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5 Holiday Shopping Traps to Avoid

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

5 Holiday Shopping Traps to Avoid

RISMEDIA — Finding the right gift at the right price can be challenging, especially during the holiday season when deep discounts and door-buster sales abound. A recent issue of Consumer Reports highlights five traps holiday shoppers can avoid.

"Knowing how to navigate sales, comparison shop, and cut through salespeople jargon is half the battle to stress-free holiday shopping," said Tod Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports. "Shoppers need to take precautionary measures before purchasing gifts to make sure they are getting the right product, for the right price, with no strings attached."

Five Holiday Shopping Traps to Avoid

1. Deep discount come-ons. "Door-buster" sales promise big savings. Consumer Reports found an electric percolator "on-sale" at Kohl's stores and Kohls.com for $61.99, a discount from the regular $69.99. But those prices are higher than the $59.99 manufacturer's suggested retail price. Retailers, especially discount stores, commonly sell below MSRP. Using a Web search, Consumer Reports found better deals. The best price was $30.03 plus $8.21 shipping at Salestores.com.

What to do? Comparison shop before buying and don't worry about missing a sale, it's likely that another one will come around before the season ends.

2. Gift-card gotchas. New federal rules for gift cards limit issuers' ability to charge certain fees and impose expiration dates. Inactivity and service fees can be charged only if a card hasn't been used for at least one year. But issuers can still charge fees to buy cards, as they do for bank-issued variety, those that bear a credit-card logo. For example, expect to pay $3 to $7 for an American Express gift card. Also, gift cards are not protected if an issuer goes bankrupt. If that's the case, the card could be worthless.

Beyond that, many people never get around to spending their gift cards. A quarter of people surveyed by Consumer Reports in October 2009 who received gift cards the previous year said they hadn't redeemed their almost one year-old cards.

What to do? Give cash or a check. Cash never expires and is good anywhere. If the check is never cashed, the money stays in your bank account.

3. Extended-warranty pitches. Salespeople push service plans because retailers keep 50 percent or more of what they charge for them, but they are notoriously bad deals. Some repairs are already covered by the standard warranty that comes automatically with the product. Consumer Reports' data shows that products seldom break within the extended-warranty window of coverage, when items do break, the repairs, on average, cost about the same as the warranty.

What to do? Some credit cards automatically extend the manufacturer's warranty on anything purchased with them, so check the card's website. Even if the warranty expired, check with the retailer or manufacturer, which might choose or be legally obligated to repair and make good on a product that prematurely fails or otherwise shows signs of a defect.

4. Return-policy limitations. Some retailers relax their return policies during the holiday season, but don't count on it and always learn the rules before buying. Some companies have different return policies for in-store, online, or mail-order purchases.

What to do?
Keep the receipt and let the recipient know the return policy. If the store provides a special gift receipt, include that with your gift.

5. Restocking fees. Many items, especially electronics and special orders, are subject to restocking fees that range from 10–25 percent if they are not returned in a factory-sealed box.

What to do?
Don't open the package unless you're sure you want the item inside. Items such as computer software, music CDs, and movie DVDs generally aren't returnable if the seal is broken. If a fee is charged, try to negotiate a partial refund, but never pay a fee if the item is defective.

How to fight colds and flu: What works and what doesn’t

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

 

The much-dreaded cold and flu season is upon us. And if you’re like me, there isn’t any spare time built into the schedule to be sick. So how can I bolster my defenses against the germs lurking in the common areas in my office, the mall where I do my holiday shopping and the rest stops I encounter in my holiday travels?

I took a look at the research Emily Sohn and Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., have written about for EatingWell and pulled together a list of what’s worth trying—and what’s not.

Try It: Vitamin D
In a study published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children who took daily vitamin D supplements (1,200 IU) were 40 percent less likely to get a common flu virus than kids who took a placebo. Laboratory studies indicate that the nutrient may help immune cells identify and destroy bacteria and viruses that make us sick, says Adit Ginde, M.D., M.P.H., a public health researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. 

Although the Institute of Medicine released in a report November 30 new recommendations for vitamin D (600 International Units per day for everyone, except men aged 71+ who should get 800 IU), they “only focused on bone health,” says Ginde. “There is not yet enough evidence to definitely prove that vitamin D reduces infections, but the amount recommended for bone health is lower than what we think is needed for improved immunity and reduced infections. Most people need at least 1,000 IU a day and some need 2,000 IU daily or higher to reach levels that appear necessary for optimal immune responses.” While many experts recommend a vitamin D supplement, you can also get it (in small doses) from fatty fish, such as salmon, and fortified milk—and your body makes vitamin D from the sun.

Try It: Green tea

Polyphenols, potent plant antioxidants, are what’s believed to give green tea its immune-boosting effects. One laboratory study suggested that a particular type of polyphenols called catechins may kill influenza viruses. To maximize benefits and minimize bitterness, use just-below-boiling water and steep green tea no more than a minute or two. A little lemon and honey can also help blunt the bitterness. But don’t add milk, because the proteins will bind to the polyphenols, making them ineffective.

Try It: Probiotics
Some research suggests that when these so-called “good” bacteria—found in yogurt, sauerkraut and other foods—reach the lower intestine, they not only suppress the growth of “bad” bacteria but also might activate the immune system to fight off diseases in other ways. But studies showing a clear boost to the immune system are few. In one study of 33 healthy young women, both “regular” yogurt and so-called “probiotic-fortified” yogurt (which contained added beneficial bacteria cultures) were found to boost T-cells, key players in the body’s defenses against viruses and other pathogens. But it’s a long way from findings like those to “assuming that by loading up on yogurt—or sauerkraut or kimchi—you can boost your immune system enough to fight off something like the H1N1 flu,” says Barry Goldin, Ph.D., professor in the department of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. Fortifying yourself with a daily dose of fermented foods can’t hurt, says Goldin, “but if you want to beat the flu, get vaccinated.”

Quick tip: Look for fermented dairy products, such as yogurt or kefir (a yogurt-like beverage), that are labeled with a “Live & Active Cultures” seal from the National Yogurt Association. The seal signifies that the yogurt contains a set minimum amount of two particular types of beneficial bacteria.

Try It: Soluble Fiber
Mice that ate a diet rich in soluble fiber for six weeks recovered from a bacterial infection in half the time it took mice that chowed on meals containing mixed fiber, according to a recent study in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity. Soluble fiber—abundant in citrus fruits, apples, carrots, beans and oats—helps fight inflammation, says lead author Christina Sherry, Ph.D., R.D., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Insoluble fiber—found in wheat, whole grains, nuts and green leafy vegetables—is still important for overall health, but it doesn’t seem to have the same impact on immunity. Strive for 25 to 38 grams of total fiber a day, Sherry says, paying extra attention to getting the soluble kind.

Skip It: Airborne
As with many label claims, Airborne’s current one begins with a kernel of truth: vitamins A, C, E, zinc and selenium—nutrients in the supplement—are among the vitamins and minerals that our immune systems need to function efficiently. According to a 2002 report in the British Journal of Nutrition, deficiencies of any of these nutrients (or of vitamins B6, B12, folic acid, copper or iron) can depress immunity. But the key word is deficiency; most of us—save for smokers, pregnant women, breastfeeding women and the elderly—meet our needs for these nutrients with the foods we eat. (If you fall into any of those higher-risk categories, talk with your doctor before taking a supplement.) And more isn’t better. Excess amounts of many nutrients are potentially harmful, and it’s all too easy to go overboard. Just one tablet of Airborne contains 1,667 percent of the daily recommended value (DRV) for vitamin C.

Skip It: Glacéau’s Vitaminwater “Defense”
This drink, with a label that claims it is “specially formulated with nutrients required for optimal functioning of the immune system,” doesn’t deliver the mega-high doses of nutrients that Airborne does. (A 20-ounce bottle of the water contains 150 percent of the DRV of vitamin C and 25 percent for four B vitamins and zinc.) Plus it delivers 125 calories per bottle.

(c) By Eating Well Magazine, Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.

10 things to love about yoga in the winter

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

10 things to love about yoga in the winter

(Originally published Winter 2008)
  1. Not having to wake up quite so early to do your practice while the sun is rising.
  2. More time to attend workshops on the weekends when it's not competing with yard work (understandably, gardening IS yoga for many of us...but not so much for me)
  3. How well our twisting postures prepare us for shoveling.
  4. A warm toasty studio or meditation spot on an icy cold day.
  5. That yoga allows us to practice impermanence. That all sensations (in this case, cold ones) pass (unless you live on the North Pole).
  6. Snow cancellations give us "extra" time that we can use to practice, read, meditate.
  7. A meditation walking through a snow storm and listening to the sounds (a kind of buffered quiet I've never heard elsewhere)
  8. Bundling up in blankets for savasana.
  9. Heating up your body all on your own through a vigorous practice.
  10. More opportunities to stay indoors and develop a home practice.

by Florian Yoga Companion Post

Top Tips to Winter-Proof Your Home

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

RISMEDIA - As winter sets in, there's nothing better than hibernating on the sofa with a good book or classic film. But having this spoiled by a home emergency can add a real chill to your winter warmth, especially if it's preventable.

We're all familiar with the issues winter forces upon us: the boiler breaking, pipes bursting or a break-in, which can make the harsh effects of winter far more severe.

Planning ahead now can help protect you against these potential problems. Here are some simple tips from John Lewis Insurance to prevent home emergencies from happening. Many of them are relatively quick and easy to do.

Quick fixes:
* Change the battery in your smoke detector or install them if you don't have any - it's a simple task that can save your life. And make sure you test them regularly.

* Inspect your roof for missing or cracked tiles. If repairs are needed, get them done as soon as you can.

* Vacuum the coils on the back of the fridge. This will help your fridge work more efficiently and will help you save money on your power bills.

* Turn your mattress regularly. We all spend more time in bed over winter - turning your mattress regularly will extend its life and ensure a more comfortable night's sleep.

* Get your boiler serviced. If you haven't had your boiler serviced this year, now is the ideal time to ensure it's in good working order.

More time needed:
* Oil your power tools and if you have a gas-powered lawn mower, drain the gas from it. They will survive the winter better and be in top shape for spring.

* Check all taps for leaks and locate the main pipe to the water mains. Pipes can burst if they freeze so if you leave home for more than a few days, ideally you should turn off the water and drain the pipes.

* Bleed your radiators by opening the valve until water appears - they will work more efficiently.

* The cold doesn't deter burglars so be sure to inspect your locks and any burglar alarms - and consider using lighting timers for that lived in appearance.

Worth the effort:
* It may take a day or two to sort out but cleaning your gutters properly will guarantee they won't get blocked or overflow.

* Trimming back trees is always recommended in the autumn.

* Clean out the garage before anything is stored that can get spoiled by the cold.

Finally, preparing an emergency kit is a great way to make those small and big emergencies as easy to handle as possible. This is what you should have at hand's reach:

* A small tool bag containing a torch, a roll of insulation tape, spare fuses, spare batteries and a screwdriver

* A radiator key

* A fire extinguisher if you have one, checked or recently replaced

* Important telephone numbers like the police, a trusted plumber, electrician, etc.

6 Alternate Uses for Your Freezer

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

6 tricky problems your freezer can easily solve.

Eliminate unpopped popcorn

Don't you just hate the kernels of popcorn that are left at the bottom of the bowl? Eliminate the popcorn duds by keeping your unpopped supply in the freezer.

Remove wax from candlesticks

Grandma's heirloom silver candlesticks will get a new life if you place them in the freezer and then pick off the accumulated wax drippings. But don't do this if your candlesticks are made from more than one type of metal. The metals can expand and contract at different rates and damage the candlesticks.

Extend candle life

Place candles in the freezer for at least two hours before burning. They will last longer.

Unstick photos

Picture this: Water spills on a batch of photographs, causing them to stick together. If you pull them apart, your pictures will be ruined. Don't be so hasty. Stick them in the freezer for about 20 minutes. Then use a butter knife to gingerly separate the photos. If they don't come free, place them back in the freezer. This works for envelopes and stamps too.

Clean a pot

Your favorite pot has been left on the stove too long, and now you've got a burned-on mess to clean up. Place the pot in the freezer for a couple of hours. When the burned food becomes frozen, it will be easier to remove.

Remove odors

Got a musty-smelling book or a plastic container with a fish odor? Place them in the freezer overnight. By morning they'll be fresh again. This works with almost any other small item that has a bad smell you want to get rid of.

 

(c)  by Reader's Digest Magazine

Should I Buy a Home Now?

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR

I'm often asked if this is a good time to buy a home. Some clients are concerned that home prices may fall further than they have already. They are assuming that the best course of action is to wait for the bottom in the market and then buy. The problem with this approach is that you don't know where the bottom is until you see it in the rear view mirror, meaning until you've missed it!

Home prices are one factor in determining your cost of ownership, but so are interest rates and financing availability. Even though interest rates have gone up in the last six months, they are still near historic lows. Since your monthly mortgage payment is a combination of paying down your principal and paying the interest owed, if home prices come down a little further but interest rates up, it could cost you even more to service a mortgage on an identical home!

While a home is a major investment, it is also the center of your personal life. It's important to live in a home that reflects your taste and values, yet is within your financial "comfort zone." To that end, it may be more important to lock in today's relatively low interest rates and low home prices, rather than to hope for a further break in prices in the future.

Please give me a call if I can be of any assistance in determining how much home you can afford in today's market.

Displaying blog entries 61-66 of 66

Contact Information

Photo of Ingrid Miles, CBR, SRES, Lead REALTOR, Stephen Mil Real Estate
Ingrid Miles, CBR, SRES, Lead REALTOR, Stephen Mil
Keller Williams Realty
11 South Main St & 1 Merrimac St
Topsfield & Newburyport MA 01983 & 01950
Direct: 978-471-9750
978.861.4218
Fax: 978-861-4218

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