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Tom's Blog

Word of the Day

November 11, 2013 10:09 pm

Gentrification. Process whereby private or government-sponsored development of certain aging neighborhoods results in the displacement of low- or moderate-income families by the more affluent and leads to an increase in property values.


3 Easy Holiday Shopping Strategies

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

(BPT) - Thanksgiving comes late this year, which means a shorter-than-usual holiday shopping season. If you're not the type to buy gifts throughout the year, getting an early start on holiday shopping can help ensure you have enough time to find gifts for everyone on your list, and perhaps, most importantly, save money.

Here are three things to do now to save money and time this holiday season:

Create a list (and budget) for everyone on your list

Greet the holiday season with cheer by keeping an organized list of names of everyone you need to shop for and an estimated budget for each. From family and friends to hair stylists and teachers, more names will likely appear on your list than you originally planned. Holiday shopping can be overwhelming, but if you approach it with an organized plan, you're likely to avoid overspending and can better stick to your budget. Gift cards are a great option this year, since they are the top gift people want to give and receive, according to a recent shopping survey from Discover.

Savvy shopping tip: Look into your credit card rewards programs to see if you can cash in your accumulated rewards for gift cards, some of which are offered at a discount. Redeeming rewards for store gift cards is one of the easiest and most valuable ways to save cash, which means you won't need to reach as deep into your pockets this season.

Do your research on sales and promotions

From gifts to groceries, holiday shopping includes a wide range of items, so it's important to try to find the best prices on everything. According to the survey, Americans are most influenced by sales and promotions when it comes to their holiday spending plans. In fact, 70 percent of consumers are planning to take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. Whether you're brave enough to face the crowds on Black Friday or prefer the convenience of Cyber Monday, shopping these big sales is a great way to stick to your budget and make a large dent in your holiday shopping list.

Doing your homework before making holiday purchases can also help you save even more. Price monitoring sites, like PriceGrabber, can compare and contrast prices for more than 1 million items, including electronics, appliances and clothing, and can be accessed right from your mobile device. If you're shopping online, your credit card may offer extra rewards on online purchases this season that'll help you save money on holiday gifts.

Savvy shopping tip: Mark your calendars with the dates of big sales and keep coupons in your wallet so you can use them at a moment's notice. If you're shopping online, do a quick search for coupon codes that provide extra discounts, as well as free shipping or gift wrap.

Use credit card benefits and rewards to save extra cash

Whether you prefer to shop in-store or online, credit cards can enhance your savings and provide added value to your shopping. Many credit card companies provide rebates, rewards and discounts on holiday essentials - at no added cost. Once the hustle and bustle of the season is over, you might find an item you want to return, but what happens if your purchase is no longer eligible? You won't have to write it off as a loss if the purchase was made with a credit card that offers a return guarantee.

Savvy shopping tip: Use a credit card that provides added security and purchase protection including warranties and return guarantees that will help you save in the long run.

Taking a little extra time to shop smart and plan ahead will help you save and stay organized while shopping for holiday gifts and essentials. You may be surprised by how many resources are available to help stretch your budget further this holiday season.

Source: Discover


Find Classic Style in Carriage House Garage Doors

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

(BPT) - The carriage house garage door is to your house what the little black dress and strand of pearls are to a woman's wardrobe: classic style elements that never go out of fashion.

At the dawn of the automobile age, those who were affluent enough to own a car kept it in the carriage house, where the horses and buggy would have been stored. But this cohabitation became a little, well, smelly, and the need for separate storing structures was soon realized.

Enter the garage. Built in the style of the original carriage house, the garage's sole intent was to store the car away from the animals and elements. The word garage actually comes from the French word, garer, which means to shelter and protect. Naturally, the garage needed a door to offer protection to the automobile. The ensuing "carriage house door" was a hinged, double door that swung outward, and is considered the original garage door.

In the early 1920s, the kickout door was invented and progress continued from there, bringing us the modern conveniences we have in overhead garage doors today. Modern carriage house sectional garage doors open overhead, and continue to gain in popularity, constituting 35 percent of the volume in the garage door industry with projections to remain a huge trend.

When it comes to the style of garage door chosen, most homeowners want something classic, that won't fade in popularity over the years and will also enhance curb appeal. This is especially true if home resale is a factor. A carriage house garage door is the exterior equivalent to white subway tile in the kitchen and hardwood floors inside; classic design elements that never fade in popularity.

The carriage house door also offers myriad design elements. For example, the Classica Collection by Amarr offers a dual-directional wood grain design that provides the realistic look of wood with the practicality and low-maintenance upkeep of steel. With a three-section design and the option of larger windows, this door offers a more authentic carriage house look with the benefit of additional natural light flow into your garage. Two-tone looks are also available with many color combinations and panel designs, and hardware and window choices are plentiful. These different design options can be tailored specifically to your home's facade and will further enhance curb appeal.

If you're thinking of replacing a tired garage door in an effort to boost your home's curb appeal, consider the classic carriage house door, whose popularity has only continued to grow over the last century. With a timeless design that can be specifically tailored to your house, it's a choice that both you - and future owners of your home - can happily live with for a long time.


Q: How does refinancing work?

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

A: With a refinancing, you pay off an old loan on your home and take out a new one, usually at a lower mortgage interest rate. To refinance, you will generally need to have equity in your home, a good credit rating, and steady income. You can borrow a percentage of the equity to cover remodeling costs, debt consolidate, and college tuition.

When you refinance, you will incur all the closing costs that go along with getting a new mortgage. So unless you are doing extensive renovations and can get a mortgage interest rate at least two points below your current loan rate, you may want to select another financing option.


Word of the Day

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

Plat. Map or survey showing the location and boundaries of individual properties and how they have been subdivided into lots and blocks.


Tips for How to Send the Perfect Corporate Gift

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

There are only a few more weeks until the holidays, so it's time to start planning what gift to give to your most important clients, co-workers and business partners. You're tasked with finding a unique, but recognizable, professional, but not too stuffy, inexpensive, but not too cheap, gift to send out to your annual list of recipients. Oh, and did we mention it needs to be different from what you sent last year?

To help make things easier, below are a handful of tips to help you find a gift that will make a lasting impression this holiday season. Follow these simple tips and you'll be sure to wow recipients and be the talk of the water cooler.

1. Be Original – Nobody wants to be the umpteenth person to send a tin of broken chocolate chip cookies or oversized popcorn (which we all know goes stale after a day of people snacking on it and forgetting to put the lid back on properly). An original and tasty treat will send employees flocking to the break room for a taste.

2. Show Professionalism – Corporate gift-giving is not the time to get crafty. Save the quirky and home-made gifts for the white elephant gift exchange. A properly packaged and professional-looking gift says "I am a grown-up and I wanted to send you something GREAT this year to say 'thank you' for working with me."

3. Mix It Up – If you're sending a gift to an entire office or department, be sure to offer something to please everyone. Send a variety of options so that everyone will have something to enjoy.

4. Avoid Perishable Goods – You know that box of pastries that arrived at 4 p.m. on Friday that nobody saw until Monday morning? They're old now and nobody wants them. If you send food, make sure it has a reasonable shelf life and won't go bad in a day. If you're not certain, ask if the item you want to purchase will be good for several days or comes in individually-packaged servings.

5. Have Enough to Go Around – Think about how many people will be receiving your gift. If you're just buying for one person (like your boss), don't get an XXL fruit basket packed with enough bananas to feed 20 people. The same goes for larger groups. If it's an office of 50 people, don't send a dozen monogrammed mouse pads, as some people will not get one and feel left out. Not sure how many to buy for? Call the receptionist. These often undervalued employees are the key to knowing what will please everyone.

6. Get in Early – This one is important. Send your gift to arrive the first or second week of December. Why? Because everyone else will send theirs to arrive the third week and they will pile up at the office and be overlooked. Whatever you do, don't send it the last full week of December. No one will be in the office that week. But you know that… you already requested off for that week.

7. Send a Note – You don't want your nice gesture to be a secret one at the holidays. Order a gift with a personalized note and get an estimated delivery date. Early on the day it's set to arrive, let the recipient know you're "sending a little something to say Happy Holidays." That will cause people to keep an eye out and may even inspire a "Treats in the kitchen from our favorite vendor!" email that can lead to new biz next year.

Source: Sweet Secrets Chocolate™



Ideas and Inspiration to Reduce Food Waste in the Home

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

(Family Features)--Food waste is a major global issue that affects the environment, economy and food security. According to a 2012 report by the National Resources Defense Council, American families throw out 25 percent of the food they buy. That’s roughly the equivalent of $1,500 wasted each year.

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, who participated in Food Network’s “The Big Waste” special and serves as a judge on “Chopped,” is encouraging food enthusiasts to love food more and waste it less, one day at a time.

“One of the most important steps we can take in an effort to reduce food waste is prepping ingredients properly right from the start,” Guarnaschelli says. “Just take time on Sunday, the day when most people grocery shop and prep for the week ahead, to wrap and protect foods to help keep food fresh all week. This, combined with other steps like planning ahead and using leftovers can go a long way in trimming food waste.”

According to Glad Food Protection’s recent Fridge to Fork report, two-thirds of Americans throw away food weekly or more frequently. Follow these few easy preparation and protection tips to help save time, money and the environment:

  • Look beyond looks: Nothing’s perfect – fresh fruits and vegetables included. Often, anything with bruises, bumps or oddities gets picked over. But a misshaped tomato could end up being the firmest and tastiest of the bunch. Don’t be afraid to buy something imperfect, you may be surprised.
  • Prep and protect: Food spoils in homes due to improper or suboptimal storage, poor visibility in refrigerators, partially used ingredients and misjudged food needs, according to the National Resources Defense Council report. Taking easy steps to prep and protect food before storing helps keep food fresher longer. For example, keep kale crisp by wrapping in a paper towel, storing in an airtight Glad Zipper bag and placing in the coldest part of the fridge.
  • Leftover do overs: Don’t scrap today’s leftovers or excess ingredients; use them for tomorrow’s meals. Extra baked or rotisserie chicken? Debone and shred what’s left, and store it in an airtight container to later make chicken enchiladas the whole family will enjoy. Leftover cooked veggies? Use them as the base for a slow cooker meal.
  • Play musical shelves: When you purchase new food, shuffle the older items to the front, putting the newer items toward the back. You’ll be prompted to use these items first, before they go bad.
  • Lead with the list: Plan meals ahead for a trip to the store. A detailed list will help curtail impulse purchases and over-buying. Be realistic about what you’re going to prepare, accounting for days you’ll eat leftovers or go out.




Why Settling Student Loan Debt Is So Difficult

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

Settling student loan debt isn't as easy as a hospital bill or car loan payment that has gone to collections. Nationwide, many graduates are learning that their student loan debts are hard to shake.

Part of the reason, according to Reuters, is that settling student loans may only be possible when students offer large lump-sum payments, averaging "between 30 percent and 80 percent" of the entire loan amount. With the average student loan debt at $27,000, that means debtors need to shell out thousands of dollars in order to avoid collections.

What else can struggling grads do to settle their loan debts?

Settling Student Loans Isn't Cheap

When debtors become overwhelmed by credit card, medical, or auto loan debt, there are a number of debt settlement companies that can negotiate a lump-sum settlement in lieu of your normal debt payments.

But according to the Federal Trade Commission, there are hidden costs and risks to your credit by using these third-party companies. In many cases, a debtor can negotiate a settlement or modified payment plan directly with the company that is owed.

In principle, student loans can be settled in the same way. The problem is that graduates in financial trouble are unlikely to have enough assets to satisfy lenders, especially with some still owing $50,000 or more.

And since the federal government can garnish wages, tax refunds, and benefits in order to collect student loan payments, Reuters reports that a debtor is unlikely to settle federal student loans without offering "more money to the federal government than they're already getting."

Can't Settle? Try This...

Although the invasive nature of federal student loans can be an obstacle to settling debt, the government does provide unemployment deferment and income-based repayment plans that private loans do not.

If your student loan payments are more than 20 percent of your monthly income, you may also qualify for a student loan forbearance, which can put your loans on hold for a year. This may give students time to reassess their financial situations, although interest on that loan will still accrue during forbearance.

You may also consider consolidating your student loans to try to obtain a single, lower interest payment -- not to mention removing the confusion of paying Perkins, Stafford, GradPLUS, and private loans separately. But while consolidation may simplify your student loan debts, you will likely lose eligibility for federal deferments and income-based repayment.




Q: When is the best time to refinance?

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

A: Many people flock to refinance while mortgage interest rates are low, particularly when rates are about two percentage points below their existing home loans.

Other factors, like when to finance, will depend on how long you plan to hold on to your home and whether you have to pay considerable fees to refinance. It also will depend on how far along you are in paying off your current mortgage.   

If you expect to sell your home relatively soon, you are not likely to recoup the costs you incurred to refinance.  And if you are more than halfway through paying your current mortgage, you probably will gain little by refinancing. However, if you are going to own your home for at least another five years, that is probably long enough to recoup any refinancing costs and realize real savings as a result of lowering your monthly payment.

In fact, if it costs you nothing to refinance, you can gain even more. Many lenders will let you roll the costs of the refinancing into the new note and still reduce the amount of the monthly payment. Plus, there are no-cost refinancing deals available.

Contact your lender, and its competitors, before you refinance.



Word of the Day

November 8, 2013 3:45 pm

Property tax. Assessment levied by city and county governments on real and personal property to generate the bulk of their operating revenues to pay for such public services as schools, libraries, and roads.


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