Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Simple Tips to Change Your Financial Behavior

Simple Tips to Change Your Financial Behavior

By Gregory Karp

RISMEDIA, December 29, 2010—(MCT)—Americans have a renewed interest in all things frugal during this recession. They’re spending less money, using credit cards less, and the terms “frugalista” and “bargainista” have entered the daily lexicon.

Keeping up with the Joneses now means one-upping a neighbor with bargains you got at the consignment shop and bragging “my coupon is better than yours.”

But will it stick? Will our frugal ways remain after the Great Recession fades? Or will a pent-up wave of consumer spending eventually break through the restraint? More important, if we’re worried about financial backsliding when good economic times return, what can we do now to make sure we stay on track?

Recent reports suggest we have good intentions to maintain our fiscally responsible ways.

About half of Americans report they either avoid shopping altogether or shop only for those things that are absolutely needed, according to a survey sponsored by Citi. And 72% of Americans say they have cut back on everyday expenses.

“Only time will tell, but my hunch is we’re entering a new era of frugality,” said Jonathan Clements, director of financial education with Citi Personal Wealth Management. “We are 15 months into the economic recovery…and yet consumers are telling us that they are continuing to cut back on their spending.

“This recession will be like the Great Depression was to our grandparents.”

In addition, 80% of people claim to have at least a general plan for income and expenses, up from 47% in 2006, according to a survey by Synovate commissioned by personal finance author Matt Bell.

“Budgets have always been the Rodney Dangerfield of personal finance tools,” said Bell, who writes the blog. “But just as we’ve seen the recession bring about other changes in people’s financial behavior, such as more frugality, the lowly budget finally seems to be getting some respect.”

But Bell said he knows from working with financially distressed people that a “general” budget plan can mean simply balancing a checkbook or having a rough notion of what a consumer is spending on things. “My fear is that if and when the economy improves, those general plans will become even more general,” he said.

Since consumer debt peaked in 2008, Americans have chopped $922 million from their debt, or 7.4%, according to the Federal Reserve. Americans are reducing debt at a pace unseen in at least a decade, according to a recent Fed report, “Have Consumers Become More Frugal?” Unclear, say researchers, is whether that new frugality stems from borrowers being forced to pay down debt as credit standards tighten, or whether it’s a voluntary—and permanent—shift in behavior.

Farnoosh Torabi, author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, said she thinks the most recent recession, though technically over, affected people more than the tech bubble of 2001 and other minor economic recessions because its effects have persisted for so long. Young people, especially, are likely to benefit.

“They got to see early on in their lives how overspending can derail you and divert you from your goals,” she said. And they saw it from a variety of directions, whether parents getting laid off or graduating school to enter a lousy job market, she said. “They had a 360-degree wake-up call about how money is the foundation of your livelihood. That’s a valuable lesson for this stage of life.”

The trick is moving from the descriptive to the prescriptive: “How do we make these frugal behaviors last?”

Change your words: Instead of viewing your newfound financial responsibility as a temporary exercise in deprivation, view it as a lifestyle and make peace with it. Author Jeff Yeager calls it slaying your Enoughasaurus, knowing when you have enough and being content with it. “I would ditch the word ‘frugal,’ ” Bell said. “It sounds like someone who obsesses over saving a nickel on every can of tuna they buy. In my workshops, I never talk about being frugal. I talk about spending smart.”

Have goals: The easiest way to say no to the tempting purchase in front of you is to have a specific reason to reject it. “You need a reason for doing whatever it takes to spend smart, a goal that motivates you,” Bell said. “Getting out of debt. Taking a great vacation. Whatever you’re trying to achieve financially.” In your head, the monologue sounds like, “I’ll pass on buying this sweater because I really want to go to the Bahamas in February.”

Track progress: “Monitor your decreasing debt or your increasing vacation fund,” Bell said. “When you see that spending smart is getting you closer to the accomplishment of your goal, that’ll motivate you to keep going.”

Make savings automatic: The easiest way to save is to do nothing. Put your savings on autopilot with automatic paycheck contributions to a retirement plan or direct debits from checking to savings. “If people are saving diligently now and want to keep it up, harness the power of inertia and make it automatic,” said Clements, a former financial columnist and author of four personal finance books.

Make a windfall rule: Most people periodically receive sudden inflows of cash, whether a tax refund, a year-end bonus, an insurance reimbursement or a gift. Make a rule that all windfalls are used for paying off high-interest debt or for savings, Clements said. That way, you improve your finances without affecting your daily lifestyle. A less-rigorous rule would be to blow 10% of the money on something fun so you don’t feel deprived.

“People have been shocked into better financial behavior,” Clements said. “The trick is to make sure they stick with it.”

(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What To Consider When Buying a Home

Rismedia Top 5: Choosing a home is no easy process, however, and many factors must be carefully weighed before making your selection. As a member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I advise my clients to pay careful attention to a few details in particular when considering a home—these important details will significantly impact your long-term happiness in the home as well as the home’s appreciation over time. So, as you begin to consider properties in our neighborhood, here are a few issues to think about that may help you find exactly the right home for you and your family:

Type of home: One-story or two, single-family, duplex or condo? How will paying homeowner dues affect your overall buying power? Will a swimming pool be a bonus or a hindrance? Making these decisions in advance will help you focus on the right types of home to look at.

New or existing: A new home is all shiny and clean, but will carry with it some hefty initial costs such as landscaping and window coverings. An existing home will have many of these things, but repairs or renovations that may need to be made will also impact your budget.

Features: Weigh the costs of gas vs. electric heating and cooling, and the possible need for fencing. How important is a fireplace? Does the home have enough bedrooms and bathrooms to support your family in the coming years?

Ease of maintenance: What is the condition of the roof? The appliances? Will you have to paint the interior or exterior and/or replace the carpeting? Be sure to factor in such costs in your budget and your negotiations.

Location: Do you want to be in the city or in the country? Nearer to libraries, parks and entertainment or set among tall trees and lakes? What about the need for public transportation? Nearby hospitals and schools?

Crime rate and public schools: Check with local enforcement and local residents to get a feeling for statistics and quality. I can also provide you with up-to-date statistics on this information.

Economic stability: Whether an area is growing or not can affect its future property value—as will the economic stability of the area.

Property tax: Examine the annual amount of real estate taxes and other assessments levied in the neighborhoods you are considering.

I can help find the answers to the above concerns as well as provide more suggestions on what to look for in a new home—just e-mail me. Also, please pass this article onto others who may benefit from this information
Peg Maloney
RE/MAX Real Estate Group
Office: 800-248-6647
Mobile: 402-598-3965

Monday, November 8, 2010

Veterans Day 2010

Veterans Day 2010

Big day coming up on Thursday- We celebrate all out Veterans who have given service to our country to protect our freedom. Many places will be offering free items but here are a few...

Eat Free at Applebee's

Military veterans and active-duty Service Members will be able to eat free at any Applebee's across the U.S. on Veteran’s Day, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010. There will be six entrées available from the menu. Guests will be asked to show one or more of the following as proof of service: a U.S. Uniform Services Identification Card, U.S. Uniform Services Retired Identification Card, Current Leave and Earnings Statement, Veterans Organization Card, a photograph in uniform, or wearing a uniform in person. For more information about Veterans Day at Applebee's, visit the Applebee's website

Eat Free at Golden Corral

Golden Corral's 9th annual Military Appreciation Monday dinner will be held on Monday, November 15, 2010, from 5 to 9 pm in all Golden Corral restaurants nationwide. The free dinner meal is a special "thank you tribute" to any person who has ever served in the United States Military. If you are a veteran, retired, currently serving, or in the National Guard/Reserves, you are invited to join us for Golden Corral's Military Appreciation Monday dinner. To date, Golden Corral restaurants have provided over 2.2 million free meals and contributed over $3.3 million to the Disabled American Veterans organization. Website for more information:

McCormick & Schmick's Complimentary Lunch or Dinner

Veterans will be able to choose a complimentary lunch or dinner entrée on Sunday, November 7. Some of the mouth-watering selections include Cashew-Crusted Tilapia, Grilled Atlantic Salmon, Seafood Fettuccini Alfredo and Cedar-Planked Salmon.

Salute from Outback Steakhouse

As an expression of Outback Steakhouse's appreciation to our Country's veterans and active duty military*, a free Bloomin' Onion and beverage of choice (one non-alcoholic drink or one draft Anheuser Busch beer except where prohibited by law) will be available to them at every Outback in the country on Veterans Day. Please visit: for details.

Home Depot and Lowe's Military Discount

Home Depot and Lowe’s have long been known to offer a 10% holiday discount to military members and their families and in many cases veterans and retirees. These promotions were usually limited to the main military holidays such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day. Well, no longer – both companies have announced these offers are available every day of the week.

Free Day at National Parks

To honor America’s service men and women, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that areas managed by the department would not charge entrance fees on Thursday, November 11, 2010.

Colonial Williamsburg Free Admission

Colonial Williamsburg honors America's Veterans with a procession down Duke of Gloucester Street, 4:30 p.m., beginning at the Capitol. The parade culminates in a public ceremony, with militia and cannon crew firing volleys in recognition of those who serve. Hear Colonial Williamsburg's Fifes and Drums, and speakers from past and present. Active duty military, guard and reservists, retirees, veterans and their dependents enjoy free admission passes Friday through Wednesday, Nov. 6-11. Learn more.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Improve Your Credit Score Before Searching for a Home

I have people who ask me all the time, "What is the first step in buying a home?" I have found a great article that touches that subject. Credit! Rebuild your credit before trying to buy a home.

By Paige Tepping

RISMEDIA, October 16, 2010--Many prospective homeowners find out the hard way the importance of a good credit score when they apply for a home mortgage, especially after the subprime loan crisis. If you are considering buying a home in the near future, it is a good idea to give your credit score a check-up and then take positive steps to improve your credit score if you find problems. Ideally, it is best to begin working on improving your credit score at least six months before you plan to start shopping for a home.

According to the experts at, the following tips will help you improve your credit and should be taken before you begin your home search.

The first critical step in taking care of your credit is to check your credit report. Unfortunately, many people fail to take this all important first step. Instead, they wait until they have applied for a mortgage loan to find out from the lender that there are problems with their credit scores.

By checking your credit score before you apply for a mortgage loan, you gain the opportunity to find out if there are problems which you can correct and discrepancies that need to be removed. When you check your credit report, make sure you check all three of the national credit reporting agencies: Experian, Trans-Union and EquiFax.

Review your credit report carefully for items that may be erroneous. If you believe that an item on your credit report is reported in error, you have the right to contest it. To do so, you will need to contact the credit reporting agency and explain why you believe the item is inaccurate. Supporting documentation such as receipts and cancelled checks can help your claim. Alternatively, you can engage a credit report repair services firm to fix your credit report.

If there are derogatory items on your credit report that are accurate but which could cause problems in your loan application, you cannot have them removed; however, you can take positive steps to counteract them. In the event that you have missed payments in the past, take steps now to get your bills current. Even if it means tapping into money that you might be planning to use for a down payment, it is essential that you get your accounts current and keep them that way. Begin by immediately making your payments on time. There is nothing which can lower your credit score more quickly than late payments. Ideally, make an attempt to begin sending in your payments a few days ahead of time to make sure they arrive on time and you do not have any more late payments on your record. If necessary, begin taking advantage of electronic payments in order to make sure your payments are made on time. Over time, this can make significant difference.

Keep in mind that eradicating all of your credit balances is really not the solution. In fact, credit can be your friend when you are looking to make a big purchase such as a home. The key is to make sure your credit is positive, not negative. Toward that end, avoid actually closing out your accounts. Instead, make an effort to pay down your balances and keep them paid down well below the minimum or completely paid off, but do not close the account. When your lender runs your credit to make a decision on your mortgage application, he or she will want to see that you have had a long credit management history.

After reviewing your credit history, if you see that most, if not all of your credit cards are maxed out or nearly maxed out, it is time to sit down and plan an aggressive strategy for paying some of them down. One of the critical factors that often determine your ability to be approved for a mortgage loan is your debt to income ratio. In addition, high credit card balances can drag down your credit score. Therefore, it is important to look at paying off some of your balances.

It is generally better to begin with your highest-rate balances first. Many consumers are tempted to move around balances when they receive an offer from another bank that is good; however, before you do this, remember that the worst thing you can do when you are trying to make a major purchase is to open new accounts.

By following these guidelines, you can improve your credit score and improve your chances of being approved for your home mortgage loan.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Be Market Smart: Do's and Don'ts for Buyers and Sellers

RISMEDIA, October 13, 2010—It would be unrealistic to say that the real estate market is utterly rosy right now, but neither is it thorn-filled by any means. In fact, things are decidedly looking up: July got some good news, when the National Association of Realtors reported that pending home sales rose 5.2% from downwardly revised June levels, beating economists’ expectations. This is good news for both buyers and sellers.
While challenges still exist—for instance, getting the best price when selling, or securing financing when buying—there are some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities out there, and plenty of happy results can be had for both buyers and sellers. The key for both groups is to remain flexible, adaptable and diligent. To that end, here are some dos and don’ts for today’s buyers and sellers:

For Sellers:

Be flexible. Often it’s the little things that push a buyer into the “yes” zone. If the buyer goes on and on about how much they love your icemaker, throw it in. If the closing has to be pushed ahead more than you expected, try to be as flexible as possible and pack the moving van a little quicker.

Clean up. One person’s prize doll collection is another person’s cluttered nightmare. Similarly, a living room filled with Beanie Babies could elicit a reaction of fear, rather than “Aw, how cute!” from a buyer. Put away any personal collections that not only cause clutter, but also make it hard for a buyer to see the home as his or hers, rather than yours.

Don’t be greedy. The market—not your emotions—dictates your home’s price. If comparables in the area, and several trusted real estate agents tell you your home is worth $400,000, you’re not fooling anyone by pricing it at $500,000—and you’re only doing yourself a disservice. Pricing it at market, even a little below, could generate a bidding war, and ultimately get you more money.

Don’t get personal. If you’re selling your house for a certain amount, and someone offers something much lower, don’t take this as a personal affront and refuse to counteroffer. Letting your emotions get in the way can potentially ruin the deal. What’s the harm in making a counteroffer?

Don’t procrastinate. In the current climate, you might be scared to try to sell your home, as you may have to face a lower selling price than you may have gotten before the recession. But remember, the house you buy might be even lower, commensurately. It’s all relative. So if you’re serious about selling, consider doing it now. Also, acting before the cold months come is a good idea, as the winter months are historically harder for home sales.

For Buyers:

Get a home inspection. It’s important to hire a trusted home inspector to check out the house’s potential issues and problems. Don’t skip a home inspection because you’re afraid of what you might hear—many issues sound more serious than they actually are, and can be fixed easily. And if something deal-breakingly serious is turned up, as disappointing as that is, it can save years of heartache and financial outlay. Better to walk away from a clunker.

List your place before you look for another. If you’re truly serious about looking for a home, list your place first. In the current economy, banks want to make sales as uncomplicated as possible—and contingency sales, which can be very complicated, are often rejected.

Talk before you act. Don’t ever start a home search without a firm budget not only in mind, but literally written down. Mutually agree with yourself—or with your partner, if you’re buying with someone else—long before you start seriously searching. Going out of that zone because of a place you just “gotta have,” or are emotional about, could put you in dire financial straits later. You don’t want to buy a house that isn’t affordable for you, and then be worried about paying for dinner and a movie on Saturday night.

Don’t be a design snob. If someone’s enormous bathroom has wallpaper border containing frolicking kittens and pastel flowers, or a wall that’s a nuclear shade of green, we understand this can send you into style shock. But stand fast and ignore bad décor. Instead, try to envision the space raw. Besides, you can always redecorate once the home is yours.

Don’t make a silly offer. There’s nothing wrong with making an offer below asking price—it’s no secret that today, many homes are selling for under the asking price. But going 40% below the asking price may anger the seller. Some sellers, especially more emotional ones, won’t even bother counter offering an outrageously low offer. Feel free to make a deal—just don’t make an offer so low that you’ll be kicked off the table.

For more information, visit

Dan Steward is the president of Pillar To Post Home Inspections.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

10 Helpful Tips for an (Almost) Stress-Free Moving Day!

Oh, moving day is exciting, isn’t it? And, sometimes, it’s too darned exciting! After all, you have so many things to remember…worry that the mover will show up on time…fret that things may be lost or get broken…and on and on. But, really, that day doesn’t need to be so stressful! 

If you follow the tips below, you can make the day as painless and as enjoyable as possible. The key underlying each of these tips is, of course, proper planning!

 Tip 1: Start early!

There are two reasons for starting early. One is psychological. When you start early, you can break the moving task down into smaller steps; that is, you can pack a little at a time. Psychologically, this gives you a great boost because you’re not overwhelming yourself by trying to do everything at once. The second reason relates to the first:packing is harder and more difficult than you think! So, by starting early, you have time to think things through and pack logically and economically! 

Tip 2: Weed Out the Unused or Useless! 

As I'm sure you know, you’ll be amazed at how much stuff you’ve accumulated that’s either never used or seldom used. So, why take it with you? Sort through everything and get rid of any item you haven’t used for a year or so. Donate it to a charity organization or, if appropriate, throw it into the trash or recycling. Remember, movers charge by weight! So, the equation is simple: less weight = less money out of your bank account! Plan on making a couple of passes through your belongings. If possible, take a break of a day or more between passes. That allows you to take a more objective look at everything. 

Tip 3: Label Everything in Sight! 

This is a real time-saver and stress-reducer. On each box, write down the contents as specifically as possible. At the same time, avoid overdoing the “Miscellaneous” label. If you end up with several boxes with that label, you won’t have a clue as to what they contain! 

Tip 4: Do One Room at a Time! 

There’s always the temptation to take items from several rooms and put them in one box. This is a good way to end up with too many “miscellaneous” boxes. Instead, pack one room fully at a time and then move to the next room. 

Tip 5: Consolidate! 

Since it’s easy for small boxes to get lost or damaged, place smaller items in small boxes and then put those put small boxes into a bigger box. 

Tip 6: Take Important Documents with You! 

Never pack any personal financial information and important papers and put them on a moving truck. Identify theft is possible, but, equally important, if those documents are lost, it could take you many, many hours to replace such important items as bank statements, passports. 

Tip 7: Take Your Valuables with You! 

Use common sense and take jewelry, artwork, rare book collections, etc. with you. You don’t want it on a moving truck, and, to be blunt, most moving companies don’t want to ship it for obvious liability reasons. If you absolutely have to ship valuables, get expanded moving insurance through the carrier or a third party. 

Tip 8: Plan for Essentials! 

Keep a box separate for all the essentials you’ll need in your new home and make sure it’s loaded last onto the truck so you can get at it easily upon arrival. Depending on your needs, “essentials” could include: soap, towels, toilet paper, sheets, coffee maker, drinking cups, paper plates, eating utensils, pencils and paper, etc. 

Tip 9: Inventory Everything That Goes on the Van! 

List every box or item that goes on the moving van and take the list with you. Once you arrive at your new home, have a family member tick off the boxes and items as they come off the truck. This is vitally important if your belongings are transferred from the truck to storage before being delivered. If a box is missing, lost or left behind, it could be months before you realize it’s gone. 

Tip 10: Save Money! 

Packing boxes can be expensive. If there are items that will go into plastic storage bins and/or large trash bags (stuffed animals, towels, etc.), then buy the inexpensive bins or bags. This will also save you the time and trouble of unpacking the boxes in your new home. Hope you enjoyed this list! 

To talk about more packing tips or anything related to real estate, contact me today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Want to Add Value to Your Home? Get Into the Kitchen and the Bathroom!

Everyone knows that – all things being equal – the first areas buyers look at when considering the purchase of the home are the kitchen and the bathroom. They know they’re heavily-used areas and also the most expensive to upgrade. So, buyers want to know they’re in great shape or need, at most, minor repairs.

This tells you that you need to make the kitchen and bathroom “shine” in terms of their appeal. By some estimates, you can earn back 80 to 90 percent of your money in resale value!

Here’s more good news! Depending upon the state of these rooms, improvements don’t have to be all that expensive! Let’s look at the kitchen first.

Making Your Kitchen Shine!

The first bit of advice for you actually applies to both the kitchen and the bathroom – use paint! In fact, use high-quality paint. It’s a fact of life that kitchen walls get spattered with grease and food (especially if you have kids!), and bathroom walls get battered with steam and moisture.

So, the first thing to do is to take a look at those walls, clean them, and then paint them. And consider the color carefully. It should be a color that’s relaxing and tends toward a neutral tone.

Once you’ve chosen a color, spend the money on good paint, not the cheap stuff. It’ll look better, and buyers will notice that it’ll resist stains and water for a longer period of time than lower quality paint. It’ll also tell them that you’ve taken good care of your home.

Another inexpensive “fix” you can do yourself is, of course, the faucets over the sink (or the sink itself). A visit to a “big box” store like Home Depot, Menards, etc. will cost you little money. All you have to do is invest some “sweat equity.”

Of course, fresh curtains always spruce up a kitchen as well as orderly counters, islands, etc. And don’t forget lighting! Warm, friendly lighting can make a huge impact upon a buyer’s first impression. 

Another area to look at is the kitchen floor. If it’s worn, I’d recommend that you replace it with a hard-wearing material. Everyone knows the kitchen is a high-traffic area so they’ll look closely at the floor to see if they’ll have to bear the expense of replacing it.

Again, if you have handyman abilities, you can do this yourself. There are many inexpensive materials available today that are relatively easy to put in – high-quality tile, laminate floors that clean up easily, etc. 

In terms of kitchen cabinets and counters, you may want to consider refinishing them or replacing them if they’re in bad shape. This can be rather expensive, of course, but it also might make the difference between a sale and the home staying on the market.

Moving on up in terms of expenditures, buyers today expect modern appliances in the kitchen – stoves, dishwashers, etc.

These are big ticket items, of course, but if your appliances are worn or out-of-date, think about replacing them, especially if you’re having trouble selling your home.

Look for sales on modern higher-end appliances such as the ones available at Sears, etc. Buyers will spot cheap ones in a heartbeat, and this can cost you a sale.

Today’s buyers look for spacious kitchens that open on to another room and which have a window over the sink. Obviously, if your kitchen doesn’t have these features, it would be far too expensive to put them in.

However, you can make your kitchen look as open as possible. Make sure the counters are clear, visible pots and pans are ordered neatly, and the floor is free of clutter.

Okay, now onto the bathroom!

Making Your Bathroom Shine!

If your bathroom is in good to great shape, then it’s a simple matter of paint, as I mentioned before, and a good all-round clean up. Since we’re dealing with sanitary issues, you want this area to sparkle as much as possible.

But, what if the shower, tub, sink, or toilet are not in great shape or are out of date? Well, then, I’d recommend that you do a whole remodel.

It can be expensive, but when you replace, say, just one item, it can create an unharmonious look. Ideally, you want the sinks, faucets, toilets, showerheads, tile, etc. to match to make the bathroom look as unified and appealing as possible.

Depending upon your expertise, you can install these items yourself at a lower cost. If not, hire an expert to do the work, especially if your home has been on the market a long time and isn’t selling.

Okay, here’s one last suggestion. It’s an expensive one but it’s been proven to add value to your home – add a second bathroom!

One-bathroom houses are simply harder to sell and sell for less than ones with two or three bathrooms. 

So, if you have the financial wherewithal, consider adding one. A good place for a second bathroom is right off the master bedroom. This will appeal to buyers with children since they’ll have a space separate from the kids.

Also, if for some reason, you decide not to sell, a second bathroom can make life easier for you if you have children as well!

Want to hear some more suggestions for improving the value of your home? Contact me today and we can talk about some inexpensive methods of doing just that!