Friday, December 23, 2011

Saving Money on Entertainment

Frugal Friday

In these leaner times, we still want to have fun. We may not be able to afford the exotic vacations or the extreme sports in which we once indulged. But we still want to escape from the daily drudge of working and have a little fun. Here are some ways to save on entertainment.

• Ticket prices are lower in college communities or the suburbs rather than the big city.
• Do not purchase season tickets or passes unless you are absolutely sure you will get your money's worth back in attendance.
• Find out if any area museums or attractions have days when they offer free or discounted admission.
• Join clubs with free membership. They often have programs and activities.
• Make use of discounts you already have through AAA or other memberships.
• Scale back on your cable package. Keep track of all the channels you watch over the course of a week, and see if less expensive packages include those channels.
• Bundle your entertainment (cable, internet) with the same company for lower fees.
• Volunteer at a local theater or performing arts venue whose programs you enjoy. You'll be able to see the programs for free.
• Read the newspaper and magazines online.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Seniors and Driving

Senior Thursday

It is a proven fact that driving skills deteriorate with age. In a 1997 NHTSA study, older people made up 9 percent of the population but accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

There are many reasons for this deterioration. Older people are less able to filter noise and distractions. So if there are conversations going on around them in the car, they can't concentrate. They find it more difficult to switch attention quickly to new situations. Their reasoning and decision-making are also affected. They are less able to identify rules and make inferences, or choose rapidly and correctly in response to an unexpected event.

Some outside factors are side effects of medications, or alcohol and illegal drugs. Any of these can affect a person's reaction time behind the wheel, or cause a stroke, fainting spell or fatigue. Medical conditions are also a risk factor. Diabetics can have low blood sugar, causing black-outs. High blood pressure can cause dizziness.

They are less likely to sustain attention, and may have memory loss. Either of these can cause a variety of mistakes, from taking a wrong turn to locking their keys in the car.

If your parents or someone in your family is driving with any of these conditions, the best thing you can do for them is to take away the car keys. They will probably fight you on this, wanting to maintain their independence. It will also be an inconvenience on you, as you will probably be driving them around now. But it is in everyone's best interest. You may be saving someone's life.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Handling Interruptions While Writing

Writer Wednesday

In an ideal world, once a writer begins a project, the outside would go away, and he or she would be left with just a computer and their imagination. Life doesn't work that way. There are possibly a spouse and kids around. And even if there aren't any other people in the house, there is always the dreaded telephone and the continuous email alerts that pop up on your screen while writing.

So what's a writer to do? Ignore it all! If the phone rings, don't answer it. If you have children in school, you may want to monitor the calls. That's what caller ID is for. Only take calls from your children or their school. The same goes for the spouse. Let him/her know that while you are writing, you will only answer if it is an emergency. In other words, don't call unless it involves blood.

Let friends and family know your routine. If you write in the mornings/afternoons/evenings, ask them not to call you then. Or tell them to leave a message because you probably won't pick up. You are WORKING! You would never think to call a friend at work and start chatting about the upcoming bake sale. So ask them to respect your work ethic.

If all else fails, unplug the phone or turn off your cell phone. While this is not recommended when you have children, or for long stretches of time, it can give you an hour of two of peace. This includes turning off the email alerts also. Even if you don't intend to answer them, just having them pop up at the bottom of your screen, daring you to read it, is a distraction.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Last-Minute Tips for the Holidays

Tips for Tuesday

We're in the final days of preparation for the holidays. Are you ready for the parties, travel or out-of-town guests? Here are some reminders for the coming days:

• Pick up some generic gifts, such as gift cards or baskets for those last-minute names on your list.
• Have empty tins on hand to pack up homemade cookies as hostess gifts.
• Don't forget to send a little something to the service people in your life--hair dresser, trash collector, mailman, maid, etc.
• Have toiletries and linens on hand in your guest bath for visitors.
• Keep a list of those who send you Christmas cards so you can return the favor next year.
• Check your pantry/refrigerator for all the ingredients you will need for cooking Christmas dinner.
• Confirm any reservations you've made--restaurant, travel, etc.
• If you are attending parties, check with the hostess ahead of time so you have gifts for everyone who will be there.
• If you are hosting a party, check with guests for any special dietary needs.
• Check the batteries in your cameras. Charge if necessary, or buy extras.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Will Your Home Pass Inspection? Part Nine

Moving on Mondays

Before you purchase a new home, you have an inspector look at it for any major problems. The results may be a deal breaker if the issues are serious enough. If you have your home for sale, put yourself in the buyer's shoes. What would they find on a home inspection of your property?

Avoid any surprises by having your own home inspection. These last weeks, we looked at storage areas, living areas, bedrooms and bathrooms. In our final installment, we're looking at your utilities.

• Is the furnace in good condition?
• Has the furnace been cleaned recently?
• Have the air ducts been cleaned recently?
• Do underground fuel tanks need attention?
• Is the septic system working properly?
• Has the septic system been inspected recently?
• Does the plumbing drain properly?
• Is the water heater in good condition?
• Has the water heater been drained recently?
• Is there adequate water pressure on all levels?
• Do exterior faucets work properly?
• Is electricity up to code?
• Are wires covered?
• Are outlets in good condition? Not overloaded?
• Do carbon monoxide/smoke detectors work?
• Are there signs of mold?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Saving on Car Maintenance

Frugal Friday

Your next largest investment after your home is usually your car. Therefore, you should take good care of it to make it run at its best, and so it lasts as long as it can. Cars are built to last well over 100,000 miles these days, but unless you perform maintenance on it, it may break down. And since maintenance can be expensive, here are more tips for saving money.

• Park in the shade in the summer so gas doesn't evaporate in the heat.
• Tread easy on the gas and brake pedals. This will improve your mileage.
• Turn your engine off when parked or waiting for freight trains to go by. Idling uses gas.
• Hold a lighted match near frozen locks to thaw them.
• Search the web site for the cheapest gas in your area.
• Buy gas after the sun goes down. Gas molecules evaporate less when the sun isn't shining.
• Use cruise control on the highway to save on gas.
• Avoid driving during rush hour whenever possible to avoid back-ups.
• Check and replace air filters on a regular basis.
• Opt for a barely used car over a new one, since new cars lose half their value the moment you drive them off the lot.
• Rental agencies sometimes offer their cars at good prices when they are replacing their fleet.
• Check prices for cars online for the best deals.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Using Technology to Keep Seniors Safe

Senior Thursday

With the aging population rapidly increasing, there is also a large number of them staying in their homes. Sometimes they have a spouse or relative living with them. Sometimes they do not. And when they don't, there are risks to living alone. One of these is health issues. When seniors live alone, there is no one to monitor their medication, diets or health.

Today's technology can help. With monitoring services, family members and health care personnel have the ability to watch their parents or loved ones from remote locations.

There are systems that can remind seniors to take their medication. Considering 30 percent of hospitalizations for seniors are a result of incorrect dosing or missed doses, this is a very valuable service.

Another service available is video monitoring. This is especially important for Alzheimer's patients who might wander off and get lost. This would also be valuable for watching them when they cook, or if they fall.

Emergency buttons for alerting authorities (i.e. Life Alert) is a unit a senior can wear around the house. If they fall and injure themselves, and can't get to a phone, a push of the button will connect them to their local emergency services. Some adult communities also offer this sort of service.

So if you can't be near your loved ones, consider signing them up for one of these services--for your peace of mind as well as theirs.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writing in Silence

Writer Wednesday

When I was growing up, there were eight of us in a three-bedroom house. There was no such thing as privacy, unless you hid in the bathroom. And even then, one bathroom for eight people meant there was usually someone knocking on the door soon after you went in to hide (or sit over the heating vent because it was the only warm place in the house.)

I was accustomed to doing my homework surrounded by noise, whether it was other people or the television. It stayed that way through college. I needed the radio or some noise to study. My ex needed complete silence. I found it very difficult to concentrate in complete silence. My mind wandered more. Yet, when I do have the radio on, I never really 'listen' to it. I couldn't tell you even half of what was said or what songs were played. I just liked the noise.

I can write with noise. The TV is on as I write this. It's usually my playlist on my laptop. But some writers like the silence. Complete silence.

Most are somewhere in between. For example, I can't write with interruptions from family members (another sort of noise.) I like music, but please don't interrupt me. And there are only a handful who need complete silence. Instead, there is usually soft music or nature sounds playing in the background. And very few of us live where our street or building offer complete silence. Neighbors and life are part of the package.

The important thing is to find YOUR happy medium. If you don't want interruptions, close the door and don't answer the phone or open your email account. If you want background noise, choose a level and media that's good for you, whether it's the television, the radio, or your iTunes. This will help you keep on task and concentrate.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Using Nature to Decorate for the Holidays

Tips for Tuesday

Sure, the tinsel, glass ornaments and lights are part of the holiday tradition. They are what make the tree pretty, or the tables shine. But have you thought about going back to nature with your decorating? Why not use real branches and evergreens to decorate your home? Or berries and popcorn?

Then, when the holidays are over, you can compost your decorations, rather than storing them in plastic tubs or tossing them in the landfill.

Here are some natural decorating ideas:

• Cut birch or other logs into various lengths, then drill holes large enough for a tea light candle. Cut a long length and drill with several holes and place it on your dining room table or in the fireplace.
• Pine cones and evergreen boughs make a great potpourri.
• Insert cloves into an orange, let the orange dry out, and you'll have a wonderfully smelling ornament or decoration.
• String popcorn and raw cranberries on thread and use as garland. Stale popcorn works better than fresh (and you won't be as tempted to eat it!)
• Cut lengths of evergreen branches from a variety of evergreens and place in a vase as you would a floral arrangement.
• Make your own evergreen garland by tying branches together. Or use a circular form and interweave the boughs to make a wreath. Decorate with berries and dried flowers or fruits.
• Citrus and pomegranates in a bowl make colorful centerpieces.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Showing Your Home During the Holidays

Moving on Mondays

It is important to keep your house looking its best while it is on the market. This can be challenging if you have children, pets, or work full time. It can also be challenging during the holidays. Besides being busy with preparations, you have all that extra…clutter…around the house.

There's gifts, wrapping paper, decorations, cookies, and cards. You have packages to wrap and ship, recipes to find and bake, and cards to write, address and stamp. While projects in process can usually be left out, it's not a good idea when your house is on the market. You don't want the home to look too cluttered.

Here are some tips for keeping your home neat while it's on the market during the holidays:

• Keep decorations to a minimum. Don't overdo it by covering every inch of space with garland, trees or knick-knacks. Select a few key areas to decorate. Respect the fact that others may not share your traditions. Some potential buyers may be turned off by a home that is screaming "Christmas."
• Don't overcrowd rooms. Decorations can take up valuable floor space. Placing your tree in the corner means the chair has to come out into the middle of the room. Keep pathways clear, and store extra furniture off site if possible.
• Don't have packages (wrapped or unwrapped) piled under the tree. This is a prime time for thefts. Potential buyers may be thieves casing your house.
• Baking cookies can fill your home with wonderful aromas. Just make sure to put away all the ingredients and bake ware when you are done.
• If you are traveling during the holidays, let your real estate agent know you will be out of town. Put your lights on timers so the home is never dark during the hours it might be shown.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Saving on Car Maintenance

Frugal Friday

Your next largest investment after your home is usually your car. Therefore, you should take good care of it to make it run at its best, and so it lasts as long as it can. Cars are built to last well over 100,000 miles these days, but unless you perform maintenance on it, it may break down. And since maintenance can be expensive, here are some tips for saving money.

• Clean out your trunk. The heavier the load, the more gas you'll use.
• Before replacing an air filter, check with your mechanic to see if the old one is washable.
• Check your tire pressure on a regular basis (especially when seasons change.) Properly filled tires will give you better gas mileage.
• A bathroom plunger and touch-up paint can fix the little dents.
• Rotate your tires every 5000 to 10,000 miles to maximize their life.
• Driving your car over a sprinkler on high pressure will clean the under carriage just as well as the costly car wash (and won't knock anything loose.)
• Open your windows instead of using the A/C when in stop and go traffic. Use the A/C while on the highway, as the wind can provide resistance.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Helping the Elderly Handle Dangerous Situations

Senior Thursday

The world can be a dangerous place. There is crime aplenty, whether it's grabbing someone's purse at the market, or grabbing someone's identity off the internet. Seniors are an especially vulnerable group, perhaps because they are so trusting.

We can't be there to protect them every hour of every day. But there are some precautions you can teach them so they don't become another statistic.

• Scams can be in the form of mail, email, phone calls or visits to the house. Beware of anyone asking for money, even if they do look 'official.' Never give personal information over the phone. Never click on links in emails asking for account information. Never send money to anyone without checking their validity. Never walk out of your front door with a contractor that shows up unannounced. His cohorts will be going inside while you are around the corner looking at your roof or whatever.
• While outside shopping or on the street, never have your purse or wallet visible. Hold your purse close, but if someone grabs it, let it go without a struggle. Try to remember as many details about the assailant as possible. Never carry large amounts of money while outside alone.
• While inside, the home should be free of obstacles that may cause a fall. This includes high thresholds and area rugs. Be careful while cooking--never wear loose clothing near the stove. And remember to turn off any appliances. Also, install safety features such as grab bars, in the bathrooms. See our blog entry from August 8, 2011 for more safety tips. Or contact Prima By Design for an in-home safety assessment.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Room with a View

Writer Wednesday

Writers are always looking for inspiration. This may be while writing a scene in a current novel, or trying to come up with a new idea for a book. The real world is full of inspiration. So it's no surprise that having a view to the outside can be inspiring.

If you are lucky, you have the ocean or mountains for a view. But these people are in the minority. Most writers have another house or building out their window. Perhaps even a parking lot.

If your view isn't that great, dress up your window, or the space just outside your window, with pretty draperies, colorful flowers, or crystals to reflect the light.

If you don't have windows and can't have a view, then create one in your imagination. That may be the beach, the middle of an English garden, or a waterfall in the Rockies. Whatever your ideal view is, think of it when you stare out your window (or at the wall) for inspiration.

Of course, having a window isn't always a good thing. It can also be a distraction. After all, you're not writing when you are looking out the window. You may start daydreaming or thinking about what needs to be done around the house. So make sure you bring yourself back to task when you're done looking at the view.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Safety During the Holidays--Travel

Tips for Tuesday

The holidays are fast approaching. Along with them are the stresses for preparations. Part of the holiday tradition is traveling to see family and friends, whether it's a across the street, or across the country.

While these are fun times, there are some hazards associated with traveling. Take cautions so you aren't a victim.

• Never discuss your plans with strangers, or with friends and family in front of strangers. This includes posting on social media sites such as Facebook. You are merely announcing that your home will be empty for an extended period of time.
• Ask a friend or family member to check on your home while you are gone. Also notify your local police department so they know the house will (or should be) vacant for a while.
• Cancel newspaper and mail delivery so the papers don't pile up on the porch or driveway--a sure sign you are away.
• Don't leave wrapped packages in plain sight of the windows.
• Don't leave empty boxes and garbage out for days if you won't be home for the regular pick-up. Ask a neighbor to take out the trash for you.
• Be sure the doors and windows are locked when you l;eave your home, even if it's only for a few minutes.
• Set lights on automatic timers (inside and outside) so you never leave your home in the dark. This is important now that the days are shorter.
• If you are traveling for a number of days, put a radio or television on a timer so it looks like someone is home.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Will Your Home Pass Inspection? Part Seven

Moving on Mondays

Before you purchase a new home, you have an inspector look at it for any major problems. The results may be a deal breaker if the issues are serious enough. If you have your home for sale, put yourself in the buyer's shoes. What would they find on a home inspection of your property?

Avoid any surprises by having your own home inspection. These last weeks, we looked at bathrooms and kitchens for potential water disaster areas. This week, we're looking at bedrooms and living spaces.

• Are walls cracked or peeling/ have holes?
• Are carpets stained/ripped/worn?
• Are floors worn/cracked/stained?
• Do the windows operate properly?
• Do the window treatments work properly?
• Are any windows cracked?
• Does the woodwork need repair or staining?
• Do doors open/close properly?
• Are doors uneven?
• Do all locks work properly?
• Are there security locks/bolts on exterior doors?
• Are stairs in need of repair?
• Do stairways have railings?
• Are stair treads even?
• Is room wiring exposed?
• Is the room wired properly?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Saving Money on Sports & Fitness

Frugal Friday

Not everyone can afford a membership to a gym, or expensive equipment in their home. Yet, it is important to exercise and maintain your health. Here are some ways to save on sports and fitness.

• Place tennis balls in the microwave for 30 second to restore their bounciness.
• Store your baseball glove with a ball in its palm so it retains its shape.
• Talk to a pro or consult online forums before investing in sports equipment. Many times, the lower priced items are just as good quality as top of the line items.
• Stock up on your favorite shoes when they go on sale.
• Check bulletin boards and web sites for free running groups and yoga classes, often sponsored by local stores or gyms.
• Your local YMCA usually offers the same classes as a pricey health club, at half the cost.
• Purchase health club memberships at the end of the month or year when employees are trying to meet their quota and will give you better deals.
• Don't sign a contract with a health club that you can't cancel at any time.
• Cancel any memberships to facilities if you haven't attended them in two months.
• Borrow exercise DVDs from the library rather than purchasing them.
• Play golf during the week when fees are lower.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Safety During the Winter

Senior Thursday

Safety is always a concern for the senior population. But winter presents unique challenges. There are storms, cold weather, and travel during the holidays. It is difficult enough to get out of the house for many, especially those that are disabled. Trying to get around in the snow and ice is worse. Here are some cautions you can take for a safe winter.

• Don't drive during a snow storm. Stay home if you know one is approaching. Nothing is worth having an accident and possibly losing your life.
• Don't go outside if the walks are icy or snowy. This also includes that 50-ft walk to the mailbox. If the driveway or walkway looks wet, it may be icy underfoot.
• Have someone else run errands for you if you can't get out.
• Keep extra hat, mittens, scarf in your car just in case your car breaks down in the cold. Never go looking for help. Stay in your car. It is more visible than you are in a storm.
• Have a plan in place in case your power goes out. Keep a cell phone charged, and flashlights handy.
• Don't shovel heavy snow. Have a neighbor or family member shovel for you. Even sweeping the steps can be dangerous.
• Keep salt on hand for your steps and walkway.
• Keep extra groceries on hand during the winter months in case you can't get out.