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Mary Mastroeni

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How to Manage Money as a Couple

June 10, 2011 11:27 am

Combine the expectation of divorce for new couples hovering around 50 percent with a variety of studies that suggest money is the most divisive topic for couples, and you get a formula for disaster. But one expert thinks it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jane Honeck, CPA and author of The Problem With Money? It’s Not About the Money!, believes that while a SmartMoney Magazine survey revealed that 70 percent of all couples talk about money at least once a week, the communication isn’t very effective. Honeck has some good advice that can help couples make arguments about money a thing of the past.

“Focusing on an overall vision and money plan will keep both of you moving in the same direction,” she says. “Once you have done that, the small everyday decisions about what to spend your money on take care of themselves with little or no effort. When we have clear communication and know why we do something, the ‘what to do’ with our money is easy.”

Honeck’s tips include:

• Talk: Talk, talk talk.
Money—like sex—is still a taboo topic and we often don’t have a clear idea about how our partner thinks or feels.
• Find Balance: Balance power around money. One person making all the decisions and having all the control is a recipe for disaster. Find ways for you both to be equally engaged in all money decisions.
• Make Decisions: Decide together what is mine, yours and ours. Most couples have their own hybrid system for what works best. Find the one that is best for both of you.
• Define Your System: Have a clearly defined money management system all the way from who handles the mail to who sends out the checks. Without a well thought-out operational plan, things fall through the cracks.
• Address Problems: When things get tough, address problems immediately (no secrets allowed). Avoiding the issue only makes it more toxic and drives a wedge in the relationship.
• Perform Checkups: Schedule an annual money checkup with each other. Things change and just like our physical health, money management needs an annual checkup to keep it healthy and relevant.
• Talk a Little More: Talk, talk and talk some more. The most important thing is to have open communication with no blame or shame. We all have hang-ups around money. Treat your partner with compassion.

“At the end of the day, couples need not argue about money,” she adds. “And it’s not just about communication. It’s about making a plan, and sticking to it together. Information gives you power over your finances. Not talking about them, not making a plan and not coordinating as a team makes you a victim of your finances. If you control your finances, they will never control you or your marriage.” 

Jane Honeck, CPA, is a money coach who specializes in tax and financial planning for professionals, small businesses and individuals. She is also a Certified Empowerment Trainer and has developed Cent$ible Living financial workshops and money coaching sessions to help her clients make meaningful and lasting change in their financial lives.


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Question of the Day

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

Q: Is it possible to buy a home below market price?

A:
Certainly, but do not hold your breath. It takes a lot of determination and time to find a real bargain. But if you are adamant, here are some likely targets to pursue:
• foreclosed property
• a fixer-upper
• hard-to-sell new homes in a housing development
• tenant-in-common partnerships.

With the latter, you may be able to buy a partial interest in this form of title to property owned by two or more individuals because the partners often sell at a discount.

However, bargains are easier to come by in a soft real estate market, when the economy is in a recession, and when homeowners, builders and sponsors of condominium conversions are desperate to move unsold units.

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Word of the Day

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

Annual percentage rate (APR). Combines the interest rate with other loan costs—such as points and loan fees—into a single figure that shows the true annual cost of borrowing.

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When Choosing a New Air Conditioner—Bigger Not Necessarily Better

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

As the summer heat beats down and energy prices are on the rise, many homeowners are seeking to trade in their old air conditioning units for more energy efficient models in hopes of controlling costs. MXenergy, one of the nation's leading independent energy providers, cautions people to choose wisely when selecting their next unit. 

"The common perception seems to be bigger is better," says Marjorie Kass, MXenergy Managing Director. "In fact, recent studies suggest that one third to one half of home central air units are actually oversized. Rather than leading to greater cooling it results in greater inefficiency and higher costs."
MXenergy counsels its customers to take three factors into account when shopping for a new cooling system. 

1. High Efficiency
Customers should look for in-room units with an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) greater than 10 and for a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) higher than 12 in central units. 

2. Proper Sizing
Contractors should consult the manuals produced by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America which examine a home's size, insulation, direction and window placement to determine proper unit size. Oversized units turn on and off more frequently actually creating greater inefficiency and higher costs for the homeowner. 

3. Proper Installation
Homeowners need to make sure new units are installed by trained, licensed contractors to ensure proper installation and therefore proper efficiency. 

Kass reminds customers the quest for lower cooling bills doesn't end simply with the purchase of a new air conditioner. 

"No matter how energy efficient your home air conditioner is," says Kass, "there are still simple actions you can take which will further boost your energy savings and reduce your carbon footprint." 

Installing a programmable thermostat, insulating the roof and attic, choosing and using quality window blinds and awnings, and providing shade for outdoor units can also significantly increase energy saving
For more information about MXenergy please visit www.mxenergy.com.

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Ways to Keep Cool and Manage Energy Costs This Summer

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

The demand for electricity rises as the weather gets hot and people turn on fans and air conditioners. PSE&G is offering the following tips to help customers reduce energy use and control costs.
• Install a programmable thermostat. If health conditions permits, raise the setting from 73 to 78 degrees. You can save 3 to 5 percent on your air conditioning costs for each degree you raise the thermostat.

• Close doors leading to uncooled parts of your home. If you have central air conditioning, close off vents to unused rooms. Keep filters clean.

• Plant shade trees close to the house on the south and west sides.

• Seal holes and cracks around doors and windows. Eliminate air leaks between window air conditioners and windows with foam insulation or weather-stripping.

• Turn off power sources. TVs, computers and other electronic devices draw power when they are in standby mode or turned off but still plugged in. Plug electronics into power strips and turn off the power switch when the items are not in use.

• Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which use 75 percent less electricity and burn more coolly than incandescent bulbs. CFLs are especially handy in hard-to-reach fixtures and won't need to be replaced for about five years.

• Use timers and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.

• Delay heat-producing tasks such as laundry until later in the day. Wash full loads, using cold water whenever possible.

• Run the dishwasher at night, using the shortest cycle that will get the dishes clean. If manufacturers' directions permit, turn the dishwasher off before the dry cycle or use the air dry feature if your machine has one.

• Take short showers. They use less hot water than a bath.

• Replace old appliances with new energy efficient Energy Star appliances.

• Unplug the extra refrigerator in your garage or basement and use it only when necessary. Refrigerators that are only 10 years old can use twice as much electricity as new Energy Star labeled models.

• If possible, install whole-house fans that bring in cooler night-time air that can pre-cool a house and reduce energy use in the daytime if heat is kept out by closing windows and shades.

• Take advantage of PSE&G's Home Energy Toolkit. It helps you analyze your home energy use and then provides customized energy saving tips. To access the Home Energy Toolkit, log in to My Account at pseg.com.

For additional ways to save energy and money, visit www.pseg.com/customer/home.

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Great Finds Offers Tips for Staging a Home to Sell

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

San Francisco interior design specialist Christine Reddy, owner of Great Finds, a service that sells luxury brands of furniture samples at up to 80 percent off retail, is often consulted for her expertise in staging a home for sale. She offers steps homeowners can take to improve the look of their home—and explains why small investments like hiring a professional and purchasing a few, quality, discount furniture pieces can make a home much more attractive to potential buyers. 

“Try to think of your home almost like a nice hotel—beautiful, light-filled, inviting and comfortable, without being too crowded or reminding you of other families and their personal tastes,” advises Reddy. She urges sellers to store away personal items like photos of trips and relatives, souvenirs, and excessive amounts of accessories. “You won’t believe how much larger your space will feel,” she promises. 

Reddy also advises sellers to remove anything with lots of strong color or very busy patterns like rugs, draperies and artwork, and either leave an open space (remember less is more) or replace it with simple patterns, solids and neutral colors. “Color is subjective. Overuse of bold colors, uncoordinated color schemes, too many conflicting patterns, etc. is confusing and takes away from the message you are trying to send. People will be attracted to your home when they are able to envision their belongings there, which is the main objective, after all,” explains Reddy. 

Another tip she offers is to cover up those dingy walls. “Paint, paint, paint! It’s inexpensive and covers so many minor flaws, visually and in terms of wall texture. A simple design solution for tired walls. If you don’t have time, hire a professional. It will pay off.” 

For those who need to remove dated and worn furniture, Reddy advises replacing old pieces with current styles that will be enjoyed in the next home. Just a few key pieces that are well-made will enhance the space and play up the great “bones” of a room. 

For more information on staging a home or professional design services, visit http://www.greatfinds-bayarea.com.

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Top 7 Home Burglary Tricks

June 8, 2011 5:27 pm

To help homeowners enjoy their summer with greater peace of mind, FrontPoint Security, a nationwide leader in wireless home security, released its list of Top 7 Home Burglary Tricks—featuring tips to help consumers identify and take simple steps that can keep their homes safer from burglars. 

1. Newspapers
Burglars look for newspapers piling up on a front door, yard or porch. Make your newspaper vanish by having delivery stopped or a neighbor collect it daily if you plan to be away.
2. Mail
If burglars see mail accumulating in a mailbox, that tells them the homeowners are out of town and this is likely a good pick. Make your mail disappear by having it held by the post office or picked up by a neighbor.
3. Lawns
Hiring someone to keep your lawn mowed while you are gone will keep it from levitating higher than your neighbors’, and can be a good investment in home protection.
4. Lights
Burglars watch neighborhoods to see if any houses are consistently without lights. The best way to ensure your lights don’t go dark for an extended period of time is to remotely control your lights—giving off the natural appearance that someone is home.
5. Pets
If you have pets that are normally seen or heard around the home, a burglar casing a neighborhood may take note when these pets are suddenly absent. For homeowners with dogs, getting a dog-sitter to check in regularly may cost no more than boarding and keeps a presence in your home.
6. Privacy
Social media is the latest trick for burglars. Avoid posting your travel plans or posting comments that say you are away from home. It is better to post those vacation photos after you return home.
7. Noise
When a burglar suspects that a home is unoccupied, he may still listen for the sound of activity once he gets close the house itself. Consider leaving a radio playing while you are away or, like lights, controlling your television remotely through home automation. 

“Homeowners should definitely take advantage of these simple steps to better protect their homes and families,” says Peter Rogers, co-founder and COO of FrontPoint Security. “For more advanced protection, the best burglary deterrent is an alarm monitoring service—especially one with safer cellular monitoring and smart interactive features that lets homeowners activate lights, radios or other appliances remotely.”
For more information, please visit http://www.FrontPointSecurity.com

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Question of the Day

June 7, 2011 5:27 pm

Q: What is a two-step mortgage?

A: Not to be confused with a biweekly mortgage, this type of home loan is also known as 5/25s and 7/23s. It has one interest rate for part of the life of the mortgage and a different rate for the remainder of the loan.

Two steps are 30-year mortgages. They can either be convertible or nonconvertible. The 5/25s have a fixed interest rate for the first five years and either convert to a one-year adjustable rate or a 25-year fixed loan. The 7/23 has a fixed interest rate for the first seven years and then converts to a one-year adjustable rate or a 23-year fixed loan.

The initial rate on the two step is lower than on a 30-year fixed mortgage, but higher than a one-year adjustable. Also, because the adjustment interval is longer, there is less risk initially than with an adjustable rate mortgage, or ARM.

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Word of the Day

June 7, 2011 5:27 pm

Amortize. Pay a debt in monthly or other periodic installments until the total amount, along with the interest, if any, is paid.

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10 Ways Parents Can Help Keep Children Safe This Summer

June 7, 2011 5:27 pm

School is ending for the year in cities throughout the country and summer will be an exciting time for kids. What are your child's plans? Will he or she be spending time home alone or going to local parks and swimming pools with friends? Actor Tim Kang from the CBS show The Mentalist has partnered with The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to let parents know the ten things they can do to help keep their children safe this summer.

"As a new dad, I am more aware than ever of the dangers that children face. Parents need to understand that it only takes a few minutes to teach their children about safety. And those few minutes of conversation could mean the difference between life and death," says Kang. "The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has great resources to help parents talk to their children including the following ten things they can do to help keep children safe this summer:

1. MAKE SURE children know their full names, address, telephone numbers and how to use the telephone.
2. BE SURE children know what to do in case of an emergency and how to reach you using cell phone or pager number. Children should have a neighbor or trusted adult they may call if they're scared or there's an emergency.
3. REVIEW the rules with your children about whose homes they may visit and discuss the boundaries of where they may and may not go in the neighborhood.
4. MAKE SURE children know to stay away from pools, creeks, or any body of water without adult supervision.
5. CAUTION children to keep the door locked and not to open the door or talk to anyone who comes to the door when they are home alone.
6. DON'T drop your children off at malls, movies, video arcades or parks as these are not safe places for children to be alone. Make sure a responsible adult is supervising younger children any time they are outside or away from home.
7. TEACH your children in whose vehicle they may ride. Children should be cautioned to never approach any vehicle, occupied or not, unless accompanied by a parent or other trusted adult.
8. BE SURE your children know their curfew and check in with you if they are going to be late. If children are playing outside after dark, make sure they wear reflective clothing and stay close to home.
9. CHOOSE babysitters with care. Obtain references from family, friends, and neighbors. Many states now have registries for public access to check criminal history or sex-offender status. Observe the babysitter's interaction with your children, and ask your children how they feel about the babysitter.
10. CHECK out camp and other summer programs before enrolling your children. See if a background screening check is completed on the individuals working with the children. Make sure there will be adult supervision of your children at all times, and make sure you are made aware of all activities and field trips offered by the camp or program.

"Child safety is important all year, but summer is an especially important time for parents and children to include safety in their activities," says Ernie Allen, President & CEO of NCMEC. "Always listen to your children and keep the lines of communication open. Your children are your best source for determining if everything is okay. Teach your children to get out of dangerous or uncomfortable situations right away and practice basic safety skills with them. Make sure they know they are able to tell you about anything that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused."

NCMEC also recommends that parents be sure all custody documents are in order and certified copies are available in case your children are not returned from a scheduled summer visit. For additional safety tips and information visit www.missingkids.com or www.netsmartz.org.

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