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Four Easy Ways to Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed while Decorating

November 30, 2012 5:38 am

The holidays should be about enjoying the beauty of the season while spending time with family and friends. But, with busy schedules and an abundance of decorating choices, it's easy to be overwhelmed during what is supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year. By taking to heart these four simple tips, you just may find yourself decorating with what you already have and enjoying the holidays.

1. Inventory all your decorations, laying them out by color and design when getting started. This gives you a visual overview of what you have available to bring the holiday spirit into each area of your home while making it so much easier to pick out and find what you need. Look at your own inventory of holiday decorations. You may even come across some items you bought on clearance last year. Also, take a good look around your home and yard keeping an eye out for things that could find a place on a holiday mantle, wreath or tree. Re-purposing these items can make your home merry and bright, without making your wallet light!

2. Change is good! So, outdo yourself each year by re-using your existing decorations in different ways and perhaps in different rooms from year to year. Plan ahead. Perhaps your mantle had a little extra flair this time last year. Using those same decorations, mix them up to create a centerpiece or wreath focal point instead. This will satisfy your desire for something new and give lift to show-worthy pieces. For example, planters from your front porch that held summer palms now can be brought indoors and decorated with faux flocked holiday trees to flank a fireplace or doorway.

3. Go room to room leaving the least important spaces in your house for last. Such areas are perfect for your decorating leftovers. Use your best, most cherished holiday pieces in the highest traffic areas of your home. The remaining pieces can still be used to enhance the rooms of your home where you do the least entertaining. Decorative touches in these spaces, even using leftover pieces, adds a festive touch without the stress of creating a major showpiece for guests.

4. Each year get rid of tired decorations and refresh some of your existing pieces or add new ones. Refreshing tired decorations can be as easy as rinsing, dusting and untangling. It's worth the time and effort. If necessary, you can glue inexpensive new ornaments into a wreath to replace broken pieces or add a color. Add new ribbon to garland to freshen its look. Set yourself a budget for new Christmas accessories each year, and stay within those budget restraints.

Taking a little extra time early in the season to plan, reuse and refresh your holiday decorations will help you create different and distinctive looks. By using things you already have, and making a few quick enhancements, you can save yourself the "overwhelm" of additional time, energy and money leaving you more reason to celebrate the season.

Source: Chris H. Olsen

Published with permission from RISMedia.


10 Ways to Have an Energy Fit Holiday

November 30, 2012 5:38 am

The holidays can be an expensive time of year with plenty of gift giving, house guests and festive decor, making an impact on the wallet. In order to keep your home's energy in check, keep the following in mind:

Deck the halls with LEDs. When it comes to holiday lighting, LED lights are the bright choice to get you more for your money. The amount of power it takes to operate just one 7-watt incandescent holiday bulb could power two 24-foot LED strings - enough to light a six foot tree. Additionally, LED light strings last about 10 times longer.

Set time on your side. Set timers for your holiday displays to turn off before bedtime so there is no need to burn the lights all night long.

Switch your non-holiday lights. Before overnight guests arrive, switch out guest room and common area lighting to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Each CFL bulb you install will save you about $50 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.

Turn it off. Remind guests to turn off lights and fans when they leave the room. Stopping one ceiling fan from running all the time and turning at least one light off when you leave the room can save you more than $7 a month on your electric bill.

Stop peeking! Ovens lose a lot of heat when opened and require significant energy to heat back up to the appropriate temperature. Instead, when you have to sneak-a-peek, turn the oven light on and look through the interior window.

Choose glass or ceramic pans for the oven. These pans heat faster than metal ones and allow you to set the temperature 25 degrees lower than a recipe suggests for the same cooking time.

Don't forget your crock-pot. Use smaller appliances such as crock-pots, microwaves and toaster ovens when possible. These can be much more energy-efficient for side dishes or small meals.

Select energy-efficient electronics. When it comes to buying gifts for your loved ones, opt for a laptop computer over a desktop computer. Laptop computers require 50 to 80 percent less power than a desktop computer.

Let the star be your guide. Look for the ENERGY STAR logo when purchasing larger electronics or appliances. Newer ENERGY STAR models meet stricter requirements and can save up to 40 percent on energy over standard models.

Give the gift of light.
Use solar-powered pathway or security lights for your home or as a gift to the person who loves being outside in the evening.

Source: Florida Power & Light Company

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Creative Ways to Sell Your Home

November 30, 2012 5:38 am

Ever hear the stories about the people burying statues of St. Joseph (the patron saint of house and family) underneath their "For Sale" signs in hopes that it would help generate a faster offer? It may sound ridiculous, but it's true! In fact, when the housing market is slow, people turn to all kinds of less-than-rational things to get a deal done. While we don't advocate going that far, here are four creative things you can do to help move your house off the market a little faster:

Do some historical digging.
Just because your home doesn't qualify as a historical landmark doesn't mean there isn't a good story behind it! By doing a little bit of homework at your local library or down at City Hall, you may be able to find an interesting tale that will have potential buyers salivating. Maybe your neighborhood sits on an ancient Indian burial ground. Or, maybe your sleepy little town was once featured in a movie. Or, maybe Elvis once ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich in the café down the street. Whatever quirky facts you can dig up, they just might be enough to set your house apart from the competition.

Write a letter. Want potential buyers to know just how great your time in your home has been? Tell them! Instead of sticking around for an awkward face-to-face conversation during the showing, leave a handwritten letter that goes over some of the highlights – like why you fell in love with the house in the first place, what it was like to walk through the front door with your son when he came home from the hospital, and how great it felt to host your first Thanksgiving dinner in the formal dining room. By putting pen to paper, you can bring out a "human" touch that other sellers aren't giving, which may be enough to bring your home to the front of the line.

A New Take on the open house. Let's party! Hate the thought of a bunch of strangers wandering through your home during an open house, while you silently beg one of them to make an offer? Why not make the open house concept a little more enjoyable by turning it into a party? Some sellers are doing just that. One Las Vegas-based REALTOR® hosted a Cinco de Mayo party, complete with tacos and margaritas, while a San Jose REALTOR® brought Santa Claus in for a family-themed holiday party. One word of advice, though – make sure your party complements your home's high points. For example, if you've got a great backyard, host a barbecue or an outdoor brunch. Or, if you've got a great media room, host a football-themed party with the game on in the background. That way, potential buyers will feel more relaxed and you'll get to show off your home's best features all at the same time.

Source: RealtyPin

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Cyber Monday Spending Soars to 1.46 Billion, Ranking as Heaviest U.S. Online Spending Day in History

November 29, 2012 5:38 am

ComScore, a leader in measuring the digital world, reported holiday season U.S. retail e-commerce spending for the first 26 days of the November-December 2012 holiday season. For the holiday season-to-date, $16.4 billion has been spent online, marking a 16 percent increase versus the corresponding days last year. Cyber Monday reached $1.465 billion in online spending, up 17 percent versus year ago, representing the heaviest online spending day in history and the second day this season (in addition to Black Friday) to surpass $1 billion in sales.

"Despite some news reports suggesting that Cyber Monday might be declining in importance, the day has once again set an online spending record at nearly $1.5 billion," said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "However, it is also clear that the holiday promotional period has begun even earlier this year, with strong online sales occurring on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. Now, we shall see the extent to which continuing and attractive retailer promotions are able to boost sales for the remainder of the week."

Digital Content & Subscriptions and Consumer Electronics Post Strongest Cyber Monday Gains
Cyber Monday saw Digital Content & Subscriptions continue to set the pace among product categories with a year-over-year growth rate of 28 percent. Consumer Electronics, buoyed by gains in smartphone sales, ranked second at 24 percent, while tablet sales helped the Computer Hardware category post a 22 percent growth rate. Video Games, Consoles & Accessories (up 18 percent) and Jewelry & Watches (up 17 percent) rounded out the top five.

Shopping at Work Accounts for Nearly Half of Cyber Monday Spending
Nearly half of dollars spent online at U.S. websites originated from work computers (47.1 percent), down slightly from last year. Buying from home comprised the majority of the remaining share (47.2 percent) while buying at U.S. websites from international locations accounted for 5.7 percent of sales.

The term 'Cyber Monday' was coined by in 2005 to refer to the significant jump in e-commerce spending that occurred following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend as consumers got back to sitting in front of computer screens at work.

"Cyber Monday was often misconstrued as the heaviest online spending day of the year, when in fact it barely cracked the top ten days of the season. However, with the passage of time, the day grew in importance as a result of an increasing number of retailers offering very attractive deals on the day and extensive digital media coverage making sure that consumers were aware of them. As a result, Cyber Monday has assumed the mantle of top online spending day for the past two years – a trend we expect to hold once again in 2012," added Fulgoni.

Source: comScore, Inc.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Screening the Options for a New HDTV

November 29, 2012 5:38 am

(Family Features) If a shiny, new high-definition TV is at the top of your loved one’s wish list this holiday season, you may be realizing that shopping for a television is much more complicated than it used to be. Today’s models boast a wide range of features and options that can make selecting just the right model an overwhelming proposition. Follow these shopping tips and before you know it, the only challenge left will be how to wrap that oversized box and fit it under the tree.

Size it Up…or Not. Many buyers are tempted to upgrade not only functions and features, but also size when they’re in the market for a new HDTV. But purchasing a model that overwhelms a small room can be an unnecessarily costly mistake. On the flip side, too small a TV in a big space will leave viewers wishing for more.

Understand the Options. Whether you need a plasma, LED or LCD unit depends entirely on your viewing habits and environment. Plasma TVs are best for low-light viewing, offer the widest viewing angles and are ideal for high-action viewing such as sporting events. With greater energy efficiency and a sleeker look, LEDs also are appropriate for diverse lighting situations. A broad selection of sizes makes LCD TVs a good option, particularly for well-lit spaces.

Make the Smart Choice. Similar to smart phones, smart TVs integrate the Internet with familiar technology to create a richer media experience. Although they can be used to watch regular programming, smart TVs are generally geared toward viewers who want a highly interactive experience with entertainment features such as streaming video or music and other online content.

Accessorize. Though most newer model HDTVs come with plenty of bells and whistles, remember that some attractive options may come in the form of add-on accessories. For example, a reliable DVR will help capture hours of programming to watch on that new TV. Some models let you record up to five shows at a time, with plenty of memory capacity that serves up to eight TVs throughout the house.

Define Your Needs. You’ve seen HDTVs advertised as 720p or 1080p — but what does that mean exactly? These numbers refer to the unit’s vertical resolution, or number of visible lines, which impacts overall picture quality. Generally, the greater the resolution, the better the picture. But 720p HDTVs can be a more cost-effective choice, and the majority of broadcast programming is not yet available in 1080p.

Consider these factors while shopping for a new HDTV. It just might be the best holiday gift you give this season.

Source: DirecTV

Published with permission from RISMedia.


The Top 5 Mistakes Buyers Make

November 29, 2012 5:38 am

So you're ready to meet the challenge of buying a new home? With some common-sense planning, you can avoid these five common buyer mistakes and steer yourself towards success:

1. Impulse buying. In order to skip this mistake, do some serious research on your specific needs. For example, how do the local schools rate? Are there parks or recreation facilities that fit your needs? Can you tolerate the traffic? Is there sufficient shopping? In other words, rate areas in terms of what is important to you personally. You might find your "dream house" only to discover that resales are terrible, the schools are abysmal, traffic is a nightmare, or that aircraft patterns go right over the front yard. Bottom line – make your dream home earn its stripes. Before you commit to a long term relationship, make certain you are compatible.

2. Not setting any limits. Don't make the classic mistake of buying into more than you can afford. Needless to say, your first responsibility is to pay for your mortgage, taxes, and insurance. If you're set on upgrades or remodeling, can you fit them into your budget? What about furnishings? Can you afford the extra furniture for those extra bedrooms or for that huge new living room? And what about utilities? Those cathedral ceilings are breathtaking, but have you considered the additional energy costs?

3. Not getting pre-approved for a mortgage. Speaking of monthly payments, most experts consider it crucial for buyers to seek pre-approval from a lender before even looking to purchase. While pre-approval does not necessarily mean you are approved for a loan, at the very least it establishes precisely what you can afford. Once you're armed with that information, you can avoid the heartbreak of finding the perfect home only to discover that it's beyond your reach. In addition, pre-approval substantially improves your status as a buyer in the eyes of a seller.

4. Not working with professionals. So, you've found a lender. Now you need to complete your professional support team. Too many buyers believe they can do this on their own, and they disregard professional input. Avoid a nightmare later by assembling a group of professionals who will suit your needs, represent you, and whose expertise you respect. Begin your search with a buyer's agent. Resist the urge to call the number on the For Sale sign. The seller's agent works for the seller. You need an agent who will work on your behalf and negotiate with your interests in mind. Will you need a real estate attorney? It's a good idea to find a suitable lawyer as your search begins, rather than in the midst of it. To say that real estate documents are confusing is an understatement. A real estate attorney is best suited to protect you from unexpected terms or surprises when it's time to sign on the dotted line. And what about a home inspector? Which brings us to the next mistake…

5. Cutting corners on the home inspection. Lenders require a home inspection before they will approve a loan, but the bank generally pays for only standard home inspections that cover structural components such as walls, support, electrical and piping. Buyers are wise to pay for more thorough inspections to include roof integrity, sewage or leaks. A minor investment with your own inspector is a small price to pay in exchange for enormous deficiencies later.

Ultimately, with smart planning and a realistic approach to home buying, you really can enjoy the dream of owning your perfect home.

Source: RealtyPin

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Get More Value out of Your Game Day Party

November 28, 2012 5:36 am

(Family Features) No matter what your favorite sport is, when you host the watch party you need to be on your A-game. But, like many people, you don’t want to break the bank on food to entertain. In fact, 90 percent of people look for deals to get more value when making food purchases.

Here are a few tips for hosting a winning game day party on a budget:

Go Big – Grab some savings when you buy in bulk. Look for party-sized packages of your favorite chips, dips, pretzels and nuts. You can stock up on bulk beverages and desserts, too, saving you time and money.

Count on Teamwork – Have each of your guests bring a favorite snack or dish to share with everyone. To make sure you don’t have too many of the same dishes, assign different categories to people – one to bring chili, another to bring chips and dip, etc. For those that don’t cook, let them bring drinks, ice or paper goods.

Keep it Simple – Pizza is always a game-time favorite – but ordering carry-out or delivery pizza can get pricey and time-consuming. According to the same national survey, nearly two-thirds of consumers (65 percent) prefer the convenience and quick-preparedness of frozen foods versus ordering out or having food delivered. You can often get more pizza for your money.

DIY to Save – Deli and veggie trays from the grocery store can be expensive. You can make your own and save more money. Choose a variety of items you know your guests will eat. You can wash and cut produce a day or two before the party and just store them in the fridge until party time.

Don’t Trash It – When you skip disposable plates, utensils and cups, you not only save money, but you also cut down on the amount of trash you have to deal with when the party’s over. Use the dishes you have, even if they don’t match. If you’re having a large party and don’t have enough dishes, borrow some from friends.

It’s easier than you think to host a game-day party that doesn’t cost a fortune. A little planning and some smart shopping means you can enjoy the big game and all the delicious fun that goes with it.

Source: DiGiorno

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Holiday Travel and Home Plumbing Tips to Avoid Costly Problems

November 28, 2012 5:36 am

When pipes freeze, water pressure builds causing cracks, whether the pipe is made of plastic, copper or steel. Even a tiny crack can unleash 250 gallons of water in a single day. Cracked pipes are one thing, but the real problem comes when the pipes begin to unfreeze. If you're planning on traveling for the holiday season, take the proper steps to ensure your home's plumbing system will survive the cold and your house is protected from disaster.

• Make sure your furnace is set no lower than 55 degrees while you're away and throughout the winter to prevent pipes from freezing.
• Turn up the water heater slightly to retain hot water. Do not exceed 125°F.
• Insulate pipes in unheated areas. Apply heat tape or thermostat-controlled heat cables around exposed pipes.
• You can shut off the washing machine water valve supply to save on your bill.
• There are several places you can check for leaks that will save water and in some cases prevent potential messes while away including a running toilet and appliance hoses.
• Install a flood detection device that works like a smoke detector setting off an alarm to warn your house-sitter of a potential flood or leak caused by bursting pipes.

If you have a house sitter, leave them instructions for turning off the main water supply to your home, should a problem arise.

Source: Roto-Rooter

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Holiday Decorating 2012: Tips For Hanging Holiday Outdoor Lights

November 28, 2012 5:36 am

The holiday season is fast approaching and if you're hanging up holiday lights, now is the time. With a little pre-planning and helpful advice, what starts as a festive holiday activity should end as a festive holiday activity.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people for injuries from falls, cuts and shocks – all related to holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees. Thinking about lining the walkway with candles to stay safe? Think again, as the CPSC warns that candles start about 11,600 fires annually resulting in 150 deaths, 1,200 injuries and $173 million in property loss.

To transform an outdoor area into a holiday wonderland as safely and efficiently as possible, try the following:

• Develop a plan. Sketch out a drawing, take before and after pictures and file them away for next year's decor. Having a plan is not only a time saver, but it also eliminates the amount of time spent on the roof or on ladders – a safety hazard for both pros and homeowners, alike.

• Make time. Plan on at least three hours for roof hanging. If it's the first time you're executing a plan, keep it simple. It's easier to add more lights on another day, but get the basic outline complete first.

• Test and retest. Test each strand of lights early and before attempting to hang. Don't test on the fly.

• Use the right stuff. Only use exterior extension cords, and use more than one. A common DIY mistake homeowners make is connecting all of the lighting through the same line and outlet. Doing so can blow fuses and lights.

• Tape it up. Tape up connections so that outdoor elements don't affect the circuitry. For example, exposed extension cords are trip hazards for both homeowners and visitors.

• Use clips. When hanging lights and decorations, use clips, not nails. Clips hold better and don't destroy the home's exterior.

• Never go solo. When mounting roof lights, work in pairs. Have one partner hold the ladder (on hard ground in an area free of small rocks, divets or holes) so that it stays secure. This reduces accidents and gets the job done quicker. And when in doubt, call in the experts. Professional lighting installers can install lights on high peaks and places that typical home ladders can't reach. They can also develop a plan to be implemented season after season.

Oftentimes, less is more. Use an elegant and simple holiday lighting scheme and don't go to extremes. Using too many colors or fixtures can look overbearing and take away from what you are trying to accomplish.

Source: Outdoor Living Perspectives

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Is It Possible to Retire Without a Mortgage to Worry About?

November 27, 2012 5:36 am

It's one thing to commit to a 15- or 30-year mortgage when you're in your 20s or 30s and have a (relatively) stable income. But what about when you're in your 50s and 60s and thinking about retiring? Suddenly, those once-manageable monthly mortgage payments can seem like a massive hurdle. Is it even possible to retire without a mortgage in today's day and age? Before the recession, Baby Boomers were sitting pretty on homes that were just about paid off – and skyrocketing in value. As a result, many of those Baby Boomers used all of that value to their advantage – like taking out second mortgages to help the kids pay for college, or getting home equity loans to pay for brand new gourmet kitchens and spa-like master bathrooms. Unfortunately, the housing bubble burst before many of them got a chance to make up for the cost. In fact, the average American lost 40 percent of his or her net worth during the recession, and those Baby Boomers were no different. As a result, many of them will be unable to have that carefree, mortgage-free retirement they dreamed of.

But what about younger Americans? Even though they have more time to plan, the investment options are slimmer than they were a few years ago – meaning there's not as many opportunities to "close the gaps" on mortgages as there were before. For example, back in the mid-2000s, flipping houses was all the rage. If you had enough for the initial investment, you could make massive sums of money, and relatively quickly, to boot! Today, flipping has started to rise from the ashes, but it's not nearly as popular as it once was. And, until the housing market gets back on its feet, it won't be the quick source of money that it once was.

So, what are your options in today's economy if you want to enjoy your golden years without a mortgage hanging over your head?

1. Increase your monthly payments now.
By paying a little more now, you can get your home loan paid off sooner. If you don't think you have extra money to pay now, think again. Remember, mortgage rates are at all-time lows. Take the money you're saving on interest, and put it towards higher monthly payments. That way, you won't necessarily need to spend more money than you had originally budgeted.

2. Cool it with additional debt.
Just because banks are starting to write more second mortgages and home equity loans again doesn't mean you have to take advantage of them. Instead, find ways to pay for things without taking out a loan. Even if it means cutting back on "fun" spending now, you'll thank yourself later!

3. Don't forget about your retirement savings.
Even if it feels like retirement is still a long way away, it's not. If you don't put money towards your retirement savings now, you're going to regret it later. In fact, make your retirement fund part of your monthly budget – just like your car payment or your grocery bills. That way, it will get the attention it deserves.

As long as you learn to work with the current economic landscape (and adjust your finances accordingly), you may not have to be tied to mortgage payments all throughout your retirement!

Source: RealtyPin

Published with permission from RISMedia.