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Mary Mastroeni

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Nurturing Selflessness in a Selfie Culture

February 25, 2017 12:30 am

(Family Features)--In a typical day, it’s possible for children to spend more time engaging with technology than interacting with their peers face-to-face. As a result, the “selfie culture” is on the minds of today’s parents, who worry about how they can make sure their children grow into kind and selfless adults.

However, a national survey revealed that parents don’t fully realize the power they have when it comes to developing good character in their children. The online survey, commissioned by preschool provider Primrose Schools®, profiled hundreds of U.S. parents whose children attend, will attend or have previously attended an early education program between the ages of 3-5.

In today’s social media-focused world, 92 percent of parents agree that nurturing positive character traits in children is more important than it used to be. Yet nearly 50 percent of parents are unaware of just how early they can and should start helping their children develop these traits.

When Character-Building Should Begin

The foundational skills for good character start emerging in the first year of life. Children as young as 6 months old can demonstrate outward signs of budding empathy skills. Character and emotional intelligence continue to develop throughout the early years and are significantly influenced by young children’s interactions with their parents and caregivers. Yet almost 50 percent of parents believe preschool is too early for children to start learning social-emotional skills, and could be missing critical opportunities to support their child’s development.

Why Nurturing Good Character Early is Important

Intentionally nurturing social-emotional skills starting at birth is an important and often overlooked opportunity as these skills have been shown to be key predictors of future health, academic and life success. Early brain and child development research now shows more clearly that the first five years of life are critical for building the foundation for traits such as honesty, generosity, compassion and kindness, which will impact children for a lifetime.

“We now know that IQ no longer represents an accurate predictor of school readiness, much less future life success,” said Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician and nationally acclaimed parenting and children’s book author. “It’s not just about learning the ‘3 Rs’ of reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic anymore. It’s the addition of a fourth ‘R’ that represents relationships and the importance of reading other people, which sets children up for success in today’s world.”

Finding Child Care that Nurtures Good Character

In addition to parents, child care providers play a key role in helping children develop a strong foundation. However, more than half of parents surveyed feel their child did not or will not acquire honesty, generosity and compassion (54, 54 and 62 percent, respectively) during their early education experience.

Parents seeking early education and care for their children should look for providers that emphasize character development. In these nurturing environments, children have opportunities to learn and practice social-emotional skills every day through games, puppet play, books, music, art projects and more. At Primrose Schools, their Balanced Learning® approach also includes hands-on experiences to help children apply concepts like generosity in real-life situations.

For example, each year thousands of children at more than 325 Primrose schools across the country take part in the annual Caring and Giving Food Drive. The preschoolers earn money to purchase canned goods through chores at home. They practice perspective taking, learning about the importance of giving through stories, songs, art projects and more. They even take field trips to grocery stores to shop for food items, which are then donated to local charities. At the end of the experience, the children feel a sense of accomplishment and have practiced skills like empathy, generosity and compassion.

“We believe who children become is as important as what they know,” said Gloria Julius, Ed.D., vice president of education and professional development for Primrose Schools. “That’s why nurturing children’s social-emotional development and building character has been an integral part of our approach for more than 30 years.”

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Surviving With Five - Experts Pick Their Top Countertop Accessories

February 25, 2017 12:30 am

Do you cast your eyes around your kitchen and think clutter. When weighing the most critical countertop accoutrements, there is no shortage of authorities ready to tell you how to most strategically equip your kitchen surfaces.

Janet Hall at remodelista.com says one of the new-generation countertop ovens is among her kitchen must-haves. She likes one of the new line of smart convection ovens that offers nine operating modes to meet almost any culinary demand.

Chris, a kitchen equipment expert at consolidatedfoodservice.com thinks a panini maker or panini press deserves a spot on your counter. Besides pressing crunchy, hand-crafted sandwiches - in a pinch, a panini maker can be a handy grill for meat, sliced potatoes, chicken, and even fried eggs.

Kitchen.com showcases several new products on the market that pack a punch and save tons of kitchen space, including a combination stand mixer, blender and food processor that also works as your juicer, meat grinder, shredding, slicing and whisking appliance, all in one machine - that occupies a relatively small countertop footprint.

Speaking of multi-function, at thekitchn.com, Cambria Bold says she loves her Instant Pot - a seven-in-one multi-cooker that works as an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, warmer, and sauté pan all in one ($135).

Bold describes her electric kettle as: one of those deceptively essential small appliances you don't think is necessary until you have one. She says it's more energy-efficient than boiling water on the stove, and 10 times as fast.
Claire Murdough at lifehacker.com thinks small appliance hunters on a budget should avoid overspending on kitchen appliances by asking themselves five questions before buying something that may go without much use, wasting space and money:

What's the return on value? Murdough says his most cost effective tool is a slow cooker.

How frequently will you use it? His pick for most frequently used appliance is a microwave.

Could you make do without? Murdough says the most useful specialized appliance is a blender.

Will having to clean it deter you? His easiest to clean most useful appliance winner is a hand mixer.

Do you want it just for the novelty? If so, Murdough's best bet for a novelty appliance is a George Foreman brand or similar type of double heated electric grill.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Is This Your Year? The Time Is Now For Prepping To Sell!

February 24, 2017 12:30 am

If 2017 is the year you put your home on the market, there are a few important things you can start doing right now to be ready when spring and summer home-buying season hits.

One Upper Michigan REALTOR(r)'s blog suggests restless pending home listers host a pre-market open house. Invite friends, family and three full time real estate agents to a weekend get-to-know-your-home gathering.

The blog says it will help get the word out that you’ll be selling come spring. Don't forget to ask for feedback from guests and be ready for what you’ll hear - good and bad.

Now is the time to start a to-do list of repairs, updates and streamlining with a timeline to complete before your home goes on market, the blog states. Also gather references for contractors if you need to hire work done - mid-winter months are typically slow for building trades and a good time to schedule repairs.

Don’t forget the basement - dark, dirty and musty basements are a turnoff to buyers:

· Add extra lighting, paint the floor and vacuum out all the cobwebs.

· Organize storage areas and take the time to clean the washing machine and dryer.

· To spruce up the hot water heater and furnace, wipe down with a strong cleaner.

· Scrub the laundry tub and sweep left-over leaves out of exterior stairs and window wells.

· Run a dehumidifier to reduce basement moisture.

Dawn Jamison at QuickenLoans.com says another REALTOR(r) in Exton, Pa. says winter house hunters should keep their search going regardless of the weather because a home that meets their ideal criteria and at the right price can pop up on the market at any time.

Another Detroit REALTOR(r) told Jamison that said if a buyer can locate a home that meets their needs, then being a winter buyer is not a hindrance. And because of typical mid-winter lack of inventory, he advises buyers to be certain their financing is figured out ahead of time so that they can submit competitive offers quickly when an appropriate home hits the listings.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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The 5 Best Money Tips to Teach Your Kids

February 24, 2017 12:30 am

The money habits children develop while they’re young can help form habits that guide their financial future, and the younger they are when they learn good money habits, the more likely they are to value them.

Financial editors at the money and investment site, The Motley Fool, suggest the five most important money tips you can teach kids at an early age:

1.  Money grows – It has the potential to earn you more if you stow it properly. Show your kids that if you put $500 into a savings account at just one percent interest annually, you will have $552 in ten years with no more effort on your part. As your kids get older, you can explore more lucrative earnings efforts including investment opportunities.

2.  Look for value – There’s nothing wrong with buying what you want, but you can make the effort to spend less for it if you wait until it goes on sale or consider a store brand instead of a name brand. You can show kids how this works with a trip to the supermarket, and teach them to research the differences between products.

3.  Saving is less expensive than borrowing – Kids, like many adults, want what they want when they want it. They may not have access to credit cards, as adults do, but next time they want something they don’t have enough money for, offer to lend it to them. But charge interest. Once kids see that borrowing entails extra cost, they may see the value of saving up.

4.  Your friend’s money is none of your business – When your kids are trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ explain that they have no idea how much their friends have or where there money goes or is coming from. It’s wise to focus on your own situation, rather than on someone else’s.

5.  Know that your time has value – Kids should be willing to work to earn money, but understand that their time has value. Selling lemonade on a quiet col-de-sac with little foot traffic, for example, may not be a good investment of their time. Having a strong work ethic will be valuable all their lives, but they should understand that time and effort have worth.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Maximizing Your Assets in Retirement

February 24, 2017 12:30 am

(Family Features)--No matter how diligent you may have been about saving for retirement, unexpected life changes and economic realities can negatively impact your retirement budget. Sustained low interest rates have suppressed yields on income from bonds and rising health care expenses have affected retirees of all ages. Many retirees are surprised to learn that one of the most valuable assets in their portfolios may be a life insurance policy that they no longer need.
 
It’s not uncommon for people to outlive their need for life insurance, and if you no longer need the policy or can no longer afford the premiums, you could consider selling the policy through a life settlement. This is a financial transaction in which a policy owner works with a company, such as Coventry Direct, to determine if they qualify to sell their life insurance policy. The policy seller receives an immediate cash payment while the buyer assumes all future premium payments. Most life insurance policy types qualify, even convertible term life policies.
 
Consider this story about a financial advisor who recently retired from a long, successful career. He decided the money he was spending on the rising premiums for his $799,975 life insurance policy could be used to help fund his retirement. After some research, he called Coventry Direct and was happy to learn he had an option other than just letting the policy lapse. He sold his policy through a life settlement for $25,000, which was more than four times the value he would have received if he surrendered the policy back to the insurance company.
 
If you don’t own a life insurance policy or still need your coverage, you may want to evaluate the real estate you own. Think about downsizing to a smaller home or selling other property you no longer need. Many retirees discover that they have significant equity tied up in real estate – equity that could be used to help fund expenses.
 
Another useful exercise is reviewing your investments. If your retirement income is failing to produce the amount needed to maintain your lifestyle, you may need to rebalance your portfolio in order to meet your changing needs.
 
If you find your retirement income is insufficient, there are options available to maximize your assets. For many retirees, an existing life insurance policy may be a hidden asset that can be utilized to generate cash.
 
Source: coventrydirect.com 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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South Style: Winter Lawn Care Tips from the Pros

February 23, 2017 12:30 am

Whether it's rolling out like a green carpet around your warmer climate home, or sleeping snugly under winter's blanket of snow, almost everybody with a lawn cares about how it looks.

So when the opportunity arose to examine a few winter lawn best practices, we didn't discriminate between those more hearty, snow covered patches along the northern tiers, to your year-round stretches throughout the south.

Even folks in more southerly climates can help their lawns to flourish with a few winter maintenance tips.

Experts at the University of Florida in Gainesville (http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/) say one of the big mistakes many Floridians make is fertilizing in winter.

While in some parts of South Florida, it's warm enough that your grass may grow — and need fertilizer — year-round, fertilizing too late across the rest of the southeast region could cause grass to become more cold-sensitive.

So if you missed your fall application, no worries - as growth begins in the spring, UFL's sources at their Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) suggest you just apply an appropriate fertilizer for your lawn type, and your turf will respond with fresh growth and vigor.

The American Lawn Guide says if winters are mild in your area, winter style lawn fertilizer should feature a slightly different nutrient make-up, including the most important nutrient for winter lawn care - iron.

Americanlawnguide.com reminds folks doing winter fertilizing that if applying a winter fertilizer which contains Iron, it is highly important to wash down any pathways surrounding the lawn which may have had some stray fertilizer granules land on it.

If not washed off, the iron content can break down on the pathways and permanently stain them with rust.

And what if you're in a temperate zone? Lawnstarter.com says some lawn care professionals believe a fall application of winterizer is the single most beneficial thing you can do for cool-season lawns, and the best choice if you’re only fertilizing once.

Among major commercial fertilizers, winterizers are more balanced than turf-builders, so they’re a better choice for once-a-year feeding. 

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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5 Ways to Beautify Your Bath on a Budget

February 23, 2017 12:30 am

Your bathroom is one of the hardest workers in your home. You want it to help you keep clean and comfy, but when company comes, you want it looking lovely and pristine. To maximize both its use and its beauty, Home and Garden TV designers suggest five thrifty tips for upgrading any bath on a budget:

Try granite – Because bathroom countertops are fairly small, you can swap out dated tile countertops for more attractive granite without spending a fortune. A light, neutral color will maximize natural light while a darker, high-gloss color can add drama.

Focus on the faucet – Today’s faucets, in a wide variety of finishes from white to brass to traditional chrome, can add new charm to any bathroom for $200 or less. If you’ve an urge to splurge, consider replacing the sink as well, with a new drop-in, wall mount, or above counter vessel design that may cost $200 or less.

Showerheads to swoon over – Replacing an old showerhead with a drenching but soothing rainforest model, or a three-way head that can target shampoo or your sore muscles, can make you feel like in you’re in your own spa, and all for under $100.

Love the lighting – Augment an old-fashioned ceiling light with wall mounted lighting to add warmth and value to your bath. Savvy shoppers can do that – and even add some flattering light above the mirror – for well under $300.

Warm it up – When you step out of the bath, there is nothing like a heated floor and/or heated towel bars to make your feel like you live in the lap of luxury. But radiant floor heating can cost as little as $5 and $8 per square foot, and a wall-mounted towel warmer can grace your bath for as little as $200.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Navigate a Financial Emergency

February 23, 2017 12:30 am

(Family Features)--Your washing machine suddenly breaks down, a child requires a laptop for school or your car needs new tires. Sometimes surprise bills can be difficult to cover.
 
Life’s financial emergencies happen to everyone, but 6 in 10 Americans cannot cover an unexpected $500 bill without selling something or borrowing money, according to Bankrate.
 
As many as 70 percent of U.S. families live paycheck to paycheck, according to Alok Deshpande, founder of SmartPath Financial Education. In fact, less than 30 percent of families today have anything left at the end of the month to put in savings. That reality is echoed by a recent GoBankingRates survey, which revealed that 69 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings and 34 percent don’t have any savings at all.
 
“When you don’t have cash for something you need, there are many different financing options available. However, few realize that many of these options can lead to a debt spiral that can be difficult to pull out of,” said Richard Carrano, CEO of Purchasing Power, an employee purchase program offering consumer products and services through payroll deduction at the workplace.
 
“Regrettably, circumstances and bank accounts don’t always align. That’s why it’s so important to be ‘credit educated’ – to understand hidden costs and fees associated with high-risk credit options and avoid making financial mistakes that can hound you months, even years later.”
 
Buying items on sub-prime credit or through high-interest vehicles like payday or title loans can be risky propositions, particularly if you have a low credit score to begin with. Understanding your options can help ensure you make the best choice to meet your short-term needs without compromising your long-term finances.

Consider the following:
 
Cash: Paying cash for a major purchase makes the most sense in terms of avoiding exorbitant fees and preventing credit dings from missed payments. However, cash may not always be readily available.
 
Credit cards: Chances are, even with a shaky financial history, you can find a creditor willing to offer you a line of credit, but you’ll likely have a steep annual percentage rate that accrues each month. Furthermore, if you’re unable to repay more than the monthly minimum, you could end up carrying that debt for years before it’s fully paid down.
 
Employee purchase programs: Research shows that financial stress at home regularly impacts employee productivity at work. This leads many employers to offer an employee purchase program such as Purchasing Power, which allows you to buy what you need through automatic paycheck deductions over a 12-month period. There’s no credit check, zero interest and no hidden fees. There’s also a free financial wellness platform to help with budgeting, credit reports and personal coaching. Learn more at PurchasingPower.com.
 
Rent to own: With rent-to-own products, you pay a monthly principal amount plus service fees and taxes for a period of time, up to completing the rental agreement and owning the item outright. While the monthly rate makes items like appliances and furniture immediately accessible, be wary of the long-term cost. Renters can end up paying as much as three times the retail value of an item before satisfying the terms for ownership.
 
Payday/Title loans: Essentially, these loans function as a loan against a future paycheck or your vehicle. They often come with high percentage rates and fees, as well as extremely short repayment schedules. Rely on these loans only if you are certain you can cover the entire loan and associated fees by the designated due date.
 
Whatever option you choose for emergency financing, understanding the repercussions can help you long-term.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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How to Find Money around the House

February 20, 2017 12:30 am

Need to start adding some more money to your monthly credit column and reduce the amount in the debit column? If you take a good look around your house - and no, not under the sofa cushions - you can upturn money in several different areas.

Evaluate your cable needs. Take a good look at your cable bill. Are you paying for a landline you don’t use anymore? Channels you never watch? Cable boxes you don’t need? Chances are you can slash your bill dramatically. In fact, if you’re mostly watching Netflix, using an Apple TV or Roku, you might not need cable at all.

Be more energy efficient. Talk to your energy company about the options available to you. Thanks to deregulation, you now have a choice of providers. Also consider solar panels. After the initial installation cost, your monthly energy spend will drop significantly.

Be proactive with your mobile provider. Take a good look at your mobile bill for unnecessary expenses and to make sure you’re getting the best plan. Carriers are always introducing new package deals and specials, so be proactive and ask them how you can reduce your bill. You also might want to consider going without a contract and paying month to month.

Bundle insurance. Insurance providers want your business and will offer discounts when you bundle your various insurance needs with them--auto, home, life, etc. But discounts for bundling vary widely - from 3 - 22 percent, according to insure.com. So make sure you shop around before you choose a provider.

Drive less. Economic indicators point to gas most likely reaching $3 per gallon this year. No matter what happens with prices, though, gas expenses add up. Look for ways where you can reduce your time behind the wheel. Try car-pooling, biking and walking when you can. And if you’re in the market for a new car, it’s worth considering a hybrid, diesel, or other fuel-efficient model.

Manage your meals. If you’re not tracking your grocery expenses, start immediately. You’ll be surprised (maybe even shocked!) at how much you’re spending on groceries. Once you get a clear picture of what you’re spending, find ways to reduce that amount. Shop in bulk for items you use frequently, shop weekly specials and clip coupons, and make sure you join the rewards programs of the stores you frequent most. You will also save money if you plan your meals for the week. This will enable you to buy only those items that you really need, reducing impulse purchases.

Evaluate gym memberships. Good health is priority one, so if you use your gym regularly, stick with it. However, if you’re not taking full advantage of your membership, nix it. Or at least freeze it until you can commit to going more often. In the meantime, try any number of great exercise apps at home, or get out in the fresh air and walk. As long as you keep moving, you’re moving toward better health.

Sell stuff. Why the idea of organizing a yard sale may be overwhelming, there are much simpler ways to make some money from clothing and household items you no longer need. In addition to eBay and Craigslist, Techlicious recommends the following apps: OfferUp, Gone, Vinted and Tradesy. The best site to use depends on what you’re selling, so do your research. You’ll want a different site for selling a computer as opposed to that designer purse.

The most important rule to remember when finding ways to cut expenses around the home? No savings is too small. You will be amazed how quickly they add up to real dollars!

I hope you found these ideas useful. Contact me for more helpful home advice and real estate information.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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Make Your Life Insurance Work for You

February 20, 2017 12:30 am

(Family Features)--Life insurance is a valuable asset, but over time you may find that your life insurance no longer fits your situation. You might be surprised to learn that in addition to your home, stocks, bonds and antiques, your life insurance is another asset you can sell.

Life insurance policies can be converted to immediate cash through a life settlement, but as many as 85 percent of seniors don't realize this option is available, according to a survey conducted by Coventry Direct.

A life settlement is a financial transaction in which a policy owner sells an unneeded life insurance policy for more than they would have received from the insurance company if they were to lapse or surrender the policy. Most life insurance policy types qualify, including universal life, whole life, variable life, survivorship and even term life policies.

Among the reasons you might consider a life settlement:

- Your life insurance policy is too expensive to maintain. If your premium payments have continued to increase, your policy may no longer be affordable. However, simply allowing the policy to lapse results in a total loss of the premiums you have paid.

- You have more life insurance than you currently need. As your circumstances and need for financial protection change, you may want to reduce the overall insurance you own. For example, if your policy was intended to pay off your mortgage in the event of your death, but you've since sold the home or paid off your mortgage, you may not need the same amount of coverage.

- You need help with increasing medical or long-term care expenses. Selling your policy can help cover your immediate needs for health care or other unforeseen medical expenses.

- Increasing your retirement funds will increase your peace of mind. The proceeds from the sale of your policy can help boost your savings and supplement your retirement income.

- Your debt load exceeds your comfort level. Whether a single emergency incident or a combination of variables compounded your debt, working your way out can be emotionally and mentally draining, but applying untapped assets to reduce the burden may help.

For example, one policy owner no longer had a need for several life insurance policies totaling $500,000. The life insurance company would only pay him the cash surrender value of $28,500. Instead, he contacted Coventry Direct and was able to sell the policies for $110,000, which he used to supplement his retirement and plan a family vacation.

Source: Coventry Direct

Published with permission from RISMedia.


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