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Study: Dishwashers save money
January 9, 2018
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A lot of people who have automatic dishwashers don’t use them, but they might save money on water and electricity if they did.

Even though 68 percent of Americans own dishwashers, about 20 percent use them less than once a week, suggesting people are hand washing dishes.

Many reasons could account for this, but one of them should not be cost. Dishwashing by hand uses 3.5 times more water than a modern dishwasher and three times as much electricity, according to a 2011 study by the University of Bonn.

Loading the dishwasher: What is the right way?

Dishwasher manufacturers and home style maven Martha Stewart agree on some basics for the right way to load a dishwasher:
1.  If the washer has a third, shallow rack on top, load flatware and large utensils there to free up space below.
2.  Put glass and plastic on the top rack where water pressure and heat are less intense.
3.  Point knives down for safety. Mix utensils in the basket so spoons and forks don’t nest together.
4.  Martha Stewart advises never to wash nonstick or cast iron pans in the dishwasher but stainless steel pans get cleaner in the dishwasher.
5.  Read the manual to find out about specialized settings. Nearly 70 percent of user just press ‘normal.’

Don’t put these items in the dishwasher

According to home expert Martha Stewart, the following items should never be put in the dishwasher: Acrylics and plastics, aluminum, antiques, blown glass, bronze, cast iron, china with metallic decoration, crystal, any item with bone or wood inlays, gold-plated flatware, iron, knives (they get dull), nonstick pans, milk glass, pewter, rubber tools, tins, wooden spoons.

Is pre-rinsing really necessary?

Doesn’t everyone pre-rinse dishes?

Maybe they do, but they don’t have to, according to soap and dishwasher manufacturers.
Except for removing large particles of food, pre-rinsing can actually hinder dishwasher cleaning, says the makers of Cascade. Enzymes in Cascade are designed to attach to food particles. Without particles, they have nothing to attach to, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Dishwashers made by Whirlpool have ‘TargetClean’ options in which sensors detect soil on dishes. Jet sprays focus on those casserole dishes and power off baked on food.

The Samsung Zone Booster setting puts more water pressure on one side where especially dirty dishes are stacked.

The great dishwasher fight

Appliance maker Bosch says more than 40 percent of families argue about the proper way to load a dishwasher.
About 60 percent agree about whether to pre-rinse. Nearly 39 percent of the arguers say they disagree on whether knives should point up or down, while 30 percent argue about where plastic containers should go.

General Electric Co. has defined three main types of dishwasher loaders:
– Protectors, who are concerned that utensils are loaded handle up so the eating end isn’t touched when unloading.
– Organizers want to get everything in and out as quickly as possible.
– Curators are the artists, particular about how the result looks, with similar items placed together, including directing pan handles in the same direction. The curators are also the culprits who rearrange the load.

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Paint doesn’t have to be expensive to be high quality
January 6, 2018
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Expensive paint isn’t necessarily the best, according to a new Consumer Reports study.

Brands at home improvements stores are likely to be cheaper but just as good for coverage as the pricier options. In fact, in Consumer Reports rankings, the top four excellent interior paints are all from home improvement stores:
– Behr Marquee, $39, Home Depot.
– Behr Premium Plus Enamel, $27, Home Depot.
– Valspar Reserve, $44, Lowe’s.
– Behr Premium Plus Ultra, $30, Home Depot.

Benjamin Moore’s Aura, $70, sold at independent dealers, came in fifth in the rankings.

A paint rated excellent for coverage should cover a very dark paint in one coat.

Colors are another consideration. Famed paint Farrow & Ball is known for its unique and upscale colors. But, according to Consumer Reports, hardware store clerks can match Farrow & Ball colors within 1 percent, making it tempting to buy a cheaper brand and skip the salty $100 per gallon price. The sheen of the paint may look different, though.

All modern paints which claim to be self-priming do just that. So priming is not usually necessary, the magazine reports.

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Use a frugal month to catch up after the holidays
December 28, 2017
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The holidays are often filled with extra spending on things like travel, gifts, and food and many people end the year feeling weighed down in the financial department.

Popular blog Frugalwoods suggests that people make January an ‘uber frugal month’ by spending as little money as possible. Although the challenge sounds rather simple, it will require a bit of preparation.

Before starting, analyze all of the currently expected spending for the month. Then, divide those expenses into a discretionary list and a mandatory list. Rent, for instance, is non-negotiable, while a Starbucks latte can be easily skipped. Entire areas, such as entertainment, need a plan to decrease spending by substituting free or cheap options for the normal routines. Plan to stay frugal for the whole month for maximum savings. In the end, with the frugality meter reset, it will be up to participants to decide which behaviors they want to keep using in the future to save money over the long run.

According to Bankrate, using these no-spend periods isn’t just about saving money but also learning to control impulses. Being able to separate actual needs from simple wants will go a long way toward creating sustainable spending habits as well as provide an excellent jumpstart to a more frugal lifestyle.

For people that can’t manage a full month, blog Believe in a Budget recommends starting with a week or even a day. Their favorite, the no spend work week, allows a person to focus in on miscellaneous expenses that pop up during this time such as the before work coffee, expensive lunch at a restaurant, and unnecessary trips to the grocery store after work. It might feel a little strange bringing a bagged lunch to work, but it is also a great way to find more money for savings and investing in the things that are truly important.

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Tips for preventing pipes from freezing; thawing frozen pipes
December 6, 2017
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Frozen pipes not only mean the inconvenient lack of water, they also can burst, causing an expensive repair problem.

Homeowners are often understandably frantic to get water pipes running again. But thawing the pipes improperly can lead to more problems.

Never use a device with a flame to thaw out pipes.
A little heat on the right pipe could get that water flowing. But a flame on the pipe is a very bad idea.
According to fire experts, flames under the house, even when directed at pipes, are a common cause of fire.

The open flame from a heater, especially a propane salamander, can instantly ignite insulation or flooring materials under a house.

Worse, pipes can heat up dramatically from flaming devices, with heat traveling along the piping systems inside walls. This heat can ignite wall materials, which can smolder for hours before being discovered, or bursting into flame. Alternatively, excessive heat on metal piping can cause water to boil, causing the pipe to burst, according to the Red Cross.
If you know where the pipes are frozen, first open the faucets and then apply heat with a hair dryer or electric heating pad.

Prepare ahead of very cold temperatures.
If you know your pipes are prone to freezing, take some simple steps ahead of cold weather.

First, give yourself a supply of water. Partially fill a bathtub with water when very cold temperatures are predicted. This can provide water for pets, cleaning, or bathing. It will also give you some breathing room so you can take your time unfreezing pipes.

Next, keep the faucets open to a drip. This will help prevent pipes from freezing. Although this can put a strain on water pump systems, it is usually better than broken pipe disasters.
Close garage doors, especially if there are pipes along the garage walls.

Open your cabinet doors in the kitchen and bathroom to allow warm room air to circulate.

Don’t turn down the house temperature during very cold nights.

Never set the thermostat to less than 55 degrees when the weather will be below zero.

Long-term prevention for frozen pipes
One of the best ways to prevent frozen pipes is with heat tape or heat cable. These low-heat products usually can be plugged in at the beginning of the season and left until Spring. This is especially good for pipes that are run along the outside of walls.

Be sure to unhook outdoor hoses and close valves supplying outdoor faucets.

If the problem with frozen pipes is persistent every winter season, consider moving exposed piping. Although this is a major project, it should prevent future problems.
Insulation in attics, basements and crawl spaces will help prevent frozen pipes, too.

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In 2018, you can contribute more to your 401(k)
December 4, 2017
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There’s good news for 401(k) savers in 2018: They can put $500 more into their plan.

The IRS has announced that the 401(k)contribution limit has been raised to $18,500. That is the first increase since 2015.

The new limit also applies to 403(b), Thrift Savings Plan and 457 plans.

The limit on catch-up contributions for employees age 50 and over remains the same at $6,000.

The deduction phase out limit was also increased. This means that if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income exceeds certain ranges, the amount you can deduct is reduced (or phased out).

Single taxpayers: The phase out is $63,000 to $73,000, up from $62,000 to $72,000.
Married filing jointly: Phase out rises to $101,000 to $121,000, up from $99,000 to $119,000.

Individual contributors: The phase out range rises to $189,000 to $199,000, up from $186,000 to $196,000.

Roth IRA and traditional IRAs
There was no change in contribution limits for IRA and Roth IRA plans. The maximum you can contribute to a Roth IRA is $5,500 per year (or $6,500 if you are age 50 or older).
There was a change to deduction phaseouts, though. If your Modified Adjusted Gross Income exceeds certain ranges, the amount you can deduct is reduced (or phased out). In 2018, the phase-out levels are higher. For singles or heads of households, the Modified Adjusted Gross Income range is $120,000 to $135,000. For married couples filing jointly, the range is $189,000 to $199,000. The phase-out ranges for married filing separately have not changed.

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Selling in December can be merry after all
December 1, 2017
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When the weather outside is frightful, selling your house is not so delightful.
That’s what folks say, anyway. But is it always true?

Real estate agents say not necessarily. As with most things in life, it all depends.

Weather is, in fact, a factor and when frightful weather means a lot of snow, showings could slow down. But, on the other hand, a warm winter can be a boon for sellers as home buyers get an early start on the season.

The strength of the local real estate market also comes into play. A strong market can be good even in December. There are always buyers who, for many personal and business reasons, must find a home during the holidays. Those kinds of buyers are motivated.

Here are some considerations for selling during the fall/winter holidays:

– You don’t have to keep your house dark during the season of lights. Decorate, but do so modestly. A Christmas tree can make a home look warm during the cold winter season. Display just a few gifts under the tree. Too many begin to resemble clutter and buyers need to be able to look past decorations.

– Avoid flashing lights inside and out. Stick to simple, classic decorations.

– Limit decorations to the main living area. Although some families go all out decorating every room, as a seller you want to keep decorations of all kinds to a minimum.

– Most agents say that sellers should avoid religious displays, but in some areas of the country this would be acceptable, especially if done modestly. The key is not to overwhelm the house. Make it easy for the buyer to see the rooms.

– Make the most of the season by enhancing curb appeal. Although the trees might not have leaves, the garden won’t have weeds either. Some decorations are seen as welcoming, no matter what the season: A wreath on the door or outdoor lights that emphasize the walkway or special parts of the property.

– If your property looks especially glorious in Spring and Summer, consider leaving out a photo album.

– Play muted classical music to add to the overall ambience, according to HGTV.

– Use light holiday fragrance. Avoid heavy floral scents that make some people cough or sneeze. Don’t overdo it. One scented candle is probably enough.

– Light the fire. Winter is also a great time to show off your fireplace. So spread the warmth!

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Negotiation: Tips for buyers and sellers
November 28, 2017
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At the most basic level, home sellers and buyers want the same thing: A good price and a smooth deal.

But between price and smooth, there is a lot of wiggle room and emotion.

The key points for a seller, according to Zillow.com:
– A full price or higher
– A pre-approved buyer
– Smooth timing for a move

Sellers may also want buyers to either waive an inspection or be responsible for any repairs.

Before negotiations, the best idea for sellers is to carefully calculate what they need from a buyer.
– Minimum amount of money you’ll need, considering outstanding mortgage, any debt you want to clear up, or money for a down payment on another house.
– Decide what personal property you want to go with the house and what you don’t want to include in the deal.
– Know how much it will cost to stay in the home during any transition time. This can help in negotiations since a buyer who wants to quickly take possession might save you money.

Or, on the other hand, a buyer who will work with you on timing might be preferable. These considerations can help you choose between offers.

Key idea: Know exactly what you need and don’t rush into a deal if you don’t have to.

Negotiation tips for buyers: One key idea to remember – Don’t start negotiations too low.

Case in point: Heirs are selling a 40-year-old home on wooded acreage. The home will need treatment for mold, new carpets, deep cleaning, and some new fixtures, but the bones are good. The sellers have priced it on the low-end for comparable homes. The listing agent quickly gets two offers. One for $5,000 less than the list price, and one for the list price. It’s October and the heirs want to sell quickly. They don’t want to take the chance of maintaining the home through the winter when home sales are slow. The buyer offering full price is ready to move in immediately and agrees to do so. The sellers accept the full price, rejecting the lower one without negotiation. The unsuccessful buyers lost the home they wanted over a mere $5,000, which on a 30-year loan amounts to just a few dollars a month.

According to credit.com, going in with a too-low offer accomplishes nothing. While a potential buyer can’t always know how their offer will be accepted, it’s probably not a good idea to offer a lower price if the property is already priced reasonably. The exception may be a foreclosure or a slow market, when sellers might be highly motivated to sell.

If a buyer can know how motivated the seller is, then that influences negotiation. A buyer that must move might accept a lower bid, especially if the buyer can take possession immediately. Similarly, a buyer with time can afford to wait for the best deal.

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Smart Textiles: Even your shirt will be online
November 24, 2017
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Clothing usually revolves around either extreme utility or fashion and the recent introduction of smart textiles hopes to help improve both of those areas. According to Forbes, a smart textile is a kind of fabric that incorporates new technology to add value for the wearer. This value could come in the form of electronic connectivity or even the ability to change colors or transform. Creatively, there are many avenues that smart textiles could take in the coming years but much of the recent work has gone into three categories: connectivity, aesthetics and performance enhancement.

In an increasingly connected world, companies like Google are always looking for new ways for people to interact with their products. According to USA Today, Google has teamed up with a clothing manufacturer to create a jacket capable of sending commands to a smartphone using only gestures and movements. Aimed at bicycle commuters, the idea is that clothing should make it easier for people to get the information they need as quickly and safely as possible. Although the product is just one of the first steps in this arena, it shows the kind of thing that can be possible by weaving electronics into clothing.

Aesthetically, smart textiles open up a vast world of possibilities for designers interested in putting their models and customers into something truly unique. It is possible, for instance, to use a particular type of fabric that gathers energy from movement vibrations and heat to light up in dazzling colors for nighttime events. For further integration with the beauty industry, smart materials could one day be used to apply moisturizer or perfume as a response to certain activities like dry air or sweating.

Performance-wise, industries such as athletics and even the military are extremely interested in what could be accomplished through using smart textiles in their gear. For a long-distance runner, for instance, a body suit could be used to reduce wind resistance, control muscle vibration, and even regulate body temperature which could lead to faster times and a safer environment for the body.

Speaking of safety, other garments could be created to protect against some of the more extreme environmental dangers like radiation or changes in pressure. Far from simply being able to control a music player with a jacket, smart textiles will one day have the capability to impact the lives of consumers dramatically.

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Ask the Expert: What is a conforming loan?
November 20, 2017
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A conforming loan is one that conforms to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are giant government-chartered mortgage companies that buy loans from lenders, allowing lenders to have more flexibility to make new housing loans.
Most everyone who gets a mortgage has a conforming loan.

How much you can borrow to conform:
Conforming loans are generally limited to $424,100, although there are higher limits in areas where housing is very expensive. The conforming loan limit can go up to $636,150 in specific housing markets, such as certain counties in California and New York, among others.

Loan-to-value ratio:
Your down payment has to be equal to 20 percent or more of the home’s value, but buyers can qualify for an FHA loan with as little as 3 percent down. With a down payment of less than 20 percent, buyers have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance, which can be expensive.

Credit score:
A conforming loan requires a FICO credit score of 620-640. However, an FHA loan requires a credit score of 580. A lower credit score than that requires a higher down payment.

Debt-to-income ratio:
Your debt-to-income ratio can be no more than 41 percent (although there may be exceptions that raise this percentage) of your gross income.

A non-conforming loan, by contrast, goes over the loan limit and the requirements are stricter. Credit scores must be 680 or higher. The down payment must be 15 percent or higher. Debt-to-income ratio must be 43 percent or less. Generally the borrower shows high cash reserves, according to the Lenders Network.

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Good moods or bad moods, they’re contagious!
November 3, 2017
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You try avoid picking up germs from someone who is coughing, but when you encounter a person who is in a bad mood, you can just as easily pick up their cranky germs. Moods are contagious.

It’s easy to catch a good mood. When you’re at work and co-workers have good news about something or someone, they want to share with you. They seem excited as they tell the good news. Everyone is in a better mood.

The contagious quality of mood and emotion has been one of the most widely studied of all the different forms of contagion. Without consciously trying, people are extremely good at picking up on other people’s negative or positive emotions, according to the Association for Psychological Science.

They call the situation emotional contagion. The first step involves unconscious copying of facial expressions and movements. Seeing a smile makes you smile. Seeing a frown makes you more likely to frown.

If you’re both frowning, maybe you’ll start to feel bad too. You may share emotions and experiences until you are both in the same mood.

Mood copying is common when you’re are in frequent contact with others. When a friend or co-worker is in a mood, it’s more likely that you’ll catch it than if you’re dealing with a stranger.

Marriage researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that husbands experienced lower marital satisfaction when their wives reported higher stress. Wives were less affected by their husband’s stress levels.

Studies emphasize the importance of choosing friends wisely. People who are positive and upbeat can make you feel the same way.

While it may be best to ignore a someone’s bad mood, if you really feel you can help with a problem, maybe you can pass your good mood on to that person.