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Top 5 Cyber Monday Safety Tips

November 26, 2013 4:15 am

The internet makes holiday shopping so easy—no fighting for parking spaces at jam-packed malls, no waiting in endless lines to get to the register. But even if you consider yourself a pro, shopping online isn't without risks. These tips from can help you protect yourself and your finances as you hunt for that perfect gift:

1. Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit card payments can be withheld if there's a dispute with a store, and if the card is stolen, you won't have to pay more than $50 of fraudulent charges. But with a debit card, you can't withhold payments—the store is paid directly from your bank account. And if your card is stolen, you could be liable for up to $500, depending on when you report it.

2. Find out if the public WiFi hotspot you're using at a coffee shop or bookstore is secure. If it's not, your payment information could be compromised over the network.

3. It's risky not to read the terms of service agreement before you buy online. You could inadvertently sign up for subscriptions or get hit with additional fees or restrictions. Terms of service are often in small print or presented right when you are anxious to purchase.

4. Be careful if you're buying event tickets online as gifts. Some venues may practice restricted ticketing, requiring the same credit card used in the online purchase to be shown to get into the event.

5. Use caution buying digital assets like books and music—they can't be given away as gifts if they've been downloaded to your account. You should either purchase a gift card for the book or music site, or check with the company. Some services have ways to "gift an item" but it varies depending on the provider.

For more advice on safe online shopping and being a savvy consumer this holiday season and all year long, check out the Consumer Action Handbook –the free government guide to protecting your money.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Holiday Safety Tips for Home Decorating, Cooking and Lighting

November 26, 2013 4:15 am

This week rings in a season of spending time with friends and family, shopping, gift-giving, decorating, baking, and cooking. Safe Electricity offers tips to help ensure that this busy and festive time remains a safe one.

Holiday entertaining often involves cooking for family and friends. According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. From 2007-2011, cooking equipment was the leading cause of home structure fires, and unattended cooking was by far the leading factor in these fires:

-Stay focused and attentive to baking, brewing, and simmering foods.
-Keep cooking areas clean and clear of grease.
-Never plug more than one high-wattage appliance into a single outlet.
-Make sure outlets near sinks are equipped with properly tested ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). GFCIs cut off power instantly if there is an electrical problem, saving you from a dangerous shock.
-Always have a working fire extinguisher on hand, and know how to operate it.

Your home may see increased traffic over the holidays, including children and pets. Make sure all electric cords are out of high-traffic pathways and areas. Do not run cords through doorways; staple, nail, or tack them to the wall; or hide them under rugs or carpets. Do not let children or pets play with light strands or electrical decorations.

One way that many kick off the holiday season is with decorating the home. When decorating indoors:

-Inspect all the lights you plan on using before you start decorating. Make sure the wires are in good condition--not cracked, brittle, or frayed. The sockets should not be damaged, and no light bulbs should be missing.
-Replace damaged strings, and be sure to unplug the lights before replacing a bulb.
-Use only holiday lights that have been safety tested and certified by an approved laboratory.
-Do not overload extension cords or outlets. Electric overloads can cause shocks and start fires.
-Always turn off or unplug lights before going to bed or leaving your home. A timer can help you make sure this happens.

For your safety follow these additional precautions:
-Do not hang lights when it is windy, raining, or snowing.
-Use properly tested GFCI outlets or extension cords to prevent shocks.
-Use only lights that are certified by an approved laboratory and rated for outdoor use.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


Staying Home for the Holidays

November 25, 2013 4:15 am

Shopping and bills and cooking are the least of American's concerns with the holiday season just around the corner. While the majority (52 percent) of Americans indicates they enjoy hosting holiday gatherings in their home, many believe their house is inadequate and feel overwhelmed and stressed at the thought of hosting.

According to the latest PulteGroup Home Index Survey (PGHI ), 47 percent of Americans worry that their home is not properly suited to host family and friends for the holidays, and describe hosting as stressful or as an unfair financial burden.

When asked what would make hosting easier, 75 percent of survey respondents said more space in the main entertaining areas of the home would make it easier to entertain. The top three things that would make hosting the holidays easier:

• Bigger/more open living space for guests to visit/interact – 30 percent
• A larger kitchen to accommodate holiday meals and preparation – 25 percent
• Larger dining/eating area to accommodate bigger groups – 20 percent

"Families continue to emphasize the need for space when it comes to the gathering areas of the home - not just at holiday time, but for everyday entertaining and living," said Janice Jones, PulteGroup's national vice president of merchandising.

"When you feel cramped in the kitchen or family room, hosting for the holidays can be very stressful."

Meanwhile, 11 percent of males surveyed believe a better entertainment system would make hosting the holidays a lot more fun. Additionally, majority of Americans (51 percent) say the best part of the holiday season is spending time with friends and family, while 15 percent enjoy family holiday "traditions."

When asked what their preferred holiday plans are for this year, 46 percent actually plan to host holiday gatherings in their home, 39 percent plan to go to someone else's home for the holidays, and 15 percent prefer to just get away and not celebrate the holidays.

Before Americans ring in the New Year, they will, on average, spend nearly $350 hosting dinners, parties and holiday gatherings. However, the survey revealed that men and millennials will spend the most on hosting family and friends.

• Millennial males plan to spend an average of $473 on hosting dinners, parties and holiday gatherings at home.
• Millennials overall plan to spend an average of $418 on hosting.
• Fifty-seven percent of millennial males (ages 18-34) would prefer to host holiday gatherings rather than going to someone else's home.

"Millenials love to entertain and are not shy about spending money on hosting family and friends in their home," Jones said. "This is significant as we seek feedback to design new consumer-inspired floor plans to reflect how millennials live in their homes."

Source: PulteGroup Home Index Survey

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Top Exterior Home Trends Include Bold Color Choices, Mixed Materials

November 25, 2013 4:15 am

Consumers have more options than ever before when choosing materials for their home's exterior. Siding has evolved from a lower-quality choice to a stylish solution for homeowners looking to update their home's exterior on a budget thanks to relatively inexpensive material and labor costs paired with an abundance of new color and style options. Bold color choices, mixed materials and the addition of premium trim for a more custom look top the list of consumer siding trends heading into the New Year. Power Home Remodeling Group encourages homeowners to overcome the stigma once attached to vinyl siding and rediscover the endless possibilities of this stronger, more versatile material.

"The popularity of websites like Pinterest and Houzz has inspired homeowners to take risks when designing their home's exterior. Siding can turn an outdated facade into a stunner without breaking the bank. Siding replacement has a solid return on investment as well, allowing homeowners to recoup more than 70 percent of replacement costs at resale," said Ann Sawyer, Power Home Remodeling Group's vice president of Operations.

Vinyl siding can now perfectly mimic expensive architectural accents like wood, stone and slate, making these high-end looks available to budget-conscious consumers. Additionally, many homeowners are experiencing a renewed interest in vinyl siding thanks to advancements in technology that have created a more durable material designed to handle exposure to the elements for the long haul. Modern moisture barriers and foam insulation increase the energy efficiency and weather resistance properties of vinyl siding, and many providers even treat siding to guard against pests — making it a truly low maintenance option.

With renewed consumer interest in siding, Power offers the following trends, tips and best practices to consider when embarking on a vinyl siding replacement project:

Don't be afraid of bold colors: Siding was once limited to eight to 10 color options, but there's now more than 20 colors to choose from. Darker, bolder colors such as deep green and barn red are trending nationally, and exterior color palettes are expanding to include three or more colors as contemporary home designs are more detailed and complex.

Consider unique panel sizes and placements: Vertical board and batten and wide-board siding are growing in popularity as both whole-wall and accent panel options. Plank-style siding with a wide-board look has come back in to popularity, with six and seven-inch exposures the most popular among homeowners.

Mix materials for a custom look: Mixed materials on the same wall are becoming standard, namely on the front exposure of a home. This trend is a result of the recent move to design a home's exterior to complement its natural surroundings. Combining siding with small accents of vinyl stone or brick instantly lends a more custom, high-end feel to the home's facade without the added cost of natural stone.

Boost curb appeal with premium trim: Skimping on trim will automatically leave a home's exterior lacking. Choosing a premium trim in a complementary color will instantly help a home feel more dynamic to passersby. Pair light trim with a darker siding to pack a visual punch as lighter colors help draw the eye to a home's architectural features.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips to Help You Winter Proof Your Home

November 25, 2013 4:15 am

Wet weather, colder days and the threat of the big chill means homeowners are truly gearing up for winter. If you haven't already done so, now would be a good time to get you and your home ready for the colder months ahead. Here are some tips to keep the heat in and the cold out.

1. Check your gutters - Why bother cleaning your gutters? Put simply, clean gutters should help eliminate the risk of rainwater clogging downspouts, which if left unattended may cause water damage to your roof. While this might not be the most glamorous job you'll ever do, in the long run, your home will thank you!

This is a job for two people as you'll more than likely need to use a ladder to reach your gutters. When cleaning your gutters, wear sensible footwear and be sure to ask someone to hold the ladder to keep you secure while you actually clean your gutters. Remember to wear gloves when removing debris, dirt and leaves from your gutters. If you can, use a bucket secured to your ladder to put everything you remove into.

2. Keep the heat in - While winter is one of our most beautiful seasons, the cold weather really can play havoc and make it hard for people to stay warm in their homes. Before you reach for the thermostat, try implementing some simple yet effective measures to help keep you warm.

• Have you got blinds in your home? If so, be sure to close them to keep the warmth in and the cold out as the nights draw in. It might be worth investing in some heavy weight curtains, too, so that you can stop the heat from escaping.

• Draft excluders are a relatively inexpensive way to keep the heat in too. Place them against doors in your home where you feel the biggest chills to help keep your rooms snug on winter evenings. Have you got any gaps around your doors or flooring? If so, get a sealant from your local DIY store and seal them before the cold weather really kicks in. Over winter, you're likely to be turning your heating up and the last thing you want to do is let all of it escape.

3. Bleed your radiators
- This should be quite a simple job to complete and shouldn't take up too much of your time either. Bleeding a radiator simply means releasing trapped air from your radiator. Turn off your central heating to stop air entering your system. Find your bleed valve and place an old towel underneath it to catch any water that comes out of your radiator. It's worth putting something around your hands, too, as the water that comes out may be hot. Use your radiator key by inserting it into the valve and turn it counter-clockwise. The air will start to come out of your radiator and when water starts to trickle out of your radiator the job is complete. All that's left for you to do is replace and tighten the bleed valve and turn your central heating back on. Job done!

4. Enjoy some 'me' time - It's cold, it's raining and you really don't like venturing out in the cold weather. Winter can be tough, not only for your home, but for you too. So, when prepping your home for winter think of little ways you can get the most out of this season. The cold weather can sometimes make you susceptible to colds, so try to eat healthy to help keep colds at bay. Are you into your fitness? Whether you are a fitness fanatic or just venturing into the world of exercise, it's always worth trying to stay active so that you can enjoy not only a fit winter, but a healthy one too.

Source: HomeServe

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Tips for Picking the Perfect Smartphone

November 22, 2013 4:09 am

(Family Features) From managing emails to connecting with friends, a smartphone can do a great number of things. But all of these features can be overwhelming when you’re in the market for a new smartphone. Since a smartphone purchase often includes a binding contract that can last for years, it is important to ask yourself a few of questions before making the commitment.

Whether you are a savvy, resourceful consumer, someone looking for an inexpensive way to become a first time smartphone user, or a budget-focused head of household, you need to find the right smartphone that fits your lifestyle. Here are a few tips to get you pointed in the right direction towards a satisfactory purchase:

What will you use it for?
Before you are enticed by a shiny television advertisement for the hottest new device, decide what the primary functions will be. If you want the ability to search the Internet or communicate through social media apps, a smartphone with a user friendly keyboard and an extensive data plan may be what you’re after. Consider if you will need the phone for work, play or both.

Contract plans, and even some non-contract plans, force you to pay for data, minutes or texts that you may not need or want. But some providers allow you to pay only for what you use, and any unused talk, text and data carryover as long as you keep your service active.

Where will you use it?
It’s important to choose a carrier that offers reliable coverage for the areas where you will be using your phone the most. Look for nationwide coverage deals across America largest and most dependable networks.

What’s your budget?
In your research, be sure to look at both the cost for the phone and the monthly contract. It’s also important to ask about any extra fees associated with the device, including activation or termination fees. Smartphones can be expensive devices, but with a little research you should be able to find a deal for one that can help you do more, without spending more.

Source: TracFone

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Post Tornado Clean Up Tips

November 22, 2013 4:09 am

There’s no question that tornado damage can be devastating. The Restoration Industry Association (RIA) has these clean up tips for those who might find themselves crossing paths with such a massive and threatening storm:

• Notify your insurance company of the loss.
• Keep a notebook to track dates and times of conversations with individuals pertaining to your claim.
• Secure buildings to prevent vandalism or further damage from weather. Most insurance policies require homeowners to take reasonable action to protect a property from further damage. Tarp or board up open spaces only if safe and appropriate.
• Shut off main water, gas and electricity supplies.
• Save receipts for meals, hotels, toiletries, replacement clothing, prescriptions, etc.
• Take photos of each room or area for future reference and insurance claims. This will provide a digital inventory of some visible contents.
• If electrical appliances, including televisions and computers are damaged, do not turn them back on when power is restored. This can result in electric shock and/or do further damage to the appliance. Electronics can often be cleaned & restored by contractors who know what they're doing.
• When it is safe to enter a property, look for valuables and important papers (e.g., birth/marriage certificates, wills, tax records, etc.)
• Beware of scammers offering restoration services. Check references and visit the Restoration Industry Association website to find a contractor.
• Wear heavy rubber gloves or work gloves and thick-soled shoes, preferably not tennis shoes.
• Wash your hands frequently - especially before touching your face or eating.
• Be careful of sharp items such as broken glass, nails, etc. while searching debris.
• Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
• Do not use bleach to disinfect since it is corrosive and can react with other substances. Use household disinfectants.
• Hard surfaces can be disinfected as well as some soft goods, depending on washability.
• Transport computers, art work and musical instruments to a dry environment.
• Damaged papers and books can be frozen temporarily to prevent further disintegration until they can be restored by a professional.
• Homeowners may hire any company they choose for restoration work, not just a company recommended by the insurance company.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Social Media Study Reveals the Hottest Gifts This Holiday Season

November 22, 2013 4:09 am

It's that time of year! The holidays are just around the corner and is immediately followed by Black Friday and Cyber Monday when a good chunk of holiday shopping takes place. This year, more than ever, the naughty and nice are expressing their holiday gift wishes via social media.

Prime Visibility took a look at the gifts that are lighting up Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. After aggregating over one million social media conversations about the gifts on holiday wish lists, some of the discoveries were expected, but some of the findings are very surprising. Here is what the study found:

• Cash and gift cards are the two most requested gifts.
• Outside of cash and gift cards, iPhones are the most widely requested gift with the iPhone 5s as the most requested model.
• Nike and Ugg are the two most requested apparel brands.
• While "Breaking Bad" is the most widely requested TV Show/DVD gift, older shows such as "Friends" and "Boy Meets World" are also in high demand.
• Starbucks, iTunes, and Target are the most widely requested gift cards – even more so than Visa and American Express which can be used for a variety of different types of purchases including Starbucks, iTunes, and Target.
• Younger females under 18 are more likely to publically express what they want as a gift through social media.

It's looking to be a great year for retailers and more will be shopping using mobile devices and apps more than ever before. Teens, not surprisingly, are using social media to not only connect with the friends and brands they love, but to also shop for holiday presents. Prime Visiblity's findings also revealed that more teens are increasingly turning to Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat (and some are even turning to Twitter) rather than Facebook or LinkedIn. In particular, Instagram is probably the network where teens are heading to most often over Facebook, demonstrating the need for brands to consider social network marketing options beyond Facebook.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Three Simple Tips to Prepare Your Car for Winter Weather

November 21, 2013 4:09 am

(BPT)—As temperatures dip, it's important to prepare your car for harsh winter weather. Not only can the elements be hard on your vehicle, but the chemicals that are used to fight the elements such as road salt and chemical compounds to melt ice are as well. Being prepared and knowing how to take care of your vehicle can help you avoid costly repairs and will extend the life of your vehicle.

Step 1: Check your windshield wipers
You never think about the condition of your windshield wipers until they don't work properly in a rain or a heavy snow fall. Rule of thumb is that you should change your wiper blades every six months. This will ensure you have the necessary vision on the road to drive safely even in less than ideal weather conditions.

Step 2: Protect your engine

You may not think about what's under the hood of your vehicle during the winter months, but protecting your engine and the components that make your vehicle run is important. Premium synthetic lubricant manufacturer Royal Purple recommends using Purple Ice, a year-round radiator conditioner that will provide corrosion protection and is fully compatible with antifreeze. A single bottle will treat a radiator for 30,000 miles when mixed with antifreeze to maintain maximum performance.

Step 3: Emergency road kit
Even if you take the best care of your vehicle, in some instances you cannot avoid a breakdown or incident when you're on the road. Take the time to pack an emergency kit that you can keep stored in your truck. It could be a lifesaver if you have to put it in use. Include a: flashlight, batteries, blanket, snacks, water, gloves, boots, first aid kit, ice scraper/snow brush, jumper cables, road flares, white towel or window sign to indicate you need help.

Before the colder weather sets in, getting your vehicle ready in advance will ensure you're prepared for the winter driving months.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Urban Uprising: Metro Dwelling Gains Momentum

November 21, 2013 4:09 am

These days, you don't need a big house to live large. Instead of spacious floor plans in subdivisions or planned communities, many of today's homeowners are drawn to life in urban centers. From empty nesters, to young professionals and single men and women, metropolitan living is drawing more residents...and they're not just renting. These consumers are forfeiting square footage for style and efficiency, purchasing smaller space homes in urban environments that make the finer things in life more affordable and accessible, all while being close to work and a vibrant lifestyle.

For the first time in more than nine decades, the major cities of the nation's largest metropolitan areas grew faster than their combined suburbs. This trend, identified by Moen's department of consumer and market insights demonstrates a shift in homeownership from suburban to metro areas.

"This idea of urban uprising is one we've continued to watch and it's especially interesting because it goes against what we've thought was true for years - that bigger is better," explains Jack Suvak, senior director of consumer and market insights, Moen. "In 2012, we started to see this trend gain momentum with urban population and downtown occupancy increasing. But now, migration toward city centers is accelerating, and smaller space living provides great convenience and appeal to today's consumer."

There are a number of reasons urban living is so appealing. By living in a metropolitan setting, consumers have greater access to amenities and resources, not to mention a reduced commute to work and the ability to walk or use public transportation to easily reach their destination.

Who Are the Urbanites?
It's clear why consumers are migrating inward to city centers, but who are these urbanites? Today's metro dwellers consist of individuals across generations that desire a location with walkability, proximity and easy access to public transportation. Three of the largest segments living in urban environments include:

Urban Nesters (ages 49-67): Empty nest Boomers are taking to downtown life. These Boomers like active, social lifestyles that downtowns offer. These locations provide a social return to the past for this generation. There is activity, life and people on the street.

Upscale Gen Y'rs (ages 18-35): Upscale Gen Y'rs want to live in areas that are close to where they work and play. Urban cores provide exactly the right blend for these individuals to maximize their time doing activities they have to do, with those they want to do, as well.

Single Gen X'rs (ages 36-48): More and more consumers are choosing to be single. City benefits provide a big attraction for these single dwellers. Living alone in cities can be intensely social and lead to a collective experience by creating an "urban tribe" - a support system consisting of friends and family members living in close proximity.

"Urban Uprising provides a level of convenience and connectedness for which consumers are longing," concluded Suvak. "Many homeowners aren't dreaming of living in McMansions in suburbia anymore. Now, the perfect (smaller) spaces are available in metropolitan areas across the nation, making it easier for everyone to find the home that's perfect for them."

Published with permission from RISMedia.