August 8, 2011 10:57 pm
Back-to-school is the busiest shopping season right after the holidays. According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, nearly half of all U.S. consumers say they’ve become more practical in their purchases. Consumers are now buying what they need instead of what they want.
“Money is becoming a top priority for shoppers, especially with the current economic outlook,” says Howard Dvorkin, MBA, CPA, president and founder of Consolidated Credit. “For parents of school-aged children, it’s important to set a budget and plan out what the necessities are. It will set a prime example for children in their future spending habits.”
For parents on a back-to-school budget, check out the following shopping tips to make school shopping a little easier.
Supplies: Buy the basic school items in bulk. This includes crayons, paper, pencils, erasers, even tissues and hand sanitizer. Things like sunscreen or brown bags for lunch will also last throughout the school year.
Clothing: Kids aren’t too picky at this age. Get them some clothes that look nice, but are cheap. Look on clearance racks for extra deals and savings.
Supplies: The supplies for middle school students all depend on what their teachers want. Of course, get the basic school supplies like paper and pens, but also wait until the first few days to finalize what miscellaneous items you might have to get.
Clothing: During this age, kids tend to grow fast. Don’t buy tons of clothes that may fit in the beginning of the school year and seem too sizes too small half way through the term.
Supplies: Aside from the basic school supplies like pens and paper, let your child decide what they need for their classes. Don’t buy things that may not be used. Much of the work will be done in workbooks or online. For specific novels, head to a local library to borrow a book for free.
Clothing: Give a certain shopping budget for high school students. Let them buy whatever they prefer as long as they stay within their limit. Thrift store shopping is getting more popular among teens since it’s cheap and lets them develop their own style.
For more tips to save during back-to-school shopping, visit www.ConsolidatedCredit.org.
August 8, 2011 10:57 pm
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had declined in June, improved slightly in July. The Index now stands at 59.5 (1985=100), up from 57.6 in June. The Present Situation Index decreased to 35.7 from 36.6. The Expectations Index rose to 75.4 from 71.6 last month.
The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey®, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by The Nielsen Company, a global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for July's preliminary results was July 14, 2011.
Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, says "Consumer confidence posted a modest gain in July, the result of an improvement in consumers' short-term outlook. Consumers' appraisal of current business and employment conditions, however, was less favorable as concerns about the labor market continue to weigh on consumers' attitudes. Overall, consumers remain apprehensive about the future, but some of the concern expressed last month has abated."
Consumers' assessment of current day conditions weakened further in July. Those stating business conditions are "good" decreased to 13.4 percent from 13.7 percent, while those claiming business conditions are "bad" increased to 39.0 percent from 38.4 percent. Consumers' appraisal of the job market was also less favorable. Those claiming jobs are "hard to get" increased to 44.1 percent from 43.2 percent, while those stating jobs are "plentiful" remained unchanged at 5.1 percent.
Consumers' short-term outlook improved moderately in July. The proportion of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 17.7 percent from 16.5 percent. However, those anticipating business conditions will worsen also increased, to 15.2 percent from 14.9 percent.
Consumers were also mixed about the outlook for the labor market over the next six months. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased to 16.7 percent from 13.8 percent. However, those expecting fewer jobs also increased to 21.8 percent from 20.7 percent. The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes rose to 15.7 percent from 14.1 percent.
For more information, visit www.conference-board.org.
August 5, 2011 4:57 pm
A surprising number of people admit they criticize someone using just their email address, according to research conducted by 1&1 Mail & Media Inc. The study of 507 participants suggests that language used in an email domain can strongly influence an individual’s perception of others. Of the 75% of participants who say they judge others based on emails they receive, assumptions are most often made about a sender’s age, personality and character traits. In fact, the presumptions are based solely on an email address before he or she actually reads the mail’s content, suggesting that all parts of a message, including the sender’s contact information, are not considered to have an equally important impact on digital communication.
The “Email and Communication Research” study illustrates a large disconnect between a sender’s intended message and what is actually conveyed to recipients. A combined 64% of survey participants purposely choose a unique domain in their address to communicate their personality or character (26%), profession or industry (22%), or hobbies and interests (16%). However, a contradictory 1 out of every 5 feel they are unsuccessful in communicating a specific idea to recipients through their email address alone. This could be the result of a poor choice of address, misleading language or the lack of an opportunity to select a specific domain.
“The power of email lies not just within the contents of its message. With the limitations of electronic text, every word communicates an idea and combined, can relay information necessary for receiving the proper message. That is where a unique domain can really play a part in a successful send-and-receive process,” says Jan Oetjen, CEO of 1&1 Mail & Media Inc. “An email address is the first stage of communicating in the virtual space, combining syllables, symbols and a domain. It is also the first aspect of an email that a recipient sees, which can influence the perspective he or she uses to process the full message.”
The objective behind an individual’s choice of domain and wording for their email address varies greatly. Though 47% of participants currently use a general domain like mail.com or GMX.com, a majority take advantage of the ability to customize their virtual name. According to survey results, email addresses describing a sender’s physical appearance or that include jokes and humor often imply that a sender is young in age (36%) and someone who cannot be taken seriously (49%). However, over half who use their email for work and incorporate an industry-specific domain portray a sense of professionalism and credibility to potential clients or patients. Using @lawyer.com, @teacher.com, or @doctor.com as a domain could then improve clientele’s perception of a business and ultimately its bottom line.
For more information, visit http://www.mail.com.
August 5, 2011 4:57 pm
In today’s belt-cinching economy, many Americans are planning to spend a lot more time in their homes and backyards throughout the rest of the summer and are opting for "staycations" instead of vacations. To cope with and conquer climbing temperatures and utility costs, the most effective way to make your home comfortable and energy-efficient this summer is to consider your windows.
"Windows are the leading source of heat gain, accounting for nearly 50% of the heat that enters your home," says Scott Walker, president of Screenmobile. "Heat gain makes your air conditioner work longer and harder, which translates into higher energy costs."
To reduce heat gain in your home:
-Open front and back doors to create cross ventilation. Screened security doors can ensure your home is safe and cool.
-Create barriers from intense sun glare and prevent glass windows from heating up your home by installing sunscreen shades or outdoor awnings on doors, windows, porches and patios.
-Screen-in or enclose your porch, patio or lanai to extend your living space while protecting your family from heat, insects and sun glare.
-Repaint building exteriors with light colors to reflect sunlight away from the building, thus lowering air-conditioning expenses. This is especially true for your roof.
-Install Energy Star windows, which cost about 50 cents per square foot more than standard windows, but save energy and increase comfort.
-Add shade trees or shrubs to decrease heat gain. Deciduous trees will block the sun during the summer, yet shed their leaves during the winter.
-Create shaded areas on your porch, patio or lanai and protect your interior furnishings with retractable roll-down sun control shades that can be hidden away when not in use.
August 5, 2011 4:57 pm
Existing-home sales eased in June as contract cancellations spiked unexpectedly, although prices were up slightly, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.
Sales gains in the Midwest and South were offset by declines in the Northeast and West. Single-family home sales were stable while the condo sector weakened.
Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.77 million in June from 4.81 million in May, and remain 8.8 percent below the 5.23 million unit level in June 2010, which was the scheduled closing deadline for the home buyer tax credit.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, calls this an uneven recovery. "Home sales had been trending up without a tax stimulus, but a variety of issues are weighing on the market including an unusual spike in contract cancellations in the past month," he says. "The underlying reason for elevated cancellations is unclear, but with problems including tight credit and low appraisals, 16 percent of NAR members report a sales contract was cancelled in June, up from 4 percent in May, which stands out in contrast with the pattern over the past year."
Yun cites other factors in the sales performance. "Pending home sales were down in April but up in May, so we may be seeing some of that mix in closed sales for June. However, economic uncertainty and the federal budget debacle may be causing hesitation among some consumers or lenders."
The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $184,300 in June, up 0.8 percent from June 2010. Distressed homes—foreclosures and short sales generally sold at deep discounts—accounted for 30 percent of sales in June, compared with 31 percent in May and 32 percent in June 2010.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.51 percent in June, down from 4.64 percent in May; the rate was 4.74 percent in June 2010.
NAR President Ron Phipps says home sales should be higher. "With record high housing affordability conditions thus far in 2011, we'd normally expect to see stronger home sales," he says. "Even with job creation below expectations, excessively tight loan standards are keeping many buyers from completing deals. Although proposals being considered in Washington could effectively put more restrictions on lending, some banking executives have hinted that credit may return to more normal, safe standards in the not-too-distant future, but the tardiness of this process is holding back the recovery."
Phipps adds that lower mortgage loan limits, due to go into effect on October 1, already are having an impact. "Some lenders are placing lower loan limits on current contracts in anticipation they may not close before the end of September. As a result, some contracts may be getting cancelled because certain buyers are unwilling or unable to obtain a more costly jumbo mortgage," he says.
Total housing inventory at the end of June rose 3.3 percent to 3.77 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 9.5-month supply at the current sales pace, up from a 9.1-month supply in May.
All-cash transactions accounted for 29 percent of sales in June; they were 30 percent in May and 24 percent in June 2010; investors account for the bulk of cash purchases.
First-time buyers purchased 31 percent of homes in June, down from 36 percent in May; they were 43 percent in June 2010 when the tax credit was in place. Investors accounted for 19 percent of purchase activity in June, unchanged from May; they were 13 percent in June 2010.
The balance of sales was to repeat buyers, which were a 50 percent marketshare in June, up from 45 percent in May, which appears to be a normal seasonal gain.
Single-family home sales were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.24 million in June, but are 7.4 percent below a 4.58 million pace in June 2010. The median existing single-family home price was $184,600 in June, up 0.6 percent from a year ago.
Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 7.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 530,000 in June from 570,000 in May, and are 18.0 percent below the 646,000-unit level a year ago. The median existing condo price was $182,300 in June, up 1.8 percent from June 2010.
For more information, visit www.realtor.org.
August 4, 2011 4:57 pm
In a recent survey conducted by Index Credit Cards on the Foreign Transaction Fees (FTF) for top credit card providers, Capital One Credit Cards came out on top. The results also showed that there was a wide variance in the transaction fees of these major credit card providers.
Consumers who plan to travel outside of the United States choose to take their most trusted credit cards with them since they receive a lot of benefits including travel assistance, fraud protection and security because carrying a card is a lot safer than carrying cash. The benefits that they receive come at a price though since the foreign transaction fees on most credit cards can really make a dent in their travel budget.
Most consumers who have fully read the terms and conditions of their credit card program are fully aware of what foreign transaction fees are and seek to avoid them especially if they plan to travel a lot outside of the United States. The survey reveals that most credit card providers charge this fee, all except Capital One. In the past the fee had been called a foreign currency fee because it was used to cover the cost of converting foreign currency to U.S. dollars. More recently the fee is just charged for transactions that involve a foreign bank even when U.S. dollars are involved.
One major point that consumers should take note of is that the foreign transaction fee is charged even if they never leave the country as purchases made through foreign companies will also result in a foreign transaction.
According to the survey, consumers can completely avoid any foreign transaction fees, even the 1% charged by Visa and MasterCard, because Capital One absorbs this 1% for its cardholders. An added benefit of Capital One credit cards is that they charge little to no annual fees and the interest rates are industry standard rates.
“Capitol One's cards provide value and are the most effective cards for consumers all around. There are no annual fees and the no interest promotions make them an ideal choice for consumers who are not thrilled about all the credit card fees of other programs," says Sherry Garcia, a representative from Airline Miles Credit Cards. "Aside from that, Capital One is the only major credit card provider who has waived foreign transaction fees on all their cards. Now that’s value.”
For more information, visit http://www.indexcreditcards.com/.
August 4, 2011 4:57 pm
Economists with the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate say population growth and demographic shifts—particularly the ongoing maturation of a diverse, well-educated Gen Y—will drive improvements in the real estate market over the next 10 years.
“Give me people and we will have growth,” says Stan Ross, Lusk Center chairman of the board. “The U.S. creates the best innovators, creators and entrepreneurs in the world. Furthermore, immigrants were responsible for 25 percent of America’s high-tech startup companies between 1995 and 2005 and 25 percent of American’s international patents.”
Despite a slight dip in immigration during the recession of 2007-09, the 2010 Census showed the U.S. population grew 9.7 percent to 308,745,538 with another 3.4 percent growth predicted for 2011. Ross points out that with its 77.4 million members, Gen Y (current 15-32 year olds) is roughly equal in size to the Baby Boomers (current 46-64 year olds), but more educated and diverse.
Ross told a recent gathering of real estate leaders in Orange County, Calif., that related demographic shifts will support economic growth and market improvements in the region and nationally:
• Together, Baby Boomers and Gen Y comprise 50 percent of the population and will soon be part of the largest U.S. wealth transfer ever
• 60 percent of Gen Y goes to college
• More than 38 million U.S. residents (12 percent of the population) are foreign born
• 33 percent of all PhDs and 57 percent of all post-doctorates in science and engineering were awarded by U.S. universities to foreign students
About 4.3 million Gen Y residents reached age 22 in 2010. As more of this group enters the workforce over the next 10 years, they will produce a massive increase in housing demand. However, Ross points out that Gen Y will be relatively prudent when it comes to real estate investment.
“These kids are concerned,” Ross says. “They have watched the stock market, financial markets and economy wipe out their parents’ retirement plans. As a result, they will choose lower-risk investment strategies.”
For more information, please visit www.usc.edu/lusk.
August 4, 2011 4:57 pm
Sun protection doesn’t stop with the end of summer. It's important for parents to remember that it is crucial to give children a lesson in year-round sun protection. As children head back to school, they need to be protected against exposure to dangerous UV rays. Sun exposure can occur during recess, physical education classes, field trips and fall sport activities. And, it is important to remember that children are also exposed to UV rays as they walk to and from school.
Sun protection has no season and while skin cancer in children is rare, many skin cancers take years to develop. UVB rays will lessen during the winter months but harmful UVA rays will be in full force all year long. Sun protection products should be on the back-to-school supply list because one severe childhood sunburn doubles the chance of developing melanoma later in life.
Try out these sun safety tips:
• Teach children to search out shaded areas for playtime activities. The sun’s rays are especially intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
• In the morning, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays to exposed skin. If the school permits, teach your children to reapply the sunscreen at school before they head outside for recess.
• Don’t rely only on sunscreen. Sun protective clothing and sun hats with broad brims offer much more protection.
• Have your children wear sunglasses when outside. Make sure they block 99 percent or more of UV radiation.
• Lead by example. Parents should be good role models and practice sun safety themselves.
It is important for children to be educated about the dangers of excessive sun exposure. Sunburn can be prevented and sun safety measures should become part of a daily regime.
For more information, visit SunGrubbies.com.
August 3, 2011 4:57 pm
As children, we’re taught that our bodies need calcium to grow tall and healthy. As adults, we learn that calcium helps keep our bones strong and our minds sharp. By the time we reach our golden years, most of us will be taking dietary calcium supplements and consuming plenty of calcium foods under doctor’s recommendation. The problem is some popular forms of calcium may actually cause the body more harm than good.
“People have a false sense of security when it comes to vitamins and minerals, especially calcium supplements,” says Dr. Edward Group III, DC, ND a leading authority on alternative and complementary medicine at Global Healing Center. “They assume that simply because calcium supplements have made it onto store shelves, that they’re effective and safe.”
The bulk of calcium supplements found in stores are made from either calcium carbonate or calcium citrate, both of which are difficult for the body to utilize, and carry side effects with excessive use.
Besides dietary supplements, calcium carbonate is commonly found in chalk, antacids, masonry and commercially manufactured paper. It has also been associated with increased risk of heart attack, especially in older women. Calcium citrate, also common in over-the-counter supplements, carries similar risks and is known to be toxic in larger doses.
“Calcium orotate is by far the most bio-available and safest form of the mineral,” says Dr. Group. “Unlike other forms, calcium orotate is completely non-toxic and able to penetrate deep into the cells, bones, cartilage and other tissues.” He also points out that quality calcium supplements also usually contain other minerals that help the body absorb and make use of calcium.
“We’re not just talking about vitamin D here either,” explains Dr. Group, “Magnesium, specifically the orotate form, is a good one to keep an eye out for. It’s usually the sign of a top-shelf calcium supplement and the only one I would recommend for healthy living. ”
When it comes to taking a calcium supplement, you should always take a close look at what kind of calcium is listed on the label. There are many differences in the various types of calcium. What you may be taking, may not be giving you the benefits you desire.
August 3, 2011 4:57 pm
As electronic devices such as computers, laptops and cell phones have become indispensable to everyday life, it has alerted many to question where these items are ending up after use. Sadly, most of these electronic materials end up in landfills according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The issue of proper e-waste management has finally piqued government attention and created cause for long overdue action.
There’s valid reason for government intervention. The EPA estimates that the country generated close to 2.5 million tons of used electronics in 2010. Improper e-waste management is a serious issue that has serious public health implications not to mention environmental hazards. Something clearly needs to be done.
To combat this, the government created the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship in July 2011 to promote responsible electronic design, e-waste management, recycling, and create green jobs. As outlined it will:
• promote the development of more efficient and sustainable electronic products
• direct federal agencies to buy, use, reuse and recycle their electronics responsibly
• support recycling options and systems for American consumers
• strengthen America's role in the international electronics stewardship arena
With the shift in the government’s preservation actions, consumers must follow. Despite EPA reports that consumers still struggle to understand and achieve sustainable consumption, there are numerous simple solutions that consumers can adopt. To begin with, recycling one of the most widely used electronic devices, the cell phone, is a good start. According to the USEPA, approximately 14 million Americans recycled their used cell phones in 2007. Recycling and reusing consumer electronic devices such as cell phones, PDAs, chargers, and batteries facilitates energy conservation and keeps reusable materials out of landfills.
Here’s how it works. Cell phone and PDA devices are built from precious metals, coppers, and plastics, which all take energy to mine and manufacture, not to mention gas emission. As reported by the USEPA, recycling 100 million cell phones could save approximately 7,500 pounds of gold and return these valuable resources to the supply chain, thus minimizing waste. This would prevent 12 billion pounds of loose soil, sand, and rock from having to be moved, mined, and processed. These benefits are considerable.
Now, there is an additional incentive for those savvy consumers who want to trade in an old cell phone without losing all investment. The benefits are twofold, consumers can sell used cell phones to gain extra cash and reduce waste by increasing product lifespan. An organization that buys and recycles used cell phones for cash, like an old iPhone, is SellandRecycle.com. SellandRecycle.com, an up-and-coming green company, provides consumers with easy to use recycling and reselling services while offering some of the highest product payout.
It’s clear that the environmental benefits of recycling are worthwhile. Recycling consumer electronics amounts to energy savings, waste and emission reduction, and re-utilizing valuable metal materials.