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  • Consumer News Reports

    • Empowering Teens through Smart Spending

      (Family Features)--Helping teens learn to handle money can be a tricky proposition. Mistakes can quite literally be costly, but there's really no substitute for hands-on practice when it comes to managing finances.

      Children are the ultimate investment, so teach your teen to be a smart spender with these savvy tips:

      Start with saving. As a first step, open a savings account for your teen and involve them in the process. Use this opportunity to teach good habits, such as putting away a percentage of every paycheck, creating an emergency fund and setting savings goals for big purchases. Visit the bank together and explore the account options. Many banks offer incentives for high-balance accounts, and while your teen likely won't qualify, it's a valuable lesson to see the incentives available to big savers.

      Move on to basic checking. Although most banks still refer to their most accessible accounts as "checking" accounts, chances are that your teen is more likely to shop with a debit card or cash rather than checks. Still, knowing how to write a proper check is an important life skill - as are conducting debit transactions and understanding any fees associated with using the account.

      Create safe zones. Even after teaching them the fundamentals, letting teens make their own purchasing decisions can be a frightening prospect. Fortunately, if you know where to look, there are options available that offer teens a customizable level of autonomy while still under the oversight of a parent. For example, Amazon introduced a way for teens ages 13-17 to shop using their own, independent login linked to a parent's account. In addition to product recommendations, order histories and lists tailored specifically to the teen's shopping history and interests, teens can exercise smart shopping decisions with access to customer reviews and comparison shopping tools.

      Parents have the option to review and approve every purchase, or set spending limits that offer teens the freedom to place orders up to a certain dollar amount on their own. In either case, parents receive notifications for every order and shipment. Find more details at Amazon.com/forteens.

      Set a budget. Part of smart spending is learning to shop within your means. Whether your teen's income is from a part-time job, allowance or a combination of the two, building a budget that defines expenses and expectations is essential. Like any budget, it should include all income sources and all expenses he or she is responsible for, including auto maintenance, gasoline, insurance and beyond. Reinforce the importance of saving by including a regular savings allocation. Putting all of these numbers to paper lets your teen see clearly where the money is going and how much is left over for extracurricular spending.

      Put safety nets in place. No matter how much planning is done in advance, surprise expenses will inevitably pop up. Teens can prepare for these expenses while also guarding against mistakes and the temptation to over-spend by taking advantage of special services available through banking institutions, such as setting a per-transaction or daily spending limit and investing in overdraft coverage.

      Ultimately, money management skills come with time and practice. Creating a safe environment for your teen to practice these life lessons sooner rather than later can pay dividends down the road.


      Source: Amazon

      Published with permission from RISMedia.


      Thu, 14 Dec 2017

    • 5 Ways to Protect Your Home This Winter

      Brrr! It's cold in here. When winter weather starts frosting, you're not the only one reaching for a sweater. Your home, too, needs to be protected from the chill.

      Joe Todaro, director of operations of Gold Medal Service, offers these tips for homeowners so they can prepare their home for a cold winter:

      Protect your outdoor unit – Your outdoor air conditioning unit needs a little help staying healthy throughout the winter. You may want to consider a cover for your unit not unlike the cover you use for a grill or a car. Covers can keep snow, ice and heavy rain from potentially damaging the unit. There are covers available on the market, or you can use a spare tarp you may have laying around in the garage. Be sure to clean any debris away from the unit before sealing it up.

      Patch leaks around doors and windows – Check windows and exterior doors for any gaps or openings that would let cold air in or warm air to escape. Leakage like that may not only cause you to have cold spots in your home, but make your heating system run longer than necessary – costing you money on your energy bills. For a DIY approach, especially with older homes, there are several types of gap sealers, as well as insulation kits that can be used to shrink wrap windows and reduce heat loss. Naturally, having your heater tuned up by a professional for peak performance is a proven way of saving on energy bills as well. A well-sealed home is a warmer, more comfortable home when the temperatures get at or below freezing – and your family will appreciate the difference.

      Reduce heat loss through the fireplace – If the home has a fireplace, it's a good idea to keep the damper closed when it is not in use to prevent heat loss. Close any doors leading into the room when a fire is burning.  If you have a gas fireplace, be sure that it burns cleanly, evenly, and safely.

      Use sunlight to your advantage – You can naturally heat your home by opening curtains and window coverings on south-facing windows during the day. Closing curtains at night will protect your home from losing heat through those same window openings.

      Prep the plumbing – As winter approaches, you'll want to make sure you don't have any water freeze-ups – those can potentially become a big headache. To eliminate that risk, drain any water from outdoor faucets, and arrange to have any in-ground sprinkler systems blown out. Drain and roll up garden hoses and store them inside, in a garage, shed, or basement, to shield them from the severest temperatures. If any pipes in the home have been prone to freezing in past winters, consider using heat tape to keep them warmer during extremely cold weather. If you do experience a burst pipe, make sure everyone in the family knows how to turn off the water at the source.

      Source: Gold Medal Service

      Published with permission from RISMedia.


      Thu, 14 Dec 2017

    • Don’t Let Holiday FOMO Drive You Into Debt

      Most of us start out holiday shopping with the best of intentions. We make a list, set a budget, scope out sales and get off to a successful start.

      As we get closer to the big day, however, we start making rash purchases, often driven by our kids’ FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - over not getting some of the gifts they want. This is when we hit the credit cards and the debt starts to climb.

      According to Jeff Dixson (www.nwfts.net), a financial educator and author of “Winning The Retirement Game,” chronic overspending of money we don’t really have can torpedo a family budget, not to mention a retirement plan. He offers these four tips to help keep holiday shopping in line so we can stave off debt:

      1. Look at the big picture. Credit card use means putting off paying for something you didn’t have the money for in the first place. So forecast what that mounting credit card bill will add to your regular monthly expenses, and let that act as a deterrent.

      2. Use one card. If you must use a credit card, Dixson says, put the rest of your cards aside and use the one with the lowest interest rate. This also makes it easier to track your spending.

      3. Make a real budget. While it may be too late to salvage this year’s holiday budget, put the following into effect for next year: Figure out what you can afford to spend (for example, $600 = $50 per month) and set this aside each month in order to have that money available when holiday shopping season rolls around. The trick is sticking to that amount while you’re out shopping.

      4. Make it a teaching moment. The holidays are a great time to teach your kids about money, a lesson that could last a lifetime. Most families have budgets, and part of being responsible means not over-spending. “The greater good of the family is served rather than immediate gratification,” Dixson says. “They’ll learn something meaningful about money, appreciation and responsibility that will stay with them when they have families of their own.”

      Published with permission from RISMedia.


      Thu, 14 Dec 2017

    • How to Avoid Pipe Damage This Winter

      Nothing will put a damper on your winter wonderland faster than a busted pipe. But with freezing and thawing all season long, your pipes can take a beating. To help, Best Service offers the following tips to avoid expensive pipe damage:

      Look for early signs of hard water – Hard water and issues with scaling can be detected early by keeping an eye on items easily affected by the minerals that may be present in the water. A coffee maker, for example, can provide great early warning signs for hard water. If the maker is failing early in its life due to clogs and requiring multiple descaling treatments, there is a good chance that attention needs to be given to the home's water lines. Noticing spikes in a utility bill with no notable changes in usage can serve as a good indicator that there are leaks in need of attention.

      Consider a water-softening system – A water softener is a system that helps lower the hardness of incoming water and therefore, reduces the amount of minerals that can adhere to the inside of pipes and appliances. Purchasing or building a home in a known hard-water area is reason enough to invest in a water softener, and it is best to have it installed and in good operational condition before beginning daily life in the new home.

      Install a pressure regulator – Having a pressure regulator installed is a great way to monitor possible clogs and detect any issues before they result in serious damage. As minerals from hard water or other intrusions clog pipes, they restrict water flow and increase pressure on the walls of the pipes. Setting the regulator between 50-70 psi is normal, but noticing pressure between 100 and 120 psi is a sign that something is restricting water flow and may cause damage to the pipes.

      Check the landscaping relative to the water lines – In addition to taking hard water into consideration, it is worth noting the approximate distance of trees to the water lines. As pipes age, they can develop tiny cracks and holes that can allow water to begin leaking at rates less detectable by meters and bills. Tree roots, which can grow quite extensively underneath yards in search of water, will sometimes pick up on these sources and try to invade the pipes. These roots can penetrate the cracks in the pipes and begin to grow, clogging the water flow and putting more stress on the already compromised structure of the pipe. If a home is over 25 years old, the piping may be steel or clay. Steel is susceptible to corrosion, and clay is more porous. At this point in their lifespan, both of these materials will be more likely to leak and attract tree roots than modern materials such as PVC or concrete.

      Source: Best Service

      Published with permission from RISMedia.


      Wed, 13 Dec 2017

    • Deck Your Halls Safely This Holiday Season

      Decorating your home for the holidays can be great for family bonding and exploring your creative side. However, as you decorate, you should be keeping home safety front and center. To help, Florida Realtors® offers the following tips.

      - Illuminate holiday lights only when another adult is home and awake.

      - Place all extension cords out of the normal traffic path and do not place furniture on the cords.

      - Check electrical decorations to make sure they're in good condition. Replace any decorations that have frayed, that have exposed wires or loose connections. When buying new lights, select products approved by a testing agency, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which is usually indicated by the agency's symbol printed on the package.

      - Use decorations made of fire-resistant materials. Artificial trees, garland and tree skirts are often made of this material, but check the package to be sure.

      - If you prefer a live tree, remember to water it daily so the needles stay moist and are less likely to catch fire. There are also some plant-food products designed to extend a tree's life, which may help.

      - When you open gifts, discard wrapping paper and ribbons in a metal garbage can. In the event of a household fire, excess paper will increase the speed at which the fire spreads.

      - Burn candles only when an adult is present. Make sure there is plenty of space between candles and overhead cabinets, use a candle holder large enough to contain the dripping wax and move nearby items that could ignite. Carefully extinguish the flame when leaving the room and – as always – keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.

      - Make sure you have a fire extinguisher in working order, preferably one that will put out all types of fires including electrical and grease fires. Make sure family members know how to use the extinguisher and keep it in an easily accessible place.

      - If your home does not have smoke detectors, now is the time to install them. If you already have smoke detectors, check the batteries and replace them if you aren't sure how old they are. Some new-home builders install electrical smoke detectors, which eliminate the need for batteries, but it doesn't protect you or your home during a power outage. Most experts recommend installing at least two battery-operated smoke detectors. You should also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.

      - Discuss escape routes with your family and choose alternate routes in case a preferred exit, such as the front door, is blocked.

      Source: http://media.floridarealtors.org.

      Published with permission from RISMedia.


      Wed, 13 Dec 2017