Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
701 W. Market Street
Perkasie, PA 18944
Office Phone: 215-453-7653
Toll Free: 800-440-remax
February 20, 2013 5:18 pm
(BPT) - If you're thinking of taking a cruise, there are a lot of options to consider, from the cruise line and style to the destinations, vacation length and types of on-board amenities. Cruising is a fun (and economical) way to see several places in a relatively short amount of time without having to unpack and repack every day. While some "hard-core" travelers may scoff at cruises, don't knock it till you've tried it.
Choose your cruise line
This is probably the single most important task when planning a cruise. Choose the wrong cruise line, or even more specifically, the wrong ship, and it can mean the difference between a blissful, relaxing trip or one filled with 18-year-olds getting rowdy on rum punch. To figure out which ship and line suits your preference, do some research online and ask friends who have taken cruises. Find out the median age onboard; if a ship caters to an older demographic, there's typically not much to do after 10 p.m. Ask about the quality of food. The food on most vessels is in line with what you get at 4- and 5-star restaurants on land, so beware that elastic waistbands might be needed by the end of your trip. Also gather opinions on cruise schedules. Some cruise lines allow for flexibility in your itinerary, others have two dinner seatings and if you're not on time, you don't eat. Ask about the activities are onboard. Is there a variety? Are the shows good? Finally, inquire about the decor; newer or updated ships will feel more like a Ritz-Carlton than a Motel 6.
As far as cruise styles, "mainstream" cruise lines can carry a small city on the water. Other cruise lines, such as Viking River Cruises or Oceania Cruises, provide luxury and a slower pace. There are also specialized cruise ships, like the American Queen Steamboat that runs multi-day cruises up and down the Mississippi River.
Choose your destinations
After finding the right cruise line, figure out how many days you want to spend on the cruise (remember that depending on where you live, it can take a day to travel to the departure port and a day to travel home). The number of days will then dictate what destination options you have. Some itineraries will feature just one port for visiting, while others will dock at anywhere from three to 10. If you're traveling from the United States, the travel experts at Away.com recommend touring the Caribbean, Hawaii or Alaska. There are also plenty of cruise lines that tour the Mediterranean, the rivers of Europe, and even Russia and Asia. Cruising allows you to get an overview of destinations, rather than an in-depth look into the local scene. Because you're traveling by a large ship (unless you do a river cruise), you will explore only coastal towns, and typically the ship will be in port only for about a half a day. As you peruse the destinations available, you can normally see a sample itinerary, too.
Book your cruise
Once you've selected the cruise line, the number of days and the destinations you want to visit, then you're ready to book your cruise. With all your meals, snacks and beverages (alcohol and specialty restaurants onboard might cost more), your room, and onboard entertainment covered, there's not much left to plan. You can choose to research things to do in ports, or you can take advantage of the shore excursions that cruises offer.
Pack for your cruise
No matter your destinations, it pays to look up the typical weather and pack accordingly. A cruise in July might sound warm, but if you're heading to Alaska you can skip the bathing suit and pack an extra sweatshirt. Everyone packs differently, but it's in your best interest to pack minimally, as the rooms are not as big as a typical hotel room. Bathing suits and shorts are usually fine for the daytime, but evenings typically require more of a resort-casual wardrobe. And most ships have one or two formal nights, so pull out the old bridesmaid or prom dresses. Most importantly, if you're traveling outside of the United States, make sure your passport is up to date and packed along with your ticket so you'll be good to sail away.
February 20, 2013 5:18 pm
With spring break right around the corner, many are beginning to think about their next vacation—and their bank account.
It turns out planning a vacation is good for both your spirit and your finances. Taking a vacation is something everyone should do because it helps you relax and get away from day-to-day chores. The key is planning in advance so you know all of your expenses are covered without creating new debt or other financial obligations.
BMO Harris Bank suggests four steps to make taking a vacation possible in 2013:
Create a vacation budget.
The first step is deciding how much you want to spend on your vacation. Is it a weekend getaway or a weeklong excursion? You need to know how much travel, lodging, a rental car, dining and entertainment will cost. You can then divide it up between the months until your vacation to give you a ballpark figure for how much you need to save.
Open a separate vacation savings account
. This allows you to watch your money grow and also keep you less tempted to spend it on other expenses. To make saving even easier, you can use an auto savings program to transfer a predetermined amount of money at set times during the month from your checking to savings account.
Save a portion of your tax refund.
Also consider saving any work bonuses, gift money and even the loose change you have in your wallet or pockets at the end of the day. Many people are surprised that even small amounts can quickly add up.
Try a one week spending fast.
Once a month, try spending as little as possible over the course of one week. For example, don't spend money on coffee, lunch, going to the movies or happy hour with your coworkers. Instead, take that money and put it in your vacation savings account.
BMO Harris Bank
February 20, 2013 5:18 pm
Historic structures. Buildings of historical or architectural significance, perhaps landmarks, that are designated by federal, state, or local historical commissions.
February 20, 2013 5:18 pm
A: A buyer’s agent represents the buyer exclusively. This means he works to protect your interests in the transaction and helps to negotiate the best purchase price and terms. More information about buyers’ agents is available by contacting the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents at (609) 799-4382, or log on to www.naeba.org.
February 19, 2013 7:14 pm
If there’s one thing better than getting a good price on something, it’s getting it for free – and 2013 brings a new crop of sources for free goods and services.
From the money mavens at Kiplinger’s, check out this list of freebies available now:
Free college tuition – Believe it or not, there are a few schools offering a free education. Berea College in Kentucky covers the entire $20,900 annual tab for all students with a combination of grants, scholarships and work-study. Cooper Union in New York City grants a full-tuition scholarship to all students valued at $150,000 over four years – and College of the Ozarks in Missouri offers a work-study program in lieu of tuition.
Free computer security – Save $70 a year or more on security software by checking out Avast Antivirus and Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows – both of which get good reviews and offer basic defenses including malware protection.
Free digital storage - With free online backup storage, you can share files and protect them from computer crashes, theft and natural disaster. Windows Live SkyDrive gives you 7 gigabytes of free, secure digital storage space. You can also use Amazon Cloud Drive (5 GB free) or Dropbox (2 GB free).
Free tech support - If you have a problem with your computer, head to Techguy.org or 5starsupport.com for free help. You can search forums for your machine’s problem or post a question and get a timely response from the sites’ squad of geek volunteers.
Free passport photo - You’ll pay about $15 at the post office to get your picture taken for your passport. Instead, take your photo with your digital camera, then upload it to ePassportPhoto.com, which will help you size it properly before printing on your home printer.
Free language lessons – Go to FSI-language-courses.org to get free foreign language lessons online. Or go to OpenCulture.com for a list of lessons around the web thatyou can download to your MP3 player.
Free kids meals – Go to KidsMealDeals.com for a list of restaurants - such as IHOP and Johnny Rockets – where kids eat free when you buy a meal.
Free legal advice – Nolo.com is Kiplinger's go-to source for legal information. The site is packed with free advice on a wide range of legal issues, such as estate planning, buying or selling real estate, managing a business and more.
February 19, 2013 7:14 pm
Highest and best use. Use of land that is most logical and productive. Refers to the greatest income it can bring the owner, as well as factors such aesthetics and benefits to the surrounding community.
February 19, 2013 7:14 pm
A: Most definitely! Never reveal the top dollar you are willing to pay for a home. It will severely undercut your chance to negotiate the home price with the seller. While an agent may spend a lot of time showing you homes and sharing information, the reality is that she works for the seller, who ultimately pays each and every agent involved in helping to complete the home sale. The seller pays the agents in the form of a commission, a percentage of the proceeds from the home sale. The exception is hiring your own real estate professional, now commonly known as a buyer’s agent or a buyer’s broker.
February 19, 2013 5:14 pm
February is Responsible Pet Owner's Month, so as a pet lover, I will devote a few segments in the coming weeks to taking the best care of your pet while keeping your home free of the damage, stains and smells pets may provide, along with all that wonderful companionship.
The LaRue Team, an architectural firm in Austin, Texas, recently shared great advice from Laura Foster-Bobroff, providing a few pointers on taking better care of your home while exhibiting responsible pet ownership at the same time.
According to Foster-Bobroff, the most common by-product of pet ownership is a ruined floor. Pet urine flowing between floorboards can cause wood to warp if left unchecked.
She advises you wipe up “accidents” immediately and monitor wandering puppies. A puddle allowed to remain on the floor will seep and eventually be absorbed by the flooring and sub-flooring.
An animal will return to the same place to "go" again and again. To prevent this, Foster-Bobroff says use odor-neutralizing products to clean up, discourage repeat behavior, and limit an untrained puppy to areas where cleanup is easy-- like tiled kitchen floors.
Foster-Bobroff knows crating an animal is a popular training method, but galvanized metal crates are not waterproof. Water bowls in crates can also spill over or leak and often creating a chemical reaction between the wood floor and metal.
Even small spills disturb finish on wood floors, cause stains, or degrade grout between tiles. For crate training or "free range" pets, a mat under food and water bowls can prevent minor damage.
Finally, large dogs with large nails can do deep damage to flooring. So Foster-Bobroff says keep nails trimmed regularly to prevent small scrapes in the surface coating of wood flooring.
She says over time, the constant scraping of nails as they run back and forth between rooms will dull and wear away floor finish, especially in some pre-manufactured materials with thinner coatings.
In our next segment on the subject, we'll fetch you a few more tips on keeping your pet from damaging windows, doors and appliances.
February 19, 2013 5:14 pm
Whether you’re throwing a backyard wedding or a large gala, planning can be stressful if you’re handling it yourself. Below are some of the top wedding trends for 2013, so you can keep them in mind while making your wedding moves.
- Heirloom Romance: Soft and feminine, this trend features pale pastels in both flowers and paper products. The look is refined, while keeping a romantic, handmade quality.
- Purple Luxe: With hues of lavender, violet, plum, lilac and mauve, there is a purple to match every shade of love: passionate, romantic, forever. Gilded elements and ombre enhance the royal feel of this trend.
- Seaside Bliss: Inspired by the joys of a laid-back day at the beach, blue, coral and white combine to create a sleek, elegant and luxuriously casual feeling – the perfect look for breezy summer weddings.
- Pink Pop and Mod: For the bride who loves bold, clean, art-inspired looks, the vibrant colors of yellow, hot pink and orange inspire this graphic wedding trend.
- Classic Glam: The classic elegance of old Hollywood is embraced by the black-and-white color scheme that defines this trend: sophisticated and refined. Glitter and metallic touches add sparkle and shine to this glamorous wedding theme.
- Rustic Elegance: With burlap and lace, this theme is perfect for the casual bride who still wants that touch of Southern elegance at her wedding. The trend is inspired by a trip to the country: handmade signs, country stores, jelly jars and an indoor-meets-outdoor feel.
- Whimsy Carnival: For the kid in all of us, the magical feeling of a carnival highlights this wedding trend. Featuring bold, bright colors, the theme may be carried out with playful pinwheels, balloons and colorful paper products.
Craft superstore Michaels has introduced an elegant new collection of wedding accessories by leading wedding and entertaining expert and TV personality David Tutera . The collection includes themed, trend-specific wedding decorations and centerpieces, wedding day accessories and bridal accessories.
February 18, 2013 5:14 pm
According to tax experts at Kiplinger Personal Finance, there are five legitimate tax deductions taxpayers frequently overlook. Consider these, which can save you a bundle if they apply:
- State sales tax – The state sales tax deduction, which expired at the end of 2011, was re-instated on January 1 as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations – and is retroactive for 2012. Congress offers a choice between deducting state income taxes paid or state sales taxes paid. Choose whichever gives you the largest deduction. (The IRS has tables that show how much residents of various states can deduct based on income and state and local sales tax rates.)
- State taxes paid last year – If you paid tax when you filed your 2011 state income tax return in 2012, include the amount in your state-tax deduction this year along with state income taxes withheld from paychecks or paid via quarterly estimated payments.
- Charitable deductions – Most of us take deductions for our larger charitable gifts, but you can write off smaller out-of-pocket costs incurred while doing work for a charity – including food you donate to a nonprofit organization or stamps you buy for your school. Keep receipts and if your contribution totals more than $250, get an acknowledgement from the charity. If you drove your car for charity in 2012, deduct 14 cents per mile plus parking and any tolls paid.
- Job hunting costs – Qualifying expenses incurred during a job search may be written off even if you didn't land a new job, to the extent that your total miscellaneous expenses exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. Deductible costs include transportation expenses, including 55.5 cents a mile for driving your own car, plus food and lodging expenses if your search took you away from home overnight, plus cab fares, employment agency fees, and costs of printing resumes, business cards, etc. (Job-hunting expenses incurred while looking for your first job may not qualify.)
- American Opportunity Tax Credit - Unlike the Hope Credit that this one has temporarily replaced, the American Opportunity Credit is good for all four years of college, not just the first two. The tax credit is based on 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent on qualifying college expenses and 25 percent of the next $2,000, for a maximum annual credit per student of $2,500. The full credit is available to individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less ($160,000 for married couples filing a joint return).