Saturday, July 31, 2010

Natural and Organic Must be Good, Right?

What Food Manufacturers
Don’t Want You To Know

If a product is advertised as “natural” and “organic,” it’s good for you, right? That’s not necessarily the case. While the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has taken some enforcement actions against companies, food labels still need improving. Don’t be fooled: Here’s what to look for to select the healthiest products for your family.

• “Zero trans fat.” That may be true but it could mean the product is high in saturated fat. Be sure to read the Nutrition Facts label for the full story.

• “Low calorie” or “Reduced fat.” Compared to what? Chances are the company has a previous, higher calorie version of the product.

• “Made with real fruit.” That may be in the form of a concentrate and the primary ingredient may be sugar. You’re better off eating an apple.

• “Natural.” This word isn’t regulated. To be sure a product is natural, buy from a local farmer or buy food that is certified organic by the USDA.

• Ingredient label tricks. Since ingredients are listed in order of their proportion in the product, the first three are what you’re primarily eating.
A manufacturer may use various sugars (sucrose, high-fructose corn
syrup, dextrose etc.) in the product so the word “sugar” isn’t listed first.

• Combining healthy ingredients. The actual amount of the healthy ingredients may put them at the end of the list. By combining them into a “blend” or “mix” they can make it to the top.

• “Yeast extract.” It’s a labeling trick to hide monosodium glutamate (MSG), which can cause side effects for people sensitive to this additive.

• Using the word “wheat.” All flour derived from wheat can be called “wheat flour,” even if it’s processed. The key is to look for “whole grain wheat flour” on the ingredient list to make sure you’re eating whole wheat.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Why Pay for a Home Inspection?

Q. We’re getting ready to purchase a home. What’s involved in a home inspection, and is it mandatory when buying a house?

A. A home inspection is not mandatory when you purchase a house, but I recommend that you have any home you’re planning on buying inspected by a licensed inspector. In fact, I’d insist upon it.

A home inspector has the training and expertise to provide an objective opinion about the condition of the home. The inspector will carefully examine the home’s structure, roof, plumbing, electrical wiring, heating and cooling system, and appliances. He or she will provide a written assessment of the house’s condition.

The inspection will tell you what repairs might need to be made before buying. The inspection can alert you to any serious problems the house may have—before you buy the house. There’s a period after a contract is accepted when you can have the inspection completed. Fees are paid to the inspector by the buyer.

If there are problems or repairs that need to made, you can request in writing during the specified period that these repairs be made as a condition of the sale. If you’re thinking of buying or selling a home and need competent and caring representation, please call me at 206-226-0565.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Live a Longer Healthier Lifestyle... Get a Pet

Could Owning a Pet
Help You Live Longer?

What would you say if you could buy a medicine that lowered your blood pressure, improved your cardiovascular health, reduced your anxiety and stress, and made you happy...everyday. Would you buy it?

We know how much love and affection pets can bring to our lives, but there’s more. Scientific studies have found that having a pet can significantly improve your health. Here are five ways pets can positively impact your health:

1. Heart Benefits. The American Journal of Cardiology reports pet owners are more likely to survive a heart attack than those who don’t own a pet. Another study found people who owned a dog were more likely to be alive one year after a heart attack than those who didn’t have a dog.

2. Lower Blood Pressure. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that pets help lower blood pressure (and heart rates). An American study found men who owned a cat had a lower resting heart rate and lower blood pressure than men who didn’t own a cat. And after a stressful event, their blood pressure returned to normal more quickly.

3. Mood Elevator. People, particularly seniors, who own pets are less likely to be depressed and lonely. Pets can provide companionship, humor, and add playfulness to our daily lives.

4. Kids and Health. Research presented at the 10th International Conference on Human Animal Interaction 2004 found that children who have pets have fewer sick days. They also reported that children who had pets had higher levels of self-esteem and functioned better emotionally. Research studies also found that children with pets coped better with divorce.

5. An Exercise Buddy. Dogs need regular exercise, which also gets their owners walking. This can improve their overall health. As an added benefit people improve their social network as they socialize their pet.

There is a word of caution, however. Owning a pet requires your time and a financial commitment. If you’re not ready for that responsibility, it’s best to hold off owning a pet.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer is a Great Time to Recharge Yourself

Got Burn-Out? Take These Steps

Are you bummed by job burn-out? If quitting your job isn’t an option, take these five steps to improve your situation.

• Identify stress factors and learn how to manage them. Be proactive rather than passive about workplace issues. Know the difference between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” If you have too much work and too little time, talk to your supervisor.

• Reconnect with your core work. Maybe you’ve strayed from what you were originally hired to do. Focus on the work you enjoy doing.

• Take care of yourself. Take time off to recharge your batteries.

• Build new relationships. Make friends with people who might have fresh ideas and perspectives. Do something different – open a Twitter account.

• Plan your next move. Outline what you’d have to do to change careers and start taking action.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Energy Tax Incentives End Dec. 31st 2010

Energize Your Life
With These Tax Incentives

Are you making the most of energy tax incentives? You can save energy and money by qualifying for these rebates and tax credits:

• Cash for Appliances. It’s the 2010 version of “Cash for Clunkers” but you get the rebate when you buy new energy-efficient appliances. Funded with $300 million from the stimulus package, the program is conducted at the state level. Visit your state’s energy office web site for details.

• Home Energy Efficiency Improvement Tax Credits. If you install certain products, such as energy-efficient windows, insulation, roofing, and heating and cooling equipment in an existing home, you can receive a federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost (up to $1,500) for improvements “placed in service” from Jan. 1, 2009 through Dec. 31, 2010. Go to for specifics.

• Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credits. Install a solar energy system (including solar water heaters) and receive a 30 percent tax credit if it’s placed in service before Dec. 31, 2016. (The previous tax credit cap no longer applies.)

• Auto Tax Credits. If you buy or lease a new hybrid gas/electric car or truck, you’re eligible for an income tax credit for vehicles placed in service from Jan. 1, 2006 to Dec. 31, 2010. This will be phased out for each manufacturer when they sell 60,000 eligible vehicles. Tax credits also are available for alternative-fuel vehicles, diesel vehicles with advance lean-burn technologies and fuel-cell vehicles. See the IRS web site for vehicle specifics.

For more information on local, utility and federal incentives that promote energy efficiency, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at

Monday, July 26, 2010

How to Get Your Walkability Score

Q. What are “walkability” scores?

A. CEOs For Cities, a national network of urban leaders, commissioned a study released in August 2009 that explored the relationship between home values and walkability in various U.S. metropolitan areas.

Walkability is defined by the Walk Score algorithm, which calculates the closest amenities to a U.S. address. Scores range from 0 (car dependent) to 100 (most walkable).

The results showed that the walkability of cities translated into increased home values in 13 of the 15 housing markets studied. In the typical metropolitan area, a one-point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000 depending on the market. The gains were larger in more dense, urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco and smaller in less dense markets like Tucson and Fresno.

Houses with above-average levels of walkability commanded a premium of about $4,000 to $34,000 over houses with average levels in the typical metropolitan area.

Walk Score is an approximation. It does not consider factors such as public transit, crime and topography. Lots of real estate agents, however, are adding the Walk Score to their listings.

If you have any questions, or need capable and trustworthy representation, please call me at 206-226-0565.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New Gift Card Rules Begin August 1st

Use It Or Lose It: Making
The Most Of Gift Cards

Chances are you’ll give or receive at least one gift card over the holidays, but there’s more to buying and redeeming them than you think. Follow these tips to get the most for your money.

If you’re purchasing one…
• Only buy cards that clearly state the cost, monthly fees and expiration date.
• Include your purchase receipt with the gift card in case the recipient has problems with it.

If you’re using one…
• Know what you have. Is it a store card or bank card? Bank cards (Visa, MasterCard and American Express) are popular but they come with fees and terms. If you receive a bank card, register it online so you can get a replacement if it’s lost or stolen. (You’ll need to report it right away.)

• Use the total value of the card within six months. You’ll avoid fees and the possibility of the store going out of business.

• Try to use the card at stores that accept split payments (part card, part cash). While most large chain stores do, some stores don’t. The Consumer Federation of America says 10 percent of the value of bank cards is never used.

• Keep track of your balance (the store may be able to tell you). It’s easy to forget you have money left on the card. Any unused amount only benefits the store or bank.

There’s good news: Effective August 2010, a new law requires cards to be active for at least five years and prohibits companies from charging fees if gift cards are used within the past 12 months.

Friday, July 23, 2010

These Credit Card Changes Will Protect Your Teen

Has your teenager or college student been tempted by credit card solicitations? The Credit Card Act of 2009 will put an end to that. Effective February 22, 2010, these new rules will limit marketing and issuing credit cards to young people:

 Companies will not be allowed to issue a credit card to a consumer younger than 21 unless he or she has a co-signer over 21 or can show proof that they have the means to repay the card debt.

 Pre-screened credit offers must not be sent to anyone under 21.

 Companies are banned from offering gifts (such as pizzas or t-shirts) to induce college students to apply for credit cards on or near campus.

 Colleges, universities and alumni organizations will have to annually disclose the terms of any marketing or promotional agreements they make with credit card companies. Additionally, Congress urges colleges to require that students receive credit and debt management courses as a part of new student orientation.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How To Complain Effectively

The customer may always be right, but sometimes you have to convince companies that it’s true. If you think you’ve encountered bad service, you not only have a right to complain, you have a responsibility. Here’s how to do it effectively:

 Decide what you want the company to do. Will you be satisfied with a refund, a credit, a repaired product or a replacement?

 Contact the seller as soon as possible. Talking to a customer service representative can solve many problems. Be ready with details and documentation. Be assertive yet calm (not threatening!) as you explain your position. Keep going up the ladder until you reach someone in a position of authority.

 If the issue is not resolved, write a letter to the seller’s national headquarters or the manufacturer of the item. Do your research since the manufacturer is often different than the brand name.

 If you are not satisfied (after a reasonable amount of time), file a complaint with a third party. In addition to complaining to the Better Business Bureau and your state consumer protection office, take your issue to the state or federal agency that regulates that particular business. You might also get help from a trade association or the local news media.

 If all else fails, consider filing a small claims suit or pursuing a dispute resolution program. You can get a directory of programs, including mediation, arbitration and conciliation, from the American Bar Association.

For more information, consult the “2010 Consumer Action Handbook”
a free 172-page guide from the General Service Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Communication. You can order the handbook, which contains a directory of several hundred companies and a sample complaint letter, or download it at

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Q. Has the Homebuyer Tax Credit been extended again?

A. Yes, Congress passed an extension of the Homebuyer Tax Credit deadline to Sept. 30, 2010. It only applies to homebuyers who had a written and binding contract in place as of April 30, 2010, but have not yet closed.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said that up to 180,000 homebuyers were eligible for the tax credit, but were unable to finalize the contracts by the deadline due to the amount of last-minute deals that overwhelmed the system. This was particularly critical for short sales, where a lender allows a home to sell for less than the amount owed.

The Internal Revenue Service says more than 2.6 million taxpayers claimed the tax credit through April.

Congress also extended the National Flood Insurance Program until Sept. 30, 2010, allowing property owners seeking flood insurance policies more time to finalize pending paperwork. The NAR said extending the tax credit closing and flood insurance deadlines will help provide additional stability to real estate markets.

If you have any questions, or need capable and trustworthy representation, please call me at 206-226-0565.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What You Should Know About New Credit Card Protections

You’ll have more credit card protections effective August 22 as the third phase of the Credit Card Act of 2009 goes into effect. Here’s what changes you should expect from your credit card company, and three things you should watch out for:

 They can no longer charge “inactivity” fees.

 They can’t charge penalty fees that are greater than your minimum payment.

 They can’t charge more than one penalty fee based on a single late payment or other violation.

 They won’t be able to charge more than $25 if you pay late unless one of your last six payments was late (then your fee may be $35) or the company shows that the late-payment costs it incurs justify a higher fee.

 If they have increased rates since Jan. 1, 2009, they have to evaluate the reasons for the increase and, if appropriate, reduce the rate.

Be aware, however, that credit card companies aren’t totally limited. Read your mail carefully to see if they’re doing any of the following:

• Increasing your rates as long as they give you 45-days notice and you’ve had the card for more than a year.

• Reducing your credit limit and closing your account without advance notice. These actions can negatively affect your credit score.

• Raising other fees and adding new ones. Twenty-four percent of issuers are now charging annual fees. You’ll also see checking account fees, transfer balance fees, cash advance fees and foreign transaction fees.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Five Spices To Boost Your Brain

By “spicing up” your life, you can be helping your brain. Recent studies have shown that spicy food can preserve brain function and help prevent disease. Add these five tasty spices to your diet to reap the benefits:

Turmeric. Called the “ultimate health spice,” turmeric contains curcumin and is an ingredient in curry. Studies have shown that it may help prevent Alzheimer’s and lessen the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Sprinkle it on your broccoli or mix a spoonful in a warm glass of water and drink it down.

Ginger. This spice may make you smarter if combined with ginkgo biloba. It also may help treat Parkinson’s disease and migraine headaches. Try drinking it as a hot tea.

Garlic. You already love this one, but did you know it increases blood flow to the brain? In a 2007 study, garlic helped fight brain cancer cells.

Saffron. A saffron extract has been found to be effective in treating people with depression.

Cinnamon. Eating it helps with blood sugar control, but just smelling it boosts brain activity. It also speeds the way your brain processes visual cues. Chew some cinnamon gum before your next bike ride.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Have This Talk To Avoid Financial Mistakes

Want to get your college (or high school) grad off on the right financial foot? The Better Business Bureau suggests you have a talk about avoiding these common (and expensive) financial mistakes:

• Not being prepared for emergencies. Plan ahead. Stash some cash so you’ll be able to have a least a three-month emergency fund.

• Living off credit cards and making minimum payments. Once you go down this road, you may never catch up.

• Using loan leftovers. If you happen to have some leftover loan money, don’t spend it – use it to pay back what you’ve borrowed.

• Rushing to build credit. While you want to have good credit, you don’t want to do it by opening multiple credit cards accounts. Chances are you’ll lose track of billing and end up in heavy debt.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Stay Safe on the Road This Summer

How To Protect Yourself
And Others On The Road

Could you pass a written driver’s test – today? The results of an online GMAC Insurance survey showed that nearly 1 in 5 licensed drivers – 38 million Americans – probably wouldn’t! Here’s what you should do to brush up on the Rules of the Road and make yourself safer.

 Take the National Drivers Test. Go to Answer the 20 questions from state exams and study up on the ones you missed. You also can download it to Facebook and challenge your friends.

 Review Local Traffic Laws. Many states post them on a .gov website.

 Avoid these top driving mistakes that cause crashes:
• Multi-tasking while driving. Say “no” to: texting, phone calls and eating!
• Following too closely. Leave 2 seconds between you and the car ahead.
• Failure to yield on a left turn. Check for cars or people in your path.
• Incorrect merging. Merge carefully but don’t stop.
• Backing up. Don’t rely on the mirrors. Look over your shoulder.

 Consider a refresher course. AARP offers an online Driver Safety Course geared to drivers 50 and older. Plus, taking it may qualify you for a car insurance discount.

 Keep your brain sharp by subscribing to a computer driving program. CogniFit sells a Senior Driver program that starts with an assessment of 10 cognitive abilities essential for safe driving, including visual scanning and response time. It’s probably good for everyone!

 Get help from your car. The next time you’re car shopping, look for a model that offers new “smart” technologies such as Distance Control Assist (which applies the brakes when you’re following another car too closely); Blind-Spot Detection (which alerts you about vehicles in your blind spots); and Night Vision Systems (which give you a vision of the road ahead with a infrared beam).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fitness Trends In 2010

Resolve To Follow These

The American College of Sports Medicine has ranked the top fitness trends for 2010 based on a worldwide survey of fitness professionals. Make a New Year’s resolution to incorporate these trends in your family’s fitness program this year:

 Educated and experienced fitness professionals. As the fitness market becomes more competitive, consumers are realizing the importance of working with professionals who have been certified through accredited health/fitness educational programs.

 Strength training. This was once the domain of bodybuilders, but it’s now an essential part of a complete physical activity program.

 Children and obesity. This is the year to reverse an alarming trend of rising obesity rates by getting overweight kids involved in exercise.

 Personal training. As more personal trainers are educated and certified, they are becoming more accessible to a greater number of people.

 Core training. This training specifically emphasizes strength and conditioning of the stabilizing muscles of the abdomen and back.

 Special programs for older adults. Fitness facilities are offering more exercise programs for active older adults. Get your parents involved now!

 Sport-specific training. High school athletes are now training during the off-season to prepare themselves for their specific sports.

 Pilates. This form of exercise that targets the core of the body has become a mainstay of most fitness facilities. If you haven’t already done so, try it this year to increase your flexibility and posture.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Take Care When Mixing Medications

Can Medication Make You Sick?

Medication is supposed to make us better, but it can have the opposite effect. Take care to avoid these medication mistakes:

• Mixing over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications. You may be double dosing. For example, if you take a cold pill that contains acetaminophen (more than 600 OTC and prescription medicines do), don’t pop an additional Tylenol for good measure. Too much of the drug can cause liver damage.

• Not recognizing the “rebound effect.” That’s when a drug produces reverse effects when the effect of the drug has passed or the patient no longer responds to it. In other words, a remedy meant to help may make a condition worse. This has been known to happen with pain relievers, OTC eye drops, decongestant sprays, sleeping pills and teeth whiteners. Best advice: If you don’t think a drug or product is working, don’t just take more of it. Talk to your doctor about alternatives.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where to Focus Your Attention When Getting Ready to Sell

Q. We are planning to sell our home soon. What room should we focus our main attention when getting our house ready for sale?

A. Focus on the kitchen. The kitchen is a major consideration in most sales. For many people, the kitchen is the most important room in a house.
If you have an outdated kitchen and plan to sell your home, a kitchen remodel usually doesn’t make sense. However, a kitchen makeover can work magic in brightening your home. Here are a few tips to liven up a tired kitchen without taxing your pocketbook:
1) A New Coat Of Paint. A fresh coat of paint can work wonders in brightening any room. Focus on neutral colors.
2) Clean Up The Clutter. Put away any extra appliances, cookbooks, and other messy items that take up counter space.
3) Clean, Clean, Clean. Make sure everything sparkles...from the windows, appliances, counters, to the floor.
4) Out With The Old, In With The New. If your countertop tile is outdated, old, or grungy. replace it with new tile. Remember to keep the colors neutral. If you have an old stainless steel faucet replace it with a new one. These improvements can be completed inexpensively, and will increase the value and appeal of your home.
5) Replace Outdated Hardware. If you have old, outdated hardware on your kitchen cabinets, look for a new, stylish replacement.
6) Lighting. Make sure there is light shining in the kitchen when you show your house. You want your kitchen to look bright and spotless.
If you are in the market for a buying or selling a home and need competent and caring representation, please call me at 206-226-0565.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Secrets Of Female Millionaires

Did you know there are more women millionaires today than at any time in history? It’s true. Thomas Stanley, author of The Millionaire Woman Next Door, has come up with some interesting facts. The average female millionaire is 49 years old, married, a mother, spends 3-4 hours a week at the gym, and works a 50-hour week.

Stanley found three themes that stood out. Female millionaires were responsible for budgeting and financial planning in their households and had a detailed method of tracking expenses. Second, female millionaires focused selling their skills rather than merchandise. Service businesses enabled the women to do what they liked, and work a reasonable schedule.

Third, female millionaires viewed themselves as leaders. Four out of five women millionaires focused their attention on the future...and not what had happened in the past. The millionaire women were proactive, and believed it was their responsibility to move situations forward.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Getting Pre-Approved for Your Next Mortgage

Q. We are shopping around for mortgage, but we don’t even know where to begin. What are the biggest mistakes people make?

A. First, before you begin, do your homework. Choosing the wrong mortgage is the biggest mistake people can make. Shop around. Make sure to look at the initial interest rate, future interest rates, and payments. Also, make sure you know if there are any prepayment penalties, and if so, what these are before signing anything.

Secondly, pay off your credit cards. Excessive credit can affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage. A lender doesn’t want you to get in over your head, and then have you unable to make your payments. Another big mistake is not having the home inspection done. Make the purchase of your new house contingent on passing a home inspection. Don’t skip this step. That way you’ll know whether there are any serious problems with the house (mold, leaking roof, poor foundation, cracks) before you buy. It’ll be money well spent!

Also, know the terms. Know the difference between pre-qualified and pre-approved when talking with lenders and real estate agents. Pre-qualified means the lender is making an estimate about how much you can borrow based on the financial information you’ve provided. Pre-approved means the lender has verified the financial information you’ve supplied, and can offer you a loan at a specific amount, interest rate, and under certain conditions.

Lastly, hire a competent real estate agent who is experienced, who specializes in your area, and has a record of success. Ask the agent for specific information about how he/she plans to market your house.

If you are in the market for a home and need competent and caring representation, please call me at 206-226-0565. I will put you in touch with my lender Rob Glenn at Normandy Mortgage. He will work hard to get you the best Mortgage for your qualifications.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How To Avoid Vacation Cost Surprises

Fed Up With Fees?

Going on vacation this summer? Make sure you don’t get taken for a ride by having to pay “hidden” costs or extra fees. Plan carefully, read the fine print and follow these tips to avoid unnecessary spending.

• Budget for the fees you know about. You can get a cheap fare, but on most airlines you’ll have to pay extra if you want to check a bag (let alone two), eat a meal, or have extra legroom. Pack economically, take your own snacks and don’t be tempted by legroom upgrades at the gate ─ or make sure to factor in those costs when you do your planning.

• Call the hotel directly (not the 800 number) and ask about “resort fees.” You already know they may charge for internet use, long distance and local calls and reservation cancellation, but did you know they may charge $10 to $25 a day for “amenities,” such as the pool or hotel gym? Comparison shop for a hotel that doesn’t charge for them. Also, join the club ─ literally. By joining the hotel loyalty program, you may save on some of these charges.

• Don’t be fooled by advertised rental-car rates, which don’t include taxes and surcharges. Check your insurance coverage before you go so you can deny insurance supplements, which can run up to $50 a day. When you reserve the car, ask about the airport concession fee; they don’t usually tell you that it’s cheaper to rent off-site. And don’t just add on an additional driver ─ it may cost you another $5-$10 per day.

• Use online travel sites but be aware the name-your-own-price option probably doesn’t include taxes or service fees charged by the site. Also, look for the sneaky word “nonrefundable.” You may be getting a good price but you’re also making a commitment.

• Pay with a credit card. It gives you the opportunity to dispute charges you don’t agree with. Don’t, however, give anyone your credit card number over the phone.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Why You Should Learn To Text

Do you think texting is just for kids? It’s more important than you think. Here’s why you should learn how to send and receive text messages (just don’t do it while you’re driving!).

It improves your chances of communicating when it counts. During an emergency, such as a natural disaster, voice networks can get congested and calls may not go through. Texts, which use less bandwidth, have a higher likelihood of being transmitted. Plus, if you’re texting, you are freeing up the voice lines for emergency officials to use.

You may soon be able to receive Presidential alerts on national emergencies, imminent threat alerts on things such as hurricanes or tornadoes, and child abduction alerts. The government is developing a nationwide system to allow participating wireless service providers to send these texts to their subscribers. A number of colleges and universities already have systems.

Your kids are used to communicating this way. You should know how to speak their language on a basic level. If you don’t know how, look online or ask them for a lesson.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Great Summer Travel Tips

How To Be Safe, Not Sorry
On Your Next Trip

Everyone loves to travel, but there are some precautions you should take just to be on the safe side. Use these travel security tips to help make your next international trip stress-free:

• Be prepared in case your passport is lost or stolen. If your passport is lost, you must immediately notify the embassy or the State Department and report details of the incident. Take copies of the passport, birth certificate and marriage certificate for each person on your trip. You’d need these documents to authenticate yourself to authorities.

• Leave your itinerary and the numbers or copies of your passport with a friend or relative. You also can register your travel for free with the State Department so you may be contacted in case of a family emergency or because of a crisis in the area in which you are traveling. Go to for more details.

• Don’t take your eyes off your laptop. Hundreds of thousands are stolen each year and 97 percent are never recovered. To protect yourself, remove any sensitive information from the laptop before you go and encrypt the data that’s on it. Take a security cable to attach it to a piece of furniture if you leave it in your hotel room. Better yet, you can actually buy tracking software that allows you to record a message (“Get your hands off me, I’ve been stolen!”) that will play when the thief turns it on.

• Purge your wallet or purse of extra credit cards, receipts and any reference to your social security number. Leave your checkbook and debit cards at home.

• Keep a grip on your valuables (especially in crowds). To thwart pickpockets, use security travel purses, bags, belts and money clips. If you’re a man, keep your wallet under your clothes or in your tightest pocket. If you’re using a fanny pack, secure the zipper by using a safety pin or a paperclip fastened to a rubber band around the belt strap.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How To Get A Leaner Stomach

If you’re like most of us out there you’d like to lose a little around the middle. The easiest way to get rid of stomach fat is to reduce your carbohydrates. These are foods many of us love to consume: crackers, chips, white bread, cakes, cookies, candy, pizza.

But if you’re really serious about losing your belly, there are some easy ways to do it, and it doesn’t require medical intervention. First, start by eating lean meat (chicken, turkey, and seafood). Eliminate breads, pasta, rice, baked goods, candy and alcohol for two weeks, so you can train your body to live without the cravings. Limit fruits for the first two weeks, but you can eat lots of veggies.

At week three you can add a small serving of rice, pasta or bread two times a day. Continue to eliminate refined sugars from your diet. Next issue we’ll discuss where you go from here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why Health Experts Never Use Plastic In The Microwave

Could using plastics in the microwave be dangerous to your health? The answer is “yes,” according to important news from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

There have been many stories circulating about the safety of microwaves, heating, plastics and food. Some have focused on dioxin, a known carcinogen. Dioxin occurs in our environment, primarily from the incineration of waste materials, according to Dr. Rolf Halden, at John Hopkins Bloomberg School. People are exposed to dioxin mostly from eating meat and fish rich in fat. But it may not be the sole offender.

There are other concerns we should consider, according to Halden. There’s a group of chemicals called “phthalates” that have been added to some plastics to make them flexible and less brittle. If you heat these plastics, it can increase the leaching of phthalates from the containers into your food.

Many scientific studies have shown that when you heat up an object, the chemicals are more likely to release into the environment. This is the same with plastics...and possibly the plastic packaging in some microwave meals.

Another chemical, diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), is also used to make plastics more flexible. DEHA exposure can occur when eating certain foods wrapped in plastics. “It’s true that substances used to make plastics can leach into food,” says Edward Machuga, Ph.D., a consumer safety officer in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “But the levels are low.”

What should you do? People should use heat resistant glass, Corning Ware or ceramic containers for heating food in the microwave. Don’t use foam or plastic carryout containers from restaurants or margarine tubs in the microwave, according to the FDA. And never use plastic storage bags, grocery bags, newspapers or aluminum foil in the microwave.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Daily Aspirin is Not for Everybody

Will Aspirin Reduce Your
Risk Of A Heart Attack?

You may have seen emails going around that talk about heart attack symptoms and the use of aspirin. The answer to the above question is “it depends.” Here are the facts:

• Aspirin is a drug. Even though you can buy it over-the-counter at any drug store, aspirin is a drug that can mix badly with other medicines, vitamins or dietary supplements. If you’re already taking a medication or supplement to thin the blood, you should not add aspirin.

• It may not be for everyone. The risks of long-term use may be greater than the benefits if there are no signs of, or risk factors for, heart or blood vessel disease.

• Daily aspirin can be safest when prescribed by a medical professional. Aspirin has been known to help people who are living with some kinds of heart and blood vessel diseases. It can help prevent a heart attack or clot-related stroke by lowering the clotting action of the blood’s platelets. Your doctor, nurse or other health professional should decide if it’s right for you, depending on your health and medical history.

• Dosage matters. There are no directions on the label for using aspirin to reduce the risk of heart attack. You must discuss the different forms of aspirin products with your doctor. When you buy a product, check the “Drug Facts” label for “active ingredients: aspirin” or “acetylsalicylic acid” at the dose your doctor prescribes.

• If you feel symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. The operator, emergency medical technicians or Emergency Department physician will give you an aspirin if it's right for you. To study the warning signs (chest pain, discomfort in other areas of the upper body, shortness of breath), go to the American Heart Association website at

Saturday, July 3, 2010

New Rules For Credit Card Companies are in Effect

Protect Yourself: How Credit Card Changes Affect YOU

The new rules for credit card companies that mean more consumer protection went into effect on Feb. 22, 2010. Here’s what they mean for you:

Your credit card company has to tell you:

• When they’re increasing your rate or other fees, giving you 45 days notice. Also, they can’t raise the interest rate on an existing balance unless you’re more than 60 days late with a payment. And they can’t increase your rate for the first 12 months after you open an account (with some exceptions).

• How long it will take to pay off your balance. It will say on your bill how long it will take if you only make minimum payments, and how much you’d need to pay each month to pay off your balance in three years.

Monitor your cards closely and follow these tips to protect yourself:

 Pay on time. Companies are required to mail or deliver your bill at least 21 days (instead of 14) before your payment is due. Plan accordingly.

 Stay below your credit limit. You will, however, be given the choice to “opt-in” to over-the-limit transactions. If you opt-in and go over your limit, your credit card company can impose only one fee per billing cycle.

 Try to make more than the minimum payment. You’ll pay less interest in the long run.

 Shop for the best deal. Don’t forget to check out local banks or credit unions when you’re looking for a card with the best rate.

 Read your mail. They may give you 45 days notice on a rate change, but you won’t know if you don’t open the envelope if it looks like junk mail.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Make the Most of Energy Tax Credits Available Now

Energize Your Life
With These Tax Incentives

Are you making the most of energy tax incentives? You can save energy and money by qualifying for these rebates and tax credits:

• Cash for Appliances. It’s the 2010 version of “Cash for Clunkers” but you get the rebate when you buy new energy-efficient appliances. Funded with $300 million from the stimulus package, the program is conducted at the state level. Visit your state’s energy office web site for details.

• Home Energy Efficiency Improvement Tax Credits. If you install certain products, such as energy-efficient windows, insulation, roofing, and heating and cooling equipment in an existing home, you can receive a federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost (up to $1,500) for improvements “placed in service” from Jan. 1, 2009 through Dec. 31, 2010. Go to for specifics.

• Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credits. Install a solar energy system (including solar water heaters) and receive a 30 percent tax credit if it’s placed in service before Dec. 31, 2016. (The previous tax credit cap no longer applies.)

• Auto Tax Credits. If you buy or lease a new hybrid gas/electric car or truck, you’re eligible for an income tax credit for vehicles placed in service from Jan. 1, 2006 to Dec. 31, 2010. This will be phased out for each manufacturer when they sell 60,000 eligible vehicles. Tax credits also are available for alternative-fuel vehicles, diesel vehicles with advance lean-burn technologies and fuel-cell vehicles. See the IRS web site for vehicle specifics.

For more information on local, utility and federal incentives that promote energy efficiency, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Use These Strategies To Shop Smarter For Groceries

You can read plenty of articles on the internet about how to save money on groceries, but do you really have a grocery shopping strategy? Here are some supermarket tips and secrets that will make you a savvy shopper.

 Approach grocery shopping like a job. You need to have a plan (take a list) and a budget to make the best use of your time and money.

 Stick to a time schedule. Shop for what you need and get out. It is said that if you’re in the store more than 30 minutes, you’ll spend an extra 50 cents to $1 per minute as you walk the aisles.

 Shop alone. Real Simple Magazine says parents will spend 10-40 percent more if they take their kids along. It might be worth it to hire a babysitter!

 Only buy “food” at a grocery store. Generally, you’re better off buying toiletries, cleaning supplies and pet food at a big-box discount store.

 Know the floor plan. Shop the perimeter first for fresh fruits and vegetables, protein and milk. You’ll find some good buys in the center aisles, but you’ll also be tempted by items like frozen convenience foods.

 Don’t assume everything on sale is a bargain. Stores often display “sale” items at the end of the aisles. Manufacturers pay to have their products put there so they aren’t necessarily a good deal.

 Check “price per unit.” Sometimes it’s cheaper per unit to buy two smaller items than it is to buy one supersize package.

 Look high and low. Stores often place higher-priced items at eye level (brands pay for the space). Check prices on the top and bottom shelves.

 Pay attention at checkout. Shoppers lose up to $3 billion a year on scanner mistakes (current sale prices not reflected).