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Mary Mastroeni

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For Your College Student: Ways to Stay Ahead of Fellow College Graduates in the Job Search

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

As college students dive into the fall semester, they are met with conflicting news about the future job market upon graduation. Given the uncertainty of job availability facing college graduates in years to come, Aerotek, a leading staffing provider, conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults ages 25 – 54 to uncover ways to better position college graduates in a competitive job market.

Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed responded they would encourage college students to participate in internship programs to make getting a job easier. The survey found that those who participated in an internship benefit from the value of networking and its affect on finding a job.

"Although the job market seems to be slightly improving for college graduates, there are still a lot of obstacles making it more difficult to secure a job offer after graduation," says Todd Gardner, VP of Marketing & Communications, Aerotek. "Based on our survey results, we believe college students can get a leg up in the job search process by taking advantage of the networking opportunities that exist in internships and through the use of social sites."

Aerotek offers the following tips for college students:

• Choosing your degree – For students entering college, take note of jobs and skill sets in high demand. Engineering, business/finance, health and computer science appear to offer the most opportunities for future job growth.
• Internships – Securing an internship can help a resume stand out and provide the ability to gain important professional and job-related skills. Interns also have a head start on developing a professional network. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, paid internships may give a job seeker a slight advantage over those who took unpaid internships, because of the type of work a paid intern might do versus the unpaid intern.
• Networking – Fifty-five percent of those who held internships found their current job through networking, according to the Aerotek survey. If you don't have current contacts in your desired industry consider joining local professional groups and industry associations.
• Partner with a staffing firm – The job market is always changing and can be very difficult to navigate alone. Working with a staffing firm can offer job seekers an opportunity to engage with a recruiter who specializes in locating jobs that match a person's skills and expertise.

It is never too early to set yourself up for success after graduating from college. The decisions you make now can greatly impact your long-term commitment to enhancing your career—in whatever field you choose.

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

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Word of the Day

September 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Historic structures. Buildings of historical or architectural significance, perhaps landmarks, that are designated by federal, state, or local historical commissions.

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8 Ways to Plan for a Hard-to-Afford Retirement

September 15, 2011 8:03 pm

For Americans worried about how to finance their retirement, online consumer finance portal Bills.com suggests eight ways to help polish up planning for the golden years.

"Fears about how many Americans will save and pay for their retirement years are very real," said Bills.com president Ethan Ewing. "The U.S. Social Security fund may not be able to pay all promised benefits to future retirees. Even if it does, in August 2008, the average benefit paid was $994 per month.

Company pensions are all but history. At the same time, U.S. financial markets are on a roller coaster ride that has dashed the balances of many workers who hope to retire in the next few years. All told, things are no better than in 2005, when the Washington Post estimated that American retirees would have $45 billion less in retirement income in the year 2031 than will be needed."

Bills.com suggests that retirees take a few steps to plan for the future:
1. Do an honest evaluation. Comb through financial records to gain a real understanding of resources. What are or will be your Medicare benefits? Do you have long-term care insurance? What is the equity in your home? Do you own your car, and what is its condition? Do you have credit card or other debt?
2. List goals. "If finances are a problem, traveling around the world might be out of reach," Ewing noted. "However, retirees still can find enjoyment." Will you be content sitting at home after retirement? Will you need or want to work part-time? Do you want to spend time with grandchildren? Are you planning to pursue a hobby in depth? Plot out your goals and estimate the associated costs.
3. Work longer. Nearly one-third of Americans work into their late 60s. "If this option is a necessity for you, take heart in the fact that you are not alone," said Ewing.
4. Eliminate debt. Debt is a tremendous crippling force. Strive to pay off debt before retirement or as soon as possible afterward.
5. Save, save, save. Even if it feels like it is too late, before you retire, save every penny you can. Baby boomers have, on average, less than $50,000 in retirement savings. Yet all Americans can contribute up to $15,500 annually to tax-deferred retirement plans. Individuals over age 50 can save $5,000 more in "catch-up" contributions. Get rid of any credit card debt and then pour any gift, inheritance, bonus, overtime or net from selling items into debt payment or retirement savings.
6. Minimize expenses. Look closely at the bottom line and work to reduce costs. For example, a clotheshorse should realize that premium style may not be the No. 1 priority in retirement. Yet you can enjoy fashion—and pinch pennies—by shopping at consignment and thrift stores, or having a clothing swap with stylish friends. If you do not watch hundreds of premium TV channels, downgrade to a basic cable package. Instead of dining out, cook at home, host potlucks with friends or trade meals. Ask about senior discounts when shopping or going out.
7. Consider alternatives. Brainstorm options. Be open-minded. Do you need a car? Can you share with others, use public transportation or move to a neighborhood where walking is feasible? Some seniors take roommates or purchase a new home with friends to cover costs as well as provide a social outlet. Others might sell a home and use the money to build an addition on a child's home, where the retiree can live safely and comfortably.
8. Fill the gap. Would selling your home or applying for a reverse mortgage provide monthly income to pay the bills? Would a part-time job provide grocery money or some extra money for some fun activities?

The earlier you can evaluate your situation, the better. The sooner you minimize living costs, the longer your money will stretch. Be honest with yourself and with your loved ones, and you can polish up those golden years by making the most of your resources.

For more information, visit www.bills.com.

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Combat Growing Mobile Security Threats

September 15, 2011 8:03 pm

Security risks to mobile devices continue to rise as hackers discover new ways to infiltrate smartphones and tablets, especially by exploiting mobile applications.

"Today users face daily threats from Trojans and other computer viruses that can potentially expose sensitive personal data, including credit card numbers," says Andy Hayter, anti-malcode program manager for ICSA Labs, an independent division of Verizon. "In addition, undetected Trojans can lead to expensive charges on customer phone bills by sending text messages and making calls."

To combat mobile security risks aimed at smartphones, tablets and apps, ICSA Labs offers seven tips to help business and consumer users protect themselves:
1. Only buy apps from recognized app stores. Apps from unofficial third-party stores and applications downloaded from peer-to-peer sites are much more likely to contain malware than apps sanctioned by official vendor stores such as the Android App Market or Apple App Store.
2. Think twice about accepting "permissions." Most applications, legitimate as well as malicious ones, require users to accept several "permissions" before the apps are installed. Check carefully to be sure that the app comes from a legitimate source.
3. Monitor bills for irregular charges. If attackers gain access to personal information stored on your phone, they can quickly rack up charges by sending "silent" text messages to high-priced call services. For example, if the Android Trojan GGTracker is inadvertently installed on a device, it can sign up users, without their knowledge, for premium text messaging services.
4. Employ security policies to protect employer-issued devices. Employers should enforce password-based access and require voice mail codes so that only authorized users can access data on employer-issued devices.
5. Be mindful that more and more employees bring their personal devices to work. Companies therefore must have security systems and policies in place to safeguard their business environment and prevent access to company networks from employees' personal devices.
6. Remember that mobile devices are tiny handheld PCs. Many security threats that apply to traditional computers also apply to mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and consumers should take necessary measures to protect themselves. One way to do this is to install anti-malware software on mobile devices and enable VPN functionality.
7. Protect your mobile phone password and voice mail pin. If your mobile phone does not currently have a password, add one that is at least six digits. Try to choose a unique password that is not already used across other systems and accounts. Do not use repeating digits in passwords or voice mail pins. Remember that your provider will never request your voice mail pin, so do not be tempted to provide it to anyone who requests it.

If you detect infection on an employer-issued device, immediately report your concern to the employee help desk or IT security staff personnel.

"Mobile malware will continue to rise with increased smartphone use," Hayter says, "but by following these tips users can help protect themselves and their personal data from unwanted intrusions."

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

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Lessons Learned from Major Hurricanes Can Help You Prepare for Future Disasters

September 15, 2011 8:03 pm

Hurricane Irene, with its high wind, torrential rain and flooding, was a wake-up call for the residents of many states up and down the East Coast of the United States, providing important lessons to millions of Americans on how to prepare for future storms, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

"Those who take the time to prepare for a disaster are in the best position to survive a catastrophe and recover as quickly as possible," pointed out Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I.

Hurricane season, which ends on November 30, is far from over so it is still possible for another storm to make landfall in the U.S. In fact, six of the ten most expensive hurricanes in the U.S. occurred in September and one in late October. 

Damage caused by wind is one of the most consistent and major causes of property loss. Hurricanes and tropical storms accounted for 44 percent of all catastrophe losses over the 20-year period from 1991 to 2010. Tornadoes, which frequently accompany hurricanes, ranked second highest, representing 30 percent of catastrophe losses for the period.

Hurricane Irene provided a stark reminder that the entire East Coast is at risk for catastrophic storms. While Florida and the Gulf coast may have more frequent hurricanes, the Northeast also has a history of severe storms. The Great New England Hurricane of 1938 (also known as "The Long Island Express") hit New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, causing 600 deaths, 1,700 injuries and over $400 million in damages, according to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS). AIR Worldwide estimates that the storm would have caused $38 billion in insurance damages had it occurred today.

The I.I.I. has tips to help consumers prepare for the next hurricane or tropical storm.

1. Know Your Risk of Flooding
People often underestimate the risk of flooding. But as Hurricane Irene demonstrated, flooding occurs not only on the coast but inland, as well. In fact, 90 percent of all natural disasters in this country involve flooding, according to FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

It is important to determine the risk of flooding in your area so you know whether you need flood coverage. Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies do not cover flooding, but insurance is available from the NFIP and some private insurance companies.

Flood insurance covers direct physical losses by flooding and from flood-related erosion caused by heavy or prolonged rain, coastal storm surge, snow melt, blocked storm drainage systems, levee dam failure or other similar causes.

The NFIP policy covers homes for up to $250,000 on a replacement cost basis and the contents for up to $100,000 on an actual cash value basis. Replacement cost coverage pays to rebuild the structure as it was before the damage. Actual cash value is replacement cost minus depreciation. To be eligible for the replacement cost policy, the homeowner must insure the structure for 80 percent of the cost to rebuild the home or purchase the maximum amount of coverage provided by the NFIP. If you are a renter, you can also purchase flood insurance for the contents of your home.

If you need more coverage than is provided by the NFIP policy, excess flood insurance is available from some private insurers. Private insurance may also be available if your community does not participate in the NFIP. Coverage for the contents of basements is limited, so be careful about what you store in the basement and consider installing a sump pump.

While flooding is not covered under standard home insurance policies, some types of water damage are. This includes burst pipes, wind driven rain and damage resulting from ice dams on your roof. Some homeowner’s insurance policies cover sewer and drain backups, but others do not. However, you can purchase a sewer backup rider to a homeowner’s or renter’s policy in states that offer the coverage for about $50 each year, with the policy limits varying depending upon the insurer.

2. Understand Your Hurricane Deductible
A deductible is the amount of money you pay out-of-pocket before your insurance coverage kicks in. A standard home insurance policy deductible is a flat dollar amount, usually either $500 or $1,000. Hurricane deductibles, however, are tied to a percentage of your home's insured value. Your hurricane deductible is clearly stated on the front page (Declarations page) of your homeowner’s insurance policy.

Hurricane deductibles apply solely to damage from hurricanes, and typically vary from 1 percent to 5 percent of the insured value of a home. For example, if your home is insured for $200,000, and has a 2 percent hurricane deductible, you would be responsible for paying the first $4,000 needed to repair the home.
Hurricane deductibles are incorporated into homeowner’s insurance policies in 18 coastal states and the District of Columbia. Whether a hurricane deductible applies to a claim depends on the specific "trigger," which can vary by state and insurer and is usually linked to wind speeds. Due to these differences, homeowners should check their policy carefully.

3. Maintain a Home Inventory
A home inventory is a detailed list of your personal possessions together with their estimated value. This is an important document that will help you:
• Buy the amount of insurance you need
• Get your insurance claim settled faster
• Verify losses for your income tax return
• Keep track of your belongings in order to substantiate losses when applying for financial aid after a catastrophe

There are many ways to organize a home inventory. You can do it room by room, category by category (furniture, electronics, etc.) or start with detailed descriptions of the most expensive items and put less expensive items into broad categories. If you own your home, do not forget to list items like heating systems, washers/dryers and air-conditioning units.

There are also many approaches to creating your inventory. You can simply write everything down in a notebook, or take pictures and write the information on the back of the photos or save it on your computer. If you own a video camera or smart phone, another option is to walk through your house filming and describing the contents.

4. Keep your Insurance Up-to-Date
The time to review your insurance is before you need to file a claim. After Hurricane Irene many homeowners and renters had little knowledge of how much insurance they had or what was covered by their policy. As a general rule, you should have enough insurance to rebuild your home and replace all of its contents. If you make a large purchase or major improvement to your home, always update your policy. And if you are a renter, get renters insurance so your possessions are covered.

You should also find out how much coverage is available for additional living expenses (ALE). These expenses could include the cost of a temporary rental home or hotel room, restaurant, meals and any other expenses incurred in the event your home is uninhabitable while it is being repaired or rebuilt due to an insured disaster. Some policies provide coverage for 20 percent of the amount of insurance you have on your house. Others may specify a time period. Additional coverage is generally available for an additional cost.

If you own a car, consider purchasing the optional comprehensive coverage when buying your auto insurance policy as it will reimburse you for weather-related disasters such as flooding, or a tree falling on your car.

5. Have an Evacuation Plan
For many people, Hurricane Irene was the first major disaster that required them to evacuate their home—a reminder of the importance of having an evacuation plan in place. If you have pets you will need even more advanced planning, as many public shelters do not accept animals. Here are a few key steps to planning an evacuation:

• Identify where you can go in the event of an evacuation. Try to have more than one option: the home of a friend or family member in another town, a hotel or a shelter. Keep the phone numbers and addresses of these locations handy.
• If your evacuation route relies on public transportation and/or bridge, tunnels or ferries, plan to leave early and have a back-up plan in case any of the transportation options is closed for safety reasons.
• Map out your primary route and a backup route in case roads are blocked or impassable. Make sure you have a map of the area available.
• Family members may be separated before or during the evacuation so identify a specific meeting place and ask an out-of-town friend or family member to act as a contact person.
• Plan what you will take such as medicines, first aid kits, bottled water, cash, clothing, flashlight, battery-powered radio, pet food, special items for infants, the elderly or disabled.
• Gather important papers (or copies) such as insurance policies, prescriptions, passports and social security information. Store them in water-tight, fire resistant containers.

6. Learn How to Protect Your Home Against Hurricane Damage
There are a number of steps you can take to make your home more disaster-resistant. Keeping wind and water out of your home is critical to its survival. According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, a house is most vulnerable to high winds when the building's "envelope" is not sealed by forms of protection such as storm shutters or reinforced garage doors. In addition, homeowners should secure loose roof shingles and seal openings, cracks and holes while also strengthening soffits such as beams, arches and staircases.

During a windstorm, loose items outside of the house can be picked up by the winds and become destructive projectiles. Be prepared to remove all outdoor furniture, lawn items, planters and other materials. Trim trees and shrubbery and remove weak branches on plants and trees.

And, if you are renovating or doing construction on your home, keep in mind that unsecured building materials or trash from partially completed homes could become airborne and pose a serious physical threat to individuals and nearby buildings.

7. Consider Specialty Insurance for Special Events or Expensive Vacations
In the wake of Hurricane Irene, there were cancelled weddings, postponed events, missed flights and stranded travelers. While there is no insurance against frustration, specialty insurance is available for the financial losses that may be incurred when expensive special events or travel are impacted. Travel insurance can also provide assistance for travelers impacted by hurricanes and other disasters listed in the policy.

For more information, visit www.iii.org.

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Best Brain Foods for Kids to Increase Memory and Fuel Busy School Days

September 15, 2011 8:03 pm

With the school year back in session, parents should feed their kids the best brain foods to help them sustain their energy and help them succeed at school, while also creating healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

According to Phil Lempert aka the SupermarketGuru and editor of The Lempert Report and SupermarketGuru.com, eating nutrient-dense meals, and snacks, and staying hydrated at regular intervals and avoiding processed, sugary foods can boost brain development, improve concentration, and provide a child's energy to make it through a school day. It is also important to always send your child to school with a balanced healthy snack, even if all other meals are provided.

"The new school year is a time to start fresh, encourage healthy eating habits and set a great example as a parent," says Lempert. "It is important for growing children to eat a variety of foods from each food group. A well-nourished and fit child is better able to learn and has more energy, stamina, and self-esteem."
According to Lempert, the best brain foods include:

• Whole Grains: Whole grains in general contain phytonutrients, folate and B vitamins that boost memory. Whole grains are great for kids—most notably oats and eating oats in a not too sweet granola is a great way to get kids to eat more whole grains. The addition of some dried fruit and nuts balances out the meal or snack. Pack sandwiches with whole wheat bread. If your kids are not used to it, make as sandwich with half white, half whole wheat bread;
• Lean and Clean Protein: Protein is great to pair with whole grains and can help kids feel full longer, avoiding a sharp drop in blood sugar. Choosing protein sources that are raised humanely and fed a proper diet, or pastured are your best bets. Ask your local butcher about how the meat was raised;
• Berries, Grapes, Apples, Pears and other Seasonal Fruits: Rich in antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and fiber. The fiber in fruit also helps keep kids regular, yes it's not just a grown-up problem;
• Healthy Fats: Healthy fats help "cushion" the brain; in fact 60 percent of a brain is made up of fat. Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for the brain and eyes (deficiency can lead to anxiety and depression). Avocados are another great fat, as well as flax and chia seeds (which are full of fiber as well); and
• Filtered Water: Dehydration can lead to fatigue, fogginess, and more, so drinking plenty of water is crucial to keeping concentration and energy levels high. Parents would be surprised how little water kids drink at school. After learning and running around all day most kids could use a couple glasses of water. Buy a reusable water bottle in the color or pattern that your kids like - or let them pick it out. If they choose it, they are more likely to use it!

For more information, visit www.SupermarketGuru.com.

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Word of the Day

September 15, 2011 8:03 pm

Grantor. Person named in a deed who conveys ownership of real estate; the seller.


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Question of the Day

September 15, 2011 8:03 pm

Q: Should I buy a vacation home?

A: The second home market has more ebbs and flows than the primary home market. Sales are iffy in a bad economy except, perhaps, on the high-end. That said, there is a growing trend toward the purchase of vacation homes. They are being bought for investment purposes, enjoyment, as well as retirement. In the latter instance, some people are buying with the idea of turning a vacation home into a permanent retirement haven down the road, a move that puts them ahead of the game now.

Some of the tax benefits mirror those for a primary residence. Mortgage interest and property taxes are deductible, which helps to offset the cost of the home payment. And if you treat your second home as a rental property, you can fully depreciate it as well. But you are only allowed to occupy it for two weeks a year, or 10 percent of the total rented time, whichever is less.

Before taking the leap, ask yourself if you can afford to carry two mortgages, maintain two households, and pay the extra utilities and maintenance costs. Also, learn about financing requirements and options, which can differ slightly from those on a primary residence.

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Living on a Budget - Home Remedies Better, Cheaper

September 14, 2011 5:03 pm

At a time when it seems that prices are soaring everywhere we look, it is no wonder that cost conscious homemakers are now saying, "Ouch!" at the cost of some popular household cleaning products.

But there are proven home remedies that will do many of the same cleaning jobs-and often for pennies on the dollar. Here are some of the top picks:

Keep chrome fixtures clean and shiny by wiping them down with new or used fabric softener sheets. For stubborn water spots, try rubbing alcohol on a paper towel.

To remove tough stains from the inside of a vase, fill the vase with warm water and drop in two Alka Seltzer tablets.

For a fog-free mirror after you shower, wipe it down a couple of times a week with a few drops of aftershave on a paper towel.

Fill in unsightly nail holes with plain white toothpaste; smooth with a damp sponge.

Make an effective all-purpose cleaner for countertops and appliances by filling a spray bottle with one third pine cleaner, one third ammonia and one third water.

Prolong the life of fresh flowers by filling the vase with a quart of warm water, two tablespoons vinegar and three tablespoons sugar. 

Sharpen scissors by cutting 10 times through three layers of foil or by cutting a piece of fine sandpaper into small pieces.

Try polishing the silver with toothpaste; just rub on and wipe off. 

Remove small scratches on polished wood furniture by rubbing them with a shelled walnut.

Smelly shoes? Put a few tea leaves into nylon stockings and stuff one stocking into each shoe. Leave it there for a couple of days until the smell vanishes.

To keep lint and dust off glass tabletops longer, clean them with a solution of one tablespoon of fabric softener and a quart of warm water. (Also works well for computer screens and TV screens.)

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Simple Fall Fix-Ups

September 14, 2011 5:03 pm

Fall is the best time to get your house in order because come winter, small problems can turn into big-dollar nightmares. The October 2011 issue of ShopSmart magazine, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, highlights key household maintenance tasks for the fall that can save readers more than $20,000 in repairs.

"People need to take home repairs seriously, especially with winter just a few months away," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "Now is the time to check and service any small problems before snow, ice, and freezing temperatures accentuate them."

Get some leaf relief
Fallen leaves can kill grass when they're matted down by snow. Leaf piles can also attract rodents. But using leaf bags means work and waste if they go into a landfill.
• What to do: Don't overlook your mower's mulching mode! Grinding up leaves feeds your lawn and saves money. You may need to make a few passes to slice the leaves small enough to decay.
• What you save: Along with saving the cost of leaf bags (Americans spend millions of dollars a year on them), you sidestep the stooping and bending of raking and bagging.
• Smart Pick: Time for a new mower? The $350 Toro Recycler 20332 self-propelled gas mower aced our mulching tests.

Check the roof
Leaks can eventually damage the wood sheathing and rafters below the shingles, leading to thousands of dollars in repairs.
• What to do: Use binoculars to spot cracked, curled, or missing shingles safely from the ground. Consider having a roofing pro check flashing around chimneys, skylights and roof valleys for leaks, and the rubber boots near vents for cracks that can let moisture seep in.
What you save: At roughly $3 per square foot installed, new sheathing would total $6,900 for a 2,300 square foot house if you had to replace all of it. Figure on an additional $7,000 to $10,000 to install new shingles, plus added costs if the roof rafters need replacing.
• Smart Pick: Certain Teed Landmark asphalt shingles were top performers in our tests and deliver the layered look of cedar shakes. And at just $65 per 100 square feet, they'd save you about $7,000 on a typical home over the priciest shingle we tested.

Find air leaks
Air leaks lurking inside your home can send up to 10 percent of your home's heat out the window during the winter.
• What to do: A professional energy audit (about $300 to $800) is best; some utilities help pay for it. On a windy day you can do your own check. Close windows and doors, and shut off the furnace. Turn on bathroom and other fans that blow air outside. Then pass a lit incense stick over door and window frames and other leak sites; smoke that's blown into or out of the room signals a leak.
• What you save: Plugging leaks can slice your heating bill by 10 percent, or about $66 per year, based on the $660 average annual cost of heat per household nationwide. Those yearly savings could help pay for a new range, refrigerator, or dishwasher after 10 years. And that's if you're using natural gas. Got oil or electricity? Annual savings could exceed $200.

Close your hoses
Pipes can burst when water inside expands as it freezes, creating an expensive mess in your home.
• What to do: Shut off inside valves that control water flow to hose spigots. Then briefly open the spigots to drain any leftover water in pipes and hoses. Also drain water from supply lines for water sprinklers and pools, and shut off inside valves that control them. And help prevent freezing by insulating pipes in unheated areas.
What you save: Thousands of dollars in plumbing repairs and water damage, especially if pipes burst and cause a flood while you're away.

For more information, visit www.ShopSmartmag.org.

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