Winter is Coming: How to Winter-Proof Your Home

by Sara Seeger 4. December 2014

Snowflakes

Many winter-related disasters can be prevented if you take a few simple steps to prepare and protect your home from winter’s less than favorable conditions: freezing temperatures, snow, and wind. In fact, according to the Insurance Information Institute more than 10% of all catastrophic losses are a result of winter storms. Although the weather has really gotten cold recently, the weather is overall still mild, and perfect for winter-proofing your home.

For the Outside

  • The Gutters - Remove sticks, leaves, and any other debris that could clog your gutters, so that melting snow and ice can drain properly. If water can’t drain freely ice damming can occur, which is where water is unable to drain through the gutters and seeps into the house instead.
  • The Trees - If you have trees on your property, especially near your house, be sure to trim any fragile, low hanging, or dead branches. As ice and snow build up on weak tree branches, they become heavy and can break, which could result in damage to your home or car, as well as injuring someone walking on the property.
  • The Steps - It’s difficult (and dangerous) enough to walk on broken steps or without a handrail. If you add in ice and snow, the result could be catastrophic. Repairing steps and handrails to your front or back porch may prevent someone from falling and being injured.
  • The Foundation - Before it gets too cold, seal any cracks in your home’s outsides walls and foundation. Use caulking to protect outdoor water pipes and if you have a skylight or any roof openings, be sure they have proper weather stripping to prevent melting snow or ice to seep in your house.

For the Inside

  • The House - I know you won’t want to see the heating bill, but turn (and keep) your heat on. It is recommended that you set the thermostat for at least 65 degrees. This will prevent the pipes in your walls from freezing.
  • The Heating System - Have your heating system serviced. It is recommended that furnaces, boilers, and chimneys be serviced once a year to help prevent fire and smoke damage.
  • The Pipes - Check for cracks or leaks in your pipes and if anything is wrong, have it repaired immediately. It’s important to wrap any exposed pipes with heating tape. While you’re checking your pipes for cracks, learn how to shut off the main water valve (if you don’t already). Time is of the essence when your pipes freeze.
  • The Alarms - Residential fires increase in the winter, so make sure that smoke alarms, fire alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly.

By protecting your home from the harsh conditions of winter, you are helping to prevent damage that could happen due to ice, hail, or snow and may also be extending the life of your home by completing annual repairs and checks.

If you found this article useful, be sure to check out these related articles:

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Three Things To Consider When Choosing a Bank

by Renee' Anderson 3. December 2014

Shop for New BankYou’re looking for a new bank. But you don’t really know what to look for. Is there a difference from one bank to another? Does it matter? Here are three key things that many people choose to consider when looking for a bank.

1. Customer Service

It seems like good customer service is hard to come by these days. Not that I’m that old or anything, but honestly, I remember a time when people that worked in a customer service role were truly happy to be doing what they were doing and gained satisfaction from helping their customers. Now, you’re lucky if you get a “Thank you, have a nice day!” There is something to be said for positive interaction. Furthermore, I’d rather do business with someone interested in helping me with my needs.

Here’s an example. Have you ever lost your bank card? I have, and the first thing that went through my mind was I need to cancel it quickly before someone gets ahold of it and makes charges. Second thing that went through my mind, I need a card! Who carries cash? Not me. I need my bank card, now! Well, I’ll tell you, I didn’t have to panic for long. I called my bank, quickly was connected to the appropriate person, who immediately deactivated my current card and said my new card would be in the mail right away. They also gave me the option to visit my local branch to get a card that would be activated today! That’s great customer service!

2. Products & Services

This is important. However, it can be overwhelming to think about due to technology and the way products and services have evolved and the way you prefer to do your banking. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Just think about how you prefer to do your banking. Are you on the go a lot and prefer to access mobile banking for your day-to-day banking needs? Choose a bank with good mobile banking options (an app to access your accounts from your phone or tablet that will allow you to check your balance, transfer funds, pay bills, and even deposit a check from your phone). You’ll want to take a look at what kind of fees are associated with these features. Only pay what you’re willing to pay for products and services that mean the most to you. If mobile isn’t your thing, just make sure whatever products and/or services you need are available and not for a ridiculous price tag. It’s always helpful to check out your bank’s website for more information, or stop in a branch.

3. Hours & Locations

This is particularly important if you frequently visit a branch. Where I rarely go to my bank branch, my husband does once a week. Everyone has their reasons, whatever yours is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is, is the branch open when you are able to get there? And, do you feel like you have to drive to Guam, or is it conveniently located near your home or work?

Moral of the story, don’t’ just flip a coin, don’t just do eenie meenie miney moe, chose a bank for all the right reasons.

If you found this article useful, be sure to check out these related articles:

How to Change Banks in 5 Simple Steps

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Top Tactics Retailers Use to Get You to Spend More

by John Stephens 2. December 2014

Retailer Traps

Sales and discounts seem to be everywhere as the holiday season approaches. But are these offers really all they’re cracked up to be? The truth is retailers use all kinds of sneaky tricks to get you to spend. Here’s what smart shoppers need to know to avoid being taken in.

Bait and Switch

A top brand laptop is advertised on sale at an amazingly low price. But when you get to the store, it’s sold out. Of course they have a more expensive model they’d be happy to sell you. This is often the story with doorbuster sale items, but it can happen any time. Even when advertised goods are still available, don’t be surprised – or diverted – by salespeople pushing pricier models and saying the one that brought you into the store isn’t good enough.

Bait and switch is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and even though it’s illegal to make insincere – or phony – offers, some retailers manage to skirt the law. Watch out for disclaimers such as “limited quantities,” “not at all store locations” or “no rain checks.” In addition, beware of substandard or “derivative” merchandise often passed off as popular models at super discounts.

Coupons and BOGO Sales

What could be wrong with coupons? Actually coupons can be very tricky, pushing shoppers to spend much more than they ever intended. Coupons often require large volume or expensive purchases. For example, someone looking for a $5 bottle of shampoo might end up spending $19 just to make use of a $1-off coupon that requires the purchase of four bottles.

Another concern is that coupons are often for relatively expensive brands or models. A coupon purchase may in fact cost more than opting for more affordable alternatives at their normal prices.

“Buy one, get one” sales, sometimes called BOGO, also encourage extra spending. Buying that second, half-priced item may seem like a bargain, but in reality it means forking over an additional 50% for something that you probably don’t need.

Psychological Tactics

You may have noticed clearance items at the back of stores so shoppers have to pass flashy, full-priced merchandise first, or that items often bought on impulse abound near cash registers. These tactics are just the tip of the iceberg. Probing customer minds to influence shopping behavior has become scary science. Here are some surprising examples:

  • Heat-sensing surveillance: Retailers determine the most heavily used routes through their stores with heat-sensing devices and display pricier merchandise along these aisles. They also may put up decorative “road blocks” along popular pathways to keep customers in stores.
  • Sound and scent: High-volume holiday songs and scents such as cinnamon stimulate senses, promote nostalgia and break down resistance to spending.
  • Three in a row: Three similar garments are displayed together, with high and low-priced pieces framing the mid-priced one. The high priced item is just there to make customers see the mid-priced one as a great deal.
  • Right-hand mapping: Retailers discovered that most customers turn to the right when navigating stores, so expensive items are often placed on the right side.

Forewarned is forearmed – you’re not helpless. Fight back by reading the fine print and sticking to a shopping list and your budget. Research specific model numbers to avoid being fooled by look-alike merchandise and to resist sales pressure. Check out what’s on the left. Perhaps even bring your own music and headphones. Education and awareness are the best ways to grab the real deals and avoid falling for retailer tricks.

John Stephens is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor covering banking and finance for NerdWallet. He previously worked for the Huffington Post and Bravo.

If you found this article useful, be sure to check out these related articles:

4 Ways to Control Excessive Spending This Holiday Season

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