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Thomas Skiffington, CRS, GRI, CRB, ABR, ePro, CLHMS, SRES, RECS, CDPE, ECOBROKER
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Tom's Blog

Start at the Store: 7 Ways to Prevent Food-borne Illness

January 12, 2012 6:38 pm

Safeguarding your home against food-borne illnesses begins not at home, but at the supermarket, grocery store, or any other place where you buy food that you plan to store and serve.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne ailments cause about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths nationwide each year.

You as a consumer can play a key role in preventing these illnesses. While shopping for food, you should:
1. Check for cleanliness
Buying from a retailer who follows proper food handling practices helps assure that the food is safe. Ask yourself: What is the general impression of this facility? Does it look and smell clean?

2. Keep certain foods separated
Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods. It is also best to separate these foods from other foods at checkout and in your grocery bags.

3. Inspect cans and jars
Don't buy food in cans that are bulging or dented. Also, don't buy food in jars that are cracked or have loose or bulging lids.

Since foods sold in cans or jars are processed to be sterile, they can "keep" for a long time if the can or jar is intact. A bulging can or jar lid may mean the food was under-processed and is contaminated. A dent in a can, especially if the dent affects a seam, may cause an opening in the seam which may allow contamination, as would a crack in a jar. A loose lid on a jar means the vacuum has been lost and the product may be contaminated. Don't buy a food product whose seal seems tampered with or damaged.

4. Inspect frozen food packaging
Don't buy frozen food if the package is damaged. Packages should not be open, torn or crushed on the edges. Also, avoid packages that are above the frost line in the store's freezer. If the package cover is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. This could mean that the food in the package has either been stored for a long time or thawed and refrozen. In such cases, choose another package.

5. Select frozen foods and perishables last
Meat, poultry, fish and eggs should be the last items placed in your shopping cart. Always put these products in separate plastic bags so that drippings don't contaminate other foods.

6. Choose fresh eggs carefully
Before putting eggs in your cart, open the carton and make sure that the eggs are clean and none is cracked. Buy only refrigerated eggs and follow the "Safe Handling Instructions" on the carton.

7. Be mindful of time and temperature
It's important to refrigerate perishable products as soon as possible after grocery shopping. Food safety experts stress the "2-hour rule"—because harmful bacteria can multiply in the "danger zone" (between 40° and 140° F), perishable foods should not be left at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Modify that rule to 1 hour when temperatures are above 90° F, as they often are in cars that have been parked in the sun.

If it will take more than an hour to get your groceries home, use an ice chest to keep frozen and perishable foods cold. Also, when the weather is warm and you are using your car's air conditioner, keep your groceries in the passenger compartment, not the trunk.

Source: www.fda.gov
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Expecting? Household Hazards Pregnant Women Need to Avoid

January 12, 2012 6:38 pm

Many women try to lead healthier lives during their pregnancies. To promote the health of their baby, they may clean up their diets, take vitamins and eliminate alcohol and caffeine.

Unfortunately, all those efforts may be for naught if they are still being exposed to unseen chemicals in their daily lives. Dr. Doris Rapp, an experienced physician and expert on all the hidden household and environmental hazards, dishes on the details about the many insidious and dangerous threats to their unborn babies. These exposures can cause serious harm and damaging birth defects to babies in the womb, and they are right under our noses.

“One of the most dangerous groups of chemicals to pregnant women is known as PCBs,” says Rapp, author of 32 Tips That Could Save Your Life.

“PCB stands for polychlorinated biphenyls, and they are commonly used in industrial pesticides. While they may not be in your house, they may exist in your office, your water or your food, especially if you live near the Great Lakes or consume seafood caught there. These chemicals pass through the placenta into the unborn, and some exposures have been known to cause devastating birth defects. These chemicals have also been found in the breast milk of women.”

According to Rapp, some of the dangers of these pesticides include, but are not limited to:
• Lower birth weight
• Smaller head size and developmental delays
• Movement, mental, and behavioral problems
• Increased or decreased activity levels
• Slowed thought processing and “less bright” appearance
• Lower reaction times
• Compromised nervous systems
“Moreover, a group of pesticides known as organophosphates also poses a high risk for pregnant women,” Rapp adds.
“These include Bisphenol-A and phthalates,” she says. “They are derived from World War II nerve agents and are highly toxic. Even at low levels, organophosphates can be toxic to the developing brain, and studies show that they can affect brain and reproductive development in unborn animals. While most pesticides categorized as organophosphates have been banned for household use, they are still permitted for commercial use, including in fumigation for mosquitoes. Malathion, a common toxic organophosphate, is still allowed for use as an industrial and household insecticide. In the US, approximately 15 million pounds of Malathion are used each year by the government, as well as by businesses and homeowners.”
Her advice for women is to do all they can to avoid contact with these chemicals, starting before conception.

“Stay as far away as possible from pesticide-treated areas,” Rapp says. “Do not eat pesticide-laden food or any fish from the Great Lakes. Try to eat only organic foods. Further, if your job requires you to be in contact with any chemicals or pesticides, insist that other tasks be given to you for the duration of your pregnancy. Half the battle is knowing these dangers exist, but the other half is being informed and conscientious enough to be able to avoid contact with these dangerous and toxic agents.”

Dr. Rapp is board certified in pediatrics, pediatric allergy and environmental medicine.
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Retirement Wake-up Call: Survey Shows Majority of U.S. Residents Shortage of Savings Will Delay Their Retirement

January 12, 2012 6:38 pm

According to a recent BMO Harris survey, the majority of U.S. residents are not confident in their ability to save for their ideal retirement lifestyle (57 percent). Adequate retirement savings has become an issue of significant concern to members of every income bracket, and approximately half of U.S. residents (52 percent) say they have/will or anticipate maybe having to delay their retirement and/or work part-time during retirement due to a shortage of retirement savings.

"This is a critical wake-up call to everyone, no matter what your age," says Mike Miroballi, president and chief operating officer, BMO Harris Financial Advisors.

"Our best advice? Start now. Get smart about planning and saving for retirement, and get educated about the many strategies and tools available to help maximize your savings."

Miroballi provides the following tips to guide you as you review or initiate your retirement planning:
Meet with a professional: A financial advisor can provide the guidance you need to learn about the retirement planning process and assist you in creating a realistic retirement plan. You just might be surprised at some of the opportunities available to help build your nest egg.

Start Early: We can't say it enough. Start saving at an early age. Doing so gives you the advantage of compound interest, your money will be working for you every single day. Just ask your parents, they learned this lesson the hard way.

It's never too late: Don't be discouraged if you haven't been saving for retirement. Instead of giving up, like many people do, start now. Contact a financial planner who can help you develop a plan for the best retirement that you can have.

Take advantage of your company 401(k): There are many advantages to 401(k) plans. Don't miss out on any of them. Although rare these days, some companies still offer to match your contributions (guidelines will vary by company). If there is no match, you still benefit because whatever you put into your 401(k) plan is tax-deferred. Don't forget that no matter how long or short your career at the company, you can take your 401(k) contributions with you or roll it over into other retirement vehicles.

Consider a Roth IRA: A Roth IRA is a special type of retirement plan under U.S. law that is generally not taxed, provided certain conditions are met. This plan is different from other retirement plans because the tax break is granted on money withdrawn from the plan during retirement, rather than for money placed into the plan.

Commit to saving, even if you start small: Ben Franklin said it best, "A penny saved, is a penny earned."
Parents, educate your children: So many of us are learning the retirement lesson, save early and save often, the hard way. Please be sure to share this knowledge with your children, and guide them to make saving an important part of their financial lives.

Source: BMO Harris Financial Advisors
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Word of the Day

January 12, 2012 6:38 pm

Tenants in common. Style of ownership in which two or more persons purchase a property jointly, but with no right of survivorship and separate undivided interests. They are free to will their share to anyone they choose, a principal difference between this form of ownership and joint tenancy.
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Question of the Day

January 12, 2012 6:38 pm

Q: When should I tackle the job myself or call in the pros?

A: A lot will depend on your time, level of expertise or willingness to handle the job, amount of help from friends or relatives, and how much you want, or need, to save by doing the job yourself. You could save up to 20 percent of the project cost through your own hard work.

There are several do-it-yourself books that offer guidance, and some home improvement stores, such as Home Depot or Lowe’s, offer classes that can be helpful getting you on the right track.

Be aware, however, that you may end up spending more time, and up to double your estimated budget, if problems arise. Also, you may have difficulty selling your home if the workmanship looks shoddy.

Unless you are very experienced, home improvement experts suggest that you stick to painting, minor landscaping, building interior shelving, and other minor improvements.

Remember, too, that you may need to deal with local agencies to get permits, inspections, variances, and certificates of occupancy.
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7 Ways to Slash Your Grocery Bill

January 11, 2012 6:36 pm

If you’ve been clipping grocery coupons from the Sunday papers for years, you may have noticed a sad but noticeable truth: many of your name brand favorite coupons seem to be a lot less in evidence. “But,” says budget advisor Crystal Paine,” there are plenty of other ways to get more groceries for less.”

Paine, who wrote “The Money-Saving Mom’s Budget,” suggests ten ways to get more for your money:

1. Try the dollar store – Most carry off-brand canned and packaged goods—and some recognizable brands—costing far less than supermarket brands. Many also carry fresh produce at prices that may amaze you.
2. Shop the bread outlets – Check the phone book for outlet stores operated by many major brand bread bakers. The outlets sell their day-old breads and sweets for as much as 50 percent off supermarket prices. Most products have a use-by date anyway, so stock up the freezer and save big-time.
3. Use less soap – Get more out of your laundry soaps, dish soaps and shampoos that what the package recommends. In most cases, you won’t notice a difference in cleaning power, but you will find you are replenishing them less often.
4. Ditch the cold cereal – It’s an expensive breakfast. Make and freeze pancakes or waffles and store them in the freezer, toaster-ready. Try less expensive individual oatmeal packets. Throw milk or yogurt and over-ripe fruit in the blender for an inexpensive smoothie.
5. Use the freezer – If milk is getting ready to expire, put it in the freezer. Same for cheese and other dairy products—and fruit, cut into chunks and bagged. Use them later for puddings, smoothies, and other recipes. Grate the cheese for casseroles.
6. Shop less often – Doing so will save you money by forcing you to work your way through your food cabinets, freezer and fridge to come up with dinner ideas.
7. Try reusable water bottles – Don’t buy disposable bottled water. Buy reusable bottles at the dollar store, label one for each family member, and wash and refill every night.
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Are You a Renter? Some Things to Consider

January 11, 2012 6:36 pm

Since the rental market is expected to thrive in 2012 with more homeowners either being forced to consider renting, or renting out their space, we checked in with Jessica Bosari, a writer for LowIncomeApartmentFinder.com, for some advice.

How do renters help protect themselves from landlords whose property goes, or is about to go into foreclosure?

Bosari says property owners are typically aware they are undergoing financial trouble, but as a tenant, you will probably have no idea. You will probably learn about the problem the day the property owner is served with foreclosure papers.

This leaves very little time to find a new place to live before you the court forces you to vacate your current apartment. But a little advance notice can help you arrange a move before it is too late.

That's where Bosari says background research can save time, money, and stress.

The best time, she says, to learn about the financial problems of a property owner is before you move into the building by looking into the building owner’s public financial records.

If the property owner is holding a lien or has filed bankruptcy in the past, you would do better to find a different property for your new apartment. Bosari says the property owner will probably not be forthcoming about any financial problems, and you do not want to learn about them a month after moving into the building.

Generally there is a pattern of foreclosure, Bosari says. Property owners who are having trouble paying their bills will usually have a string of financial problems that you can research through your local county or town assessor’s office or website.

These locations will have a record of any liens that already held against the property owner.

Plus, Bosari says you can also discover if the property owner has filed for bankruptcy or some other form of financial assistance.

Any indication of financial instability, she says, is a red flag that the property is not a safe place to begin a rental contract. Keep shopping until you find an apartment with no financial troubles attached.
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Money and Moving: 5 Ways to Cut Costs

January 11, 2012 6:36 pm

According to Worldwide ERC, a workforce mobility association, the average family spent over 12,000 dollars on shipping household goods during a move in 2010. Between closing costs and property taxes, buying, selling and owning a home is an expensive ordeal. When you factor in moving costs, it’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed. Below are 5 ways to save money during your move.

Make deductions. Did you know you can deduct moving expenses from your taxes? If you relocated for work, you may be eligible to deduct packing, transporting and storing costs from next year’s taxes, so be sure to save those receipts!

Rent your own truck. Renting a truck and doing the move yourself from start to finish is the cheapest way to move. It requires more effort, but it saves money. Ask friends and family to help, or hire neighborhood teens to help with the packing and lifting. And don’t forget that fuel and mileage charges can differ immensely between companies, so do your research before hiring.

Timing is everything. The height of moving season is the summer, when the kids are out of school, the weather is ideal for packing and in general, most people have relaxed schedules. As a result, many movers offer discounts in the off-season. If it’s at all possible to postpone your move, attempt to relocate between October and April to score those off-peak prices.

Get it delivered. Many companies, including PODS and 1-800-PACK-RAT, that will deliver a portable storage unit to your place. You will save money by packing it yourself, and then the company will come back to pick up the unit and bring it to your new place.

Recycle packing Supplies. Moving companies often over-charge on packing supplies, so use them as a last resort. When it comes to packing supplies, you can save money by using what you have. Pack in boxes, suitcases, bags and bins you already own before buying supplies. And if you do need more, try purchasing your packing material from a recycled box company or ask local businesses for old boxes that they plan on tossing.
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Dude? Where’s Your Car? Exploring the Legal Steps Needed to Repossess a Car

January 11, 2012 6:36 pm

What are the legal steps necessary to repossess a car? If you're behind on your payments, you may find your car has been repossessed—sometimes, without your knowledge or consent.
Laws differ in each state, but here are some general principles.

Seizing the car

In general, a creditor can seize a vehicle as soon as a lessee "defaults" on a payment, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Check your loan or lease agreement, which should define what a "default" is. Even missing a single on-time payment may be enough.

A creditor can legally repossess a car at any time, without notice, no matter where the car is parked (unless it's inside a part of your house, like in a garage). But repo men can't use physical force or threats. If they do, it could be considered a "breach of the peace," and the repo men could face fines for damage.

Selling the car
In general, a creditor who repossesses a car legally can sell that car to another buyer. But some states require a creditor to tell you the date of auction or impending sale so you can try to buy back the repossessed car. Other states allow you to try to "reinstate" your loan by fulfilling back payments and entering into a new contract with your creditor.

Personal property inside the car
In general, a creditor cannot keep or sell personal property found inside a repossessed car. A lawsuit may be warranted if some of your personal items are unaccounted for.
Deficiency judgments

After a creditor sells a repossessed car, laws may still make you liable for paying the "deficiency"—the difference between what you owe on your contract and the resale price of the car.
Creditors can take you to court to enforce a deficiency judgment, but they could be out of luck if you have a good defense -- for example, if the repo men breached the peace when repossessing your car, or if a creditor waited too long to sue you. You may want to consult an attorney to ensure the best possible outcome.

Source: findlaw.com
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Word of the Day

January 11, 2012 6:36 pm

Tax sale. A court-ordered sale of real property to raise money to cover delinquent taxes.
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