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Perkasie, PA 18944
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Tom's Blog

10 Travel Tips to Get Your Family "Road Ready"

May 17, 2013 4:48 pm

Headed on the road with your family this summer? Car trips can be extremely fun, a great bonding experience, and a terrific way to make memories. However, they can also be frustrating.  Rand McNally 's editors have compiled a list of Top 10 travel tips to keep the "Are We There Yets” at bay. These easy-to-implement suggestions will help keep families and friends road-ready instead of road-weary.

At Home

  1. Engage everyone in the planning. If you already have an endpoint in mind, have the family fill in the blanks. Ensure something from each person's list makes it onto the itinerary – from a particular food stop to a funky festival, or an unusual place to take a break.
  2. Scope out something new along the way. Tap into websites as well as magazines, guide books, friends and family to find interesting places to visit. Even the non-readers of the group can get involved with helping you select – simply cite the kid-friendly amenities at each of the possibilities, and note what excites them the most.
  3. Map out the trip. Use a GPS, or pull up a mapping site on the computer, and begin plotting your journey. Encourage youngsters to hone their map-reading skills by finding places and attractions and highlighting routes between locations. Bonus for those math and map inclined in the family: Ask the kids to figure out the distance and direction between various points using the map keys.
  4. Gear up the car. Take your vehicle in for a once-over, ensuring that all necessary repairs and maintenance are done – and maybe a fresh wash and vacuum for good measure. Gather the essentials you need for both your car and the people in it, including a first-aid kit; a tool kit and work gloves; jumper cables; tire jack; rain ponchos; road-side emergency gear; and extra blankets, food (energy bars are great for this), and water.
  5. Shore up things at home. Set timers for lighting, and arrange for mail pickup, lawn mowing and pet care. Clear the refrigerator of all perishable foods and take out the garbage. Do not leave a house key hidden outside your home. Adjust the thermostat, unplug small appliances so they don't drain energy unnecessarily while you're away, and turn off computers and other electronics susceptible to power surges. Share your itinerary with family or a trusted neighbor – but never post these details on a social networking site!

En Route

  1. Delegate road-trip tasks. Give everyone a job while on the road: navigator, treasurer, keeper of the spare keys, fun-and-games maestro, photographer, historian/documentarian, snack server. Alternate roles throughout the trip.
  2. Keep everyone engaged. Digital devices are great for keeping kids distracted, but, every so often, have everyone look up and around – connecting with each other and the journey is a benefit of being together in a vehicle for hours. See how many different state license plates each person can spot. Play 20 Questions with answers related to the trip. Watch road signs looking for towns beginning with a specific letter. Name the state capitals, or mottos as you are passing through them.
  3. Keep things interesting. Surprises – a new toy, game, or app to share or special snacks – help with those "can't-keep-it-together" moments. Be sure to allow time for unplanned stops at festivals, historical markers, produce stands, quirky attractions, or other interesting road-side finds.
  4. Stay happy and healthy. This means eating healthfully, stopping when you first feel hungry rather than waiting till everyone's ravenous and cranky. It also means hydrating – preferably with water as well as juice and other nutritious beverages. And, finally, it means resisting the urge to simply press on. Don't hesitate to stop whenever you need to reorganize, regroup, rest or relax.
  5. Share the journey. At day's end, have everybody share their favorite sights and experiences. Vote on the best photos taken that day. At the end of the trip, select the best overall picture and sight or experience.



Host an Extraordinary Outdoor Bash

May 17, 2013 4:48 pm

Family Features—What do you get when you combine great food, good company and a beautifully set table? One truly memorable party. 

No matter what the reason for the gathering, find your inspiration from the splendor found outdoors. Picture a rustic table set under the olive trees in the Italian countryside or warm, gentle breezes rustling through a gorgeous garden in the South of France. Nature draws you in, invites you to sit down and encourages you to savor special moments.

Create the same experience for your guests at your home. Set a wooden table under shaded trees or a covered patio then gather several chairs around. Keep decorations simple and let the natural elements set the mood.

There is something about flowers that instantly makes any gathering feel special. Place several large sunflowers into a vase for the center of the table—or trim the stems off your favorite blooms and float them in a large serving bowl. For another simple centerpiece, line several glasses or small bowls down the center of the table and place a single blossom in each. No flower arranging skills required.

Here are few more easy tips to make your next outdoor party a charming and memorable event:

  • Choose music that is light and uplifting. Make sure it isn't so loud that guests can't carry a conversation.
  • If you use a tablecloth or runner, strategically place small bowls or serving pieces around the table to keep the cloth secure.
  • Slip sprigs of green inside the folds of the napkins for a decorative touch. Tuck flatware inside the napkins to help keep the linens from blowing off the table.
  • Mix earthy elements into the table decor. Make your party a winner, naturally, by adding pinecones, moss, or small flowers to decorative bowls.
  • Select several smooth stones and write each guest's name on them. These organically chic place cards make a memorable party favor.
  • Serve a signature drink named after the theme or celebration of the party.
  • Place votive candles in clear containers or glasses for a casual, romantic glow.
  • The secret to great entertaining is keeping things simple. Parties should be uncomplicated, easy and just as much fun for the hosts as it is for the guests. Start with a simple menu and then get everyone outdoors to enjoy the splendor of warm breezes, lush trees and colorful flowers.



How-To: Take Stock of Your Home

May 17, 2013 4:48 pm

This spring, as many homeowners are cleaning, there is no better time to take stock of your belongings. Putting together a home inventory can help individuals and families track important items in the event of a future loss.

"Unfortunately, you never know when a disaster may strike and you might suffer the loss of a home," says Mitchell H. Jawitz , vice president, personal lines marketing at The Hanover. "In that time of need, it's difficult to recall all of the personal items one may have lost. Having a home inventory can help you to replace everything in your home in a fast and efficient way if you have a covered loss."

Tips for creating a home inventory:

  • List Everything: First, go through each room, listing major items. Include purchase date and price, if known. Save, store and make copies of receipts –keeping them outside of your home. Include serial numbers for appliances, electronics, and cameras.
  • Take Photos or Videos: Open all closet and cabinet doors. Stand in the center of each room and take one picture of each wall or scan the room with a video camera.
  • Let Technology Help You: Visit to find a link to the Insurance Information Institute (III)'s program, Know Your Stuff, which allows you to use your computer or smartphone to inventory your possessions and store it in a safe online account. 

Once the home inventory is created, it is best to keep it up to date. List and photograph new purchases and gifts as they arrive in your home. Delete items you no longer own.  Make it a habit in the spring and the fall. And, it is good practice to check in with an insurance agent about whether items on the list are insured. Some homeowners' policies will have limited coverage on jewelry, collectibles, or other expensive valuables. These items need to be insured separately. An independent insurance agent can offer valuable advice and help you distinguish between what is covered and what is not.



Q: When Making Home Improvements, Do I Have to Be Concerned with Building Codes and Permits?

May 17, 2013 4:48 pm

A:  Depending on how your contract is written with the home improvement professional, either you or the contractor will be responsible for securing government approval to perform most remodeling jobs.  Building codes set minimum public-safety standards for such things as building design and construction.  Codes vary from one state, county, city, and town to the next, but specialized codes generally exist for plumbing, electricity, and fire.  Each usually involves separate inspections and inspectors.  In addition, permits are generally required when any structural work is planned or the basic living space of a home is altered.  They generally cover new construction, repairs, alterations, demolition, and additions to a structure.  Some jurisdictions require permits to be posted in a visible spot on the premises while the work is being done.  Besides structural changes, permits also may be needed to cover the installation of foundations for tanks and equipment, as well as the construction or demolition of ducts, sprinkler systems, or standpipe systems.


Word of the Day

May 17, 2013 4:48 pm

Right of first refusal.  A person’s right to have the first opportunity to either lease or purchase real property.


How to Make Your House Marketable

May 16, 2013 4:44 pm

Small improvements can make a huge difference in how much your home sells for. Pillar To Post is the leading home inspection company in North America, according to Entrepreneur Magazine. Here are five tips from Pillar To Post for making your home more marketable:

First impressions: The first thing a potential buyer is going to see is the outside of your home. Make it count. Make sure the outside of your home is freshly painted, that the landscaping and the lawn are well manicured and that toys and other clutter are removed. Putting a layer of mulch on gardens and other non-grassy areas is an easy improvement that doesn’t cost that much. It not only makes your yard look nicer, but it also helps prevent weeds

Paint: A fresh coat of interior paint is one of the easiest ways to increase your property value. A light, neutral color makes your home look larger and prevents potential buyers from worrying about their belongings not “going” with your home.

Staging is everything: You’ll want to remove larger pieces of furniture and other clutter to make your home look as big as possible. You should also make sure dishes are clean and put away, clothes are neatly hung in the closets and towels in the bathroom and kitchen are clean and nicely folded. You should also remove personal items, such as photos and knick-knacks, so it’s easier for potential buyers to imagine what their stuff will look like in the home. Replacing stained carpeting and outdated tile floors is another easy fix that instantly adds to your home’s value. You’ll also want to make sure all light bulbs work, particularly in closets and other dark spaces.

Update the kitchen and bathroom: Update older appliances and fixtures. If this isn’t in your budget, updating the hardware on the cabinets and sinks is an inexpensive way to give them a more modern look.

Hire an inspector: It’s a good idea to hire an inspector to come out before listing your home. You don’t have to fix everything, but it allows you to be up-front with potential buyers, so there aren’t surprises later on.  



Take the Household Budgeting Quiz & Start Saving

May 16, 2013 4:44 pm

I know you don't have to be a CPA or a rocket scientist to figure out how to keep a household budget. In fact, this little quiz to help consumers learn about household budgets is available through the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

To take the quiz, first consider the following words: Business, Income, Debt, Values, Expenses, Written, Goals

Now plug them into the following questions - and you can only use each word once:

1. Running a household is like running a small _____________. In order to stay out of the red, it is necessary to keep accurate records of income and expenses.

2. A spending plan is a tool for achieving long-range _____________. Immediate goals can be covered from paycheck to paycheck; however, in order to achieve future goals, you must have a plan to save a certain percentage of their monthly income.

3. A spending plan helps couples to live within their _____________. It's not about how much money you have, but the fact that better money managers use simple planning and recordkeeping, and follow spending plans.

4. One of the best ways to stay on track with a spending plan is to stay out of _____________.

5. There are two major parts of a spending plan – Income and _____________.

6. Before developing a spending plan, it is a good idea to keep a _____________ record of your income and expenses for two or three months.

7. The way you decide to spend your money depends upon your _____________. Talk with household members about mutual needs -- if everyone takes part in making a spending plan, they will all work harder making it successful.

According to the site, the first step is figuring your income and estimating expenses. By recording what you spend, your estimated expenses will be more realistic.

Learn about household budgeting with this report:

By the way, the correct quiz answers are: 1. Business; 2. Goals; 3. Income; 4. Debt; 5. Expenses; 6. Written; 7. Values


10 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Financial Planner

May 16, 2013 4:44 pm

Having your finances in order is important for the sustainability of your future, regardless to where you currently are in life. However, organizing yourself to prevent or get rid of debt can be confusing. Many of us need a little help.

According to John Vento, author of Financial Independence (Getting to Point X): An Advisor’s Guide to Comprehensive Wealth Management, one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your pursuit of financial independence is selecting a qualified advisor whom you like and trust, and who can meet your needs.

When you’re in the process of choosing a financial planner, here are ten important questions to consider:

1. If this advisor was recommended by a friend or family member, do you have confidence in the person who referred you?

2. What education and credentials does this advisor hold to make him or her qualified to advise you? (The advisor’s website is a good place to find this information. You can also check with the licensing board for whatever credentials the advisor holds.)

3. What is the compensation model for the advice and service: fee-based, hourly, or commission? (Fee-based is a percentage of your money under management; hourly is based on time charges; and commission is transaction-based.)

4. What are the financial advisor’s areas of expertise and does this line up well with your needs? (The wealth management issues you’re facing should go hand in hand with the advisor’s areas of expertise.)

5. What standard of care will this advisor be held to: fiduciary or suitability? (The fiduciary standard, which is more rigorous and requires financial professionals to act in the best interests of their clients, is recommended.)

6. What is the extent of services that will be provided: Is it transactional or is it truly a trusted advisor relationship? (Transactional means compensation is based on commissions.)

7. Is the financial decision making customized to you or does the advisor take a one-size-fits-all approach? One-size-fits-all is not appropriate. An 18-year-old person’s goals and risk tolerance are much different from an 80-year-old retiree’s.

8. Does the financial advisor provide tax advisory services such as tax planning and preparation that are integrated into your overall financial planning?

9. What is the organizational structure of the advisor’s firm: Will you be dealing directly with the same advisor or a junior member of the team?

10. What is the financial advisor’s philosophy and approach to handling risk: Does this advisor make you comfortable?



Word of the Day

May 16, 2013 4:44 pm

Reserve account.  An account for money collected each month by a lender to pay for property taxes and property insurance as they come due.


Q: What Should Elderly Homeowners Consider When Deciding to Remodel?

May 16, 2013 4:44 pm

A: According to the AARP, older homeowners prefer to age in place, meaning they want to live in their homes safely, independently and comfortably, despite age or ability level.  To do so, many require a few modifications in the home to enhance maneuverability, including the installation of a private elevator and the addition of a bathroom and bedroom to the main level.  A Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) may prove helpful.  CAPS professionals are remodelers, general contractors, designers, architects, and health care consultants who are trained in the unique needs of the elderly, Aging-in-place home modifications, common remodeling projects, and solutions to common barriers.  The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), together with the NAHB Research Center, NAHB Seniors Housing Council, and AARP, developed the CAPS program to address the growing number of consumers who will soon require modifications to their homes.


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