Mary Mastroeni
GoogleLinked InYoutubePinterest
 
Mary Mastroeni

Mary's Blog

Money-Saving Tips for the Holidays

November 15, 2011 7:04 pm

The holiday shopping season is upon us, and The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) wants to remind its customers there are ways to save during the holidays. The following tips were compiled by Kroger from a variety of sources, including its own associates, mom bloggers and frugal living experts.

• Pair coupons with sales: "Pairing coupons with sales is the best way to get the most for your money. Stockpile holiday cooking staples, using a coupon when they are on sale, so that you aren't running out to the store at the last minute and paying full price," says Marcy Robison, owner of couponing blog www.stretchingabuckblog.com.
• Look for "bundled" savings: Andrea Deckard, founder of the site SavingsLifestyle.com, recommends watching for store discount offers on turkeys and hams that are bundled with other staples. "Many will offer great discounts when you purchase other items during your shopping trip. This is also a great time to stock up so you can have inexpensive protein options available throughout the year."
• Plan the menu: "Planning allows you to identify the shelf-stable items you can buy in advance and the fresh foods to purchase just prior to your holiday meal," explains Margaret McClure, vice president of Kroger's bakery and deli operations. "This will help maximize every shopping trip and avoid the stress of running out to the store at the last minute."
• Search High and Low: Name brand items are usually placed at eye level, so be sure to check the shelves above and below to compare prices. And remember to pay attention to the price per unit, which will often drop when items are purchased in bulk," says Shannon Jarvies, who owns the popular blog www.mrsmoneysaver.com.

For more information, visit www.kroger.com.

Tags:

Benefits and Precautions to Moving in Winter Months

November 15, 2011 7:04 pm

Many people can quickly cite the reasons they prefer to move in the summer over the winter, such as safer road conditions and better weather. However, moving in the winter cannot always be avoided and there are even some benefits to doing so. As such, reputable Boston moving companies explain the benefits and point out a few precautions to make a winter move go safe and smooth.

Summer is peak season for movers in Boston. This means that demand for vans, trucks, moving professionals, and supplies is higher and generally more expensive. If the date is flexible, some money may be saved by booking between October and April. Plus, some companies may be willing to negotiate as they compete for business during slow seasons.

With dates filling up fast in warmer weather, people need to book their truck, moving services, and professionals well in advance in order to have their needs met. Additionally, the high demand for movers drives some companies to hire people with little or no experience to manage the overflow. This means one can expect better service in winter months and enjoy more flexibility when choosing a date to move - even when booked late.

Although these benefits may be enticing, there are drawbacks to moving in colder months. However, a move at this time can still be safe and smooth. Boston Movers recommend paying close attention to the changing weather and adjusting plans if needed. Allow extra time as cold weather tends to slow things down and rushing can cause accidents and injury.

Make sure the vehicles are in good running condition and are stocked with warm clothes, blankets, shovels and emergency kits. Drive slowly and more cautiously, especially in large trucks.

Before work begins, make sure driveways and walkways of both homes are cleared of snow and sanded. The driveway needs to be plowed wide enough to meet the needs of the turning radius of the truck. Walkways need to be sanded to avoid injury and damage to items being moved.

Cover floors to avoid damage from tracked-in snow, mud and salt. Cover large muddy outside areas with plywood. Properly pack electronics, liquids and plants to ensure they are not damaged from the cold weather.

For more information, visit http://bostonmovers.org

Tags:

Word of the Day

November 15, 2011 7:04 pm

Promissory note. A written promise to repay a debt on demand or at a stated time in the future.

Tags:

Question of the Day

November 15, 2011 7:04 pm

Q: Who should be called to the project first, the contractor or the architect?

A: Opinions vary about which professional to call first. Some say the architect comes first because “you have to design it before you can build it.” The architect, who is trained to resolve problems creatively, can help define the project in ways that provide meaningful guidance for the design. The architect can also do site studies, help secure planning and zoning approvals, and perform a variety of other pre-design tasks. On the other hand, a contractor will be the one you interact with on a regular basis and the person who will likely be in your home every day, possibly for an extended period depending on the scope of your work. Many contractors have in-house design services, or design/build firms, and can possibly offer better price and integration between design and implementation. Others may have several architects with whom they work directly, which could also provide a smooth integration between design and implementation.

Tags:

Are You Ready for Homeownership?

November 14, 2011 7:04 pm

First-time home buyers have an extremely rewarding road ahead of them but the process can be quite tricky for the inexperienced. Buyers that seek education prior to starting their search tend to have the best experience overall because they have realistic expectations and understand how to properly navigate the process.

To gauge whether or not you are ready to own your first home you should ask yourself some serious questions. How attached are you to your current living situation? How entrenched are within your community? Are you prepared to devote the time and resources necessary to make your first home purchase a success? Once you can answer these questions and the answers point in the direction of a move to home ownership you are ready to start the initial phase of buying your own home.

Now that you have determined you are emotionally ready to be a first time home owner, the next step is to gain a full understanding of your financial situation. Evaluate your readiness by asking yourself more questions. Is your source of income steady? How is your credit history? Do you have a down payment or a source such as a family gift? Are you ready for the financial responsibilities that coincide with home ownership? If your answers to these questions are positive then you are ready to start the pre-approval process with your lender.

To keep expectations in check it's a good idea to get pre-approval from a reputable lender. This will help narrow your search to a realistic field. Many lenders will offer a free consultation for buyers seeking pre-approval. To expedite the process borrowers should have certain documents ready for their lender including W-2's for each applicant for the previous two years, 30 days of consecutive pay stubs with year-to-date earnings, and all pages of the two most recent bank statements for all of the borrower's checking and savings accounts.

Once you follow the above steps and gain pre-approval it is time to start your search. Make sure to pick the right real estate agent by interviewing several. It is important for you to be comfortable with your agent and know that they have your best interest in mind. Ask potential agents what their hardest sale was and how they made it work for the buyer. The more you prepare upfront and do your due diligence, the happier you will be with your first time homebuyer experience.

Chip Poli is the CEO of Poli Mortgage Group, Inc.

Tags:

Warming Up a Heater ― Before It Overheats

November 14, 2011 7:04 pm

There’s already been an October cold snap and November snow flurries. Waiting too long to prepare a heater for its annual winter workout could have chilling effects. Here are some tips on how to get a heating unit ready for action from Cross Country Home Services, a leader in home warranty products. By following these simple steps that include getting a visit from a certified service technician and making sure heating units are covered with by warranties, the coldest months on the calendar can barely register on a well heated home’s interior thermostat. 

Step 1: Turn On Regularly before Cold Sets In
The most common phrase HVAC companies hear during the first cold snap of the year is, “I just turned on my heat for the first time this year, and it doesn’t work.” The only way to make sure your heating unit will work when it’s needed most is to test run it each season. Keeping it in sporadic use helps your HVAC system stay ready. Make sure to vary temperature settings during testing. 

Step 2: Make Sure Unit Is Clear of Debris
Your heating unit needs the same care as your A/C. Leaves, trash and other debris that collect when it’s idle will prevent its optimum use and could eventually lead to a systems failure. Make a point to clear it when you’re raking those fall leaves in the yard. Also, blower fans should be kept dust-free. 

Step 3: Baseboard Cleaning
Not only must you keep the outside unit clear, but homes heated with hot water and/or electric baseboard heating must have those baseboard convectors and radiators kept clean. Obstructions from objects, dirt, even dust will prevent it from running efficiently and may lead to bigger problems. 

Step 4: Change/Clean Filters
Replaceable filters should be checked and replaced once a month in the fall, and twice a month in the winter. Permanent filters should be cleaned at least once a month. This is an essential step to preserve the longevity of your unit and keep it operating smoothly. 

Step 5: Make Sure to Have a Service Plan and Home Warranty
No matter how much care you give your heating units, unless you are a certified technician you won’t be able to handle every problem that may arise. Storms and accidents happen, therefore you need a service plan that affords you access to a certified technician.

For more information, visit www.cchs.com.

Tags:

Alleviating Stress-induced Sleep Deprivation

November 14, 2011 7:04 pm

Three in 10 American women use some kind of sleep aid at least a few nights a week, according to “Women and Sleep,” a 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation. 

The New York Times ( Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25) reported statistics from a 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation that one in every four American couples sleep in separate bedrooms. 

“Today’s worries, stress, children, parenting, overdrawn checking accounts, job instability and economic woes make a good night’s sleep a priority. However separate bedroom might just be the nail in the marital coffin," states Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D. 

When it comes to falling asleep and staying asleep, the key is to separate worries from bedtime. Dr. Weil suggests: 

• Take an hour a day for "mope time" - allow yourself to make lists, tackle projects and worry about things during that time but don't bring these worries into bedtime.
• Make lists during the day, not close to bed time.
• No stimulation before bed (including news, money talks etc.) 

A recent study from Penn State reported that men need 6.2 hours sleep and women need 6.8 hours. Women need more sleep, yet they do better without sleep because - likely because they're used to it due to caring for children. However, women actually get tired earlier in the evening than men, but push themselves to stay up longer. Then, when they get to bed they often worry about mundane things which men are less likely to do. 

Dr. Weil says that if the woman absolutely cannot sleep, in some cases it is better to get up and address whatever is on their mind—write it down, deal with it efficiently, and then go back to bed. While prepping for sleep—as well as in the morning - think of something pleasant and save the worries for the rest of the day.
To really prepare the mind for sleep, during the evening do a grateful exercise by thinking about what you are grateful for. Additionally, the bedtime ritual should include no news, quiet peaceful surroundings, nothing upsetting, violent or stimulating. These things will help people learn to shift gears, shut off, let go and compartmentalize problems from other times. 

Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, PhD, is the author of the 2010 NY Times Reader’s Choice Award winning book Make Up Don’t Break Up. 

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


Tags:

Word of the Day

November 14, 2011 7:04 pm

Private mortgage insurance (PMI). Required by most lenders for conventional loans with a down payment of less than 20 percent. Insurance is paid by the borrower and guarantees the lender will not lose money if the borrower defaults.

Tags:

Question of the Day

November 14, 2011 7:04 pm

Q: What does a home inspector do?

A
: A home inspector is a paid professional – often a contractor or an engineer – who checks the safety of a home. Home inspectors search for defects or other problems that could become your worst nightmare later on. They focus particularly on the home’s structure, construction, and mechanical systems.

It is not the inspector’s job to determine whether you are getting good value for your money. He does not establish value, only whether the home might collapse in a storm or if the roof might cave in.

A home inspection typically takes place after a purchase contract between the buyer and seller has been signed.

Tags:

Breathe Easier: How to Banish Mold from the Home

November 11, 2011 3:48 pm

Often our first encounter with mold at home occurs in that infamous spot between the shower curtain and tub. Unfortunately, in most homes, this isn’t the extent of the mold—the more problematic mold is the insidious kind, hiding behind walls and in floorboards, and potentially contributing to a range of allergies and other illnesses. In fact, a 1994 study by the Harvard University School of Public Health, which involved 10,000 homes in the U.S. and Canada, found that half of those homes had mold levels that participants said caused a 50-100% increase in distressing respiratory symptoms.

What causes mold? Surprisingly, advanced building materials are one of the main culprits. In the last few decades, buildings have increasingly been made to prevent the infiltration and exfiltration of air, leading to higher humidity levels. The insulation materials used in this type of construction contain cellulose and other materials that lock in moisture. Adding to the problem, many wall cavities are wrapped in plastic, allowing for even more moisture. An aging home is at even greater risk, as normal occurrences like window and roof leaks bring in even more moisture—and moisture is a direct cause of mold. Limited ventilation or sunlight only makes the problem worse, and things can get bad fast—one square foot of moldy drywall can harbor more than 300 million mold spores. 

When you hear the term “mold,” it can generally be one of two types—allergenic mold, and black mold. Allergenic mold is found in nearly every home, in some amount, however small. This type can provide unpleasant symptoms if it becomes excessive, depending on a person’s sensitivity level. These symptoms include fatigue, nasal and sinus congestion, skin and eye irritation and headaches. While these symptoms can be extremely annoying and make someone ill, they’re almost never life-threatening.

What’s much more dangerous, however, is toxic mold—more commonly, the black mold stachybotrys. Shockingly, over 27% of homes in the U.S. contain black mold. Black mold, in smaller amounts, causes many of the same symptoms as allergic mold, but, in high levels or among people with preexisting conditions or compromised immune systems, black mold can cause neurological damage, causing debilitating headaches and even memory problems.

How do you find the mold in your home? Sometimes it’s easy—it may be right in front of you, or you’ll find it by its distinctly musty smell. Though it’s harder to find hidden mold, you can do so by looking behind and beneath fixed materials and appliances: refrigerators, dishwashers, sink cabinets, washer/dryers, carpets, vinyl flooring—anywhere near where water flows or where air doesn’t penetrate readily. Also, look for signs of discoloration on walls and ceilings; this can denote a moisture buildup behind which mold may lurk.

Once you find the mold, remove it with a store-bought anti-fungal solution, or get rid of it with a weak bleach solution—1 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water. (If mold exists in an area over 2 square feet, call a professional to have it removed). But even more important than removing it is eliminating as many of its causes and sources as possible.

Follow these 10 tips to drastically reduce the mold in your home:

1. Call in a home inspection professional to assess water-damaged areas.

2. Keep humidity low. Humidity levels should be under 40% in order for mold to stop its forward march.

3. Replace any carpets and furniture that have ever been significantly damaged (i.e., saturated in water), even if they look OK on the outside.

4. Carpet in the bathroom or basement? Don’t even think about it. And if you have it, get rid of it.

5. Use an air-conditioner during the summer. We know it’s not cheap to run the A/C, but if it’s in the budget, even setting it to 80 degrees when it’s 90-plus outside, will help. Use fans to circulate A/C most effectively.

6. Dust and clean furniture regularly, and vacuum carpets at least once a week (make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter).

7. Provide adequate ventilation in hot areas. The kitchen and bath are two of the highest-risk rooms for mold. Install exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.

8. When you’re shopping for house paint for big or small painting projects, ask the sales rep about mold inhibitors you can add before painting.

9. Does your central air system have a fan from the Ford Pinto era? If so, replace it with a high-performance electrostatic air filter. Your local HVAC technician can help withy this.

10. Don’t neglect areas underneath the house—have a professional drain and ventilate all sub-basement areas, especially crawl spaces.

Charles Furlough is vice president of Pillar to Post Home Inspections.

Tags: