Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Buy a House with Knowledge -- Be a Smart Consumer

This is a good year to make a home purchase. With many homes on the market and many more in foreclosure, you can likely make a good deal on a new home, or a home new to you. A little work and thought on the front end will save lots of hassle as the years of the mortgage roll by.

Consider the Mortgage

The mortgage on your home is a major expense every month and every year, and thirty years is the majority of your working life. Be sure to check the interest rate and the monthly cost of a fifteen-year mortgage. A fifteen-year mortgage will save thousands of dollars and the house will be paid much faster.

Look at the Insurance Costs

If you can pay 20 percent down on a house, you can avoid PMI insurance that has no benefit to you. You may also be able to handle your own taxes and insurance payments so these are not paid monthly to the mortgage company. Why let the mortgage company get the interest? You can set up a personal savings account and earn the interest on the taxes and insurance money until it is due.

Do not accept the insurer the mortgage company uses. There is better coverage for less, if you shop around. Understand homeowner's insurance and ask for an explanation for any charges you do not understand.

Read all the Paperwork in Advance

You are entitled to a copy of the paperwork before the closing. Make sure you get a copy and review it carefully in advance. Ask about closing costs, and why you, the buyer, are paying certain items.

We have written an article about the pitfalls of buying a home that may help you be a smart consumer.

May all your purchases be good ones!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Social Security Disability Payments Can Work for You

If you are disabled and receive Social Security disability, the month is usually longer than the money. It is easy to let the finances and the disability combination get you down, but this is just the time you need to think for yourself. You have probably been thinking for an employer for years, so now is the time to think for yourself.

Consider what you can do besides sitting there all day. You have the computer, the internet, crafts, woodworking, and other projects, but these will not make enough money to make a difference.

Think outside the box. Don't be chicken. Use Social Security rules to your advantage. Look for other benefits. Medicare is available after two years of disability, and your spouse is entitled to benefits if she is 62. Minor children may be entitled to Social Security because you are disabled, too. We have written an article about Social Security disability that may give you just the ideas you need.

We are consumer advocates, and like to help. We hope this helps you.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Landscape and Design Flower Beds DIY Tips


Landscape your own yard and get it right the first time. Landscaping is a task we as consumers often leave to the experts, but the best landscaper for your yard is YOU. You can do it yourself on freezer paper first.

Make a Landscaping Plan

Use a piece of freezer paper that approximates the shape of the yard, and mark on the dull side with a pencil or pen. Start with the permanent fixtures like the house and trees, outbuildings and fences. Draw those in the approximate locations. Mark proposed paths and walkways. Think through a traffic flow pattern for the front yard, then the backyard, and mark on the plan how to get from front to back, preferably on each side of the house. Once you have the basics on paper, you can see where the flower beds and shrubs can be placed.

Design the Flower Beds

Create flower beds with larger plants to the back and sides and smaller plants in the front. Check your neighbors for ideas for plants and for size approximation. Some plants grow larger in one area than another, and checking out the neighbors flowers can help with what grows well and how large it gets. Find other tips and information on how to make this work for you in this article on Do-it-Yourself landscaping.

Do the Labor for a Beautiful Yard

Once you have a landscaping plan, design the shape of a flower bed on the ground with flour or spray paint, or a garden hose. Spade around the entire area and separate it from the lawn with something permanent, like the heavy black plastic edging that comes in a roll at the home improvement store. It works, and seems to last forever, since we have some that has been in the ground for 14 years. Remove all traces of grass and weeds from the flower bed area, as these will only annoy for years to come. Amend the soil with good products like flower planting mix before you start to plant. Plant bulbs first, and in one area of the bed so you don't have to watch for bulbs every time you dig. Plant sparsely, as these flowers and plants will grow to be bigger than you expect. When one flower bed is done, take a break. Then, start another one. You will soon have a beautiful yard with lots of compliments.

See you soon with more consumer fun!


PS: We also have used gardening and landscaping books for sale here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Prepare for Retirement Early -- Be Prepared

Look to the Future and Plan for Retirement.

Be prepared for retirement before it happens, since it may not occur on your schedule. There are laws in place to prevent age discrimination but employers find ways to eliminate jobs of high earners who have been with the company for a long time, and they often offer early retirement carrots to encourage older folks to step aside. Don't get caught having to find another job at 60 -- it may be more difficult than you think.

Start early and make plans for the possibility of retirement by paying down debts and paying off the house. Be sure you own a good car since it may be more difficult to get a new one once you have no income. Think of something you like to do that will make some income each month and get started doing it to establish a business on your own. Develop new skills. Sell off items that cost money to maintain and save the money for retirement. Extra cars, boats, campers, equipment not being used and real estate that is not the homestead are some possibilities. Read more about preparing for retirement ten years early here.

Get your finances ready for retirement, and if the unexpected happens, you will be ready to enjoy your senior years without having to scrape and scramble.

See you soon!