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Travel like a local

 

This article is by Reena Ganga of of Wanderplex

Americans are on the move: logging two billion business and leisure trips of 50 miles or more from home for at least one night last year alone, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Today, more people are looking for authentic travel activities – ones that are outside the traditional museum or monument visit. To get more out of your next vacation, consider expert advice on how to break out of the tourist rut and have a truly authentic local experience.

“The single biggest thing you can do to trigger these experiences is to talk to people – talk to locals,” says Reena Ganga, Gadling blogger and Wanderplex Founder. “But since that’s easier said than done, I think there are several ways you can try to foster interactions with locals and put yourself in a position to create great travel memories.”

Hyatt House, an extended stay hotel brand located across, has teamed up with Martha Stewart, to help vacationers learn the tricks of travelling like a local with the following tips:

Reena Ganga’s tips:

* Trek like the locals. Don’t limit yourself to sightseeing buses or taxis. If the locals travel in communal mini-vans or via bike, do it too. Locals who aren’t used to seeing tourists take that form of transport often find their tenacity endearing and will make the effort to talk to them.

* Go off the beaten path. Make time to head to the smaller, secondary cities when you travel. These are often the places that feel the most culturally distinct. If you’re in a big city, head outside the tourist zones and into interesting neighborhoods where the locals spend their time.

* Choose a place that feels like home. Instead of staying in a traditional hotel, think about staying in a serviced apartment or an extended stay hotel, where you have a living room and kitchen. Then head out to the local market and talk to the vendors. You’ll discover the produce and products that are special to that area, and you never know where the conversations will lead.

* Eat with the locals. Don’t just eat at chain restaurants that you’re familiar with or that only have English menus. Go where the locals congregate. Whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant or a street stall, local eateries are likely to have more authentic food and the locals are often eager to tell you about the food, how to eat it, etc.

* Put away technology. If you find yourself lost while traveling, don’t immediately refer to maps on your phone – stop and ask a shopkeeper for directions. If you need a restaurant recommendation, don’t just search online. Ask locals for their tips – it’s a great excuse to strike up a conversation.

Keep in mind, traveling with a local mindset means taking a new approach to packing, too. Stewart offers these smart packing tips:

* Distribute weight evenly. Pack the heaviest items, such as shoes and toiletry bags, at the bottom. Pack socks inside shoes to prevent footwear from getting squished.

* Skip checked baggage. A canvas bag with a sturdy strap is great for packing for any length of trip. Remember, if you forget something, often hotels can help. Hyatt House has the Hyatt Has It – Borrows program, which can supply everything from a phone charger to yoga mats.

* Carry-on with care. Because you never know when weather or unforeseen events will cause travel delays, pack a carry-on bag containing items you would be very unhappy to lose, such as medications and toiletries.

* Stay clean on the run. Travel-size packaged antibacterial towelettes are great for keeping your hands and face clean.

* Regulate wrinkles. Use large drycleaner bags to pack bulky sweaters or cardigans. The plastic helps prevent wrinkling.

* Secure belongings. If you’re traveling a long distance, use a lock and key or combination lock to protect your belongings.

These simple tips make it easy to travel like a local and get the most out of your next vacation. You’ll be delighted by the unique memories and wonderful stories you get by traveling with a local mindset.

12:53 PM - Dec. 15, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Just the economy is getting better....

 

This article is distributed by MCT Information Services.

In the wake of the Great Recession and now five years removed from the financial industry meltdown, have Americans changed their spending habits?

Experts claimed the recession was so severe that it would alter how consumers spent their money. Perhaps they would be more purposeful, even frugal.

Wendy Philleo says she sees some evidence of that. As executive director of the Center for a New American Dream, she’s always talking about redefining what the American Dream is, along with our notion of success “so we’re not constantly trying to keep up with the Joneses.”

A recent survey found the economic recovery has been uneven. About a quarter of consumers have experienced an improvement in their financial health over the last several years, but 1 in 5 have suffered a decline, according to a study sponsored by Chase Blueprint and completed by Aite Group. It also found evidence that Americans are more disciplined about managing finances and are more financially literate.

“The recent recession forced many consumers to re-evaluate how they approach their financial situations,” the study says. Four in 10 consumers are saving more today than they did during the recession because they’re spending less, it found.

Ultimately, however, the answer to how Americans spend their money doesn’t matter to individuals. That’s because personal finance, is, well, personal.

So, the better question is: Are you spending your money the way you want to — on purpose, rather than by accident and habit? Assuming you’re not scraping by just to put food on the table, does your spending match your priorities and your personal values?

“It’s not necessarily ‘Buy nothing,’ ” Philleo says of mindful spending. “It’s ‘Buy differently.’ ” Maybe you value environmentally friendly products or those made in the USA or items produced locally. Maybe you would like a tropical vacation more than eating every lunch and dinner at a restaurant. Maybe you would trade off some consumption to work less.

As Americans take a break between back-to-school spending and holiday shopping — perhaps while also contemplating a purchase of the newest iPhone and other temptations — here are some notions to consider.

—Are the Joneses happy? “I think there’s more awareness that more stuff does not make us happy,” Philleo says. If the mythical Joneses were being honest, you might hear tales of anxiety and debt, as they shop till they drop and compete in the spirit of “whoever dies with the most toys wins.”

“Part of it is finding out what the Joneses have to do to keep up that lifestyle,” she says. “It can be very stressful.”

A growing body of academic research shows that experiences, especially with other people, tend to make us far happier than more stuff. Granted, some people can get a brief “high” from purchasing, but it’s fleeting. By contrast, memories of experiences tend to improve over time — as unpleasant events fade and enjoyable parts remain. So perhaps a plane ticket to see a distant friend is better use of money than another pair of shoes in that same color you already have. Money guru Suze Orman doles out financial advice on a variety of topics, but one constant is her mantra, “People first, then money, then things.”

—Self-audit. What do you spend your money on? Until you know that, you won’t know whether you’re spending money mindfully. Jeff Yeager, author of four books on frugal living, including his latest “How to Retire the Cheapskate Way,” suggests performing a “What the heck was I thinking” audit. Twice a year, he examines his statements and receipts, then asks himself, “If I had it to do over again, would I still have spent that money on that thing?” It’s a great exercise to find money leaks and identify spending triggers. Ultimately, it will allow you to redirect dollars to things you care more about. The result for Yeager after several audits was “each time my list of spending regrets gets shorter and shorter.”

—Tuning out temptation. We’d like to think we’re immune to advertising pitches, but marketers know otherwise. Acknowledging purchasing pressures and limiting your exposure to them is key to spending your money your way, Philleo said. That might mean muting TV commercials during breaks in shows, staying out of the mall and unsubscribing to catalogs and retailer emails. Opt out of credit offers by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              1-888-5-OPT-OUT      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Get off junk mailing lists by going to DMAChoice.org. Mobile app PaperKarma receives generally good reviews for reducing unwanted junk mail. Adblock Plus is a popular Web browser add-on that blocks advertisements. The National Do Not Call registry is at DoNotCall.gov or 888-382-1222 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              888-382-1222      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

—Cooling it. When she desires new clothing she sees in catalogs, Philleo said she cuts out the page and places clippings in a folder. That alone seems to satisfy her urge to splurge. “It’s a nice delay strategy,” she says. One rule of thumb is to wait a day for every $100 an item costs, giving buying urges time to subside.

—Beginning with the end in mind. Setting spending goals sounds like an exercise in drudgery, but it can be fun and fundamental. The easiest way to say no to daily tempting purchases is to have a specific reason to. Your inner voice will say, “I’m not going to buy this new television because I would rather go on the Florida golfing trip with friends in February.”

—Consult your personal calendar and your bank statement. Despite what you tell others, your true priorities are reflected in how you actually spend your time and your money. Are you satisfied with your priorities? You can begin with the literal end in mind too. Imagine you’re on your death bed reflecting on what was important in your life, along with the purchases you made and didn’t make. With that perspective, would you change your current spending habits? Another trick is the 10-10-10 rule — in contemplating a purchase, ask yourself how it will affect your life in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years.

—Asking when enough is enough. Yeager suggests slaying your “enoughasaurus” by asking yourself when you have enough. At what point of accumulating more things can you be content? The question might strike you as profound or dopey, depending on whether you are at a place in life that allows it to resonate. The side benefit of spending more mindfully is that you’ll probably end up spending less and saving more, a good formula for weathering the next economic recession.

11:46 AM - Nov. 7, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Leave a message at the beep

Even with the wide variety of ways to keep in touch, people are busier than ever. Knowing how to leave more effective voicemails is a key business-building skill.

Here are four tips to help you get better results when you leave a message:

Don't ramble. Before you pick up the phone, know your focus. If the voicemail picks up, highlight that important point, leaving the remaining details for the actual discussion.

What's in it for me? Also before you call, make sure you've thought through what the person on the other end cares about most. Craft your message around that singular issue and you'll get attention.

Take it up a notch. There's no need to leave a boring message. A lack of energy in your message could convey disinterest, or worse, laziness. It will take around two seconds to raise your energy level--sit up, straighten your back, take a nice full breath, you can even try standing up. But whatever you do, always smile--voice actors have long used this technique to convey a pleasant, energetic tone.

Phone home. Call your own phone and leave some trial messages--perhaps a new version of another message you left for someone earlier in the day. When you get home, take a mental note on what works, what doesn't, and what you could do to improve. You'll hear it loud and clear.

A little polish on your voice message skills can help increase your productivity, the number of responses you receive, and the reception you get on the call-back.
 

11:36 AM - Nov. 3, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


TSA PreCheck makes it easier to get through airports

This article is from FindLaw.

The TSA’s PreCheck program is set to expand to 60 more airports this year, reports Reuters. So how can you take advantage of it?

The Transportation Security Administration’s expedited screening program is already available at 40 airports, and with the upcoming expansion, it will soon operate at 100 airports in 40 states, along with Guam and Puerto Rico.

TSA also plans to increase the number of PreCheck lanes at participating airports in the coming weeks.

What Is TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck is an expedited version of the agency’s usual screening process. Eligible travelers who can use PreCheck can keep their shoes, light outerwear, and belt on as they go through security. They also do not need to take their laptop computers out of their cases, nor do they need to remove their appropriately-sized liquids from their carry-on bags.

In providing this option at more airports across the country, TSA hopes it will ensure a smoother, more effective, and more efficient security check.

Who’s Eligible for TSA PreCheck?

There are a number of ways to determine eligibility for the TSA’s PreCheck program. U.S. citizens of frequent flyer programs can be invited to apply by participating airlines. Also, U.S. citizens who are also members of a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Program, and Canadian citizens who are members of the NEXUS expedited travel program, can qualify for PreCheck as well.

In addition, any U.S. citizen can apply for PreCheck. The process includes an online application, fingerprints, and an $85 enrollment fee for a five-year term of eligibility. Once approved, the PreCheck status will be embedded into the bar code of the PreCheck traveler’s boarding pass.

A Few Caveats

Of course, TSA can also revoke or suspend one’s PreCheck status at any time for reasons including, but not limited to, security issues at the gate or for criminal convictions since their PreCheck status was granted. TSA also reserves the right to randomly ask PreCheck passengers to instead go through regular security.

However, keep in mind that not all airlines are participating in the program. PreCheck is currently only available for passengers on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, United, US Airways, and Virgin America, according to the TSA.

3:21 PM - Oct. 16, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


How to reduce taxes

 

This article is by Rao K. Garuda

Taxes account for the most expensive burden you’ll experience in your lifetime, says engineer-turned-independent financial planning coach Rao K. Garuda.

In addition to federal, state, city and death taxes, there are 59 other varieties. Relatively few taxes, however, account for the bulk of the burden on citizens, says Garuda, whose clients include retirees, people planning for retirement, physicians, business owners and other professionals.

He thinks his fellow Americans deserve a shot at keeping more of their money.

“When I came to the United States, I had less than $10 in my pocket, but I had an excellent education as an engineer. When I married a physician, I realized how expensive it is to make a good living here,” says Garuda, (www.aca-incorp.com), who quickly applied his analytical engineering mind to understanding the complicated tax system.

“Since this country has given me so much, I wanted to repay my fellow Americans with strategies for keeping more of their own money.”

Garuda identifies some of the most expensive and common tax hurdles affecting Americans and offers advice on troubleshooting our tax system.

• Problem: The IRA tax: great on the front end, terrible down the road.

Solution: An IRA is tax-deferred, which means it will accumulate value over time. But when you withdraw from it, you will be heavily penalized with high taxes. That’s why you should convert this asset to a Roth IRA, which allows your money to grow tax-free. Since the money put in was already taxed you don’t have to pay any taxes when you take it out, and, overall, you’ll save a significant amount of money.

• Problem: Too many people don’t take advantage of creating tax-free income via insurance products.

Solution: From a financial perspective, retirees and professional planners run into a significant issue: seniors, blessed with good health, who outlive their money. But with certain insurance products, retirees can create tax-free income while covering the later years of retirement – and protect their wealth if they become severely ill. There are certain insurance products tied to the stock market that can help people accumulate assets in the long run. Many of these products offer a tremendous upside for potential without the downside of increased risk.

• Problem: Missed opportunities – people who don’t take advantage of free money in a 401k.

Solution: Perhaps the company you work for is, like many others, bureaucratic to the point of being impractical. Your employer may not have done the best job communicating details about benefits such as matching 401k contributions, or you may not have taken the time to learn them. Now’s the time; this is free money! If your employer is offering a 50 percent match on your first 6 percent of contributions to the 401k, you should be contributing at least 6 percent. Educate yourself on your company’s plan so you can take full advantage.

2:37 PM - Oct. 12, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Just do it already

This article is from Twelve Week Year.

You know that Big Important Thing you want (and maybe desperately need) to do? Maybe it’s changing careers, or writing a book, or saving for retirement, or finally building the dream home you’ve talked about for years. Ever wondered why you can’t seem to just get it done? Your excuse might be that you don’t know enough to make it happen. That’s not true, says Brian Moran: Your failure to meet your goals has nothing to do with what you do or don’t know—and everything to do with how well you execute.

“People say knowledge is power but it absolutely isn’t,” says Moran, coauthor along with Michael Lennington of the New York Times best seller The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months. “Execution is. Despite our $60 billion diet and fitness industry, 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. The fact is, most people know how to get in shape—eat better, exercise more—they just don’t do it.

“You can be smart and have access to lots of information and great ideas; you can be well connected, work hard, and have lots of natural talent, but in the end, you have to execute,” he adds. “Execution is the single greatest differentiator between great lives and mediocre ones.”

Moran says most people have the capacity to double or triple their income just by consistently applying what they already know. Despite this, we continue to chase new ideas thinking the next one is the one that will magically make it all come together—when what we really need to do is apply the Nike slogan to our lives.

So why don’t we just do it? Moran says you’re dropping the “execution ball” for the same reason companies can’t meet their goals: You’re thinking about time in the wrong way.

“We tend to think we have all the time in the world,” says Moran. “Let’s say you have a baby and you have all these vague notions about saving for college. Well, before you know it, he’s 12 years old and you don’t have a penny saved. Quite simply, we don’t do what doesn’t seem urgent.”

The 12 Week Year,offers a new way to think about time and how you use it. In a nutshell, plan your goals in 12 week increments rather than 365 day years. When you do so, you’re far more likely to feel a healthy sense of urgency that gets you focused. And whether your goal is of the business or personal variety, you’ll get far more done in far less time—and you’ll feel a lot less stressed and a lot more in control.

Read on for a few tips on how you can better tackle life’s big to-dos.

Envision a future that’s worth the pain of change. The number-one thing that you will have to sacrifice to be great, to achieve what you are capable of, and to execute your plans, is your comfort. Therefore, the critical first step to executing well is creating and maintaining a compelling vision of the future that you want even more than you desire your own short-term comfort. Then and only then can you align your shorter-term goals and plans with that long-term vision.

“If you are going to perform at a high level, take new ground, and be great, then you better have a vision that is compelling,” advises Moran. “One way to get there is by asking, ‘What if?’ Doing so allows you to entertain new possibilities and begin to connect with the benefits. If you’re going to create a breakthrough—if you’re going to reach the next level—you will need to move through fear, uncertainty, and discomfort. It is your personal vision that keeps you in the game when things become difficult.

“Once you have your vision, stay in touch with it,” he adds. “Print it out and keep it with you. Review it each morning and update it every time you discover ways to make it more vivid and meaningful to you. And share it with others. Doing so will increase your commitment to it.”

Live with intentional imbalance. How many articles, books, and blog posts have you read emphasizing the importance of establishing work/life balance? A lot, right? But where much of the advice on creating work/life balance goes wrong is around the idea of equality. Often, we’re told what we need to do in order to spend equal time in each area of our lives. The result is often unproductive and frustrating. Life balance is not about equal time in each area; life balance is more about intentional imbalance.

“Life balance is achieved when you are purposeful about how and where you spend your time, energy, and effort,” explains Moran. “At different times in your life, you will choose to focus on one area over another, and that’s perfectly fine, provided it’s intentional. Life has different seasons, each with its own set of challenges and blessings. The 12 Week Year is a terrific process to help you live a life of intentional imbalance. Think about what could be different for you if every 12 weeks you focused on a few key areas in your life and made significant improvement.”

Make sure you’re committed, not merely interested. There is a humorous anecdote about commitments involving a chicken and a pig at breakfast time. The chicken has contributed the egg and is therefore merely interested in the breakfast; the pig, however, contributes the bacon, and is thus completely committed. Kept commitments benefit both parties involved by improving relationships, strengthening integrity, and building self-confidence. Commitments are powerful and, oftentimes, life changing.

“When you’re merely interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit, but when you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results,” notes Moran. “There’s no denying that at that breakfast the pig is all in. And that’s how you must approach the commitments you take on as part of your 12 week plans.”

Put hard (and short) deadlines on what you need to get done. The annual execution cycle many organizations embrace lulls people into believing that they can put things off—critical activity—and still accomplish what they desire, still achieve their goals. It sets one deadline, year-end, which in January—heck, even in July—still feels too far away to spur you into action. But consider the rush of productivity that occurs when a deadline you have to meet draws closer.

“In many companies, during the final five or six weeks of the year, there is a frantic push to end strong and to kick off the new year with gusto,” says Moran. “It’s an exciting and productive time. The problem is this urgency exists for just a handful of weeks in a 365 day year—but it doesn’t have to. When a company sets deadlines for every 12 weeks rather than every 12 months, that excitement, energy, and focus happen all year long. And this strategy works with all goals, not just business goals.

“The great thing about having a 12 Week Year is that the deadline is always near enough that you never lose sight of it,” he adds. “It provides a time horizon that is long enough to get things done, yet short enough to create a sense of urgency and a bias for action.”

Write down your plan. It lets you make your mistakes on paper. A “plan” in your head isn’t really a plan. It’s wishful thinking. That’s because life gets in the way, and if you don’t have a written plan, you will almost certainly drop the ball in the first few days. The world is noisy, the unexpected happens, distractions arise, your innate desire for comfort tugs at you, and you lose focus on the things you know you should do. But if you sit down at the start of your 12 weeks and write out your strategy, it forces you to think through potential pitfalls up front.

“With a written plan, you make your mistakes on paper, which reduces miscues during implementation,” says Moran. “You no longer waste time on unimportant activities because your plan triggers your actions. Your action choices are made proactively at the beginning of the 12 weeks when you create your plan. In short, a 12 week plan helps you to get more of the right things done each day, and ultimately it helps you reach your goals faster and with greater impact.”

Give each goal its own set of tactics. The way your plan is structured and written impacts your ability to effectively execute. Effective planning strikes a working balance between too much complexity and too little detail. Your plan should start by identifying your overall goals for the 12 weeks. (Yes, you may have more than one goal during that time frame.) Then, you’ll need to determine the tactics needed to meet each goal.

“Break your 12 week goal down to its individual parts,” suggests Moran. “For example, if your 12 week goal is to earn $10,000 and lose 10 pounds, you should write tactics for your income goal and your weight loss goal separately. Tactics are the daily to-dos that drive the attainment of your goals. Tactics must be specific, actionable, and include due dates and assigned responsibilities. The 12 week plan is structured so that if the tactics are completed on a timely basis the goals are achieved.”

Take it one week at a time. To guide you on your journey to completing your tactics and meeting your goals, you’ll need weekly plans. Your weekly plan encompasses your strategies and priorities, your long-term and short-term tasks, and your commitments in the context of time. It helps you focus on the elements of your plan that must happen each week to keep you on track with your 12 Week Year goals. Your goals in turn keep you on track with your vision. Everything is powerfully aligned.

“Start each day with your weekly plan,” advises Moran. “Check in with it several times throughout the day. If you’ve scheduled a tactic to be completed that day, don’t go home until it is done. This ensures that the critically important tasks, your plan tactics, are completed each week.”

Keep track of your efforts, not your results. You’ve probably heard or read the mantra “What gets measured gets done.” It’s true: Measurement drives the execution process. After all, can you imagine the CEO of a large corporation not knowing the numbers? As the CEO of your own life and business, you need to know your numbers. But don’t measure your results (how many pounds you lost or how much commission you earned)—instead, measure your level of execution (the extent to which you stuck to your diet and exercise plan and the number of sales calls you made).

“You have greater control over your actions than your results, and your results are created by your actions,” explains Moran. “To measure your execution, you need to know to what degree you followed through on each week’s tactics. This allows you to pinpoint breakdowns and respond quickly. Unlike results, which can lag weeks, months, and in some cases years behind your actions, an execution measure provides more immediate feedback, which allows you to make game-time adjustments much faster.”

Block your time. The 12 Week Year is designed to help you spend your time with more intention. That said, many of us engage each day on its own terms. In other words, we satisfy the various demands of the day as they are presented, spending whatever time is needed to respond without giving much thought as to the relative value of the activity. Moran says you can regain control of your day through time blocking.

“Basically, you block your days into three kinds of blocks—strategic blocks, buffer blocks, and breakout blocks,” he explains. “A strategic block is uninterrupted time that is scheduled into each week. During this block you accept no phone calls, no faxes, no emails, no visitors, no anything: You do only the activities on your plan. Buffer blocks are designed to deal with all of the unplanned and low-value activities—like most email and voicemail—that arise throughout a typical day. Breakout blocks provide free time for you to use to rest and rejuvenate.”

Finally, says Moran, embracing the 12 Week Year will help you rethink your multitasking ways. If you’re accustomed to sending emails during meetings, juggling texting conversations, and rushing from one place to the next, you’ll be shocked by how much getting focused on what matters most will change your life.

“Most people look back and realize that with all their efforts to not miss anything, they were missing everything,” says Moran. “They see that nothing was getting their full attention, not the important projects, not the important conversations, and not the important people.

“We must all remember that the current moment—the eternal right now—is all we have,” he adds. “The future is created now; our dreams are achieved in the moment. Consider Olympic great Michael Phelps: He didn’t achieve greatness when he won the 18th gold medal or when he won his first. He achieved greatness the moment he chose to put the effort into his training. Results are not the attainment of greatness, but simply confirmation of it. That’s why the 12 Week Year is so pivotal. It provides a structure that helps you do the things you need to do to be great.”

2:23 PM - Oct. 10, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Credit union or bank?

 

This article is by Realtors Federal Credit Union.

For more than 100 years, credit unions have been helping people achieve their dreams. Whether it’s to help them buy a home, buy a car or send their child to college, credit unions return what they earn to their members in the form of lower rates on loans, higher rates on savings and fewer service fees.

Today, especially during these volatile economic times, credit unions are viewed as both safe and strong financial institutions. In the past year alone, the credit union industry added more than 2 million new members (customers) and surpassed $1 trillion in assets. Consumers are choosing credit unions because of their cooperative business model and philosophy. As member-owned, not-for-profit cooperatives, credit unions exist to benefit members (not stockholders.) In other words, they are designed to put people over profit. In addition, credit unions are known for delivering warm “family-like” customer service to their member base.

Credit unions differ from commercial banks in that they do not issue stock or pay dividends to outside stockholders. Earnings are returned directly to members in the form of lower loan rates, higher interest on deposits and fewer fees. Credit unions also typically have low or no minimum account balance requirements, making their accounts both more attractive and cost-effective than those offered by banks.

Funds on deposit at both commercial banks and credit unions are federally insured. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) provide individual depositors with deposit insurance up to $250,000 backed by the full faith and credit of the United State Government (same insurance, different agencies). The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) is an independent federal agency that oversees credit unions and insures accounts in federal and most state-chartered credit unions across the country through NCUSIF.

Accessibility can be an area where banks and credit unions often differ. Since credit unions are often smaller in asset size than banks and have fewer locations, many consumers may be concerned that they will not have complete access to their credit union accounts or convenient banking options such as fee-free ATMs for cash withdrawals when needed. However, today, with technological capabilities this is no longer an issue.

Ultimately, what makes credit unions unique is that we are chartered with serving a particular field of membership—we are not open to the general public

2:28 PM - Aug. 23, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Consider a road trip vacation

 

This article is by Alisa Abecassis of Explore All 50.

Not sure how to make vacations and school breaks count with your family?

Discover your own backyard with a family road trip, advises veteran traveler and mother of three Alisa Abecassis.

“With busy lives and, perhaps, lingering anxiety about job security, a family vacation may not be parents’ top priority, but if they can pull it off, even if only for a few days, it can be a truly rich experience for both parents and children,” says Abecassis, who recently launched ExploreAll50.com, a website filled with resources for travel in the United States.

A modest investment of time and money creates a lifelong return for each family member, says Abecassis, who began traveling with her three children as a way of forging new bonds with them.

“I’ve picked up a lot of great tips not only for families, but also for any group or individual who are hungry to eat, drink, sleep and breathe more of what our country has to offer,” she says.

Abecassis gives four reasons why parents should take their kids on a road trip:

• Memories: Visiting the same amusement park over and over again isn’t the stuff of lasting memories. Experiencing some of North America’s greatest natural wonders is! A few years back, Abecassis began planning themed trips to specific regions of the country. She started in the Pacific Northwest, including Washington and Oregon, which featured dramatic coastal views of waves and sand dunes; farther inland included stops at volcanoes. But the themes can be anything. Most recently, her July 4 theme was “Rebels and Revolutionary Ideas,” and others have included “Pioneers in the Heartland” and “Lewis & Clark and the New Frontier.” The themed trips will continue for the Abecassis clan until they’ve visited each state.

• Bonding: With three teenage children, Abecassis recognized a need for new collective experiences as a family. “Perhaps the most common experience all parents share is how quickly children grow up,” she says. “It won’t be long before they’re out of the house and having their own families.” This is especially true for a family, or an individual member, who has experienced a rough patch. “After a death in the family, divorce, or some other painful life event, every day is an opportunity for setting a new tone,” she says.

• Tangible history lessons: Ignorance of U.S. history by the native population is a problem recognized by many historians and new citizens alike. “For understanding how and why our country works, it is necessary to grasp how it came to be – from the ideas driving our founding fathers to bringing law and order to the Wild West,” she says. Physically being at historical sites – smelling the grass at Gettysburg or seeing the living conditions at the Alamo – breathes life into the past.

• Feeding the domestic economy: Many Americans set their sights on exotic and, sometimes, less-than-safe destinations overseas. Confusing roads to nowhere, foreign diseases and cultural missteps are all potential pitfalls in foreign travel. Why not stay in the states, which are safe and family-friendly, and help out an economy that could use your dollars? “America is arguably the most diverse place on the planet; why not witness firsthand what makes us who we are?”

10:50 AM - Aug. 21, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Grow your net worth

This article is by Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers.

A report released earlier this year from the Chicago-based Spectrem Group estimated there were 8.99 million households in the United States with a net worth of at least $1 million at the end of 2012.

A contrasting report issued late last year from the American Payroll Association showed 68 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. More than two-thirds of the 30,600 people surveyed said it would be somewhat difficult or very difficult if their paychecks were delayed for a week.

Is it possible for that average American to become a millionaire?

American millionaires are not all greedy corporate executives. Dr. Thomas Stanley has studied the habits of wealthy people for the past 30 years. His groundbreaking research has uncovered the truth about the lifestyles of the wealthiest Americans.

• Four out of five millionaires are self-made.
• Many millionaires own their own business and consider themselves to be entrepreneurs.
• Their companies are rarely glamorous and are more likely to be very ordinary jobs, like paving contractors and pest control businesses.

Becoming a millionaire most likely doesn’t just happen to you. Rather, it takes planning and perseverance. Here are some steps you can take to grow your net worth.

• Live below your means. This step is so obvious we shouldn’t need to be reminded. Unfortunately, most people never learn to spend less than they make. Unless you discipline yourself to save something from every paycheck, you will never be able to accumulate money that can work for you. The secret to living below your means is to have a budget and work your budget every month.

• Save a minimum of 10 percent. George Clason’s classic book “The Richest Man in Babylon” tells the story of a man who wanted to become wealthy. He started by saving 10 percent of his income and eventually became wealthy by having his money work for him. Research has shown many of today’s millionaires accumulated their wealth by saving and disciplining themselves to increase their savings every year.

• Invest your savings in businesses. Your savings should be put into growth-oriented investments. Not everyone has the ability or desire to start and run their own business. However, we all have the opportunity to own businesses by buying stock. Stock prices can be volatile but you can minimize the volatility by owning stocks through diversified mutual funds. Investing on a regular basis allows you to take advantage of the stock market downturns through dollar cost averaging.

• Don’t follow the herd. The Great Panic of 2008 turned out to be one of the greatest buying opportunities. Stock prices fell by more than 50 percent during this downturn and have recovered to move on to new highs. Unfortunately, many investors sold their stocks during this period instead of buying as evidenced by the net redemptions of stock mutual funds which totaled in the billions. This prompted legendary investor Warren Buffett to write in an op-ed article for the Wall Street Journal “A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”

• Hire a financial adviser. It’s not easy to stay the course. You often need an independent third party to remind you of your goals and help you make the right financial moves — especially during times of great uncertainty. A good financial adviser will try to help you develop a good investment strategy and keep you focused when you need it most. Investors often make their biggest mistakes by allowing emotions to interfere with good judgment. A financial adviser can help you keep your emotions in check.

Becoming a millionaire is not easy or there would be more of them! It takes discipline to live below your means and to save and invest. One of the millionaires interviewed by Dr. Stanley never made more than $60,000 per year.

“I have accumulated most of my net worth by living below my means,” she told him. “I have everything I want, but I have learned not to want too much.”

1:59 PM - Jul. 30, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Push back when fear pushes you

This article is by Jay Platt of Living Unstoppable.

What if you could overcome your fears? What would you do, and how different would you be?

Most people have no idea of what they’re capable of; I think they’re almost trained by fear to not attempt the amazing things they dream of,” says Jay Platt, whose feats include swimming across the Mississippi River while handcuffed, shackled and blindfolded. He’s subject of the new documentary, “Living Unstoppable.”

Platt was living his dream as a U.S. Marine when a cancer syndrome called von Hippel Lindau (VHL) exploded like a bomb on his life. It caused tumors in his brain and on his spine, as well as kidney cancer and the loss of his left eye.

“I was mad at the world, and maybe part of me was afraid of the fact that I would be considered a handicapped person,” says Platt, who was retired from the Marines due to his health.

After a personal journey of acceptance, however, Platt went on accomplish feats many world-class athletes wouldn’t consider. Along with his record-breaking Mississippi swim, he swam from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco with his hands and feet tied, and he was one of fewer than 300 people to have hiked the 2,100-mile southbound Appalachian Trail.

He talks about five areas that helped him overcome fear and anxiety in order to rebuild his body, mind and spirit.

• Focus on the joys in life: When you realize it’s not all about you, the annoying voice that tells you to be afraid begins to shrivel and loses its poison. While still reeling from his diagnosis and its effects on his life, Platt heard the carefree laughter of a severely handicapped girl being pushed in her wheelchair by her mother. “‘Listen to the birds, Momma,’ I heard her say – she was just so happy to experience that simple pleasure,” he says. “That, more than anything, sent me on a positive path.” His family, friends and those to whom he donates money through various charities gives Platt strength.

• Spiritual preparation: Just as Platt trains physically for his feats, he finds it essential to work out spiritually in order to stand up to the fear and anxieties that life’s trials bring. To that end, he surrounds himself with positive messages and positive people, including his friend Les Brown, the influential author of the self-help book, “Live Your Dreams.”

• Use setbacks as a motivator: When something bad happens, one of the most common responses is fear—fear that it will happen again; fear that you’re less than you used to be; or irrational fear. Platt always knew he’d be a Marine; when he was forced to retire early, he had to recalibrate his entire life. “One of my favorite quotes is ‘What are you doing now?’—It doesn’t matter what you used to be,” he says. Platt is always looking forward to achieving his next goal.

• Remember a greater good: When he started experiencing complications from VHL, which first manifested in his left eye, Platt promised God that he’d devote his life to others if he got through the scare. He has kept that promise – his Appalachian Trail hike alone raised $109,000 for charity. “Staying true to a promise might be the most emotionally solid aid to overcoming fear,” Platt says.

1:55 PM - Jul. 28, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Innovation in daily living

 

This article is by Robert Evans Wilson Jr. of Jump Start Your Meeting.

Recently, a reader wrote me to suggest that rather than trying to encourage someone, a better way to motivate them is to issue a challenge. So, I felt challenged to write about it.

Whenever I think of laying down a challenge, I think of a classic story about Charles Schwab, the magnate of Bethlehem Steel. One day, he was visiting his least productive mill to discover why it was underperforming. During his inspection, he discovered that everything seemed to be in order: the workers all knew their jobs, the equipment was top-notch, and the manager highly educated. Despite all of that, it was producing far behind all his others.

He ended his tour of the facility a few minutes before shift change. Stopping in front of one the furnaces, he asked a worker, “How many heats has your shift made today?” “Six,” the man replied. Schwab then asked for a piece of chalk. He took it, wrote a large number “6″ on the floor, then left the building.

When the second shift arrived, they saw the chalked “6″ on the floor, and inquired about it. “The big boss was in here today,” said one of the men. “He asked us how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down.”

The next morning Schwab visited the same mill. He saw that the “6” had been erased by the second shift and a large number “7” written in its place. He returned to the mill again at the end of first shift, where he saw that the “7” had been replaced with a “10.” With a piece of chalk, Schwab started a lively competition that continued until that mill was producing more than any other.

This particular challenge worked because it pitted the esprit de corps of two teams against each other. I’m not sure that particular challenge would work today with the added burden of government regulations and union rules.

I also believe that a challenge does not stand alone as a motivator. There has to be something behind it. It may be pride, prestige, or fear that drives the need to overcome the obstacle.

Challenges are always obstacles whether it is an athletic, academic, intellectual, work-related, health-related, a personal goal or a personal tragedy. Sometimes the challenge is given by a boss, a team mate, a spouse, or simply the zeitgeist.

Many times a challenge will be issued with the following words: “I’ll bet you can’t…” or “I dare you to…”

A challenger draws a line in the sand and defies us to cross it. Hmmm, isn’t that what the game of American football is all about?

The advertising industry loves to use a challenge to get us to try their product or service. We frequently see words such as “Take the Taste Test,” or “Give Us 30 Days and You’ll Become a Believer.” I remember this one from Gillette: “Take the SensorExcel Challenge: One shave and we bet you’ll get rid of your disposable razor for good.” Perhaps the most famous challenge ad is this one: “Be All That You Can Be: In The Army.”

We love fun challenges such as problems that stimulate our ingenuity: crossword puzzles and sudoko for example. We enjoy the challenge of improving our skill at games and sports. OK, the love/hate challenge of golf not withstanding.

Ultimately, all our challenges are self-given because it is human nature to want to improve. Pablo Picasso said it best, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

The personal challenges we give ourselves create the journey known as life. Enjoy the pitfalls and peaks as they come because as Leo Buscaglia, author and professor, put it most bluntly, “Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time.”

I challenge you to heed his advice and get on with the important things in your life.

12:04 PM - Jul. 14, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Stay sane during financial ups and downs

 

You don’t have to be a trader on the world’s markets to experience the financial roller coaster, says mathematician Lambros Klouvidakis.

“The world has struggled in recent years to absorb the many stresses and negative influences on global markets and everyone’s affected. Look at the senior citizens who lost as much as 40 percent of their retirement investments!” he says. “At one point during the crisis, the Dow Jones Industrial lost 50 percent of its value in less than a week; unemployment shop up more than 5 percentage points and consumer spending, at its worst, dropped by 50 percent.”

Traders, however, gain and lose on a regular basis, and we can learn a lot from their experience, Klouvidakis says.

The Canadian market analyst has spent more than 12 years, producing more than 9,000 pages of notes, developing a formula called Semathy that accurately calculates forthcoming exchange rates.

Klouvidakis offers tips for traders and anyone else experiencing major shifts in their finances:

• Set the right tone immediately. If you’ve lost a chunk of money and your lifestyle is already compromised, understand that you can get it back. Rather than wasting energy trying to blame someone or something, focus your efforts on problem-solving. Not only does this mindset put time to good use, it also diverts you from negative and painful feelings. On the flip side, if you have recently come into a large amount of money, smart investments and shrewd spending are equally important.

• Take stock of your human assets. Remember, you have important assets that don’t show up on the net worth statement. Education, experience, skills and knowledge are hard to put a dollar value on, but don’t overlook them as a resource. Talk to other traders about ways to use strengths and skills during this time of income change and in the future.

• Share the burden & ask for advice. During times of stress, the support of friends and acquaintances is critical. New traders, for example, have difficulty revealing their vulnerability and inexperience to more seasoned traders, but when they do, they open the door to receiving excellent advice. The same is true for those who are not marketplace professionals but need encouragement.

• Accept change and uncertainty (be flexible). Income changes require that we prepare for a journey of uncertainty. We often cling to the very things that hold us back. Traders who adjust well to change know when to hold on to a position and when to let go. Many of us grew up believing strength meant holding on, when it often takes more strength to let go and move on.

• Don’t forget your family. Trading, looking for a job or studying for a new career can be consuming, but even when things have gone bad — especially when things have gone bad — stay involved with your family and create stability at home. What’s good for the family is also good for you. In difficult times, new traders tend to take others for granted and forget to provide the attention they need and deserve. If necessary, make a strong conscious effort to pull together with family and work through tough times.

12:01 PM - Jul. 10, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


How to grow your net worth

This article is by Rick Rodgers, Certified Financial Planner

A report released earlier this year from the Chicago-based Spectrem Group estimated there were 8.99 million households in the United States with a net worth of at least $1 million at the end of 2012.

A contrasting report issued late last year from the American Payroll Association showed 68 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. More than two-thirds of the 30,600 people surveyed said it would be somewhat difficult or very difficult if their paychecks were delayed for a week.

Is it possible for that average American to become a millionaire?

American millionaires are not all greedy corporate executives. Dr. Thomas Stanley has studied the habits of wealthy people for the past 30 years. His groundbreaking research has uncovered the truth about the lifestyles of the wealthiest Americans.

• Four out of five millionaires are self-made.
• Many millionaires own their own business and consider themselves to be entrepreneurs.
• Their companies are rarely glamorous and are more likely to be very ordinary jobs, like paving contractors and pest control businesses.

Becoming a millionaire most likely doesn’t just happen to you. Rather, it takes planning and perseverance. Here are some steps you can take to grow your net worth.

• Live below your means. This step is so obvious we shouldn’t need to be reminded. Unfortunately, most people never learn to spend less than they make. Unless you discipline yourself to save something from every paycheck, you will never be able to accumulate money that can work for you. The secret to living below your means is to have a budget and work your budget every month.

• Save a minimum of 10 percent. George Clason’s classic book “The Richest Man in Babylon” tells the story of a man who wanted to become wealthy. He started by saving 10 percent of his income and eventually became wealthy by having his money work for him. Research has shown many of today’s millionaires accumulated their wealth by saving and disciplining themselves to increase their savings every year.

• Invest your savings in businesses. Your savings should be put into growth-oriented investments. Not everyone has the ability or desire to start and run their own business. However, we all have the opportunity to own businesses by buying stock. Stock prices can be volatile but you can minimize the volatility by owning stocks through diversified mutual funds. Investing on a regular basis allows you to take advantage of the stock market downturns through dollar cost averaging.

• Don’t follow the herd. The Great Panic of 2008 turned out to be one of the greatest buying opportunities. Stock prices fell by more than 50 percent during this downturn and have recovered to move on to new highs. Unfortunately, many investors sold their stocks during this period instead of buying as evidenced by the net redemptions of stock mutual funds which totaled in the billions. This prompted legendary investor Warren Buffett to write in an op-ed article for the Wall Street Journal “A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”

• Hire a financial adviser. It’s not easy to stay the course. You often need an independent third party to remind you of your goals and help you make the right financial moves — especially during times of great uncertainty. A good financial adviser will try to help you develop a good investment strategy and keep you focused when you need it most. Investors often make their biggest mistakes by allowing emotions to interfere with good judgment. A financial adviser can help you keep your emotions in check.

Becoming a millionaire is not easy or there would be more of them! It takes discipline to live below your means and to save and invest. One of the millionaires interviewed by Dr. Stanley never made more than $60,000 per year.

“I have accumulated most of my net worth by living below my means,” she told him. “I have everything I want, but I have learned not to want too much.”

11:41 AM - Jul. 6, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


What will make you happy?

 

This article is by psychology coach Lynda Wallace.

The idea of a happy and meaningful life has become unnecessarily complicated in some circles, says author and certified positive psychology coach Lynda Wallace, author of “A Short Course in Happiness: Practical Steps to a Happier Life.”

“Happiness has been appropriately cited as a goal in political debates on issues from taxation to the social safety net to marriage equality, but the debate is often confused,” says Wallace, whose book topped Amazon’s Self-Help Best Seller list.

“Some people claim that happiness is all in your DNA or bank account. The truth is that happiness is largely a matter of everyday choices and actions. There are straightforward, well-researched and effective things every one of us can do to create greater happiness in our lives and in the lives of those we care about.”

The essential elements of a happy life are not mysterious, she says.

Research shows that the happiest people do four basic things that make the difference: they focus on what is good and positive in their lives; cope effectively with life’s inevitable challenges; develop strong relationships; and pursue meaningful goals.

“We can all become happier by putting our efforts into these areas,” Wallace says.

One of the first steps we can take is to get past some of the common misperceptions about happiness that can stand in our way. Wallace offers these four examples.

• Misconception 1: Happiness is about getting the big things right. It’s natural to think that if we were suddenly rich, beautiful and living on the beach somewhere, we’d be happy. But that type of good fortune turns out to have a surprisingly small impact on happiness. The happiest people are most often not those in the most enviable circumstances, but those who cultivate positive emotional outlooks and actions. So how can we do it? “Take concrete steps to practice optimism, gratitude, kindness and self-compassion in your everyday life,” says Wallace. “The cumulative effect of those everyday choices can have a tremendous impact on how you experience your life.”

• Misconception 2: Happy people suppress negative emotions. Happy people actually experience sadness, grief, worry and other so-called negative emotions nearly as frequently as unhappy people do. The difference is what happens when those feelings occur. Happier people are generally able to experience negative feelings without losing hope for the future. “They give themselves permission to feel sad, angry, or lonely, but they remain confident that things will get better. As a result, their sadness progresses into hope and action rather than regressing into anxiety and despair.”

• Misconception 3: Pursuing happiness is self-centered. The strongest of all conclusions drawn by researchers into emotional well-being is that our happiness is determined more by our relationships with other people than by any other single factor. The happiest people build their lives around good, trusting relationships. “If other priorities are getting in the way of your relationships,” says Wallace, “take steps to shift the balance back to where it will really make a difference.”

• Misconception 4: I’ll be happy when I achieve my goals. Have you ever noticed that when someone wins the Super Bowl or an Academy Award, or when you achieve a long-sought ambition, that wonderful sense of accomplishment and happiness seems to fade faster than you’d expect? “That’s just the way our brains work,” says Wallace. “Committed goal pursuit is one of the keys to a happy life, but most of the happiness we get from striving for goals comes while we’re making progress toward them, not after we achieve them. That’s why it’s so important that we choose goals that are in synch with what we love and value, and that we make a conscious effort to enjoy them along the way.”

9:11 AM - Jun. 30, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Keeping summer utility bills low

 

This article is by Terri Bennett of Do Your Part.

It’s getting downright hot outside these days. Don’t despair over rising utility bills as you try to keep cool inside your home. Here are my top five ways to slash summer utility bills as you Do Your Part to beat the heat.

1) Make Your Thermostat Work for You
First, program your thermostat to work around your family’s summer schedule — set it a few degrees higher when no one is home, so you’re not cooling an empty house. Contrary to popular belief, your cooling system doesn’t struggle to make up the difference. Or install and program a programmable thermostat so you won’t worry about changing the thermostat every time you leave your home.

2) Don’t Forget the Fan
A fan is another effective way to make it feel cooler in your home. One ceiling fan alone can make a room feel as much as seven degrees cooler. If you raise your thermostat by two degrees and use a ceiling fan, you can lower cooling costs by up to 14 percent. The fan’s blades should spin counter-clockwise during the hotter months, generating a stronger breeze directly under the fan. Of course, don’t waste energy and turn the fan off when you leave the room. In humid climates, using a dehumidifier will also make it feel cooler by lowering the relative humidity inside your home.

3) Make Your Current Windows More Efficient
Closing the blinds and curtains during the day can also help you keep cool. When you block the sunlight you can reduce the heat coming into your home by as much as 40 percent. To maximize your benefit, make sure the side of the curtain facing the window is white and sun reflecting. You can also choose curtains with a thermal lining for additional insulation.

4) Keep Cool in the Kitchen
Your kitchen is another big source of heat inside your home. Avoid running your appliances such as the dishwasher (or clothes dryer) during the day. Instead, run it at night and only when it is fully loaded. Instead of heating up the oven, fire-up the grill to keep it cool inside. Using the microwave is another way to whip up those side dishes without creating more heat in the kitchen.

5) Trees Make a Big Impact
Finally, plant a tree (or two) near the southwest corner of your home. Choose a deciduous tree that will shade your home in the summer and shed its leaves in the fall to allow in warm winter sunlight. Plan for the tree to grow there for decades so don’t plant it too close to your home. Find out the approximate full size of the canopy and plant it accordingly.

Combined, these tips can dramatically reduce the amount of energy you use to keep your home cool. And you’ll hardly break a sweat as you Do Your Part to make them work for you.

9:05 AM - Jun. 28, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Safe sun screen

 

This article is from Terri Bennett of Do Your Part.

One of the best parts of the summer for me is hitting the lake with family and friends. I love relaxing on the water and feeling the sun on my skin. What I don’t love is jumping through hurdles to find the safest sunscreen among all the different varieties on store shelves. This year though, sunscreen manufacturers are required to make a few important changes to their sunscreen labels. While these changes will help you Do Your Part to make the healthiest sunscreen choice for your family, there’s still plenty of homework for you.

Let’s start with the label changes. Last year, the Federal Drug Administration informed the makers of sunscreen that by June, some of the claims on their packaging needed to be revised. However, while you will see many changes now, that deadline has recently been pushed back to December because of sunscreen shortage concerns. The new guidelines will force manufacturers to stop claiming that their sunscreen is sweat-proof or waterproof. That’s because those claims influenced people’s decisions to not reapply sunscreen after getting in the water. Also, products labeled “Broad Spectrum” must meet the FDA’s standards for protecting against both types of ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB. Anti-aging products will also have to be “Broad Spectrum” with a Sun Protection Factor, or SPF of at least 15.

Now, while these changes to the outside of the sunscreen package will help consumers, the FDA is not requiring changes to deal with the potentially dangerous ingredients found inside the bottle and that’s what worries me the most. If you look at the label of most sunscreens, you’ll see oxybenzone listed as an active ingredient. Here’s the problem: Once absorbed into the skin, oxybenzone can be easily converted to free radicals when exposed to sunlight. Those free radicals in our skin can lead to everything from wrinkles to cancer.

Your best option is to find sunscreen without oxybenzone. Mineral-based sunscreen containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide provide powerful protection without the health concerns. However, finding these safer sunscreens takes a little work. When I went shopping for sunscreen a few weeks ago, I checked dozens of bottles before I found one without oxybenzone. And, one word of warning, don’t be tempted by the new spray and powder sunscreen options. As you apply, the particles can easily get into your lungs.

So, how can you find the right sunscreen for you? The Environmental Working Group makes it easy at www.ewg.org. Each year they update their database where you can search by specific brand name to see how it rates. You can even download a free app to make it super simple to check specific sunscreen while you’re shopping.

A little extra work will help you Do Your Part to keep your family safe in the hot summer sun.

3:36 PM - Jun. 22, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Non-polluting lawn equipment

 

Thjis article is by Terri Bennett of Do Your Part.

The sounds of spring are most definitely here. You know, the loud buzz of the lawn mowers, the piercing sound of leaf blowers, the incessant whir of the trimmers. Not only is there the noise pollution to contend with, there is also the air, land, and water pollution that comes with gas powered lawn equipment. This summer, Do Your Part to pick smarter equipment that will not only cut down pollution but will cut down on your lawn maintenance costs.

Let’s start with what really gets under my skin. The loud noise of gas powered lawn equipment. The National Pollution Clearinghouse contends that an ordinary gas fueled lawn mower can actually be heard at least a quarter mile away. Then, there are the other pollution concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 17 million gallons of fuel and oil are accidentally spilled while servicing all this lawn equipment. That’s right — 17 million gallons! And, here’s another startling statistic for you; gas powered lawn equipment produces roughly five percent of the air pollution generated in America. The exhaust from the gas-powered equipment sends tiny particles into the air, quickly creating unhealthy conditions. The fumes from the engines also add to the creation of ground level ozone and smog. To help put those numbers into perspective, think of it this way. A gas-powered lawn mower emits as much pollution each hour as 11 cars on the road.

The good news is that there are better (and quieter) options out there. The cleanest option is to use human powered equipment. Reel mowers are ideal for small lawns. There are many different styles too including some which have an attachment to catch grass clippings. You can also do what I do, which is to go electric.

Electric mowers win hands down when it comes to convenience. They start with the push of a button and you never need to fill up the gas tank or replace the oil. The electric mower is lighter than its gas-powered alternative and it’s much quieter too! Now, electric mowers do generate pollution but at drastically lower levels and not in your backyard. They are also more expensive than their gas-powered cousins but they are a lot less expensive to operate and maintain. An electric mower will cost you about $5 a year to operate, which is the cost of electricity to power or charge the mower. If you opt for the more convenient cordless electric mower then you should know that the rechargeable battery contains lead and should never end up in a landfill. Fortunately, there are many resources available for recycling rechargeable batteries of all shapes and sizes. You can also find electric blowers, trimmers, tillers and more. Some states offer incentives for purchasing electric equipment so be sure to check.

When it comes picking out your next piece of lawn equipment, Do Your Part and make an economical and eco-friendly choice. It’s a whole lot better for you, your neighbors, and the planet.

2:20 PM - Jun. 14, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Your future self will thank you

This article is by Jared James

I asked an interesting question on facebook recently that generated a lot of response. My question was, “What is something that you will do today that your future self will thank you for?”

As you can imagine the responses were many and varied from prospecting to spending more time with their spouse. There are obviously a multitude of things that you could do that would make your future self happy but I wanted to give three very specific suggestions that can get you on the right track all around.

1. Take control over your morning – I have found that too many people are so busy being busy that they don’t have enough time to be productive. If you don’t take control over your day and have a plan for your life and business you are going to find out rather quickly that you will end up fitting into someone else’s plan for your life in no time. To avoid this I want you to start blocking off the first hour of your work day every single morning. Whenever your first hour is, I want it to belong to you.

For that first hour I want you to do one thing and one thing only; prospect in some way. You can call past clients, knock on doors of home sellers who were not able to sell in the last 2-3 years and may be able to sell now or use this time to connect with people who visited one of your open houses 6-12 months ago. Just do something for your business at the start of every single day, because that time if yours and is going to be used to potentially create business for you.

2. Begin the routine of working out – Not only do I want you to start working out or running… or both… but I want you to figure out why you are doing it. I happen to have two young boys and I work out because I still want to be able to keep up with them when they are in high school. I have to be in shape to do this. You may want to be around for your grandkids or just want to feel better about your appearance. Whatever it is, figure it out. There is something that happens to yourself psychologically and emotionally when you take care of yourself. You just feel better. Period.

3. Spend time alone – Sometimes we look back on our lives and we wonder how we ever got to where we are. That usually happens when we are surrounded by too much “noise.” Your future self will thank you 12 months from now if you take time every day to get away by yourself, even for a short time, and take stock of where you are and where you are going and make the necessary adjustments.

Remember, there is a difference between activity and achievement. One just keeps you busy while the other brings reward. Be intentional. You will thank yourself later.

4:33 PM - Jun. 12, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Battling weeds without poison

 

This article is by Terri Bennett of Do Your Part.

If there is one thing gardeners everywhere hate, it’s weeds. However, many times the solution to getting rid of weeds can actually be more of a problem. In fact, it can be downright dangerous because there are growing health concerns about one of the chief ingredients, glyphosate, used to kill weeds. Do Your Part when battling weeds where you live and find safer solutions. Not only are the alternatives healthier, they are much easier on your wallet.

In my own garden, I make my daily newspaper do the dirty work. It’s easy and effective. Simply lay out five or six stacked sheets of newspaper in the area where you don’t want weeds. Then, give them a good soak with the hose so they don’t fly away. Once the newspaper is in place, it won’t let the sunshine through and that means the weeds can’t grow. Cover the soaked papers with mulch or grass clippings if you like. Eventually, earthworms will break down the newspaper and the end result will be healthier soil.

Another effective option when it comes to blocking out sunlight is a roll of landscape fabric. A few years ago, finding eco-friendly landscape fabric was a nearly impossible task. Now, you can find landscape fabric made of recycled paper that gets the job done without any plastic or any unwanted chemicals. This recycled fabric can be found at all the major home improvement stores or online.

I also use white vinegar on pesky weeds that sprout in the cracks of my sidewalk and driveway. Be careful though because vinegar can kill most anything you spray it on. For best results spray the weeds during the hottest part of the day. Hot water is also effective when it comes to killing weeds in those same areas.

This summer, don’t poison your lawn and garden. Instead, Do Your Part to get rid of those unwanted weeds in a much safer way.

4:24 PM - Jun. 8, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


Do you always need to be right?

 

This article is by Rory Vaden of Southwestern Consulting.

After years of coaching successful professionals in a variety of disciplines, I’ve come to see that when conflicts arise, many of us tend to care more about being ‘right’ than we do about finding the best course of action.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this in your own life, at the office and perhaps at home too. A disagreement arises, and we’re so afraid of ‘losing’ that we won’t even admit there’s a possibility that there might be more to the situation than we can see. In our determination to ‘win,’ we refuse to acknowledge the other person’s perspective.

As is often the case when we let ourselves be guided solely by our emotions, there are substantial consequences. Here are the three biggest ones.

1. We Stop Listening. It makes sense that if I already ‘know’ what’s true, I don’t need to entertain the idea of another perspective. Instead of having a dialogue about the best possible solution, there are two people simply doubling down in their positions.

Tip: Any time you’re in a fervent disagreement with someone, remind yourself to focus on what’s right rather than who’s right.

2. We Stop Exploring. Many of us hold on to beliefs, even about our own lives, that aren’t accurate. We tell ourselves ‘I’m good at ___, but I have never been good at _____’ or ‘I could pull _____ off, but I could never pull ____ off”. These unexamined mantras often turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, because we subconsciously seek to validate our position. Yes, we want to be proven ‘right,’ even if what we’re right about keeps us from growth and change.

Tip: Whenever you catch yourself thinking ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘that isn’t possible,’ stop and ask yourself how much energy and commitment you’ve ever really put into trying.

3. We Stop Learning. Everyone believes that his or her view is the right one (otherwise they probably wouldn’t have it). While a person’s view may not be optimal or even fully accurate, it’s always useful to try to understand how they came to it. Even if we don’t agree with their position, we can learn a great deal if we simply seek to understand where they’re coming from. Conversely, when we dismiss an idea out of hand, we never get the chance to expand our own perspective, and that’s a high price to pay.

Tip: Resist the urge to write people off as uninformed or just plain wrong, and instead ask yourself “what can I learn from this person?” We don’t have to agree with someone to learn from them.

The ultimate impact of righteousness is that we stay trapped in our current mindset. If we are always right, we never get to be different. And if we never get to be different, then we will always get more of what we have right now. Let go of the need to be right, seek first to understand, and you’ll discover a new sense of growth and possibility.

Am I right?

4:12 PM - Jun. 4, 2013 - comments {0} - post comment


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