Your Home – Preparing Your Home for the Winter

As the weather turns colder and harsher, it makes sense to consider protecting any valuable items that we own which will inevitably be affected. Some of our “stuff” such as boats, cars, motorcycles, and expensive equipment can be stored away and concealed from the elements. Ironically, though, the single most expensive item we own cannot be secured in a storage unit, covered with a tarp, or stowed away in the basement.

That’s because we’re talking about the one thing you own that sits atop the basement of your home.

While there are limitations to what steps we can take to protect our home from potentially severe natural elements, this does not mean we are completely without options. The following are common sense methods of ensuring you’ve adequately equipped your house for more frigid temperatures and the challenges they bring.

First, snow, sleet, and wind can wreak havoc on the exterior of a home. Consider taking the following steps in preparation:

Winterize your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) components. If you have window units, remove them, and store them away. If you have central air, cover the outdoor condenser with a tarp and secure it with bungee cords.

Flush and stash any hoses or open-air water containers you typically leave out during warmer climates. Additionally, if you happen to have a sprinkler or irrigation system, be sure to turn off the water supply.

Check the gutters. It’s crucial to prevent ice dams which can transpire when the attic is too warm.

Seal any cracks or holes that can develop over time around the house. The most common areas to check are window and door frames.

Clear the yard of debris. Trimming trees of dead branches near your home can prevent those weakened limbs from falling on your roof or onto any vehicles parked outside.

Purchase snow removal tools and ice-melting options. You’ll want to mitigate slippery outdoor surfaces. Obviously, numerous retailers offer salt as a common “deicer.” However, if you’re concerned about potential damage to the environment, to your yard, or perhaps about the health and safety of your four-legged friend, then sand, sawdust, and kitty-litter are decent alternatives. While these options will not melt the ice on your sidewalks or porches, they will add some traction.

Check and lubricate the locks and catches on your doors and windows. Few situations prove more frustrating than trying to enter your home on a blustery day and having a deadbolt get frozen or stuck.

Maintain the garage doors. Lubricate all the moving parts including the cables and rollers. Also, keep everything tightened. The constant vibration of powered garage doors can loosen hardware and create gaps where you don’t want them.

Granted, it makes sense to focus on the exterior of a home as the weather changes, but it’s a mistake to overlook interior concerns. Here is some useful advice related to the inside of your home.

Ensure your heating ducts are clean and cleared. This step is commensurate with the work you’ve already done with your AC. It might also be worthwhile to get your furnace inspected. Also, don’t forget to replace the filters.

Double check your smoke detectors. Due, in part, to the increased use of fireplaces, candles, and the influx of holiday decorations, fires are more common in homes during the winter months. You’ll want your home and the people living in it to have ample warning if disaster strikes.

Consider flushing your water heater of any lime and sediment. This will not only add longevity to the system, but it can also make the heating unit more efficient at a time when it is likely to be used more often.

Carefully test your home’s electrical system. This is especially important in older homes where wiring can become faulty and breakers are more likely to fail. Living in a home without power for a brief amount of time during the summer months is feasible. The challenges that a power outage present when it’s freezing outside are unpleasant and potentially dangerous.

Adjust your ceiling fans to move in a clockwise direction. Many homeowners think of their ceiling fans as a means to cooling a room on a balmy afternoon. However, by changing the direction of your fans to a clockwise motion, the blades will push the warm air that collects along the ceiling down towards the floor.

Consider buying draft stoppers or guards. The undersides of your doors and windows are often poorly sealed against cold air. While it’s possible to roll up an old blanket or a beach towel along the base of these entry ways, it’s not the most practical option, nor is this choice very attractive.

Finances – Best Ways to Save for a First Home

One of the most expensive and important purchases you’re likely to make in your lifetime is that of a home. Let’s face it, home ownership is one of the central components of the American “dream.” Moreover, owning a home continues to be talked about as one of the safer investments a person can make.

To that end, when is the last time you attended a family gathering or function without hearing some random uncle or third cousin holding forth near the cooler about how renting is akin to flushing money down a toilet?

It’s not, but that’s another topic for another day.

The fact of the matter is purchasing a home has become a staple of most Americans’ cultural diets, but it’s an investment that should be made wisely. A person should carefully reconsider buying a home just to “make some cash in a buyer’s market” or simply because “it’s time to be a grown up.” Instead, an individual looking to acquire a home should be motivated by an opportunity to settle down in the same place for a substantial period of time, or perhaps to establish roots in a specific setting.

In preparing for this investment, a potential buyer must realize that they will likely need a substantial loan; and with all the risks inherent in any major purchase, it’s best for a new home buyer to have established excellent credit, steady income, and an ample amount of cash that’s been saved for the occasion.

Most experts say that you will need a down payment of anywhere between 3.5% and 20% of the purchase price. With this financial target in mind, let’s look at some ways a person can wisely set aside money in preparation for acquiring their “dream.”

Budget Well

Do you know where your money goes every month? Some people are surprised to see how much they spend on purchases that, upon reflection, are performed blindly and may even be unnecessary.

Begin this process, first, by asking yourself what can be designated as inessential. For example, how often do you purchase coffee from a shop rather than making it at home? How often do you pay exorbitant prices to see a movie at the newest exclusive theater, or attend a sporting event live? How expensive, typically, is the check at your favorite restaurant?

Other “necessities” to inspect:
– Consider cutting the cable
– Consider second-hand stores for some of your clothing needs
– Consider the brands you prefer at the grocery store

Ultimately, compartmentalizing your expenses can reveal available funds to save that you didn’t even realize you had.

Alter Your Habits-Especially the Unhealthy Ones

One of the most antithetical aspects of life is our tendency to spend a lot of money on stuff that isn’t very good for us. Two of the biggest expenses in many people’s budgets are cigarettes and alcohol.
– A person who smokes on average a pack a day costs himself almost $200.00 per month.
– According to an article in the Huffington Post, even a person who only drinks on weekends, at two drinks per day, spends about $2,500 a year on spirits.

Boost Your Income

Sometimes you can gain ground in savings merely through self-advocacy-ask for a raise.

However, that’s not the only way to increase your earnings. Consider, too, a side-hustle. Many people have formed passions and talents not necessarily connected to their normal means of income. Why not get paid to produce something or to serve others with those skills?

Have the requisite time or energy on weekends? Plenty of retail stores post part-time jobs throughout the year, but especially during holiday seasons.

What about caring for people’s pets while they’re away? Or delivering for a major retailer or for a food delivery app on weekends?

A person willing to put some extra work into their life for a short amount of time, can augment their savings quickly.

Get Creative

You might be surprised at the ways you can save or earn additional money.
– What do you own that you could sell? Sometimes, people have collectibles or hardly used items of value that they’ve long since forgotten about.
– Rent out your space. Have an extra room somewhere? Have any storage space you’re not using?
– Set aside the pay raise. According to Investopedia, the average pay increase in 2019 was 3.1%. Assuming you received a similar raise, why not pretend it never happened? Take that amount and put it away in savings.

Buying your first home will require steady and committed financial discipline in order to set aside a sizable down payment. Using these strategies can reduce the amount of time you will need to wait and can boost that final total.

This article is for information, illustrative and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to show actual results. It is not, and should not be regarded as investment advice or as a recommendation regarding any particular investment action.

Personal Interest – Staying Safe While Celebrating This Holiday Season

When we think of typical holiday gatherings, we picture our friends and loved ones laughing together around the dining room table or otherwise spending quality time in cozy indoor settings during the coldest times of the year. Unfortunately, almost all of our typical behaviors and social practices have become inappropriate in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The usual holiday staples of spending long hours in close quarters, while sharing meals and laughs with our loved ones, involve the exact types of behaviors that can put our families at the most risk for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Because holiday gatherings often include older family members and those with health issues, it is especially important to take every possible step to keep our families safe and healthy this season.

Regardless of which holiday(s) you celebrate, there are a number of factors to consider when determining how to keep your friends and family safe while celebrating this holiday season.

Celebrate Together Virtually

Because the novel coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets that infected people breathe out through the mouth and nose, sharing unventilated indoor air with others is what causes the vast majority of infections. Therefore, the safest method is to hold a holiday celebration virtually.

Video chat services, like Zoom and Skype, offer families a way to spend time together around the holidays without sharing a physical space.

Virtual celebrations allow families to see, hear, and share quality time with each other without putting anyone at risk. Some fun virtual holiday activities include the following:

– Playing party games together (Charades, 20 Questions, Two Truths and a Lie, etc.)
– Teaching each other delicious cookie or other dessert recipes and making them simultaneously
– Watching movies or shows together (try apps like Netflix Party, MyCircleTV, or Scener)
– Eating a delicious holiday dinner simultaneously, in the way that you would if you were physically together
– Having each person attending share something for which they are thankful

Attending or Hosting an In-person Holiday Gathering

For those families who do decide to hold an in-person holiday gathering, there are a number of best practices to follow in order to lower the risks for family members as much as possible.

– Check Infection Rates in Your Area – Keep a close eye on the COVID-19 positivity rates in your area and the areas of all potential attendees. If positivity rates are high or increasing, put the safety of loved ones first by reducing the size of the gathering or holding the gathering virtually.
– Small Gatherings – Keeping the guest list as small as possible is imperative in order to minimize the risk of spreading infections. When determining the number of people attending, follow the guidance of local public health officials.
– Honest Conversations about Safety Measures – Have open, honest, and candid conversations about the safety measures being practiced by everyone who plans to attend the gathering. In order to minimize the risk for your family, all attendees should self-quarantine for two weeks and receive a negative COVID test before the holiday gathering. If anyone is feeling unwell or has been in contact with anyone feeling unwell, they should not attend.
– Follow Safety Measures When Together – Those attending the gathering should follow all recommended CDC guidelines, such as maintaining 6 feet of distance at all times, wearing masks when not eating, opening windows for ventilation, and washing hands regularly for at least 20 seconds at a time. Also, using disposable plates, flatware, and hand towels will decrease the risk of infection for you and your family.

Thank you and have a great month!

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Paul Stella

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