Mary Mastroeni
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Mary Mastroeni

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7 Rules for Charitable Giving

October 27, 2011 6:18 pm

While the holiday season puts many in the spirit to give, it’s also important to do some research before opening your wallet to support charitable causes.

"There are many worthy charitable causes and residents should feel free to contribute to causes with personal meaning, whether a local homeless shelter, food bank, soup kitchen, animal rescue, or an international organization with global outreach," says Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Basil L. Merenda. "However, I urge everyone to take the time to understand where their dollars will be going so they can have confidence that their donation will have the biggest benefit and get to the people who need it most."

Before giving to any charitable organization, research how your money will be used. Most charities are legitimate and strive to ensure the majority of dollars go directly into worthwhile projects, but some may misrepresent their cause or spend a high percentage of donations on administrative costs. Be sure that the charity's spending practices match your expectations.

Here are some tips and warnings to help ensure your donation goes to the right place:

1. Never give to a charity you know nothing about.

2. Request written information from the charity about its programs and finances.

3. Do not feel pressured into giving on the spot or allow someone to come to your home to pick up the contribution.

4. Never commit to donate over the phone unless you are familiar with the organization.

5. Never give cash, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. Always write a check payable to the charity so you have a record of your donations.

6. All charities have expenses, so check carefully and understand how your donation will be spent.

7. Consult with a tax advisor to determine whether your contribution is tax deductible. If giving before Dec. 31, charitable donations may be tax deductible for the upcoming tax filing.

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Word of the Day

October 27, 2011 6:18 pm

Mortgagee. Party or institution that lends money; the creditor.

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Question of the Day

October 27, 2011 6:18 pm

Q: What is the best way to find a real estate agent?

A: Begin by asking someone that you know. Friends, relatives, co-workers, or neighbors who have recently purchased a home can give you a firsthand account and attest to the agent’s professional abilities. Sometimes an agent you contact will refer you to another one who works more closely with buyers and sellers in your neighborhood. Once you have a list of names, interview at least three agents and ask questions about their community knowledge, professional experience, and commitment – some agents work full time; others only work at nights and on the weekends.

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How to Help Your Kids with Homework

October 26, 2011 6:14 pm

Most teachers give homework for two reasons: to help reinforce the lessons a child is learning in class, and to help foster in the child a sense of responsibility and discipline. As a parent, says the U.S. Department of Education, your job is not to provide answers —even if your child is struggling—but to provide a time, place, and supportive environment in which the child can work to potential.

From Colorado fourth grade teacher Merle Singer, here are six strategies for helping your child get the most out of homework:

• Set the stage – Set aside an area at home where homework is to be done – whether at a desk in the child’s room, or at the breakfast bar before or after dinner. Just be sure it’s a place where the child will not be distracted by noise, TV or too much family activity.
• Provide supplies – Keep a basket of pencils, pens, scissors, paper, crayons or other items the child regularly uses. Time not spent searching for supplies is time that can be spent working.
• Agree on time – Some children do best if they start on their homework right after school. Others do best with an hour or two to relax, have a snack, even shoot a few hoops between school and homework time. Talk with your child to determine his/her wishes, and agree on the best time to do homework. If the first plan doesn’t work so well, don’t hesitate to try a different schedule.
• Adjust activities if necessary – Most children have after-school activities of one kind of another. But if your child cannot stick to a workable homework routine, be prepared to cut or juggle other activities until the homework routine improves.
• Be sure work is completed – Be certain your child is completing daily homework assignments. From time to time, check on longer-term projects, to see if your child is on track to completing them on time.
• Stay in touch with teachers – Attend parent-teacher conferences, and don’t hesitate to contact a teacher anytime if you have concerns about the type or amount of homework, or if you think your child needs extra help.

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Getting Ready for Your Home Appraisal

October 26, 2011 6:14 pm

Home appraisals are a necessary step in the process of selling or refinancing your home. While many homes today aren’t worth as much as they were when they were bought, it is crucial for homeowners to be realistic when it comes to getting their home appraised.

If you are in the process of getting your home ready to be put on the market or interested in refinancing, the experts at Equity Mortgage Lending offer the following things to keep in mind as you prepare for your home appraisal.
• The appraiser will need approximately 30 minutes to one hour to complete the inspection phase of the appraisal process, which includes: exterior photos of the front and rear of the home and a photo of the street in front of the property; measurements of the exterior of the home, garage and any outbuildings; a walk-through inspection of all rooms and levels of the interior of the home including the basement.
• Get organized. Put together achecklist that will help you get ready for your appraisal and get the results you're looking for.
• Be flexible when scheduling the appointment.
• Have a copy of your home’s blueprint to help verify measurements and lot size.
• Provide a list of improvements made to the property since the purchase. Improvements that should be noted include adding a pool, patio, updating your kitchen or bathroom and any room additions, etc.
• Allow your appraiser access to the entire property, including access to any crawl space or attic areas.
• Keep in mind that a clean home makes a good impression. Be sure to trim the lawn, clean the pool and garage, repair cracked windows or torn screens, check for leaky faucets and secure gutters and down spouts before your appraisal.
• Point out any amenities that may not be obvious to the appraiser: sprinkler systems, patios, pools, security systems, built in vacuum, etc.
• Provide a copy of last year's tax assessment information.
• Know what year the house was built and when improvements were made.
• The first thing appraisers look for is comparables, so be prepared and have a list of recent sales of similar properties in the immediate neighborhood.

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The Art of No-Expense Gift Giving

October 26, 2011 6:14 pm

Whether your budget for the holidays is high or low, you should always try to stay within the limit you set for yourself. If you find you've maxed out this year's gift budget, yet still have people left to check off your gift list, the art of no-expense gifting may be your best option. 

Money Management International (MMI) offers insight into the art of no-expense gifting with three ideas that won't put you over your holiday budget.

Give free printable gift certificates. Great gifts don't have to cost a lot of money. Free printable holiday gift certificates allow you to offer an experience or an act of service while still giving the recipient a wrapped gift. Free printable gift certificates are actually great to give all year long.

Give homemade treats. Give your loved ones a heartwarming treat from the oven. Bake homemade sweet bread, gingerbread cookies, or mini raspberry cupcakes. Deliver the treats in festive containers. Your family and friends will be pleasantly surprised with the edible delights. For recipe ideas, download the free Cheap Eats eBook.

Give a regift. A regift is a gift you've received that you pass along to someone else. While there are some cringe-worthy regifting tales, there are also some heartwarming regifting stories. Visit Regiftable.com for ideas and stories that will help you select an appropriate regift that the recipient will appreciate.

While some might argue that no-expense gift gifting is cheap, Cate Williams, vice president of Financial Literacy at MMI, disagrees. "No-expense gifting is really about giving a gift the recipient will value and appreciate," she says. "While not spending money on a gift is frugal, the thought and consideration the gift-giver puts into giving a gift the recipient will appreciate keeps the gift from being cheap."

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Prepare for Winter Driving before Jack Frost Arrives

October 26, 2011 6:14 pm

Last winter, snow covered the ground in all 50 states and an equally menacing winter may be approaching again this season. Cooper Tire & Rubber recommends drivers not only install winter tires before the first storm hits, but also use the changing seasons as a reminder to engage in routine tire maintenance.

"In areas that typically experience harsh winters, drivers should consider replacing their all-season tires with a product made specifically for that severe climate," says Chuck Yurkovich, vice president of global technology for Cooper Tire. "The key is to have those discussions with a trusted dealer before the first storm hits. Even if an area does not typically receive harsh winter weather, it's important to conduct routine tire maintenance checks as the seasons change."

The compound is formulated to respond with higher levels of grip in ice, slush and other winter conditions.

In addition to properly equipping vehicles with winter tires, Cooper Tire advises drivers to follow basic winter driving and tire maintenance tips:

Drive cautiously: Experts say the best advice for driving in harsh winter weather is to not drive at all; but driving – even in ice or snow – is an everyday part of life for the owners of more than 250 million vehicles on the road in the U.S.*
• Double the distance when braking anytime conditions are not dry. It will take longer to come to a stop in snowy or icy conditions.
• Do not assume a four-wheel drive vehicle will stop faster than a two-wheel drive vehicle – four-wheel drive offers no braking advantage.
• Always reduce speed during winter conditions.
• When purchasing winter tires, replace all four tires. Due to the different grip capabilities of summer, all season and winter tires, the driver will not get all of the handling and traction benefits if all tires are not replaced.
• Drivers should keep in mind that it is best to check their owner's manual to see how their vehicle should be serviced in cold weather.

Examine tread: The only part of a vehicle to touch the road is the tires, and tire tread is a vital part of handling, cornering, accelerating and braking.
• For winter weather driving, a general rule is the more tread depth, the better. Tire tread depth should be more than 2/32 of an inch deep all around the tire. Drivers can check tread depth by using a U.S. penny. Insert the edge of the coin into the tread with Lincoln going in headfirst. If the top of Lincoln's head is covered by tread that means there is at least a minimum acceptable amount of tread; if the top of his head is visible at any location on the tire, the tire is worn out and it's time to replace it.
• While examining the tread, also look for signs of uneven wear or damage such as cuts, cracks, splits, punctures and bulges. These conditions shorten the life of tires and, if not corrected, further tire damage or air loss may occur.

Test air pressure: Tire pressure plays a critical role in the overall performance of tires. Under inflation creates excessive stress on the tire, while over inflation can cause uneven wear in addition to handling and braking issues.
• Tire pressure decreases by about one pound per square inch for every 10-degree drop in outside air temperature, so it is vital that drivers check the air pressure regularly as winter weather approaches.
• Drivers should follow the guidelines found in the vehicle owner's manual or tire placard (or sticker) attached to the vehicle door edge to determine the correct air pressure for their vehicle's tires. A common myth is that the tire pressure listed on the sidewall is the optimal pressure, while in reality it is the maximum pressure.
• Air pressure should be checked when the tires are cool, meaning they are not hot from driving even a mile.
• Should any of these checks reveal the need for required maintenance – or when in doubt about the condition of their tires—drivers should take vehicles to a tire dealer for a professional inspection.

For more information on proper tire maintenance, visit www.coopertire.com.

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Word of the Day

October 26, 2011 6:14 pm

Mortgage company or mortgage banker. Financial intermediary that offers mortgages to borrowers, and then resells them to various lending institutions, government agencies, or private investors.

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Question of the Day

October 26, 2011 6:14 pm

Q: How much can I afford to pay for a home?

A: The general rule of thumb is that you can buy a home that costs about two-and-one-half times your annual salary. A good real estate agent or lender can determine how much you can afford and estimate the maximum monthly payment based on the loan amount, taxes, insurance and other expenses.

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Landscaping Lessons for the Fall Season

October 25, 2011 6:14 pm

Recycle fall leaves into compost, a soil amendment or a nutritious topdressing for the lawn. It saves time, improves your landscape, and is good for the environment, states gardening expert, TV/radio host and author Melinda Myers.

Shred fall leaves with a mower and leave them on the lawn. As long as the grass blades can be seen for the leaf pieces, the lawn will be fine. Those shredded leaves will break down adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

“It is also a good time to make your last application of fertilizer for your lawn,” explains Myers. “Use a slow release organic nitrogen fertilizer, like Milorganite, that won’t burn the lawn. Plus, the phosphorous is non-leaching and recent research found when the micro-organisms break down this fertilizer some of the phosphorous and potassium tied up in the soil is released for plants to use.”

Northern gardeners with bluegrass, fescue and rye grass lawns can make their last application in late fall before the ground freezes. Those in the south growing Bermuda, St Augustine and other warm weather grasses can make their last fertilization about one month before the lawn goes dormant. That’s about the time of the first killing frost. Fertilizing later can result in winter damage.

“Bag any leaves you don’t want to leave on the lawn and dig them into annual flower and vegetable gardens,” adds Myers. “They will break down over winter improving the soil.”

Use any remaining shredded leaves as mulch on the soil around perennials, trees and shrubs. The shredded leaves help conserve moisture, moderate temperature extremes and reduce weed problems. And once decomposed, help improve the soil.

Still leaves left? Start a compost pile by mixing fall leaves with other yard waste. Don’t add aggressive weeds or those gone to seed. Leave insect and disease infested or chemically treated plant debris out of the pile. Don’t add fat, meat and other animal products that can attract rodents. Moisten and occasionally turn the pile to speed up the process. Soon it will turn into a wonderful soil conditioner to put back into the landscape.

Nationally known gardening expert, TV/radio host, author & columnist Melinda Myers has 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books, including Can’t Miss Small Space Gardening.

For more information, visit http://www.melindamyers.com.

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