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Mary Mastroeni

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Saving Strategies That Work

July 21, 2011 4:59 pm

If you find spending money a lot easier than saving it, you may need to back your way into some out-of-the-box savings strategies, say the financial mavens at Money Magazine, who offer seven ways you may not have thought about to help you build up emergency savings.

1. Do it without thinking – Set up an automatic deduction from checking into savings. Pick an amount you won’t miss—as little as two to five percent of your deposits—and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your savings can grow.
2. Keep paying yourself – When you pay off a long-term loan, continue paying that money into savings. The cash is there for you if you really need it, but adds up fast when paid into savings.
3. Avoid temptation – Just as a dieter can avoid the bakery, so should the shopper avoid the mall. If diversion is what you’re after, opt for the park instead of the mall.
4. Squash the impulse – Try the 24-hour rule: if you still need or want an item after a 24 hour wait, go get it. If not—it’s money saved. Can you bank it?
5. Save for little splurges – Save up for that day at the spa instead of booking it and paying with plastic. Knowing the bill won’t show up on your statement next month makes the splurge even sweeter.
6. Enjoy the compounding – Instead of paying interest on the interest as you pay down credit cards, you can actually enjoy compound interest for a change as you watch your money grow.
7. Reward yourself – Set savings goals, and give yourself a little reward each time you reach a goal level. A new outfit, a nice dinner out or a weekend away are sensible rewards to plan for.

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How to Stock Your Home Bar

July 21, 2011 4:59 pm

Entertaining is a summer essential, whether for family, neighbors, friends, or community members. When entertaining, a relaxed atmosphere and some easy appetizers are key, but nothing is more crucial than a well-stocked home bar, perfect for plans made last minute.

A home bar should reflect your tastes, but also cater to the preferences of your guests. That’s why it’s important to have a wide selection of choices.

Standards
Having the following popular choices on stand-by will prove handy for unexpected company:

• Red wine, stored in a cool dark place such as the basement
• White wine, chilled in the fridge
• Light summer beer, chilled in the fridge
• Dark beer, either in the fridge or stored in a cool dark place
• A non alcoholic selection or soda, juice or iced tea

Base Liquors
Be sure to have at least three types of base liquors on hand, such as:

• Gin
• Tequila
• Bourbon
• Rum
• Whiskey
• Scotch

Base Mixers
These can turn your vodka on the rocks into a tasty summer special:

• Bitters
• Vermouth
• Tonic
• Seltzer
• Soda (diet and non)
• Juice, such as orange, cranberry or pomegranate

Tools
You don’t have to be a seasoned bartender to make a good drink. The following tools will help you make a variety of beverages:

• Medium sized cocktail shaker
• Glasses, including scotch, martini, red and white wine
• Wine and beer opener
• Ice bucket

Extras
The following accoutrement will take your drinks to the next level:

• Olives
• Lemons
• Limes
• Ice, either plain or with mint or fresh fruit frozen inside

The great thing about a well stocked home bar is that most things—beer, wine, hard mixers and juices—keep for a long time if left unopened. This means you won’t need to make a trip to the store if unexpected company arrives, and will be one less thing on your list while planning your next party or event.


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Sleep Tips Website Recommends against New Products to Sleep or Stay Awake

July 21, 2011 4:59 pm

Convenience store shelves have long featured a variety of products to give consumers a jolt of personal energy. Lately, they’re being joined by a new class of products like herbal sodas and melatonin-laced brownies that are designed to help stressed-out people relax at the end of the day. One of the web's premier sleep websites is recommending against the use of these products. 

“They may sound like a good idea, but all of that chemical stimulation and tranquilizing can interfere with healthy sleeping patterns,” says Dan Schecter, vice president of Consumer Products at Carpenter Co. and creator of SleepBetter.org. “All those uppers and downers are no substitute for regular natural rest.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” continues Schecter. “There’s nothing wrong with a cup of coffee in the morning or some soothing chamomile tea in the evening. But in our go-go culture, people are tempted to rely too much on these ‘energy products,’ especially when some of the products are being promoted in multi-million dollar marketing campaigns.” 

SleepBetter.org offers these natural, non-pharmaceutical strategies to promote beneficial and healthy sleep:
• Set regular times for going to sleep and waking-up, even on weekends
• Create a dark, cool and quiet environment in the bedroom
• Make sure bedding is clean, fresh and appropriate for the season and that pillows and mattress provide support
• As bedtime approaches, avoid stimulating activities like video games and using the computer
• A little light reading at bedtime is fine, but don’t put your brain into overdrive with a suspenseful thriller

For more tips to help you sleep better, visit http://sleepbetter.org.

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The Cost of Not Paying Attention

July 21, 2011 4:59 pm

Three out of every four motorists are focusing on something other than driving, while driving, according to a 2010 poll conducted by Leger Marketing. With the aim of shedding light on the fact that dangerous driving isn’t limited to the standard categories of speeding or drunk driving, InsuranceHotline.com, a non-biased insurance rate comparison service, is drawing attention to the lesser known distracted driving list to help inform consumers about safety and its impact on insurance. 

InsuranceHotline.com has compiled a list of seven driving distractions as a reminder to drivers on what to avoid or be aware of while on the road:
1. Using a cell phone — even though there are laws and legislation in many cities, people still have the tendency to use their cell phone while driving. If you are talking or texting and are involved in an auto accident, you could be charged with “careless driving with undo care and attention,” and could face a serious conviction that comes with a fine of up to $1,000. This type of conviction, coupled with all the implications that are tied to an auto accident, could impact your automobile insurance premium by thousands of dollars every year for at least six years.
2. Eating and drinking — anything, from drinking hot coffee which can spill to eating fast food, can divert the driver’s attention away from the road and increases the chances of a collision.
3. Grooming — applying makeup and even shaving while behind the wheel, means a drivers’ attention is taken away from the road and decrease their ability to apply defensive driving techniques.
4. Reading/writing — yes that’s right, even a GPS system that’s been attached to the dashboard can pose a potential danger as it can take the drivers eyes away from the road. A split second is all it takes!
5. Outside distractions — everything from billboards to movies in other vehicles; it’s easy to get distracted and it’s important to always maintain focus while driving.
6. Animals/pets – as much as pets can be a companion on those long road trips, having a pet block your rear view or a barking dog can be a distraction, so it’s important to have them in a proper crate while driving to avoid any safety hazards.
7. Passenger distractions – maintaining focus while driving with screaming children or emotional passengers can be a difficult task. Remaining calm is essential for the safety of both the driver and fellow passengers. 

“Most people don’t consider minor distractions behind the wheel, such as children or pets as dangerous driving; however, at fault accidents, regardless of the cause, can affect consumer’s rates in a negative manner.” explains Tammy Ezer, Marketing Director, InsuranceHotline.com. 

For more information, please visit www.InsuranceHotline.com.

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Word of the Day

July 21, 2011 4:59 pm

Construction loan. Type of loan where money is doled out as construction takes place; borrower must obtain a permanent long-term mortgage from another source to repay the construction loan. Also called an interim loan.

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Question of the Day

July 21, 2011 4:59 pm

Q: How do you choose a good condo?

A: Seek ownership in a well-maintained building, and pay special attention to the financial health of the condo association. Lax maintenance may be a sign of financial trouble, which could result in higher maintenance fees and problems trying to resale the property later.

Things to consider:
• Get a copy of the latest financial statement from the condo association.
• Ask the board of directors – which is elected by the unit owners from among themselves – if major repairs or improvements are imminent. If so, find out how much they will cost and whether there is enough money in the reserve to cover them.
• Check the by-laws, rules and the covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&Rs). You may find, among other things, that they prohibit or restrict pets and the renting of units. Some may require that the board have the right of first refusal on the sale of any unit.
• Learn everything you can about the homeowners association, including legal disputes and conflicts. Start by reading the minutes of the association meetings.
• Find out the owner-to-tenant ratio. Because many condominiums are often purchased as investments, there could be a high percentage of tenants in the building.

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Word of the Day

July 20, 2011 7:59 pm

Consideration. Something of value, usually money, given to induce another to enter into a contract.

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Question of the Day

July 20, 2011 7:59 pm

Q: Why buy a condo?

A: They are an appealing way to enter the housing market if the cost of a single-family home is out of your reach. Condos are especially popular among single homebuyers, empty nesters, and first-time buyers in high-priced housing markets.

Unlike a house, condos offer a lifestyle that is free of yard work and exterior maintenance and repairs. Many condominium communities also offer amenities such as exercise rooms, tennis courts, and swimming pools that you might otherwise be unable to afford if you purchased a single-family home.

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Smart Nutrition Tips for a Healthy Summer

July 20, 2011 7:59 pm

The season’s picnics and back-yard barbecues can make it hard to eat right, but a healthy summer lifestyle doesn’t have to mean nibbling on bland fare. With strategic substitutions and smart snacking tips, you can still enjoy a helping of potato salad or a few campfire s’mores without compromising your nutritional goals. 

“Eating healthy means enjoying a broad variety of foods,” says one of the country’s most recognized sports dietitians, Leslie Bonci, who consults for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Milwaukee Brewers. With smart food swaps that add nutrients and flavor, Bonci can help you enjoy the season without the extra pounds. Read on for her advice. 

1. Stay hydrated—If you are on the go, drink cold water—it leaves your stomach and gets to the muscles faster, thus doing a better job of hydrating your body. Also, try swapping some of the foods on your menu for ones with liquid: Foods such as cold soups or applesauce take up more room in the stomach and can help keep you full longer.
2. Taste the color of the season—it will increase the nutrient richness of your diet, contribute to your daily fluid requirements and provide carbs for fuel. Here are some of the summer colors you should look for:
• Dark green: Leafy greens such as spinach and kale are great sources of vitamin K for bone and eye health.
• Orange: Peaches and cantaloupe contain natural carotenoid pigments for lung and skin health.
• Deep red or purple: Plums, cherries, and berries all boost heart health.
3. Allow yourself some indulgences. Enjoying foods you love is important to long-term success, and making smart choices doesn’t mean sacrificing treats. Just opt for products that provide portion control and good calorie count. A pre-packaged better-for-you option like the one from Weight Watchers Sweet Baked Goods is a great choice. All of the Weight Watchers sweet baked treats have 4-5 grams of fiber, contributing to your daily fiber requirements, and few people actually get the daily fiber requirement of 20-35 grams.
4. Forget bland condiments—if you want to eat better, spice things up. Healthful spices include cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and oregano. You can use spices to add flavor to dishes or drinks while cutting the amount of calorie-rich ingredients such as oil and sugar. 

For more information, please visit www.sacbee.com.

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FDA Proposes Health 'App' Guidelines

July 20, 2011 7:59 pm

Want to know how a medication might affect your breast milk? Got a question about a disability, aging, mental health?

There’s an app for all that—and a whole lot more.

The variety and availability of smartphone applications—or apps—have exploded in recent years as multi-tasking consumers increasingly use their phones to keep up with the latest on news, finance, and health. Apple says its iPhone App Store has more than 350,000 apps, and Android, BlackBerry, Windows, and other smartphones account for tens of thousands more. With so many apps on the market, it’s no wonder the number of health care related apps has also spiraled.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now proposing guidelines that outline the small number of mobile apps the agency plans to oversee—medical apps that could present a risk to patients if the apps don’t work as intended. The proposed guidelines are scheduled to be posted on the Federal Register website and appear in print on Wednesday.

FDA wants consumers to weigh-in on the guidelines during a 90-day public comment period that follows that posting.

FDA policy advisor Bakul Patel says some of the new mobile apps are designed to help consumers manage their own health and wellness—like the National Institutes of Health’s LactMed app, which gives nursing mothers information about the effects of medicines on breast milk and nursing infants.

Other apps are aimed at helping health care providers improve and facilitate patient care—like the Radiation Emergency Medical Management (REMM) app, which gives health care providers guidance on diagnosing and treating radiation injuries. There are even apps to aid diagnosis of rashes and heart irregularities. 

FDA has already cleared a handful of mobile medical apps used by health care professionals, such as a smartphone-based ultrasound and an application for iPhones and iPads that allows doctors to view medical images and X-rays.

There’s an app for that!

“There are advantages to using medical apps, but consumers and health care professionals should have a balanced awareness of the benefits and risks,” Patel says.

Apps can give consumers valuable health information in seconds and are opening innovative ways for technology to improve health care, Patel says. However, the small group of mobile medical apps FDA proposes to oversee present a potential risk—these apps may impact how a currently regulated medical device (such as an ultrasound) performs, he adds. 

FDA is proposing to oversee mobile medical apps that:
• Are used as an accessory to an FDA-regulated medical device. For example, an app could enable a health care professional to view medical images on an iPad and make a diagnosis;
• Transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device. For example, an app that turns a smartphone into an electrocardiography, or ECG, machine to detect abnormal heart rhythms or determine if a patient is experiencing a heart attack. 

If you want to provide input on FDA’s proposal, you can submit your comment online at http://www.regulations.gov/

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page10, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

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