Personal Banking E-Newsletter - October 2013

Easy Fall Prep for a Warm and Cozy Home

Here are a few projects to get your home ready for the coming cold weather and holiday season.

Get Ready for the Cold Season

Fall means vibrant red, orange, and yellow foliage, lots of pumpkins, and refreshingly cool temps. But, it also means winter isn't far away. Here are a few projects—from looking after your exterior to maintaining your heating system—that can help your home brace for the cold and save you some cash. 

Install and Maintain Paths and Walkways

When crossing your muddy yard to fetch the daily paper turns into an obstacle course of slips and slides, perhaps it's time to think about an alternative path—literally. Holiday guests to come would also appreciate safe passage to your door. So, take a weekend to lay a brick walkway. 

Make sure you check sidewalks and driveways for cracks. If you don't fill them now, water can seep in and freeze, making them even larger. Take the time to resurface worn concrete now and save you a whole lot of time and money later.

Light the Way with Outdoor Lanterns

Less daylight calls for illumination. You can also enhance the nighttime curb appeal of your home, while adding a measure of safety and security, by installing low-voltage landscape lighting. These exterior-grade fixtures are typically placed along walkways and driveways, but they're also ideal for illuminating steps, trees, stonewalls, fences and other prominent garden features. 

You can also add a charming lamppost to mark the start of your driveway. 

Prep Your Landscape and Start Composting

"Grass roots keep growing until the ground gets down to around 40 degrees," says TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook, "so this is a good time to feed them." Apply a high-phosphorus (12-25-12) mix to lawns in fall to encourage roots, so turf greens up earlier in spring.

It's also a good time to seed a new lawn, start a compost pile, and trim shrubs and trees. 

Build a Trash Shed to Hide Unsightly Containers

Nothing mucks up the holiday season curb appeal of your house more than a bunch of beat-up trash cans and overflowing recycling bins scattered next to the side door.

Build a sturdy storage house that hides two 32-gallon trash cans and several stacked recycling bins. Flip-open lids give it easy access so that you can quickly toss something away in the right place. Bi-fold front doors make it easy to move heavy cans in and out.

Put Light Where You Need It with a Garage Floodlight

If you've never been stuck with the task of taking out trash after dinner clean-up, then lucky you. But, in the fall and winter, the last haul often goes out after-dark. Install a motion-sensor garage floodlight to keep you company. It'll also welcome you and your guests home with its warm illumination. 

Speaking of garages, now's a good time to tidy up the place. For most, the garage sees a lot of action during the summer with yard tools and pool accessories moving in and out. It might be handy to actually get the car in there now that winter weather is on the way. Create a garage storage plan and build a work bench to stow tools if you have the space. Consider replacing the stained concrete slab with an epoxy-coated garage  floor that'll resist oil stains, bead water, and wipe clean.

TOH Tip: While you're in the garage, fuel up the snow blower so you're not caught with your gas down when the white stuff comes. Take some time to put your lawn mower to bed with a tune-up that'll ensure it's working like new come spring.

Freeze-Proof Exterior Faucets

Even the most intrepid do-it-yourselfer shudders at the thought of a burst water pipe. If not immediately noticed, a ruptured pipe can be both expensive and time-consuming to clean up. 

Fortunately, the pipe that's most susceptible to extremely cold weather—the outdoor hose faucet—is also one of the easiest to protect from freezing. Replace an existing hose faucet with a freeze-proof faucet. You can do it yourself in just a few hours.

Get Your Entry Guest-Ready

Unfortunately, a door's weather seals, if it has any at all, can rip, compress, bend, or wear out over time, leaving chilly winter air free to enter (or expensive air-conditioned air to leave). Lucky for you, making your door draft-free is a straightforward exercise, far cheaper and faster than installing a new door.

Once that's done, enhance curb appeal with aesthetic entry upgrades like adding exterior trim, flanking the door with sconces, throwing down a doormat, and swapping entry locksets.

Build a Mudroom Bench with Storage

Fall means back-to-school. Create a stopping area just inside the entry where everyone can leave the weather and dirt from their day behind. Build a mudroom bench that's the perfect catchall, complete with an open top shelf, coat hooks, and flip-top bench storage.

Maintain Your Washer and Dryer

Left unattended, a burst washing-machine hose can spill hundreds of gallons of water an hour. Likewise, a dryer can erupt in flame if lint is allowed to build up inside the machine or its ducts. 

Preventing such mishaps is as easy as replacing a washer's old rubber hoses, ideally with steel-jacketed ones that can't split open. Or discarding the dryer's flimsy—and flammable—vinyl duct and putting a metal one in its place.

Drape Away Drafts

Even after you've weather stripped and caulked them, windows in older homes can still be drafty. Here's another line of defense against the chills: window treatments.

The right shades, curtains, and even blinds will help retain some portion of the estimated 10 to 30 percent of heat lost through windows in wintertime. Install window shades and you'll also gain control of natural light.

Give Your Fireplace a Facelift

Chipped bricks, a stained hearth, and years of accumulated soot can turn what should be the focal point of a living room into an eyesore. Replacing a hearth and surround—either with seamless stone slabs or with stone or ceramic tiles—makes a big difference in the way a fireplace looks. Take a look at our 8 steps to giving your fireplace a facelift. For added safety, consider adding glass fireplace doors.

Adding an insert is a smart investment that's pure win—it'll keep you warm and slash your heating bills all at once. Complete this energy-efficient upgrade before December 31, and you'll score yourself a tax credit from Uncle Sam.

TOH Tip: The National Fire Protection Association recommends that getting chimneys swept at least once a year at the beginning of the winter to remove soot and debris. Find a certified sweep in your area via the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

Add Warmth Underfoot With Cork or Carpet

Nothing's worse than waking up to the icy shock of a cold floor. Resilient yet durable, stylish yet earthy, adding a natural easy-install cork floor can turn any cool room into a cozy haven.

Cork not your thing? Warm up rooms with traditional carpets.

Get Your Heating System Serviced

Before the chill sets in, make an appointment for your furnace's annual checkup. Without this yearly cleaning and inspection, a system can wear itself out quickly, pump deadly carbon monoxide into your home, or simply stop working.

If you have forced-air heating, change the furnace filter. You'll notice a difference in the air quality, and your furnace will run more efficiently.


25 Fall Family Activities to Do Before Thanksgiving

There are so many reasons to love the fall. It marks the first bit of relief from the sizzling summer heat, all the leaves start to turn an amazing array of colors, and, perhaps most exciting, it means the start of the holiday season. It also provides the perfect opportunity to spend real quality time with the kids, whether you are bundled up for a day outdoors or huddled around a nice warm fire with cups of cocoa.

Here are 25 fantastic fall activities the entire family will love:

Find your Great Pumpkin. Forget picking up one from the market. Go to a local pumpkin patch and instruct everyone in the family to find the perfect pumpkin. Once all the candidates are in, take a vote for which one to take home.

Fawn over the fall foliage. If you live in a state that has real seasons, this is one of the most incredible sites to take in. Drive the family to an arbor or tree lined park and count all the spectacular color combinations. 

Load up on apples. What's better than hot apple pie and apple cider when the fall chill sets in? Take the entire clan along to stock up on apples from a nearby orchard.

Take a hayride. It's a great way to relax and take in the scenery.

Have a garage sale. Make everyone part with the junk they don't use. With the cash you make, the family can go out to a great dinner or put it toward the next vacation.

Brave a haunted house. There is something so fun about being scared. Plus, the memory of seeing mom and dad scream their heads off is priceless.

Carve a pumpkin. It's one of the biggest traditions of fall. Have everyone work on one big pumpkin or make a contest out of it, have each person carve up their own and vote on the winner.

Tailgate at a football game. Even if everyone in the family isn't a sports nut, everyone loves having a good time. Cookout, toss around the pigskin, and meet new people.

Go trick or treating. Who says their is an age limit on trick or treating? Have the entire family dress up in a theme (like super heroes) and make the candy rounds in the neighborhood. 

Take a flying leap into the leaves. Sure, you will ultimately have to rake them up again, but it's so worth it.

Get lost in a corn maze. Losing you way during a cross-country drive -- miserable. Getting lost in a corn or

Buy matching flannel PJs. Nothing better than cozying up on a cool night in warm jammies. Buy matching sets for the entire family and have a popcorn and movie night.

Pour the squash soup. Fall veggies make great soups and are the perfect warm-up on a chilly day.

Make s'mores. It's not just for summer time. It's a fun and easy activity with a delicious pay-off.

Collect fall leaves. Relive the season any time of the year with a cool catalog of the most colorful leaves.

Make a pot of hot cocoa. We don't mean mix an addictive-filled powder or syrupy substance in milk. Go old school and melt real cocoa into hot, frothy milk on the stove top.

Make Rice Krispies treats. Just one word sums up this easy and beloved recipe -- YUM!

Eat candy apples. This is the perfect fall treat. For a gooey sweet, try caramel dipped Granny Smiths.

Whip up a big batch of chili. Just the smell of it cooking takes the chill off.

Start your Christmas wish list. Yes, it's a bit early but how fun is it to write up a dream list.

Make Halloween costumes together. The perfect costume is not guaranteed, but good times are. Be creative and come up with outfits the entire family will love wearing.

Have a family fright night. Watch your favorite scary movie on Halloween.

Go sweater shopping. The cool weather staple comes in so many styles these days, there's a look to fit everyone's taste. Hit the mall as a family and everyone can pick up an awesome new knit.

Attend a fall festival. With music, games, and great food, these events are usually a hit with the entire family.

List what you are thankful for. Part of the spirit of the season is to be grateful for all the wonderful things in your life.


How to Handle Allowances

A recent column on allowances generated a lively batch of comments that illustrate perfectly the great divide on this subject: parents who think that an allowance should be tied to doing chores around the house, and parents who think kids should do chores without pay because they're members of the family.

A couple of readers were vehemently in the first camp. “The point of the allowance is and always has been to show kids that work has rewards,” wrote one. “Of course, money should be tied to chores,” wrote another. “That’s an important life lesson that everyone, not only kids, needs to learn.”

But not everyone agreed. “Do you get paid for cleaning your room or taking out the trash?” challenged another reader. “I think kids should have to contribute to the running of the household. Nobody’s going to pay them to wash their dishes when they leave home.”

My own solution to this conundrum (as explained in my column) is a two-tier allowance system: The basic allowance isn’t tied to chores, which children do without pay, but it does come with financial responsibilities. If kids want to earn more money, they can get paid on a chore-by-chore basis for doing extra work.

One reader wrote that his parents had figured out a similar system when he was 4 years old, back in 1950: “I started getting a 25-cent allowance, but I was expected to buy my own routine goodies. Comics cost 10 cents, and a nice, simple toy was 25 or 50 cents. Money and chores were never connected. Somehow my dad managed to convince me that washing the car was fun.”

A couple of readers offered ideas of their own. Fred suggested that when children are old enough to earn their own money, they should have to put it into an IRA, and parents can give them a matching amount of cash for spending. Brandi uses an old-fashioned chore chart. “If the boys do chores, they write their initials next to what they did and when. Some chores are worth more than others. If they don’t do them, they don’t get paid.”

In a poignant note, one reader took me to task for recommending that older kids could be responsible for using their allowance to buy their own clothes. “My father did this to me and I still resent him for it 30 years later. He was trying to teach me to budget, but all it did was stress me out and, quite honestly, make me feel uncared for. Making kids pay for their own clothes goes too far -- unless it’s some special, expensive item the kid wants.”

Wow. I’d like to think that such an unintended consequence is rare. But, as the reader suggests, one way for parents to avoid it is to cover wardrobe basics but give kids the responsibility for buying discretionary items -- and present it as a privilege, not a burden.

Finally, at the other end of the spectrum, J.D. gets the last word with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek (I think): “Kids should be learning that money comes from an authority figure for free regardless of personal responsibility. This is the lesson they’ll need to function in the adult world."


Financial Tips for Seniors

No matter how careful you are, anyone can become a victim of financial fraud. However, older adults are particularly at risk. Those who commit elder fraud range from loved ones - family members, friends or caregivers - to complete strangers. The best defense against fraud is an educated consumer, so here are some tips for seniors that can help them keep their finances safe.

Keep an eye out for fraud red flags.
Be aware of and watchful for the classic red flags of fraud. These include someone expressing a new or unusual interest in your finances, an offer that seems too good to be true, pressure to send funds quickly by wire transfer, asking for money and insisting on secrecy, and an unexpected email or phone call requesting private information like bank account numbers, social security number and/or date of birth.

Be careful on the phone.
Many times perpetrators of fraud glean the information they need to commit the crime by making unsolicited calls to their victims. Sometimes the callers pretend to be from a legitimate company. For example, the Federal Trade Commission received 1,100 complaints in May about phone scammers claiming to represent the Medicare program and demanding personal information. Many of these callers cited the health care reform law as the reason for the call. Always verify this type of call by requesting the caller's name and then hanging up and calling the number you have for the group (such as on a credit card or billing statement).

Other times, the perpetrator may pretend to be a family member in trouble. These calls often start with a plea for help, such as "I'm in jail and need bail money" or "my wallet was stolen and I can't get home" or similar claims. If you receive a suspicious call like this, always check with another family member about whether the relative in question is really in trouble and needs money.

If you suspect fraud, report it.
If you think you may be a victim of fraud, or if someone has attempted to con you, report it immediately to the police. Many older people make the mistake of not telling anyone they have been victimized, particularly if the crime has been committed by a family member. Others feel embarrassed for being taken in or fear losing their independence. Keep in mind that by telling your story, you may prevent the perpetrator from taking advantage of someone else.

Source: WBA Consumer Column: September 19, 2013

Want to Retire Early? Follow These 5 Steps

Many of us want to retire early. That early retirement age might be 35, 40, or 50, but the idea is to retire sometime before the age of 65 and start enjoying life — before age and infirmity catch up with you.

The reality, though, is that the dream of early retirement will remain a dream unless you take action.

Here are 5 steps to take that will help you reach your goals of early retirement:

1. Make Early Retirement a Priority

You say you want to retire early, but have you made the necessary commitment? Look at the way you use your financial resources. What do your actions say about your financial priorities? If you really want to retire early, you have to make it a priority — and you’ll have to make tradeoffs. That means that you have to give up less important things in the present in order to achieve your long-term priority of early retirement.

2. Be Realistic in Your Expectations

Next, you need to look at your financial situation realistically. If you’re 35, have no savings plan, and $10,000 in your retirement account, you’re going to have to make some very big changes in order to retire by age 50. Look at realistic investment returns (not the 10% predictions that many tout for stocks), and plan for conservative returns. Any plans you make must be based in reality.

3. Create a Plan

Armed with the willingness to commit and realistic expectations, it’s time to create a plan. Your early retirement plan should help you save enough money each month to reach your retirement goals. This means that you have to consider cutting your expenses, and changing what you do with your money, in order to meet the requirements of your plan. And don’t forget about having an investment strategy, as well. Investing is the only way to build up enough wealth to retire early and comfortably.

4. Make Your Plan Work

You need to put effort into making your plan work. This might mean cutting unnecessary expenses from your budget. It might mean spending less and hoarding your money until you reach your goals. It’s true: trying to retire early can mean sacrifice now.

Another way to make your plan work is to increase the amount of money you make. If you know you won’t make your goal of early retirement in 20 years and you just can’t cut it anymore, try to earn more money. Improve your marketability so that you qualify for a pay raise. Start a side hustle. Look for ways to increase your income so that you can put more money towards making your early retirement plan work.

5. Don’t Forget Diversity

Don’t forget diversity as you invest and adhere to your plan. You need the right asset allocation to see retirement portfolio success. It can also help to build diverse sources of income that can help you weather various storms before and during the retirement years. With the right income sources and asset allocation, you can get through setbacks without putting your early retirement goal at risk.


Budgeting for Health Care in Retirement

While the precarious long-term financial health of the Social Security system gets most of the press, the Medicare system is on an equally uneven footing. According to the latest report from the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees, Medicare is projected to exhaust its assets by 2029.1

In 2007, the latest year data is available, Medicare covered less than two-thirds (64%) of the health care services for beneficiaries age 65 and older. The rest of the costs were paid by the recipient, either out-of-pocket, via private insurance, or from other sources.2

And those costs can really add up. The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), a nonprofit organization that studies employee benefits issues and trends, has estimated that a 65-year-old couple who retired in 2010 needs to have saved at least $158,000 to have a 50% chance of having enough money to cover their out-of-pocket health care expenses and health insurance premiums in retirement. To have a 90% chance of meeting those costs, the total rises to a staggering $271,000.

The projections for those nearing retirement are sobering. EBRI estimates that a 55-year-old man needs to save in the range of $109,000-$354,000, while a 55-year-old woman should set aside $147,000-$406,000.

How much you will need depends on a variety of factors, many of which may be out of your control. They include:

  • Your retirement age,
  • Your health status and life expectancy (women on average live longer than men and thus need to set more aside for health care costs),
  • The availability of coverage you can obtain to supplement Medicare, and
  • The rate at which health costs increase.

While currently 90% of all Medicare recipients receive some form of insurance coverage to supplement Parts A and B, employers are increasingly phasing out coverage for retirees.

And Medicare costs continue to rise. Over the past decade, Medicare Part B premiums have averaged an annual increase of about 10%. Premiums are projected to increase by 8.7% in 2011. While future forecasts call for increases in a more reasonable 4%-4.5% range, at that rate, costs would double in about 15 years.2

When doing any retirement needs assessment, be sure to include potential health care costs in your budgeting. A little preparation today can help reduce unpleasant surprises tomorrow.

1Source: Social Security Administration, 2010 Social Security and Medicare Trust Fund Reports, August 2010.

2Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute, Issue Brief, December 2010.

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