over 30 years.

“This analysis looks solely at the financial reasons to buy a home, based on assumptions about rising mortgage rates and changes in home values," realtor.com® Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke says. "It's important to remember that a home purchase decision is deeply personal. Potential buyers need to consider factors such as upcoming life events, job security and potential relocation, in addition to financial benefits, because they too can have a significant impact on ownership."

Source: realtor.com®

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Properly Dispose of Household Hazardous Waste

July 13, 2015 12:07 am

Following a severe storm, homeowners and renters should take special care when collecting and disposing of household hazardous wastes. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), homeowners and renters affected by disaster should, whenever feasible, separate hazardous household waste from other debris before disposal.

Among the items that fall into the household hazardous waste category are paints and solvents, cleaning materials, batteries, oils and petroleum products, pesticides, explosives, swimming pool chemicals and pressurized gas cylinders.

Improper disposal of household hazardous waste includes pouring it down the drain, on the ground, into storm drains/sewers, or in some cases putting it out with the trash. The dangers of such disposal methods might not be immediately obvious. Certain types of household hazardous waste have the potential to cause physical injury to sanitation workers, contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems, and pose health hazards to both humans and animals.

Oil-contaminated debris or material tainted by other petroleum products should be segregated and stored in a well-ventilated area. If stored outdoors, household hazardous materials should be covered to keep precipitation from contaminating nearby soil and water.

After separating out household hazardous waste, take the waste (or arrange for it to be taken) to a facility that accepts toxic materials. To find a facility that accepts household hazardous waste in your area, contact your local Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) office.

Source: FEMA.gov

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Renting? 3 Savvy Storage Tips

July 13, 2015 12:07 am

(Family Features) Just because you don't own your home or have a permanent abode doesn’t mean you can't be neat and organized in the place you currently hang your hat, says professional organizer Lorie Marrero.

"Even if you are not able to drill holes in the walls, even if you are always on the move and prefer not to invest in costly storage solutions, there are still plenty of portable and attractive options for you," says Marrero. "Find those that work best for your needs and can be as portable as you are."

With the right products and a little creative thinking, adding moveable, functional, attractive and affordable storage can be quite simple for any renter. Marrero suggests implementing savvy storage solutions to make the most of your space and situation, such as:

Creative Closet Space


One drawback when renting can be the lack of storage space and the inability to install permanent fixtures in closets. Typically equipped with one rod and a top shelf, rental closets don't provide the best configurations for maximizing the available area. You can make the most of the limited space with a removable system that securely clips to an existing rod, with accessories like fabric bins and hanging organizers.

Plain View Storage


Colorful storage pieces can enhance existing decor and brighten up the often lackluster neutral walls found in most rentals. Anyone living in an apartment or smaller quarters knows that storage needs to not only look good, but also be completely functional. Add stylish storage to your living space with vibrant cubes that complement your existing décor.

Accessible Areas

Create a system to keep your place tidy. A drop zone, whether in your entryway, kitchen or living area, is a good place to keep your mail, keys, shoes, bags or whatever you always need readily available. A small bench or colorful coat tree by the door are good options to keep belongings off the floor. Once you've gotten your system down, be vigilant about sticking to the plan.

Source: ClosetMaid

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Get–and Stay–Debt-Free

July 10, 2015 2:06 am

Part of the American Dream for many is financial independence. Even with an improving economy, several households still carry debt that can create challenges when seeking a loan, say the experts of the non-profit American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC).

“Excessive debt can harm relationships, ruin retirement plans, and limit the chances of taking out a car or home loan,” says ACCC President and CEO Steve Trumble. “No one scripts financial disarray as a part of their life plan. Fortunately, there is a way out from under the oppressive weight of debt. Make this the year you tighten up your own personal spending and sharpen your long-term money plans.”

Whether you are struggling to erase debt or want to maintain debt-free finances, the ACCC recommends the following:

1. Don’t live beyond your means. You can’t always control the amount of money you make, but you can control the money you spend. One way to avoid overspending is to carry cash instead of a debit or credit card. It's harder to overspend when you carry cash. Unlike credit or debit cards, which can go over the limit or into a negative balance, you can't slide past zero when you carry cash. If you decide to carry a card, limit spending to only what you can afford to pay off at the end of the month.

2. Pay more towards your monthly minimum. If you are struggling to pay off a credit card with a high interest rate, make sure to pay more towards your monthly minimum. One way to quickly plan out your payments is to use an online debt payoff calculator to give yourself an idea of the date in which you will be finished paying it off.

3. Invest in the future. One of the best ways to plan a financially free future is to save toward your own retirement through an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. If you don't participate, you're missing a golden opportunity to save for retirement while lowering your tax burden on those savings.

4. Keep an emergency fund. Always prepare for an emergency. Set aside a portion of each paycheck and save a minimum of 9-12 months of expenses in a separate interest-earning account. The funds will help cover expenses in the event of a job loss, car accident, house repairs or other unforeseen events.

5. Insure yourself.
Even if your job does not supply it, make sure your medical, disability, home and automobile insurance policies are in order. Disaster could take any form – a car breaks down, a major home fire, or an automobile accident that leads to pricey legal action. Insurance gives you peace of mind. With it, you know that if anything happens to you, your family or your business that you will be financially secure.

Source: ACCC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Overseas Volatility Pushes Mortgage Rates Down

July 10, 2015 2:06 am

Mortgage rates recently dropped in response to global uncertainty, helping to keep buyer activity strong toward the close of the homebuying season, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®).

The results of the survey found the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaging 4.04 percent, and the 15-year FRM averaging 3.20 percent. The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.93 percent. The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.50 percent.

"Yields on Treasury securities declined this week in response to investor concerns about events in Greece and China,” explains Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sean Becketti. “Mortgage rates fell as well, although not by as much as government bond yields.

“Overseas volatility is likely to persist for some time, providing some restraint on potential U.S. rate increases. In addition, the minutes of the June meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee suggest the Federal Reserve will proceed cautiously–monitoring events both overseas and in the U.S. to ascertain the appropriate moment to begin raising short-term interest rates. As a result, mortgage rates may remain in the neighborhood of 4 percent for a while."

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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